As many of you know, I go on a fall trip every year for the goal of getting out and photographing for myself. It’s a time of reflection and refreshment. This year, my trip ended up getting planned too late to take advantage of the fall color in the areas of the US that I still would like to explore. My friend Ben who is the one that I used to do all the backpacking with was also available so him and I decided to team up and go to Italy for a week. I was able to use frequent flyer miles so the free flight was quite nice!
The trip started out pretty rough. Our goal was to rent a car and drive into Rome and spend 2 days there. We knew that traffic and driving would be difficult in Rome but we didn’t account for parking being nearly impossible. We drove around Rome for 3 hours and couldn’t fine a place to park. Frustrated and exhausted, we decided to get out of the city and come back later.
Our first stop was a mountain town called Norma which was built on the top of a steep cliff where a number of paragliders were effortlessly hovering back and forth hundreds of feet above the ground.
The town itself didn’t have much but it looked really cool from far away:
We then stopped at an old medieval village called Ninfa but it was closed for the day. Our next stop was another old town called Sermoneta where we spent an hour wandering the steep streets and just in awe of a different way of life:
Our goal was to drive to Naples to stay the night, but we didn’t realize that it would get dark at 5:00pm and driving on the roads after dark while being tired wasn’t a great idea. We ended up stopping at a city called Caserta where we got a “great price” (which I think in Italian means “I’m going to screw you over you dumb tourist”) on our room and meal where they ended up charging us nearly $55 for some of the worst spaghetti I’ve ever eaten at a fairly dumpy hotel/restaurant.
The next day didn’t start too much smoother. We drove into Naples and ended up having the same luck for parking as we had in Rome. We eventually realized it was a lost cause but the streets are setup in a way that it is very difficult to turn around and combining that with the sheer volume of traffic, it ended up taking us nearly half an hour just to turn around and head the opposite direction to get out of town.
We left Naples and headed for nearby Pompeii which is where an ancient city was left in ruin after being buried in ash from Mt. Vesuvius. The city itself was absolutely enormous and ended up taking a few hours to explore. It was amazing to see although after a while, seeing ruined structure after ruined structure got a bit old.
one of the most unique things about Pompeii is the body casts. The ash from the volcano completely buried the city along with whatever people where in it. When they dug out the city, in one area they found a number of people laying there including mothers and children and were able to create body casts from the remains.
After leaving Pompeii, our next stop was the Amalfi coast which is known for having towns built right down the sides of the mountains which was an amazing thing to see. We were able to find a hotel and get settled in with enough time to find a perfect sunset location overlooking the town of Positano.
Unfortunately Day 3 didn’t start out much better than 1 and 2. We woke up at 5:30 am to go photograph the sunrise and found that we were locked in our hotel which apparently locks up between 4:00am and 6:30am. We had no choice but to go back to bed. Our day today was going to consist of going to the island of capri. We left Positano in the morning and I was able to shoot a fun and colorful shot of the buildings on the cliffside:
We drove to Sorrento where we caught a ferry to Capri. The main harbor had lots of fun and colorful buildings that were hoping with tourists trying to figure out where to go and locals trying to sell those tourists pretty much everything under the sun.
One of the main attractions on Capri is the Blue Grotto which is a water cave where light comes through the bottom and lights up the water. The blue is a color that seems magical, unnatural, and mesmerizing. To get to the Blue Grotto, you have to take a boat to the cave entrance and then get into a rowboat where you get to row in the tiny entrance and duck to get through the opening that’s only a few feet high. The whole experience is unbelievably commercialized to the point where you really can’t enjoy the experience or the cave, but if it wasn’t commercialized we probably wouldn’t have gotten to see it.
The main boat that took us around to the Blue Grotto continued around the rest of the island where we got to view and enjoy the beautiful limestone cliffs and the turquoise water.
Unfortunately the schedule of getting there and back along with the length of the Blue Grotto excursion did not leave us much time to explore the rest of this beautiful island so we went back to the main dock and wandered around until our ferry was there to take us back to the mainland. While at the dock, I was able to capture a few scenes that I enjoyed a lot:
One of our reasons to rush off Capri was that we really wanted to catch the sunset on the Amalfi coast again and I’m really glad we did as it was one of the most spectacular coastlines I’ve ever seen. This was about a mile west of Positano:
That night we stayed in a little town called Praiano.
Another early day for us. We woke up around 5:30 and headed out super early to catch an Amalfi coast sunrise since yesterday we missed it from being locked in our hotel.
It definitely did not disappoint. Here is a view of the coastline with the lights from Positano showing in the distance.
A few miles down the road was the larger and more well known town of Amalfi. We still had some incredible morning light to photograph the marina.
