Shortlist of my favorite Sacred Architecture

Every once in a while I mentioned that I love looking at architecture. Precisely at sacred architecture aka old churches – and not only since I read Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earths”.

I am in awe of what mankind was capable of so many years ago when building techniques were less evolved. So much dedication, so much craftsmanship in masonry, carpentry and arts in general. Imagine you are a humble human being in the Middle Ages wandering for days to reach the big city and being greeted by a gigantic structure like that. Of course you can argue it was intimidating and forbidding but I believe it would have been amazing.

I have seen quite a few churches on my travels. Just recently I have discovered that I unconsciously created a shortlist in my mind. So for all my fellow architectural admirers here is my list of favorite sacred buildings.

St. Vitus Cathedral (metropolitní katedrála svatého Víta)

City/Country: Prague, Czech Republic
Built in: 1344-1929 taking 585 years
Measurements: 124 nave, 60 m transept, 33 inner heights,  tower heights
Architectural Style: triple-naved basilica, High Gothic
Historical importance: The church is part of the castle complex and sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. The master builder who started the construction – Matthias from Arras was a geometer and influenced the footprint of the building – a triple-naved basilica – and laid groundwork for the structure. After his passing the 23-year old master builder Peter Parler took over who was a trained sculptor and woodcarver. And this you can see in the entire church. He saw architecture as sculpture. He invented the so called Parler-vaults – double groined vaults which enabled wider ceiling width and at the same time created a net-like ornamentation. State of the art tracery and no identical window throughout the church are another pioneering feature. The St. Veits Cathedral had a high influence in the Late Gothic Architecture in all over Europe.
Fun fact 1: Due to a legal dispute over ownership only 7 people have a key to the regalia of royalty that are stored here.
Fan fact 2: The church has 7 bells – the biggest being 13,500kg – which are still being rang manually by 4 people until today.
Why I love it: This is the church where it all started. I have first seen it when I was in my early teenage years and have come back two more times to see St. Veits Cathedral. The outside with its flying buttresses is just breathtaking. And the vaulted ceilings in the inside are in no way inferior. I also like that it is located on a hill and you can actually make out the gigantic and impressive architecture from afar which is not always possible with churches that are within cities.

Unfortunately all my photos are still analoge but there are many on the web.

St. Johns Church (Johanneksenkirkka)

City/Country: Helsinki, Finland
Built in: 1888-1891 taking 3 years
Measurements:  59m length,  inner heights, 74m tower heights
Architectural Style: cross-shaped cathedral, Gothic Revival
Historical importance: It is the largest stone church in Finland by seating capacity and has very good acoustics. Located on a hilltop were there used to be the midsummer festivals. The church is – compared to others on the list – not that old. The outside is red brick and sits on a massive granite footing. The interior used to be a greenish-grey color but was changed in later renovations to a light-cream color. It was build by Adolf Emil Melander who also designed the seats, pulpit, altarpiece and font. It all has a ornamental feel to it.
Why I love it: We actually stumbled into this one and I had no idea about it beforehand. I liked it from the outside, it was already dark and snowing and it just gave off an interesting vibe. A sermon just ended and people left so we were able to have a peek inside and I was just stunned. It was a serendipitous find. Only later I learnt of its importance.

Trip to Helsinki st. Johns church

St. Mary’s Church (St. Marien)

