Travel: Some Italy Tips

It has been taking me a while to go through my Italy pics to share with friends and family. I’m still not done, but thought I would post a set of five to Flickr, one from each place visited. I decided to share them here, with a few thoughts/tips about visiting Italy. This might be a bit of a rambling discussion on photography focused information interspersed with travel info, with neither one being complete. If you have any questions feel free to email me at theburntpixel@yahoo.ca.

In General:

Don’t try to do it all. We did three weeks in the north of Italy and it wasn’t enough. We did Venice, Cinque Terre, Rome, Florence, and Siena. When you factor in a few days for each place, travel in between, and travel to Italy and back, the time adds up quickly. I would have liked another week, to rent a car and look around Tuscany. Plus we saw some pretty interesting hill towns and castles from the train which would have been worth visiting. Don’t rush, especially if you’re trying to focus on photography. You could spend months just in the north.

I had to go in the summertime, but I would recommend that you avoid this at all costs. Things are more expensive, there are tourists EVERYWHERE all the time (except at sunrise), and it’s really hot. It was 35-40 Celsius the whole time. All of these things can add up to make some things a chore rather than enjoyable.

Venice:

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A canal in Venice near Campo Santa Margherita. I had to wait a while for a boat to go by.

Have a good map, but it’s fun to get lost sometimes too. If you’re there in the summertime I would recommend doing photos in the early morning as there will be people everywhere in your shots, unless you want that sort of thing. If you’re shooting in the evening you can use a long exposure to have the people become blurred, but it doesn’t always work that easily. Just an FYI, there’s a special “secret” tour at the Doge’s Palace that seemed interesting, but you have to book weeks in advance apparently. Doesn’t sound very secret. It’s basically impossible to get a starburst with the sun during sunrise or sunset, so I would recommend waiting for nice clouds around that time, or to wait for the blue hour just before sunrise and after sunset. Motion from passing boats can really help the photos, but there are less boats as the night gets later. One thing I wished I would have done is shot around the train station area; there are tons of boats driving around there and could make for excellent light streaks.

Cinque Terre:

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This is the town in Cinque Terre that we stayed in called Manarola.

This is one of the most amazing places in Italy and I’m always surprised how unknown it is. But, if you’re there in the summer, it’s not unknown anymore. The area is famous for white wine, pesto, focaccia bread, and seafood here, so make sure you try them all. This picture is Manarola and is where we stayed. The most picturesque villages are probably Manarola and Vernazza. The best twisting alleyway-like streets were in Riomaggiore and Vernazza. Our favourite village was probably Corniglia, it’s the only one high up on a cliff. Monterosso is probably the most resort like and isn’t built on a cliff; it’s the northernmost village and I don’t recommend it too highly. There is a frequent train that goes between all the villages but I would highly recommend the bus; the cliff-side drive can be pretty intense and you get some great views that you don’t get on the train. There are some nearby villages that aren’t part of Cinque Terre but look amazing; Portovenere looks just like another Cinque Terre village (although not precariously on a cliff), and Lerici looks like it has a phenomenal castle.

Rome:

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A little courtyard we found by accident while walking from the subway station to the Pantheon.

Rome is known for carbonara and pizza, so make sure to find some/lots. Same tip as every other place; if you’re going in the summertime the best opportunity for photos not swarming with tourists will be around sunrise. I could have skipped the Colloseum interior, but the Pantheon never disappoints. My most favourite sites ended up being at the Vatican. The Sisteen Chapel is absolute chaos, but it’s worth braving the crowds for. St. Peter’s Basilica is really something to see, and if you go early in the morning you can beat the lines. The nearby bridge leading to castel sant’angelo (the castle of the Vatican) is a pretty famous bridge, lined with statues. I tried getting a nice shot during the evening blue hour but it was impossible, even at 10pm. I forgot to go back at sunrise.

Florence:

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The Uffizi Gallery during the blue hour.

Florence is pretty neat to wander around, and it’s a walkable size. The streets have an interesting look to them. The trip up to Piazzale Michelangelo is worth it for a nice view over the entire city. Some of the smaller and lesser known sites in the city were actually our favourites but…you still need to visit the giant church. Be careful with restaurants and check reviews or guidebooks first; make sure it’s the type of restaurant you’re looking for because if you’re not into fine dining, you can feel unsatisfied. I remember a comedian saying that you shouldn’t be able to count pasta, but when you get five ravioli for 18 euro you won’t be laughing (true story). Sure it’s made with 100% Peruvian mongoose filet, drizzled with an Indonesian vanilla glaze and served in vintage Russian oligarch porcelain, but I don’t really care.

Siena:

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The ceiling of the duomo in Siena.

Siena was one of the highlights of the trip. It’s one of the best preserved medeival towns in Italy and it’s full of narrow and twisting cobblestone streets. The main square is huge and really famous. The church is one of the main sites and it was really nice. We’re not into churches but they’re often the most noteworthy sites in some places and you develop an appreciation for what makes each unique. Siena’s isn’t the biggest but it has amazing decorations/statues on the outside and there’s a really interesting and colourful “library” accessed through the inside of the church. You can also climb up a staircase (somewhere) inside for a higher level view. They have some nice tours that leave from here to local wineries and villages, but you can also do the same tours from Florence. I would have liked to have seen San Gimignano (a town full of medieval towers), and I would recommend checking out Monterigionni (an old hill town/castle which I believe is a UNESCO site).

At the end of the trip, my girlfriend and I both rated our favourite places in the same order:

  1. Venice
  2. Siena (almost Cinque Terre)
  3. Cinque Terre
  4. Florence
  5. Rome

I post to the blog about once a month, so if you want to get an alert when there’s a new post just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Follow button.

(All photos taken with my little Canon M3 camera that I got for travelling. It didn’t do too badly, except there was more noise than I’m used to (since I’m usually using a full frame camera) and I wasn’t able to recover shadows too well due to Canon’s older sensor tech.)

– Patrick

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