Michelangelo’s Last Judgment – Have You Helped a Nun Across the Street Today?

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly
The Sistine Chapel is first and foremost a church. That’s very easy to forget when it’s packed wall to wall with people, or I suppose I should say tourists. Many churches are full of people and still look like a church.  The people in the Sistine Chapel are in various modes of dress, mostly modest enough, in deference to the Vatican’s mores.  The voices around speak every language imaginable, slowly they rise in pitch until the Corpo della Gendarmeria dello Stato della Città del Vaticano, demand quiet. This is a church after all.

Ceiling of Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum, Rome, ItalyI understand how that can be hard to believe, pressed in as you are among the masses of humanity. The crowd can also make it hard to appreciate the beauty of the frescos that line the ceiling. As I crane my head to review the painting of God giving life to Adam, for a fleeting moment I wondered what it would be like to be alone in here. Then I looked at The Last Judgment and thought maybe the company wasn’t a bad thing.

Placed directly above where the altar stands when the chapel is in church mode, is the above mentioned The Last Judgment, one of the most powerful pieces of art in the world. As the name suggests, the fresco depicts God’s final judgment on mankind. The face of Mary turned away in resignation at her inability to help the sinners at this point is perhaps one of the scariest aspects of the work since in the Catholic religion it is common to ask Mary, as Jesus’ mother, to intercede on our behalf.  Mary’s expression in the piece shows that at that point, the dammed are beyond even her compassion.

That said; I’m a strong believer in the fact that you can literally learn the joy out of something.  I think The Last Judgment is a great example of this. If you want to read all about it after you see it, go right ahead, but first see it. Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing and if you’re trying to pick out bits and pieces you read about, you run the risk of missing the whole.   And in this case, the whole is pretty powerful. It may also explain why the safest way to cross a street in Rome is next to a nun or a priest. After all, once you’ve viewed the scene of souls being cast into hell, you realize quite quickly that it is not something you want to take part in.

All that aside, if you want to learn more about the Last Judgment after viewing it, they sell postcard and notepaper size reproductions along with books explaining the ins and outs of the piece. These include things like what saint each picture portrays; which of the dammed was actually supposed to be Michelangelo himself, and which depiction was a not at all private shot at one of Michelangelo’s critics of the time.  They also sell large posters of The Last Judgment in the many gift shops that are scattered throughout the Vatican museums and the city itself. One of the people I met had bought a large poster of it and was so excited to have it. Said he was going to hang it on his wall. I don’t know about you, but I’m paranoid enough. I don’t need a constant reminder of what the consequences would be if I screw up.

For more info on the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museum you can visit the Vatican’s office website at www.vatican.va/.

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly


When in Rome, Aubergine is Eggplant

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

I hadn’t bee in Italy very long when I set out to see St Peters with a fellow traveler I had recently met and we got lost. Getting lost is exhausting, and it also makes you very hungry. After wandering Rome’s streets for a few hours, trying in vain to find the entrance to St. Peters, we decided we wanted to get something to eat.

St Peters Square Rome, ItalyNot being very familiar with how things went in Italy we passed a few restaurants that seemed too intimidating. Finally we came upon a place sort of across from St. Peter’s Square that had outside seating.  It was a beautiful day so we grabbed an open table with menus on it and proceeded to try and figure out what to have for lunch. This is where we ran into a problem. We couldn’t tell what anything was. I eat a fair amount of Italian food at home, but this menu was undecipherable.

Determined not to be bested, I pulled out my Rick Steves phrase book and tried to decode the menu to no avail. It was almost like reading Greek. I felt pretty stupid I mean I couldn’t even find these words in the phrasebook in English or Italian. I had been through the entire ‘’at the restaurant’ section by the time the waitress finally came up to our table. In Italy a meal is an event of sorts and no one seems to be in a hurry, even the wait staff, so we had been there for a bit at that point.

I didn’t say anything at first, completely lost as to what anything was. I was pretty well starving and I didn’t want to end up with something gross so I figured I had no choice but to admit it. The waitress spoke English and it was unlikely I was the first hungry tourist to ask for a menu translation. I was about to ask a question when my fellow traveler spoke.

