Right now I'm travelling with my favourite person (my husband) through one of our favourite countries (Italy). My husband fell in love with the place many years ago, when he lived and worked here for a few years with his first wife. He learnt the language, the customs, the history, the food...the driving. And he adored it all.
So now when we plan our holidays Italy always seems to come up. Occasionally we'll spend a week or two in Spain, or we'll go on an Asian adventure, but every year or two we always seem to end up soaking in the Italian sun. And with each trip Italy has become one of my favourite countries too. Here's some of the reasons why:
Passeggiata. When work is finished and dinner is yet to come, when the heat of the day is just starting to fade, Italians go for a stroll. You can find my husband and me there too, not strolling but sitting - by the main square with a Campari soda (him) or Aperol spritz (me) - and watching the passing parade. Elderly gents and ladies, dressed with thought and care; teen girls with deep tans and tiny shorts; families juggling prams and perfectly dressed toddlers; and dogs, lots of dogs.
There are no suburbs in Italy; it's all about apartments, medium density living. Communal spaces are vital, they are used, and the street life is vibrant and beautiful. Passeggiata is people watching at its finest. Next time you're in an Italian town, pull up a seat around 6 or 7 in the evening and enjoy!
Stylish Women. A cliche, I know. But whenever we travel in Italy I'm reminded of what I aspire to when it comes to presenting myself to the world. Italian women, especially of the older variety, seem to have a knack for dressing. They never look overdone, or too casual, just perfectly put together. Stylish, and with personality.
Old Things. All over Italy (and Europe for that matter) there are reminders of a grand history. We love visiting the archaeological sites, the museums and the galleries; pondering how society used to be and how it still is - the tensions, the weakness and the beauty.
But in Italy old things are more than artefacts to be admired and strolled around, they are woven into the fabric of everyday life. They are in every city, in the centro storico - the old part of town which is often beautifully preserved (and even better, often pedestrianised). This is where you find the many, many churches; the grand government buildings, the palaces, the old houses turned into hotels, the flash new bars sitting inside buildings that are centuries old. This is where the marble paving the alleyways and promenades is smooth and shiny from millions of footsteps over thousands of years...
Dogs. I was walking through Zara the other day and there was a dog - not a fluffy-stick-it-in-your-hand-bag kind of dog, a giant hound of a dog. At the bar for aperitivi, there was a dog. There were dogs at the airport and in the supermarket and in every restaurant. At the hotel we're currently staying in there's a dog by the pool, on holiday with it's owners. And we've patted them all (the other day we made friends with two handsome wire haired dachshunds!). Italy is such a dog friendly country. They are a part of life, a part of the community, and it just seems to be accepted that they go everywhere you go. It is wonderful.
Food. I know, another cliché, right? But it's a cliche for a reason. Italian food is spectacularly good. And it's not because it's overly fancy or tricksy - it's greatness comes from respect for produce, climate and tradition. Every place we've been on this trip, no matter how small, has at least one shop that's guaranteed to make your mouth water - overflowing with cured meats, fresh cheese, pasta (the shape from that particular region) and whatever vegetables are in season. And every city, no matter how big, still has it's regional speciality featured on almost every menu across town.
And do not even get me started on the tomatoes - treated with respect (vine ripened, never refrigerated) they are sweet, juicy and bursting with sunshiny flavour. Why oh why can't we get that in Australia?
Balconies. And doors. Italians know how to work a balcony. And a door, for that matter. Perhaps it's related to the small living space, and the way life so often tumbles on to the street? I'm not sure, but there are so many perfectly placed pot plants and glorious colour schemes on show here. Even the washing looks artfully positioned...
The Language. It may just be because I'm lucky enough to be travelling with someone who speaks the language, but I find Italian a lot of fun. Even in the face of my spectacular inability to learn a second language (three years of Korean and I can barely count to ten), I love trying on my Italian voice. Whilst in other countries I'm often shy and awkward, in Italy you can find me at the bar ordering "un caffe normale, per favore" or "due spritz aperol anche un aqua con gas".
When I'm feeling especially ambitious I get the husband to teach me hilarious phrases like "ho molto fame, potrei mangiare un cavello!" (for when one is hungry) or "non sono polpo" (for when one is being asked to carry everything) or "tu sei il rei di pommodori" (for when someone has gone and got themselves sunburnt).
And I haven't even mentioned the coffee, the bicycles, the fonts and signage, the road network and the driving (seriously!), the dramatic rocky coastline, the volcanoes, the stripy beach umbrellas...
Disclosure: As part of Kidspot's Voices of 2014 competition I've been lent a super awesome Olympus OM-D E-M10 for a few months. I'll be writing three challenge posts during that time and I'll have a chance to win some really awesome stuff. I'll be telling you a bit about the camera in each post too.
I've had the OM-D E-M10 for about six weeks now and I am truly loving it (I've barely picked up my poor neglected DSLR...).
I've already told you about how lightweight the camera is, and about the magical built-in wifi. And I've told you about how it captures images with amazing clarity. Well on this trip I've been testing out another nifty feature - remote control via my iPhone.
If, like me, you're the photographer of the family you probably get home from holidays with hundreds of gorgeous images of your kids or your partner or your pets...but none of you. And when you do convince someone else in the family to take your photo it's normally blurry, poorly cropped or just plain terrible (yep). Well this little Olympus camera has a great feature which means you get to capture all those memories with your family, not just of your family - the phone app allows you to control the camera remotely.
Once connected, on your phone you can see exactly what your view finder sees. You can adjust all the settings and then just tap the screen to take a shot. I have had a bit of fun playing with this. The other evening I set up a stealth cam at aperitivo time in Modena and captured some ridiculous photos of the husband and I (posted here under great danger*). I also took a few selfies (rare!) in my bathing suit (unheard of!) on our pool day in Savelletri and...I don't hate the results! There is so much potential here, I'm looking forward to exploring it a bit more.
The camera also has a ton of filters built in - black and white, retro, arty - as well as the usual auto modes designed for different settings - sport, landscape, night. But - I haven't played which any of these. Photography for me is about capturing what the eye sees, it's about the natural beauty of the world around us. Heck, I don't even use filters on Instagram. For me, trialling the Olympus O-MD E-M10 has really been about whether it's good enough to replace my DSLR. And yep, I reckon it definitely is.
The only frustration I've had is that I can't get the f-stop low enough to create the gorgeous shallow focus that I love so much. But this is all about the lens, not the camera. And the O-MD E-M10 has a massive range of lenses available (including low f-stop fixed lenses). They're not cheap, but when you compare them to the price of premium DSLR lenses they are far from expensive.
One other thing to consider if you're looking at the O-MD E-M10 as a DSLR replacement - if you shoot in RAW you can't use the built in wifi function to send images to your phone. So I haven't been shooting in RAW but, to be honest, I haven't really noticed the difference when I've been editing in Lightroom. Most of the images haven't needed much editing, so having slightly less information to play with hasn't been a big deal. (And, if you really want to use the wifi function and really can't bare not to edit in RAW, you could always choose the RAW + JPEG option).
In my last #myfamilylens post I talked about how the camera's stability makes it more suitable for video than I'd realised. So of course I was challenged to make a video. And of course I said yes. Why let a complete lack of ability as a cinematographer or video editor get in the way of trying something? Anyway, I shot some video and edited it in iMovie. Here's the end result - it's hardly ground breaking but I think it captures the mood of the day nicely.
*When I set up my blog I promised the husband I would never post photos of him (or my step-sons) here. In a desperate attempt to win the judges favour and get the chance to keep the camera I have now posted both photos and video of him. I may be in big trouble. Desperate times call for desperate measures...