I Came, I Saw, I Captured: Italy Part One (Sarnico to San Gimignano)


A couple of weeks ago, my trusty travel companion (Bec) and I flew to Milan, hired a car and set off to explore some of Italy. This blog is part 1 of 2 and documents the first half of our trip.​​

For some reason, I seem to have neglected Italy as a destination which is strange considering my love of​​ foreign travel and the fact that I​​ even have family living there. My only visit until now was in 2015 to photograph a wedding in Parma and to spend a bit of time with my uncle and auntie who live on Lake Iseo, about an hour East of Milan. Lake Iseo (or more precisely, the town of Sarnico on the lake) was our first stop on this trip too and was all about fresh air, fresh food and seeing extended family (joint birthday celebrations with my uncle meant we over-indulged slightly but it was worth it). For this reason, my camera didn't really come out in Sarnico but I did capture this action shot on my phone while out canoeing. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon!

Sirmeone and Verona

Well fed and watered, we embarked on the first proper leg of our road trip: Sarnico to Venice, stopping in at Sirmeone and Verona on the way. Only dedicating a few hours to two towns so rich in culture may appear disrespectful but, then again, as they were en route, not popping seemed silly. Sirmeone sits on a Peninsula that juts into the Southern end of Lake Garda. It's main attraction is the perfectly preserved 13th Century castle which dates back to the Scaliger Lords of Verona and has played a crucial role in the defence of lake Garda over the centuries. Sirmeone also had probably the best pistachio gelato I tried on the trip (I sampled a lot) which might be why those old Scaligers were so keen to defend it!

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Forty-five minutes drive East and we arrived in Verona. You can tell why Shakespeare set plays here - it has slightly more romantic appeal than Stratford-upon-Avon. The city is small and easily accessible on foot and we managed to take in a lot but it would have been nice to have a little more time (an excuse to plan another trip).

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Venice

Another hour and a half in the car and we were in Venice by early evening after what seemed like very long day. On the advice of my Padua-born neighbour, Elena, we actually booked a hotel in Mestre, on the mainland - Venice itself was just 8 minutes away in the bus over the bridge. If you're contemplating doing Venice on a budget and you're taking a car, Mestre is a sensible option - car parks in Venice cost a bomb (you can't use a car there anyway) but our hotel had free parking and it was considerably cheaper than those on the island. We made a poor choice when it came to selecting the actual hotel (duped by misleading photos) but I believe the theory was sound!

Anyway, despite the long day, we headed into Venice and had a picnic next to the Grand Canal. I couldn't resist playing around with some long-exposure photos from the Rialto bridge and again in Piazza San Marco - the hustle and bustle of tourists walking around and traffic on the water created some beautiful "ghosts".

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The following day we experienced Venice by daylight and it was quite eye-opening - it's like somebody has flooded an M.C. Escher drawing! Needless to say, we got lost more than once. To outsiders, the waterways are known for their romantic allure but to Venetians they're essential to daily life as there are no roads. Our walking tour was interrupted by a boat turning up and hoisting a delivery into a shop behind where we were standing. The delivery driver didn't seemed fussed that we were in the middle of learning about how gondolas have an asymmetrical design and the significance of the decorations on their bows (I don't know the Italian for "bloody tourists" but that's the look he gave us). To be fair, I wasn't enthralled by the number of tourists either (I'm aware that I'm also a tourist and thus a hypocrite) but I'm glad to have ticked Venice off my travel bucket list.

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San Gimignano

After a mere 24 hours in Venice (probably enough), we hit the road again and headed 3 1/2 hours South West to San Gimignano in Tuscany. This was another recommendation from my neighour and, for me, the highlight of the trip. We had 2 nights in San Gimignano which allowed us to be a bit more lazy and explore at a relaxed pace (definitely needed). This little medieval town on a hill is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site and famous for its towers (of which 14 of varying height are still intact) which dominate the landscape. Again, there were moments when bus loads of tourists were dumped on the city which slightly spoiled the magic but nothing some wine and cheese sampling couldn't cure.

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On our second morning, I got up before dawn (I'm not sure what she was doing in our room anyway) and took my camera and tripod into the town centre. I'm not a morning person but the early alarm was 100% worth it. As the sun started to rise the sky was alive with vibrant pink hues that accentuated the texture of the clouds. More importantly, I didn't have any pesky tourists to battle through in order to get the shots I wanted... although street cleaners and bin men posed a new issue - lorries with orange flashing lights don't really complement Romanesque and Gothic architecture!

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Happy with the images I'd captured, I headed back to my accommodation. The rising sun had turned the sky saffron and the mist still hung low between the furrows of the Tuscan hills. Two hot-air balloons taking off completed what was already an enchanting scene and I decided it was time to get my camera out one last time before breakfast...

I really liked San Gimignano not only because it was so photogenic but also because the food there was some of the best I've ever had. If you're thinking of visiting, I need to recommend these places:

On night one, we were blown away by "Le Vecchie Mura" which was also astonishing value (3 courses and wine came to about £32 per person - you'd be lucky to get a meal of this caliber in London for under a hundred).

On night two, Bec booked a birthday surprise for me at La Fattoria Pogio Alloro which rivaled (if not bettered) the first night. "Fattoria" means "farm" in Italian and everything you consume there, from the meat to the wine to the olive oil, is produced on the premises. The menu is fixed but they change it everyday. I can't remember quite how many courses (and second helpings of each course) we had but it was a unique and special experience (well done Bec - your research definitely paid off!). La Fattoria is a short drive from the town and places are very limited so you need to reserve (but once again, exceptional value for money). I would also suggest booking a taxi well in advance as there aren't very many (we found out the hard way)!

That's the end of part one of my Italy blog. In part two, I'll be sharing photos from Rome, Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. In the meantime, please check me out on social media by clicking on the tabs at the top of the page. If you'd like to buy prints of any of my photos or want travel recommendations, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Arrivederci,

RB


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Click on main image to enlarge.                                                                                                                 All images and content copyright of Robin Boot 2018