“The coffee is different in Campania…”
Marianna winces slightly as she sips her espresso. I’m sitting around a cluster of narrow wooden tables with a group of Italians, all who hail from different regions of Italy – and all of whom seem very concentrated on the coffee cups in front of them.
They’ve spent the last few days around each other; I only arrived yesterday. But even though I don’t speak more than five words in the language, they’ve accepted me unequivocally into the fold, ordering plates of steaming pasta for everyone to combat the chilly March temperatures outside.
And then another round of espressos afterwards. Because Italy.
What exactly was I doing in Tuscany?
One of the joys of blogging is the invites to events I’d never otherwise know about. A few weeks ago, an email arrived inviting me to ‘Europe Without Barriers’, a project financed by the European Commission which aims to create a network of organisations that promote accessible travel for everyone, regardless of their physical disabilities.
The project was being held in the Tuscany region of Italy: did I want to spend a few days with them and check out the ways medieval Italian cities are prepped for accessible tourism?
Did I ever.Although I don’t have much knowledge about the world of accessible tourism, the concept immediately piqued my interest. It’s often hard enough to navigate a new country when you don’t speak the language and have no clue about social customs: imagine if you also have to consider whether the streets of a city are traversable in a wheelchair?
The bonus: exploring Tuscany with Italians
I used to love Italy when I was a teenager, mainly because my mum had always idolised the country. That meant studying Italian at school, doing a language exchange fortnight with a girl in Montepulciano, and even living in Florence during my GAP year – but sadly I haven’t visited for years.
Which made it even weirder that just a few days after the initial invitation, I was hanging onto a luggage rack and posing for group selfies in the back of a minivan which zoomed down the highway towards Siena.It’s fast becoming a favourite travel activity of mine to explore a country with local people, and my whirlwind trip around Tuscany was with a host of other Italians – all experts in the accessible tourism field.
Being able to see their reactions to their home country was really inspiring, and it also prompted me to spend my fleeting twenty four hours in Tuscany on the hunt for photo-worthy subjects with the Panasonic Lumix TZ100 camera I’m currently using.
Exploring Italy with a 4k camera
Full disclosure: it’s taken me a while to get to grips with using 4k photo on this camera. I’m a bit daunted by it – there’s so much capacity for imaginative shots, but it turns out that choosing which locations to photograph in is pretty critical.
My major goal with using 4k was to capture movement. The joy of this camera range is being able to shoot high speed bursts of images at 30 frames a second then save your favourite photos afterwards: highly detailed things like fast flowing water, people playing sports and speedy animals.
Except my eagerly spotted unicorn water fountain didn’t quite have the desired effect…
Before arriving in Italy, I’d assumed there would be an overwhelming amount of fast moving activity that I could shoot.
But apart from the whirlwind nature of our visit and a sudden Matrix-like moment of two pigeons seemingly heading into battle with each other, nobody in Siena was moving fast enough for me to really utilise the 4k to the best ability.
The TZ100 camera also has a post-focus setting, which allows you to shoot a composite image and decide what point of focus you most like later on – so once I realised there wasn’t much activity on offer, I settled for that aspect instead.
Changing focus in Siena
While 4k photography is an awesome concept, I think it’s really useful to know what kind of subject matter you’d like to shoot beforehand.
As ever, a day in Siena was all I needed to remind me that I love searching for those tiny, accidental moments: fleeting pauses that you have to stumble accidentally upon to get just right. I think there’s a lot to be said for photography that’s unplanned and spontaneous – and that’s probably where cameras like the Panasonic Lumix range are doing well.
Eventually I simply wandered the open streets of Siena alongside my new Italian friends. The medieval city was thronged with tourists wrapped up against the chilly weather, yet we were still completely able to explore.
Siena is truly fascinating when you think that it dates back hundreds of years (the facade of the cathedral was completed in 1380!) and yet has still modernised itself. Juxtaposing the old with the new, making little gaps for modernity to peep though.
Leaving all too soon
As we drove away from Siena through the gathering storm clouds, I idly snapped photos through the minivan window and cursed myself silently for spending so short a time in Tuscany.
Twenty four hours obviously isn’t enough – but there’s something strangely special about only allowing yourself such a small slice of time in a country you know you love. It means your eyes are wide open and your senses are primed: looking keenly for anything and everything.
I miss Italy. I love Italy. Why haven’t I been back for so long?
Sometimes it’s just as great to have the tiniest glimpse of a country and remember exactly why it’s such a fantastic place to explore.
I’ll come back later. When there’s more time.