Italy in Seven Days, Part 2 of 2

Have you ever admired someone for a long time?  You saw the way they carried themselves.  You liked the way they dressed.  Whenever you all spoke, it was only for a moment, but the exchange left you wanting more.  After a long period of deliberation, you ask them on a date.  You’re excited because the minute exchanges will now consist of a longer more substantial conversation over dinner.  The initial moments were as expected.  However, as the date progresses, you discover there’s nothing interesting beyond those initial moments of conversation.  The person was all sizzle, but no steak.

Have you read an outstanding book that you couldn’t put down?  You read it until you eyes grew tired and when you finished the book it was a bittersweet moment because you no longer had the next chapter to read.  However, the author promised a sequel so you waited and waited.  The anticipation was so great that you couldn’t wait for it to go on sale.  When the release date was announced, you went online or visited the bookstore to pre-order the book.  When the bookstore called you or you saw that the item was shipped, you began counting down the minutes until you had the book in your hand.  After all the anticipation was over and the book was in your hand, you cancelled plans to do anything that didn’t involve reading the book.  However, something strange happened, as you read the book, the storyline was not as compelling, the characters were not as interesting.  You built up all this anticipation and you were in the midst of a huge disappointment.  You labored through until the end.  Yet, the experience was nowhere near the mental reservoir of excitement you had in mind.  Lastly, have you ever taken a long-awaited vacation only to be disappointed with the destination?  The last example was my potential situation.

I began my love affair with Cinque Terre from a photograph I saw at a camera web site (I was researching a lens I later purchased).  I saw another image of this beautiful coastal town nestled in the Italian mountains. I learned that the village was Manarola, a small fishing village. It is one of five villages within the Liguria region of Italy.  The images were beautiful and I thought it would be a great experience to capture these images.  I began researching the area and learning about the hiking trails.  I did all this before I even knew we were moving to England.  When we moved, I knew I had to visit this place before I returned to the US.

View from the train heading to Cinque Terre

We boarded the train at Pisa.  It was an awesome transition watching the terrain change from a hilly environment to large mountains speckled with villages clinging to their sides.  After an hour train ride, we arrived at La Spezia.  Many people visiting Italy think of Rome, Venice, Milan, etc.  However, I was now a couple of stops away from a small fishing village and a long-awaited dream coming true.  La Spezia is a town southeast of RioMaggiore, the first village within Cinque Terre (CT), where most regional trains stop.  People wanting to continue to CT must transfer to the trains traveling amongst the five villages.  When we arrived at La Spezia, we purchased a two-day train and trail pass that provides unlimited access to both for the next 48 hours.  We boarded the train and it stopped at RioMaggiore.  The villages are only a few kilometers between one another so we literally arrived in Manarola two to three minutes later.  The trains travel through the mountains so we couldn’t get a seaside view as we rode.  When we departed the train, I was overwhelmed with excitement.  The brilliant colors of the homes left me in awe.  The colors were so bright and rich they looked as if Crayola did the paint jobs!  However, the excitement quickly diminished as the GPS told me our hotel was 200+ yards up the step mountainside village.  We hiked up the mountain unsuccessfully looking for our hotel.  After several minutes walking around and twice passing a hotel I didn’t book, I asked for assistance.  I learned our hotel was actually near the water.  I quickly walked while Rochelle rested from our ascent up the hill.  I found our place sitting less than 50 yards from the edge of the cliff.  I checked in and caught up with my sister who was already on her way to the hotel.

View several yards from the hotel

It was less than 40 minutes till sunset and that is my favorite photography time.  The light from the beautiful blue sky balances with the artificial lights from buildings and street lights.  I grabbed a few shots and I walked around the cliff.  I was now staring at the very image I saw so many times online.  It was more impressive in person than I could’ve imagined.  The image of the colorful homes resting on the cliff with the waves crashing below was majestic.  We walked until I found a great site to capture the twilight beauty of Manarola.  Afterwards, we had dinner at a nearby restaurant and called it a night.  After years of anticipation, I finished my first date with Manarola.  It was not disappointing as she was more intriguing and beautiful than I imagined.

Manarola - Cinque Terre

The next morning I awoke early with camera and tripod in hand and took some more shots of the coastal village.  Afterwards, I just chilled and thanked God for the opportunity to be in Italy.  Later, Rochelle and I walked the trail to Riomaggiore.  It is by far the easiest trail because it is a 15 minute walk along a paved trail that includes a restaurant along the way.  We arrived at the village, toured the area, took some photos and boarded the train to Corniglia, the middle village.

Sitting Resources

We walked up a steep flight of 382 steps, and bought jewelry from a local merchant, Tony, before we arrived in the town.  Unlike the other villages located at sea level, Corniglia is situated relatively high in the mountain.  Also, the village was quite small, but it had beautiful views of the mountainside where vineyards littered the cliffs.  We began to walk the trail leading to the next village, Vernazza.

