Tag Archives: Alps

Varenna on Lake Como: The Little Village We Love

Varenna on Lake Como, Italy

(Click on image for a larger view)

We sat under an umbrella, our table decorated with two glasses of wine and a plate of bruschetta. It was 2005, and this was my first visit to Italy … my first journey anywhere in Europe. We had arrived in Milan that morning, boarded a train, and immediately made our way north to Lake Como and a little village Rick Steves had gushed about named Varenna.

On the brick-lined shore before us, a father was teaching his two daughters how to skip stones. The warm, hazy sun gave the colorful village the appearance of a melted watercolor, and one of us — I can’t remember who — said to the other “Varenna would be a nice name for a little girl, wouldn’t it?”

Almost five years later, Varenna Autumn Day was born. Now almost 3, she has a lightness, a sense of humor, and a sweet innocence that illuminates my every day. And despite the times people ask how to spell her name, or mix it up and pronounce it Ver-EE-na, or confuse it with Verona or Ravenna, we still feel like we knocked it out of the park with her name. This town — with its vivid colors, wizard hat campanile, hilltop castle and compact lakeside location where the buildings seem to hug one another — is officially on the highest pedestal of any place I’ve ever been. Continue reading

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Morning in the Langhe Hills, Piedmont, Italy

Rodello, Piedmont, Italy

(Click on image for a larger view.)

October 16, 2012. The final of seven full days in Italy. The next day, we would be off on an early morning flight home from Malpensa Airport, back to the joys of parenthood, the travails of work, the slow and creeping descent into winter. Back to reality.

And yet both of us woke up extra sick. Sore throat, congestion … the antithesis of romance in one of the most romantic landscapes we’ve ever visited. Oh well. We couldn’t complain, because the overnight rain had done something quite remarkable: it killed the fog. Continue reading

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Sacro Monte + Villa Crespi, Orta San Giulio

Adam Huggins ascends into heaven, Orta San Giulio

From Piazza Motta, a cobbled street leads uphill to a sunflower-hued church. Rising from the church’s apex is a statue of Christ, who is flanked by two angels. His arms are open, his head is back, and he is facing the lake. Below him is a faded fresco so in need of restoration that it accurately depicts nothingness.

This is clearly a corner of Italy that has yet to benefit from the restoration industry that decorates much of the country’s skylines with cranes. In the basilica on the island, it was depressing to see how many frescos were etched with the initials and graffiti of assholes. It was art desecration. Vandalism. And it had been done most likely by tourists, judging by the volume and off-the-cuff, hurried nature of each scribe. Someone’s initials here, profanities there. You’d expect this sort of thing on a big oak in a city park. But on a 14th century masterpiece? What possesses people? Continue reading

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To the Island: Isola San Giulio, Italy

Boat and Isola San Giulio seen from Orta San Giulio, Italy

I have been a firm believer that a landscape is at its most aesthetically pleasing when its left untouched. But the Italians have truly challenged this notion for me. Throughout the country beautiful hills, idyllic lakes, rugged coastlines and verdant plains are rendered even more photogenic by old buildings, artful decay and pastel colors. Continue reading

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Escape to Orta San Giulio, Piedmont, Italy

Boats in Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta, Piedmont, Italy

Italy at once perplexes and enchants me. I can’t speak the language, the roadways are impossible to navigate without GPS, and this guy has been the on-again/off-again prime minister for 14 years.

Then again, it is easily the most densely packed pleasure palace on earth. Soaring wines and delicious mountain terrain. Colorful people and jolly little villages. Sinful cuisine and heavenly religious art. Cappuccinos. Ferraris on the autostrade. Parmigano reggiano.

When I’m not there, I daydream about it constantly. When I am there, I don’t believe I’m there… I’m like a stunned bird who just flew into a window. Continue reading

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Photographing Zermatt (Sans Matterhorn)

Wild ibex in front of Monte Rosa, near Zermatt, Switzerland

In a previous post about photographing the Matterhorn, I noted that the town of Zermatt was “nothing to scream about.” That might have been a bit harsh. True, Zermatt is choked with tourists and their souvenir-trinket fallout. True, many of the adjacent mountainsides are marred by cables, fat roads and disenchanting signs of the overzealous Swiss compulsion to engineer everything.

