Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Back from Rome

There has been so much that has been said about Rome that it's hard to add anything else... the ruins are really something, not only ancient but charming as well. Walking around the ruins for a day with the ancient atmosphere, was utterly enjoyable.

Rome is poetic, intense, quite a good representation of Italy, with beauty and chaos combined.

Eats, drinks:
We tried the drinks 'grappa' and 'limoncello' for the first time, buying a bottle of each for about Euro 10 - less than 20. The wines are good too, but it varies. Also tried 'prosecco', a bubbly drink resembling champagne. A range of bottles can be found at any small store and even the touristic ones aren't expensive.

Of course eat as much pasta and pizza (and lasagna and tiramisu and panna cotta)...as you like! Italy has world famous food!


Delicious pizza...

Not forgetting two hundred flavors of gelato...!

Most underrated sight
One of the most underrated sights in my opinion is the Chiesa del Gesu, it's not even 'on the map', but that's the beauty of travel, going to unknown places and discovering new things. I loved the really 3D frescoes on the ceilings, it's not done by any famous painter but it was the best art I've seen in my short unenlightened visits to churches. Any of the churches in Rome easily makes anyone breathless with their splendour of marble statues, mosaic and stained glass, sculpted and painted art masterpieces, as well as the large buildings and tall columns, but at the end this one was our favorite:

Chiesa del Gesu (Church of Jesus)

Amazing, speechless, could stare at the ceiling forever!
They are paintings but look like they are jumping out from the ceiling! No idea how it is being painted!

Best thing we did in Rome:
For me, I loved the 'unplanned' walk we took to see something I wanted to see, 'The Mouth of Truth'.
It became a longer walk than expected and that was because every single place was too picturesque to rush through - from the fountains, to the sudden grove of orange trees and poplars, to the hidden gardens, and small churches, every place and corner had some ancient stories to tell...

Here are some pictures that do little to describe what an amazing feeling it was just to take your time to walk through the area:

And finally one of my personal must-sees, 'The Mouth of Truth'!

(Also perhaps one of the most un-hygenic places to put your hand onto. We didn't place our hands onto the mouth...)

Spotted a smaller 'Mouth of Truth' (with better sculpted features) on our walks.

At the Colosseo and Palantine Forum area.

Italian moustache.

Just so picturesque it almost seems unreal!

Walking in Rome

We spent a day in the amazingly large gardens in Villa Borghese and it was a really relaxed and enjoyable day. There was a small Leonardo Da Vinci museum just before the gardens, and we also went to Piazza del Poppolo, huge gated way with a large square that had such a nice peaceful vibe. I really loved the entire day and everything we did, including taking photos with the large pink rabbit that was in the front of the zoo in Villa Borghese!

If you can walk for an entire day then you could explore and complete almost all of the main sights in Rome in a week. In 4 full days, we went to:

1. Colosseo
2. The Forum / Palantine Hill
3. Capitoline and its museum
4. Bocca Della Verita, surrounding ruins - Hadrian's Crypt, Octavia ruins
5. Jewish Quarter
6. Villa Borghese - large gardens with zoo and museums within
7. Piazza del Poppolo
8. Vatican City, Basilica St Peter's
9. Outside the Castel near Vatican
10. Santa Maria Maggiore
11. Pyramide
12. Trevi Fountain
13. Spanish Steps
14. Pantheon and surrounding area

Of course, we also visited other small corners and churches all around!

Staying in Rome

We booked the apartment for Rome on housetrip.com. Not knowing Rome well, it turned out to be a really good location, in Via Urbana, couple of streets away from Termini Station, a quiet, nice, and rather large apartment.

Travelling around Rome (train/regional train/flight)

Contrary to what I've read online, getting in and out of the international airport Fiumicino was a breeze. Despite some renovations, the signs were easily to locate as well as getting to the train station to and fro. There are nice shops around in the check in area, I enjoyed my time waiting for the departure flight.

For the regional trains, I felt it is very well-organized too, apart from once where the train in Cinque Terre area was cancelled (every train waiting duration is 20 mins apart, so, it is still okay), the fast train (4 hours approximately) from Rome to La Spezia was a breeze. However, J had a little bit of a twisted nightmare taking the ongoing train to Genoa and then crossing the border to Nice. It was too complicated to make sense to the averagely intelligent person, it involves many changes, including bus, but the ticket was a 'general' open ticket. In any case he was able to reach Nice in the end, delayed by a few hours.

