Emptying the Italy notebook... by Josh Trudell

fountain Shooting: I had initially planned to rent two lenses for this trip – a big telephoto and a wide-angle. In an effort to keep the budget under control, however, I only rented one – a 16-35 2.8 Zeiss wide-angle. I’ve used this lens before and been very happy with it, and it proved its worth again.

Having a good wide angle for the narrow streets (and canals) of the old cities and for the vistas from the Pathway of the Gods trail made it the best choice. I don’t think I would have pulled out a big zoom more than once or twice if it had been in my bag.

No pictures, please: The guards are STRICT about pictures in the Sistine Chapel, constantly letting people have it (of course, these people are trying to be sneaky with their cell phones, too.)

That was the only place in the Apostolic Palace (or anywhere else) that I saw the photo guards come down hard, though – virtually everywhere else was very receptive. If you ask the waiters, you can often get some pictures of the cooks working in the kitchen, which can make for some fun shots.

Food in Venice: Small bar/cafés are popular, and it's easy to get a quick sandwich to go, put it in a backpack and have it later. Pizza by the slice is also a popular snack. Take advantage of the small to-go cafes - they are much cheaper than any restaurant.

The coolest single moment: Walking into St. Peter’s Basilica. Just a few steps in, you can stand where Charlemagne was crowned head of the Holy Roman Empire. Turn right, and there's Michelangelo's Pieta.

Italy, Day 8 by Josh Trudell

Rome-Drive-by-1 Our British friends from Venice had recommended a tour guide to take us to some of the secret spots around Rome, so we got in touch with Fabrizzio and spent most of the morning being driven around the city.

One of the sites we found was a rather dull looking parking lot, sandwiched between several apartment buildings. It didn’t look like much, but it’s the site of one of the most famous murders in history.

This is where Pompey’s Theater was, Fabrizzio tells us. This is where Julius Caesar was killed.

With our minds a trifle blown, we continued on, finding spots that we probably wouldn’t have reached after four days of beating our feet against the slate sidewalks. We had stocked up on comfortable shoes and socks, but even with them, our feet were worn down.


I indulged in some guerrilla shooting as we rolled along in Fabrizzio's open air cart - perching the camera on my knee and taking pictures as we drove by. I've occasionally done this in the past - not in an attempt to embarrass anyone, but to try and capture people how they really are, without posing.

We ended at the church of St. Ignatius, a beautiful church somewhat off the usual tourist tracks. Having Fabrizio with us was a benefit much like our Colosseum guide – a Rome resident with their own perspective on the glories around them.

After a siesta, we went back to Castel Sant’Angelo and I started my usual trip ritual of night photography. Every time we visit a city, I try to carve out at least one evening for night photography, and Rome is a heavenly spot for it.

Despite the darkening skies, a boisterous game of soccer was taking place in what would have been a moat around the castle. The building, once the largest in Rome, is the tomb of Emperor Hadrian and his family, among other leaders.

After photographing the castle, we went back to the Colosseum. It is photographed by everyone who visits Rome, but I had to take a shot at it. We were lucky enough to be there on the night of the full moon, and my favorite shot of the trip is this one:


The Colosseum was under construction, but the moon peeking through the arches really got to me.

It is worth noting that the light vendors around the Pantheon repeatedly frigged up some shots, but that seems to happen near every major landmark in a city these days.

Italy: Day 7 by Josh Trudell

Colosseum I didn’t say it.

I really wanted to say it.

But I didn’t say it.

Standing on the floor of the Colosseum, the crowd buzzing in anticipation, the urge to bellow, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!” was very, very hard to resist.

But I managed to restrain myself, much to the relief of my traveling companion and the guide, who had probably seen that done far too many times.

The Colosseum has always been a place for “bloody spectacles,” said our guide, Camilla Verdacchi, who led us to the basement of the great stadium, where we could look up at the crowd above.

“It's really incredible how many people died here,” she said. “It was not the circus. It was not the theater — it was the amphitheater, a place for bloody spectacles.”

Verdacchi's entertaining expertise and bypassing the huge lines trying to get into Rome's biggest attraction made paying for the tour a no-brainer.

Big is no joke, either. The Colosseum's three decks once held between 50,000 and 80,000 people, which is all the more impressive for a building put together by hand with basic tools.

Sadly, much of the outer marble façade was stripped over the years by needy foremen working on buildings in other parts of the city, but there is still a grandeur surrounding the massive stadium.

Our tour led us through the Forum, including the area believed to be the cremation site of Julius Caesar, inside a nondescript low stone hut that is all that is left of a once-massive temple. Even 2,000 years later, however, the grave was graced with flowers.

After wandering through the remnants of the Forum, we ended our tour on the third deck of the Colosseum (another perk of the tour – general admission only gets you into the first and second decks). The decks were noticeably lower and wider than the steep-walled modern-day parks.


It was only a few steps from the Colosseum to the Capitoline Museums, where we browsed through huge statutes and fine art virtually undisturbed.

