A Sunday Afternoon Party In Lucca

As we walked down a quiet street in Lucca, a celebrated medieval town in Tuscany, on Sunday afternoon, we heard drums beating in the distance. Like bloodhounds picking up on a pungent odor, we followed the beat, twisting and turning through the city’s narrow, ancient streets as the tribal drumming grew louder and more insistent. Before long, we were sitting in the town’s atmospheric Piazza San Michele watching a group of young musicians in medieval costumes playing trumpets, beating drums and tossing colorful flags across the piazza.

A few minutes into a spectacular free show, the music stopped for a moment and then we heard ominous drumming coming our way. Another band was marching towards the square and their drum rhythm had a military-style beat to it. The second band made its way into the piazza and several members were wearing suits of armor and carrying ancient-looking weapons, including scary-looking daggers and heavy, bows and arrows.


On the road, a traveler’s fortunes can change in a heartbeat. Last Saturday, my wife and I were cooped up in our hotel room, seeking refuge from a persistent rain. We encouraged our children, ages 2 and 4, to watch a movie in order to give us a break but they wanted to wrestle and jump on the beds and were driving us mad in the process. Few people enjoy rainy vacation days but trying to amuse toddlers in a hotel room in inclement weather without the benefit of their normal complement of toys can be a sanity-challenging exercise.Long before I go on a trip, I enter the destinations onto the saved weather page on my iPod. I’m not quite sure why, but I check the forecast for these places obsessively in the weeks before my departure. There’s nothing you can do about the weather but somehow it’s fun to imagine what a place is going to be like before you get there.

Lucca and all the other Italian cities I placed on my iPod have enjoyed mostly sunny weather for several weeks prior to our arrival, so when I noticed a six-day forecast that showed nothing but rain the day before our arrival, I felt aggrieved. I called my mom, who spent the entire month of April in Lucca last year.

“We didn’t have a single day of rain all month,” she crowed, making me feel even worse.

Any time you encounter inclement weather while on vacation, you can be certain that people will assure you that the weather was terrific just before you arrived and that it will surely clear up as soon as you skip town. After our first day in Lucca was a washout and the icons on my iPod looked ominous for the next two days, I had very low expectations for our Sunday in town. I simply hoped the rain would be light and intermittent, rather than heavy and steady.

A Swiss couple we met in our hotel told us that they were planning to cut their trip short due to the brutal forecast, but thankfully, my iPod had it all wrong. The morning started cloudy, but right before noon the sun’s rays broke through the clouds and the warmth and light felt like an embrace from the gods. Shortly thereafter, the serendipitous battle of the bands played out right in front of us and the day just kept getting better.

After the show was over, the bands marched back out of the piazza and I spoke to a few members of the first band. A young woman who served as one of the band’s drummers said that it was Lucca’s “Liberty Day” commemorating a 14th century victory over Pisa, the city’s rival.

“At that time, they were our bosses,” she said. “But we kicked them out.”

Her band represented the district of St. Anne, located just outside the town’s ancient walls. The other band was from San Paolino – inside the town walls. No one could recall the year the battle occurred but it didn’t matter.

“The important thing to remember is that we beat Pisa,” she said.

[All photos by Dave Seminara]

Ten Great Cities for Photography

Some cities just draw you in, beckoning you to capture their souls on camera. There are billions of places in the world where photo ops abound — The Pyramids, Rome, London, and The Great Wall of China are a few of the most famous examples.

Here are ten less common places where magnificent scenery, people, and everyday life are like no other — and can lead to some terrific travel photography.

Budapest, Hungary

Quite simply, Budapest has the most exquisite architecture. The detail of the buildings is like no other, especially at dusk — they all seem to change color with the succession of each frame.

Further, the winding River Danube dividing the city is a spectacular sight, with its bridges spaced at precise intervals.

Fira, Santorini Islands, Greece
Everyone has seen images of Santorini, one of the famed Greek Islands, but somehow when it’s captured through your own lens, it speaks to you of ancient time and tradition, of a different culture that you have only read about in history books.

Views of the volcano and spectacular sunsets in Fira, Santorini’s capital city, seem surreal. The people and their faces, the blue sky touching the blue water — both blue, yet somehow distinct — and the white stucco houses and churches, restaurants and tavernas are images that bring a serenity to your heart and a love for all things Greek!

