Tag Archives: Italy

Spanish Steps

Flower Seller

Arriving in Rome on a Saturday, my wife and I hiked from our hotel by the train station to the Spanish Steps with the intention of winding our way back towards one of our favorite restaurants. I had two lenses with me on the trip – a 24-120mm f4.0 and a 50mm f1.4. I bring the 50mm for these walks where the available light is low.

We arrived at the top of the steps around dusk to a bustle of activity and an amazing view of blue from the sky and gold from the street lights. Knowing we were pushing ourselves on the first day, this burst of energy revitalized us for the rest of the evening.

Ubiquitous to our trips to Italy are the street sellers with everything from glowing toys they toss in the air to flowers offered while eating in a restaurant. I found this flower seller taking a break from what must be a hard way to make a living. He looked tired, and the night was still young.

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Rain

Wet Night in Orvieto

After exhausting ourselves walking around Rome, we rented a car and drove to the hill top town of Orvieto, arriving late in the afternoon. Settling in to our hotel, the drizzle started and my three travel companions decided it was time for a nap, while I choose to wander with my camera.

I was excited about the rain. At dusk it brings out reflections and colors, not to mention colorful umbrellas. The streets were busy (for a small town) despite the rain. I learned while hiking to turn around occasionally as I might be missing a good view too focused on what was before me. I turned around to see a wonderful contrast between the gold of the street lights and the blue cast of the darkening sky with the clock tower framed by the narrow road.

I waited patiently for my “foreground” to appear. I took a number of shots, but this was my favorite.

So many changes

Rome Square

I’ve been making changes. I was working with Adobe CS4 for over four years and wanted to upgrade to CS6 for a while but first needed to upgrade my equally old IMac. Apple released some new IMacs in November of 2012 so I decided to make the move in January and now sport a new, much faster computer with the latest version of Photoshop.

Not enough change. I decided to use Lightroom instead of Bridge to give me better management over my growing library of photographs. So I am now learning a new interface and workflow in addition to all the new features in CS6.

Not enough change. I added NIK software’s products. Since I teach at a local college, I am able to get academic discounts for both hardware (minimal) and software (about half price), so I’ve invested in some tools while the price is right. The NIK software tools integrate nicely into Photoshop and Lightroom; I haven’t tried them with Aperture as yet. I still use Aperture as a final “library” as it is integrated with all my other tools (two IPhones, two IPads, AppleTV, ICloud, etc.).

Which brings me to the photograph above. It is a photo I took on my trip to Italy last year. I’m going through all my photographs looking for low-light samples for a book I am writing on the subject and came across this one. I decided to experiement with some of my new software and this was the result. I love the original version taken at dusk on a long walk through Rome, but I also like the look of this more artistic style. In some ways, it reminds me more of how I remember the square than the original.

Perhaps it’s just the way my mind works.

I would love to hear any comments you have around extensive manipulation or editing of photographs. I am a huge fan of “art” in its many forms and look at any “picture” as the artist’s expression, whether it be “realistic” or “interpretive.”

Rome

We found Lavori in Corso by accident. Returning from the Coliseum we saw a small shop with books on a table near our hotel. We didn’t go in at first as the writing on the front door gave the impression they were undergoing renovations, but my wife insisted, intrigued by what turned out to be a wine bar with walls lined with books and bottles. For the next three days, this became our afternoon resting place where we could enjoy a glass of wine, some nice mellow music and the company of Nello, the owner.

It was here, on our first day in Rome that we decided to experience the city rather than the sites. We had seen enough museums and art for one trip. Now, with the weather improving, we were going to explore Rome, enjoy the food and the wines, and the people, like our host Nello.

Rome surprised me. I expected something, well, more North American for some reason. Tall buildings. People scurrying. Traffic. Instead I discovered a small town inside a big city. No tall buildings and the same ambiance as many of the small towns we had visited on our way here. And a wonderful balance between cars and transit. We elected to get the Roma pass, which in addition to providing free entry into a few places, came with three days of free transit. My first use of the pass in the subway was challenging, but there were plenty of friendly people willing to show me how to get through the turnstile.

One of the highlights was a walk we took through a number of piazzas. We took the subway to the Spagna station and started at the Spanish Steps. It was late on a Monday afternoon and the number of people milling about and wandering the connecting streets surprised me. From here we headed towards the Trevi Fountain then to Piazza Colonna, Piazza Rotunda (Pantheon), Piazza Navona, ending at Campo de Fiori. From here we re-traced our steps to Piazza Navona to a restaurant called Pizzeria da Fancesco for a delightful end to the day.

On our last full day, we headed to Trastevere, ostensibly the grittier part of Rome but now, with tourist popularity, becoming gentler. We stopped at a place called Dar Poeta Pizzeria for some truly awesome pizza. Back at Nello’s place for a glass of wine, he suggested we have dinner at a friend’s restaurant nearby and gave us a note. Good thing as the place was packed but when we showed the note, we were whisked right to a table and enjoyed a great final meal in Italy.