City/Country: Lübeck, Germany
Built in: 1250-1350 taking 100 years
Measurements:  103m length, 38,5m inner heights, approx. 125m tower heights
Architectural Style: triple-naved basilica, Brick Gothic native to the baltic region
Historical importance: It is the highest brick building with the tallest brick vault ceiling in the world and the first of it’s kind. St. Marien was pathbreaking for 70 further churches in the baltic region. While on the outside its red brick shines bright the inside of the building is very calm. All was painted white and detailed floral frescos have been painted throughout the church. The church was destroyed in 1942 during a bomb raid and many of it’s artefacts and paintings burnt down. The fallen down bells have been preserved and it is humbling how they lay shattered on the floor. Immediately the church received an improvised roof that prevented further damaging and the re-building started 1947. The reconstruction has made it possible to cater to modern needs such as floor heating and more minimalist interior design. However it also removed some art historically pieces and is still controversially discussed.
Fun Fact 1: There was a scandal regarding the reconstruction of the fresco in the 1950s as one of the restaurateurs Lothar Malskat “invented” missing pieces of the frescos. After self-indictment the paintings were washed off. Günter Grass refers to this incident in his book “The Rat”.
Why I love it: The brick building style of the baltic architecture is just so unique and different. And also so impressive. I mean it is just bricks and then the ceiling is almost 40 meters high. It has a modern feel to it when entering while still holding the impressive architecture maybe even caters to it. The whitewashed walls and simple window decoration focus on the structure instead.

Cathedral of Santa María la Manor (Catedral Primada de America)

City/Country: Santo Domingo de Guzman, Dominican Republic
Built in: 1514-1541 taking 27 years
Measurements:  53m length, 3x23m wide, 16m inner heights,
Architectural Style: triple-naved hall church, Gothic (& Baroque)
Historical importance: It is the oldest church in the “New World” and (since 1990) part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site which expands around the old town of Santo Domingo. The three doored entrance is rather unique as two doors are gothic and one baroque. The cross vaulted ceiling and limestone walls are really impressive and give of a golden coloured look.
Fan Fact 1: It is said that the church was the resting place of Christopher Columbus (before moved to a site a few miles away) however there is a dispute going on with Spain who claim they have the remains.
Fun Fact 2: The 500 year old doors are opened by the same key every since.
Why I love it: When I first saw this church it really hit me were I was standing. The sky was bright blue and the limestone was contrasting against it. The building style was just so different from churches in “The Old World” and it felt somewhat surreal. As often the outside impressed me much more than the inside. However for a Catholic church it was not as overly decorated and pompous but still rather gloomy. However it was fascinating and I would visit again when being in Santo Domingo.

New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge)

City/Country: Berlin, Germany
Measurements:  29m wide (on curb view), 97 m length with 15 angle, 50m inner heights
Built in: 1859-1866 taking 6 years
Architectural Style: Moorish Revival
Historical importance: For this building renowned architect Eduard Knoblauch and Friedrich August Stüler were contracted. The oriental style with it’s gilded dome and terracotta front was unseen in Prussia. During the Pogroms Night 1938 arsonists set the synagogue on fire. Contrary to orders policeman Otto Bellgardt and superior Wilhelm Krützfeld intervened and called fire brigades argumenting it is a heritage-protected building and saved the building from burning down. Unfortunately the main synagogue was still destroyed in 1943 during British air raids. Remains have been savaged for building material and the dome had to be blown up due to safety reasons. Only in 1988 it was decided to rebuilt the facade and a few rooms behind. It now hosts a museum about Jewish life in Berlin.
“Fun Fact”: Due to the bright color of the cupola it was camouflaged during WWII to avoid falling victim to air raids.
Why I love it: For me this place feels like home and I walked by it daily. Being part of the Jewish volleyball team Makkabi allowed me access to the parts of the building which now inhabit a gym from which we could see the dome while practicing. This also had me attend service once here (and once in a Prague synagogue). Seeing the golden dome always makes me happy. It is were I went to pay me respects on November 9.

There are couple of sacred places I would have loved to see from the inside (or closer up) however I was not able to enter for not being part of the congregation or the religious faith. So if you ever made it to the following places please let me know how to get in: Dome of the Rocks, Jerusalem and Upensiki Cathedral, Helsinki. And of course there are many more I want to see.

Now please share your favorite building I need to see and put on my list.

Happy travels,

Tobia

Weekend in Lviv, Ukraine

I love traveling. A lot! This part of me as not been reflected accordingly on this blog.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen a lot of countries in Europe and just one weekend in September I was able to check off another one. Ukraine. Probably a country I wouldn’t have gone to on my own but I’m happy I did. A weekend in Lviv – thanks to family shenanigans.

