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Preface: Now, this is a posting from April 2011 but since I have moved my blog over here, it only makes sense to repost it properly. Some pictures have been re-processed with some new techniques, some were left the same but at the end of the day, Cinque Terre is probably where my fondest memories of Italy are so far. Enjoy!

Because of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, us people in the UK received an extra day’s holiday this past week. With another 4 day weekend on the horizon, I decided that I had to go somewhere nice. I already had a destination in mind. Cinque Terre would be the place this holiday.

Flying into Pisa is the easiest way if you are going to come from Europe and can get a direct flight. From there, approximately a 1 hour and 45 minute journey by train (will include 1 change) will get you into any of the 5 villages within Cinque Terre. If you are flying in from North America, the best bet might be to fly into Milan where a longer train journey awaits but Milan is generally a more direct route for those flying from overseas.

Cinque Terre is a combination of natural beauty (with it’s mountains, cliffs, and clear coastal waters) and rustic culture (the architecture is very old, but colorful and full of character). As you can tell by the name, the relation to 5 is that there are 5 main towns that comprise of the Cinque Terre region: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manorola, and Riomaggiore. While it may not be well known, to those that know about Cinque Terre, many cannot wait to come here on vacation. To get to each village, you have the train, the boat, and you can trek by foot. Many who come to Cinque Terre will know about the hike along the trails, which connect all 5 towns.

Being from Vancouver, I’m big on being out doors (though I am not the go backpacking for weeks while camping type) and I enjoy hiking. Naturally, Cinque Terre was the perfect location for that. The total hike would take approximately 5 hours but keep in mind that it will take much longer if you choose to take your time and visit each village. I based myself out of Monterosso (known as the town that is most touristy as it has its own sandy beaches) and it is the furthest village North along the coast. Wondering what the views from the hike look like?


Monterosso has pretty much everything you need really. Great restaurants (see below) and a beautiful coast line. It helped that I had a room in a B&B that overlooked the ocean though :D The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza would take approximately 1.5 hours. This may be the most difficult part of the entire hike as there are a lot of narrow sections with no railings (can be dangerous if you’re not being careful) and there are a lot of uphill sections (you only start going downhill a bit as you reach the next town). Coastal views are available at most stop points though!


At the end of the path was Vernazza. This was the town I wanted to stay in but the hotels and B&B’s were all sold out. It is probably the most picturesque out of the five. There were rocks that extended out into the bay and people just sat atop each one, reading a book or drawing. Right along the bay were several restaurants where you could sit, have a drink and a meal while looking out into the water. The bay actually acts as an inlet into the village, giving the city great views out into the water from as much as 180 degrees. I stayed here on a narrow ledge during sunset just so I could catch the town in the light I wanted to see it in. The hike from Vernazza to Corniglia would take another 1.5 hours or so and has many ups and downs. The paths are not as narrow though.


Corniglia is unique in that it is situated atop a cliff and therefore has no harbor for the boats to stop along (for public transportation purposes). There is a look out point that gives panoramic views from this height, which was worth seeing – you just need to go into the village center and follow the signs. I also had some great gelato here (see below). Relatively small compared to Vernazza and Monterosso, once you’re done seeing the sights, it’s time to move along to Manorola. Unfortunately there was a landslide along the path so it was closed off. We had to take the train instead so I can’t speak of the hike from here to Manorola. It is not supposed to be as long (I don’t think it would take longer than 1 hour and there are not as many steep ups or downs).


Manorola was particularly tiny I thought. The architecture and the color theme were consistent for the most part with all other towns. It also had a bit of a church/cathedral which I thought were neat but I probably spent the least amount of time here. There are no beaches here so if that is what you are looking for, Manorola is not the place. The path was open from here to Riomaggiore but this one had a special name – Via dell’Amore (Path of Love). It is a path that has meaning to many that pass through. People left locks along the path and inscribed love notes on the rocks. It made me wonder how many of those relationships lasted (I just realized how pessimistic that made me sound haha). The hike from here to Riomaggiore is an easy one (all paved) but it is not without great views.


The last town of the five on my trek, Riomaggiore was also the place where I finally had my “lunch” at 4:30pm. It gave me… 1 hour before I had to get on the boat ride back to Vernazza (I had to get back there for the sunset lighting… the things we do as photographers haha). I highly recommend taking the boat ride back, it gives you a view of the towns from the water and it is a great way to relax after an 8 hour trek.


