Italy 2012 – Wrapping It Up

St. Peter's

On our last day in Rome (which would be our last day in Italy) we woke up early and took a cab to St. Peter’s Square to tour the basilica. Regardless of your religious views (or lack of them), this place is something to see in person. Getting there early is the key. No long lines and the crowds were minimal. We had plenty of room to move around and we could take our time. Once again, the fisheye lens was the lens for the shoot. Even with such a wide angle, it’s hard to convey how massive the church interior is.

St. Peter's 1

St. Peter's 2

St. Peter's 3

From St. Peter’s it’s a short walk to Castel Sant’Angelo.

Castle

We didn’t go inside. We opted to take advantage of the continued good weather and spent the rest of the day relaxing and just walking around the city.

Italy was fantastic. There were times I didn’t think this trip was going to work and feared it might end in disaster. Instead, it turned in to one of the most fantastic trips we have ever been on. The food, the wine, the architecture and the people all combined for a wonderful experience. We may never go back to Venice, but Rome and Florence are definitely in the running for a re-visit some day.

On top of all that, I think my photography went up another notch. At the time I was shooting I didn’t think it was going that well, but in reviewing what I came away with I have to say it is some of my best work. There will be more to show as time allows.

Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and this blog. It was fun sharing the trip with so many people.

Rome – Day 4 – Vatican Museum

After our audience with The Pope we headed over to the Vatican Museum. This was around 12:30 and the crowds were out in force. We had acquired our ticket vouchers online and, as it turned out, we pretty much walked right in.

You have to be careful when visiting the Vatican Museum. There are tons of people trying to convince you to buy a tour and skip the line. This may be a good idea if you don’t have your voucher already in hand, but is a total scam if you do.

Also, this area is crawling with gypsies. I saw a guy nearly get pickpocketed in this area our last visit in 2005. They’re good at what they do, but this one fumbled the pass when she was handing the wallet off to one of her accomplices.

The Vatican Museum is crowded and hectic. We wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and I specifically wanted to see the spiral staircase.

There’s a lot of really fantastic art to see. And some areas are not too crowded.

Vatican Museum

But the trek to the chapel is where it starts to get bad. It is literally a cattle call.. A throng of humanity shuffling down a long and ever shrinking corridor until you reach the chapel.

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

Eventually you do end up in the chapel.

And sadly, there are no photos allowed in the chapel.

At this point we were pretty beat and the crowds were just too much so we made our way to the exit. Even this was a long walk. But we did end up at the magnificent spiral staircase which was something I *really* wanted to see and photograph.


Vatican Museum Spiral Staircase

We headed back to the hotel to get some lunch and relax for a bit. The rest of the day would be pretty casual as we’re winding down to come home.

Rome – Day 4 – The Pope

St Peter's Square

As a lapsed catholic, the significance of Rome and Vatican City is not lost on me. After all, it is the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church. But oddly, it is Cynthia who seems to have the most interest in seeing the Pope when travelling to Italy. And she is not even remotely Catholic.

The last time we were there we attended the Papal Blessing on a Sunday. The Sunday blessing features The Pope appearing in a window of the Apostolic Palace and speaking to the crowds that gather in St. Peter’s Square. Thousands gather to receive his blessing, or simply gawk.

This visit we were not going to be in Rome in time to attend the Sunday blessing, but we were going to be there on a Wednesday. And, as it happens, Wednesday is the day the Pope conducts his Papal Audience where he actually comes down to conduct a service.

Depending on variables I am not certain about, the audience can either be right in St. Peter’s Square in front of the basilica or they hold the event indoors at the Paul VI Audience Hall.

Cynthia expressed a strong interest in attending and I thought it would be a good opportunity to grab some interesting photos.

Prior to our departure I went online and requested tickets for seats at the event. To do this you simply go to the Web site of The Church of Santa Susanna and fill out a simple form. A week or so prior to your selected date you will be notified if you have been granted tickets.

About two weeks before our departure I received an email confirming our tickets for May 2 at the Paul VI Audience Hall.

