3rd September 2016
- Day 1 - To Rome
- Day 2 - Historical Roma
- Day 3 - Of Medieval village & Italian wine
- Day 4 - The tour of Tuscany
- Day 5 - The Magic of Cinque Terre
- Day 6 - The Magnficent colours of Ligurian Italy
- Day 7 - Back to the Home of Gladiators
A very very short Roman story...
|The extent of the Roman Empire. Click and enlarge. [Photo: Wikipedia]|
Exploring the Roman Metro
|At the MRT|
|Every person (almost every person) one camera, a couple of lenses, and an iPhone.|
"Guys, have you all tried this Trip Advisor Auto Timeline App," I asked Alex, Lai Peng and Kai Sing.Apparently they hadn't. And they were astounded by the functionality of this Trip Advisor Auto Timeline App, in that every where you travel to, you just needed to take a shot on your handphone and the App will instantly and automatically geo-tag your photo with as accurate a description of the place, the name of the street, the hotel, the restaurant or the site. The accuracy wasn't 100%, but it was close enough. This made recording our whole trip so much easier.
|Erm.. maybe they were searching for some 50Gb thingy.. but it sure looked like David was trying to set up|
the Trip Advisor Auto Timeline App...
|MRT train outside also got Graffiti wor...|
|The Poke hunders.|
Walking to meet Vito, our Italian Guide
The Historical Tour of Roma
|Vito was talking about some Three Essence of something something... But I was too distracted by Jeffrey, David and|
Joanne's smiles that I could not remember what he was saying..
A short walk brought us to somewhere near the Spanish Steps, where we met our Italian guide, Vito.
Vito, our Italian guide today was a wonderful and humorous fellow, touseled grey hair with equally grey stubbles (it was obvious to me that all Italian men shaved once every week), his Italian-accented English was easy to understand.
"Be careful of pick pockets," Vito said. "Here in Rome, you will never get people attacking you. But they are good in quietly and softly removing your wallet. Because they all graduated from the University of Pick Pockets here in Italy. I know. Why? Because in the day time I am a tour guide, but in the evening I work as a lecturer in that University." to our roar of laughter.The sights and historical sites came fast and furious, that my mind couldn't catch up with my eyes, and frantic rummaging through my faded brain cells could recall little of what I read. To me it was a whole full speed of blur. Served me right for not reading more before I landed in Rome.
This highly-visited Spanish steps linked the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square below it) to the Piazza Trinita dei Monti, the square where the Trinita dei Monti church stood. It was thus named because it led from the Spanish Square, which was in turn named because of its proximity to the Spanish Embassy. The fountain right in the middle of the Spanish Square was called Fontana della Barcaccia (The fountain of the ugly boat).
|Fontana della Barcaccia|
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
Why all the fuss about the Spanish step? Because a 1953 movie by Audrey Hepburn called 'Roman Holiday' where she stayed in an apartment half way up the steps, made this famous. And so on this day we were here. To find a closed up Spanish Steps, fenced off for restoration. It would be only opened up on the 21st September 2016, another 18 days after this day.
That was a Santa-Maria-send because for once we were able to shoot a scene without the distraction of human subjects. I was dead sure many other previous visitors' shots would be scattered with people. Our shots required special technique. But that would be trade secret.
|The people-less Spanish Steps|
[Photo: Ng Kai Sing]
Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square)
Standing in the Piazza, listening to Vito, my mind was in a whirl. Maybe because it hadn't woken up completely this morning, everything seemed to be a carousel of granite, stones, and marble all mixed together.
Somewhere further down on one end of the Spanish Square, an extension, was a column - Column of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the inscriptions 'Mariae Virgin Gentrisi Dei' at Piazza Mignanelli, towards the south east extension of Piazza di Spagna.
|Column of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary|
The weather was kind, and the sky was a deep blue. Like years back in Egypt, when one didn't have lingam (灵感, ling gan - inspiration) one wouldn't go too far wrong shooting photos of the teammates. Fortunately the ladies were obliging. At least I had a chance to use my rangefinder with the ND6 filter. Otherwise it would have wasted its long flight to Italy.
|Serene at the Column of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary|
|Michell, 'ma belle' at the Piazza Mignanelli|
|Serene, Joanne and Lai Peng|
We found ourselves venturing to Piazza di Trevi, right next to the Trevi Fountain again. It was still as crowded on this summer morning, and it was a little hot. With a much lighter set up this time round, Serene and I were enjoying our walk. The diehards Eddy, Michelle, AlexK, Lai Peng, Jeffrey, Albert, the Yik Family were all on huge, thick camera backpacks with their whole entourage of bodies and lenses in them. Serene and I were on that tiny little cheapo backpack from Decathlon. The only photographic equipment were only our rangefinders and our iPhones.