While I originally wanted to stay in Vernazza, the alternative was Monterosso. I couldn’t find anything on Booking.com for the first little while, everything was a train ride away from the main towns so I was hooped. But then I emailed a few places and got some recommendations and found Il Parco in Monterosso. It is only a 10 minute walk from train station but it is uphill so I recommend you take the taxi up the first day if you are carrying loads. My room was modern and very clean but the best part yet was that as soon as I open my door, I see the ocean in front of me. There were also chairs and a table directly in front of my door too so I could sit there with a view of the sea. In fact.. that is exactly where I am as I type this. Cup of wine in hand, prosciutto and cheese at the ready, this is a nice break from the crowded beach just 10 minutes below. Overall, I highly recommend this accommodation. The breakfast is great as well and is included in the rent. Great location and quiet.. I am not sure you could ask for more!


Overall I had some great food while I was in Cinque Terre. Most people who think about Italy probably think pasta synonymously. I had some great pasta (pasta, despite what some may think, is hard to cook properly. A lot of restaurants under or overcook their pasta) while I was here and I also indulged on some of their very fresh sea food (them being by the ocean and all). While I found almost all places I went to were very good in terms of taste, I highly suggest you ask your fellow local (ie. The person who owns the B&B or someone at the front desk). I was recommended to a couple of restaurants in Monterosso including Miky and Monerosso in old Monterosso (there is both a section of the town that is dubbed new and another, old).

I ate at Miky on the first night I arrived. For starters, I had the warm seafood salad. Minimal greens but a nice mixture of clam, muscles, octopus and parsley. Very simply done, there was no sauce. The seafood was simply steamed. It really showed how fresh the seafood was! For the entrée, I had the seabass ravioli with pine nuts. Mmm… Kind of light but the portions were actually very decent.

The second restaurant I went to was called Ristorante Il Moretto. It is located in old Monterosso and it is located within a plaza that has about 2-3 other restaurants in the area. I had the seafood salad again to compare to Miky and oh boy was I ever glad I did. This seafood salad was much better (fresher tasting seafood does wonders!) and for the entrée I had seafood linguine. More clams, mussels, and prawns… but oh so good. I think I was seafood-ed out after this meal though lol.


Anyone who is not a resort person like me but enjoys culture and great food and doesn’t mind a little beach, should heavily consider visiting Cinque Terre. The five villages all have incredible character, a boat of great restaurants, and lots of beautiful coastlines and views. People who enjoy hiking (albeit an easy hike) will really enjoy this area of the Italian coast. I think I went at a good time though, it being May and just before the tourist season. If you come from June – September, be prepared for big crowds and hot temperatures! Anyway, I had an amazing time. It strikes me that I really enjoy traveling on my own. I got to meet some great people along the way (tons of Aussies on vacation!) as well.



When I first started getting into landscape photography through my travelling, I became infatuated with going to places not because of the shopping, the modern buildings, the streets, or the cars. Instead, my longing to explore the quiet countryside grew. Anyone who has done some travelling through Europe will tell you that there are unbelievable landscapes to be found. Having travelled through Ireland, the next must-do destination for me was Tuscany.

Florence is considered to be part of “Tuscany” because it is quite a large area. But through suggestions and through the many amazing pictures that I saw of the area, that was the place that I knew that this was a place I wanted to see. Renting a car is the most practical way of getting to Val d’Orcia. If you start in Florence, driving from there down south will get you there within 1.5 hours. For those afraid of driving the Italian roads, it really is not that bad. Drivers are fast and fairly aggressive but I wouldn’t consider many of them to be reckless. Having said that, in the city you do have to be aware of the scooters and the bicycles that are running about. Just refrain from driving within the City centers. If you are driving to a town in the country side, DO NOT drive into the City. Instead, park in one of the parking lots just outside the City center walls and walk in. Our GPS told us to foolishly go into the city and we found ourselves cornered… by streets that were far too tight to turn into. We ended up having to go against one way traffic to get ourselves out. The moral of the story? Stay outside of the City center if you are driving!


