Tag Archives: italy

Colle di val d’Elsa

When I first came to Colle di val d’Elsa I arrived on foot, having walked all the way from San Gimignano. This time it was easier, except for parking the car.

Colle di val d’Elsa is less famous than either San Gimignano or Siena but that’s not to say that it is without merit. It’s another attractive, small Tuscan town. This time made slightly less photogenic by the extensive maintenance work being performed on the main square.

View over Colle di val d'Elsa, Tuscany, Italy

Away from the centre I found a long, dark passage that led to a lift. It went to a viewing platform and another part of town. The glass lift seems slightly surreal sat glinting in the sun above a landscape that has likely remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.

I immediately recognise a path, now slightly lower than me, where I first arrived in the town four years ago. Now above me are the typical narrow, cobbled streets.

Lift mechanism and view over Colle di val d'Elsa, Tusc

I push up the hill, past some churches but mainly residential areas. I decide that the best is probably back down the hill and return to the square and the car.

Next stop: Monteriggioni.

Poppi

One of the great things about this trip was that some days I’d just fall out of bed, flip open a map and decide where to go on a whim. My visit to Poppi was inspired by this process with a little coaxing from a book called “Most Beautiful Villages in Tuscany.” Such a title might lead to high expectations and the suspicion of imminent disappointment, but Poppi did not let me down. It’s a very pretty, compact town with a castle, a church and a long, cobbled main street. Even the weather was on my side.

Poppi, Tuscany, Italy

I parked just outside the city walls. Inside the tarmac road immediately changes to cobbles and the buildings get older and prettier. Of course, if we saw buildings with flaking paint like this back home we’d complain, but here it is quaint and attractive. Just inside the walls is a fountain in the middle of a round-about.

The first port of call really had to be the castle, which was to the left and up a hill. It was visible from some way out1 and was no less impressive close up.

Poppi castle, Tuscany, Italy

It’s surrounded by a dry moat2 and some amazing vistas of the local area. On one side I found green and undulating hills.

View from Poppi, Tuscany, Italy

And on the other I could see back to the other side of Poppi itself, showing a church with the same type of rolling hills as a backdrop.

View of Poppi, Tuscany, Italy

The church looked as thought it would be worth further investigation so I went back down the hill (via a small cafe). Compared with the bigger towns, the church was less elaborate but this one is actually used.

At home people often seem to lose the wonder of the place that they live in, taking for granted all the great things that their local town and country had. It’s nice to see that not all of the residents of Poppi are unappreciative.

View from Poppi, Tuscany, Italy

It’s finds like Poppi that remind me while I love travelling. While eating breakfast I had barely heard of the place but by the afternoon I was wandering around and soaking in the atmosphere.

With no plan for the next day will there be a pleasant surprise again?

  1. The distances on the road signs were so misleading that I thought that the town on the hill was an entirely different site. []
  2. Only quite dry at this point. There had been a lot of rain in the last few days. []

Adventures with Panoramas

One of the things that I noticed the last time I was in Siena was the potential for a 360° panoramic shot in the Piazza del Campo. Unfortunately that trip was the last time I used my film SLR and, given the hit and miss results of my attempts up to that point, I was too cheap to waste half a roll of film on the task.

This time, however, I was on digital:

Siena Piazza del Campo Panorama

(Click to zoom in. The full version is way too big to put on the Internet I’m afraid. The Photoshop file is nearly 300Mb in size!)

I’ve tried this a few times now and the technique I now use is as follows:

  • No polarising filter
  • Focal length between about 40mm and 60mm
  • Check out the exposure readings all around, pick a middle-ish reading and dial that in as a manual exposure
  • Pick a suitable white-balance setting. Do not use AUTO
  • Hand-hold but keep steady, make sure there’s a good overlap between images

Then I just let Photoshop take the strain.

I wasn’t happy leaving it at that though.

I had seen people do, for want of a better word, circular panoramas. I spent some time playing around with the above image but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. I gave up and nearly forgot about it all.

Until this months Photography Monthly plopped through my letter-box with instructions on how to do it. How could I not have a go?

Siena Campo Circular Panorama

What they didn’t mention in the magazine is that you need a lot of foreground to make it work. Unfortunately, as you can see with the original, that’s something that I didn’t have. I ended up adding more cobbles at the bottom using the clone tool, the healing brush and some solid colour. This worked pretty well except for where there were people. The distortion hides much of the worst of it.