Reastaurant in Rome, ItalyI assumed she would be asking for help too, since we had been sitting at the table for the last 10 minutes frantically checking our phrasebooks. I assumed wrong. My fellow traveler was apparently determined not to be seen as a tourist, so rather than ask questions, she just ordered something off the menu in the most atrocious Italian accent you’ve ever heard. In fact it was so bad it didn’t even sound like she was speaking Italian words.

I could tell from the look on the servers face that she was struggling not to laugh. Pretending not to notice, I asked her what an aubergine was in my obviously American English. She didn’t answer just looked at me in confusion for a moment and then she reached over and took the menu I was holding and really looked at it for the first time.  A moment later her expression cleared and she smiled. “You have a German menu.”

Apparently since it was a tourist spot and it would be impossible for every server to speak all languages, the restaurant solved this problem by issuing menus in various languages. It turns out I could have struggled with my phrasebook for a week if Sunday’s and the only way it would have helped at all was if it has bee in German.

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly


Atlantis on Santorini, Greece?

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

Almost every schoolchild has heard the tale if the lost city of Atlantis. Years ahead of later civilizations, the city was purported to have been filled not just with beautiful buildings, but by architecturally advanced ones. According to the ancient stories, they had heating and cooling in the houses that was made possible by hot and cold air run through the pipes they had placed in the walls. By some accounts they even had hot and cold running water.

Red Beach of Akrotiri, Santorini, GreeceIt is also said that as a civilization they were years ahead of us in laws and justice. In addition to their architectural wonders they also had art in the form of beautiful frescos. This was a dream society one that could almost not be believed. Of course no one knows for sure if it really was any of those things, because no one knows for sure if it ever existed at all. According to legend, one day Atlantis was there in all its glory, and then suddenly, it was gone. An enormous cataclysm, an earthquake and a volcanic eruption that caused giant waves, were said to have returned Atlantis to the sea.

There are many theories about where Atlantis was located. One of these is a recently discovered set of buildings buried under ash near the town of Akrotiri, Santorini. Of course recently is a relative term.  In 1860 while quarrying ash for use in the Suez Canalworkers discovered the remains of an ancient town. Unlike Pompeiithere were no signs of people. The buildings looked as if their occupants had left everything neat, so it is thought that they had warning of the coming disaster and were able to escape before it swallowed the town. Perhaps it was from these people that the stories of the mythical Atlantis came.

The volcanic eruption that buried Akrotiri also caused it to be forgotten. Even though it had been discovered by the workers in 1860, it was over a 100 years later in 1967 before a full scale excavation of the site was begun. This was led by Spyridon Marinatos, who was a professor at the University in Athens. The excavations continued until 2005 when a roof that had been built over the structure collapsed. One visitor was killed and several injured which caused the closure of the site and it remains closed until the roof can be repaired. As Greece is the birthplace of modern government it is not surprising there would be quite a few hoops to jump through before the reopening.

Ancient painting Akrotiri, Santorini, GreeceStill, you are not completely robbed of opportunities to see the wonders found at Akrotiri.  Most of the frescos and many items had already been removed to the Archeological Museum of Athens before the collapse and you can still view them there.  In addition, there are other places on the island where the volcano has left it’s mark. In an ironic twist, it is likely the same eruption that buried Akrotiri is also at least partly responsible for the unique beauty of the island and it’s amazing views.

The wonder of the ancient world is not just seen and felt in the ruins of Akritori. The whole island  of Santorini is filled with history both modern and ancient. The past is everywhere on Santorini, it has almost a physical presence. If you listen carefully, you may even hear the voices of the ancient ones in the whispers of the wind.

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly


The Whaley House, San Diego’s Most Haunted.