"Mr Yik! You here eating ice cream ah!" I saw Mr Yik standing outside the Gelato shop again with his cone and scoops. So we follow suite. But wow, here in Italy, the gelati do melt off very quickly, dripping onto wrists and fingers. Perhaps that was why the Italian ladies were so slim, because only a fraction of their gelati ended up in their stomachs.
|Serene and her gelato.|
A short picture taken here right after the Trevi Fountain and we were off.
|Serene demonstrating how to carry one's backpack in Rome.|
Colonna di Marco Aurelio
Somehow we ended up at the Marco Aurelio column. It looked the same to me, all these columns. But every column had a history. Here in Piazza Colonna, the Marcus Aurelius column was carved full of reliefs depicting the wars waged by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. You would need a crane and weeks just to finish the story from day one to the last of his days.
OK lah. I was happy enough to be within sight of this historical structure. I discovered a whole gang of photographer (and pseudo-photographers) standing behind me trying to frame the Marcus Aurelius column properly.
Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Fratte
This was a 17th century basilica church, dedicated to St Andrew (Sant' Andrea). It was built upon a pre-existing church called infra hortes (among the orchards) and that was why when the new church was built, it was therefore called Fratte (woods). It was interesting when I read from Wikipedia later, that this church was a Catholic church for the Scottish until they turned Protestants.
|Outside The Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Fratte|
... and onto stucco walls with Italian balcone...
Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola
Another church of the Baroque style. What I found amusing was the inscriptions on its facade... something about 'Doctor for Cancer'.. and as it turned out, what it meant was 'School of Grammar, Humanity, and Christian Doctrine. Free'.
A lady of slightly darker tone stood on the left side of the entry holding out a piece of some paper. I have begun to be more wary of touts and such in Rome. And I chose to quietly walk past her.
|The view out of the main entrance of the Church,|
|The interior of Chiesa di Sant' Ignazio di Loyola.|
Photo: Eddy Chung
|I love this shot by Serene on her Leica M9 with the Voigtlander 12mm.|
|Tight security at the Pantheon.|
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
"Ok, we will meet outside at the square after the Pantheon. Don't be late, because we need to go for lunch and then we need to walk to the Vatican City," our leader at work.
|A shot of the concrete coffered dome with the central oculus.|
[Photo: Serene on her Leica M9 with the Voigtlander 12mm]
|"You shoot me, I shoot you, while she looks on." AlexK & Lai Peng inside the Pantheon.|
Photo: Serene on the Leica M9 with Voigtlander 12mm.
We were instructed more than a few times not to wear anything shorter than knee length because some of the churches were very particular about the attires of the visitors. The dress code for the Pantheon was definitely much more relaxed as a whole parade of legs and thighs display went by us.
Not having a wide enough lens, I just enjoyed myself looking at the people moving inside. In particular our own teammates. So many were shooting with their handphone rather than with their cameras. Quietly I laughed inside - so much for a photography trip.
Serene and I must have been too caught up with this inside of the Pantheon, by the time we came out, everyone was waiting for us. Shucks, our apologies.
|Looking out onto Piazza della Rotonda from within the vestibule of the Pantheon through the columns.|
[Photo: Serene on her Leica M9 with the Voigtlander 12mm]
We arrived at Piazza Navona, the touristy square, for a quick lunch.
|Kai Sing showing not only had he reduced his weight and his sizes, he had also reduced the amount of equipment he carried.|
"Ok, you have to follow me and we will have a quick lunch," said Vito. "The restaurants here are all the same. You can choose any restaurant, and they serve all about the same food and about the same price. We need to leave at 1:30pm so make it to the Vatican City in time before they close."
"Guys, quickly grab a bite. We have only about 45 minutes to eat before we need to set off," a worried Adrian.Alex, Lai Peng, Kai Sing and Joanne have found a tablet in one of the restaurants. David, Albert, Jeffrey, and the Yik family had sat down in another restaurant. Adrian, Serene and myself walked into a tablet further in this restaurant. But the service was terrible. The waiters were sour and curt.
