Thursday, January 31, 2019

Beyond Rome...

As much as Rome will offer some pretty unparalleled photo ops, the reality is that there's an entire country beyond Italy's capitol city. While it's naive of me to think I can see everything, I do want to make sure I visit a variety of places and experiences a variety of different things.

After spending two days on a "hop on/hop off" bus, it'll be nice to sit behind the wheel and get on the road. My understanding is that, even though driving through the countryside is not as hectic as it is in Rome, one must still exercise a bit more caution than normal. Apparently, Italians are lunatic drivers.

Thank God for that $11 a day full coverage insurance on the Citroen!

So, much in keeping with my blog entry for what I intend to see in Rome, I'll do the same for those areas outside the borders of the Eternal City.

1. Pescara

My main reason for visiting Pescara is simply because it's on the Adriatic Sea, and I've never been to the Adriatic Sea. It's a little over a two hour drive to the northeast and promises to offer sites that are much different than Rome. It's not really a "tourist town". The old part of Pescara is essentially two short parallel streets of typical Italian houses. Traffic is well regulated into the city, and many of the smaller streets are reserved only for pedestrians.

2. The Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is a 50-kilometer stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula, in the Campania region. It’s a popular holiday destination, with sheer cliffs and a rugged shoreline dotted with small beaches and pastel-colored fishing villages. It's about a 3-1/2 hour drive from Rome, so I may end up doing an overnight trip when I go. The drive is supposed to be, well, "challenging", but I'm not swayed.


3. Naples/Pompei

Located a bit further south than the Amalfi Coast, Naples is the third largest city in Italy, following Rome (the largest) and Milan in northern Italy. One of the most imposing landmarks in the city is the Castel Nuovo, built in the year 1279. Looking at photos online, I definitely want to photograph this place.

Pompeii was an ancient city not far from Naples. In the year 79 AD it was buried and preserved in ash and pumice after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. It's now a world heritage site and sees over 2.5 million visitors a year. That's more than 6,800 a day, every day.

4. Florence

The city of Florence lies to the north, about three hours by car. It's known for its architecture, its culture, its art and its monuments. Forbes calls it one of the ten most beautiful cities in the world. Like Rome, there's a lot to photograph, so it's probably going to amount to a really long day trip for me. Then again, I do day trips to Savannah from St. Augustine, and it's roughly the same distance.

5. Terni


Yup, Terni.

Only about 65 miles from Rome, Terni is a strong industrial hub in Italy and has the nickname "The Steel City". It's also known as "the city of lovers", as Saint Valentine was born and became a bishop there, and his remains are preserved in the Basilica san Valentino located not far from the center of town.

For me, though, the bigger draw lies about five miles outside the city. Created by the ancient Romans, the Cascata delle Marmore (Marmore Falls) are the highest man-made falls in the world. Because it's man-made, the flow of water can be, and is, controlled. The falls normally flow between noon and 1:00pm and again from 4-5pm daily.

The trips outside of Rome are going to make for some long days, even the relatively close destination of Terni because of the side trip to the falls. The undeniable reality is that there's simply just too much in Italy to try to see in the time I'll be there. In all honesty, I don't know if two full weeks would afford me enough time. I would love to get to Milan and Venice but, unfortunately, those just don't seem to be in the cards.

So, the best I can do is the best I can do, and I'm going to make sure that my days in Italy are packed from the time I wake up every morning until the time I pull the blanket over me at night.

The way I see it, that'll make for a good trip...

Monday, January 28, 2019

Things To Do, Places To Go...

With eight full days in Italy, I have both plenty of time and not nearly enough time.

Certainly, if I were going to limit myself to seeing the sites in Rome, eight days would probably be plenty of time. But I just can't go to Italy and stay in one city. There's a lot there to see, so I want to try to see as much as I can.

While in Rome, I plan on playing the "tourist" role to the nth degree. Rome is home to some of the most impressive sites on the planet, from art museums to fountains to sculptures. There is a veritable treasure trove of photo ops, and I plan on doing one of those hop on/hop off buses to get to many of them during my first two days in Italy. 

So, what's on my "Top 10"?

1. Trevi Fountain

Found on the eastern side of the Tiber River, this fountain was completed in 1762 by Giuseppe Pannini. It's the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world. The trick here, as with many other sites in Rome, will be to beat the throngs of people clamoring to see it. I'm not averse to heading over to it in the middle of the night, though, if it means getting more dramatic photos which include fewer people.