Weekend in Lviv

First off Lviv is a lovely little town close to the Polish border with a stunning city center which is not without reason UNESCO world heritage.

Architecture.

My first view of Lviv was like a time travel. The Uber took us through some grey socialistic part of town (unfortunately no real images). I was in awe by its ugliness and somehow familiarity. It reminded me of my hometown in very early ages. And I felt like I wanna jump out and just go photo exploring. Unfortunately no time.

Lviv living quarters

When coming closer to the city center everything changed and it became a mid evil town with old cute buildings.

Lviv has a stunning market place. Right in the middle is the city hall located. A certain Eastern Europe architecture style as I have learned. The old town contains architecture from Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism  and Jugendstil – the reason why it is under UNESCO world heritage.

Lviv market
Lviv City Hall

Also lots of churches, chapels and cathedral. We came by some cloisters with wooden walkways.

We also went to The Lychakiv Cemetery that I quite liked. It was really crowded with graves and at the entrance area they where majestic.

Lviv Lychakiv cemetary
Crafts.

On our first day we came by a cookie shop. But it wasn’t any kind of cookie shop. The icing decorations were amazing. I’ve once read or saw a documentation about how the icing in some country was in inspired by handmade lace and embroidery.

While walking around during our guided sightseeing we ended up at a cloister. While it was nice it wasn’t outstanding. Then we went to their little gift shop and they talked about one of the nuns doing a lot of pysanski I immediately was on alert. Because that is the name for the Sorbian Easter eggs I shared and did. And I knew in Eastern Europe the technique was a bit different. However I could not figure out how the did it. Well I do know now and I was able to purchase the tools. Also a book about the craft. So I am more than happy.

Lviv life

Shopping.

It broke my heart seeing the “babuschkas” sitting on the street selling their meager harvest to people. There was one old lady who sat on her crate all day with a plastic cup of berries and a bag of potatoes and when we walked home at midnight she still sat there – half asleep and sunken. I just felt all the emotions… I didn’t take pictures as it felt too intimate. Unfortunately we couldn’t buy anything since we couldn’t use the products. But if you travel the country go buy from them.

Lviv babushka

There are also regular market places where produce is sold. The people selling there have bigger harvests and also have to pay a few to secure their spot at the market. Most Ukrainians shop their fresh produce on those farmers markets.

Also, I haven’t really seen a supermarket by western standards. There are more little corner shops where you get your things.

Lviv corner shop cookies

Food.

What I didn’t know was that Lviv has a flourishing coffee culture. You could probably spend the entire weekend on a coffee tasting tour. We where at one shop where they served it like when it first came to Europe.

Also the region is known for pelmini. It’s filled noodles basically but the fillings are very tasty. With mushrooms and pumpkin and meats. The best red beet soups ever was also discovered during this weekend in Lviv.

And my cousin found this cute Strudel shop (Rynok pl. 13, Lviv 79008, Ukraine). Everything strudel in there: sweet and savory and soso yummy.

Lviv laundry
Accommodation.

We stayed in the Ibis Style Hotel (no sponsoring ;-). It was only 10 min walking distance from the old town and a perfect spot for us. What I personally liked a lot is that you could grab free drinks (coffee, tea, water) in the lobby. Breakfast was pretty good to and offered a variety of western european food and local hearty choices. Bu be aware: everything is spiced with garlic – even fro breakfast!
As for the price range it can be compared to Western Europe standards. One could probably find cheaper ones.

Weekend in Lviv phone booth

One thing I fell in love with are those cute little yellow busses. I will spare my collection of picture and just share one.

Lviv transportation

I was really surprised by Lviv. It is a beautiful little town and perfect for a weekend trip. It is not too touristy. And i found mainly locals where visiting over the weekend. Of course you do have some international tourist but they seem more like the individual travelers. And I was surprised how cheap everything was if you exclude flights and accommodation.

