Friday, May 27, 2011

The Question

Going through my photo files to find my best shots and organize them, I thought I could share with you my favorite images of Italy so far. The most frequent question we get when we meet people is why did we chose Italy and why Calabria. The simple answer is that we fell in love. Maybe these pictures can help illustrate it. Since we have moved here, like any lovers, we have had our spats with our adopted country...but we have gotten through the adjustment period and now feel at home. 

We visited for the first time September 2005. A terrific time of year to travel. First stop was Venice. It cost more to land at the airport servicing Venice, but it was worth it to arrive by water-taxi. OMG, what a sight for a couple of bumpkins from Oregon, USA. Our first night in Italy was at the quiet trattoria above.

We love dogs and enjoyed the white one on the deliver boat. Di smiles from the hotel room ... a hotel that is nearly invisible. You all have seen St. Marks from various positions - the image at night was good.

A must-see destination is the Cinque Terra in the Region of Liguria. Here you can walk a trail between five villages perched above the sea. Trails that have served people for centuries. What a feeling of history. What gorgeous views. We’ll return while we can still walk!

Couldn't pass on the dog. The image of Riomaggiore's stazione includes a piece of the hiking trail in the upper left.

The town of Vernazza below with boats - as seen from the trail - is memorable. We took shelter from rain in a bar there which had pictures of Hemingway from the 1950's and the place had not changed.
An introduction to gothic architecture in Florence. Just amazing. I remember what really blew me away was that the hotel we stayed at was part of a building 700 years old. Americans just do not understand a lot because we have not been exposed to all the world’s history that’s been around so much longer.

The Tuscan countryside was beautiful of course, but it did not grab us--probably because Oregon and Washington State have so much pastoral beauty that we were a bit jaded on that. The architecture was stunning. Left is Montepulciano and right is the famous piazza at Siena where the annual Palio horse race is held.

We discovered Santa Domenica Talao in Calabria in 2007 and what a beautiful find. Mountains, sun, sea and friendly neighbors, right at our doorstep--just like our dream. I leave you with these (which I'm sure some of you have seen before) and hope you understand the answer to the question now. Later, Guido.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On the Wings of Summer

We are so enjoying a beautiful Spring in Calabria. It is the spring you think of in the dead of winter, not a sudden onset of summer (as we had last year) but a real SPRING with lovely days interspersed with rainy days. Some of our snowbird friends were disappointed in the weeks they chose to spend here this month--because we are having spring this spring and not an early summer.
Summer is on the way, though. I can tell because the population of my favorite bird, the Swift is on the rise. This is one of those phenomenon that you actually have to see to enjoy. I tried very hard to capture them for you, but it is not possible. They frustrated my attempts to photograph them in any real defining way, almost as if they were camera-shy.  As soon as I put down the camera, they came in droves, screeching, dive-bombing and showing off--looking like fighter pilots on a lark.

Swifts are very unusual birds as I learned by watching them and at Avibirds European Birdguide Online. They spend most of their day in the air, usually mate in the air, and catch insects on the wing. They winter in Africa and breed here in late spring and summer. People often mistake them for swallows but they are much more accomplished flyers. They are a pure delight to watch in action.

After trying so hard and largely failing to catch the spirit of the Swifts, I was grateful for more sedentary creatures to portray:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tourists on the Nile

We left Vince with friends in Praia a Mare who drove us to the Scalea train station. We had tickets for an Alitalia flight from Rome to Cairo, Egypt. Initially, we planned only to see some ancient Egyptian sites along the Nile and catch up with our American friends who are both archeologists and the masterminds behind the trip. By the time we left, we were just as curious to see modern Egypt after the January Revolution—once we decided it was safe enough to go ahead. 

