Cimitero delle Porte Sante | Florence, Italy

This post is dreadfully short, as we arrived to Cimitero delle Porte Sante in Florence, Italy to find it closed. We climbed countless stairs to get to the cemetery in San Miniato al Monte, which is one of the highest points in the city. The posted hours indicated that we had at least 90 minutes left, but the caretaker was locking the gates as we arrived. I was able to overlook the cemetery and snap a few images, but hopefully I will get to explore this beautiful burial ground again in the future. 

Cimitero Di Serrara | Ischia Cemetery

I had the pleasure of exploring a unique and intimate burial ground in Ischia, Italy. Ischia is a beautiful island in the Gulf of Naples, near Capri. It is a volcanic island and is covered with abundant flowers and surrounded by popular beaches. We explored the entire island and were delighted to come upon Cimitero Di Serrara in the Serrara Fontana commune. Each of the graves is personalized with sculptures, flower beds, and photographs. It is a small, lush space and very well-manicured. Every corner of this cemetery is cared for by family members, making it a very clean and pleasant spot for reflection. 

Cimitero Di Ponza

Cimitero Di Ponza overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea on the eastern point of the Italian island. Supposedly the cemetery dates back to the 9th century. There are large mausoleums, rows of graves, and terraces spotted with chapels. Parts of the cemetery were being repaired when we visited, but it didn't take away from the charm of the place. 

Ponza, Italy | Isola di Ponza

Ponza is a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Italy. It has an incredible history dating back to ancient times, and is a charming community with stunning views and some of the best food I've ever eaten. My partner Victor's family is from Ponza and he grew up spending his summers there. He was an excellent tour guide. We enjoyed visiting with extended family and exploring the island's many grottoes. 

Cimitero Acattolico | The Protestant Cemetery in Rome

I spent several hours wondering through this gorgeous cemetery in the Testaccio district of Rome. The cemetery was built around the only remaining pyramid in the city - Pyramid of Cestius - beginning in the 16th century. The burial ground was intended for Non-Catholic interments, and some of the more famous burials there include Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. "The Angel of Grief" is perhaps the most well-known sculpture in the cemetery, but there are many more beautiful examples of funerary art throughout the grounds. To find Cimitero Acattolico, take the Metro Underground Line B to the Piramide stop. Note that the cemetery is closed on Sundays and operating hours may vary. 

Two Days in Rome

Ah, the Eternal City. I fell in love with Rome, but didn't get to spend much time there. I feel like I could stay there for months, but we only had a couple of days to explore before moving on to our next Italian destination. My partner Victor and I explored Rome together, and it was romantic, gigantic, ancient, and enchanting.

Old cities hold a mystery that is very appealing to me. I always want to find the stranger places, but for the most part we spent our minimal time in Rome discovering the main attractions. We stayed near Colosseo, and spent our first morning exploring there. We then took a taxi out to the Catacombs - where unfortunately no photos are allowed. After leaving the Catacombs, we walked back into town Via Antica Appia (terrifying - I don't recommend it), past Arco de Druso, walked through the Piramide neighborhood and arrived back at the Coliseum. We ate an early dinner, then made our way to the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (which was under construction), and ended our day at the Pantheon.

On our second day, we ventured to Piazza Barberini, the location of the church of Santa Maria della con Concezione. Underneath this church is the Capuchin Crypt, absolutely one of the most unsettling places I've ever been. They don't allow photography there, so I have no imagery of it, but if you enjoy seeking out burial places and strange sites, I highly recommend it. After leaving there, we took the Metro to Vatican City and wandered around for a bit. Such stunning architecture! We did not tour St Peter's Basilica due to time constraints, but I'm glad we had a chance to wander around St Peter's Square. We spent the rest of that day exploring the Protestant Cemetery, which will get its own post soon - so stay tuned!

For now, here are the highlights of our 2 days in Rome.

Poblenou Cemetery | Cementiri de Poblenou

My final stop in Barcelona was the Poblenou Cemetery, otherwise known as the East Cemetery. Established in the 18th century, this Neoclassical burial ground is filled with beautiful sculptures, Gothic tombs, and elaborate chapels. "The Kiss of Death" is perhaps the most famous statue, standing over the tomb of Josep Llaudet Soler. The details inside this beautiful cemetery are endless; one could spend hours exploring the pathways and arched buildings. It was relatively easy to find: take the Metro yellow line 4 to the Llacuna stop, and walk 4 blocks east to Carrer del Taula. 