*Portions of this post appeared in a story I wrote about the trip to Rome for the San Antonio Express-News, titled “Plenty of spectacles, history in Rome.”

Italy, Day 5 by Josh Trudell

St.-Peters Our second day in Rome opened with wandering through the Campo Dei Fiori – Rome’s oldest open-air marketplace. The market is fun to wander, with everything from clothes to spices available for purchase.

As a photographer, I found I preferred the hands-on activity of the fishermen at the Rialto Market in Venice to the relatively inactive sellers at the market in Rome, but there were plenty of fun shots to be had.

After walking through the various areas of clothes, food and flowers, we followed some small signs a couple of blocks toward the Pantheon, finally emerging in a large square where the ancient temple sat surrounded by modern apartment buildings.

Stepping inside the 1900-year-old building was a instant transport back to the days of ancient Rome, with the huge dome arcing overhead with one bright sunbeam coming through the center.

Nearby Piazza Navona was a sight to behold as well. The long, football-field shaped rectangle was once the home of chariot races. Now, artists tried to capture those scenes (possibly based on Ben-Hur), or the romantics walking by the huge fountains.

The biggest stops today, however, were the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

If there was one thing I wanted to see in Italy, it was the Sistine Chapel – I’ve been seeing that famous portion of the ceiling forever. But what you’re not prepared for is the sheer scope of Michaelangelo’s brilliance – the entire ceiling is a masterpiece.

There are photographs allowed everywhere except the chapel, and the guards are very vigilant about policing cameras.

After seeing the chapel, we made our way up to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, for one of the best views of the trip. It was very crowded, though – the narrow steps to the top plus the dozens of people packed in hoping to see sunset made it borderline unnerving.

Once the sun went down and we escaped the masses, we had dinner at Spirito de Vino, a well-reviewed place on TripAdvisor. The meal earned the restaurant’s notices, as did the ancient wine cellar, which is allegedly older than the Colosseum.

Italy: Day 4 by Josh Trudell

Rome-1 After three days in Venice, - seen here, here and here - we made our way to Rome via train, arriving at the Hotel Golden in the late afternoon.

It’s a hive of unavoidable history – from our hotel window, we could see ancient city walls and a statue of General Belasarius (d. 565 AD), as tiny cars and mopeds buzzed along the street.

We quickly discovered that Rome is a great walking city, making our way to the famous Spanish Steps. The steps are an interesting social experiment – people actually sit and talk to each other. Who knew?

The steps – the 135 steps are the widest staircase in Europe - are a wonderful place to sit and absorb the culture. Watching the conversations and the passers-by are equally entertaining. No sign of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, sadly.

After a few minutes soaking it in, we wandered down to the Trevi Fountain, another of Rome’s great pedestrian landmarks. Even at a late hour, it was swarmed by tourists, voguing like supermodels as they threw their coins in to try and assure themselves of another trip to Rome.

Throwing technique is important here – back to the fountain, right hand throwing over left shoulder is how tradition claims to ensure a return trip. We tossed our coins in the fountain, and a few more coins at a gelato stand as we walked back to our hotel.

Holding hands, strolling down the street, gelato in hand, Rome all around us…it doesn’t get much better.

How my feet survived our European vacation, and other thoughts by Josh Trudell

Four quick takeaways from a fantastic trip to Italy:NO BLISTERS: I can’t explain how much of an improvement it was on the vacation experience to not have any blisters on my feet. When we went to London and Paris four years ago, my feet were red and raw by the end of the second day.

Two weeks of pounding our feet on the cobblestones and slate of Venice, Rome and the little towns on the Amalfi Coast, and nothing this time.

I wore sock liners every day (except flying days) and heavy Thorlo hiking socks over fairly new (less than a month old) Teva low-cut hiking boots. Thorlos are expensive, but worth their weight in gold. Highly recommended.

CROSSING THE STREET: Our vacation experience went up 10 points by crossing Via Veneto in Rome – but it completely leveled up in Naples.

We didn’t see any streetlights in a six-block walk around the train station in Naples. The resulting chaos was beyond epic. Taking our lives in our hands, we walked out and waited for them to stop – amazingly, they did.

Luckily, the pizza we had at Da Pellone More than made up for it. If you're going to eat pizza, eat it where they invented pizza.

PHOTOGRAPHING THE ICONS: Some of my favorite shots are iconic buildings at night. With stops in Rome and Venice, there were more than a few opportunities for me to try cool night shots.

However, the hustlers shilling their colored light gizmos tend to wander in front of the camera during the long exposures, which can result in some interesting effects, but more often result in annoying crap and lots of time in Photoshop, if not a junked image.

However, they will usually – not always – get out of the way once they see what you are doing.

THE BEST VIEWS: This was a tough call. We had a great view from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, but it was very crowded. Castel Sant’Angelo was less crowded, had a great view and we got a better sunset. Win.