Gadling Gear Lust: Field Candy Tents

Our battered Coleman tent has been through years of service and cost something like $80 at an end-of-season sale at the local Target. It’s a workhorse and held up on gravel and snow and kept the campers inside it dry in pelting rain, letting in nothing more than a little damp on the corners and collecting a little condensation on the liner. But for all its practicality, there is one thing it is not: pretty. It is an olive green and tan little dome that looks like every other olive green and tan or red and tan or blue and tan little dome lined up on the grass in the tent meadow at any campground.

Enter the Field Candy tent. I can’t speak to the efficacy of these gorgeous little temporary shelters, but I also can’t decide which one I want the most. The one with the cow on it? The one that looks like a battered old suitcase? Yeah. That one. No, wait. I like the one that looks like a slice of watermelon because to see that when you pull up in your Subaru full of camping gear would crack you right up.

The Field Candy tent has all the stuff you’d expect from a decent camping tent – shock corded poles, a waterproof fly, and the easy clip up assembly. As a camper in wet climates, I’m suspicious of the cotton inner tent because it seems like something that would take a while to dry should it get wet. It’s got the bucket style ground sheet – you have to have that! – and a bunch of other features that look well thought out. This is no $80 clearance Coleman, some of them are over $700, so I’d expect performance as well as style.

But on the surface, it’s all about appearances. I want one. Maybe the one that looks like a circus tent. Or, no. The sandwich. Yeah, that one. No. Wait…

Miracle In Milan 2012: Italy’s Muscular Metropolis Goes Global

Rome stands for romance, history, art, architecture and fab food. Florence is for culture; Venice is for moody beauty and atmosphere.

What about Milan?

Milan is where the technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti comes from, the little gray man whose job is to save Italy from bankruptcy. Bankruptcy seems unlikely: in the midst of this unending “recession,” Italy prospers and Milan is booming.

Muscular Milan is Italy’s biggest city, the source of a third of this fabulously rich nation’s income, the location of most of Italy’s high tech and heavy industries, the capital of the country’s fashion, business, finance and banking.

Milan is also an experiment in globalization, Italian style. It is pioneering a new brand of tourism-friendly Dolce Vita. This may be bittersweet but it looks like a way forward for aging, debt-plagued Italy.

Kaleidoscopic armies of immigrants are pouring in, opening shops and providing services, cooking, cleaning, doctoring and melding with the locals. Colorful disorder – homelessness and shantytowns included – is repainting a dour town that used to be nicknamed “the moral capital of Switzerland.”

Compared to the joyless workaholic city I lived in nearly 30 years ago, Milan is unrecognizable –except for the perennial streetcars, outsized cathedral and other hulking old buildings. It’s not only multi-ethnic, but also animistic and chaotically alive. Much of the city center is closed to traffic now and has been re-landscaped and groomed. Café terraces spill where trucks and buses once thundered along. The prospect of frivolous enjoyment of the kind reserved for Romans now energizes the streets – especially those nearest to the center of the spider web cityscape.Does anyone remember the classic neo-Realist movie “Miracle in Milan” by Vittorio de Sica, an uplifting postwar fable about survival, generosity and abject materialism, complete with the dove symbol of the Holy Ghost and the comic Totò cast as a slum-dwelling Christ figure?

Today’s Milanese miracle is profane, messy and not always comical. Most surprising for the Milanese, this may well be a post-Catholic miracle. The capital of the Roman Empire when Christianity was declared the official religion, the fountainhead of saints Ambrose and Carlo Borromeo, the historic home of Italian bigotry and site of the Duomo – possibly the world’s most astonishing, cavernous cathedral – appears to have officially relegated religion to the B List.

Business always came first. Now pious religiosity comes after shopping, wining, dining and soccer.

Global millions cheer for Milan AC and Inter, the city’s two A-Series soccer teams. Who cheers for Saint Ambrose or Carlo Borromeo? San Siro is the hero!

On a recent visit I helped a group of Indonesian soccer fans find their way to the San Siro stadium, then picked my way between passing street cars, through herds of wannabe fashion models to the cathedral, known locally as the Duomo.

The Duomo rises from the center of the spider web of Milan’s ancient streets. It bristles with spires. Topping the porcupine roof on a pinnacle is a statue of the Madonna called “La Madonnina.” She’s visible for miles, the tallest thing around, though currently her spire is under restoration – and is about to be relegated to second-tallest by Milan’s pointy new skyscraper. Maybe that’s why the Madonnina’s magic is ebbing.

Hundreds of feet underneath her in the cathedral’s crypt the embalmed body of Saint Carlo Borromeo lies in a crystal casket wearing fancy dress. At ground level an eerily realistic statue shows Saint Bartholomew flayed, holding his skin. The Madonnina, crypt and flayed saint have been pilgrimage sites for centuries. Today 99 in 100 visitors see them through a camera lens and don’t know what or who they are. Visitors wear sinfully casual clothes, babel in tongues and seem indifferent to symbols of religion and authority.

After a frothy cappuccino under the glass canopy of the Galleria – one of the world’s first shopping malls – I did the rounds of my favorite churches. Milan has dozens of gorgeous Romanesque and Baroque places of worship. Was I surprised to find them empty? Not really.
San Babila was closed for restoration, wrapped in scaffolding and flanked by an unusual Fashion Madonna.

