Saturday, 19 October 2013

When in Rome

It must have been around this time 16 years ago that J and I began planning a city break to mark our 10th wedding anniversary the following year. At the time, I was desperate to go to Rome but J's preference was New York and she won out. As it happens, we celebrated a year late, our original plans being scuppered by my catching chicken pox off the girls (a not very pleasant experience in your 30's and, thankfully, not something we have photographic reminders of); we loved New York and have been back a number of times since but, until this year, we had never visited Rome.

We finally made the trip in September using my Dad's 80th Birthday as an excuse - it was one of the few places that he and my Mum had always said they would go back to (my Mum being a great one for 'been there, done that, now onto something new'). I have to say that I wasn't disappointed, except, perhaps for the crowds which where crazy at times. I would certainly like to go back at a quieter time and explore a bit more.

In the past, such a trip would lead to all sorts of photographic anxiety caused by the difficult decision of what to take with me but, now I have the Fujifilm XE-1, it's a much easier question to answer; I just took that camera, 35mm and 18mm lenses and my compact carbon fibre tripod (3 Legged Thing Brian). The tripod was specifically intended for sunset/dusk conditions and so, most of the time, I carried only the camera and the two lenses - perfect for walking around a city.

I had hoped to come back with lots of really interesting street photographs but the reality was that my Dad had to come first and, of course, there were sights to see. Also, if I'm honest, I still don't know whether I properly 'get' that kind of photography yet; for me, it is a work in progress. What I have come back with is a bit of a mix but mostly what L&CPU judges would typically refer to as 'record shosts'. Even so, I thought I would share ten of my favourite photographs/places from the trip.

1. Our first afternoon in Rome was a little mixed. I'm not sure what I expected to find but it certainly wasn't the kind of mad crowds we encountered (it's a capital city - d'oh!). After depositing our cases, we headed for the Spanish Steps which are, well, steps really; they are very grand steps but I'm not sure I get what all the fuss is about. We then wandered around taking in the Trevi Fountain (which certainly is impressive) and battling the crowds again, before taking in some of the quieter back streets. Meandering around these back streets, we finally started to relax and really take in our surroundings and I took this photograph while resting in a peaceful square only a stones throw away from the hoards.

2. Our hotel was a 15 minute metro ride from the centre of Rome. It was a really nice hotel and excellent value but, of course, meant we used the Metro a fair bit - no great hardship as it is clean and efficient. The hotel was on line A which, bizarrely, appears to be the newer of the two lines. The picture above is of a train on line B when we were headed to the Coliseum. We had to change lines at the main station (Terminii) and had taken heed of the guide book's warnings of pickpockets and bag snatchers who like to operate there; just as well - an apparently well practised gang of respectable looking young women made an attempt to part J of her belongings on our return journey (J was ready for it fortunately and barged past them). This was the only bad experience we had on the Metro and we enjoyed using it otherwise.

3. The Coliseum is a sight to behold, as is the Forum. However, they are, of course, very popular and so we really appreciated the relative peace of the third site in the grouping, the Palatino. Your ticket gives you entry to all three sites but, I suspect a lot of people don't bother with the lesser known Palatino yet it has it's own impressive ruins as well as wonderful views down to the Forum as you descend. The photograph is of a modern art installation situated in the main arena. I was taken by it as it was but it made for a much more interesting photograph when the children began to interact with it. I stayed here for a while in the hope of getting a good balance and am pretty happy with the result. My Dad is deeply unimpressed by things like this and went off to find a bench to rest on while I was occupied.

4. I only took my tripod out on one evening and I knew I wanted to do something at the river, but I wasn't exactly sure what. I knew the Pont St.Angelo is a popular spot so we headed there only to find it heaving with tat sellers, buskers and beggars; not exactly what I was hoping for. However, it was immediately obvious what the picture should be (another d'oh! moment). I know there is nothing original about this scene but I am still very happy with it and it makes a beautiful print. Looking at this, I can almost forget the chaos around me on the bridge at the time.

5. Some major sights can fail to live up to your expectations but that's not generally the case in Rome (except, perhaps the Spanish Steps for me); St. Peter's Basilica certainly does not fail. It is truly magnificent! There is architectural magnificence wherever you turn and I now have a load of, probably very unoriginal, photographs of the interior (more record shots). I think I should probably find a way of using them creatively but, for now, here is one of the stunning dome. As an aside, I am very pleased with how well the XE-1 coped with these low light but high contrast images; the dynamic range of the sensor is very impressive.

6. The Vatican Museums were a bit of mixed bag; another example of extreme crowds which made moving around and viewing anything very uncomfortable; particularly the Sistine Chapel in which, although amazing, I was reminded of the mice in Wallace & Gromit's 'Grand Day Out' - crowded together, staring upwards. There was one place where the crowds thinned and that was in the Map Gallery, a 120m long gallery hung with forty huge maps created between 1580 and 1583. I love maps so this was perfect; I was able to spend time admiring the detail.

7. Our final full day began with a slightly longer than usual metro trip to the Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano. It was the first Christian basilica to be built in Rome and was, for a time, the Pope's main place of worship. It is also clearly not as well known or visited as many other sights but it deserves to be. Although on the whole much more modest than St.Peter's, the nave and alter are breathtaking.

8. While we were in the Basilica San Giovanni, a group of workers arrived to change some light bulbs. They had a cart which transformed into an enormous ladder which one brave man (or perhaps he drew the short straw) climbed up. Coming from a society in which health and safety considerations are paramount, I was struck by a number of things; they clearly couldn't rest the ladder on the facade so it waved precariously as he ascended, he had no safety ropes (although what he could rope himself to I have no idea) and no attempt was made to clear the area beyond dropping a couple of cones on the floor. I only wish I'd had an even wider lens to show just how high up he was (should have thought of stitching a couple of pictures together).

9. The final major sight of our visit was the Pantheon. It was a bit of a trek for my poor old Dad but well worth the effort. I know this will sound stupid but it just looks so very old and is another example of incredible engineering for the time - 2000 years old with the World's largest un-reinforced concrete dome. It also presented a major challenge for the camera in terms of contrast, the bright, midday sun pouring in through the oculus.

10. After we'd been to the Pantheon and had a delicious sandwich from a nearby bakery, we decided it was time for an ice-cream and I was determined that we should find Giolitti, Rome's most famous gelateria. Roman Holiday is one of my favourite films so once I realised that was where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck had stopped, I had to pay homage. The photograph was taken in one of the side streets around the corner from Giolitti and just says 'Rome' to me; the classic Fiat 500 in front of the peeling coloured walls. I would have liked to allow more space in front of the car but the doorway was just too messy.

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