Walking around Rome, it's impossible to miss the architectural impact that Gian Lorenzo Bernini made in designing the way Rome looks today, even 400 years after his death in 1680. However, there was another man who made major contributions during his lifetime to the design of Rome. He was a contemporary of Bernini, but also his chief rival and adversary. His brilliance, overshadowed by Bernini's successes at that time, was truly underappreciated, but take the time to marvel at a two of his masterpieces during your visit to Rome. By the way, the man was Francesco Borromini.

Leaving Hotel Aberdeen (my preferred hotel in Rome) walk up Via Firenze to Via 20 Settembre. Just down the street to the right is Bernini's sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria. But this time, turn left and walk down Via 20 Settembre to Via delle Quattro Fontane (in a niche on each street corner is a carved fountain, hence the name Quattro Fontane--four fountains). Here you will find Borromini's first independent commission and a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.

Step inside. Look around. See how small the church is--just ten to fifteen rows of pews on either side of the center aisle, the altar just steps from the entry door. The church is so small it would probably fit inside one of the chapels of St. Peter's Basilica. The color white dominates. The walls are stark white with 16 tall columns and niches built into the walls between the columns, some filled with statuary, others empty. The coffering in the niches mimics the eye-trickery on the dome: the squares and sculpted flowers in them are smaller at the bottom to give the illusion of a deeper niche. There are no primary colors except in the altar paintings and floor design. Notice the shape of the church. Because he was constrained by the building space, Borromini designed the church in a unique elliptical or oval shape.
Photo © Mary Ann Sullivan 
Look up. Gaze at the dome ceiling. Study the detailing. The coffered ceiling's design of hexagons, octagons and crosses is meticulously formed to resemble a jigsaw puzzle. Higher up the shapes get smaller, giving the dome the illusion of even greater height. There are very few windows in this church's design. The majority of the light into the church comes from either the dome lantern or the strategically-hidden windows at the base of the dome.

Borromini's second masterpiece is located halfway between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Through a courtyard off of Corsa dei Rinascimento, is Sant'Ivo, the church of the University of Rome, La Sapienza.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza,Rome  Photos: © Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan   

As with San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Borromini used geometrical thinking to form the design of Sant'Ivo. For San Carlo, he set two equilateral triangles back-to-back to form the initial diamond, then elliptical shape. For Sant' Ivo, Borromini set one triangle on top of the other to form a six-pointed Star of David. As with San Carlo, Borromini also designed the walls of the church with the same convex-concave features--parts jutting out, parts pushing in. And another similarity is the domination of white, here even more than at San Carlo (well, this church is in the shape of a snowflake...).  And one last identical feature to San Carlo: a dome designed to make your jaw drop.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome                
Photo: ©: Wikimedia Commons                                                                                       

The shape of the dome mimics the shape of the church with six points--three pointed, three rounded--each with a small window built in to emit light. Intricately-designed stucco pediments top each of the paned windows. Each of the six ribs is decorated with vertical lines of eight-pointed stars on each side and lead the eye up to the carved angels and the eight-pointed stars which encircled the lantern. This dome is simply breathtaking in its beauty and design.  So, quando sei in Roma (when you are in Rome), admire the magnificence of Bernini, but don't forget what Borromini also did for Rome. Between these two churches I'm not sure which is more beautiful. Judge for yourself.



The first thing someone asks me when I tell them I went to Bruges is "Did you see the movie?"  And I answer, "Yes, I saw the movie." I loved the movie--it's a bit bloody, but great dark humor. My favorite scene is when Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson are sitting at the table "discussing" Ralph Fiennes' kids in the Markt square. I still have the movie on my DVR; every once in a while I watch it just to reminisce about my visit to Bruges.

Of course, Bruges, or Brugge ("BREW-ga") as it's called by the Flemish, is everything that the guidebooks tell you it is:

Centuries-old stone bridges spanning picture-postcard canals mirroring reflections of the gabled houses.

The pedestrian-friendly Markt is the sentimental and geographic heart of the city. Colorful old guild houses, with their step-gabled façades, line the west and north sides.
The beautiful neo-Gothic-designed Provinciaal Hof is decorated with dainty spires, finials and window tracery.  In the center, horse-drawn carriages wait to be hired.

On the south side is the 272-foot high belltower, the symbol of Bruges, where it's still possible to hear a concert from the 47-bell carillon.

World-class art, including a Michelangelo sculpture, said to be the only sculpture taken out of Italy during his lifetime...