If you are a person who appreciates the visual aspects of a place you visit, Val d’Orcia’s highlight is just that. Rolling hills, picture perfect sunsets, winding roads, isolated buildings, you will find all of that in this region. The only thing is? You do have to drive around in order to find these landscapes. The other thing? You might need to drive off the beaten path in order to get there. This means driving along roads that look like a car should not drive on. Often times we found ourselves on sketchy paths that looked like only four wheel drive cars and farming vehicles should drive along. But some of the landscapes were worth it! The landscape was extremely dry however and this is typical of the region during this time of year. The green doesn’t appear until Spring. So if you want some more color and don’t mind the cold, come during May/June and you might see a different landscape altogether! Anyway, enough with the wordiness, the pictures will do the talking.


On the next day after I arrived, I took a look at the surrounding area and decided that Montepulciano will be the place to visit. They are well known for some of their wines and the landscape along the way was bound to be interesting. It is a relatively small town that you can easily walk around in about 3-4 hours. There are a number of cathedrals here worth seeing. Most of them are unassuming, quiet, and gives you that calm that a church should provide. This is different than in Florence as the hordes of people typically make a cathedral into more of a tourist attraction. I love walking through small towns. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is fantastic (if you find the right place), and it is a great place to wander aimlessly. Learn to appreciate the good things, big and small. Strive to see it in a different way. It is funny how such a simple perspective can result in such great things. Montepulciano is a beautiful small town and is well worth visiting. It is also one of the places where I had one of the more enjoyable meals (Osteria Acquacheta) in my entire Tuscan trip. See below for more.


Similar to Montepulciano, Pienza was another small town within the area. It was a town that was very small in size and took maybe 2-3 hours to walk through. There was another great restaurant (Latte di Luna) that I visited here for lunch as well which you can read about briefly below. One of the best aspects of small town Italy are the older buildings in the City center. They are aged, rustic in color, and the other great thing? The roads very commonly wrap around one another and they also incline and decline. For a photographer, this is something we miss out on in North America… as a lot of our roads are straight and for a lack of a better word, boring.


Siena is due just south of Florence and is the next biggest city in the Tuscan region. In the past, Siena and Florence fought many wars but it is now a second must see if you are to come to this area. In terms of attractions that I think you have to see, there is the Piazza del Campo which is at the center of the City. Here you have a large piazza where people gather, you can’t miss it as you will see loads of tourists snapping photos of the enormous clock tower (the Palazzo Comunale) which dwarfs the people and the pigeons chilling out in the square. An overhead view of the City can be taken in if you get a ticket to the Museo Civico in the square as you will get the chance to climb the clock tower and snap photos from there.

The highlight for me though, had to be the Duomo. This cathedral may be smaller than Florence’s version but it is certainly nothing to scoff at. The inside is primarily marble and as typical with the Italian grand cathedrals, the detail of the architecture and the art is astounding. The colors and the light that leaks into the church left me in awe.

Outside of the Duomo is the Museo dell’Opera. Religious artwork and sculptures are in abundance here and very interesting to see. The masterpiece known as the Maesta is housed here though it was originally in the Duomo. The great thing about going to this Museum? You can also line up to go up on top of the Facciatone where you can get an overhead view of the city with the Duomo directly in your sights. This alone made the trip to this museum worth it.

Since I only had one day and quite honestly, I was getting a little tired, I decided to head back to the Piazza and sit in the square in the last little bit of light for the day.

I would say Siena is a City you should definitely visit if you have a few days extra in Italy. It is worth the 1-2 days that you could spend here.


The other small town that I visited was Montalcino. It was east of the Val d’Orcia region but it is known for it’s red wine, the Brunello (you might find these in liquor stores in North America but you are likely to pay anywhere between $70+ for even the lowest end bottle). The Brunello is made only within the Montalcino municipality so the goal of this trip: to try the various types of Brunello’s available. Many wineries and tastings are available. Be aware however! The wineries here generally require you to call in advance and make a reservation. The only winery that I tried was called Banfi. They are an American owned estate but they are HUGE. The 1995 Brunello was incredible but unfortunately it was also 96 EURO’s per bottle. Having never bought a bottle over $50 CAD, it was too much of a pill to swallow so I didn’t bite the bullet on that one.