Now let me know, would you travel to Lviv? What place had you totally surprised?

Happy traveling,

Tobia

 

 

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Anniversary Trip To Helsinki – Travel Log

Today I have been married for three years. We are not doing anything fancy today but go for dinner Friday night. Last year we’ve celebrated our anniversary with a trip to Helsinki.

When we went to our honeymoon we had a lay-over in Helsinki and agreed to come back after seeing the city from the plane. So we did. It was fun.

Most people are probably scared to fly north during winter but than we love winter. Why don’t I tell you a bit more.

Helsinki City

Ok, first I have to be honest. We had tough weather. It was around freezing and it was so humid. Something between fog, sleek and snow-slush-rain… Being outside was sometimes tough so we didn’t wander that far out of the downtown area and had quite a few coffee stops. BUT what we liked what we saw.

We walked and wandered around a lot. It’s our way of discovering a city and we easily get the lay of the land. More than once we ended up at the South Harbor and were mesmerized with the frozen Baltic Sea. I’ve just never seen anything like it. We came back almost every day…

Trip to Helsinki winter skyline

Close by is the Old Market hall – Vanha kauppahalli. A cozy warm roofed market. We had the feeling that locals and tourist were at balance among the visitors. Lots of people had lunch. Unfortunately we weren’t hungry. Still it was interesting seeing local food and warm up.

Helsinki Trip Old Market Hall Vanha kauppahalli

Also around the corner you can find Uspenskin cathedral. A russian orthodox church.

trip to Helsinki Harbor with Uspenskin katedraali

Unfortunately the building is not open for public but we walked around there and the neighborhood and found it was quite different. The heavy fog might have had something to do with it…

Trip to Helsinki houses

Sunday afternoon we were frozen so we went to the design museum. We really liked it a lot. If you are interested in interior design this is for you. If you are into design history go there too. We learned a lot about how strategic the Finnish people planned their design supremacy. Also there are so many objects we knew by sight but had no idea they were made in Finland.

Trip to Helsinki design museum

Just across the street from the museum is the Johanneksenkirkku – a church (ok, I do have a thing for sacred architecture…). I believe it is one of the nicest I have seen in all my travels. While there is pompous decor it is not dark, stuffy and gold but rather light and withdrawn. You can hardly find any pictures from the inside, I think it’s so worth seeing.

Trip to Helsinki st. Johns church

Suomolinna

On our last day before heading to the airport we went to Suomolinna. An island with a huge sea fortress or better an island fortress. Going by boat through the ice floes was maybe my best experience. It is much louder than I expected and you feel every impact. We journeyed through the skerry landscape and I discovered quite a few cute remote houses. I could easily spent a few weeks there…

Helsinki Trip ice floes on the Baltic Sea

The island was somewhat deserted as we went there off season. However it was still nice to walk around and get a feel of what it must have been living there in rough weather. Being at Suomolinna was the only time I really felt cold during our trip to Finland. The wind is crazy, it was snowing a bit and we were outside walking for a long time. We didn’t go to the museum as we didn’t have much time and rather walked to the far end of the island to have a look at the open waters. The history of the sea fortress is quite interesting and it is under UNESCO World Heritage. You could easily spent a whole day there specially in summer with picnics and nice views.

Helsinki Trip Suomenlinna

Food

During our honeymoon we had a tough time with the food. It was just so very different and than we were even further north and not in a city. Being in Helsinki the food scene was much better. While I started to like it and ate my way through fish and crabs and karjalanpirakka Mr. ♥ had a tougher time. Assuming it’s due to the conditions and location of Finland – they just don’t have veggies and if there are they are really horrible… Just be aware. It all looks old and frozen and tasteless – even in the supermarkets. Maybe that is just a momentarily picture in February but that is what we got after two trips to Finland. On another note, Helsinki has a broad selection of craft beer. I had quite a few and I liked them all. So if you like that Helsinki might be for you.

