The Italian Riviera
I've always wanted to go to the Riviera, for somewhat unknown reasons but in my mind I pictured James Bond towns with characterful steep, narrow, winding streets and stairs, sunshine, calm Mediterranean-blue water in rocky bays, and coloured fishing boats.
In November the weather is obviously not the hot summery conditions that the masses come to the Riviera for, and I for one didn't mind as the crowds were a tiny fraction of what I know they can be. Weather wise it turned out to be dramatic to say the least, even extreme, but that didn't detract at all from the experience; indeed it resulted in some of my favourite photos thus far.
The chosen base was Sestri Levante, a 213km (~3hr) drive. It was interesting to watch the temperature rise from around 3c and heavy fog, to nearly 20c and sunny as we neared the ocean. This drive (and many to come) was characterised by tunnels, no wonder the Italians are known for tunnel engineering, so many!
It was pretty obvious after a short walk to the old town and the beautifully quiet Bay of Silence that this place was going to be a highlight. After a tip-off from Donatella, the next day we were allowed to take a once-a-month free guided tour of the normally closed castle and its gardens. Really quite nice with great views up and down the coast line and across the bay / town. On the walk we discovered a small (3cm diameter) edible fruit that is bright red with yellow flesh, never seen it before but it was delicious.
The first side trip from Sestri was by train to Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre towns. It was busy but I - and seemingly 10,000 others - had a particular photo in mind that I wanted to get at sunset. The sunset didn't quite produce the light I was hoping for but I can't control nature, yet.
The next side trip was back to Cinque Terre, starting with the most southerly town, Riomaggiore and then to the town of Vernazza. Only one word can describe the weather at both, dramatic; the sun spilling through dark, rain filled clouds that were being hurled across the coast by storm-force winds. The waves were enormous and became a spectacle of everyone there. The sunset was other-worldly.
At Riomaggiore, up some stairs we watched the town getting battered by the waves and sea spray. The weather didn't stop various selfie-enthusiasts in skimpy clothes balancing on the cliff edge getting the pose. One girl asked something of a local fisherman, which he - with an big smile - thought was to take a picture with him, it turned out she was asking him to move away so she could pose....
At Levazza, a long winding path took us up through the town into the vineyards and to the cliff tops overlooking town. The view down onto the town was perfect and the weather was producing once in a lifetime photography opportunities. It also produced a once in a lifetime amount of swearing from me as each time I set up the camera and filters a heavy rain squall would hammer me and the gear, at which point I would give up and pack away, then the rain would miraculously stop, only to start again each time I set up. Did this no less than 5 times, my lenses and filters really took a beating, but it was worth it.
Walked down to Levazza itself and spent some times dodging waves breaking on the seawall, it was pretty intense, you would pop your head over and watch the swell coming straight at you and determine it was safe to stay or best to run back behind the town walls. Dinner was pizza and a (mini) bottle of wine on a park bench.
Next trip was north to the city of Genoa, quite a stunning place with grand buildings, lots of small side streets and a nice harbour. The entire city seemed to be made up of various university departments, it had a real student-city feel although this isn't what it's known for. We snuck into one on of the university faculty buildings, the lectures were being given in rooms covered in old frescoes. To better handle the ridiculous amount of walking every day, I bought a new pair of shoes here, memory foam Sketchers, excited?
The final side trip was to the town of Camogli, half way between Genoa and Sestri Levante. Leaving the station you walk down a really long, narrow main street lined with those very tall and grand Italian buildings, popping out at the harbour.
There's a very impressive old castle up on a promontory and from here you can watch the gigantic swell coming in and hitting rocks below you, the wave splash sometimes reaching up to where you're standing (25m above the water line!). This was yet another place that produced a crazy sunset that made for unique photography. Special place.
I can imagine why the Italian Riviera is a favourite summer holiday spot (although spare me the crowds), it wasn't easy to leave.