"You don't order now. You wait for me to come to your table," was the response we got from the rude waiter. Frustrated we left, and three of us enjoyed a lovely Peterland burger a few metres down the road, with great smiling service from two large size Italian ladies.
The price at Peterland Burger was cheaper than we would have paid in the restaurant, and we got fast and good happy food. And in a couple of tens of minutes, all three of us were ready. Walking back to the restaurants, we all were amazed by a busker with a stiff tie flipped upwards as though blown by wind, and standing absolutely still in the middle of the road as though he was a smiling statue. He was so real, and his smile so handsome.
That moment didn't last long, as we were ushered off towards the Vatican City.
The walk towards Vatican City
It was thankfully not a frantic pace. Still a nice walk in the afternoon sun, some parts in the shades provided by the old buildings on both sides of the cobble-stone-paved street so characteristic of Rome. I could not take my eyes off the doorways, the walls, the plant and flower draped balconies, and everything so Italian.
We were once more surprised by the easy availability of potable water by the road side, delivered through aqueducts from spring sources far away in the mountains. Seeing how the locals eagerly drank from the non-stop flowing tap, we also had our bottles filled up with the cool and refreshing water.
"Don't worry guys," I said. "If I can drink this, you all can."Hahaha.. and that was all it took for everybody to nourish their parched lips and tongues.
On the way, we passed by a building with a very acute-angled corner.
"This is what we called the Titanic building," said Vito. "Named after the vessel Titanic."
And FINALLY we caught a glimpse of Castel Sant Angelo, the ancient circular castle that signalled that we were close to the Vatican City already.
|The Castel Sant'Angelo from afar.|
Castel Sant' Angelo
I originally thought that this WAS it, the Vatican City. But I was wrong. Looking at the map above, it was an ancient circular castle, as much a sight in itself as the Vatican City. The Castel Sant'Angelo was the mausoleum that was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian for himself and his family. The Ponte Sant'Angelo (the pedestrian bridge) that crossed River Tiber had sculptures of angels along its edges. But on this day we hadn't the time to explore this mausoleum.
"These angel sculptures were designed and commissioned by Raphael," explained Adrian to me as we walked. "But not every one was done by him. Several were completed by his disciples."
Onward to Vatican City...
It was only after I set foot in the Vatican City that I come to understand what it was all about. Vatican City was not part of Italy. It was officially called 'Vatican City State' and it was a sovereign country by itself, all of its 110 acres of area walled off by the city building and ruled by the Pope himself. It had a population of about 1000, many whom are clergies. This city state was declared in the year 1929 by a Treaty between the Holy See (Holy Chair) and Italy.
At that moment, when Vito pointed out the division between Italy and the Vatican City State, I was sure aside from myself, David and Serene, a few others must have been scratching their heads.
"OK, later on we all will need to deposit our tripods and big backpacks at the security deposit room," said Adrian. "Tripods are not allowed in the Vatican City."So interesting lah, this trip. There were quite a few attraction sites where tripods were not allowed, and shorts were not allowed, and drones were not allowed. But of course, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. We just guai guai followed.
|Until we were still about to enter the Vatican City, David was still pondering over the profound|
question of why is the City not a City but a State.
|A cross section of the Vatican City showing all its attractions.|
We made it in good time. And Vito was able to secure our entry into the Vatican City through the side entrance via the Vatican Museum.
"Don't get lost," warned Vito. "Because it's so confusing inside here, once you get lost you will not be able to find each other. We will meet outside at St Peter's Square at 5pm."
A furry of activities ensued and what came after that was not well recorded in my memory cells, apart from deposition of the tripods, walking into a hallway of air-conditioned environment, a relief from the heat outside, and walking down some flights of stairs, and losing some of the teammates, and then finding back some of the teammates only to discovered ourselves losing Adrian, all through a frantic effort to stay close to Vito.
The summer sun was merciless, and we were glad that we had our hats and caps and shades on. But the abundance of light also meant good photographic opportunities. Albeit only in the outdoors.
|Even the Vatican City had a free flow of potable water from free-running taps.|
Holy water leh. Must fill up my water bottle and drink to my fill.
We walked along the side of the main Vatican Museum building before Vito led us through a long bath tub and after that we somehow found our way up a flight of steps.