Whaley House, San Diego CaliforniaI’m not afraid of ghosts. Of course I wouldn’t want to tell them that. There is something intriguing about the idea of a haunted house, especially if you don’t live there. That’s why when I heard about the Whaley House in San Diego I had to go visit it.
According to some legends, the Whaley House was haunted right after it was built. The land that Thomas Whaley chose to build his house on just happened to be the same land where Yankee Jim was hung for a crime he claimed he had not committed in 1852. The fact that his ghost is said to haunt the area still I would assume that he was telling the truth about his innocence. After all if he was guilty I don’t see hanging around haunting the place for hundreds of years just to prove a point.
Whaley House Old Town San Diego CaliforniaYou would think since he himself had witnessed the execution of Yankee Jim, Thomas Whaley might have chosen another piece of land, but maybe he was just hardened by the dangerous times. Whether it was the land on which they chose to build their home or just the fickleness of fate, but the Whaley family had their share of tragedies. They lost a child, Thomas Jr. and the family suffered some business losses due to arson related fires. Before they ever lived in the Old Town house, the family relocated to San Francisco for a short time perhaps to try to outrun fate. After the major earthquake in May of 1868, known to many in San Francisco as the big one until it was later eclipsed in history by the real Big One in 1906.
Old Town San Diego, CaliforniaOnce back in San Diego the family had more bad luck. One of the daughters, Violet, made a bad marriage to George T. Bertolacci. The marriage, for reasons not noted was said to be “unbearable” and Violet divorced him and took back her maiden name. She also came back to live in the family home again, and it was there she died tragically. Overcome by the humiliation she faced for being a divorced woman in those times she took her own life.
Perhaps it is all of this tragedy or maybe simply the strong personalities of the players that has given the Whaley House its haunted reputation. It could just be that the family loved the house so much that they didn’t want to leave.
The house took on another life as the county courthouse for a time and the courtroom is still there to be seen when you tour the house. There was also some drama surrounding that, and you can hear the whole story when you visit the Whaley House in Old Town San Diego. You can also see their large collection of ‘ghost photos’. These are pictures that were taken by visitors in the house.
One of the most famous visitors, Regis Philbin claims he saw a white mist form but when he got excited and switched on his flashlight, the mist disappeared. The Most Haunted, TV show countdown listed the Whaley House as the number one haunted place in the United States. Maybe you don’t believe in that stuff. Who knows, you may be right. Still you might not want to mention that to any members of the Whaley family that happen to pop in during your visit.


Athens:From Panic To Peace

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

On the afternoon of my first day in Athens, we visited the Acropolis. Up there above the city, the warm wind whips around you and Athens is laid at your feet like a present from the ancients. On the ruins themselves a park employee sat eating her lunch; staring into space with a bored expression. For a moment I tried to imagine I had her life: one so filled with excitement that sitting on the ruins of the Acropolis bored me, but I couldn’t imagine it.

Athens, GreeceI had been blown away by Athens since the wild taxi ride that gave me my first glimpse of the city around 4a.m. that morning. Red lights had no meaning to our driver. Red, Yellow, Green, no matter… He would just lay on the horn and the gas simultaneously and keep on going.

This is a different airport experience than someone headed to Athens today would likely have since my first trip to Athens was before the most recent Olympics, so their clean and shiny new airport and simple public transportation system was in the future. Instead our plane arrived on the dark deserted tarmac and had a set of stairs rolled up to us, just like in some movie from the fifties.

When we did enter the airport itself, it was completely empty except for the passengers of our flight. No restaurant was open; no postcard shop. I was definitely starting to get a bit nervous that we may have to stay there until morning when I saw the line of cars painted taxi yellow through the Baggage Claim doors.

We went out to the 1st car in the line and told him the name of our hotel but not much else and like taxi drivers everywhere he assured us he knew exactly where we were going- then! It wasn’t until we started hurtling down streets like one of us was in labor and the hospital was on the other side of town, that he mentioned he actually hadn’t heard of the place, but at that point wouldn’t stop to let us get the paperwork out of our luggage.

Still in a short time we and way too much luggage showed up at our hotel. After a brief argument with the desk clerk we were able to convince him that we were willing to pay for the whole night even though we arrived at 4:45am. It took a few trips in the tiny elevator to get us and all our bags upstairs to a room that looked nothing like the pictures online had.

