Barcelona, Spain: Casa Battló

After lunch, my sister and I reserved a time slot to visit Casa Battló—another incredible building designed by Antoni Gaudí, which is located near the center of Barcelona.

Between 1904 and 1906, Gaudí designed and built Casa Battló for a wealthy man by the name of Josep Batlló. Battló lived in the bottom two floors with his family, and rented out the remaining floors, which were used as apartments. As you can tell by looking at the pictures, Gaudí used colors that can be found in nature, but more specifically, marine life.

The outside of the building is designed to look like it is made from skulls (which are the balconies) and bones (which are the supporting pillars for the building). The roof is designed to look like a dragon, and as you walk around the exterior and see the different angles of the house, you’ll notice different colored tiles on the roof. These are meant to represent the scales of the dragon’s spine.

As you walk inside the house, the shapes and colors of the rooms and features are constantly changing. There is something to be seen everywhere you turn. The railing for the staircase is meant to fit the palm of your hand, as are all the door knobs inside the house. The banister itself represents another spine of a large animal. With incredibly large ceilings, Gaudí shaped each skylight like the shell of a tortoise, and made sure that there is an even distribution of light throughout the entire house.

This can be noted in one of the pictures below where the tiles from the bottom floor going up start off as a light blue. As you continue walking upstairs, the tiles become increasingly darker. There is also a glass casing on each floor by the staircase that provides a special effect. So, when you look at the blue tiles through the glass, it seems as though you are underwater, and the different shades of blue really accentuate this. And as if the inside of the house wasn’t beautiful enough, the various views of the city that can be seen from the rooftop are also stunning.

Below, you’ll find a video provided by Casa Batlló that shows the house come to life, as Gaudí originally imagined. It is truly a spectacular piece of art, and besides being a historic and fascinating staple for Barcelona, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 1 In Vienna, Austria

Today was our first day in Vienna, and the first stop in our morning city tour was to the Schönbrunn Palace, roughly translating to the palace of the beautiful fountain. All of the property was destroyed by the Turks but the Habsburg family began the property’s reconstruction in the 18th century (although the property itself belonged to the Habsburg family since the 16th century). It took sixty years to rebuild, and the project was started by the grandfather. He passed the project over to his son after a few years, and his son continued the construction. He then stopped years later as well, and his daughter, Maria Theresa finished the construction. Her father founded the Spanish Riding Center, which will be discussed in a later post, but Marie was 23 when she took over the reign of Austria. Her father had died suddenly, leaving only her and her sister behind. Nobody thought Maria Theresa would be an efficient leader since she was not prepared for such responsibility, but she ended up exceeding expectations.

Maria Theresa had 16 children in total, although some ended up dying at a young age. One passed away at childbirth and a few others during childhood due to smallpox. One of her children was Marie Antoinette, and her other children ended up residing all over Europe. Her granddaughter even ended up marrying Napoleon Bonaparte, so you can tell they were a very influential family, to say the least.

The Schönbrunn Palace has 1441 rooms all together. This particular palace was just a summer home, because clearly 1441 rooms aren’t enough for winter, spring, or fall. Another Habsburg Palace can be found elsewhere in Vienna, which will also be discussed in a later post, but all Habsburg homes were confiscated in 1918 once monarchy ended. The State took over the Schönbrunn Palace and in 1992, two investors took over the palace and renovated its original state, and reopened the palace to the public in 1996. Shortly thereafter, the Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with over 2.7 million visitors a year, which is nearly six or seven thousand people per day!

Tiergarten Schönbrunn, which is the world’s first zoo, established in 1752 can be found behind the property as well, in addition to the beautiful Gardens of Schönbrunn. An interesting and miraculous fact is that with over 200 bombs having been dropped in Vienna during World War II, only one hit the palace. Ironically enough, the bomb hit the ceiling containing a picture of a war, but luckily, the bomb didn’t destroy it!

You can’t take pictures inside of the palace, so three of the pictures I’ve included below were taken from the following link, as were their descriptions (if you click on each individual picture). And if you’re interested in seeing more of the palace’s interior, feel free to click on the link below!

Day 1 In Kraków, Poland

After spending the past few days in Warsaw, it was time for us to leave for Kraków, Poland, a drive of nearly four hours by bus. But on our way, we made a stop at the Jasna Góra Monastery, the country’s most famous place of pilgrimage, which contains the Black Madonna of Częstochowska, which many believe contains miraculous powers.

The Black Madonna was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist; and during this time, Mary told him about the life of Jesus, which he later incorporated into his gospel. In 326 A.D., St. Helen found the painting in Jerusalem, gave it to her son and had a shrine built for it in Constantinople. During a battle, the picture was placed on the walls of the city, and the enemy army fled. The Black Madonna was said to have saved the city from destruction. The picture was owned by many other people until 1382 when invading Tartars attacked a Prince Ladislaus’ fortress, where the painting was located. A Tartar’s arrow lodged into the throat of the Madonna. The Prince transferred the painting to a church in Czestochowa, Poland.

In 1430, the church was invaded and a looter struck the painting two times with his sword, but before he could strike it another time, he fell to the ground in agony and pain, and died. The sword cuts and the arrow wound are still visible on the painting. When the Russians were at Warsaw’s gates in 1920, thousands of people walked from Warsaw to Czestochowa to ask the Madonna for help. The Poles defeated the Russians at a battle along the Wisla (or Vistula River). As for the reason the Madonna is black, it is because of the soot residue that discolors the painting, which is the result of centuries of votive lights and candles burning in front of the painting ( Countless numbers of visitors travel to Częstochowska on a daily basis to pray to see the Black Madonna in person, and pray to this timeless religious icon.