After Amalfi, we headed inland and up and over the main mountains that lead to the Amalfi peninsula. Our goal was to make it back near Rome but we wanted to take a round about way that would bring us through some really picturesque areas. Once again, today did not go smoothly. The first town we were visiting was called Opi which is an old village buried in the mountains in one of Italy’s national parks. We plugged Opi into the GPS, did a quick check and saw that it was in the park and then drove the 4.5 hours to get there. We were surprised at how NOT big the mountains were and Opi didn’t look anything like the photos we saw. When we plugged in our next destination which was supposed to be close by, we wondered why it was 1.5 hours in the wrong direction which is when we learned that there are TWO villages called Opi that are both in central Italy and both located inside large parks. We picked the crappy one in the GPS…AAAARRGGHH!!! So Opi along with our next lake town destination of Scanno were now in the wrong direction. Thankfully on the way to the wrong Opi, we did pass a couple of cool scenes.
The first is the town of Acciano:
We then came across the town of Beffi and I loved this simple scene with these ruins:
Looking in the opposite direction was a really moody sky with beams of light coming through that looked incredible with the infrared camera:
Since we had driven significantly out of our way, most of the planned locations were the wrong direction so we skipped those. Our next stop was Tivoli which had a number of villas and cool places to see. It was already 3:30 and with it getting dark at 5:00, things were bound to close. Our guide book suggested Villa Adriana as the place to go. If you like LOTS of ruined buildings, then it is definitely the place to go. After seeing hundreds of them in Pompeii, I was pretty much done with that especially since the bright sun and no clouds didn’t provide any help for photographic opportunities. I only photographed one scene in the whole complex and that ended up being one of my favorite photos from the trip.
We planned on going to Rome for the next two days so we decided to stay in a hotel close to the airport and a train station so we could park and take the train in to the city. We checked into the hotel to find out that the nearby train station was closed and we now had to take a shuttle to the airport and then pick up the train. The cost for two people to do that was so high, we decided that we would risk driving again…yes…we are idiots!
Since we had decided to drive into the city, we got up super early and skipped breakfast and drove in and parked before anyone was there. It was pretty cool to walk through some nearly deserted streets downtown. Our first stop was the famous Trevi fountain. However, it was so early in the morning that the fountain wasn’t running so I just took pics of the statues.
Next we came across a really cool building that wasn’t on our nifty tourist map so I don’t know what it is but I liked it.
Next was the Pantheon which is an impressive structure but it was still too early and closed and the photos of the outside didn’t make my blog cut. Next was the incredible Piazza Navona which had amazing statues, fountains, and architecture.
We realized that we had already seen a number of the major attractions and it wasn’t even 8:30am. We decided that we could probably see Rome in one day so we headed for Vatican City which was the furthest walk. On our way we passed a number of really cool street scenes:
Vatican City was so incredible with the dome of St. Peters Basilica along with the columns that surround the main square…AMAZING!!
The fountain in the main square was so pretty with the morning light that I have to post two photos of it.
St. Peter’s Basilica was…ridiculously amazing!! The size and ornateness of every surface was unbelievable.
Next we walked through the Vatican Museum which led to the Sistine Chapel where the famous paintings by Michelangelo adorn the ceilings.
I first took a photo of the famous scene that everyone knows at which point I was yelled at for taking photos. I’m sure they don’t want photos so the flash doesn’t ruin the paintings and I don’t shoot with flash.
I then took an overall shot of the whole ceiling which shows how large and amazing the whole thing is at which point I was told again to not take photos.
Upon leaving the Sistine Chapel, there was an amazing ramp that led down to the exit:
The next few hours were eating lunch, walking down the wrong road for a LONG way and seeing some less than awe inspiring locations which didn’t make the cut.
After that we passed by the Campidoglio and then the Monuemento a Vittoria Emmanuel II which was a HUGE building but unfortunately had a lot of scaffolding which didn’t lead to any pics.
We then passed some really impressive buildings and ruins but had our eyes on the prize…the Coliseum!!
By this point, we were totally exhausted and were hoping to get back to the car to get our tripods and do some night photography. We ended up passing through the Trevi fountain area again and this time it had water…along with about a billion people. We wiggled our way to the front and I was able to get a great photo.
Our car was parked near the Spanish steps but the area was so overrun with people that we didn’t even try taking any photos. After walking 10 miles around the city and seeing pretty much all the major attractions, it was time to go back to the hotel and sleep.
Since we did Rome in a day, we had an extra day to kill and nothing planned. We decided to drive into southern Tuscany and photograph the landscape and scenery. I’m SOOOO glad it worked out this way as these turned out to be some of my favorite photos. The first half of the day we went to a few cities that weren’t very good from a photographic perspective so we kept moving along.
The trees and vineyards were bursting with yellow fall color leaving us a number of beautiful scenes most of which were near Montalcino.
One of my favorite stops was at the Abbizia di St. Antimo which was a beautiful abbey amongst the rolling hills and rich fall color:
As the evening sun got lower and lower, the light across the valley was exquisite.
Then one last parting shot with Ben:
Overall I was able to capture a lot of unique scenes and great images, however, Ben and I really struggled on this trip with lots of people and situations that provided unnecessary challenges around every corner. It was hard being away from Cheridy and Mayz and I am definitely glad to be home!! My eyes are closing as I type this because I’m so tired…time for bed.