There were two disappointments in this email. The first was that the audience would be at the Paul VI Audience Hall so no dramatic outdoor shots. The second was the date. We would not be in Rome on May 2. We would be there on May 9.

Unfortunately I did not realize there was a discrepancy in the date until AFTER I emailed Cynthia with the good, but inaccurate news.

I went back to the Web site and resubmitted my request. We received another confirmation right before we left for Italy. This time with the correct date and confirmation that this audience would, indeed, be in front of the basilica. w00t!

The email confirmation instructed us to go to Santa Susanna during some set times to pick up our tickets. As it turned out, Santa Susanna was only a few blocks from our hotel so finding it and getting there was a total breeze.

When we went to pick up our tickets the priest who met with us asked me what parish I attended. I figured I would be asked something like this and happily told him I was a member of Mt. Carmel. Which is technically true. At least when I was younger. I have attended mass in over 3 decades. As it turns out, the priest knew Mt. Carmel and used to live in Houston. I was quickly put in to a position where I had to admit I was a very, very lapsed Catholic. He smiled and said perhaps our visit would change that.

We got our tickets and made the suggested donation and skedaddled out of there before I was asked anymore questions.

On the day of the audience we got up early and had breakfast and then caught a cab to St. Peter’s Square. The audience was scheduled for 10:30 am and it was suggested we get there early if we wanted good seats. We got there around 8:00 and were able to get about 5th or 6th row. Not too shabby.

The weather was sunny and the skies were blue. And as the time approached for the Pope to appear the crowds in St. Peter’s grew and grew. It was definitely a photo opportunity deluxe.

Cardinals

Waiting On The Pope

Waiting On The Pope

Waiting On The Pope

Waiting On The Pope

Waiting On The Pope

Swiss Guard Detail

Waiting On The Pope

Waiting On The Pope

Waiting On The Pope

The wait time went quickly enough and then the big moment arrived. The Pope entered the square

The Pope - 4

I could see his head and shoulders gliding effortlessly above the crowd. At one point I suggested he was coming in on a Segway to the guilty laughter of those around us. But no, he was not on a Segway, he was on the Mercedes “Pope-Mobile”

The Pope-Mobile - 2

I was happy to have brought the 70-200mm lens. Even though we were in a good seat, it was still nice to have the reach

The Pope - 2

After riding around the square and greeting everyone he eventually settled in to his seat at the top of his podium and addressed the crowd.

The Pope - 3

It was quite a spectacle. I don’t think I will be going back to mass anytime soon, but it was kind of special and I am glad to have witnessed something like this in person.

Rome – Day 3

Day three in Rome dawned with sunshine and blue skies blazing! We got up, got dressed and had our breakfast before heading out to take a walk around this magnificent city.

We walked from the hotel to Trevi Fountain which was a little less than a mile away. I will tell you this, the key to seeing any of the main sites in Rome is to go early. The fountain had a smattering of tourists, but it was not jammed up and crowded as it would be later in the day.

Trevi Fountain

The custom is to toss a coin in to the fountain with the promise that if you do so, you will one day return. We did this in 2005 so I can vouch for the effectiveness :)

From the Trevi it was a short walk to The Pantheon

Pantheon

Again, early arrival meant fewer crowds. We were dodging some tour groups, but it was not so bad…yet.

I had brought my fisheye along for this excursion as I thought it might be fun to take some shots inside the Pantheon using this lens. The Pantheon is pretty much a big dome and I figured the circular nature of the architecture would lend itself well to this style of phptography.

I took a few shots and created some HDR multi-exposures

Pantheon - 1

Pantheon - 2

Pantheon - 3

As I was shooting it occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity for one of my “Camera On The Floor” shots. I like to do this in dark interiors. What I do is find a spot on the floor and set the timer on my camera and place the camera face up to the ceiling and let it take the shot. The results can be rather dramatic. Although I could not get to the center of the Pantheon as they had it roped off, I was able to get this.

Pantheon From The Floor - 1

From The Pantheon we walked to the Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona

Fountain in Piazza Navona

From there it was a short walk to Campo de’ Fiori to see the statue of Giordano Bruno who was Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings.