Helsinki Trip Finnish Food

Accomodation

We found a nice and affordable hotel within the city – Hotel Indigo Boulevard. The hotel is located in Helsinki’s Design District. Al lot of small little shops are in the surrounding neighborhood. We liked the hotel as it was clean, modern and had a separated bathroom – something hard to find nowadays.

Trip to Helsinki Hotel Indigo

Transport

We took a flight from Berlin with airberlin and were surprised it’s only about 2 hours. From the Helsinki airport we took a bus to the central station where we switched to the tram that took us directly to the hotel. We found public transport very easy and comfortable to use.

It was a nice trip to Helsinki we had last year. I would go there again. Maybe in summer. We heard and read the summers in Helsinki are legendary with lots of outside activities and festivals … and the sun never goes down…

Have you been to Helsinki? Would you take a trip to Helsinki? What would you check out?

Happy traveling,

Tobia

Honeymoon at the Arctic Circle with huskies and reindeers {winter wedding special}

Welcome back! Today I take you along our honeymoon. I know I am nice. So get some hot beverage, put on some socks because we are going to the Arctic Circle!honeymoon at arctic circle

When we were planning our wedding we realized a week prior to the big day we didn’t have any idea what to do after. Usually people go on a honeymoon. We always wanted to do lodge hopping in Canada for our honeymoon but that was just out of the picture financially. So we figured a few days somewhere to relax. But we couldn’t decided and time past…
Good thing a text came in telling us to save ten days after our wedding. So end of looking and off to a surprise.

And a surprise it was. Due to the lack of snow at our winter wedding my parents figured: send them where the snow is.

downtown levi

Yes we were sent to the most nordic town in Finland with huskies, reindeers, ice hotels and winter wonderland. But let’s go one day at a time.

Arriving in our hotel, discovering our room with a build-in sauna, a funny metal box – later figuring out it’s a heated closet to dry your stuff, reindeers grasing in front of our window. We were in honeymoon heaven. We took a short walk to get a lay of the land and fed the reindeers at the hotel.

walk around levi finlandThen we had dinner and went to bed because next morning was already scheduled.

Breakfast was strange. I let a picture speak because I really can’t describe:

finnish breakfast

After we got in our skiing gear and went to do our introduction to snow shoeing and snowmobiling. Later that day we just wandered the town and enjoyed the snow and came across a reindeer – in the middle of town! We also hit the tourist info and booked us a reindeer sledge ride and a husky sledge driving class.

Our day with the huskies

First thing to know: I am scared of dogs! Mr. ♥ loves huskies and wants one. So going on a husky farm took a lot of willpower but I am glad I did. We went to Huskysafari Levi. First we got a little introduction to sledge riding – like never step of the sledge, Huskies will run no matter what, to go slower you push the break, they eat snow to cool of, Huskies can actually die from over-heating…
Once we knew all this we got the dogs ready and my were they ready. Got a few pics:

jumping huskies

First it was my turn to stir the sledge and even though it was nice to try I was totally worn out (I was still really sick and the antibiotics took a toll on me too). So I was glad when we switched and I was able to enjoy the country side being chauffeured through by hubby. Again dusk was setting in early so pictures are a bit dark but that’s just the way it is up there.

landscape husky ride

When being back in the camp we had hot cranberry juice, coffee and traditional sausage.

husky

Our day with the reindeers

Our day at Wolverine Fell Wilderness and Nature started by getting a taxi and then being quite anxious if we will ever arrive. Seriously there was no way to drive on, all was white, the driver wasn’t quite sure where to go. Than we passed a ensemble of three cottages and a women (trying) to push a stroller through the snow. Soon after we arrived at the gate and so did the lady. She was our tour guide Petra and brought her 3 month old with her. Her husband was busy feeding reindeers and preparing the sledge. And we were the only ones. It was a wonderful quite and very informative afternoon we spend with them. As she kept mentioning reindeers are semi wild animals. You can not train them like horses. They “work” for you because you provide food. They are herd animals and it might happen that they decide to go another way – and all animals will follow. We went for a 1 mile sledge ride which took quite a while. The surroundings were amazing. Snowy trees, snow sunken fences and a reindeers butt.

reindeer butt

We stopped at a little cabin at Levi lake were we had hot cranberry juice and coffee.

panorama levi lakeWe heard stories about crossing the frozen lake and breaking through. We looked at animal pictures and listened to hunters stories. And throughout the time we felt like visiting friends, listening about their every day life struggles and joys.

our sledge reindeer

And one of their reindeers (the white one) was actually a star in a Christmas movie – unfortunately I forgot which one. So if you are ever in Kitillä you need to take a ride with them.

