Lithographic Italy…

I was playing around with a lithographic effect in Photoshop and by happenstance tried it on one of my pictures from Italy. It came out really well, so I had the idea to do a whole set of pictures from the various places in Italy I visited using this effect.

After all, while I didn’t necessarily love Italy while I was there (I dunno, perhaps it looked at me funny that day), the place itself is incredibly beautiful all over. I hope the pictures in the gallery give you a feel of that.

Lithographic Italy gallery at Pictures of the Long Road to Nowhere


Italy, a retrospective…


Moving on…

Well I left Italy and now I’m in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It’s pronounced L-you-bill-yah-na, as best as I can gather, but you have to try not to say them as separate syllables, rather try to run them all together into one long one. I don’t know, but people understand where I mean when I say it.

Since we last talked I’ve visited Venice. Venice, Venice, Venice. What to say about Venice? Venice was very much like Florence in the respect that it’s a very big Italian city, almost entirely dedicated to tourists, and therefore full of them. It was, of course, incredibly pretty though.

I actually had a pretty good time in Venice. I’m not entirely sure how much of this was to do with the city itself. I didn’t really realise before I actually went there, that Venice is, basically, an island city, separate entirely from the mainland of Italy. This can be seen here. The city is navigable by boats that transport people around the city and from island to island effectively like buses on water. Unlike the rest of the public transport I’ve encountered in Europe so far, these boats were not cheap and efficient. They were E6.50 per trip, not per day or per hour, but per journey. You could by 24, 36, 48 hour passes etc for varying prices, but the general point is they cost far too much and are financially prohibitive when travelling around the city.

My hostel was on a separate island, Guidecca. I bought a ticket from the train station and took the boat, which took a long route through the city and so the ride lasted a good 30-45 minutes to get to the hostel stop. I realised while standing on the deck of the boat with my backpack on and the wind blowing my face, that I feel very comfortable and at easy on the water, and this has very much made me look forward to the yacht in Greece in a few weeks. But I digress. The hostel being on a separate island was a blessing/curse situation. There was, pretty much, nothing else of any interest or note on that island whatsoever, other than a couple of restaurants and what was, I think, a coastguard station. This meant that there were no tourists on the island and it was pretty quiet, other than the people staying at the hostel – a very pleasant break once returning from the city proper. A lot of the residents of the hostel chilled out on the pavement outside in the evening and it became a de-facto common room where people could meet and chat. It was quite comfortable.

The first evening I was there I got chatting to a girl from Australia and we decided to head back into the city to see what it looked like at night. Neither of us had boat tickets, neither of us agreed that they should cost nearly seven Euro, so neither of us bothered buying some for the boat. We got on, got off, no problem. On the boat on the way back, at pretty close to midnight the conductor of the boat came out to the back section where we were sat with a few other people, asked if anyone needed tickets, to which all said no, and then merrily moved on, so the impression was definitely that they didn’t give a damn. Henceforth I did not purchase boat tickets, so I think by the end of the few days I was in Venice I’d scammed back about the same amount as the fine I received on the train in Genoa, so fuck you Italy, we’re even.

I spent a few days walking around the city with a few different people. The novelty of the canals wears off pretty damn quickly when you realise you can’t get from one place to another in something even remotely resembling a straight line, rather than, perhaps, an M.C. Escher scene as painted by Dali. Aside from that, it was a pretty typical Italian city. I did notice that the gondola driv– pilo– capt– men, all, without exception, looked like complete thugs in black and white striped tops. They were very much the Italian equivalent of London taxi drivers. Stubbly beards, tattoos on every bit of visible skin, smoking, spitting, leering. Maybe I’m missing the point and that’s part of the charm. Either way, all they do is stand near bridges bellowing “gondola” as people walk past in hopes of netting an E80 boat ride.

Other than that, I have very little to say about Venice. It happened, it was pretty, there were canals.