Upon continuing with our drive to Kraków, we passed an old, eerie-looking mansion, which we soon found out was a vacation spot for “good” Nazis who had been executing and following through with the orders they had been given. These Nazis were sent there for 2-3 weeks at a time as a reward, but the building currently serves as a university where classes are taught to college students.

After arriving to our hotel and dropping off our belongings, we took a group excursion to Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in Wieliczka, twenty minutes outside of Kraków. The Salt Mine, which begins when you descend 380 steps by staircase, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that accommodates over 1 million tourists a year. The Mine illustrates the historic stages of the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th to 20th centuries, with hundreds of millimeters of galleries with works of art, underground chapels, and statues sculpted in the salt. The cathedral in the pictures was built by three self-taught men, and the result is immaculate, to say the least.

Following our trek through the Wieliczka Salt Mine, we came across a ministry located across the street from our hotel. Pope John Paul II stayed while visiting Poland in August 2004, before he passed away in April 2005. One night while staying in the ministry, hundreds and thousands of people gathered outside to pray and light candles in honor of the Pope. He opened his window and said, “I understand that I’m the Pope but I need to sleep too, so you should also go home and go to sleep.” Even still, candles and pictures of Pope John Paul II can be found outside of the ministry.

We spent the evening walking around the city, and ended up finding a pierogi festival. Naturally, we decided to try some of the pierogies (traditional Polish dumplings), since that’s all we had heard about since arriving in Poland. There were so many different flavors and types of pierogies, so it was a great experience to really get a feel for a big part of the local cuisine. When we were finally all pierogied-out, we tried to walk it off by stopping at an outdoor market on the way back to the hotel, thus concluding our first night in Kraków.

Day 2 In Warsaw, Poland

This was our last day in Warsaw to take in all of the remaining sites, and our first stop was to the Old Town Market Square. More than 85 percent of Warsaw’s historic center was destroyed by Nazi troops during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, but thankfully the Old Town was restored and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There is a statue of a mermaid in the middle of the square, which happens to be Warsaw’s symbol. “Many legends exist that describe how the mermaid came to symbolize Warsaw. A popular version of this story tells of how the mermaid named Sawa was rescued from capture by a man named Wars. Because of Wars’ kindness, Sawa vowed to protect the city. Warsawa (Warsaw) became the name of the city and the mermaid is shown with a sword and shield in recognition of her promise to protect the city. In another story, a peasant man named Wars was directed to the location of the future city by Sawa, the mermaid. A related version of this tale explains how a prince, guided by a mermaid, traveled to a small village where he was given food by a mother with two children he named Wars and Sawa. The prince bestowed land to the family and the mermaid rose from the water to bless the future of the city that was to become Warsaw.” Regardless of whichever story one may choose to believe, the mermaid symbol can be found incorporated into some of the architecture throughout the city.

As we explored the surrounding area by the Old Town Market Square, we came across a museum dedicated to the discoverer of polonium and radium, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Marie Curie—who also happened to be born in Warsaw. We then came across a beautiful church, followed by a second church with an especially tragic history. During the Warsaw Uprising, the church served also served as a hospital, which was located in the crypt of the church. The church itself provided shelter to the civilian population during the bombing blitz. In Mid August, the church was bombed and destroyed, killing approximately 1,000 people. The hospital managed to continue to function in the ruined building until it was taken by the Germans in September 2nd. The invaders firstly executed the whole medical staff and blew up the hospital burying about 500 people alive under the rubble. After the war, it turned out to be impossible to exhume the remains of all the victims. Therefore, the ruined crypt was completely covered with a new marble floor with the remains entombed underneath.

After our brief exploration during our free time, we stopped at a small cafe for lunch, where I had a tuna sandwich and an incredible berry merengue pie. (Not to bore you with minute details, but I had to include this as well as a picture because it really was great). When we finished lunch, we headed over to the Wilanow Palace, a Baroque-style royal residence built between 1677-1696, and has been consistently changed and modified ever since. Each time a new generation took over the Palace, they either remodeled or added onto it in a personal favorite style, which is why parts of the palace may look different than others. Nevertheless, every aspect of the Palace is truly magnificent.

When the tour of the Wilanow Palace concluded, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. As we walked outside our hotel and continued down the street, my sister and I saw a crowd gathered outside a hotel. We asked a local what everyone was waiting for, and they told us that the Real Madrid soccer team would be leaving the hotel any minute. They had been in town to play against Fiorentina, and stopped at the hotel to pick up their belongings before returning home. With high hopes of seeing celebrities, my sister and I decided to camp outside the hotel with other fans of the team. When three hours passed by and no one left the hotel yet, my sister and I decided to return to our hotel a few blocks away so that we could change for dinner. Just two blocks before arriving to our hotel, a motorcade consisting of police cars and police motorcycles passed by, along with the busses filled with the players of Real Madrid. Had we stayed in front of their hotel for ten extra minutes, we would have seen all of the players…

We went back to the Old Town Market Square for dinner, and ate in a fifty-seven year old Kosher restaurant, with hopes of tasting traditional Jewish food from the area. I ordered a steak that tasted like it was fifty-seven years old, but even so, the traditional Jewish pictures throughout the restaurant and its long-standing history in the community was still impressive. After dinner, we stopped for a drink at a bar a few stores down and walked back to our hotel as soon as our tiredness kicked in. On the way back, we passed The Church of the Vistandines, a Roman Catholic Church from the 1700’s, and even made it in time to watch the changing of the guards at the country’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The picture below is a little blurry, but the guards were just changing shifts at the top of the hour. With enough excitement for one day, it was time to go to sleep for the night, and prepare for our trip to Krakow in the morning.