Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Italian Castle

At the very end of a peninsula that juts out into the south end of Lake Garda in north central Italy is this rather imposing fortification called the Scaliger Castle.  The castle, complete with a water-filled moat is at the entrance to the town of Sirmione, a picturesque little resort town full of restaurants and shops.

But, it is the castle that dominates the area.

Construction of it began in 1277 under the instruction of Mastino della Scala.  It is a rare example of a medieval port fortification designed to protect the area and home to the Scaliger fleet.

Back in the 13th century, the area was a favorite resort area for the rich families of Verona.  And, it still remains a popular resort area to this day.

On the inside is a small museum displaying Medieval and Roman artifacts found in the area.

Wouldn't this be a wonderful building to photograph in all kinds of weather?  I'm especially thinking that foggy or misty weather could prove to make some interesting shots.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

National Shrine

A few years ago I took a trip to Washington DC in December and while there visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, sometimes referred to as America's Catholic Church.  I had heard that it rivaled all the grand churches of Europe, a fact that I wasn't quite prepared to believe until I saw it for myself.  It is the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and has been a work in progress since 1920 when its cornerstone was put in place.

The Basilica is a massive Byzantine-Romanesque style structure that surrounds over 70 spectacularly embellished chapels paying tribute to peoples, cultures, and traditions that are the very fabric of our nation.

My tour of the church began on the lower or Crypt level.  At its center is Memorial Hall which takes its name from the tablets of Travertine marble and Radio Black American marble inscribed with the names of benefactors and others memorialized here.

In the very center of the hall stands a statue called Mary, Mother of Mankind by sculptor Harry Eversfield Donahue.

At one end of the lower level lies the Crypt Church, an area that is as large as most modern neighborhood churches.  The vaulted ceiling and the walls are adorned with mosaics.  The photo above doesn't really do it justice, it was stunning in its beauty and detail.

Many of the 70 chapels are located on this level and run along the length of the building on each side of Memorial Hall.

The chapel to the right is called Our Lady of La Vang.  This chapel pays tribute to the Vietnamese region of La Vang where Christians sought refuge during struggles in the 18th Century.

The statue here is a depiction of a vision the people saw when praying while hiding in this region.

Another chapel on this level is Mary Queen of Missions.  Venetian glass mosaic depicts Mary crowned with 12 stars and holding a globe.

Our Mother of Good Councel chapel  is based on a legend about a small plaster picture of the Madonna and Child that appeared in a church in Genazzano Italy and remained standing without support for years even though most of the church was destroyed during WWII.

Each chapel on this level seemed to out shine the last one and there were far too many to show them all here.

The Basilica on the main level is massive in size and topped with a number of domed covered in glass mosaics.

The altar is dominated by a huge mosaic of a fierce looking Christ in Majesty.  At 3,610 square feet it is thought to be the largest mosaic depicting Jesus in the world.

Also on this main level is a chapel that quite literally took my breath away when I entered it.  It is called the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and it features a bronze tabernacle by Xavier Corbero of Barcelona containing the blessed sacrament.  It is evocative of the Ark of the Covenant.

A canopy above the tabernacle depicts Manna falling from the heavens.

There was so much more to see that I'll have to cover this spot again in a future post.  For now, I'll leave you with the stained glass window that was set in the cafeteria inside the church.  Yes, it was so big that a cafeteria inside is an essential amenity.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In the land of Champagne

Back in the early 2000's, I took a trip to London and Paris with my close friend David and we decided that while we were in Paris we should take a day trip to Reims and visit the home of our favorite champagne, Veuve Clicquot.  It was David who introduce me to Veuve and it immediately became my favorite champagne too.  Clicquot Cellars is open for tours by appointment only so arrangements to visit were made long before we left on this trip.  We asked for a specific day and then they gave us a time to be there.  We arrived in plenty of time, stopped for lunch in the heart of the city and then took a taxi to the cellars.

The enterprise was founded by Phillippe Clicquot in 1772 and taken over by the son Francois who married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin in 1798.  Francois died in 1805 leaving his entire enterprise to his widow.  Madame Clicquot was the first woman to take over and run a champagne house and she was only 27 years old at the time.  The word Veuve means "widow" in French and the official name of the company became Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.

Behind the gates, we found showroom and the start of our tour.

In 1816, Madame Clicquot invented the first "riddling" table which makes it possible to ensure a crystal-clear wine and this process continues today.   Riddling is done by turning and moving the bottles once every day to dislodge the solids in the wine so they settle at the top of the bottle.  When this process is done, the cork is carefully removed, the solids removed and then the bottle is re-corked.

You can see some of these riddling tables in the photo to the left.

In 1909, Veuve Clicquot moved to it's present location in Reims and took full advantage of the chalk cellars created from a former quarry.  Our tour took us to many locations inside the cellar where we saw bottles and wine casks and even a locked area with some very, very old bottles that have been preserved.

The tour ends in the tasting room where we got to taste the different varieties of champagne produced by Veuve.

Of course, there was the possibility of buying some to take with us which we did and there were a few gift items that could also be purchased.  I still have the silk scarf I purchased that features depictions of the various labels that have adorned the bottles over the years.

If a tour of the Veuve Clicquot cellars interests you, you can request a tour on their website.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lord Mayor's Show

Before I went to London last November, I did some checking to see if there was going to be any events or ceremonies happening while I was there that I might catch a glimpse of.  I found that the Lord Mayor's Show was happening and decided that might be well worth a peek.

I found what looked like the perfect spot to stand and watch the event.  I had a clear view down the street with the private viewing boxes located just ahead on both sides of the street.  I had a spot right up against the barrier, it was perfect.

I had arrived about 45 minutes before the event was to begin so I watched all the officials as they prepared the area.  At one point, I thought the gentleman was pointing right at me and I suddenly wondered if I had done something wrong.  But no, he moved on with a smile on his face.  He was probably just commenting on what a perfect location I had to view the parade.

To my right, I watched this military band come marching in and take up residence in a spot right next to where the media where doing some filming of the event.  So now, not only did I have a great spot but, I had the band playing right next to me.  This was going to be great.

About this time, more military men came marching down the street and with a stomp of their boots and a click of their heels, they stopped and stood at attention right smack-dab in front of me.

Hey guys, your blocking my view!

They didn't budge!

So as the gilded coach came rolling down the street, the only view I had was of the rain soaked hats and backs of these dutiful officers.  This was the Lord Mayor arriving and I could tell it was a gorgeous red and gold coach with a beautifully costumed driver but I could only see the very top.

The new Lord Mayor stepped out of the coach and began to inspect the uniformed troops.

As you can see, the rain has started to come down much faster now and I am now struggling with an umbrella in one hand and a camera with the telephoto extended in the other.  Not the best conditions for taking photos, thus this rather blurry shot of the Lord Mayor passing by.

After she finished this inspection, she went up to the viewing stand to the left in the second photo above to watch the rest of the parade.

The military men who had been blocking my view, left the scene and the rest of the parade started.  At this point, I was very wet, very cold, and it was raining at a steady pace.  I decided that I wasn't going to get great pictures taking one handed shots, so I ducked into an underground station and left in search of a place to dry off and warm up.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this traditional event even though it was through the sleeves of those brown uniforms but, next time I'm taking someone with me to hold the umbrella while I snap the photos.

Later that same day, after I had dried off and warmed up, I spotted this group walking down the street.  I can only assume that they must have had some part in the parade that I had missed when I left early.  Apparently I missed the most colorful parts of the parade.