Then I got on a bus (an hour late, gogo Italian transport) and headed into Slovenia, and here we are. Though I’m due to leave Slovenia tomorrow morning on a train to Zagreb in Croatia, so it was a flying visit, so to speak. The city here, Ljubljana, is pretty relaxed and slow, though it appears I chose a really very slow time to visit. I arrived late on Friday night, so I had no chance to do anything other than find a place to buy a roll for dinner and go to sleep. Saturday I went out for a walk around and found that, actually, everything closes its doors on Saturday at one in the afternoon. What’s that about? OK, fine, I’ll wait ’til Monday to check the shops and town out. Monday, today, came and I went out for another walk. Everything, everywhere, closed. I wander into the tourist information office with a bemused look and a “why for everything be closed, womans?” Well, today is a Slovenian public holiday, so everything is shut all day. Shitsticks. No Slovenian shopping for me, not that I needed anything (other than some multivitamins).

Yesterday I visited some caves a few hours away from the city. I was all hopped up with my camera and enthusiasm to get some awesome pictures of the biggest cave ravine in Europe, and at the beginning of the tour we’re all told no photography at all, not even without flash. My face was not happy. I may have thrown things. The cave was actually truly awesome though, in the fullest sense of the word. The cavern inside was huge, and the ravine with the river running through over a hundred metres below where we were walking was impressive indeed.

And thus ends this relatively uninteresting chapter.


…is becoming problematic.

I went to a shop today to purchase provisions for tonight’s dinner. I bought some wraps (like one might use for fajitas), some sliced turkey, two tomatoes, some slices of cheese, and tiny block of mozzarella, and that was it, which came to E8.50. I could order a pizza from a nearby restaurant, who will deliver for free, for E5. I ask you, when I can have hot, fresh, good food brought to me for five Euro, where’s my incentive to buy and make my own food?

Because Amber likes titles…

Happy? Good.

The acoustic properties of the road outside my dorm room window are peculiar. Even small bikes are amplified and expanded to sound like a military procession driving past the window. God forbid a truck or bus drives past (which they do, a lot, because the bus stop is right outside the hostel). Even closing the double-glazed windows makes barely a noticeable difference.

Apparently today I am going to rant. Warning, pretension incoming.

Dear camera owners, if you are going to buy an expensive SLR camera, or even a moderately expensive bridge camera, learn to fucking use it properly. I suppose this could also apply to people with point and shoot cameras, but certainly less so. One imagines that if you spend the money and time on purchasing an SLR system then at least you should know a little about it. This is apparently not the case.

The specifics of today’s rant are brought to you from tall dark rooms, with interesting ceilings. When in Ravenna recently I visited a Basilica or tomb or cathedral or something (I was paying attention to the pretty things to take photos of, not the religious significance.) Anyway, inside was a truly beautiful ceiling with a load of artwork and painting on, but given that this was inside a huge building with no real windows or light sources, with a ceiling that was easily 15-20 metres high (quite possibly a lot more, I suck at estimating length (please, no penis jokes…)), it was quite dark inside. There were lots of tourists inside, self included, taking lots of pictures of the pretty. 99% of them (read, everyone that wasn’t me) was using their cameras with the flash to try and take pictures of the ceiling. In the words of Rincewind, “that doesn’t work.”

Let me explain, plebeians, because clearly someone needs to (reading an instruction manual is for the children). The flash range on your camera, any camera, is at maximum somewhere in the region of 16 feet, or maybe about five metres. What this means is that your flash is ineffective at lighting anything farther (further, farther?) away from your camera than that distance. At all. Oh, it’ll flash, and you’ll see a bright light on the area you’re trying to take a picture of, except it’ll make no difference to the actual picture whatsoever.

Except it will. What it’ll do, you see, is fuck it up. Because when you’re using your flash, your camera adjusts all the other settings, like exposure values etc to account for the fact that you’re flashing the scene. What this will do is cause the subject (the ceiling) to be really very dark, and the immediate foreground to be far too light. The mid-ground will just be all grey and mushy.