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child located in Bruges' Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk.

Shops selling chocolate in every shape imaginable...

But here's a few things that your guidebook might not mention:

The De Proeverie Tea Room on Mariastraat is famous fortheir hot chocolate. After you place your order with thewaitress, you are given a mug of hot milk on top of which sits a saucer of melted Belgian chocolate. Pour the melted chocolate into the milk, stir, and for extra measure, spoon on the dollop of whipped cream. If that doesn't fulfill your chocolate craving, an assortment of chocolate pieces is served on the side.

Gastronomic ambrosia--hot chocolate at De Proeverie Tea Shop.

Stroll away from the main streets. Explore those narrow passageways that lead to charming surprises such as peaceful courtyards encircled by whitewashed almshouses and hidden gardens with inviting "Welcome" signs.
White-washed almshouses encircle peaceful courtyards.

Enjoy the clip-clop, clip-clop on the cobblestones that you'll hear everywhere as visitors tour the city in horse-drawn carriages.

You'll hear the clip-clop of horseshoes on the cobblestones all over the city.
The Belgians insist they make the best beer in the world. And if you are a beer drinker, you have to check out 2be Foodshopping Brugge located in a 15th century mansion-house on Wollestraat, just before you cross over the canal. I happened across it while strolling through Bruges.

What beautifully stocked shelves! A photographer's dream...
Look for the Wall of Beer sign. Walk into the store and stroll around the aisles. Everything, and I mean everything!, is meticulously arranged on the shelves. From the beer to the chocolate bars to the condiment jars, everything is lined up in perfect rows. I have never seen shelves arranged so precisely!  Hercule Poirot and Monk would have a field day in this store!

Past the store entrance and on your left is the 300-foot-long "Wall of Beer", showing hundreds of Belgian beers.

Check out some of the names of the beers and the colorful labels and matching glasses: Pink Elephant, Dark White, Black Ghost and my personal favorite Bella Mère...

Note the old hag on the label with a beer description of "Overall bitterness!" HA!

At the end of the wall is a cozy bar with a beautiful terrace overlooking the Rozenhoedkaai Canal. Try the Zot Beer. It's brewed right there in Bruges.

At the end of a long day exploring Bruges, enjoy a locally-brewed Zot beer! 

Thank you for visiting,

A Great Europe Trip Planner 

Photos were taken by me.



In the first post, I gave you the basic words--hello, good-bye, please, thank you.

In this second post, I'll give you a few more basic words to know when you visit Italy.

                           Mi scusi                              Excuse me.
                           (Me SKOO-see)

                           Dove è...?                           Where is...?
                           (DOUGH-vay eh)

                           Quanto costa?                     How much does it cost?
                           (KWAN-toe KOS-tah?)

                           Io mi chiamo...                    My name is...
                           (EEH-o me KEY-ah-mo)

Let's count from 1 to 10...

                           Uno                                    One

                           Due                                    Two

                           Tre                                     Three

                           Quattro                               Four

                           Cinque                                 Five
                           (CHEENG kway)

                           Sei                                       Six

                           Sette                                   Seven

                           Otto                                     Eight

                           Nove                                    Nine

                           Dieci                                    Ten

Grazie delle visita.



Caravaggio. Bernini. Michelangelo. Rubens.

All world-renown artists. I have admired their works in the permanent collections of the major museums of Europe, but most paintings and sculptures are bought by the museum or donated by a patron. These works were not created for the specific purpose of hanging in the museum. However, are you aware these four artists painted and sculpted extraordinary works of art specifically for churches? The churches of Rome are a virtual cornucopia of art by these artists to be seen without the entry fees, queues or security checks.

Crazy for the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio? Plan a walk through Rome. Start in Piazza del Popolo. Stop in Santa Maria del Popolo to see his Crucifixion of St. Peter and The Conversion on the Way to Damascus in the Cerasi Chapel.

Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1600), Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome © Web Gallery of Art

Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601) Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome © Web Gallery of Art

What art lover wouldn't love walking into a church to view Caravaggio masterpieces for free?

Afterwards, make your way down Via Ripetta to Via della Scrofa. This will lead you to the Basilica di Sant'Agostino to see his Madonna of Loreto...