Rochelle walking up one of the 382 steps to Cornigia

I learned that God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.  I tried to keep that in mind because I do not like heights.  However, I was now walking along a pathway that varied in width from several feet to no more than two or three.  On my right was the mountain and the other side was a steep descent to the sea.  We were a few hundred feet above sea level and when the path is flirting with the edge of a cliff, fear works its way into your head.  At times, my sister had to stop and wait for me as labored along the path.  The young folks passing or the old folks passing me did not embarrass me.  However, I was taught to always walk along the outside of a curb when I was walking next to a woman.  That’s the chivalrous thing to do.  However, when women passed me on this narrow path.  I clutched to the inside of the path hugging the cliff and I let the ladies walk pass me on the outside.  I would continue my courteous manners once I got off this mountain.

Buried within this cliff is the narrow trail we used to travel between villages.

Approximately a hour and a half later, we descended into the fourth village, Vernazza.  My nerves were a bit done.  However, we rested and I knew I would take the “train” instead of the trail to the next and last village, Monterosso al Mare.  Vernazza’s sea-side is beautiful.  It has a natural marina protecting boats and swimmers from the waves.  I wanted to return during twilight but I committed to another village.

Bird's Eye View of Vernazza

We arrived at Monterosso, thus seeing all five villages of Cinque Terre.  Rochelle opted to visit the beach while I captured more images.  We split up and met up in time to catch the train back to Manarola.  However, I returned to Riomaggiore to capture the village during twilight.  Rochelle returned to the hotel for dinner.  When I was done, I enjoyed dinner at our hotel that has a sea-side view of the cliffs.  After dinner, I returned to the room satisfied in my images and confronting my fear of heights.

Sea level shot of Riomaggiore during twilight. I took this a few feet above the water level.

The next morning we packed and headed to the train station for the next and last leg of our trip, Rome.  The train ride to Rome was approximately four hours.  We arrived in Rome in the early afternoon, dropped our luggage at the holding area, and purchased a self-guided tour of the Vatican.  It worked well because we walked around St. Peter’s Square until the tour began.  Afterwards, we joined the tour and walked into the Vatican Museum without delay—no waiting in line required.  We visited the many artifacts including the Sistine Chapel.  Next, we decided to tour some of the nearby landmarks.  After visiting the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, and other locations, we returned to obtain our luggage.  We headed to our hotel, checked-in, and had dinner at a nearby restaurant.  Once again, we have a productive day on our last stop.

Fountain di Trevi

It’s our last full day in Italy.  We awoke early and headed into the city center.  It’s Saturday and admission into the Colosseum and Forum is free.  As we arrive at the site, we take photos with guys dressed as Roman soldiers.  Afterwards, they ask for $20 Euros as compensation!  As we walk to the Colosseum, we decide to participate in a guided tour of the Colosseum and the Forum.  Once again, we bypass the waiting lines and immediately enter both historical landmarks.  Once we completed those tours, we began visiting other areas of Rome.  The city is bustling with thousands of tourists even though this is the more moderate time for tourists.  Rochelle and I split and we meet up a few hours later.  She went shopping and I go…well, you know what I do!  We return to the Colosseum and I take shots of the Colosseum during twilight.  When I finished, we had dinner and headed back to the hotel for our last night in Italy.

The Colosseum at Twilight

Our flight was not until 9:00 PM.  Therefore, we take the time and sleep in for the first time in nearly a week.  When we finally checked-out, we head to the Rome Terminal awaiting our bus ride to the airport.  We still have a few more hours.  So, we visit a bookstore and I see a Rome calendar with images of places we didn’t visit.  Since I have some time, I go and grab some last-minute shots of the Piazza di Spagna and other memorable shots along the way.

Every few minutes she was engaged in a dialogue with someone.

I return and we check-in the area for our bus ride to the airport.  We grab a bite to eat as we wait for our plane and later we board the plane to England.  We arrive safely and we go to my car for the ride home.  At home, all is well.  Rochelle decides to visit London the next day and I chill at home as I prepare for work the following day.  The next day I take her to the airport, and then I go to work.  I’m back into my routine.  However, I had an outstanding time with my sister and nearly 1,200 images chronicling this amazing trip.  I was truly thankful how the weather, the locations, the companionship, and the images worked out so well.  I thank God for a trip of a lifetime!


Italy in Seven Days, Part 1 of 2

I planned this trip a couple of months ago after years of desiring to visit Cinque Terre.  I decided to do a whirlwind tour visiting four cities (Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Rome) and an area consisting of five villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare) in a seven-day trip.

I booked our flights through RyanAir, known for their cheap prices.  However, they bypass the typical accoutrements.  There are no reserved seats and you don’t walk through a protected tunnel to your plane.  You walk outside and board the plane from the front or the rear.  Also, they charge you for checked bags and for printing your boarding pass—I’m being charged to use my own ink and paper—don’t even think about not printing or forgetting your pass you’ll pay a lot extra.  However, the flight was short and uneventful so I have no complaints.

Morning light at Venice

We arrived in Venice and the weather was beautiful.  However, RyanAir doesn’t really take you to Venice—even though that’s what they advertise online.  You arrive at an airport approximately 60 minutes from the town center.  We took a five Euro bus ride near the town center.  It’s approximately 11:00 AM and we get onto the vaporetto, the Venice waterbus.  Proper planning helps greatly because we knew which line to ride.  We traveled the entire length of the Grand Canal getting off and on for one small fee.