Statue of Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno was a heretic who was burned at the stake by civil authorities in 1600 after the Roman Inquisition found him guilty of heresy for his pantheism.

At this point we have walked several miles, but were still feeling strong and enthusiastic so we trekked to the river to find our way to the Bocca della Verità or “Truth Mouth” located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Legend has it that if you place your hand in the mouth of this statue and you tell a lie, the statue will bite your hand off. Cynthia and I each took our turn placing our hand in the mouth while the other asked if we loved them. I am happy to report we still have both our hands.

Bocca della Verità - The Mouth of Truth

Bocca della Verità - The Mouth of Truth

At this point we were getting a little tired and knew we had a bit of a hike to get back to the hotel where we could rest and recuperate. We could see Altare della Patria looming over us.

The Typewriter

We knew that if we headed toward that monument path would lead us to Trajan’s Column and then back to our hotel.

Trajan's Column

But before that we made a detour over to The Colosseum to see The Arch of Constantine before hiking the main road back to the hotel.

All in all, we walked a good 5-6 miles by my reckoning. Google Maps places it at 5.7 miles, but does not take in to consideration the few wrong turns and the less than direct route we took to each location.

Rome – Day 2

Our second day in Rome began with rain. But the weather reports indicated it would clear by the middle of the day so we were hopeful we’d get some sightseeing in.

Our hotel includes a free American style breakfast buffet so we were able to tank up on scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages and abundant coffee and other breakfast treats. This is a huge plus for us as we do a lot of walking on our trips and a good breakfast really helps.

We had our breakfast and headed off to see some sites. The rain was on and off. Mostly off, but cloudy and threatening.

We walked to Trajan’s Column, The Colosseum. The Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

Later in the day the sun came out in ernest and we repeated a few sites to see them again in better light.

All in all, a very good day which ended in good food and wine.

Arrival – Rome

We caught the morning train from Florence to Rome without any trouble. It was threatening rain, but held off as we walked to the station dragging our luggage.

The Train Is Here!

When we arrived in Rome it was raining. We caught a cab to our hotel and soon we were checked in and relaxing in one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. The luxury of the hotel did a lot to bolster Cynthia’s spirits. Bell hops, complimentary bath robes, a welcome to Rome bottle of Chianti, free minibar, free snacks. She was in hotel heaven.

The rain continued the rest of the day. We did try to venture out, but it was not very pleasant. We bought a couple of umbrellas from a street vender which helped some.

We got a recommendation for lunch from the hotel, but when we got there the restaurant was closed. We walked for a bit and found another place that was quite good. It was in the basement of the building and smelled of garlic and other fresh Italian ingredients.

We ordered a bottle of the house wine to go with our lunch which was brought to us in an earthenware jug. The wine was delicious, but very potent. By the time we finished our meal and had coffee and desert I was a little loopy.

We walked (staggered) back to the hotel and I collapsed into a long nap or a short coma. Three hours in total.

When Cynthia woke me it was about 7:00 pm and still raining. We decided to go for a walk but were quickly discouraged by the dark and damp and headed back to the hotel after stopping at a grocery store where we picked up some supplies and had some sandwiches in the room.

We stayed up for awhile but fatigue had set in so we decided to call it a night.

The weather for the next day called for AM rain and sun in the evening.

Florence – Wrapping It Up

Florence just gets better and better. On our second to last day we headed out for Boboli Gardens. The weather was again very good, if a little overcast. But we didn’t mind.

The sprawling gardens afforded a few good photos but mostly it was just nice to be out and walking around in such a magnificent garden.

Cynthia And Tree - Boboli Gardens

This took up the bulk of our morning and after we had lunch we went back to the hotel room where I caught up on some rest and did a little photo editing while Cynthia made an excursion to the botanical gardens which didn’t really hold much interest for me.

We ended the day as we typically do while we’re in Italy…having dinner with a bottle of Italian red wine.

For our final day we took it pretty easy. We’re both rather tired at this point and we know we have all of Rome laying in wait.

We wandered the city and just took in the sites.