However, the location is sublime, and that would be the case even if you shaved the Matterhorn down to a nub. Situated at the top of the Mattertal — an impossibly long and deep valley and one of the headwaters of the Rhone River — Zermatt is surrounded by no less than five mountains exceeding 14,500 feet. These are the Pennine Alps, and they include Switzerland’s highest peak, Mount Rosa (pictured above with a completely real and not staged ibex). These mountains are utterly captivating.

Reflection on the Schwartzsee, near Zermatt, Switzerland

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How to Photograph the Matterhorn

how to photograph the matterhorn

Imagine you took the world’s 50 most famous mountains — Everest, K2, Denali, Fuji — and put their image on a flash card. Now imagine that you’ve flipped through the entire deck and quizzed yourself. Could you name most of these mountains based on their profile alone? The unique silhouette they cut into the sky? Odds are, only two of those mountains would be gimmes. Kilimanjaro and the Matterhorn. Even Kilimanjaro might be a maybe, but the Matterhorn? Their ain’t another mountain on earth that rivals its facade.

On the train ride into Zermatt last summer, I had my back to the town as we rolled up the tracks. What I saw in reverse was the sight of every passenger leaning out the train windows seeking their first glance of the Matterhorn. At one point, I turned around, looked up the hillside, and bam: there it was. The sight of it made my heart skip a beat. I’m not kidding.

Photographing the Matterhorn is easy. Creating a unique image that hasn’t been done before … now that’s hard. Here are some things I learned on how to photograph the Matterhorn during my all-too-brief stay in Zermatt last June. Continue reading

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Switzerland Through a Tilt-Shift Lens

Swiss flag flying off the back of a steam ship on Lake Lucerne

(Click on images for a larger view)

OK. So it’s been three months since we went to Switzerland, but I’m not done posting images. I’m just catastrophically slow at updating my blog now that I have my own business (by the way, check out our killer website, designed by HeyDay Creative).

On top of that, our little family has decided to move to a bigger house. Where this house will be, we don’t know yet, but getting our current place ready has been pretty consuming. The plus? Eventually, there will be new wall space in a new home to decorate with enlargements of Switzerland.

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The Moment: The Matterhorn Eclipses the Moon

A nearly full moon passes behind the Matterhorn's summit.

It took nearly an hour to discover what was happening.

We had hiked up to this meadow just outside Zermatt, on the trail that eventually leads to Zmutt and the North Face of the Matterhorn. It was getting hot, and Varenna was inspecting the gravel on the trail, handing her best specimens to Mom, and then pushing her stroller like the big girl she was proclaiming to be (“bick guhr! bick gurh!). We were all content, and not planning to go too far. After all, this appeared to be it: the iconic view of the Matterhorn, the one that conjures visions of alpenhorns and men yodeling “Ri-co-la” into the crisp glacial air.

But as we turned to head back to town, the moon was suddenly quite noticeable and on a very interesting course.

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The Semi-Complete Shooters Guide to: Berner Oberland (Part 2)

The North Face of the Eiger, Berner Oberland, Switzerland.

Photographing the Eiger…

Every story needs a bad guy. In the Book of the Berner Oberland, its the Eiger. Its history of mountain climbing is layered with one tragedy after another. From its Wikipedia page:

Since 1935, at least sixty-four climbers have died attempting the North Face, earning it the German nickname, Mordwand, or “murderous wall”, a play on the face’s German name Nordwand.

The mystique of this mountain is palpable the moment you lay eyes on it. From Männlichen, it appears like a blunt arrowhead piercing the clouds. From Kleine Scheidegg (above left), it resembles a lurking sharks fin. Both places are ideal spots for the classic Eiger photograph, but to capture images with a little more nuance, you really have to hike underneath the mountain’s legendary North Face.

We tooled around in the pastures underneath it at the Alpiglen train station (above right), located halfway between Kleine Scheidegg and Grindelwald, and it turned into one of the most transformative travel moments of my life. I’ll devote a whole blog post to it at some point, but in short, the Eiger began to shed loose ice chunks and snow plumbs in a display that was at once intimidating and exhilarating to witness. Our neighbor at the hotel hiked the North Face trail — which skirts beneath the entire length of the mountain — and he reported that at one point he discovered a single climbing glove beneath the rocks. Who knows how it got there, but it clearly captivated and slightly haunted him just seeing it there.

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