Madonna of Loreto, Basilica de Sant'Agostino, Rome. © Wikipedia


My photo (sorry for the poor quality; I was just learning church photography):

Leave this church, walk back down Via della Scrofa. Just down the street in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in the Contarelli Chapel, you will see three of his most famous paintings:

The Calling of St Matthew, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome © Web Gallery of Art

My photo (sorry for the poor quality; I was just learning church photography): 

The Martyrdom of St Matthew, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome © Web Gallery of Art

My photo (sorry for the poor quality; I was just learning church photography):
The Martyrdom of St Matthew, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome © Web Gallery of Art

My photo (sorry for the poor quality; I was just learning church photography):

TIP:  Keep €1.00 and €.50 coins in your pocket specifically for those light boxes.  In some cases, it's essential to "light" the art work in order to properly see it.  It will be a few well-spent Euros. 

Besotted by Bernini?  You've taken the obligatory photos of the Spanish Steps and filled your water bottle in the boat-shaped Fontana della Barcaccia. 

Fontana della Barcaccia (said to be designed by Bernini's father, Pietro)
in front of the Spanish Steps in Rome.  Don't be afraid to drink the water!
TIP:  Don't be afraid to drink the water from this fountain or the Signor Nasosi (the "big nose" water faucets in the streets and piazzas). All of Rome’s fountains are aqueduct-powered. It is completely safe to fill your water bottle directly from the faucets--it's probably safer than what you drink at home!

From the Spanish Steps walk south on Via Propaganda. At the intersection of Via di Capo le Case you will see the church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte.  Inside, on either side of the altar, are two angels sculpted by Bernini in 1668 and 1669 that were originally intended to decorate the Ponte Sant'Angelo, but Pope Clement IX opposed the project, feeling the statues too important to be left exposed to the elements, so they remained in the artist's studio and were eventually donated to the church by Bernini's nephew. Like the ones on the bridge, these angels carry symbols of the Passion: the Scroll and the Crown of Thorns.
Angel with the Scroll, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, Rome © tesoridiroma.net

My photo (sorry for the poor quality; I was just learning church photography):

Angel with the Crown of Thorns, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, Rome © Web Gallery of Art

 My photo (sorry for the poor quality; I was just learning church photography):

All guidebooks describe in length Bernini's masterpiece, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa which is located in Santa Maria della Vittoria. And they're correct in stating that this piece of art should not be missed. The entire chapel is gorgeous.

The church gained even more popularity after it was mentioned in the bestselling novel Angels & Demons (although in the book, the church is located a couple of blocks away from its actual location.)

Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

But few guidebooks mention Bernini's other "Ecstasy" sculpture, Beata Ludovica Albertoni, located in the Trastevere area.  San Francesco a Ripa is a small church situated at the end of Via di San Francesco a Ripa, east of Viale di Trastevere.

Beata Ludovica Albertoni, San Francesco a Ripa, Rome © Wikipedia

TIP: In general, only the major churches in Rome are open between the hours of 13:00 and 16:00 (remember Europeans use the 24-hour clock), but do stay open until 18:00 or 19:00. Plan accordingly!

Mad for Michelangelo?  OK, after a pleasant lunch dining al fresco in Piazza della Rotonda (I wanted to pinch myself as I thought, "I'm in Rome, sitting here eating a melt-in-your-mouth plate of spaghetti and the actual Pantheon is in front of me!), walk around to the left of Pantheon.

I'm eating lunch in Rome, looking right at the Pantheon. Am I dreaming?

In the small Piazza della Minerva is Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome's only Gothic-style church (a bit of change from all the Baroque). In this church to the left of the altar is a statue by Michelangelo, Christ Bearing the Cross. Originally Christ was naked, but later the prudish Counter-Reformation censors added the bronze girdle.

Don't miss the little-known sculpture by Bernini on the fifth pier from the entrance, Monument to Maria Raggi.

Monument to Maria Raggi, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

More marble by Michelangelo?  After eating the breakfast that is included with your room at my preferred accommodation in Rome, the Hotel Aberdeen, catch Bus #84 at the Reppublica Stop (Direction: Piazza Venezia/Campidoglio) for 5 stops to the Cavour/Annabaldi bus stop. Exiting the bus, cross the street and walk up a set of unfortunately steep stairs.  At the top of the stairs will be San Pietro in Vincoli, a small basilica famous for housing Michelangelo's statue of Moses.

The tomb of Pope Julius II, featuring Moses by Michelangelo in San Pietro in Vincolo, Rome.

