Monday, April 29, 2019

Italy - Day 5 (Part Deux): Pompeii

Everyone has that place they believe they'll never actually visit. For me, there were two which were just too legendary and too far away that there's no way the stars would ever align properly for me to visit. Atlantis was one of those places. Pompeii was another.

Of course, unlike Atlantis, Pompeii is very real.

In 78AD. this bustling ancient city was home to some 20,000 people who really wanted nothing more out of their days than to go to work, go home, play with their kids and live their lives.

That all changed the year after. In 79AD. Mount Vesuvius erupted violently, spewing over 1.5 million tons of molten rock, pulverized pumice and hot ash every second. In total, it released the thermal equivalent of over 100,000 Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bombs combined.

The culprit: Mount Vesuvius, which last erupted in 1944...

For many years, people believed that those who died in Pompeii (some 1,500 victims were unearthed) died due to asphyxiation. Recent studies, however, have determined that it's far more likely that these victims died of the sudden increase in heat. Basically, the victims didn't have time to suffocate. Temperatures soared to over 300° Celsius (540° Fahrenheit) in a fraction of a second.

One of the results of such a quick death was that people were covered in volcanic ash which, after molding itself to the bodies, then solidified. Volcanic ash doesn't dissolve in water so, as the bodies inside the ash deteriorated, a sort of mold of the body was created. In the mid-1800's, archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli developed a method of revealing the victims by pouring plaster of Paris into the molds created in the volcanic ash:

A plaster casting of an actual victim in Pompeii...

The city was moderately expansive for the day, and every inch of it was covered in ash. Today, it would take days to explore the site fully. Then again, much of the ruins look a lot like the ruins on the other side of town so, unless you're an obsessive Italian history buff, you could probably get by with visiting various parts of the ruins instead of everything.

This map shows what Pompeii is believed to have looked like the day of the eruption...
In the picture above, to the right, is the amphitheater in Pompeii. It's the earliest known permanent stone amphitheater in Italy.



As you find your way around the ruins, you'll likely find little tings here and there which offer a glimpse, as slight as it may be, into what Pompeii might've been like, whether it's a bath house, a storefront, or maybe even a vineyard:

This vineyard still produces grapes today for wine made in the region. Mount Vesuvius looms in the background...
 
A passageway near the amphitheater...

A sign, with 2,000 year old paint, on a building within the ruins...

Ruins in Pompeii...

Ruins in Pompeii...

  
Today, the ruins at Pompeii are a UNSECO World Heritage Site and receive over 2,000,000 visitors every year. Like I said, it would take you a while to do a full visit to every portion of the ruins, but a shorter visit will most certainly offer you some insight into what things were like in Pompeii in the first century...











Italy - Day 5: Amalfi

One of the first places I decided I'd visit when I was planning this trip was the Amalfi Coast. 

With a population of just over 5,000, you might think that Amalfi is some sleepy little seaside town and, at one time, it probably was. Not these days, though. These days it's a booming tourist mecca that could use a bit more parking.

If you're driving like I was, the trip to Amalfi from Rome will take a little under four hours. About half of the trip is on the autostrade and the other half is not. It's the "other half" that needs to be discussed.

Driving on the autostrade is simple enough. It's akin to driving on I-95 here in the States. However, once you get off the autostrade and onto "surface" roads to get you to Amalfi, it's a bit different. It was the windiest, twistiest road I've ever driven on, and I say this with 100% sincerity: If you are not absolutely almost annoyingly confident and competent in your driving abilities, you probably have no business making this drive. It can be downright treacherous. At one point, I was passing a Mercedes coming the other way, and I noticed his side view mirror was folded in. I erred on the side of caution and did the same.

Our cars passed, literally, within an inch of each other. Granted, we were crawling at that point, but it's still incredibly close.

Once you arrive in Amalfi, though, you forget about all of that, Amalfi is stunning:

A portion of Amalfi. The entire Amalfi coast is actually a 31 mile stretch of eye candy...

The centerpiece of Amalfi is its cathedral. Built in the 10th century, its bell tower was completed between the 12th and 13th centuries. The relics of St. Anthony are entombed here.

Looking up at Amalfi Cathedral from the Piazza del Duomo...

A view of the Cathedral from the entrance...

