I recently visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Missouri which has over 83,000 square feet and 41,500,000 pieces of mosaic decoration in it. Visiting this church reminded me of a hidden gem of a church that I visited during my trip to Rome a couple of years ago.

Down a narrow street just behind Santa Maria Maggiore is the church of Santa Prassede. This 9th century basilica is decorated with some of the most beautiful mosaics found in Rome. The Byzantine-style mosaics here date from 822 A.D.

Santa Prassede was founded by Pope Paschal I in the early 9th century to replace the decaying 5th century church and to house the neglected remains of saints that he had removed from the abandoned catacombs. He also included a funerary chapel for his mother Theodora.

The most impressive feature of the church by far is its mosaics which cover the entire apse,
triumphal arch

and the entire interior of the Capella di San Zeno. The small Capella di San Zeno, off the right aisle, was built as a mausoleum for Pope Paschal I's mother Theodora.

The mosaics over the entrance to the Capella di San Zeno

consist of a double row of mosaic busts with the Virgin Mary and Child, St. Prassede and St. Pudenziana in the inner row and Christ and the Apostles in the outer row. At the corners are four saints.

Over the door on the inside of the chapel shows half-length figures of Pope Paschal's mother Theodora (with a square nimbus showing that she was alive when it was made), St. Prassede, St. Pudenziana, and Agnes.
The mosaic is labeled Theodora Episcopa (Theodora the Bishop), a piece of interesting evidence in the argument in favor of female Catholic priests. The Church insists that the Episcopa means just that she was the mother of the Pope, but that could easily have been said more clearly in other ways.  Thedora Episcopa means Theodora the Bishop. Above is the Lamb of God on the mount with four stags drinking from the four Rivers of Paradise.
The gold ceiling shows a bust of Christ supported by four winged angels in white.


The mosaics in the Capella di San Zeno are the most significant example of Byzantine artistic culture still visible in Rome.



  • Santa Prassede is open 07:30-12:00 and 16:00-18:30.
  • The church entrance is located on Via di Santa Prassede, about a block behind Santa Maria Maggiore.
  • The main entrance is down Via di Santa Prassede and to the right on Via San Martino ai Monti (but it's not always open).
  • The entrance to the church is free, but have €1 coins handy to light up Capella di San Zeno. Otherwise it's difficult to see the mosaics.
NOTE: I apologize for the less than quality photos in this post. At the time, my camera was not the best and I was still learning how to photograph in dimly lit places. But I felt it necessary to use my own photos rather than "borrow" someone else's.

Thank you for visiting.

A Great Europe Trip Planner 



One of the great churches in Rome is San Giovanni in Laterano.
This is Rome’s first Christian basilica. This is Rome’s cathedral. It is here that the pope officiates in his capacity as bishop of Rome. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it contains the papal throne (Cathedra Romana), and ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, even above the Basilica San Pietro.

When you visit this church, don't miss the Cloisters. The Cloisters, all that remains of the Benedictine monastery, was built in the 1220s and 1230s. Each of the four sides of the cloister is made up of five sections which are divided into five section of small arches. The arches rest on pairs of small columns of different shapes and designs: some plain, solid marble, some twisted spirals.

Many of the columns are decorated with beautiful 13th century Cosmatesque mosaics.

The word cosmatesque is derived from the Cosmati, one of the leading families of marble craftsmen in Rome who created such geometrical decorations in the 12th and 13th centuries. Cosmati work is different than other mosaic work in that it is a glass mosaics used in combination with marble.


Above the arches runs a mosaic band with inlaid marble...

Walk around the covered passageway. You'll see a beautiful example of 13th century fresco of the Virgin Mary...


Other artifacts seen come from archeological excavations in the area surrounding the Basilica and Cloisters, some dating from the Roman ages.  The Cloisters also contain pieces taken from the basilica itself, placed out here by Francesco Borromini during his renovation of the church in the mid-17th century.  Among the artifacts are a fragment of a small twisted Cosmatesque column perhaps from the Altar of Mary Magdalene, testifying to the age-long history of San Giovanni in Laterano.

A 13th century Cosmatesque panel...

NOTE: There is a €2.00 charge to enter the Cloisters, but it's worth it.

MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: There are FREE public restrooms in the Cloisters!



