The Duomo, the cathedral of Florence by night

The Florence Duomo: 10 fascinating facts about this masterpiece of the Renaissance

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

It bears different names: in Italian, the Duomo di Firenze or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (literally translated as Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).

It is unmistakable though. World’s fourth largest cathedral (after London, Rome and Milan) dominates the skyline of Florence. Whether from the hills across the Arno River, standing at its foot or looking at it from its bell tower or terraces, its dazzling dimensions make one feel tiny!

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Men in period costumes for the Saint Paolino celebrations in Lucca, Italy.

The Saint Paolino celebrations in Lucca

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Paolino (or Paulinus) is the patron of Lucca and, according to the legend, its first bishop sent by Saint Peter himself to evangelize the Lucchese about 2,000 years ago. Celebrated since the Middle Ages, it is in 1664, the day of his holiday, on July 12, that Paolino became the Saint patron of the city. While canons were shot at blank as part of the celebrations, some of them were loaded by mistake with actual ammunitions. The canons were firing from the San Donato bastion on the crowds. Miraculously, no one was injured! The republic attributed this miracle to San Paolino, proving to the Lucchese and their enemies that Lucca was under a strong divine protection.

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Notre Dame de Paris: back then & today

The 15th of April 2019 was a tragic day. A fire ravaged the cathedral for 15 hours, taking down its spire and its roof. 500 firefighters operating in the dense heart of Paris could save the monument heroically. Millions shared their emotions and many sent financial help from all over the world showing how much of a symbol Notre Dame is for all of us, regardless of religion or nationality. At the moment, the cathedral is closed to the public and undergoing restorations. Securing it and ensuring its structural integrity were the first tasks: the vault and structure are saved. Explore Notre Dame in this article, from its 850-year history to its current status.

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How to visit a mosque: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I am rolling the sleeves of my shirt down to my wrists. In my bag, I grab a pareo that I carefully wrap up around my head in order to hide my hair. I motion with confidence towards the women’s entrance of the mosque, when I am called back: my pants show my bottom and that is not acceptable here at Sheikh Zayed Al Kabeer Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Also known as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, this half-a-billion euro place of worship is the largest of the UAE, and can host more than 40,000 worshipers. I am Keep travelling!

Decrypting the temple of light, La Sagrada Familia

Standing on the bunker del Carmen overlooking the city of Barcelona bathed by the sunset light, La Sagrada Familia boldly rises above the buildings. I have always had mixed feelings passing by the grey façades of the most visited landmark of the capital of Catalonia invaded by hordes of tourists. It is only by entering this basilica that I went from a dubious passer-by to being an admirer of Gaudí’s technical genius and refined symbolism.

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Angkor off the beaten path & on the single track!

The majestic temples of Angkor are victim of their own success: with 4 million visitors a year mostly during the dry season focusing mainly on three temples, the atmosphere can be lost. Still, it is possible to experience the Angkor temple complex off the beaten path for a fantastic and authentic discovery, unravelling the splendour of the great Khmer civilisation.

I skilfully steer my mountain bike along a few pointy rocks on a narrow single track through the jungle of Cambodia. In front of me appears a desolated ruin, half swallowed by tree roots of strangler fig trees. Birds sing, butterflies flutter around reflecting the strong sun rays peeping through the dense vegetation on their brightly-coloured wings, and a cat yawns while stretching its front paws on the step of the almost-millennium old Khmer temple of Preah Khan in the temple complex of Angkor.

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Controversial morning alms ritual in Luang Prabang

It is 4:30 am in the dark streets of Luang Prabang, and I feel the chill air on my cheeks. I am still wondering if all this was a good idea, as we are walking the empty alleys of the former capital of Laos before sunrise. Somehow, I still want to form my own opinion about the morning alms ritual that is so famous in Luang Prabang and try to answer the question that has been bugging me for a while: how can an ancient religious tradition of meditative nature become a controversial tourist attraction? Keep reading

Wat Pho’s majestic reclining Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand

I am contemplating the serene smile on the 2.5-metre-wide delicate face of the golden reclining Buddha. I try to step back in the finely decorated chapel to take it all in. The whole figure is 46 metres in length and 15 metres in height. It is one of the largest Buddhas of Thailand, here in Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, in the heart of Bangkok and it is truly majestic. Keep reading