Now, one thing I didn't think of was the fact that it was Palm Sunday. As I stepped into the Cathedral I was surprised to see a standing room only crowd, and an Archbishop giving mass in Italian. I decided to stay. I'm not a devoutly religious guy by any stretch of the imagination, but when would I ever again have the chance to attend a Palm Sunday mass in Italy given by an Archishop in Italian?


Archbishop Orazio Soricelli at the conclusion of his Palm Sunday mass...

Looking down at the Piazza del Duomo from Amalfi Cathedral...

I've been all over the world, and Amalfi is one of the most target-rich photo op places I've ever been, From almost anywhere you are is a vista that takes your breath away.
  
The town of Amalfi, Italy...
 
There was no shortage of places to grab a drink or a bite for lunch, with lines of people waiting for tables, and almost all of them had signs like this out front:



For whatever reason, police and the military in Italy don't like having their photo taken. This cop obliged me though by saying "Solo una foto" (Just one picture"). As soon as I put my camera down, though, he starting hamming it up and making faces at the camera. As soon as I picked the camera back up he was instantly stoic.


A police officer in Amalfi...


I'd walked around Amalfi for what seemed like only a few minutes when I realized I had been exploring for a few hours. I also realized that I hadn't eaten for some time, so I decided to stop into Lo Smeraldino for a late lunch. I gotta' tell you, this was good; one of the best meals I had during the trip:

Every so often I like to "fancy it up" by going to a place with cloth napkins...

Despite the smaller portions in Italy, they don't lack for taste. The chicken/ricotta ravioli was mind-blowing...

I don't normally like to sit outside at a restaurant but, with a view like this, how could I not?

I finished lunch, paid my bill and headed for my car. Amalfi wasn't the only place I wanted to visit today, so I figured I had best get back on the road...






Thursday, April 25, 2019

Italy - Day 4: Florence & Terni...

Once again, the weather decided to play havoc with my itinerary.

Originally, my Saturday was supposed to be spent on the Amalfi Coast, but the Amalfi Coast was being hammered with rain on Saturday, so I went in the opposite direction, north to Florence.

As much as I had planned for this to be a day trip (it's less than three hours from Rome), I could've spent, easily, two or three days exploring . If nothing else, that would've afforded me enough time to visit the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.




The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore...

The cathedral was started in the year 1296 and completed in 1436. When it was built, and for a long time after, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

But, as you might imagine, it's also very popular with the tourists (you know, people like me). So, the line literally wrapped around the building, and the wait to enter was almost three hours. It just wasn't possible to visit it with the other exploring I wanted to do. One day, however, I will return and visit. The outside of it almost demands that I do.


The line encircling the cathedral...

The line encircling the cathedral...

The thing about Italy though, is that if you want to visit an ornate church or cathedral, you really don't have to go very far at all, and this is certainly true in Florence as it is anywhere else. Instead of waiting on an impossibly long line, I opted to seek out smaller churches. You see, one thing all of these churches and cathedrals have in common is that they are spectacularly ornate so, photographically speaking, there are always subjects within walking distance.

One such church was the Badia Florentina, which is situated on the Via del Proconsolo in the middle of Florence. Rather unassuming on the outside, it's pretty stunning on the inside:


The interior of the Badia Florentina...

Another such church was the Chiesa di San Firenze, built in the year 1251. It's pretty ornate for a Franciscan church, but that just makes it all the more interesting.






But, of course, churches aren't the only things in existence to photograph. Any old building, a town square; even people can offer up a myriad of photo ops. This old guy was walking along with his wife, who was gabbing away on her cell phone:


Old Italian men make great subjects...

The town square was a vibrant place to be, with street performers (playing bluegrass, of all things), a carousel and any measure of this or that taking place. There were also the con artists and pickpockets, so mind your wallets.


 

 





I can only assume that the square was as lively as it was because it was a Saturday but, being that it's in Italy, it's a fair bet that the place is kickin' seven days a week.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to commit to the three or four days I'm sure it would take to properly explore Florence. I had another stop I wanted to make before getting back to Rome, and it was a bit of a drive.

The Cascata delle Marmore is a man-made waterfall; the highest man-made waterfall in the world. Its three sections total 541 feet. It was not all constructed at the same time and, in fact, took over two millenia to complete. It started with the construction of a canal in the year 271 BC, but wasn't finally completed until 1787.

