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Through My Lens: Il Passaggio

Many years ago, I spent an evening at a friend’s place, looking at the many photos he’d taken on his months-long Eurail jaunt. When he got to the last page of the last album, he looked at me thoughtfully.

“You’re the first of my friends to sit through them all,” he said. I smiled. He seemed surprised. I was not.

I am as fascinated by everyone else’s travel photos as I am with taking my own ― particularly when the photos are of (a) places where I’ve been or (b) places where I want to go. And these days, thanks to inventions like Facebook, I get to see a lot of photos. Particularly around this time of year when everyone begins posting their holiday photos.

Since I’m not too motivated to write much right now, I’m going to keep it simple over the next few weeks by posting a series of travel photos of my own. The only link regarding the subject matter is they are all photos of places my dear friends and family have had (or will have) the good fortune to explore this summer. You could say I’m continuing the conversation they started by the photos they’ve shared on Facebook.

First up: a photo I took of a passageway in Siena, Italy, in October 2007.

Siena Passageway

Happy Easter!

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, October 2007

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, October 2007

Through My Lens: The Pantheon

Pantheon at Night

Today is Palm Sunday, and we’re moving on to Rome. Rome is also known as the Eternal City ― the ancient Romans called it that because they thought the Roman Empire would go on forever. (Look how that turned out.)

One of my favourite Roman churches is this one, the Pantheon. I like it simply because it is so ancient ― almost 2000 years old.

For more on the Pantheon, check out the photo I posted a couple of years ago.

Through My Lens: Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco

San Marco

Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco ― that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? In English, it’s the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, commonly referred to as Saint Mark’s Basilica. With features typical of both Italian and Byzantine architecture, this Venetian cathedral is east meets west.

I came across this photo last weekend while I was rummaging through the collection of black and white photos I shot on my last trip to Italy. It’s my photo choice for today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Through My Lens: Basilica di San Domenico

San Domenico

Today we’re leaving Florence and moving on to Siena.

This is the Basilica di San Domenico. I’ve written before how I whiled away a summer afternoon on its stone steps, people-watching. But, to the best of my memory, I didn’t go inside the church on that afternoon or any other. That’s kind of sad, on one hand, but it gives me a reason to return to Siena, on the other.

I took this photo in October 2007. I’m not sure why I was shooting in black and white that day, but I was, and so, here it is, a black and white photo of one of Siena’s largest churches for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

Through My Lens: Basilica di San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte

My experience visiting this church, the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, was probably the most unique of any visit I have ever made to a European church. It was late in the afternoon, and my friend and I stumbled upon the basilica almost by accident after taking dozens of photos of the amazing view over the city of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo. (Go back to the First Sunday of Lent if you want to see one of those photos.)

Basilica di San Miniato al Monte is located just a few steps further up the hill from Piazzale Michelangelo. We wandered in and were immediately overwhelmed by the music. Gregorian chant, to be precise. It was mesmerizing, and took all of our attention during our entire visit. The monks were singing in the crypt, located below the raised choir, and there were maybe a dozen tourists scattered about, listening to them.

I had read how the monks who live in the monastery next door sing each afternoon during Vespers, but had completely forgotten about it until we just happened to enter the church at precisely the right hour. If you’re wandering about Florence in the late afternoon and want a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience, go listen to these monks.

Basilica di San Miniato al Monte is my photo choice for today, the Third Sunday of Lent.

Through My Lens: Detail of Il Duomo di Firenze

Duomo Detail

For the Second Sunday of Lent, here’s a detail of the colourful stonework of the Duomo in Florence.

Through My Lens: Il Duomo di Firenze

Il Duomo

Once again we’ve arrived at the Season of Lent. It’s much later than usual this year (which also seems to be the case with the arrival of spring in most parts of Canada).

As is my tradition, I’m going to take you on a photographic tour of some European churches. This year it’s Italy’s turn.

First up, for the First Sunday of Lent, is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. In English, that’s the Basilica of Saint Mary the Flower. In Florence, it’s referred to simply as the Duomo, which is Italian for “cathedral.”

I took this photo of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangelo, which overlooks the city of Florence and the River Arno. At the far right, you have Brunelleschi’s dome and then, to the left of the dome, is Giotto’s Campanile. The smaller dome to the left of the Campanile isn’t part of the Duomo ― that’s the Medici Chapel.

Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant'Angelo

Vancouver Opera has just finished its run of Puccini’s Tosca for which it received rave reviews. I got to see it on opening night and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve been looking forward to hearing this particular opera for many years ― and not only because I have yet to meet a Puccini opera I didn’t love.

No, I’ve been wanting to hear Tosca ever since the friend who introduced me to opera told me how, at the end of the opera, Tosca jumps to her death from the ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo. Why did this make such an impact on me? Because my friend told me the story of Tosca’s demise when we were standing on the ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo. (There’s nothing like context to make opera come alive!)

If you’re wondering how high those ramparts might be, here’s a photo of the Tiber that I took when I turned around after taking the above photo.


Another interesting detail about Tosca: Act I is set in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. My friends and I discovered this bit of trivia when we wandered into the church, which just happened to be located on the same street as our Roman hotel. Lesson learned: you never know what awaits you inside a Roman church.

Room With a View

A dear friend of mine flew across the Atlantic Ocean last night to begin her summer in Italy. Tonight, she is in Siena.

Nope, not jealous.

No, really! (I’m thinking the more often I repeat that mantra, the sooner I’ll believe it.)

What’s great about having friends who like to travel is that you’re never short of travelling companions. And what I love about this particular friend is how comfortable we both feel at inviting ourselves along when the other is making travel plans. Case in point: when I told her last summer that I had arranged a week-long home exchange in New York City, and then asked her what she was doing the third week of August, she didn’t hesitate.

“It looks like I’m spending the third week of August in New York,” she said.

I’ve never spent a summer in Italy (someday!), but I once spent a week in Siena. I invited myself to visit this same friend (do we see a pattern here?) while she was studying art through the University of Toronto’s Summer Program in Siena.

After spending a sleepless night on a train from Vienna to Florence and a hot day wandering Florence feeling slightly ill, I boarded the bus to Siena and promptly fell asleep. When I woke, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The Tuscan countryside I was looking at through my window was more beautiful than I ever imagined it could be.

I waited for my friend on the steps of the Basilica of San Domenico, which, back in those days, was where the buses from Florence dropped you off. I was far too early, but I happily spent the next few hours relaxing and people-watching in the shade of the cathedral.

My friend showed up at the hour we agreed to meet, and in no time at all we had deposited my bag in her room and were seated at an outside table of the nearest trattoria, sharing a bottle of Chianti and digging into two heaping plates of pasta, Tuscan style. Italian teenagers whizzed by us on scooters. Through the course of the evening, my friend’s classmates, one after the other, joined us at our table. It was the best arrival I’ve ever experienced in a foreign city.

This photo was the view from her room in the student residence of the University of Siena. Can you imagine waking up to that vista every morning for five weeks? I sure can.

Siena Room View