Ancient Temple Of Zeus, Athens, GreeceI knew I was near a panic. I had been traveling for at 38 hours and I was in a hotel in a country I knew nothing about, as far away from the world I knew as I had ever been. I walked across the room, opened the bamboo doors and stepped out onto the balcony. The view took my breath away. There in front of me lit only by moonlight was the Temple of Zeus. All the panic slid away and I felt a sense of peace, I had arrived. I took a few moments every night to examine that view no matter how late I came in and it always gave me that same sense of wonder. And this was only minor ruins. So how I could I ever be bored by the Acropolis?

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly



Dreaming of A Life In Santorini, Greece

Santorini Island, GreeceGuest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

I spent less than 12 hours on Santorini and yet it still feels as though it is a place burned into my soul. From the moment I stepped off the launch I thought to myself ‘I could live here’. There was some sense of coming home as though it was where I was supposed to be. Of course, that may have had something to do with the fact I didn’t have to take a mule up or walk the 580 steps from the harbor where the ships usually drop visitors. Since I was going to Akrotiri the archeological site some say might be the mythical Atlantis.  I was dropped off elsewhere on the island and was whisked onto an air conditioned bus.

Santorini and all the Greek Islands are home to some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. The bright blue domes on the white churches and other buildings make them appear at once stark while still exuding a sense of calm. I’ve tried to find out how many churches there are on Santorini, but the closest I can come is that it’s been said there are more churches on Santorini than there are days of the year. I also read somewhere that some of the churches are only opened on the Saint’s feast day.

It’s possible my original desire to visit Santorini was based on nothing more than the Disney movie the Moonspinners and later the book of the same name by Mary Stewart although of course the book came first, just not to me.  The stories made Santorini   seem like a place of mystery to me. A place where excitement happened and dreams could come true even if, like me, you had no idea what your dream was

Church in Oia Santorini, GreeceBack then and I must admit age hasn’t made me any more realistic; I longed to live on the island. Just to set up a home and to see what life is like there. Maybe that’s just the dreamer talking, but I like and admirer the dreamer in me who believes in what she wants rather than finding a million reasons why it wouldn’t work. Oh to give the dreamer free rein and hold back the worrier for once.
To go back to beautiful Santorini and get a home for six months. Something cheap but hopefully still with a view of the caldera and spend my days traipsing back and forth across the island counting and taking pictures of all those churches.  Finding out why and when they were built, what was their history, how could such a small island support so many churches?    When did they stop being needed these churches what about the Saint were they named to honor?

I promise myself this one day. I will take that journey. Of course the worrier insists that would be a huge mistake. Still what would life be like if the dreamer ruled and the worrier only handled things like online banking? I think it may be just about time for me to find out.

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly


Patmos, Greece,Poor Setting For The Apocalypse

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

When I arrived on the island of Patmos in October it was quiet. I had missed the biggest part of the tourist season, and we landed rather early in the day but it just seemed to me like a calm and peaceful place. The ship docked in the Greek city of Skala which is known as “the city of Patmos” because it offers the most private and public services of any area on the island. The morning I was there I saw only a small ‘everything’ sort of store where one could buy water or postcards open most everything else was closed. Just a note: buy water there before the hike.

View of Sakala from Monastery of St. John, Patmos, GreeceThe main thing to see on Patmos from a historical prospective is the Cavern of the Apocalypse where St. John wrote the book of Revelations.  Given the importance of John’s work, later citizens of Patmos had built a Byzantine monastery of Saint John above the cavern where John lived while writing the Book of Revelations.

Once we arrived at the monastery, (Quite a hike up a very tall hill) I understood that one of the reasons the town was so quiet was because most of the citizens where there celebrating conveyance of St Thomas’ relics which is celebrated at the Monastery in the Cavern of the Apocalypse (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/greece/patmos-cave-of-apocalypse)on October 6.