Recommended by my talented friend, Kirstin, I looked into staying directly in the Val d’Orcia area in an estate called La Foce. You really just need to look at the photos on the website to be sold on this place. They rent private apartments and residences that can house anywhere from 2-10+ people. It is not in the City so you will need a car to reach it. The advantage of overlooking the famous Tuscan landscape of the zig-zag road (picture is above in the landscape section), the intensely bright star lit sky at night and the privacy is enough to convince me that I would stay here again next time I venture into this area.


If you are a fan of Italian food, of pasta, grilled meats, simple ingredients, home cooking, and great flavor, you will love the food in Tuscany. I visited several standout restaurants during my stay here that I would visit again without question.

Dopolavoro La Foce - Located basically next to La Foce, this restaurant was probably my favorite during my time in the entire Tuscan region. The food is simple yet the flavors were complex. The food is incredibly tasty and despite being in the heart of Val d'Orcia's country side, the decor was quite modern but in a country style. In all, I went back here about 5 times in a week. In addition to the heart warmingly good pastas (primi's), delicious steak and roast chicken (secondi's), the customer service makes this place special. I will be doing a separate review of this restaurant in a different post. Easily one of my favorite restaurants in the world to date.

Osteria Acquacheta - This restaurant came as a recommendation from La Foce and is located in the municipality of Montepulciano. When I got there, there was already a huge lineup outside even before it opened. This is usually a good sign of a highly anticipated restaurant. The funny thing? There was a sign at the door that said, "No reservations? No luck" Giving it a chance, I got in after about 30 minutes as a couple did not show up on time for their reso. This place is known for their Florentine steak so do give it a try if you go (it might have been the best steak I had in Tuscany). Just make sure you make a reservation before you go. Montepulciano might be small but this restaurant is well known. The owner even signed a book for me haha.

Latte di Luna - Located in the town of Pienza, this is a place that I went for lunch. The thing to have here is the slow roast pig. It was delicious and the prices were modest. Another popular destination, I would think that making a reservation for dinner would be a good idea.

All in all, there are some amazing eats located in Tuscany. Take advantage of it if you are in the region because as soon as you go to a place like Rome, Cinque Terre, or the Amalfi Coast, you will see a huge spike in prices. For example, glasses of great wine in Tuscany were about 3-5 Euro. In the Amalfi Coast where I headed after this trip? 12 Euro. Not even joking.


The trip to Tuscany is one that I have been wanting to make since I first got into photography and wine. The region is gorgeous and it certainly delivered in a lot of aspects. The terrain is very dry however so if you do want to see more green, come during Spring instead. I know I will be back. Again, for other reasons ;) And perhaps when the terrain is a bit more colorful.


After heading to Cinque Terre last year, I knew that I wanted to come back to the Italian coast and see the other comparable, the Amalfi Coast. To get here, it took a three hour train ride from Florence to Naples (approximately 68 Euros). Once I arrived in Naples, it was another 1.5 hour train ride to Sorrento... then... another hour bus ride into Positano where I was staying for the next 5 nights. Haha.

The long journey was well worth it. The views of Positano are famous and you could see why. The only thing is... you feel like you're risking your life being on the bus driving along those winding roads along the cliff of the mountain. The roads were so narrow and there were so many blind turns it could make your stomach rise each time the you approached the next corner. The bus drivers definitely earned their keep though, you could tell that they knew what they were doing (or were just plain lucky) as there were several times where they were maybe 5cm's or less away from the approaching car/bus's side mirrors or the boulders on the other side. Anyway, I made it there so I guess they knew what they were doing!

On a side note, sometimes life can be peculiar. You start to realize things as you go on, whether it be through your daily life at home or on a journey in a foreign place, it really makes you reflect; reflect on what is important to you; on the values and characteristics of those you want to keep around you. Sometimes, they help you to realize the type of people you want to surround yourself with and those that you don't. But perhaps that isn't a bad realization at all.


Positano is the place I based myself out of during this trip. It is a small town but it closely resembled some of the villages that I saw from Cinque Terre. The town itself is perched on the cliffside. When you look at the buildings from afar, the colors are a mixture of different shades of yellow and orange. Truly a sight you want to see for yourself if you haven't already. A beach sits at the bottom of the town and all along the beach front are restaurants (although a bit on the pricey side because it is a tourist trap) where people sit and enjoy great seafood and have a few drinks while enjoying the view. Easily my favorite town along the Amalfi.