When confronted with low light conditions and a distant subject, turn your flash off. But, then how do I get to see the picture?! Well, by Jove, you change the other settings in your camera. Open the aperture right up to let more light in, slow the shutter speed right down to leave the shutter open for longer to let more light in, and whack the ISO range up (if you have to) to make the sensor more, well, sensitive. This will achieve results such as the following:

Now, that’s a small version of the picture because I didn’t want to upload a full size one, but trust me, it’s pretty damn sharp, and it looks well lit, yes? Yes. To prove my point, shutter speed 1/15th of a second (slooooow), aperture f/2.8 (oooopen), ISO 1600 (hiiiigh). And yet it looks pretty damn good to me. To give you an example of how dark it was in there, here’s another shot of a different part, slightly better lit by windows and such like (taken for example’s sake):

Learn to use your God damned expensive cameras, or I’ll take them off you. Here endeth the lesson.

Wobbly table…

I’m writing this on a wobbly table, and man that’s annoying. Yep, that’s how inventive I’m feeling today to come up with a title.

Oh yes, and mother, when I said your reading this made me inherently uncomfortable, of course what I meant was “please subscribe by email.” Yeah, I get told when shit like that happens. What a leap of parental logic that was. Carry on, dear.

Where were we last time? Lucca, though I actually meant metaphorically speaking. The second day in Lucca I spent out and around with my camera which was muchly enjoyable. I took another walk around the 5.5k perimeter walls in the evening and got many lovely shots, some of which can be seen in the Photodump. I befriended a woman staying at the hostel sometime after dinner by insulting her, assuming she was American by the accent when in fact she was Canadian. I should have known from all the ‘aboots’, but I missed it. We walked and talked for an hour or two about travelling, the town, life in general. Something a friend of mine has dubbed ‘Strangers on a train’ (I think it was, correct me if I’m wrong). Anyone is interesting for an hour.

I left Lucca and headed to Bologna. This became a slight adventure. The hostel directions were “get on bus #whatever and it stops right outside the hostel.” Except it neglected to tell you which stop that actually was, and since one hadn’t seen the hostel, who knows what it might look like. I was starting to become suspicious that I’d travelled a little too far on the bus when I saw signs pointing to Bologna in the opposite direction listing it as 10kms away. So the bus driver left me at the side of the road in the middle of cornfields, as far as the eye could see. And crickets. You know you’re in the backwoods when all you can hear is crickets. At midday. In Italian sun. Thankfully there was another bus going back the other way and the driver was infinitely more helpful and shouted at me when to get out at the right stop.

The guys in the room with me in Bologna had all checked in that day – Tom, Sam and Sunny. All gap year students, all great guys. We spent the next few days in Bologna hanging out, and I was very thankful for the company. I was not thankful for the German guys running (thudding) up and down the corridor outside our room at midnight playing, as far as I could tell, hide and fucking seek. Which is not a fun version of hide and seek where the seeker fucks the hidee when they find her, rather than just a loud, obnoxious version played late at night when others are trying to sleep. Oh, and we went to a restaurant and the four of us all had Bolognese sauce from Bologna, so now I can say I’ve done that. Incidentally, mother, English readers, anyone else of any consequence, take heed of the following: Italians do not make bolognese with spaghetti. Ever. It’s only the rest of the world that does that for some reason. The Italians use tagliatelle. It is much nicer – try it.

I left Bologna as Tom, Sam and Sunny headed for Rimini, which as far as I can tell is the Ibiza of Italy. I was invited, but those of you who know me understand why I did not go. Ravenna was my next stop, and a lovely little town. Though riddle me this – why is taking photos prohibited in a museum when I’ve paid for entry? I’d understand if it were a free museum and they wanted to sell guidebooks, or postcards, or picture books, perhaps, but if I’ve paid? Dammit, I want my pictorial evidence that I’ve been there. Ravenna had lots of mosaics, some of which can be seen in the Photodump. Nothing much of any interest happened there.