La Sagrada Família and Parc Güell

Every visitor to Barcelona will know of Antoni Gaudí and most will visit his best-known achievements: La Sagrada Família and Parc Güell. I visited both in the same day and enjoyed learning more about Gaudí and his history as an architect in Catalan. I found it rather easy to get to Sagrada Família: the Metro L2 and L5 both stop there. Once you exit the Metro, Sagrada Família dominates the sky with its intricate facade and massive spires. Much has been written about Gaudí's masterpiece, but the most striking element of its history is that it is still under construction. Building began in 1882 and Gaudí died in 1926 when the church was only about a quarter complete. In 2017, Sagrada Família is not expected to be finished for at least another 10-15 years. I found Sagrada Família to be unreal: the facades feature complex designs with countless elements, the interior is alienesque with towering columns, and the eye is distracted at every turn with unusual geometric shapes and design elements. While it is quite overwhelming to be inside Sagrada Família, I discovered that the stained glass designs are truly transcendent. It is difficult to describe how beautifully the colors blend together when sunlight is striking the glass. You simply must experience it for yourself.

While Sagrada Família was relatively easy to get to via the Metro, Parc Güell was more of a challenge. There are several possible routes, but I decided to take the bus to the top of the hill and hike down. Bus lines 24 and 92 will get you close to Mirador Virolai, a lookout that gives the most beautiful views of Barcelona - including a far off view of La Sagrada Família! Entering Parc Güell from the back entrance was a bit underwhelming, so I would suggest entering from the front of the park and then hiking up to Mirador Virolai for the viewpoint. Either way, you will be entertained by the whimsical architecture inside the park. 

Montjuic Cemetery | Cementiri de Montjuïc in Barcelona

Cementiri de Montjuïc is one of the most unique (and exhausting) cemeteries I've visited. This necropolis is built into the side of a steep hill overlooking the Port of Barcelona. I took the 21 bus from Jardins de Walter Benjamin to the port-side entrance of the cemetery off Ronda Litoral, and expected to catch the 107 bus, which winds up the bendy roads of the steep cemetery hills. Unfortunately, I was there on a Monday - and I discovered that the 107 bus does not run on Mondays. This meant that I was in for a lot of stair-climbing once again. 

My fitness app tells me I climbed over 100 flights of stairs, my legs got shaky more than once, and the sweat! My goodness. It was worth every stair. From the entrance all the way up to the top of the hill, I was wowed by the sculptures, sepulchers, tombs, and chapels. The cemetery cats were being fed while I was there, so they came up to say hello. Also - one of my favorite parts of the cemetery is that each tomb of importance has a QR code that you can scan and look up information about the structure and burial on the cemetery's app. How amazing is that!? 

I highly recommend visiting this incredible cemetery, but be prepared to walk quite a bit if the 107 bus is not running. From the top of the hill, you'll get amazing views of Barcelona, and the pathway will put you out on the north side of the hill, where you can catch another bus and explore the Olympic park and gardens. 

La Almudena Cemetery | Madrid Cemetery

I spent a beautiful day in Cementerio de la Almudena in outer Madrid. The weather was perfect: partly sunny with a slight breeze. I made my way to La Almudena from Centro Madrid via the Metro 2 line. The Metro stop is La Elipa. From the moment I spotted the cemetery gates, I was impressed. With a huge entrance and large, tree-lined paths, La Almudena welcomed me into one of the most massive cemeteries I've ever seen. It is the largest cemetery in Madrid and one of the biggest in Western Europe, with over 5 million people buried there. You could spend an entire day wandering the pathways and passages. I recommend bringing water to drink and a snack, as it takes hours to make your way through. 

Barri Gotic | The Gothic Quarter of Barcelona

While the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona dates back to medieval times, much of the architecture and facades visible today were created or renovated in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. I simply adored this neighborhood, and had a particular connection with the Barcelona Cathedral. I look forward to returning to Barcelona one day to further explore Barri Gotic's labyrinthine alleys, quaint squares, and modern graffiti. Here are some highlights from my adventures. 

