Book Review | Italy Explained: Italian Trains by Jessica Spiegel

Italian Trains Jessica SpiegelIf you’re planning a trip to Italy and thinking of getting around by train, then I’ve got a book you’ll want to read. But first, I’m going to let you in on an embarrassing little travel secret.

The first time I took a train in Italy it was very nearly a disaster. Back in 2001, on my first trip to Italy, I wanted to take a day trip from Venice. I stumbled across a travel office and somehow purchased train tickets. The trip in the morning went well, but it was the return that was tricky.

It started with sudden hail storm that set an ominous tone and left me dashing through the train station and arriving at the Bologna station 1 minute before the last train to Venice departed. Run! I collapsed on the train and felt relieved until the ticket conductor came along and explained the wet ticket I was clutching in my hand was only a one way. I was never so relieved to get off a train in my life as I was late that night in Venice.

Let me tell you another secret. That’s not how train travel in Italy has to be. Keep in mind that I was 21, spoke no Italian and had never traveled abroad. But even if you’re an experienced traveler, navigating the train system in Italy can be tricky.

That’s where Jessica Spiegel’s new ebook Italy Explained: Italian Trains comes in so very handy. Think of it as your well traveled best friend telling you the ins and outs so you’re already a pro before you even set foot in a train station in Italy. With detailed information, useful images and an easy to read style, Italian Trains is an excellent resource for travelers new to taking the train in Italy who want vacation memories and stories to be about something other than train mishaps.

Even if you’re a newbie to train travel in general, you’ll feel confident taking the train in Italy after reading Jessica’s tips on everything from the difference between classes, how to tell when you need a reservation and ticket (they’re not the same!), different types of trains, reading the train schedule, booking tickets, how to choose a rail pass and what to do if a train strike happens while you’re in Italy. For those not sure on pronunciation or concerned about not knowing a binario from a biglietto, the last section of Italian Trains features a glossary of Italian train words. If you’re taking the train in Italy, download this book before you go!

For more Italy travel tips, visit Jessica’s website Italy Explained and get your copy of Italy Explained: Italian Trains here.

A New Way of Seeing Photography Retreats in Genoa

A New Way of Seeing Photography Retreats in Genoa Italy

Earlier this summer I spent a marvelous and weekend in Genoa at the A New Way of Seeing Photography Retreat. The dates for the upcoming autumn 2014 workshops have been announced, which I’ll include below. If you’ve upgraded to a DSLR and have been wondering what all the bells and whistles (no, there aren’t actually whistles…) do and how you can take your creativity to the next step, then this is the workshop for you. Because it’s not just about photography, it’s about what we create and what we see when we pick up the camera. It’s about what comes from within just as much as what you capture with your camera. If that sounds like the way you approach photography and life, then you’ll treasure the experience of this photography workshop.

A New Way of Seeing

Weekend Workshops – Autumn 2014

Friday 31 October – Sunday 2 November 2014
Friday 21 – Sunday 23 November 2014
Find out more …

5 Day Workshops – Autumn 2014

Wednesday 8 – Monday 13 October 2014
Wednesday 5 – Monday 10 November 2014
Find out more …

If you haven’t fallen in love with the beauty of Genoa yet, this gorgeous video will give you a glimpse of all there is to discover.

The workshops are each a small group of women and spaces are limited. It’s a unique and very personal! I’m sharing about it here on Ciao Amalfi because Di has become a dear friend and it was a remarkable experience. I wish that anyone interested may have the chance to find out more about it! If a photography workshop is something you’ve been considering, head on over to the A New Way of Seeing website to read more. Have fun … and say hi to Genoa for me!

A New Way of Seeing

Genova A New Way of Seeing Photography Retreat Fountain

There are moments in life when everything falls into place perfectly. There are no chances, this I know deep down, but the encounters that happen can change our lives – if we relax into them and say yes. I try to follow my intuition, but sometimes it’s easier than other times. However, when I received the invitation to attend A New Way of Seeing, a photography retreat in Genova with Di Mackey and Helen Kerrison, my spirit did a little twirl and I actually jumped up and down around the house. In my book, exuberant bursts of joy are usually a pretty clear sign.

