Jason Fontana

Rome and Vatican City

A couple of days rushing around

This was my last stop. The train home was in two hours, but I was so tired I ended up waiting in a cafè, processing some photos in the meantime.

I was satisfied. A splendid couple of days, a grand total of 35 km worth of walking, and some good —and different from my usual— shots.

I'll say it again: Rome, what a beautiful city.
Rome. What a beautiful city.
I had been there last year for a conference. Photography-wise, I didn't take many photos. And I wasn't satisfied with the ones I took.

When they asked me to come back again for another talk, I was excited. This time —I said to myself— I would stay longer. A good reason to put my conference fee to good use.
Plus, I had two new lenses and a tripod with me: a good chance to experiment with my trusted OM-D. So I booked my train, and waited for the day to come.

In January, it's not exactly high season in Rome. This was good —last time there were way too many tourists, making some shots difficult.
On the downside, weather forecast was not exactly inspiring. Rain was at 50%.
Good thing weather forecast is not a perfect science: I never got wet, and it was actually kind of warm. The big, scary clouds turned out allies in some shots.

I left for Rome the evening before the event. During the train ride I planned my route.
After the conference in the morning, I wanted to see Vatican City. The view from the top of San Pietro and the Vatican Museum's stairwell were mandatory subjects to me. Next stop would be the Castel Sant'Angelo, which is just a stroll from San Pietro square. If my plan was correct, I would be there by sundown. The bridges just next to it are said to be good spots to shoot San Pietro from the distance.
Last stop would be the Colosseum, with the sun already down, hopefully with some traffic lights painting the scene.

I left the schedule of day two elastic: I would spend some time in the city centre (I had seen it extensively last time) and take a look at the Aventino hill, right next to the Mouth of Truth.
I spent about an hour shooting there. The traffic shots showed some strange bokeh in the top left corner (which I removed) with the zoom lens. Maybe it was the fall. I'll send it for a checkup.

I went to the small restaurant my dad suggested me —Al Varesino. As I entered, I noticed it was empty. That's usually not a good sign. The Pasta alla Carbonara and Saltinbocca alla Romana I had were very good, though. After lunch, I got back to my room.

I got what I payed for: the bathroom was nasty.
I booked a ticked for the Vatican Museums, looked at some photos and went to bad happy with my day. Fitbit said I went about 17 km on foot.
After lunch I was done with the conference. I was free to proceed with my plan.
First, I had to reach the new hotel. The one the event people paid for me was too expensive (€185/night, a nice Mercure). I found a super cheap room at Hotel Quirinale on Booking.com, an historical building very close to a metro station and the city centre. The metro in Rome is not the best in the World: there are only a handful off stations. Which meant a lot of walking. A room near a metro station was a good call.

Check-in was done. I left for Vatican City and got to Piazza San Pietro by 4 PM.
Day Two
After one afternoon of intensive walking, my feet hurt. Vans are not walking shoes.
Anyway, I packed an apple from the hotel's breakfast room, and got back to Vatican City.

Good thing I booked the ticket online. The queue to enter the Vatican Museums would have taken at least 1 hour.

If you follow my photography, you'll cetrainly know that I like to shoot details. I'm not a landscape guy, wide angle lenses feel a bit awkward to me. I love 50mm. Especially wide open and getting close. I named my book series Closing Up for a reason, you know. If I had to choose one single lens to take with me, I would pack my beloved Panasonic LEICA 25mm f/1.4 —which is a 50mm lens in 35mm equivalents.
The day before I forced myself to take some wide angle shots, so the 25mm ended up in my backpack most of the time. But the Vatican Museum would be ideal ground for a nifty fifty.

Indeed, security didn't let me bring my backpack inside. I left it at the checking room, but kept my jacket to carry the 12-50mm lens in a pocket —I knew I'd want it when I reached the stairwell.
I got in line to get to the top of the Cupola. The elevator ride doubled the cost of the ticket, so I took the stairs. A lot of stairs. I was sporting my new Fitbit Force so I was actually happy to test it.
And I love stairs. They have a symmetry to them like anything else.
The inside of the Cupola was pretty. I met Mark, a nice guy from the US, and followed him to the top of the Cupola. As you can see, it's curved. The stairs followed this shape, bending over and getting narrower and narrower as we climbed up. I think they should not let fat people go up there. They won't fit.

Anyway, the view from above was worth it. No sun going down, but I like this shot.
I'm still trying to decide if I love or hate HDR processing.
Americans get crazy for this stuff, but I found the Museums kinda boring, to be honest. It's pretty much the same thing over, and over, and over again. Alas, I went there just for the stairwell —which I found out was just before the exit. In one word: awesome.
I moved to the front of the building, lending my tripod to a Russian guy who didn't speak a word of English.

The next bridge offered a terrific view of San Pietro, as advertised. There were even street vendors selling shitty mini tripods for ten times what they were worth. The sun was completely down, allowing for some cool reflection on the water.
I was getting hungry, but my phone was almost out of juice. I asked my dad to look on Tripadvisor for a restaurant near my hotel.
In the meantime, I walked about 20 minutes to reach the Metro station in Piazza di Spagna, and hopped on a train to the Colosseum.
I think I was one of the first to get to the stairs for that day. No one was walking down: the shots came out nice and tidy. There was little light, so I had to set ISO to 3200. Noise was the price to pay to get at least f/11 and 1/30s (the stabilizer inside the OM-D is priceless).
This is one of those times I realize I use the zoom lens only for the 12mm focal length. And oftentimes I'd prefer to go even wider. I should sell it and get a wider zoom lens.

After the Museums, I met up with a fellow science journalist for lunch. We went to a nice restaurant just around Fontana di Trevi —Il Chianti. I had been there last time, and it had been great. This time was no different.
The inside of the church was beautiful. Even if I'm not a fan of churches, I have to say.
Federico —my friend— had some time to spare, so he followed me around for a couple of hours. I wanted to find a vantage point to shoot the Colosseum from above. On the way there we passed by Altare della Patria.
I wanted to be at Castel Sant'Angelo at the Magic Hour —if there was gonna be one, damn clouds—, which the PhotoPills app (recommended) told me was at 5PM.

I was behind on my schedule, so I decided to rush to San Pietro, check it out and move the Vatican Museums to the day after around lunch —which is a bad time to shoot outside anyway.

Just before the queue to enter the church started, there was a nice guard standing immobile —as if, and probably was, he was there for the photographers.

A happy Japanese crew passed through me, and my 12-50mm lens fell down to the floor while I was mounting the 40-150mm lens to get a shot of the guard.
The culprit disappeared in the crowd. The lens seemed to work just fine after the bump, but still.
We couldn't find the way to higher grounds, so we doubled back to the Aventino hill. Just below, there was the Mouth of Truth. I wanted to shoot it from the front, but waiting for the long queue wasn't worth it.

Instead we climbed the hill to reach the Orange Garden. Nice place.
The Maltese Embassy was around the corner, with a small keyhole from which you could see San Pietro in the distance, nicely crowned by the well-positioned trees.
Day One
My iPhone 4 is dying, and it was not helpful many times during the trip. I asked two old ladies for direction to Castel San'Angelo, my next stop.
I got a few shots from a bridge, but my favorite was taken from the riverside, probably room for hobos and rats, judging from the smell.