In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to build his tomb, a huge mausoleum for St. Peter's Basilica.  Moses was to be one of the 40 statues encompassing the huge monument.  Michelangelo traveled to Carrara, selecting 100 tons of marble for the project.  However, progress on the project was halted over the years for many reasons: Discord between Pope and artist; Michelangelo was also busy painting some famous ceiling down the road; then Julius II died. For over 30 years Michelangelo worked on the tomb. The only statues Michelangelo actually completed himself are the Moses, Jacob’s wives Rachel (left), and Leah (right).

Want to relish a Rubens in Rome? This morning after breakfast at Hotel Aberdeen, walk down to Via Nazionale. Catch Bus #64 to the Chiesa Nuovo bus stop.

TIP: www.atac.roma.it is the Rome bus website. Type in your bus route number in the "Find Your Bus" space and you'll get a map showing the bus route. Bus routes #40 and #64 travel to the historic center and St. Peter's Square and you can easily catch either from Via Nazionale near Hotel Aberdeen. Want to explore the streets of Trastevere? Catch Bus H from near the Termini Station.  And the cost is so cheap! One ticket costs €1.00 and lasts for 75 minutes. AND DON'T FORGET TO VALIDATE YOUR TICKETS! 

TIP: Every guidebook warns about pickpockets. I have traveled to Europe three times and ridden dozens of buses and Metro trains. I've traveled with my sister, and we are both aged 50+. I've never come close to becoming a victim of a crime. Maybe it's because I work in a major U.S. city and know how to travel without inviting someone's hand into my bag. A few suggestions from me: DON'T carry a bag that doesn't have a zipper--keep the zipper closed and in front of you. If your bag doesn't have a zipper, carry the bag so the flap is facing you; DON'T set your bag on another chair or hang it behind your chair while you're eating--put in on the ground under the table or between your feet; DON'T carry a lot of cash with you--take what you need and leave the remainder in your hotel room (choose to use a moneybelt if you want--I don't.); DON'T engage in conversation with anyone who is trying to sell you something or seems shady--say no and walk away or better yet, just ignore them; DON'T wander into areas that don't seem safe especially if you're traveling solo--exploring the backstreets is one thing, but be sensible about it; If you are approached by a robber asking for your wallet or purse, DON'T hand it to him--DO toss it away from you. Chances are the robber is more interested in your money than you and he will go for it, not you. Then run like hell in the other direction; DON'T yell "Help"--rescuers may be frightened away; DO yell "Fire"--it tends to draw a crowd (But DON'T yell it in a crowded indoor place!); DO pay attention to your surroundings--it's so easy to be become distracted gaping at the wonders of Europe; DO research before you travel--knowing what you're doing and where you are going will help you not look like a totally confused tourist or become a victim of crime. You don't want something bad to ruin your trip.

Exiting Bus #64 pickpocket-free, head over to Santa Maria in Vallicella, also known as Chiesa Nuova. You'll know you've reached the church when you see the small fountain that resembles a tureen.

Inside over the main altar are three early paintings by Peter Paul Rubens: Madonna and Child Adored by Angels in the center; St. Domitilla with St. Nereus and St. Achilleus to the left and St. Gregory the Great with St. Maurua and St. Papia to the right.

Madonna and Child Adored by Angels, Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome © Web Gallery of Art

St. Domitilla with St. Nereus and St. Achilleus, Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome © Wikipedia


St. Gregory the Great with St. Maurua and St. Papia, Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome © web.tiscali.it

My photo (sorry for the poor quality; I was just learning church photography); however, you can see the three Rubens paintings left, center and right.

I've described nine different churches in this blog post, but there are hundreds of other beautifully decorated places of worship in Rome which contain paintings and sculptures by men whose talents made Rome the spectacular city it is today. There are over 300 churches in the historic area of Rome, so get out there. Don't just concentrate on the "biggies". Some of the most beautiful churches in Rome aren't even listed in a guidebook.

Thank you for visiting,

A Great Europe Trip Planner



Standing. In. Line.

It's inevitable when visiting popular European destinations. Or is it? Most people don't realize that those long lines you see outside the major museums and attractions are not to get into the sights, but to buy the entrance tickets. With some careful research and planning, you can avoid wasting time standing in line to buy your ticket and spend that time more wisely actually visiting the sight. You have precious little vacation time as it is, and you're about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting to your destination. Spend a few minutes planning and researching in order to spend your time wisely!

The simplest way to avoid standing in line to buy a ticket at your favorite sight is to pre-purchase your tickets online. Major European attractions, including the major Paris museums, the major Florence museums, the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Vatican Museum and Colosseum in Rome allow you to pre-purchase and print out your tickets online. There may be a nominal convenience fee charged, but that is nothing compared to the convenience you will experience by not having to stand in line, especially at the Vatican Museum. Having that ticket in hand will allow you to jump to the front of the line or enter through a separate entrance.