An Afternoon in Girona, Spain

Not only am I a mega-fan of The Song of Ice and Fire books written by George R.R. Martin, I also adore Game of Thrones, the epic HBO fantasy series based on the series. So when I learned that Girona, a medieval town near Costa Brava and also one of my top places to see in Spain, was a filming location for the sixth season of the hit series, I made it a must-see.

The architecture, alleyways, and cobbled-streets of Girona are enough for any European traveler to visit. Girona is home to The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, otherwise known as Girona Cathedral. With construction dating back to the 11th century, and possessing the widest Gothic nave in the world, Girona Cathedral is a site to behold. And Game of Thrones fans will certainly recognize the facade and steps as The Great Sept of Baelor in season six. Just imagine the High Sparrow standing in front of the cathedral with Margarey Tyrell, and Jaime Lannister riding his white horse up the steps to confront them. There are more than 90 steps leading to the entrance, which is a Baroque facade featuring sculptures of the Twelve Apostles.

Girona Cathedral

Girona Cathedral

Facade of Girona Cathedral

Facade of Girona Cathedral

After strolling through the inside of the historic cathedral, I wandered around the side and back to see even more architectural gems. 

Side entrance of Girona Cathedral

Side entrance of Girona Cathedral

The back of Girona Cathedral

The back of Girona Cathedral

I was in search of Game of Thrones shooting locations, and just behind Girona Cathedral I discovered "Braavos." The scenes where Arya is begging takes place on the steps of Carrer de Brisbe Cartanya, and when she is being attacked and chased by the waif, she falls down the Sant Domenec steps, which are set up as a market in the show.

Calle del Bisbe Cartana

Calle del Bisbe Cartana

Sant Domenec Steps

Sant Domenec Steps

Carrer de l'Escola Pia

Carrer de l'Escola Pia

After climbing so many steps and walking several miles, I decided to make my way to the enclosed parks and steps I saw on the edge of the cathedral area. I stumbled upon Passeig de la Reina Joana, which was quite lovely.

Passeig de la Reina Joana

Passeig de la Reina Joana

Passeig de la Reina Joana

Passeig de la Reina Joana

Although my legs were very tired at this point, I decided to torture myself even further by climbing the above steps, and then more steps, and even more steps to reach the top of Passeig de la Muralla. Passeig de la Muralla are the medieval city walls that surround the old town of historic Girona. These walls supposedly date back to the first century and were built by Romans. 

Passeig de la Muralla

Passeig de la Muralla

View of Girona from Passeig de la Muralla

View of Girona from Passeig de la Muralla

After descending the wall and making my way through some of the winding streets again, I discovered the Church of Sant Feliu and surprisingly came upon Placa dells Jurats, which is the plaza where Arya watches the meta theater show in Braavos.

Placa dells Jurats

Placa dells Jurats

Church of Sant Feliu

Church of Sant Feliu

As the sun began to set, I decided it was time to make my way back to Girona train station. I crossed the bridge out of the historic quarter, and marveled at the River Onyar before meandering to the other side of the city. 

Whether you're a Game of Thrones fan or not, Girona makes a lovely day-trip from Barcelona, or even qualifies for an overnight if you're on a more leisurely tour of Spain. 

Girona

A Walk Around Madrid

 

I traveled to Spain earlier this month and started my trip in Madrid. My goal was to work on The Flights of Fancy and to photograph some new places for my portfolio. Since it was a working trip, I spent my days exploring the winding streets with my camera and my nights working on my laptop while sipping wine. 

Here is a sample of what I saw on a walk through Madrid, from Centro, including the Mercado de la Cebada, up through Plaza Mayor and Santa Cruz Palace. I circled around to Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace of Madrid. 

One thing I love about Madrid is how easily walkable it is. I only took the Metro a couple of times when I was there, otherwise I walked. All of these places can be seen in one day if you're feeling adventurous. 

Stay tuned for more on my trip to Spain!

