My husband and I just completed a trip to Bavaria followed by stops in cities and villages along the Danube River in Central Europe. This has been a dream come true trip for me. My husband dubbed this my “roots” tour of the area from which my paternal grandparents immigrated.
Our route took us first to the town of Rothenburg described by Rick Steves as Germany’s fairy-tale dream town. This picturesque medieval town was perhaps my favorite stop. From Rothenburg, we meandered along the Romantic Road (real name) in route to Fussen, a small town nestled in the foothills of the magnificent still-snow capped Alps. In route we discovered an improbably located pilgrimage church to the “scourged saviour”, featuring the art of rococo.
We toured Bavarian kings’ castles, including Neuschwanstein, the castle after which Disney’s Cinderella Castle was modeled.
St. Stephen’s, a Baroque church in the little town of Passau, houses the largest pipe organ in the world.
I was transported to another place as we listened to the gorgeous organ music during a concert and admired the paintings and sculptures decorating this sacred space.
The world’s largest museum of Bohemian glass is also a part of this little town with its collection of 33,000 iridescent pieces.
We must have visited at least ten churches and almost as many palaces, each one more glorious than the one before.
The art and architecture in Vienna,
and beautiful bridges in Budapest overwhelmed our senses. Many of these places and their people suffered greatly from invasions, wars, and hostile occupations.
Vacations provide time for contemplation. Early in our tour I found myself contemplating and researching the concept of beauty. Beauty literally, not figuratively, nourishes my spirit. I can be transported from an ugly state to a state of wonder and awe in the presence of beauty (As can we all of course). From ancient to current philosophers beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, along with goodness, truth, and justice. Plato called beauty a universal value.
In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton weighs the feeling of walking into a McDonalds in the Westminster area of London compared to the feeling of entering Westminster Cathedral across the street. He theorizes…
Because of the harsh lighting, the plastic furniture, and the cacophonous color scheme one tends to feel anxious in the McDonalds. What one feels in the Westminster Cathedral, however, is a calmness brought on by a series of architectural and artistic decisions. The cathedral helps people to relax and reflect, whereas the fast food restaurant causes one to feel hurried or even stressed. Beauty conjures up feelings associated with happiness.
Beauty incorporates an aesthetic attitude which is described as the state of contemplating a subject with no other purpose than appreciating it. The 18th century French writer Stendhal said beauty was “the promise of happiness”.
Vacations by their very nature help us escape the tensions and stress of every day life. But I can’t help feel the relaxation and refreshment I experienced on this trip was also due to the beauty I was privileged to experience. It’s not just our senses that are impacted by beauty but our very soul. Appreciating all the beauty I was privileged to behold not only fulfilled the promise of happiness but the actuality.