This is never going to be a perfect panoramic picture, which is why I’m publishing it in this slightly rough and ready state, but I like the results so far, think I know where I went wrong and am determined to try again.

Siena

Some things change while others stay the same. Siena was pretty much as I remembered it from my previous trip, although wetter this time. It’s still a very attractive city which somehow manages not to let the vast influx of tourists each year drive out its charm.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I drove to Siena directly from San Gimignano, taking a wrong turning, knocking the right side-mirror off the hire car and finally managing to squeeze into a very full car-park next to the football stadium.

To orient myself I made straight for the Piazza del Campo, the famous shell-like “square” that makes up the centre of the town.

Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy

After a quick latte1 I decided to take a good wander around. The Duomo was as impressive as ever, although — again — I didn’t manage to get inside for a look.

Duomo, Siena, Italy

It’s possible that before I have finished documenting my trip I will have got very bored of writing about “narrow, cobbled streets” but Siena has them too, and I wandered around them in the rain for quite some time.

I even managed to drive back to the villa with no further damage to the car.

  1. I am never going to think of a latte in exactly the same way having just seen “Idiocracy.” []

San Gimignano

I’m starting to learn that the problem with walled cities, as pretty as they are from a distance and on foot, is that parking can be a nightmare.

San Gimignano, in case you had not already guessed, is a walled city. I picked the parking lot the furthest from the route from the main road — quite sneaky I thought — only to find it already full and the path out almost blocked by a badly parked SUV.

San Gimignano, Italy

I eventually managed to find a space a little walk out of town, which was fine as it’s not a huge place and it allowed me to catch my bearings. I quickly remembered some of the sites that I first saw in 2004, most notably the famous towers. The number of still-standing towers varies depending on which guide book you read. I won’t add to the confusion by adding my own count.

San Gimignano, Italy

Once inside the narrow, cobbled streets also seemed very familiar. This time I took a bit of a detour from the main drag, following some of the even smaller lanes away from the centre. Also familiar was the rain. Does it always rain in San Gimignano?

View from San Gimignano, Italy

In addition to being a very pretty town in its own right, San Gimignano sits in a very attractive part of Tuscany — high praise indeed! Some of the views just outside are truly amazing.

With the weather not being terribly helpful I decided to move on to Siena fairly quickly. Hopefully I’ll have more luck there.

Florence

Florence is both the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region and was very much as the centre of the Renaissance, which makes it fairly large and packed with treasures. As usual, I tended to stay outside rather than wander around galleries.

I found that the easiest way to get into town — not fancying the drive into the centre of a major Italian city — was to first go to Fiesole, park there and take the number seven bus straight into Florence. The bus goes practically straight past one of the major sites — the Duomo — so this is where I started.

Florence Duomo, Italy

Your first glance is just around a corner as you approach from the bus stop. It’s an impressive building from a distance and gets no less so up close.

Inside is, as with most Catholic churches, elaborate, showing no expense spared in its construction. So much for charity.

Inside Florence Duomo, Italy

View from Florence Duomo, ItalyIt’s also possible to climb to the top of the Duomo. It’s not easy, requiring the ascent of 463 narrow and steep steps. Nearing the top it gets very busy as people try to go up and come down at the same time. At one point I could see sun-light but couldn’t progress as a long stream of people tumbled down the stairs. The wait, annoying as it was, built suspense but was worth it in the end.

The dizzying journey to street-level was much quicker.

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy

Back in the Piazza del Duomo I decided to make for one of the other major sights, the Ponte Vecchio, or, as I knew it before I boarded the plane to Italy, “that bridge in all the photos with the shops on it.”

Pontevecchio, Florence, Italy

En route I found the Piazza della Signoria. Here there are many statues including a copy of Michelangelo’s famous David. The Uffizi Gallery is also just off the square. I decided to stay in here for a while, people watching and checking out the various statues and fountains. I couldn’t, however, recommend any of the cafes. The one I ended up in served poor coffee and a partially frozen cake. Stick to the gelato.

Pontevecchio, Florence, Italy

The Ponte Vecchio is quintessentially Italian. It’s pretty and old, popular and somehow at one with the modern country. It’s there and maintained yet the locals seem to have no problem scrawling graffiti over the whole bridge — there was barely a square centimetre free of a name or a romantic teen message.

I know that I barely scratched the surface of Florence. The problem, if you can call it that, is that much of what the city has to offer is inside galleries and out of bounds to my camera.