 

Les Catacombes de Paris | Paris, France

The Parisian Catacombs are notoriously creepy and fascinating, so of course it was my first stop after settling in Paris. I had to see the underground city of the dead for myself, and it did not disappoint. With over 6 million people buried there, Les Catacombes de Paris is known as "The World's Largest Grave."

A bit of history on the Catacombs...
From the 12th century until the 16th, the major burial site in Paris was Cimetière des Innocents. This necropolis was intended to offer individual burials, but over the centuries the cemetery morphed into a disgusting mass grave. It began to pose a health hazard, supposedly leading to an outbreak of disease in the 1700s. Finally, Cimetière des Innocents was closed in 1780 by King Louis XVI and the exhumation of the bodies began.

Of course, the next question: where to put the remains? And the answer is ingenious. Mining of the limestone of Lutetia began in the first century AD (Lutetia is Paris's original name, given by Gallo-Romans). By the 13th century, the open quarries were reinforced and used as a means of supplying limestone to various architectural projects in the city - including the Notre-Dame Cathedral. In 1787, the structured quarries provided the perfect ossuary for millions of bones. 

It took 2 years to transfer the remains from Cimetière des Innocents to the Catacombs. The addition of other remains from other Parisian cemeteries continued until the 19th century. According to Bonjour Paris, politician and scientist Louis-Étienne François Héricart de Thury was responsible for arranging the bones and skulls into unique and intricate designs. 

Getting there...
Once you're in Paris, getting to the Catacombs is relatively easy and can be paired with a visit to Cimetière du Montparnasse nearby. The Metro stop for Denfert Rochereau (lines 5 & 6) is directly across the street from the entrance to the Catacombs. Be advised, you will have to descend 130 steps to the underground necropolis, and once you're ready to leave, you will climb 80+ steps to the outside. 

Unlike the Roman Catacombs, visitors are allowed to take photographs inside the Parisian ossuary without flash. I was delighted to capture these images on my visit. 

 

 

Highgate Cemetery | London, England

I first read about London's Highgate Cemetery in 2009 in a novel called Her Fearful Symmetry. The story was about a ghost who lives near Highgate, and the descriptions of the cemetery entranced me. Graveyards are my passion, and I knew that one day I would visit London to see this cemetery for myself.

My visit to Highgate was on a rainy day in early November. Getting there was a bit of a trek: the cemetery is not in central London, but closer to the outskirts. I took the Northern line from London Bridge toward High Barnet, and exited at the Archway station. From there, I walked up the hill toward Highgate, which was about a mile. In the rain and cold, it felt much longer. 

Once I reached the intersection of Chester Road and Swain's Lane, any effort was forgotten. I was immediately enchanted by the beautiful brick homes, creeping ivy, and wrought iron fencing. I could also see through the fences inside the East Cemetery, where graves were covered with algae, and some were crumbling and broken.

I had not even reached the gates yet and I was already in love.

Highgate Cemetery opened in 1839 as part of the newly-formed London Cemetery Company. With Stephen Geary's architectural designs and David Ramsay's landscaping, the 17 acres of land became a stunning cemetery. What is now known as the West Cemetery was the first section to have burials. This section includes the stunning and unique Egyptian Avenue as well as the Terrace Catacombs and the Circle of Lebanon. 

The West Cemetery is viewable only by paid tour and it is absolutely worth every penny. The obvious masterpieces are the funerary architecture of Stephen Geary, but there are many other hidden and not-so-hidden treasures inside. Don't miss the grave of Thomas Sayers, a bare-knuckle prizefighter whose dog Lion is immortalized as a statue on the resting place. Another beautiful sculpture is that of the "Sleeping Angel," who lies atop the grave of Mary Nichols. 

The East Cemetery has many gems as well, including the well-attended grave of Karl Marx. Patrick Caulfield's "DEAD" gravestone is another unique highlight. But my favorite parts of the East Cemetery are the overgrown and forgotten graves, a few of which have broken open with time. I also loved seeing the cemetery cats, many of whom live in the cemetery and will scatter if you get too close.

I could have spent days and weeks wandering around Highgate Cemetery. To date, it is my favorite necropolis. With graves on top of graves, cracked stone, lichen, moss, and ivy, Highgate has the most stunning collection of funerary art that I have ever seen.