Bell Tower Monastery of St. John, Patmos, GreeceSeeing the views from the Monastery up on the hill where beauty seemed to flow evenly in each direction. I couldn’t help but feel confused by the choice of place. Patmos is a beautiful and very peaceful Island. When we were there, the weather
was nice with just a touch of a breeze.  Patmos seemed like perfect place to retire and run a B& B or move into a light airy building with lots of light and perhaps paint or try your hand at writing poetry of a lighter sort.

John the Apostle did none of these things. Instead when John landed on this peaceful quiet island located in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, he found himself a quiet cave and wrote the Book of Revelations.  Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that he had been exiled here for his beliefs and even a beautiful prison is still a prison. Or maybe it was just that God wasn’t finished with him yet and so he sat in his dark cave a most fitting setting and wrote what he had foreseen.

Still it’s almost hard to comprehend how there in his cave on this peaceful island with its bright sunshine and casual breezes. John sat down and wrote couplets about the end of days:

“The seals are opened and God’s judgments begin falling on the earth. Jesus Christ rides out at the head of the armies of heaven to do battle with the earth.  Trumpet after trumpet will sound, vial after vial will be poured out upon the inhabitants of the earth.
A large earthquake demolishes many of the world’s cities and a great hailstorm wreaks additional havoc.”

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly


An Outdoor Movie in Athens

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

I would probably have never seen Gladiator; it just wasn’t my kind of movie. But there I sat, with an occasional glance up at the Acropolis, watching a movie about the ancient Roman Empire. I heard a dog bark in the background and then a few neighbors in the surrounding buildings squabbled with each other over what sounded to be longstanding grievances.

Acropolis of Athens GreeceOther tenants leaned out of the windows in said buildings, for a chance to see the latest movie for free. Assuming they could speak English or read subtitles at 35 feet. I found myself planning my new life as a tenant of one of the buildings and a waitress at Cine Paris. Then the lights of the night Acropolis distracted me and yet another major life change based on a travel whim was forgotten.

The evening air was warm, but not hot. The sweltering heat of earlier in the day had given way to the temperature of a well heated swimming pool. Holding a sweater I didn’t need, since that’s what I do, I sat next to my friends on the un-movie theater like seats of Cine Paris. Every few feet there was a table for the refreshments they served along with the movie. Having just eaten way more than I should have I didn’t even glance at the refreshment offerings.

It is a little known fact, or at least was little known to me, that in Greece a movie shown in a theater will likely be shown in it’s native language with Greek subtitles instead of translated into Greek. This is also done on TV which was a Godsend to me when I arrived at 4am after 28 hours of travel feeling hungry and unbelievably homesick. Let me tell you, nothing fixes that right up like back to back episodes of Cheers.

As I settled back into my seat to watch the movie, I took a moment to let it all sink in. I was in Athens, in Greece! About to watch Gladiator, which was a story about something that had taken place for real, not that far from where I was. I wanted to make a memory, so I closed my eyes, felt the warm air and listed to the voices around me. Mostly though, I just though about how amazing it all was and how incredible it felt to just be there.

There are truly lots of things to do in Athens, even at night. There are restaurants and shopping and of course the bar or club scene. Still I’m of the opinion that a bar or a club tends to be mostly the same everywhere; loud music, people on the prowl.  So when I had the opportunity to visit Cine Paris in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens I jumped at it. After all isn’t the whole point of travel to have a new experience you couldn’t have anywhere else. And the best part of all was that this was only the beginning.

If you want to find out more about Cine Paris, which was built in the early 20’s by a Greek hairdresser who had spent some time in Paris, thus the name.  You can visit their website at http://www.cineparis.gr/cine_uk.php.

This is located in the Plaka shopping area and you can find info on that area here http://wikitravel.org/en/Plaka



Just Don’t Lose Sight of the Minaret, Istanbul, Turkey

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

Continuation of The Best Way To Leave a Turkish Bath is in a Taxi Unless..

A consensus somewhat reached, we started to walk towards the minarets and the girls followed in a loose group. A few blocks down and we had to turn a corner to make our way towards the minarets. Unfortunately with this turn, the minarets disappeared. They were no longer tall enough to be seen above the buildings. Given what we had been informed of on the ship we realized we must be in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar itself was closed on Sundays and so where we walked was pretty deserted.

