Roundabouts have come to the USA and they confuse us, it hasn’t been our way. A roundabout is a type of circular intersection or junction in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island. The modern form was standardized in the United Kingdom. Well me, I’m accustomed to running around in circles.
Grizzly sow 610 and cubs beneath the Grand Tetons in Grand Teton National Park.
As a landscape/wildlife/lifestyle photographer from the Yellowstone region I have developed an appetite for landscape and nature photography and vicariously travel the world to the great landscape and wildlife destinations of the world through photography magazines and social networking. Diligently working to be able to reach some of these places myself someday. I devour the world’s beauty beyond my reach through the lenses of others.
I have my list of places, places I’d like to shoot like Churchill Manitoba for polar bears, the Alaska Peninsula for Brown bears, and Antarctica for penguins, and Africa for everything else. The great landscape destinations call to me also. The glaciers and peaks of Patagonia, The marvelous karst hills in Guilin China, the camel infested drifting dunes of the Sahara, the dancing lights above Iceland etc. but Italy wasn’t on my radar for places I must go.
I have often written –serendipity is the photographer’s friend. That said, serendipity is an undependable partner in photography. One day I had led a couple of guys, Bill and John, on a photo safari in Grand Teton Park and they liked my teaching style. Bill and John were impressed with what they learned in a very short amount of time. A few months after their photo trip they contacted me and asked whether I’d like to do a few days teaching in Naples Italy. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. In a roundabout way, a trip to Italy fell in my lap.
defensive rampart tower that used to protect the Amalfi Coast
Oh, as a history buff, Italy had always intrigued me because of its wealth of history, and so I had always thought it would be cool to visit the antiquity, but I had never though of it as a photo destination that appealed to my style. The more I googled up possibilities; the more excited I became.
I found Naples was in close proximity to the Amalfi Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that National Geographic had rated the third most beautiful drive in the world. Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii were there, and the Isle of Capri was a short ferry ride away, my excitement grew.
As I planned I concluded, I couldn’t go to Europe and only come back with beach stuff to add to my portfolio. Considering this I looked for additional place and found the Alps were just a short 9 hour drive away I started researching for feasible photo opps of mountains. My trip was in the middle of May so I was afraid Switzerland wouldn’t be green yet so I studied the Bavarian Alps of southern Germany as I believed the low altitude valley bottoms would be green with hopefully, some snow dusting on the peaks. The German Alpine Road looked really intriguing; beautiful farming valleys with towering alpine peaks guarded by dozens of castles on the hills and on islands in the lakes. Then I came across a few photos of the Dolomite Mountains of South Tyrol, The Pale Mountains, as they were once known, owe their special qualities to the unusual mineral makeup of the dolomite rock. In the light of late afternoon, the mountains take on a distinct pink glow, another UNECO World Heritage Site; I was smitten, the Dolomites it was.
My Fiat at Gardena Pass, in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy
My road trips are all work and no leisure as most great light brightens only the first and last parts of a day in a golden light way. This requires shooting late, and early wakeup calls. These hours are challenging anywhere but in a foreign country it can be even more so – it also demands the autonomy of a car.
When I told those in the know, I would rent a car and drive in Italy, they often would say something like: “You are a brave man,” other’s would say after a maniacal laugh; “you’re a freaking idiot. They all though wished they were going with me and asked whether I needed an assistant.
I declined a flight all the way to Naples so I could rent a car in Rome, so after visiting the Dolomites and the backside of my trip, I would have a shorter drive to the car rental drop-off point. I booked a flight that flew threw the night with an 8:30 AM arrival so I would have a better chance of sleeping on an uncomfortable plane. As much as I tried to sleep, I failed.
Now, a reasonable person would have booked a hotel in Rome before a driving adventure beyond into the Italian countryside, but the operator word here was reasonable. As much as the history of Rome haunted my conscience for denying my intellectual curiosity about geo-political history of days of yore, I had decided this was a landscape photography trip and to pump up my portfolio as much as possible. I had to prioritized Maori on the Amalfi Coast was to be my first stop. I rationalized, there will be plenty of antiquity there and it would be accented towering cliffs that dropped precipitously into the Mediterranean Sea.
The Tyrrhenean Sea from the Amalfi Coast.