It's awe inspiring to see up close, but don't forget to buy a poncho, as you will get wet.

The Cascata della Marmore...

Yours truly at the Cascata della Marmore in Terni, Italy...


A panoramic view of the Cascata della Marmore...

Now, while I opted to stay in the dryer reaches at the falls (after all, I had my camera gear to consider), you can certainly go exploring into places where you will get, well, soaked. We're talking head to toe, drenched to the bone soaked. One couple I saw looked like they'd been submerged, but they were smiling!

With my time growing short, I decided to pack up my gear, including my cool new bluetooth tripod/selfie stick. This was the first place I'd used it, and I love this thing. A friend's mother, in San Diego, is turning 90 this weekend, and I was able to use it to record a birthday greeting since I can't be there for the party.

This thing truly is a very cool product by Fugetek that will seriously up your selfie game.


Spend the $24 to get one of these things...

Being a photographer can certainly have its downside. For instance, I'll often get so wrapped up in what I'm doing that I'll forget to do things. Things like, I dunno'... eat. It was going for 5:00pm when I realized I hadn't had a single thing to eat since the small breakfast I had, so I decided to drive away from the main roads and into the countryside a bit to see if I could find someplace to eat.

Mission accomplished.

I stumbled across this little pizzaria called Il Ristoro Del Folle, not far from the Cascata della Marmore. The proprietor didn't speak a lick of English and I, of course, don't speak Italian. However, we shared that universal language of pizza.



Il Ristoro Del Folle


Now, having grown up in New York, I like to think I know a few things about really good pizza. More than a few people have asked me to compare pizza here in the United States to the pizza I had in Italy. Well, I don't know that a fair comparison can be made. It's very different, but also ridiculously good. At Il Ristoro Del Folle, the pizza I ordered had an almost paper-thin crust; nothing like you would find here. But the taste? Wow... it was so very good! Molto bene!

I ordered two cheese slices and grabbed a can of Coke from the cooler. All I had to do was point to the pizza and hold up two fingers; words need not be spoken. It was so good that, looking back at where he had the pizza laid out, I saw that there was just one slice of this delectable pie remaining, so I opted to relieve him of that, as well.


It's entirely possible that this could be the best pizza in all of Italy. It was certainly the best I had during my trip...


Three slices and a coke came to €6.50, or about $7.25 (US). I dropped a €2 coin on the counter as I left. Tipping, generally speaking, isn't required in Europe, but this was just such a fun experience I decided it had to be done. So, for less than ten bucks I had an amazing experience which completely transcended any language barrier.

The proprietor shouted out a hardy "Grazie!" as I walked through the door, and I was gone.

It took a little over an hour to get back to my hotel in Rome, and I was spent when I got there. I got to the task of downloading the 427 images I took that day, brewed some tea, and called it a day.

Sunday, you see, would be the longest day of the entire trip, and another adventure all together...


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Italy - Day 3: Pescara

As much as I wish it wasn't the case, you can't have everything.

While I had made up an itinerary for my trip, the fact that the whole purpose of this trip was photography meant that whatever plans I'd made would be impacted by the weather. This became quite evident on Friday, my second full day in Italy.

Since it was raining in Rome, Amalfi and Florence, I decided to head to Pescara, on the Adriatic Sea. Why? I dunno'. Why not? I've sailed on many of the globes seas and oceans, but I've never been to the Adriatic. Believe it or not, that was my sole motivation for going.


 Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot there to photograph. The first thing I did was get some lunch. Now, while visiting someplace off the beaten path like Pescara can be nice, but make no mistake, it can be difficult. It's difficult primarily because you're far less likely to find someone who speaks English.

Some things transcend language, though, as this was brought to my table as soon as I sat down:



That's an anchovy on the cracker in the back, salmon on the front cracker. I'd never eaten an anchovy before...

When you're ordering lunch and dealing with a language barrier, dining can be an outright adventure. I don't know that I would normally order something like this but, hey, what the Hell...


This was one damn tasty lunch...
 
And it's served to the table in the pan it was prepared in...

All told, with the prosecco served with the appetizer, the main course, a Coke and an espresso, was €16.50. Not a bad deal for a ridiculously fresh meal.