Colorful homes of Burano

We reached the Saint Marco Basilica and we began touring the area.  As we walked, I noticed a local vendor sponsoring a tour to the nearby islands.  I read a photography article about the Burano Island near Venice and the colorful homes.  So, we quickly accepted the opportunity.  The tour began with a trip to Murano Island where we watched a local glass-maker make a horse—Wow, not!  After we walked through the gift shop, it was on to the next location.  We traveled to Burano where the tour guide told us they make a lot of lace on the island.  I bypassed that show and began walking around photographing the homes and the people.  The colorful homes play a prominent role on the island.  In order to maintain the appearance, the residents must get local approval whenever they paint their homes.  Originally, the story goes, they painted the homes in a bright color so the inebriated fisherman knew which home to enter when they returned home.  The next and final stop was to Torcello Island.  I still don’t know why we visited this island.  There were a few buildings and a pay-before-you-go bathroom.  The entire cruise was 3.5 hours, which seemed too long initially.  However, it takes 25 to 35 minutes to get to each island with only a 30 minute stay each time.  Therefore, the trip went quickly.

Floating Gondolas

We arrived back at Saint Marco Basilica and I began photographing the gondolas in the water.  I saw some beautiful shots of them and I wanted to add my own flare to the image.  After doing this, the daylight was fading fast and we were getting hungry and tired.  We left our backpacks on the boat whenever we visited the islands.  However, lugging them around all day began to take its toll.  I pulled out my TomTom to see where the hotel was and it was at the “beginning” of the Grand Canal!  After a long ride through the canal we arrived at our hotel, literally a five-minute walk from the beginning of the bus route.  If only we’d dropped off our bags prior to touring the city, we could’ve saved ourselves from carrying them all day, so much for proper planning.

We checked into the hotel, dropped off the luggage, and found us a place for dinner.  Our first day in Italy was productive and we looked forward to a new day at a new location.



We got up early, checked out and headed to the train station that was next to the bus stop right near our hotel!!!!  The train ride to Florence was two hours.  So, it gave us an opportunity to catch some more sleep.  When we arrived in Florence, Rochelle asked if I knew where the hotel is located as we were getting into the taxi.  I said, “No” assuming if it were far we’d need the taxi and if it was close the ride would be cheap.  However, when I showed the driver the address, he smiled and pointed behind us to our hotel.  So, we immediately checked into our hotel and dropped off our luggage!


We visited an information desk then began walking around the city.  We headed to the Duormo, the Cathedral of Florence.  The architecture of the building is amazing.  Many cathedrals in Europe allow people to climb to the top.  So, we decided to participate and 463 steps later, we arrived amidst a stunning view of the city.  However, I’d experience an even better view later that day.  Once you’re done and ready to descend, it becomes an exercise of patience as part of the narrow path is used for people ascending and descending.  Unfortunately, the stairwell is only wide enough for one direction.

We walked to the Accademia.  This is where the famous statue of Michelangelo’s David resides.  It’s recommended that you make reservations or you’ll have to wait in line.  However, we saw two lines, one for people without reservations and one for people “with” reservations.  They both were long.  I wasn’t pressed with seeing the statue and after my sister’s remarks, which were hilarious, but not suitable for print, I lost all interest.


As a photographer, I’m always looking for great views and most of my research centers around that.  I read about an area where you can see the city at sunset.  So, we began to walk to Pizzale de Michelangelo, an elevated town square.  The one fact about any “elevated” place in Europe is it requires strength and stamina.  They don’t offer amenities for people with disabilities.  You can either hike up the trail or stay where you are.

After a mile or so of walking, we arrived at the square and the view was worth it.  The colors were brilliant.  It never ceases to amaze me how natural colors offer some of the best photographic opportunities.  We stayed at the site well past sunset.  As we began to leave, we unsuccessfully tried to hale a taxi.  However, we walked back to our hotel instead.  Once again, we found a place to eat and called it a night after that.


Pisa Courtyard

The next morning we got up early to take the train to Pisa.  It was our first sign of unpleasant weather as it began to rain.  I prayed this weather would remain and Pisa would be different.  After purchasing our tickets, we boarded the train and headed to our next stop.  As predicted, the clouds began to break and our arrival at Pisa was greeted with a beautiful blue sky with a few clouds to provide break the color.

We discovered a baggage repository so we dropped off our backpacks to lighten the load.  We walked around the area and made our way to the famous courtyard.  After approximately 25 minutes of walking, we saw this leaning building.  We also knew we were getting close because every few feet we saw vendors selling various goods.  Rochelle was excited to see the tower because she told me she had this “unique” idea for a photo.  She was going to pose in front of the tower and pretend she was holding it!  Imagine her disappointment when she saw nearly everyone taking that pose.  We walked around the courtyard visiting the many vendors and me taking photos.  After a few hours, we returned to the train station because we had to travel to our next stop.  We only needed a half-day in Pisa.  We obtained our luggage and boarded the train for our next destination.  The entire trip was going as planned.  However, the highlight for me was now an hour’s train ride to the next stop.