One thing you will notice in Italy are the gypsies and the beggars. We avoided them fairly successfully, but this one hit below the belt. He was definitley raking in the euros.

For our last evening we strolled down to Arno River and watched the sun set on the Ponte Vecchio. As the sun was going down I looked behind me and noticed that a rainbow was falling directly on Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, the church that was founded in 1018 that we visited the other day.

Rainbow On San Miniato al Monte

A fitting end to a wonderful visit to Florence.

We had dinner and called it an early evening so we could pack and prepare for our journey to Rome the next day.

Florence – Day 3

We received our confirmation for our reservations to go see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery. Our appointment was at 10:15 am so we got up and had some breakfast and headed over to see Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture.

No camers were allowed so we just walked the gallery and took it all in. Besides the David there are many other works of art in the gallery and it was a pleasant visit.

Bolstered by yesterday’s success and the continuing good weather we decided to spend the afternoon in Pisa.

We walked to the train station and bought tickets and within a few minutes we were on our way.

It’s only about an hour’s train ride from Florence and when you get to Pisa it’s only a 15 minute walk to the tower.

It was a gorgeous day and the tower looked great having recently been restored and all the scaffolding removed.

Aside from the tower and the other two buildings there’s really not much to see in Pisa. We took some photos, had some lunch, enjoyed the weather and made our way back to Florence.

After going back to the hotel and resting a bit we went out to dinner and had a delicious meal and a bottle of wine.

Florence is turning out to be the best part of the trip so far.

Florence – Day 2

Today the sun rose on Florence and it was beautiful. I have to say, sun is a friend to this city. It changes the entire dynamic of the place for the better.

We got up early and had a croissant and a cappuccino and set off to catch the sun lighting up the Ponte Vecchio from a nearby bridge

From there we made our way to the train station to make reservations for Rome in a few days an from there by bus (the number 12) we headed up to Michelangelo Square (Piazzale Michelangelo) which boasts one of the best views of Florence you can imagine. And it was true! Simply fantastic!

I am so glad I brought the Minolta 70-200mm with me on this trip. It’s a bit heavy to lug around, but oh so worth it for photo opportunities like this one.

After we took in the panorama of Florence from Michelangelo Square we wandered over to San Miniato al Monte which was a short walk away.

San Miniato al Monte was founded in 1018 which in and of itself is rather remarkable, but the church itself is not what you are here to see. The sight to see at San Miniato al Monte is the cemetery. Quite possibly one of the most surreal cemeteries I have ever seen.

After wandering around the cemetery we caught the bus (the number 13) back to the train station and walked back to our hotel to recombobulate.

While at the hotel I went online to make some reservations to go see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery. We knew it was a long shot, but we had to try. After making the reservations online we were told we would know if we were successful within 24 hours.

After resting a bit more we headed back out to get the lay of the land and do a little more exploring. In our travels we came across Festival del Gelato. It was very festive and bright with a fantastic selection of frozen deliciousness.

Cynthia had strawberry and I had chocolate. It was delightful and Cynthia’s spirits continued to improve.

After exploring a bit more we went off in search of dinner and found La Pasticceria Robiglio. The food was great, as was the atmosphere. And we had what may have been the best Sangiovese I have ever tasted.

At this point we were pretty tired so we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.

All in all, a very successful day.

From Venice To Florence

On Tuesday, May 1 we wrapped up a successful visit to Venice. We woke up, packed our things and checked out of our hotel and caught a water taxi to Venezia Santa Lucia railway station. We were fairly certain we could book a train to Florence without much trouble. We had our rail passes, but no reservations. We secured tickets and were on our way in less than an hour.

It was raining in Venice as we left and, as it turns out, raining in Florence when we arrived. It wasn’t a constant rain, more of an on and off kind of rain.

When we pulled in to the station in Florence it was in “off” mode so we decided to walk to our hotel which was only a 10 minute hike from the station.

Situated a bock from the Duomo, it was easy to find.

When we got to the hotel Cynthia was a a bit discouraged. I booked the hotel based on recommendations from Trip Advisor where everyone was saying how much they enjoyed their stay and how great the owners are and how conveniently located the hotel was to all the major attractions.