Have you ever seen the directions Google maps makes for you, yes those ones you need a navigator to interpret for you as you amble through unfamiliar territory. Well after my sleepless eyes failed to decipher any sense out of Google code for navigating through a series of roundabouts connecting the toll roads that mandated money that thankfully had Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals, I waded them up and tossed them in the back seat of my newly acquired Fiat. Rome has a big highway that loops roundabout the city so I figured I would just jump on and sink or swim.
On what are known as the Autostrades Italian signage is reasonable if you know your next destination, thankfully Naples or “Napoli” was a major destination and there were many signs to keep me in the proper lane for the Napoli exit from the Roman roundabout.
I successfully negotiated the gauntlet of horn honking maniacs who envied my lane even though they weren’t going to Naples. Some idiot put the Naples lane to the far left of the highway where the Grand Prix wannabees take out their aggression and aggressively vie for the front of a pack with no beginning or end. For a moment I relaxed as I steadied my way south on the southbound autostrade, it was now time to find some coffee.
Like the turnpikes of the eastern US the autostrades have service areas along the way, here certainly I would find a 7-Eleven type convince store for a, much needed, 24 ounce cup of joe. To my chagrin as I looked around at the coffee drinkers they were sipping coffee from two-ounce tea cups, oh, espresso or not, a two-ounce cups weren’t going to cut it, I still had three hours of driving to do in a place where I couldn’t read the signage.
The lady behind the counter finally concluded what I needed was a Café Americano; disappointingly it was served in a wholly inadequate 4-ounce cup. I quickly downed it but while I was waiting for them to brew another I found a cache of canned espressos that soon became mine and would be my driving stash.
I had departed Salt Lake City at 8:30 AM and arrived in Rome the following 8:30 AM, my ass was dragging. The café Americanos and canned cappuccinos were helping however, I still had to stop at every other service area and walk a bit. I should have gotten a room, but I seldom do what I should.
Nearing Naples I found a new autostrade that would take me to Solarno the beginning of the Amalfi Coast, I was making progress. Solarno is a city of 170 thousand people, a sizable challenge under my present condition, but all I had to do was go to Solarno and turn right on the third most beautiful drive in the world. I was sure the highway signage would be a good as the Roman signage to Napoli pointing my effortlessly onto world famous route.
I navigated a few turns following the signage toward Amalfi, but was thrown by the important exit: “Costiera Amalfitana” opps that was the Amalfi Coast sign inconsiderately written in the language of the country of which I was navigating. I was now on a new autostrade, and disturbingly, heading back towards Naples. Autostrades have very few exits like the turnpikes of the eastern USA; the next was ten kilometers up the road. I exited at the village of Molina.
As a master of dead reckoning I was sure that in Molina I would find a fine valley road that would wind its way back to the coast. Reality soon slapped my up the side of the head. Driving in Italian villages had a whole new set of challenges I had never faced. Italian villages on hillsides have winding roads that grew up from mule and donkey routes, most are still better suited to mules and donkeys, my fiat seemed to be oversized for this village on a hill.
Winding road Amalfi Coast.
Did I mention the streets are skinny, because of this many are one-way traffic but you can’t discern this intuitively because often cars will be parked in the opposite direction of traffic. Well to make a long story short, I turned my back on my dead reckoning idea and backtracked back to the autostrade hoping to find an on ramp in the direction of “Costiera Amalfitana”
I soon found “Costiera Amalfitana” and soon was navigating though cliff side villages on a road a lane and a half-wide that wound around a cliff side in a manner that would make Walt Disney proud. Precipitous cliffs on the left, kept my heart in my throat and honking Peugeots, Fiats, Volkswagens and the ubiquitous scooters, kept my eyes on the road and away from any landscape photo that might beckon me to a turnout.
In Italy you have to drive fast or be run over, I don’t know how any elderly manage. Despite my sleepless state, survival demanded I get up to speed and my fatigue was replaced with survival angst. survival angst was a surprising stimulant and I was happy it came along. I soon made it to the town of Maori the home of my cheap hotel hidden among a sea of nameless streets.
Amazingly I finally reached my hotel and my host congratulated me saying it isn’t easy to find. 3PM, time for a quick nap then time to scout the coast for sunset locations.