Buon giorno i miei amici!

Let's learn more Italian words that may come in handy during your trip:

If you need to buy a train ticket:

Io vorrei un biglietto per Roma.                   I would like a ticket to Rome.
(EE-oh vor-RAY oon bee-YET-toe pear Roma)

Solo andata                                                 One way
(SO-lo an-DA-ta)

Andata e ritorno                                           Roundtrip
(An-DA-ta aye ree-TOR-no)

Binario                                                          Platform

Carrozza                                                      Train car

Posto                                                            Train seat

Il treno è in ritardo.                                       The train is late.
(ill TRAY-no eh in REE-tar-do)

Let's continue with numbers:

Undici                                       11

Dodici                                       12

Tredici                                      13

Quattordici                                14

Quindici                                     15

Grazie and ci vediamo!



Continuing on the same theme from the last post, the other must-see Paris museum for those mad for Monet is the Musée de l'Orangerie.

As its name suggests, the Musée de l'Orangerie is housed in a former orangery, built in 1852 to house the orange trees of the Tuileries Gardens. Used by the Third Republic as a depository for materials or a place of accommodation for soldiers, in 1921 it became, like the Jeu de Paume, its neighbor on the other side of the Jardin des Tuileries, an annex of the museum of Luxembourg, the predecessor of the National Museum of Modern Art. In 1918, Claude Monet chose to donate his great Nymphéas panels to France. He worked on these 6-foot-tall and over 50-foot-long panels for nearly eight years. The museum opened to the public on May 17, 1927, six months after Monet's death.

How fortunate for me that the week before I visited Paris in May, 2006, this museum finally reopened after a long 6-year, $36 million renovation. The most important change was the demolition of the entire second floor so that the Nymphéas could be seen in the natural light that Monet envisioned in the two specially-designed oval rooms.

Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, Soleil Couchant

Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, Reflets Vert

Le Bassin aux Nymphéas sans Saules, Matin
Le Bassin aux Nymphéas avec Saules, Le Matin Clair
The paintings are just incredible to see. These photos show just four of the eight panels Monet painted. The two separate oval-shaped rooms hold four panels each. Take a few moments, sit down on the benches in the middle of each room and just admire the incredible beauty of these paintings!

But attention art lovers!

There is so much more to see than just Monet's Nymphéas panels.

During the recent renovation the lower level was also opened up to emit more natural light. It is here that the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection is now on display; prior to the renovation, these paintings occupied the now-demolished second level.

Along the masterpiece works to see:

Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe by Paul Cézanne
Yvonne et Christine LeRolle Jouant le Piano by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Bouquet de Tulipes by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Argenteuil by Claude Monet
La Femme avec un Tamborine by Picasso
Femme au Ruban de Velours by Modigliani

Before this trip to Paris, I was really only familiar with the French Impressionists and Vincent van Gogh, having seen their works during my many trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. The trip to Paris opened my eyes and knowledge to so many other painters and their works that I was unaware of until then.

A visit to a museum can introduce you to artists that you were unfamiliar with, and you then begin to admire their work when you see their paintings in other museums. At the Musée de l'Orangerie, I "discovered" Amadeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine and André Derain. I believe this was the beginning of my expanded appreciation of the myriad genres of art.  I now enjoy the Dutch Masters and Flemish Primitives as much as I do the French Impressionists.

  • Musée de l'Orangerie is closed on Tuesdays, May 1 and December 25.
  • Open Tuesday through Sunday from 09:00 - 18:00.
  • You should use your Paris Museum Pass at this museum.
  • The current entrance fee is €7.50.
  • Free entrance 1st Sunday of each month.
  • Photography is allowed (no flash).



Almost everyone who loves art loves Claude Monet's paintings. The beautiful paintings of his waterlilies, the "series" he created of the haystacks, Rouen cathedral, Charing Cross bridge, Venice, and poplar trees. 

If you love art and you are visiting Paris, the Musée d'Orsay, with dozens of Monet paintings, is probably at the top of your sightseeing list. But if you love Monet, don't miss another must-see museum, the Musée Marmottan Monet, which houses the largest collection of Monet works in the world.