When we got to the hotel to check in Cynthia was not happy. The hotel is on the 4th floor of the building and since she hates european elevators she has to walk up the stairs to get to the room.

The hotel itself is nothing special. Very small and basic, but clean.

Cynthia was a bit put off by the fact that our room had 4 single beds in it. Granted, this kind of makes the room look a bit like a dormitory, but it’s not a shared space. We have the room all to ourselves. But this impression combined with the basic nature of the hotel combined with the rain and the fatigue of travel put Cynthia into a bit of a funk.

Personally, I like the room. It’s clean, the staff is personable and it’s a place to lay our heads when we’re not out and about seeing the sites.

I did my best to try and lift Cynthia’s spirits, but it was a struggle. We put on our rain coats and set off to do some exploring.

At this point Cynthia was getting pretty hungry and we stopped at a small cafe to see about getting something to eat for lunch. This was a huge mistake. The place was not very good. And when I say not very good, it sucked. The food was awful and the service was marginal at best.

As you can imagine, Cynthia was beginning to crater under the weight of so much disappointment.

We walked down to scout out the Uffizi and have a look at the Ponte Vecchio. The rain finally cleared off, but it was still overcast and damp. Florence is a dark, gritty city made up of stone buildings and stone streets. In these conditions it can be very gloomy.

Photographically, it was a bit of a bust. The gloom was not very conducive to much shooting. But the sun made a last ditch effort to come out toward the end of the day and this, combined with the rain puddles afforded me a unique photo opportunity

We wrapped up the day with a nice dinner and a bottle of wine at a restaurant near the hotel. This went a long way toward lifting Cynthia’s spirits. We got back to the room and we both slept some of the best sleep we have had the whole trip.

Venice – The Good And The Bad

Venice was a mixed bag.

The downsides:

  • It was crowded with tourists. There were two gigantic cruise ships in port that disgorged their loads each morning.
  • It was VERY expensive. We knew this going in, but it still sucked paying so much for every little thing.
  • It was was hotter than expected. The weather reports put the temps at 75 degrees, give or take. It felt more like it was in the upper 80’s or lower 90’s during the full on heat of the day and it was humid.
  • The upsides:

  • Venice is magnificently beautiful and provided for some great photo opportunities.
  • We had some fantastic food
  • We had some fantastic wine
  • I think the highlight of Venice was walking around and exploring and remembering our first visit. As we were doing this we came across the gondola repair shop we spotted on our visit 8 years ago. The Squero di San Trovaso is the official name. It’s a small square used as a boatyard to build and repair gondolas.

    When we found this spot I knew we must be near the restaurant that we found on our previous visit. Neither of us could remember the name, but we we hoped against hope we might find it again and have a meal there while we were in Venice because it was so good. We knew it was down an ally and off the beaten path so we hunted around a bit to see if we could find it. And we did!

    It’s called Ristorante San Trovaso and it was every bit as good as we remembered it to be. It was our best meal in Venice. Not that any of the other meals weren’t great, but this one was special.

    Sadly, though, I think we’re done with Venice. We enjoyed our visit for the most part but there is no compelling reason for us to return. It’s a big world out there and there’s a lot to see. I am glad to have seen Venice before it sinks in to the sea or is converted into a Euro Disney park or whatever it is that has to happen to save it from it’s ultimate demise due to the ravages of time, tourist and the tides.

    Next stop, Florence!

    Venice – Full Circle

    I have always treasured this photograph of my grandfather. It shows him standing in front of St. Mark’s Square in 1919 at the end of WWI. When we went to Venice in 2005 I tried to take have my own picture taken in the same spot he was standing. I got close, but there is now a railing around the pole so you can’t quite get there.

    It was was the early days of my photography. I tried to line it up and got a pretty good shot of me standing in roughly the same spot. But it didn’t come out so well. Over the years I thought it would be good to go back with the photo in hand and take another picture of me in the same basic spot and holding a copy of the original photo.

    This trip to Venice afforded me that opportunity so I printed out a copy to bring with me and below is the result.

    Time Lapse Venice