This Vito also quite poor thing. It wasn't easy to work as a guide for a gang of hyperactive photographers from Singapore. But on this day, we were on our best behaviour.
|An extremely worried Vito looking around for the 'lost' Adrian.|
|A slightly more relieved Vito, upon hearing Adrian's return, moving us down the 'Acorn' buidling.|
|A relaxed Vito explaining what kind of stones the emperor's bath tub was made of.|
|The ONLY way a perceived obscene piece of art could be allowed to be on display in the holy Vatican City - was to have the offending object castrated.|
A shuffle through the museum...
The Vatican Museums collected all the masterpieces built up over centuries by the Popes, including works by Michelangelo, Raphael and such. Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. The museums were made up of 54 galleries, with the famous Sistine Chapel being the last gallery.
|A glimpse of how the visitors thronged the gallery.|
On this day, just slightly after 3:30pm, we were slowly shuffling our way through the walkways of the galleries, shoulder to shoulder with all other visitors, while paying attention to what Vito was saying on the radio earpiece.
Regretfully, because I did not know what to expect, I wasn't able to better appreciate the art pieces, apart from knowing that many were acquired by the Popes. I would have done myself a big favour by reading a little more about these. But for this time round, I would just feel the immensity of the collection and the place.
I noticed many castrated sculptures in the galleries.
And many intricately carved busts of apparently famous individuals, although their names were lost on me, sadly.
I loved the lighting in the Vatican Museums. All natural. And the light thrown upon the sculptures really made for some interesting shots.
It was a pity we really had to play catch up with Vito as he machine-gunned his way through the display, understandably.
Many of the exhibits must have told their stories during their times.
"Take a look at the paintings on the ceiling," gestured Vito. "Can you see how the angels appeared to be popping out, almost like they are carved out of the wall? They are not. They are merely paintings that are specially drawn to appear 3D."
The Eyes of Jesus Christ
"Come see this painting of Jesus Christ," indictaed Vito. "I want you all to look at His eyes while standing on the left side of the painting. Now let's all walk to the other side.... yes, here. Now look at His eyes again. They are still looking at you." Indeed they were. These Italian painters really knew how to use their brushes.
|The eyes of Jesus Christ that would follow you whichever side you are. |
The Sistine Chapel
What was so famous about the Sistine Chapel, the last gallery that was located in the Apostolic Palace which was the official residence of the Pope, was that it was restored and utilised for the main purposes of religious and normal papal activities. Nowadays it was used for the process where a new Pope is selected.
What made the Sistine Chapel famous artistically was that its ceiling murals and the Last Judgement were works of masterpieces by Michelangelo, painted between 1508 and 1512.
"Ok we are going to walk up to the Sistine Chapel soon, please keep close. Keep quiet. Please strictly no photography in the Sistine Chapel," instructed Vito..
"Can take photo one or not ah?" asked Serene quietly, as we got ushered by the security to follow the line quickly by the side of the chamber.
"You really want? Can, just use your 12mm as a point and shoot. You just aim upwards and shoot. Nobody will know one. Just shoot Shoot lah, wei. Shoot!"And she carried out the blasphemous did with trembling hands. No wonder the shot wasn't as sharp. But still it was good enough for memory's sake.
|A totally illegal shot of the famed ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel by none other than|
Serene on her Leica M9 with the Voigtlander 12mm.
|Another illegal shot of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel by who else but Serene again!|
Vito was already at the end of Sistine Chapel with Adrian, waiting eagerly for everybody. Walking out of Sistine Chapel, we come to another holy water trough where I filled up my water bottle again. I was so glad to be in the precinct of all these fountains with natural water supplies. The Italians were really lucky people.
|Another water source under the statue of one of the Popes.|
St Peter's Basilica
Next stop, St Peter's Basilica. My only association with the Basilica was that I spent about 15 minutes inside its hall. It was quite an experience. I would have been really proud to be a Catholic, being there in the presence of all the devotees and feeling the full force of history upon me.
"St. Peter's was regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. Catholic tradition held that the Basilica is the burial site of St. Peter, one of Christ's Apostles and also the first Pope; supposedly, St. Peter's tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.