Genova A New Way of Seeing Cathedral San Lorenzo

Tickets where quickly booked and I left one antica repubblica marinara and landed in another – Genova. Landing at the Genova airport after a panoramic flight over the city is quite an experience. Let’s just say I love being close to the sea, but I like the sea just a little further away from the runway. Ahem. It was the beginning of a fun and adventurous weekend!

Genvoa A New Way of Seeing Striped Steps Cathedral

Di and Helen waved at me from across Piazza de Ferrari as I meandered through the people soaking up the late afternoon sun around the massive fountain. My time in Genova was capped so beautifully by moments in this piazza and against the backdrop of the cascading water. After a short stroll we arrived at the hotel where I would be staying for the weekend, which was just across from the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for churches with stripes, and I practically went weak at the knees looking around me. Even the steps to the cathedral were striped! I wobbled across the piazza to check in, but it wasn’t long (perhaps record time if they keep check-in to checking-out-stripes statistics …) before I was out taking photos the cathedral in the evening light.

Genova A New Way of Seeing Cathedral Marble

After a marvelous evening talking over wine in Piazza San Lorenzo and Di introducing us to Roberto Panizza’s masterful cooking (and tucco!) at Il Genovese, the work of the weekend began in earnest Saturday morning with espresso and cornetti at an outdoor cafe. And, of course, Di diving into shutter speed, aperture and exposure. (One needs coffee and sweet reinforcements for this.) Soon, however, we were wandering the streets of Genova working on a series of exercises to learn about camera shake, depth of field and all those little buttons and dials on our cameras.

Genova A New Way of Seeing History

What better place than the absolutely gorgeous Piazza Matteo to experiment? (More stripes!) I had read before arriving that it was one of Genova’s most charming piazzas, and for someone who enjoys structural polychromy as much as I do it was just perfection. I couldn’t get enough of the stripes and the old green shutters turned here and there. And Di was telling me to take photo after photo after photo to learn the different camera settings and the results. Yep, no problem there teacher!

Genova A New Way of Seeing Piazza Matteo

The photography lessons fluidly led from detailed descriptions to anecdotes and to stories of Genova. Somehow I think I’ll always think of Genova and my new friends when I use my camera now, and I like that very much. While my Nikon D3200 hadn’t really budged from the automatic setting in the last year since I bought it, Di helped me break out and feel confident shooting in Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes.

Genova Photography Dream

At first, it all seemed a blur of ISO, F-stops and trying to sort out what aperture numbers really meant. But by Sunday afternoon something happened. We were taking photos of the fountain in Piazza de Ferrari and it all came together. Suddenly I could control the settings on my camera to make the spouts of water long and smooth or stop the action where it felt you could see the drops of water. Just by turning a dial. And it worked. And it made sense. Helen was sitting serenely on the side of the fountain and can attest to the fact that I resisted jumping up and down again. But just barely. My camera, I am pleased to say, has only been back to the Automatic setting a few times since I’ve returned. I’ve still got so much to learn, but after only a weekend with Di I feel like I am on my way. What a remarkable feeling!

Genova A New Way of Seeing Photo Retreat and Workshop

The weekend’s photography lessons were punctuated with conversations with Helen. We were creatively very open and seeing Genova with new eyes through our camera lenses after working with Di, and Helen gently led us on another journey turning our gaze inward. Through meditation, creative visualization and some truly inspiring talks, I think we all felt more connection with our passion, vision and dreams.

Genova A New Way of Seeing Helen

With Helen’s guidance and kind presence, I was able to grab hold of what it is that I am most passionate about–something that I have been struggling to get a firm hold of lately–and learn some new techniques for opening up to the flow of life and moving in the right direction. I can’t thank Helen (captured above looking very Italian) enough for sharing her wisdom, joy and quiet encouragement.

Genova A New Way of Seeing Flowers

After this remarkable photography retreat, I’ve seen myself in a new way, not only through my own eyes but also through the eyes of Di, Helen and the other lovely women that I am lucky to now call friends – Lisa from Renovating Italy and Leah from Help! I Live with My Italian Mother in Law! I rejoiced in their successes and got goosebumps as they opened little by little and shared who they truly are with all of us. I felt the same welcome and safety in return. It was a place to open up and to learn and discover – how to capture images and become more familiar with our cameras and to do those same things with ourselves.