Tokyo, Japan
Alive and bustling around the clock, people-watching in Tokyo is like no other place on earth. The vibrancy of this 24-hour city — the neon signs and jumbo-trons in Shibuya, the color, the streets — you don’t know where to look first.

Divided into sections called wards, each section has its own allure. Despite the differences among the wards, though, you can easily sense the fast pace of this city in its photos.

San Francisco, California, USA
Synonymous with diverse culture, ocean scenery, and unusual topography, this San Francisco is a photographer’s best friend. The streets winding through here — from exclusive Nob Hill, to Chinatown, from Fisherman’s Wharf, to the Embarcadero, from Haight Ashbury, to the Mission District — provide the contrasts of life in this hilly town.

Moreover, the fantastic views of the San Francisco and Bay Bridges make for a fantastic portfolio of visual memory. Even the weather is photogenic — with it’s rolling fog enveloping the bridges and hovering close to the ocean.


Paris, France
No list would be complete without mentioning Paris, for obvious reasons. Despite having seen thousands of images of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, each one still makes me gasp just a little. Moreover, taking my own photographs of the sights of Paris, both day and night, make me smile.

This sophisticated City of Lights has “that Wow Factor.” Snapshots of Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, The Louvre with it’s glass pyramid, or sitting on a park bench in the Jardin des Tuileries capturing the heart of the French people, all display such a span of eras in France — new versus old. The meandering Seine River, with boats lazily drifting by, reflect a relaxing calm. The allure of this city is that even if you have never visited, you can identify it unmistakably through photos.


Nazare, Portugal
This seaside village, north of Lisbon, is an out-of-the-way, modest, fishing village. The people sitting on their stone sidewalks, playing musical instruments, or selling fruits and nuts under colorful umbrellas, have that intriguing look from another time. Their happy and smiling faces will fill your lens with joyful simplicity. Even the food is delightful to photograph with it’s authentic ethnicity, caught right at the ocean’s edge and cooked to perfection.

One of the other things you may be drawn to in Nazare are the old doors and doorways, brightly colored and uniquely shaped and sized. A collection of those door photos is one of my prized possessions, since it always conjures memories of my visit.

Obidos, Portugal
This l3th century Portuguese town, built within a castle, is a step back in time. Nowhere else I’ve seen can you zoom back in time that far while surfing the Net in the local cafe.

Capturing people at work here — serious and intense — in Obidos was my favorite, not to mention that they still live in colorful village apartments above their stone shops with clay roofs, surrounded by olive trees and churches. It’s here in this picturesque village that I’ve captured countless photos of the intricate stone and exquisite tile work for which the Portuguese are famous.

Lucca, Italy
Calling all food and wine lovers! Lucca, a city in central Italy, beckons you. Located on a wall with an amazing array of churches, this village waits to be viewed and appreciated.

In Lucca, you can learn to cook and eat Italian food, bike, sightsee and capture the most unforgettable photos of authentic Italian life. Nothing is more beautiful here than pictures of food, because in Italy, food is an art!

Hollywood, California, USA
Hooray for Hollywood! Quintessential Tinseltown! This is where star-gazing in every form is a pastime. Celebrities abound, and glitz and glamor is everywhere. All the landmarks, from Hollywood and Vine, to Sunset Boulevard, to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, seem surreal and indulgent.

Everyone’s seen images of Santorini, but when it’s captured through your lens, it speaks of time and tradition, of a culture you’ve only read about in history books.

Casts of characters (literally and figuratively) line the streets, sometimes in the flesh and sometimes in the form of the Walk of Fame Stars. It’s everywhere, waiting for the eye of the lens. be sure to keep your camera firmly in hand, ready for that celebrity sighting.

Road Town, Tortola, BVI
Down into the Caribbean Sea we go to capture a special kind of tranquility in photography. The small Island of Tortola, BVI, (capital city: Road Town) accessible by a ferry, entices you right at the dock.

The houses are brightly painted in Caribbean blues and greens, with splashes of pinks and corals. There’s nothing like a photo of that gorgeous aqua clear-to-the-bottom water! Further, sunsets on Cane Garden Bay are tranquil purples, golds and blues. Also, the slower pace is evident and amazingly (and easily) conveyed through a lens.

Hundreds of thousands of places around the world are worthy of being photographed, but these wonderful places are each a treasure trove to be captured and remembered.


Want more? Don’t forget to check out Gadling’s series, “Through The Gadling Lens,” which explains how to get the most out of your travel photos.