Ask your hotel if they sell tickets to the major sites in their city.

On my recent trip to Amsterdam, we arrived from Brussels via train on a Sunday morning. Our first planned visit was to the Rijksmuseum. The tram ride from Centraal Station to our hotel took us past the Rijksmuseum. Since it was Sunday, the line to purchase tickets to the museum was out the door, down the street and around the corner...easily an hour's wait--in the rain! I simply would not stand in that line. We pre-purchased our tickets from our hotel which allowed us to enter the museum through a different line. When we arrived at the museum, there were about 10 people in that line. We waited perhaps 10 minutes to enter the museum.

Another option in most major European cities is a museum/transportation pass.

The best one is the Paris Museum Pass. This pass will save you money if you plan to visit several Paris sights. If you purchased individual tickets (even online) for the Louvre, Orsay, Orangerie, Rodin and Pompidou museums plus St. Chapelle, you will spend at least €49.00. A 2-day Paris Museum Pass will cost you €32.00; the 4-day pass will cost you €48.00. However the most important feature of the Paris Museum Pass is it will allow you to skip the line.

One of the highlights of my trip to Paris in 2006 was visiting the Musée de l'Orangerie which had just reopened that week after being under renovation for years! We were thrilled to be able to see Monet's famous Waterlilies paintings.

Since we were visiting Paris for six days, we purchased a Paris Museum Pass.

When we arrived at the Musée de l'Orangerie, the line to get in measured from the museum entrance into the Jardin des Tuileries. Did we have to wait in that line?

Absolutely not! Because we had our Museum Passes, we were able to walk past dozens of people directly to the entrance doors. The Museum Pass also saved us from standing in the queues at St. Chapelle and the Louvre.
Le Bassin aux Nympheas, Soleil Couchant by Monet in the Musée de l'Orangerie.

When visiting Amsterdam, there are two major museum pass options: I amsterdam Card and the Museumkaart. I recommend the Museumkaart which costs €39.95, is valid for one year and can be used in museums and churches all over the Netherlands, not just in Amsterdam. Use it to visit the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem or the fantastic Mauritshuis in The Hague, home of Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring in addition to those sights in Amsterdam. The main advantage of the Museumkaart over the I amsterdam Card is that wonderful ability to skip the queue!

TIP: Neither pass includes the Anne Frank House. Pre-purchase your tickets online and you will be able to enter through a different entrance skipping the long lines.

NOTE: The Rijksmuseum only allows you to skip the line if you have actual tickets, so I suggest you pre-purchase these tickets, then buy your Museumkaart in the Rijksmuseum. If you feel this is spending too much, just remember if you buy individual tickets for the other major sights such as the Nieuwekerk (€5) and Oudekerk (€5), Van Gogh Museum (€14), Amsterdam Historical Museum (€10), Our Lord in the Attic (€7), Frans Hals Museum (€7.50) and the Mauritshuis (€12), you would end up spending over €60.00 and you've have to stand. in. line.

Many other European cities have some type of visitor combo/museum/transportation ticket designed to save you valuable Euros and allow you to skip those queues. Berlin has the 3-day Schaulust MuseenBerlin for €19 which includes the museums located on Museum Island; Munich has a day pass or 5-visit pass to their Pinakothek Museums; London has the London Pass which has the option to add transportation for an additional cost (NOTE: This pass is more cost-effective if you purchase a multi-day version--the one day pass is £40.00--YIKES!); Bruges has its 3-day €15.00 Combo-Ticket; Rome has its 3-day Roma Pass (€25), a transportation/discounted museum/archeological site pass; and starting in September of this year, Florence should have its 3-day €50.00 Florence Museum Card which will include reservations and a bus pass. The current museum pass is the Friends of the Uffizi Museum Pass (€60/individual or €100/family of 4). This annual pass allows you to not only skip the queue and avoid having to make those necessary reservations for the Uffizi and Accademia Museums, but will allow you to visit the museums as many times as you want. Logically, this is the perfect pass for those long-term travelers to Florence.

You've worked hard to save for that trip to Europe. You have a limited amount of time, but a list of sights to see as long as your arm. A few minutes of research will save you time and money allowing you more time to enjoy your visit.

Thank you for visiting,

A Great Europe Trip Planner 

All photos were taken by me.