In 1957, the museum was fortunate to receive a large donation from the private collection of Mrs. Victorine Donop Monchy which she inherited from her father, Dr. George Bellio. Dr. Bellio had purchased or been given these paintings as tokens of appreciation for the patients he cared for, some of whom were Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Pierre Renoir and Claude Monet. One was the painting that gave the movement its name, Impression, Sunrise.

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet                                                                                                  Photo: http://www.marmottan.com/

In 1966, Claude Monet's son, Michel, bequeathed his inherited collection of 150 of his father's paintings to the museum. This donation endowed the museum with the largest Monet collection in the world. The museum now possesses nearly 300 works by Monet.

The Train in the Snow by Claude Monet                                                                                                  Photo: http://www.marmottan.com/

Jacque Carlu, then curator of the museum, built a special exhibition space for the Monet collection in a lower level of the museum. Reminiscent of the hall designed for Monet's Water Lilies murals in the Musée de l'Orangerie, the special exhibition space is a large, open room space which allows visitors to follow the significant stages of the Monet's path as a painter and follow the evolution of his technique and the progression of his work, as well as to view his canvases both up close and from afar. Several works were painted between the years 1919 and 1923 when his eyes were suffering from cataracts. Monet finally had an operation to remove the cataracts and was able to resume his painting; he mainly concentrated on his Water Lilies murals found in the Musée de l'Orangerie.

Musée Marmottan Monet also has an exquisite collection of Impressionist paintings by other artists. In 1987, the museum was again the recipient of a outstanding private collection of paintings. Educated as a lawyer in the 1890s, Henri Duhem renounced his career to devote himself completely to painting. Duhem was also a passionate collector. He acquired many paintings, many by his artist friends and succeeded in forming a very impressive collection consisting of paintings, pastels and sculptures by Boudin, Corot, Gauguin, Guillaumin, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Rodin. Following the wishes of her adoptive parents, daughter Nelly Sergeant-Duhem donated the entire collection to the museum in 1987.

And most recently in 1996, the museum was again the recipient of one of the most important French collections of avant-garde paintings when Denis and Annie Rouart donated their collection of prestigious works by Berthe Morisot, Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas. This collection had special meaning to the Rouarts. Denis Rouart was the son of Julie Manet who was the daughter and only child of Eugène Manet (Édouard's brother) and Berthe Morisot. Denis inherited the collection directly from his grandmother, Berthe Morisot. The museum now holds over 80 works by Berthe Morisot. (A personal note: Berthe Morisot is my favorite painter.)

Eugène Manet and his Daughter in the Garden of Bougival by Berthe Morisot                                   Photo: http://www.marmottan.com/

Rose Trémière by Berthe Morisot                                                                         Photo: http://www.marmottan.com/


Directions: Take Métro Line #9 (Direction: Pont des Sèvres) to the La Muette stop. Exiting the Métro station, follow the brown signs down Chaussée de la Muette which turns into Avenue du Ranelagh. Turn right onto Avenue Raphaël then left onto Rue de Boilly. You can also cut through the park with the children's carousel to the museum. The museum is located at Rue de Boilly 2.

Musée Marmottan Monet located on Rue de Boilly.

  • Musée Marmottan Monet is closed on Mondays.
  • Open Tuesday from 11:00 - 21:00.
  • Open Wednesday through Sunday 11:00 - 18:00.
  • Paris Museum Pass cannot be used at this museum.
  • The current entrance fee is €9.00.
  • No photography is allowed.



It's safe to say that most people consider the tulip one of their favorite flowers. Most of us see the tulip as a sign of spring, a belief that the snow and cold of winter is fading away and green and warmth will be more prevalent.

Everyone knows the Netherlands is famous for growing tulips. We've all seen pictures of the fields in brilliant color--rows and rows of brilliant reds, pinks and yellows. This area is known as the Bollenstreek, a triangle-shaped area stretching between Haarlem, The Hague and Leiden, Holland's primary bulb-growing area. The fertile sandy soil plus the climate in this area make a perfect for the flowering bulbs to thrive. From March, the fields are aglow with glorious colors. But seeing these fields yourself is a memorable experience...