Now I’m in Ferrara, and I think I’m going to stay here for another few days. Couple of days booked in Venice later on in the week, then I leave Italy for Slovenia. Somehow.

Yesterday I visited Ferarra’s castle, dungeons, and the tiny-ass town centre. Today, once I’m done here, I’m going to rent a bicycle and get me some riding around the city done. I need to find out of taking a daytrip to Verona is financially viable and worth it. I’m thinking not, but we’ll see.

This has not been an interesting post.


EDIT: Updated terminology due to requested correction.

Couldn’t think of a title, so I think WordPress is just going to put in random numbers instead. I’m cool with that.

I arrived in Lucca this morning and just from the walk from the train station to the hostel I can tell already it is my favourite stop so far. Which… shed some light onto a recent realisation I have had.

Which is, I’m not, actually, having any fun. This is a problem, could be for a few reasons, and I need to figure out what they are so I can fix it.

Now, having fun and enjoying one’s self are not necessarily the same thing. I’m enjoying plenty of things. Train rides, for instance, much more than I should do for something that is effectually sitting in an uncomfortable seat for anywhere between one and six (so far) hours at a time. I enjoy walking around towns and cities and seeing things that are interesting or pretty or different. I also enjoy taking pictures of said things. But I’m not actually having any fun.

Partially, I think it’s ’cause I’m somewhat lonely, or to be less melodramatic, lacking in normal human contact. When I got to the hostel in Pisa there was a guy on the bed next to mine who’d just arrived and we got chatting and took a walk around the city, saw the tower, and later got some dinner. I had fun that day. I played poker with some people I met in the hostel in Genova and that was also fun. Other than that…

Secondly, I’m not sure if it’s to do with my self-imposed budgetary constrictions, because I pretty much can’t do anything, or eat most of the things I’d love to eat (which is kinda good, because it’s all cakes, gelato and sugary stuff that I don’t need to eat anyway). Point is though, I’m artificially strapped for cash which means watching what I eat very carefully, what I spend on buses, admission to things etc. This may be a contributing factor. That said, I’m not really sure what the things are that I would have done if money hadn’t been an issue up to this point, but still.

Thirdly, and here’s where we circle back around to my original point about Lucca, I think it might have quite a bit to do with the places I’ve been visiting so far. For instance, I’ve just come from Florence, purportedly one of Italy’s finest cities for tourists. After I’d walked around and seen all the big churches and pretty buildings (and they really were, in all fairness) I was basically all “yeah, meh, I’m done here.” And that took maybe two hours. big cities bore me, I think. This actually harks back to and reminds me of the two road trips I took around the US. The first, two month one, I hit 13 of the major US cities in 64 days. Big cities that should be interesting, NY, LA, NO, SF etc (haha, screw you), and yet some of (not all of, though) my favourite times or memories are really obscure things like waiting around in huge parking lots on the side of an interstate while having a rest break from one of the Greyhound buses. Similarly, when I did the three week trip with Kitty and latterly Maya, while we started in LA and SF respectively, the most fun parts (for me) were cruising through small towns on the edge of highways and seeing places like that, rather than the big cities. Visit Trinidad in northern Cali if you ever get the chance, but fuck Eureka in the face with a sharp stick. I’m getting off track. Yes. Big cities bad/boring, small towns interesting for some reason. Someone tell me why that is please? Buuut, because of that somewhat revelatory thought, I’m thinking of scrapping Verona and Venice from my list completely and finding some small town along the way to hang in instead. Who knows?

Oh yeah. Lucca, right, yes. It’s all kinds of diddy. It’s a very, very old town that is still completely surrounded by huge walls (I read 12 meters high, but they don’t look it to me) that are something like 30 meters thick (see above RE accuracy of measurements). The town has turned the top of these walls into a lovely walkway, almost like a very long, narrow park, with tree-lined avenues and the like. The total length of the walls that encircle the entire town is 5.5kms. I walked around it this afternoon in 45 minutes exactly. The guide book said it’d take an hour and a half. Pft. Fatass authors.