When I travel and meet people, the ones I’m most envious of aren’t the ones living opulent lifestyles nor the people who are hustling to follow their professional aspirations. I admire the ones who have nothing holding them backRead More
For a place that is renowned for its architecture and also its religious fervor, it's only fitting that there would be numerous cathedrals and basilicas that are the quintessential destinations when visiting certain Spanish cities. After taking a breathtaking trip a few weeks ago, I decided to list the most majestic, immense, and important ones in the country.
- Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See (Seville)
It's the 3rd largest church, but the biggest cathedral, in the world; The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the gem of the beautiful medieval city of Seville. The burial site of Christopher Columbus, it was completed in the 1500's where it surpassed the Hagia Sofia as the worlds largest cathedral. A title held for over 1,000 years.
- Almudena Cathedral (Madrid)
Here for its historical significance as well as its interior beauty. It's certainly not because of the exterior, which is intentionally dull so as not to outshine the Royal Palace across the street. Inside is a different story with modern renderings juxtaposed against Baroque and Gothic exteriors. Probably because even though the Spanish broke ground in the late 1800's, they didn't finish until 1993. It's the place where King Felipe VI married, making it a significant landmark for Spain regardless of religious status.
- Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (Galicia)
The alleged burial site of one of Jesus's twelve apostles - St. James. It is also the final stop on the legendary Camino de Santiago, or in English the St. James Way. The famous pilgrimage trail concludes at the Shrine of St. James in this legendary church.
- The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (Barcelona)
Also known as Barcelona Cathedral, the heart of Barri Gotic houses one of Spain's most important churches. The church is famous for its jagged spires at its top and the gargoyles jutting out from the side. Personally, I think the most beautiful aspects are within the walls. The atrium fountain and elaborate tombs of Eulalia and Olegarius.
- Primate Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo (Toledo)
The old seat of the Spanish Empire - this cathedral, like Seville, is the exclamation point on a romantic medieval city. Only an hour drive from Madrid this is maybe the most important and beautiful Gothic cathedral in Spain. And it's about as old as Columbus's "discovery" of America. The whole old town and river bank are worth the walk.
- La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona)
Probably the most famous landmark in a city full of them. This basilica is Gaudi's magnum opus and is a stark contrast from the cold, uninviting churches you find elsewhere. Draped in warm rose windows on the inside and amorphous figures ooze up from the outer walls. With long and one-of-a-kind towers bolting up it is supposed to represent the Earth's attempt at connecting to Heaven. The craziest part is it's not even done yet. But apparently, it'll be even grander by its completion date in 2026.
- The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona (Girona)
Since I've talked so much about beautiful medieval city centers in Spain, I'd be remiss not to mention Catalonia's greatest one in Girona. The old town is a major locale for King's Landing and Braavos for the upcoming Game of Thrones season. The Cathedral is the location for the legendary "Shame" scene from season 5. It's also the exterior of the home of the Sparrows.
Its history goes way beyond television, though. A church existed before at least 717 AD, but the earliest remnants are from the 11th century with the Charlemagne Bell Tower. With redesigns and renovations carrying on in the 15th, 16th, and 20th centuries; you can see different styles from the dominant periods of the time as well as artifacts crossing these periods. Even more impressive, it has the second largest nave in the world and the largest Gothic one.
- Basilica Nuestra Senora de Pilar (Zaragoza)
Not as famous as its counterparts, this is my favorite church that I've ever encountered. It's massive and beautifully lit on the outside, rests on a perfect spot on the Ebro river, has beautiful masonry and paintings, and a fascinating history. Home to some of Goya's most impressive work, it's probably best known for being the spot where Saint James saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary shortly before her assumption. Many churches stood here at different periods of time. With the first coming in the 1st century AD, the current version sprung up between the 17th and 19th centuries. A baroque style church that luckily survived the dropping of three bombs during the Spanish Civil War that thankfully never exploded. Divine intervention? You have to see it to decide for yourself.
Every year, around New Year's, it seems the feeling of declinism is strong. But thankfully my year didn't ring out that way. In honor of all the beautiful places, I saw this year I wanted to countdown the five best travel destinations. From coffee shops and clubs in the Balkans to parks in Amsterdam, I wanted to share how experiencing different cultures, history, and environments made 2015 a year I'll never forget.