Also, a good tip is to always validate the ticket and ask other friendly passengers if they are going in the same direction as the train doesn't always arrive at the same platform.

The only museum we visited, randomly (my trip was quite unplanned) but it was good and apparently one of the best museums in town! (Capitoline Museum) Spotted the Italian features in J! He makes a good Italian!

At Villa Borghese:

I just love these trees =)

Walking around 10 km everyday, I enjoyed Rome on foot, and can't believe I haven't been there earlier.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Photo Friday: Winter time living in Riomaggiore

Having some time over the last weekend to look through my Cinque Terre trip film photos, I found that I really liked this one. It's the exact image of what I'd like to capture - some authentic images, unposed, not so touristic, of the area. Though Cinque Terre is so picturesque that it wouldn't hurt to be a tourist there!

Many people just ambled off to the surrounding vantage points of the small docking marina of the village of Riomaggiore, leaving me and a another photographer enthusiast who seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with photographing boats (he even climbed into them!!!) There was this great old man with frizzy white hair sticking out in all angles, untangling his fishing nets. And some locals, standing around, engaging in daily chats.

I like the color on the wall.

It was a rainy day, but the sun came out gloriously for the half an hour I was there.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Photo Friday: Farmer Lady selling aubergrines in Da Lat, Vietnam

This is my second time trying out black and white film =) and it was the final trip of the year in Da Lat, Vietnam.

It was interesting how these 2 photos turned out. The first one was what I intended to capture, a 'clean' photo with nothing in the background. Very difficult as this was a crowded market, but it was at the end of the market and the lady, the road, the 2 panniers balanced by a bamboo rod just came together.

I took the second photo almost as an afterthought.

I showed them to many people, both photographers and non-photographers, and all of them liked... ... the second one. It tells a story, it shows a scene, there is some feeling there. So this is really interesting to me, finding out about what people like and improving on my skills. One friend even ventured, what if I took this lady in more, varying angles? I'm sure the result would be interesting and I really love to wander around in markets like these to find such topics, the 'everyday life' part of travel photography. And I'm doubly glad that out of this trip there are some photos that turned out well, which I liked very much!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Back from Cinque Terre

View of Vernazza, Cinque Terre, from the hiking trail (enroute from Corniglia to Vernazza)

Two days after being back from Rome and Cinque Terre, I was shortlisted and attended an interview for a programme I had submitted some photos for - A photography mentorship programme. I will know the results in a week or two, and even if I don't get it, it is a first experience for me.

Thinking back to about a couple of months ago, in Da Lat, Vietnam at the end of December. I met, in my hostel, a couple of Lithuanians and one of them created e-books as a freelancer. Perusing through one of the e-books he designed, a black and white photobook of a photographer's travels through a few months in China, I was motivated to have this idea to launch a photobook (or a novel, but that's another story for now), and in the wildest of dreams have my photos in a photo exposition. I've always felt more strongly about having my photos seen in print, as opposed to being seen online. Of course, I don't have such an amazing portfolio of photos yet, just the few rolls I have on the 3 trips I've been so far. I've been lucky that in every trip there are at least a few photos that turned out well or at least captured the concept of what I wished to see - the fragile moments of everyday life, the boy selling groundnuts who rested and sat beside me at the riverside, the farmer lady at the end of the market with her two panniers' full of aubergrines, and long bamboo balancing pole. Also, I'm constantly following my Portuguese friend Pedro and I admire his quest for learning more about photography and constantly attending courses, being a part of a photographic community, to learn from others and to learn from masters. Through looking at his determination, I found the courage to ask others to introduce me to those masters, and also submit my small portfolio of the few photographs from France, Cambodia and Vietnam (really few) and see if I can be able to enter the programme that concludes with a small exhibition at the end of the 10 weeks' project.

I already have in mind what I want to do should I have the chance to do this regularly. =) It's a thought-in-progress for now and also a little secret, but I think it will be interesting. I've always wanted to let others feel a positive spirit after seeing my photos, be it to travel more or to do something amazing, as this hobby was birthed from a time when I was quite hopeless and it gave me something meaningful to do.