We know we will be returning to Rome, sooner rather than later, and we can take in some of the sites then. But I’m glad we took the time to just take in the city itself and meet the people, who never shy away from sharing where to go or where to eat.

Pompei

It was our third day of five in Sorrento, Italy and today we planned on visiting Pompei.  Awake early, we checked outside only to find, much like every other day of our stay in Sorrento, clouds threatening rain. We packed full rain gear, hoping we wouldn’t have to use them. The walk to the train station was about 15 minutes and partway there the rain started, prompting us to put on our wet weather gear and mumble under our breaths the rest of the way.

We opted to take the train rather than drive. It was cheap, easy and stopped right at Pompei, so we wouldn’t have to worry about parking. We entered the little shop just outside the train station to buy tickets.

“You know about the train strike?” She said from behind the counter. My wife and I looked at each other in total surprise.

“No.” I said.

“Yes, they are going on strike.” She continued. “There is one train and then they will be on strike until 1pm. Then they will go on strike again at 5:30pm, so as long as you leave before then you can get back.”

As we purchased the tickets relieved that the strike shouldn’t interfere with our plans, I thought the whole thing rather civilized. A strike conveniently built around our travel plans.

The train stops right outside of Pompei, which to my surprise, is literally a suburb of Naples. It seemed odd, this ruined city being engulfed by a modern one, yet when you are inside, you get no sense of being close to anything. You seem to step back in time, letting your imagination rebuild the parts of the buildings no longer there.

We had a good map of Pompei, but there is no route to follow to see the various sites. They are scattered around the town and a number of the roads are closed, forcing you to retrace your steps or take a different route. The well-marked names of roads on the map do not translate to the streets themselves and, much like my experience in every city in Italy, it is often hard to find the street sign.

Pompei Fast Food Outlet

An interesting discovery was the number of restaurants or fast-food places – 87 if I recall. The homes were so small that most people didn’t cook at home; they ate out or went to a fast-food place to take food back home. I can see how eating in Italy is as much social as nutritional when you see how they ate 2,200 years ago. Fast food, or good food fast, is not new.

The roads are made with large stones and as we walked along one, it transitioned from smooth, or as smooth as stones can be, to one with ruts. Apparently they were in the middle of re-paving, so to speak. Even then the chariots wore down the road enough to require roadwork. I wonder if the citizens grumbled then as much as we do now. We found ourselves in front of the town tavern when it started to rain again. Unfortunately, it has been closed for 2,200 years, so we sought refuge in the baths.

The return train ride was packed; everyone getting out before the pending strike. After being on our feet for the whole day, we had to stand on the train the entire trip back. Fortunately, I guess, it was so full you couldn’t fall even if you wanted to. In fact, it took me two stops to get my hand up to scratch my nose.

The Amalfi Coast

I could see straight down the side of the cliff to the water crashing against the rocks about 1,000 feet below. I’m sitting on a bus driving along the Amalfi coast and I can see my smile reflected in the window. The one I have when I go on a roller coaster ride. I can’t take my eyes off the things that have been built as if they are emerging from the side of the hills or terraced on a cliff. Swimming pools seem suspended over the water below me.

My wife and I spent five days in Sorrento and though we had a car, opted to take the bus to Amlfi so we could relax and enjoy the view. It was cloudy but clear without much traffic so our progress was about as good as it could be given that I was sure some of the turns and tunnels would not accommodate our bus.

We were a little disappointed with Amalfi. The town levels out at the shore, so there is more room than Positano for buses to park, so more tourist groups end up here. This makes for a much more touristy and busy area, lacking in the charm we thought we would find. Sitting at a café at the edge of town you have to look past rows of buses to see the water. A short shower drove us under an umbrella for some wine and pizza followed, of course, by gelato. We decided to follow a path to the neighboring town of Atrani rather than stay in Amalfi.

The walk is mostly up, followed my mostly down to reach Atrani. We emptied into a piazza with a little café and a couple of local residents enjoying a coffee and some conversation. The piazza opened up to a beach through a gate in the wall. We sat down and ordered wine and enjoyed the ambiance. Realizing we didn’t have enough time, we decided to come back to Positano the next day.

The return trip the next day by bus was just as much fun; you get to see all the things you missed the first time. Positano turned out to be the far better destination. The bus dropped us off at the “high” part of town and we walked down towards the beach area, visiting the shops selling linen goods and several of the outstanding art galleries. It has a very different feel than Amalfi; more relaxed; more real.

At the beach, we encountered another splash of rain, practically a daily occurrence on this trip but easily weathered with a glass of wine. When the sun returned we picked up a pizza and sat on the beach having lunch. From here we wandered along the shore to a more secluded beach, sharing a few moments with a couple from Texas. On the return trip, I spotted a number of young women lining up at the water’s edge anticipating a wave. Camera ready, I waited and caught them, laughing as they were splashed by a bigger wave than I think anticipated.