5. ZLATNA RIBICA - SARAJEVO, BiH
This little coffee shop off Tito Avenue in Sarajevo says a lot about the current city. First off, it's a coffee shop which is essential to Bosnian culture. It's also a pretty modern set up and crowd, with a lot of trinkets from the past. The only things this cafe/bar doesn't encapsulate are the rolling hills and Ottoman feel of the old town. Bosnia was one of the coolest places I've ever been and didn't know much about outside the war. It's also relatively untouched as far European tourist destinations go. To me, the cafe exemplifies the feelings of Sarajevo, a modernizing city with images of its past punctuating every bit of its surrounding.
4. VONDELPARK - AMSTERDAM, NL
A city that's so much more than hookers and drugs, Amsterdam is a culturally vibrant and beautiful city. Vondelpark is a pretty famous locale that sits on the edge of Leidesplein and the Museum District. It's probably the best place in the city to ride your bike to and relax after seeing Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. There's a lot of beauty with the various ponds and the rose garden. From there you can hit up the bars or cafes that line the outside or play a game of giant chess in Leidesplein.
3. SUNSET POINT - CAPPADOCIA, TR
Cappadocia is probably the most unique place I've been in the world, and the Fairy Chimneys definitely are the major contributor. However, the most magnificent beauty that I experienced was hiking through the Rose and Red Valleys to end up at Sunset Point. It has a little bit of everything, a few fairy chimneys, frescoed churches, kangal dogs. Thanks to Fevzi at Fresco Cave Suites for showing us old Churches and the best vistas. He knows the trails like the back of his hand and is always looking to practice his English. Finishing an afternoon of hiking with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset from the above view is something that I'll never forget and was the perfect way to end my trip. Go in the fall when it's not too hot but still has all the colors.
2. RIVER BOAT CLUBS - BELGRADE, SRB
I'll be the first to admit I'm not a dancer and usually not one to stay at them till closing, but in Belgrade, I didn't leave till the sun was coming up for three straight nights. And sometimes my group was some of the first people back to the hostel (except for the people who couldn't even make it out). The views are beautiful, drinks inexpensive (if you're a tourist), and people are friendly. There was no elitist vibe at any of the places, and everyone was just trying to have a good time. As you can see below some people had too good of a time.
The Blue Cruise is the coolest thing I've ever done, but I did it in 2014. It's all-inclusive, except for booze - which my brother managed to drink more of than anyone else even drank water. The sea is at around bathtub temperature and crystal clear, the food is fresh, and the crew is always laid back and capable. There's not a single spot on this four day - 3-night trip that isn't worth it.
Berlinale - Berlin is an awesome city in its own right. With a vibrant nightlife that
contrasts with a macabre history interwoven with a mighty imperial past. But during the winter, the Berlin Film Festival brings in some of the most significant stars and best films to be received in any given year. From Hollywood fare to independents, it's one of the best film festivals in Europe, if not the world.
Walking around Budapest - One of my favorite cities in the world. Budapest is on either side of the Danube and gives you the best of both worlds. The Pest side is flat with tons of great food (seriously Hungarian food is incredible) and tons of bars. You get some history with St. Stephen's Basilica and Parliament. While Buda is much more hilly, it's home to Buda Castle, a hill that has been a significant point of defense for European empires for centuries, and a more traditional town feel compared to the urbanity of Pest. I wanted to put this in my top 5 but felt like choosing an entire city was cheating. It's a pretty walkable city, though you'll want some kind shoes, and the town really glows at night.
LAKE BLED - SLOVENIA
One of the most beautiful, peaceful, serene, (insert positive adjective here) places I've ever seen. The lake and village surrounding it have a little something for everyone. There are hostels and upscale hotels and villas. On the lake, you can go boating, fishing, and swimming. There's even a warm spring which keeps this alpine lake's turquoise water relatively warm. You can hike and bike through the ridges of the Julian Alps. There's an iconic old church and castle, and a small modern waterpark, restaurants, and bars. The area is starting to get a little touristy, so, if you start to feel cramped, you can head about half an hour away to the pristine Lake Bohinj. Or you can hike up and catch closer views of the mountains and vistas of the lake. Either way, you can't go wrong and to just stroll along the lake and listen to the birds and church bells ring through the valley was almost meditative.
Hopefully, this helps inspire you to see more of the world and maybe go to a place you never thought of before. I think 2016 will satiate my wanderlust a bit more, but sites like these make that a little more impossible every trip.