Cairo is just 2.5 hours from Rome--an easy hop. Not shown here are scenes from Cairo because we saw it from a Toyota van careening through traffic and were not able to shoot photos. Cairo drivers might defeat Rome cab drivers in a competition.  Although pre-warned, we were astonished at the poverty and squalor in that city of 20 million. Yet, there is opulence scattered around too–like our hotel, the Mena House Oberai. We stayed there a night coming and a night after our Nile cruise. It is by far the most posh place we have ever stayed in our lives. It’s the former hunting lodge of the king until 1890 when a 30–something British couple bought it and created a hotel that has evolved into a huge facility with delicious food and good service. Incredibly, the Great Pyramid is just 700 meters away and looms above the hotel grounds.

The Nile
From Cairo, we flew south to Luxor to start a 7-day River Nile cruise with lots of historic sight-seeing. We were booked on the M/S Stephanie, a boat with beds for 132. Our room was just behind the bridge on starboard side. Our friends had a suite immediately under us.

Cabins on the boat were just fine. The buffet meals were nicely done, but the food we rated a C. Lots of sunning and cruising the first day. Over the week we shared the boat with two English groups, a German group and even some Italians were there for 3 days. There was little mingling amongst groups--mostly because of a rule about eating with your own group to facilitate billing for drinks.

Our Ship

The riverboat trip down the Nile took us past a landscape of irrigated green with a desert backdrop.
Sugar cane is a big crop as is wheat and animal forage. We watched agriculture being carried out by hand as it must have been for millennia. We spent most of our time on the top deck watching the landscape go by. Your eye leaves the irrigated floodplain of the Nile and sees the mostly parched desert.

We went through some locks on the cruise which are guarded by some police or soldiers. There are armed men all over the country. Some in a uniform and many not.  I asked our quide who the guys in civilian clothes and guns were at one stop. “They guard the museum now that the old corrupt police are gone”. Doug asks: So how do you know if they are legit?  

Just because they have AK-47’s? “They are good because they guard our treasures”. I dropped the questions. You cannot believe how old and worn are the pistols and rifles of all these police and guards carry. Also, we were all asked for money from various Tourism Police for minor chores like posing for a photo. The revolution empowers them to hustle for money too.

Our Captain
Many workers on the boat, at tourist sites and the hotel asked us how we felt about their revolution. This includes our guide who is nearly finished with his PhD. Of course we told them all we support them and are proud of them. They went on all the time to praise Obama who had nothing to do with their revolution, but it was calming to us (pro-American talk) after the bin Laden event that went down whilst we were there.

Very old traditions, but even these river people have digital technology 

The ancient art and architecture of Egypt date back 4-5000 years. I was just open-mouthed to see works with colour that have survived so long.

In the south, near Aswan, we visited the sites flooded by the dam in 1960’s where the famous statues were moved about 100 meters higher and still face the rising sun--just amazing. Here too we encountered two days of 45C/114F temperatures. Hellish on the land tours. Even on the ship you had to take many dunks in the pool to remain comfy outdoors. Imagine a conservative Muslim woman wearing a full burka in these temps. We did see them wading in the river with the robes on. This southern country can reach 135F in the summer! We were there just after the main tourist season. Our guide said in summer months, only the crazy Spanish and Italians go there in the heat. Hmm, the Italians I know would not tolerate those temperatures.

Ramses II– the Donald Trump of 2000 BC

Cairo II

We visited the pyramids the morning before our flight left. This apex shot has probably been done since the time of Brownie cameras. In this case, a cop put down his AK, took the photo, and I gave him a Euro.

It is nice to be back to beautiful Italy. We were amazed at how lovely it looked after Cairo. We will probably not ever again take a guided tour or a cruise anywhere–we are too independent and more interested in the kind of information you get sitting in sidewalk cafes--but it was a good experience to have once. One dare not try Egypt on their own -- too dangerous with bandits et al. It was super to spend laughing times with our friends, see the trip through their eyes, and have a chance to see some wonders that we might never have seen on our own. To you photographers out there, I apologize for the spots on my DSLR sensor. Should have cleaned it before the trip. 

Peaceful Travels, Guido


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