Fields of tulips.  I took this photo while on the train from Amsterdam to Leiden. 
Fields of tulips outside the Keukenhof Gardens

I purposely planned our recent trip to the Netherlands in the spring just so we could visit the famous Keukenhof Gardens. Keukenhof literally means kitchen garden. During eight spectacular weeks every spring between the middle of March and the middle of May, visitors have the chance to stroll through the largest bulb flower park in the world. Over 7,000,000 flower bulbs (yes, SEVEN MILLION!) are planted each year. Every year the gardens are designed differently from the previous year; it takes 30 gardeners to plant the millions of bulbs each year.

We were originally supposed to travel to Europe on April 20, but due to all the volcano activity, our trip was postponed for 10 days and we finally left on April 30. I had some concerns that the 10 day delay in traveling would cause us to miss the peak bloom time for the flowers at the Keukenhof--we would not visit the gardens until May 3. This was only 13 days before the gardens closed for 2010. Fortunately for us, the Netherlands had a cooler than normal spring which delayed the blooming of most of the flowers. Great news for us!

Oh, my! I will say that the Keukenhof Gardens were the highlight of the trip for me. Despite all the Flemish and Dutch masterpiece works of art I saw, the gorgeous stained glass I gasped over and magnificent churches I walked through, these sites paled in comparison to the spectacular floral display, both inside and outside, of the Keukenhof Gardens.

From the minute we entered the gardens, we saw groupings of magnificent beauty:
Yellow tulips with grape hyacinth...

It was difficult to determine which direction to walk. We would start walking in one direction, and then, "Oh! Look at that over there!" and start off in another direction. We walked around for nearly 4 hours, but I bet we only saw two-thirds of the gardens. It's huge! We saw:

Tulips of every color:



The tulips I really found interesting were the ones with the fringed edges:

But it's not just millions of tulips that can be seen:

There were amaryllis everywhere, many for sale:

There are thousands of daffodils in bloom...

Hundreds of azalea bushes in bloom:

Thousands of hyacinth and grape hyacinth in bloom-I can still remember the fragrance:

And the flowers weren't just outside in the gardens. Inside the various exhibition buildings located throughout the gardens were thousands of other flowers on display in vases:

In another exhibition building there were hundreds of orchids in every color imaginable on display:


We even purchased tulips bulbs that arrived at my doorstep in early October.  I've planted them to be create my own mini Keukenhof Gardens in my own yard. 

NOTE: In 2011, the Keukenhof Gardens are open from March 24 to May 20, including Sundays and holidays. 

Prepurchase and print out your entrance tickets ahead of time. Go to the Keukenhof Gardens website. Beginning in January 2011, you can prepurchase your entrance tickets which will allow you to skip the line. The 2011 entrance fee will be €14.50. If you plan on driving to the gardens, you can also prepurchase your €6.00 parking ticket online.

However, my suggestion is to purchase the combo-ticket which will give you an entrance ticket plus a roundtrip ticket on the bus that runs from the Leiden train station directly to the gardens. The cost for this combo-ticket is around €21.00.

It's very easy to travel to the Keukenhof Gardens from Amsterdam:

Purchase a roundtrip ticket from Amsterdam's Centraal Station to Leiden. The current cost is around €15.30. The train takes only about a half-hour to reach Leiden.

Exiting the Leiden train station, just look for Bus #54 (Destination: Lisse Keukenhof).

The bus trip takes about another half-hour to reach the gardens. When you've seen enough of the gardens, just catch the same bus back to the Leiden train station.

Another highlight during this time is the Bloemencorso or Flower Parade. Every year (in 2011, the parade is Saturday, April 16) the annual Flower Parade leaves Noordwijk at 9:30 a.m. and travels 40 kilometers along the main roads, arriving in Haarlem around 9:00 p.m. There are approximately 20 large flower-decorated floats and 30 flower-decorated cars along with marching bands. The Flower Parade does pass the Keukenhof Gardens in the afternoon. The floats remain on display in Haarlem until the following evening.

When we originally scheduled the trip to Amsterdam, we were planning to travel to Haarlem to view the parade floats. However, a delay of traveling for 10 days due to the volcano mess made we missed the parade floats. However, other people have been fortunate to see the parade:

Photos: Courtesy of Deb Collins

If you visit the Netherlands in the Spring, do not miss the opportunity to visit the Keukenhof Gardens. It will be a highlight of your trip!