Sunset and Minarets over Istanbul, TurkeyI remembered something else that the guide had said in the port briefing; While the Grand Bazaar itself was closed, something like a flea market grew up in its place. However even though woman visited the Grand Bazarr, they did not go out on Sunday, at least not to the flea market anyway.  I suddenly remembered this as our group marched quickly up one street and came to a dead stop. There in front of us we saw a mass of humanity. Male humanity. There were Turkish men of all ages from toddlers to the aged. There were so many that they were practically standing shoulder to shoulder with no hint of light between them. Nicole who had been my co-leader in this adventure and I turned as if one person in that instant and went into crises mode. The street we had turned down was also filled with men and I knew we had to get through this mass of humanity.

Grand Bazar Shops, Istanbul, TurkeyWe were all young girls dressed in a more westernized way, which is a polite way of saying that we stuck out like a bunch of Brittney Spears fans at a Ramona’s concert.

The first thing that we did was line up single file. I left Nicole in the front and I made my way to the back of the line. We held onto each other and avoided any attempt to separate us. Once or twice the line cut into two lines but we worked to get it back together I found myself counting off to make sure that we had the same number we started with. I don’t know how long that took, although I’m guessing not as long as it seemed. Then Nicole made a turn and suddenly we were out of the flea market and on a main road. On a main road that led to the bridge and on the other side of the bride sat out cruise ship. We spared a moment to high five each other and then heard the whistle.

We thought to ourselves, was that the final whistle or the 30 minute warning? Not willing to take chances, we ran across that bridge as fast as we could. We raced up that gangplank and collapsed on the seating in the lobby area and breathed a deep sigh of relief. At that point I figured it was okay to tell them the truth; that I hadn’t really known where I was going once I lost sight of the mosque. They didn’t believe me then. Which was probably for the best anyway?

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The Best Way to Leave a Turkish Bath is in a Taxi Unless…

Guest Post by: Bridget Staroscik O’Reilly

Turkish Bath House, TurkeyWe were in Istanbul and the chance to visit a Turkish bath seemed too intriguing to miss. Of course we had to see the main sites in the city first, and a Turkish bath tends to take a while. None of this would have been an issue except that we only had seven hours total in Istanbul before the ship was due to leave. There we were ten women, girls really, alone in Istanbul as the sun was beginning to set and no clue on how to get to the boat that was more than willing to leave us if we didn’t arrive on time.

When we had gotten to the Turkish bath our group had contained 10 or so men, but their bathing experience went much quicker than ours so when we came out they were long gone. There weren’t laws or anything about women wandering alone in Istanbul, but we were told it wasn’t a good idea. Because of this, our first thought was to find a taxi, but there wasn’t even one in sight. Not to mention the fact that we would have needed at least four taxies to get all of us back to the ship. Even if we did find one taxi, how would we choose who got to go and who had to stay? I looked up at the slowly setting sun and I caught sight of something. Up above the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, I saw the Minaret that was the answer to our prayers.

I had seen that Minaret before during a nighttime adventure. The night before a friend and I were bored so we had taken a quick walk down the gangway and past the dock towards the bridge. We had walked across the bridge and I had marveled at the men who were fishing from this bridge in the middle of the night. When we were about halfway across the bridge I looked up and saw an incredibly beautiful mosque. Its Minarets climbed towards the sky and I wanted to finish my journey across the bridge to see the Mosque up close. Unfortunately it was raining and the two guys I was walking with started whining about getting wet.

Girls… No response beyond the panicked babbling. Girls… I said again. Then finally GIRLS!!!! At that point they looked over at me. I know how to get us out of here. Some looked relieved and some looked skeptical. The rest just looked resigned. After all the ship was going to leave us in Istanbul in a little over an hour and we probably had fifty bucks between us. This was definitely not an ideal situation. Neither was depending on me at this point since this was my first trip to Istanbul, but we were rapidly running out of options.

Continue Bridget's adventure @ Just Don't Lose Sight of the Minaret, Istanbul, Turkey

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