Genova A New Way of Seeing Boccadasse

From ecstatic moments when everything just clicked with my camera to impromptu handstands, sharing dreams and sometimes tears and much laughter, it was one of the most opening, deepest and marvelous weekends I’ve ever had. Oh, and I learned out how use my camera, too! Did I say it changed my life? Just go – now is the time and you’re ready.

Find out more Di Mackey and Helen Kerrison’s A New Way of Seeing Photography Retreats.


Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare | Amalfi 2012

Historic Parade in Amalfi Regata 2012

Every four years a very special day happens in Amalfi. There are many days to be in Amalfi, but this is the day to be in Amalfi. The distinctive Amalfi blue flags with white crosses are the first sign that something special is about to happen. The city is festooned with the beautiful flags leading up to the Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare, or the Regatta of the Historic Maritime Republics of Italy, which took place in Amalfi on June 3rd, 2012. Started in 1956, this annual event brings together Italy’s four historic sea republics of the Middle Ages to compete in a race of 12th-century style boats. Venice, Pisa, Genoa and Amalfi send the best team to hopefully bring home the trophy. The day starts with an impressive historic parade representing a key moment in the history of each city. The costumes are brilliant and many original or based on the original designs from the 50s. The parade begins in Atrani and follows the road around by the medieval watchtower into Amalfi. I caught the parade right in front of the watchtower where it was a little windy. Nonetheless, the flag throwers put on a great show!

After the parade, everyone jostles to find the perfect spot to watch the boat race. All eyes are on the sea as the teams row out to the starting point west of Amalfi. We hurried up the stairs to join friends on the balcony of the Hotel Luna Convento (by the way, gorgeous views!) to watch the race. The streets and piers and balconies all over Amalfi are packed with onlookers ready to cheer on their team. The harbor is full of boats and once the race starts the four teams are followed by a crowd of boats behind.

Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare Amalfi 2012

From our vantage point near the finish line, it looked like the Amalfi team got off to a slow start. As the boats came closer to Amalfi and the finish line the Amalfi team was clearly behind, almost in third at one point. Oh, but it takes more than that to bring the Amalfitans down! The energy was amazing with the entire town yelling, “Vai, vai, vai!!!” (Go, go, go!!) And then something that will be talked about for many many many years to come happened. Yes, it was that epic. Watch the last 50 seconds of the Regata in the video below and you can see it with your own eyes. Fifty seconds before the end of the race the Amalfi team was in second or third. (They’re the second boat from the left.) I was even panning over to show Amalfi when I heard someone nearby shout something about them catching up. I turned back to see that they really were! The team came through in the last 20 seconds for an amazing photo finish win! I’d like to think it was the energy of the Amalfitans that helped them do it. Watch for yourselves!

Toward the end you’ll even here me saying over and over again, almost in disbelief, “They can do it!” Then there was silence. Who had won? It didn’t take long for the judges to view the photo finish and announce the winner … and the city erupted in cheers from the land and from the sea when the Amalfi team found out then won. Some of the team jumped into the water and the cheering and horn blowing on the boats was deafening. Some deep and resonating, some like fire sirens wailing, pierced by air horns and car horns and fireworks. Naturally, someone on another boat came prepared with a huge bottle of champagne to shower the team with during the celebrations. Look closely in my video and you’ll spot that below.

What an experience! It’s hard to capture the emotions in Amalfi this day, but it was something I’ve never felt before. In 2008, during the last Regata in Amalfi, the Amalfi team came in last. Let me just tell you, the atmosphere was pretty different this year! While they were presenting the trophies, we snuck through the crowds to get a closer look at the four beautiful boats used for the race. Each one features the colors of the four cities, blue for Amalfi, green for Venice, red for Pisa and white for Genoa. The prow of every boat has a distinctive figure, and Amalfi’s is a pegasus with menacing eyes. Just look there, that’s the nose that the Amalfi team won by!

Historical Regata Boats in Amalfi 2012

To see all of my photos from this spectacular day, view the slide show below. (Click in the lower right to view it full screen.) Click here to view the photos on Flickr where you can read more comments about each photo.

The Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare rotates between Amalfi, Pisa, Venice and Genoa, and usually takes place the first Sunday in June. Whether you see it in Amalfi or one of the other cities (while root for Amalfi, obviously!), it’s an amazing experience. I hope you’ll be there cheering in four years when the Regata returns to Amalfi!