An island just off the Amalfi, Capri is quite famous. From Positano, you could take a boat tour around the island for the day. Being on a boat, in the Mediterranean, in the sun? Sounds good to me! There are several tours you could take from Positano, Sorrento, or the Amalfi. The tour around the island was relaxing but hot... very hot. If you haven't done it before, you could go into the famous blue grotto here for about 12-15 Euros. It is a tiny cave that glows blue as a result of the sun hitting the sand under the water. It is neat but once you've done it once, I don't think you will feel the urge to do it again.

Once on Capri, I noticed right away how touristy this place was. Absolutely tiny, the town center would take no more than 1-2 hours to walk through. Except it was jam packed with people! One thing you could do to get away from the crowds though was to hop on a taxi or a bus and head on up to Anacapri. A separate city center, you could then take the gondola (or individual swing seat) all the way up to the top of the island. From there, you can take in the view of the entire island.


Amalfi is its own small town to the east of Positano. About a 40 minute bus ride away, this town is also very touristy but definitely a lot more lively and "authentically Italian" than Capri (at least to me). Situated in the Amalfi is a very impressive Duomo. Probably the most impressive cathedral I had seen since my time in Siena or Florence. I didn't spend much time in this place though... maybe 3 hours? Then it was off to Ravello!


Situated at the top of the mountain above Amalfi, Ravello is a very small town. Walking through the town, it seemed like there were a few highlights. What seems to be a very musical town, there were several ads for the Ravello music festival that takes place annually here. Unfortunately I missed it by just a few days! Would have loved to take in a concert here. Definitely worth the visit, you could spend about half a day in Ravello and the other half in Amalfi and you would have a very productive day.


The food in the Amalfi was a startling change from Tuscany. Being right by the Mediterranean, the food was very seafood-centric. Pastas filled with clams, mussels, monk fish and other daily catches were commonly on the menu here. The only catch? The food here is also much more expensive than that of Tuscany. For instance, a glass of red would cost between 1.5-4 Euros in Tuscany. But on the first night in the Amalfi, I had a glass that was 12 Euros. Now I wasn't given much choice so I didn't just choose to drink the more expensive glass. Anyway, the food was decent here! I appreciate fresh, great tasting food wherever I go, so I thoroughly enjoyed my food adventures here. But what was with the definition of al dente here? It tasted undercooked every time!


During my stay in the Amalfi Coast, I based myself out of Positano. It wasn't the most central of locations (ie. Sorrento) but it being the most beautiful of the towns in the area, it was worth it. I stayed at Holiday House Gilda in a private apartment with a huge balcony and an ocean view. Not only was it an ocean view, it was one with a view of the town of Positano during sunset. This place was beautiful as it sounds. The owners of this Holiday house were some of the most genuinely friendly people that I have ever met. Gilda and her husband did not speak very much English at all but they always met me with a smile on their face and always spoke so happily in Italian. Just by themselves, they made the stay worth it. The only thing? It was approximately 20 minutes outside of town.


Well, the Amalfi was certainly a different area than Tuscany. This place closely resembles the Cinque Terre but there was one distinct difference. It was far more compact and dense with tourists here. The views of the Mediterranean were spectacular and the seafood was second to none, but which would I choose between Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast? Most definitely Cinque Terre.

I'm glad I had a chance to visit it for the first time on this trip though!


X 1 0 0 S

Welcoming an addition to our camera family, the Fujifilm X100S! This was a present to J so that we can snap pictures together when we are travelling in the near future. Besides, my heavy 5D Mark II and my lenses aren't for everyone. The camera looks gorgeous and it performs well too. It wasn't the easiest to get used to as the autofocus is no where near as quick as a DSLR but the quality and sharpness could put any SLR to shame.

Convinced? I am. But it's going to take some getting used to. I'm not used to using a camera that is so light ;) In all honesty, it is a great looking machine that performs impressively well in almost all conditions. Below is an example of what this camera outputs at 3200 ISO.

Not bad right? Well I think this camera has us convinced that it will stick with us as J's staple travel camera! Now it is time to find a good leather case... so many to choose from!