Our day at the glass igloo

Our last two days in Lapland we didn’t spent in our sauna hotel. We went to the glass igloos for one night.

inside glass iglooHonestly I think this was our highlight. Unfortunately due to the warm weather (only -3-6° C instead of -30° C that would have been normal around this time of year) it was very cloudy which turned the landscape in a winter wonderland but also covered up all the aurora borealis we were gonna watch.
But the snowy trees were worth the trip. Just have a look:

snowy trees

Since there wasn’t anything to do up there we went to the traditional finish hut and just hang out by the fire before we headed to our igloo and heated up dinner which you have to bring yourself.

finnish hutWe then spend the night reading and looking out of the window. Being entertained by crazy Asians running around in hello kitty pj’s and big cooking pots…
Next morning we ate breakfast that was in the fridge.

breakfast at glass igloo

Then we headed out for another photo tour in daylight and before the bus picked us up.

snowy landscape at glass iglooWe spend the day wandering the town, taking a cable car up to the mountains and enjoying the view until our trip to the next hotel.

Our day in a ice hotel

Now this was something we really looked forward too but were also a bit scared of. The brochure mentioned “cozy -5 degree”. When we drove to the ice hotel with our taxi we were a bit surprised because everything was dark. After going back and forth and looking into some windows a nice lady opened saying they were waiting for us and saying we would be their only guests tonight. What that really meant took us a while to set in… First she wanted to serve us dinner unfortunately we ate because we figured there is nothing up there. So she took us on a tour through the ice hotel. The hotel is build every year by cutting ice cubes out of the river and shooting snow on a big air dome which is later removed. Art students come in and carve pictures and figures and decorate.

ice hotelThe hotel has a little chapel (were you can also get married), an ice bar (mainly for groups and events) and 15 rooms incl. one suite with a heatable water bed – we didn’t have that room…

ice hotel chapel
We went back to accompanying restaurant and invited our waitress to have a drink with us. So we spend the time getting to know each other, exchanging life stories and cultural differences learning words in each other’s language and enjoying time together until it was time to get to bed.

We were provided with a sleeping bag, fleece inlays and lots of reindeer furs. We bought matching cross country skiing hats to not freeze our brains of and then off we went into the glacier. Before undressing and getting ready for bed we took a photo and video tour of the hotel, looked into every corner and behind every reindeer hide hanging somewhere. It was dead silent, chilly and a weirded atmosphere. Imagine sitting under a glacier or having a tiny cave in an avalanche. It didn’t help much that Rittaa (our waitress/hotel lady) mentioned that the dome steadily sags and that Mr. ♥ vividly described how a murder with lots of blood splatter would look like…

ice hotel sleeping

Anyway once we got into a our sleeping bags and finding somewhat comfort on the ice cube that was our bed it was great. I didn’t freeze at all, it was a bit chilly but it felt great. Breathing was a whole new experience in this crisp air and I felt totally healthy waking up.

Unfortunately waking up also brought our departure day. Getting to the airport was fun. Exactly three flights were managed that day – 2 arrival and one departure.

airport kitilläAnd while we very hanging around the airport we realized one not thing: the Fins are bad ass. The runway was covered in snow and ice… And yes it was fully operating.

kittalä airport with plane

Well so much for our little adventure. So what you think honeymoon in the Caribbean or at the Arctic Circle?!

For all the ones interested in going to Lapland here are a few hard facts

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