Here are some iphone photographs in Cinque Terre, there are so many picturesque ones but here are my favorites. Below, these photos will be the description about the place we stayed and the journey/treks throughout the area.

Hiking paths in Cinque Terre

First day: Hiked the path from our 'home' (The Heart of Cinque Terre), in between Corniglia - to Vernazza, had a morning coffee there, went to Monterosso and took the train back to Corniglia, and hiked from Corniglia to Cinque Terre.

These photos will show the path & hiking trails, they were incredibly beautiful - some laced with groves of olive trees, old bridges, slate walls and mediterranean shrubs and different flowers and plants. It wasn't difficult (ie, I didn't need to use my hands at all), but some of the paths are narrow (could be difficult if you are not sure-footed or if there are many people in summertime.) As it was winter season we only encountered less than 10 trekkers in one trail =) it was the most beautiful trails I've ever been on.

On the second day it was raining so we only started out in the afternoon, walking sometimes on the main road, but we visited the mountain behind, 'San Bernardino'. The trail from Corniglia train station and towards Vernazza is the greenest & wildest and also the town feels like the most 'natural' of them all. Julien liked this trail best! For me, the most scenic would be the first trail we took from Vernazza to Monterosso - except from the vast number of steps at the end, the initial walk was pretty flat - and I was pretty happy! Some parts of the trail at the first two places, Riomaggiore and Manarola were closed as it was not 100% safe - rainy weather made some landslides, so there's always the option of taking the train to each of the places as well.

So happy to be walking in such a natural, alive place!

Walking in one of the towns - I think its Vernazza.

Staying in Cinque Terre

I was always lucky to be staying in amazing places and this time it was no exception - looking at the location and knowing that J likes walking very much, I chose without much hesitation, 'The Heart of Cinque Terre'. Here we stayed with our quiet and intriguing owner, Pierpaolo, who is an amazing genius! Our room's toilet window was a mirror that was shaped like a ship's window (round with gold metal edges) and could actually be opened exactly like a ship's window!

We also stayed with his very famous dog, Leo. Leo was adopted from a Serbian shelter otherwise he would be killed, and saved his owner's life from a sure death by jumping onto his lap in the car just before the mountain in front of them collapsed. This dog brightened our rainy day where we had to stay in and he is a charmer!

There were a few cats in the locale from time to time and I think we spotted 3 of them during our stay. =)

J with Pierpaolo at Corniglia station

The amazing terrace area and Leo!

Place where people attach locks, as a symbol of love, on the Corniglia - Vernazza trail.

After the rains, some wild asparagus 'hatched'. Hehe... They look like mini versions of the regular ones found in the supermarket. I couldn't spot any on the trail, but J managed to collect quite a few for our dinner. They work best in an omelette! And also could be eaten raw =)

Simply delicious, I've never had food that was plucked from the wild before, so not only does it taste well, there is a great feeling of eating something like this.

I didn't need to lift a finger for this meal (not feeling guilty... okay, a little)...

This is the amazing path to our 'home' from Corniglia station.

Amazing hand made bowl souvenirs found in Manarola.

Sights from the rainy day (low clouds) at San Bernardino

View of Corniglia about 1/3 of the trail away.

Cats galore!
I've never seen such picturesque cats + the environment + they are always ready to pose! The one below was drinking from its waterbowl and when I was spotted, it calmly sat beside. It was actually drizzling, and cold, but it wanted me to take a nice photo!

The walkways off Vernazza led to a great place full of pebbles and rocks, we had fun just walking through the area.

This trip to Cinque Terre was unexpected - since the last quarter of last year I've wanted to go to Sardinia (Italy) and thought that it could be feasible to go to both Sardinia and Rome, but after seeing incredible photos of Cinque Terre decided it was a much better trip to spend 4 full days in Rome and 4 in Cinque Terre, Cinque Terre was about 4 hours away from Rome on the fast regional train. Did not manage to do much reading up or planning about both places, and enjoyed it unplanned! I can truly say it's the most beautiful place I've been in and could spend a long time wandering about the little villages. Being my first time to Italy I didn't think that I would be that impressed, but I was, and now, I want to go to Italy again!