The basilica is cruciform in shape, with an elongated nave in the Latin cross form but the early designs were for a centrally planned structure and this is still in evidence in the architecture. The central space is dominated both externally and internally by one of the largest domes in the world. The entrance is through a narthex, or entrance hall, which stretches across the building. "
All I knew was it took us some time to enter the church as we queued up a long line, a long but relatively fast-moving line, with devotees from all over the world here to pray, carrying with them huge crosses as part of their procession. When I entered St Peter's Basilica, it's magnitude shocked me. It really it was such a gigantic hall. And with thousands of people inside, it still appeared spacious. All I could do was just stand at the rear wall and soaked in the whole atmosphere, well.. partly because Serene needed to catch her Pokemon, but also because I was a little winded from all the walking.
|Some people came to Italy to visit the historical sites. Others came to catch Pokemon.|
"Hey, why don't you go and join one of the possessions?" suggested Lai Peng. This lady she was really adventurous. "I just walked and walked and got caught up in one of the possessions and they just swept me along. It was quite fun. Very fast. 10 minutes only."Well, I had drunk the water from the fountain inside St Peter's church. Once I had done that, I considered my pilgrimage completed. But for the ladies, their journey were not that completed yet. They somehow had their attention caught by the Swiss Guards at the Basilica.
"Wah so handsome ah, these Swiss soldiers!" said Serene. Handsome meh? Where got? The only thing nice were their costume-like uniforms. Colourful colourful like that. Like cartoon like that attractive only mah. Handsome meh?
|The Swiss guards.|
The Vatican City employed Swiss Guards because they were neutral soldiers, and the made a name for themselves. But, handsome meh?
|... in their Swiss guard uniform.|
Resting our legs outside the Basilica...
It was 5pm and the setting sun was once again radiating golden light, casting everything into glittering gold. It had been a long day. But that wasn't the end yet. There was another final itinerary - the blue hour shoot of Ponte Sant Angelo. That would have to come later. For now we just rested our legs while the tripod party went for everyone's tripod (Bravo!).
I'd heard someone said, if pee-ed on by the pigeons of Vatican City, it would bring one luck for the next seven years.
Walking back again...
Time to walk back. It felt like the day was done. But it wasn't. We still had one last item on the itinerary - the blue hour shot of the bridge Ponte Sant' Angelo and the Basilica in the background, from the other bridge Ponte Umberto I. That would be after dinner. First, we needed to get our dinner.
|Serene and I capturing a memory of our shadows on St Peter's Square.|
Past by Castel Sant' Angelo once more, this time in the evening sun.
And this round, on our return route, we took the other bridge, Ponte Umberto I instead of Ponte Sant' Angelo, and thus passed by the Palace of Justice [Palazzo di Giustizia] where the seat of the Supreme Court of Cassation - Corte Suprema di Cassazione was.
|Golden light upon Serene's face at the Palazzo di Giustizia|
|The Palazzo di Giustizia|
A nice dinner of pasta, don't-know-what, don't-know-what, and tiramisu. A dinner when I learned from Eddy that the correct form of description of leaking nasal mucus 'runny nose' should be 'runny nose' and not 'running nose'. And also that this restaurant had one of the nicest tiramisu that was just nice, not too sweet, with just the right amount of alcohol. Eddy should know. If the IFS said this was nice, then it really must be delicious.
A fact that did not escape David. He was not a big eater. But I was sure he found the tiramisu much to his taste.
Blue Hour shoot of the Ponte Sant' Angelo with St Peter's Basilica in the background
"Our blue hour shoot is not far from the restaurant, just down the road only," said Adrian.Luckily it was not far. Just out of the restaurant and a short walk to the bridge Ponte Umberto I. Looking along Tiber River was the small bridge Ponte Sant' Angelo that we crossed earlier that day on our way to the Vatican City. By night, the scene had transformed dramatically. Apart from that image-spoiling huge Samsung ad on the right side, it was beautiful. And the boys and girls got down to work right away. Finally after lugging those tripods the whole day, we managed to use them.
I discovered after taking my shot that I managed to capture quite a few more silhouettes of flying pigeons of all sizes in the background, as compared to the other guys. I must have been quite lucky this night.
|The Ponte Sant Angelo with St Peter's Basilica in the background.|
Photo: Alex Kaan
|With St Peter's Basilica in the background on River Tiber.|
|The leader himself.|
FINALLY! Walking back... to the Metro Station
8:41pm. How non-tiring could an SGTrekker trip be?
The answer was highly unlikely. Adrian was well-known in the circle as a slave-driving tour leader. And we knew from years back just how tiring his trips could be. So we learned to lighten our own loads to lessen the suffering.
For the uninitiated. One day was a day too many.
"Wah we walked 25,000 steps today," exclaimed Eddy. "About 15km."
"My watch said I walked 23,000 steps today," said Alex.Not bad lah. For Serene and I, it just meant it was time to sleep. What a day it was.
Click here to continue to Day 3 ~ Of Medieval village & Italian wine.