 2. The Colosseum

I can't imagine visiting Rome and not visiting the Colosseum. It's also difficult to imagine a more iconic landmark to represent a city; maybe the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. You just can't look at the Colosseum and not know what city it's in. Completed in the year 80 AD, it's the largest amphitheater ever built.

3. Vatican City

Vatican City is actually a sovereign city state which is completely surrounded by the Italian capitol city of Rome. Despite being the smallest country in the world both by area (approximately 109 acres) and population (about 1,000), it's the most important country in the world for some 1.3 billion Roman Catholics. The Vatican Museums are here, as is the Sistine Chapel (where, unfortunately, photography is forbidden). But even having the chance to photograph St. Peter's Square will be the opportunity of a lifetime. Most surprising is that, even though this has been the site of the Holy See for centuries, the Vatican has only existed as a city/state since 1929.

 4. The Forum (Forum Romanum)  

The Forum has stood, in one state of construction or another, since the fifth century BC. It has served witness to elections, trials, parades and gladiator matches. Excavation of the Forum was officially  begun in 1898 by the Italian government and continues to this day.

5. The Pantheon 

The Pantheon was completed by the Emporer Hadrian, although the exact year is unknown. It's suspected that it was dedicated around the year 126 AD. It's one of the most well preserved of all ancient Roman structures, probably due to the fact that this immense building, where the artist Raphael is buried, has been in continuous use since it was built. It's been called the only architecturally perfect building in the world. Visiting the Pantheon used to be free, but Italy's culture ministry has announced they will institute a €2 ($2.29 US) admission fee in May of last year. 

6. Piazza Navona
One of Rome's best known public squares, Piazza Novona  dates back to the 1400's. Nowadays, it's home to artists, street performers and cafes filled with espresso sippers. There are also a number of impressive monuments, including one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Fountain of the Four Rivers) and another by Francesco Borromini (Sant'Agnese in Agone). 

7. Trastevere
This neighborhood, located south of Vatican City, is often compared to the Left Bank in Paris or New York City's Greenwich Village. Many travelers comment on how "authentic" an Italian feel this  neighborhood has compared to the bustling tourist lines in other areas of the city. 

8. Santa Maria della Vittoria

My main reason for wanting to visit this church is the fact that it was featured in the Tom Hanks movie "Angels & Demons". While it's a visually stunning example of religious architecture, it also happens to be quite small and it can get very crowded with would-be Robert Langdons. Hopefully,  the fact that I'll be there prior to the peak tourist season (which is summer) will help.

9.Gianicolo Hill (Passeggiata del Gianicolo)
Also known as The Janiculum, this hill lies outside the boundaries of the ancient city. The hill provides unobstructed, panoramic views of the Eternal City. Once at the top you can see buildings such as St. Peter's Basilica and the Altare della Patria.

10. Church of San Luigi dei Francesi 

The exterior of this church, which was completed in 1589, can fool you. It's appearance on the outside belies its dimensions on the inside, and to say it's grandiose would be an understatement. This church is located in Piazza Navona.

11. Santa Maria Della Pace

In 1482, the church was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, and it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary to remember a miraculous bleeding of a Madonna image there in 1480. Photographically, it's stunning. I've reviewed literally hundreds of photos of this church and there's no way it can't be on my "must see" list. The nice part is that it's not far from the Piazza Novona.

So, it's easy to see that my first few days in Rome are going to be pretty full. There's a lot to do, a lot to see and a lot to photograph.

I think these eleven sites are going to take two very full days, and I'm looking forward to them.

***Obviously, the photos included here were not taken by me, and I want to be sure that's understood. 
Many thanks to the talented photographers for the amazing photographs I've included here.***

Now, as an aside...

Many people have expressed surprise that I'm doing this trip by myself. They're somewhat surprised that I wouldn't want to share this experience with someone else.

Well, truth be told, I would. But that would have to be a very specific person.

First, it would have to be someone with a valid passport. I have to say, I've been pretty surprised by the number of people I know, who I'd consider traveling with, who don't have one. They're easy to get, aren't that expensive, and they literally open the world to you.

Second, it would have to be someone who could pick up and leave for almost two weeks. Unfortunately, not too many people are in a position to do that. I'm fortunate in that I literally write my own schedule. I can come and go as I please and stay as long as I want. Not a lot of people are able to do that.