We slowly made our way up to the bus stop for our return trip to Sorrento, both of us adding Positano to our must-come-back-to list.

Wine, cheese and Tuscany

“So, what do you want to do for the next couple of days?” She said. My wife Beth and I were having a glass of wine before dinner in Siena reflecting on our plans for the next couple of days.

“Well, if the weather holds, I think we should explore the countryside and visit a few small towns.” I replied. We had spent three days in Venice, a day in Verona followed by two days in Florence. I was reaching my limits on things to stand in front of and now favoring something with more of an experience.

We toasted our agreement to visit a number of small towns in the area, and started in on our five course tasting for two. We left sated and looking forward to tomorrow.

The weather held and though cloudy, provided character to the scenery. Over the course of two days we zipped to Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, Rada, San Gimignano and Grieve in Chianti in our Fiat 500 delighting in windy and hilly roads through beautiful landscape, stopping on occasion to take photos. We created a unique combination of towns called our wine and cheese tour, combining Montepulciano and Montalcino (known for Nubile and Brunello wines respectively) with Pienza (known for It’s cheese). Our trip had definitely taken on a distinct and satisfying gastronomic twist.

We had some great meals in Siena and it was a good base from which to visit the small towns in the area. We need to return and spend more time in Siena itself, though we did experience their wonderful food. In hindsight, we should have stayed in Siena longer and made a day trip to Florence instead of staying there. You learn as you go.

The Violinist

It was the eyes I noticed before anything else. They pulled me in. Walking along a side street in Florence I came across the violinist, encamped in front of a small wine shop playing for whatever coins people would share in exchange for some lovely music.

I came across a number of street vendors on my trip through Italy. Many sold knock-off fashions, or odd gooey balls that would spat on the ground forming a face reminiscent of two fried eggs. Mildly amusing for two seconds, they merely became annoying with repetition. Though a face or two came to mind when I pictured an alternative destination than the ground. As evening descended, their target switched from the ground to the air. At times it looked like fireflies as many blue glowing balls floated gently back to earth.

Street music was popular. In Venice we listened to dueling bands on St. Mark’s square from the Café Florian. Another time we came across a trio on one of our wanders. We spoke with them for a moment as they tried to sell us their CD, but guitar, violin and tambourine music is not high on our list. I can sympathize with their world of trying to sell digital music by the side of the road in this world of MP3 players. Oddly, the same trio seemed to be around every corner, though we were lost more often than not, so it could just have been us. But I swear we passed them in a narrow alley, each of us off to another destination.

In Sorrento we met a solo guitarist on the main street who would sing as you passed by. His singing and what was merely strumming his fingers across the strings only caused us to speed up. Fortunately, he stayed in one place. In San Gimignano, we listened to a harpist while strolling in an olive garden, followed by a glass of wine in the adjoining courtyard entertained by a guitarist and the company of a couple from Australia.

Rome was more intrusive. Musicians come right into a restaurant and start playing. Usually there are two of them. One would play an accordion or guitar and the other something to keep a beat, but his role was to walk around and collect money while the other musician kept playing. I found this form of extortion annoying, as I was a captive audience paying for them not to play, but to leave. Someone selling roses often followed the musicians. However, everyone was always polite and there seemed to be an implied understanding that everyone is just trying to make ends meet.

But the violinist in the street didn’t try to sell me anything. After his eyes I noticed his clothing; the gray suit, sweater and shirt buttoned up to the neck. His white socks peeking out between his shiny black shoes and his pants. Sitting on a collapsible stool, he played, staring at people as they walked by, his green violin case a place to show your appreciation for his music.

No extortion. He was a musician.

Piazza

It was the piazza that left the strongest memory of Italy. The crossroads of many streets form a square, or a piazza. Every city has them and they are collection points for people. And each one is different. In Rome, I went from people milling around on the Spanish Steps after work to artists showing their talents to restaurants lined around the outside, each place providing a different character; a different flavor of Rome. There is one for your every mood.

In Venice, I came across the Jewish Ghetto. I had been wandering around Venice and until I came across this square, I hadn’t heard the sound of children playing. Amongst the memorials of a horrific past, children played soccer and ran around without a care. There was something special about that moment. Yes, there was irony, but it felt right.

While a piazza generally comes with a church, often very old with beautiful artwork, it also comes with wine, cheese and an opportunity to watch people. I’m sorry it’s not something our forefathers thought to bring across the Atlantic. It’s not that we don’t have any; it’s just not the same. I remember following a small alley and entering a small piazza, finding a local trattoria and having a wonderful meal.

Yes, I will remember the piazza. And the wine. But that’s another story.

Italy

Well, it has finally arrived. We started planning this trip last summer and even booked out flights early fall of last year. We are, unlike the drawing above, going with carry on baggage only, limiting in a positive way the amount of cameral gear I am taking.

Oh, and the sketch is by my wife’s father, a talented artist. While poking some fun, it is a gentle reminder to enjoy rather than only document the trip.

I will post when I can.