My whole purpose for making this drive, though, was simply to go to the Adriatic Sea. I got directions and went on my way. It was windy and pretty chilly, but the beach was, well, a beach:







I did think this lifeguard stand was pretty cool, though:





On a less windy day, I suspect the beach would've had far more people on it. But the wind, and the temperature, I'm sure, kept people away.

I decided to head back to Rome and get started on editing photos (it's never ending). I got into the Puegeot, fired it up, and headed west. It was a relatively quick day, especially when compared to some others I had during the trip, but it was good and, while it wasn't "photo heavy", it was "photo satisfying"...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Italy - Day 2: Rome

Having gotten the "lay of the land" a bit on Wednesday, I grabbed the Canon 6D MKII and headed out from my hotel. I was getting a mildly late start on the day, and I knew that would curtail some of my sightseeing, but I was determined to get in as much shooting as I could.
Once again, I subjected myself to the Roman rail system which, admittedly, is probably a lot easier to cope with then I let on. For whatever reason, getting downtown is pretty easy. Getting back is the challenge. But I digress.

I took the train to the "underground (the subway) and took the underground to the Colosseum. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but as soon as you step out of the underground station, well, there it is:


The Colosseum in Rome, Italy...


I suppose it was fitting that this was the first thing I saw as I emerged from the underground. Completed in the year 80 AD, there's probably no site which, in the tourists mind, represents ancient Rome more than the Colosseum.


Located right next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. The arch was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312:


The Arch of Constantine, located between the Colosseum and Palantine Hill...

From the Colosseum, I walked up near Palatine Hill, which is the location of the Forum. The line for this was, literally, a quarter of a  mile long, so I opted to not stand in it. Instead, I explored the surrounding area, and came across the Basillica di Santa Francesca Romana, which is the final resting place of Pope Gregory XI. There are no shortage of churches and basilicas in Rome, and this one, while perhaps smaller than many, is pretty impressive:



Inside the Santa Francesca Romana...

The final resting place of Pope Gregory XI, in a chamber located below the altar...


Following my visit to the Basillica di Santa Francesca Romana, I decided to make what would end up being my first of two visits to the Vatican. As a Roman Catholic (albeit a non-practicing one), I can't imagine visiting Rome and not visiting the Vatican. Countless times I've seen it on television, either during a televised Easter service or the election of a new Pope or the death of an old one. I'm not sure what I expected, but in some ways it was much smaller than I expected but, at the same time, was far more grand.

The Vatican city-state didn't actually exist until 1929, but there has been a presence since the year 324, when Constantine authorized the construction of a basilica on the site. The current basilica was started in 1506, but in 1547, Pope Paul III commissioned Michaelangelo to propose a new design. It was finally completed in 1612, when the facade of St. Peter's was finished.

A more extensive collection of photos from the Vatican will be posted in a later entry, but here are some photos from my first visit, which included only the exterior:

 












As I left the Vatican to make my way back to the Colosseum to catch the underground, I passed the Castel San't Angelo. Originally commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family, it's since been used by the Popes as both a fortress and castle. It's now a museum, open to the public.

And, if you recall my comments regarding the Piazza Navona in my last entry, in the movie "Angels & Demons", the Cardinals who were kidnapped were said to be held here prior to being executed.


The Castel San't Angelo, completed in 139AD along the Tiber River...





Now, in my first entry here I mentioned the rail system here. If you're not already familiar with it (and why would you be) and you don't read or speak Italian, it can be tricky. I was faced with this as I was trying to make my way back to my hotel, and the rail system had me throwing my hands up in the air. And, much to my chagrin, the person in the information booth didn't speak English.

However, sooner or later you're likely to run into someone who does speak English. Someone like Christina:


My mass transit guardian angel...,

Christina not only told me where I needed to go and how to get there, but she walked with me to make sure I didn't get lost a second time. I don't know where she was coming from or where she was going, but I know I'll be in her debt for rescuing me from the Roman rail system.


While I may not have visited as many sites as I'd hoped on my first full day in Rome, I have to admit that I'm pretty happy with the images I came away with. Besides, considering I'd only been in the country for around 36 hours, there would be ample opportunity to shoot around Rome again during my stay...


The Big Apple - The Final Day...

The one thing I wanted to do in New York City was visit B&H Photo on 9th Avenue. They've gotten more than just a little bit of my ...