Third, and this is probably the biggest factor, it would have to be someone who thoroughly enjoys photography. I'm not doing this solely as a vacation. My whole focus during this trip is going to be photography. It'll include both early mornings and late nights. It'll include road trips, high-speed trains and overnight stays. It's going to be a trip full of total planning and flying by the seat of my pants. In short, I'll be expecting the unexpected and charging at it full speed.

So, if you think you can keep up, let me know. This isn't the last trip I'll take...

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Italy - Prep Work...

Well, after talking about an Italy trip since we went to Ireland in August, I finally pulled the trigger. 

In April, I'm going to spend eight full days in Italy. It'll be just me, my Canon 6D MKII and a Citroen C4. I'll be based in Rome, but side trips are definitely going to be on the agenda. I plan on visiting the Amalfi Coast (which looks amazing) and Florence, and I'd also like to do a trip across the country to the Adriatic Sea, just to say I did it. 

Unlike those maniacs in Ireland, Italians drive on the proper side of the road. Even still, I'm told that traffic in and around Rome can escalate to insane levels, so I rented something small with an automatic transmission. The Citroen C4 will never be accused of being the sportiest ride on the road, but it ain't bad:

It's got a 16 gallon tank and gets roughly 37 miles to the gallon, so a tank of gas is going to get me well over 500 miles. The Amalfi Coast is only 170 miles from Rome, so a tank of gas makes that trip easily. Pescara, which is on the Adriatic Sea, is only 130 miles away; yet another easy trip. Aside from those side trips, I'm going to be staying only a few miles from the Vatican, so when I want to get into the city center I can either take a shuttle from the hotel (for only €3) or drive and deal with parking. It'll be nice to have the car, though, when I want to do some night shooting and the shuttle's not running.

Everyone's been asking where I'm going to be staying. Did I pick some bed & breakfast along the coast of the Mediterranean? A quaint little inn downtown where English is a seventh language? No, it would be neither. See, one thing I've learned after years of traveling is that things can often go sideways and, when they do, those smaller, quaint inns aren't always prepared to deal with problems. So, I'll be staying at Holiday Inn Rome - Eur Parco Dei Medici. Now, I don't know what all of that means, but I do know that it means I'll be staying at a four star property with all of the amenities one would expect from a worldwide brand. 

And, hey, the rooms look pretty nice:

One of the things that's bound to be a challenge is the language barrier. Of course, I suspect that the hotel staff will speak English, as will those working at most of the tourist attractions in and around Rome. But what about when I'm somewhere between Rome and Bergamo, and I have a question about something? The further away you get from the metropolitan areas the less likely English will be widely spoken.

Enter this little guy:

The Multi-Language Portable Smart Voice Translator (couldn't they have come up with a shorter name for it?) lets you translate on the fly. You speak into it and it instantly translates what you say into one of 30 different languages. It boasts an insane accuracy rate and translates whatever you say in as little as .2 seconds. And, what's nice is that whoever you're talking to can speak into it and it will instantly translate that speech into English. The unit was $100, which is more than I think I would normally spend on an impulse buy, but it could prove to be a bargain if it works the way they say it does.
And, since this is going to be a full-blown photo trip, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my two favorite apps. 

First (and thankfully), my favorite GPS app, Waze, works in Italy. It's the most accurate GPS app I've found, and it even works better than my dedicated Garmin GPS unit (which hasn't seen the light of day in over a year). It will be indispensable on those day or overnight trips outside of Rome.

Second, RGPS (Really Good Photo Spots) will come in awfully handy when I'm wondering where to go to shoot. Sure, when I'm in Rome there's plenty to photograph and it's all pretty easy to find. But I could be in Florence and not know that there's a great scenic view only a mile down the road and around a bend. RGPS clues me into those things.

So, the games begin. Over the next couple of months I'll be dialing in the things to do and the tours to take. The "hop on/hop off" bus that we did for two days in Dublin was fantastic, and they have something similar in Rome. I can't imagine not doing that, as it really is the best way to move around a city and see the main sites. 

From a photographer's perspective, there's so much to see and photograph in Rome, and the rest of the country, that I'm already wondering if I should've done a longer trip!

Wrapping Up Another Year...

I'm finding it a bit difficult to believe that's it's been six months since I've posted anything. It seems as though, as soo...