The historic centre of Cologne has various buildings and monuments to see — but by far the biggest, and the only one that it's essential to see, is the city's famous "Dom" (i.e. cathedral). Located smack bang in the middle of town — just outside the main train station — the Dom is so bloody enormous, it's quite impossible to miss. With its impressive towering exterior, and its gorgeous arches and windows inside, it's believed to be the largest fully-preserved gothic structure in all of Europe. Entrance is free, too: just wander in and look at your leisure. This morning, before I scooted out of town, I checked out the Dom, and got somewhat blown away by it. No, really: it was a super-windy morning; and while standing in the exposed plaza in front of the Dom, I literally got blown inside.
One of the main reasons that I came back here to Rome — apart from the necessity of having to collect my large backpack, which I left before going to Sicily — was to see the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. When I was here three weeks ago, I managed to see the Vatican Church and St. Peter's Basilica; but my efforts at seeing the rest were thwarted. Last night's horrendous theft on the train has obviously left me traumatised — and to tell the truth, I didn't feel like doing anything today — but I decided that I shouldn't let that completely spoil the rest of the day; so I gave the outstanding Vatican sights one more shot. And this time, I finally got in.
Yesterday, as part of my visit to the Vatican, I was unable to visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, as they were closed for All Souls' Day. Today, I attempted to make up for the loss, and to try visiting them again: but to no avail. When I arrived there this afternoon, I encountered what was quite literally the longest queue I have ever seen in my life. Ever. The queue snaked around about a quarter of the entire Vatican complex (i.e. around a quarter of an entire sovereign nation state :P), taking up the sidewalk for at least 10 blocks, and almsot reaching back into St. Peter's Square itself. It took me 15 minutes of solid walking, just to get to the back of the line. I realised that this queue was so long, I actually had no chance of getting in today (assuming I wished to wait and try for 3+ hours, that is). So it's still a no-go. Maybe next time I'm in Rome, I'll be able to see this incredibly popular attraction. For now, its popularity has defeated me.
You can't go to Rome and not visit the Pope, can you now? Today, with the weather unfortunately still grey, and with nothing more pressing on my itinerary, I went and visited the Vatican. The Vatican is a ridiculously crowded attraction — it's clear that everyone, without fail everyone, who visits Rome pops in to it — but it is nevertheless very moving and very imposing. Didn't see the old man himself, but apparently he came out for a public appearance yesterday — pity I missed that, although apparently the crowds yesterday were even worse.
Went and had a look at Monasterio de Santa Catalina today, a 400-year-old monastery and convent in the middle of Arequipa. Apparently, it's the only monastery in the world that's considered to be "a city inside a city". It's also still fully functioning, and inhabited by the same order of nuns that began it in Renaissance times. Interesting to see the antique sleeping rooms, the beautiful architecture, and — bizarrely — the ingenious laundry system that they have inside. Worth a wander, if you're in Arequipa and have an hour or so to spare.
They were selling these at every street corner when I arrived in Ayacucho. Not being a Christian, I've actually never had a toffee apple before, although I know it's an Easter tradition in Australia as well. My verdict: very sweet, very hard on the outside, and very sticky; but real tasty, and quite fun to devour.
Cath, Gaz, and myself arrived in Ayacucho at 6:30am this morning. We stepped out of the bus station, and we found an entire city that had been partying all night long, and that was still going pretty strong. The streets were packed with people. There were temporary stalls set up everywhere for breakfast. There was a marching band, singing, and dancing in the central square. And there were priests standing outside every church, blessing the masses that thronged around them. Clearly, Semana Santa (Easter) in Ayacucho goes out with a bang!