A single Italian voice echoed in the 1,000-year-old apse of the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio as a group of baffled Chinese sought the bones of the Magi.

In the exquisite smallness of San Satiro, American art historians lectured loudly about the cleverness of Bramante in creating his false architectural perspective.

But it was the lonely priest in the abandoned pews of San Bernardino alle Ossa, the city’s repository of age-mottled skeletons, who spoke volumes with his silence. In the church’s secret ossuary, once packed by the pious, I had the skulls and crossbones to myself. It was chilling, a memento moriout of sync with the times, a message not of hope but of resignation.

Walking from church to dark, incense-scented church, I glanced up and saw the underfed fashion models staring down from giant advertising posters. Their bones looked oddly like clothed horses. Had any of them visited San Bernardino alle Ossa or seen Saint Bartholomew at the Duomo?

But these pre-modern thoughts were drummed out by the joyous ringing of streetcar bells and the voices of merrymakers partying everywhere, enjoying the unpredictable, unexpected miracle of life in Milan 2012.

Author and guide David Downie’s latest books are the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light” and “Quiet Corners of Rome.” His websites are,,, dedicated to the Italian Riviera.

Top 5 travel fashion trends for summer 2011

With summer just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at what travelers will be wearing as temperatures rise and vacations abound. Before you know it, schools will be out, beaches will be packed and road trips will be in full effect. So, what are the hot fashion trends for tourists and travelers alike? We attended fashion shows from Milan to Albuquerque so that we could report back on the styles that will have everyone looking chic, sassy and, of course, functional as they hit the road for summer fun. Grab some sunscreen, a good book and your camera because we’re going to have you looking your best. These are the Top 5 travel fashion trends for summer 2011.

1. Mankinis
Long the style in Europe, swim briefs are ready to hit the shores of the good ol’ US of A. They dry fast, allow your thighs to breathe and their snug fit keeps sand away from all of your naughty bits. While most American men used to shy away from these skimpy briefs, sensibilities have changed over the years and the time has come smuggle those Yankee plums.

2. Socks & Sandals
For years, Germans have understood the secret to comfort during travel. Finally, however, their fashion-forward ways have caught on in the States. Sandals can cause blisters, awkward tan lines and injuries to exposed toes. By adding a sock layer between your feet and the sandals, you eliminate chafing, create one easy-to-manage tan line and protect yourself from injuries. Beyond that, a fashionable pair of socks can dress up any sandals when it’s time to transition into your evening affairs.

3. Fanny Packs
Whether you’re out for a day of sightseeing, on a hike or just hitting the hottest clubs, you’ll want your hands free to take pictures, keep your balance or grind with anonymous dance partners. Fanny packs (or bum bags to many of you) are convenient, practical and suit any fashion sense. There are rugged lumbar packs for hiking, exquisite designer fanny packs from Louis Vuitton for formal occasions and styles for everything in between. Your passport, money, hotel key and map will fit perfectly in a handsome fanny pack and you’ll turn any sidewalk into a fashion runway.

4. Shirts emblazoned with the name of the place you’re visiting
People love to get souvenirs but most of what we bring home is just schlock that takes up room in our homes. The most practical souvenir is the one that you can wear at any time – including during that very trip. That’s why fashionistas the world over are sporting stylish shirts purchased at airports, gift shops and amusement parks. Showing off logos and name brands is so passé. Today, it’s not about who you’re wearing, it’s about where you’ve been. Do you love NY? Then show it off! Been to DisneyWorld? Let the world know! Checked out the Anne Frank House? Good for you.

5. Everything that these ladies are wearing

Travel Photo Tips: What is aperture, and how does it affect my pictures?

You’ve schooled yourself on ISO, and you’re starting to get a handle on shutter speed. Next stop? Aperture. This particular setting is exceedingly important when trying to wrap your head around the basics of manually controlling a camera, but it’s also one of the more confusing. For starters, not every camera and lens can achieve the same f/stops (in case you couldn’t guess, aperture levels are measured as f/[number]), and similar to shutter speed, changing the f/stop does more than just one thing.

Tweaking the aperture can change the outcome of your photo in a drastic way. But before you go cranking that number beside the “f” on your camera screen, let’s break down the basics on what aperture is, what it affects and why you should care. Read on for a few pointers that every shooter should know.Have you ever noticed those black blades within your lenses? In optics, an aperture is simply the hole through which light travels. As you can imagine, changing the size of that hole can make a huge difference in the look and feel of your photographs. There’s an exhaustive definition of the topic over at Wikipedia if you’re interested, but we’re assuming you stopped here because you’re just looking for the long and short of it. Here are a few general rules to understanding aperture:

  • The lower the f/stop, the more light is allowed in.
  • Exceptionally low f/stops (f/1.2 through f/2, for example) are only found on a handful of lenses, primarily professional DSLR lenses.
  • Most point-and-shoot cameras only stop as low as f/3.5 (at best), limiting the amount of light you can fetch when shooting in dimly lit scenarios.
  • You’ll pay dearly for exceptionally low f/stops. A Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 can be found for ~$100; the same lens with an f/1.4 rating (just one step lower) is three times more expensive at ~$300.
  • Lower f/stops narrow your depth of field; a shot at f/2 will have a very tight focal point, with a tremendously blurred background, whereas a shot at f/14 (as an example) will focus on the foreground and background with essentially no ‘bokeh‘ to speak of.

Now that you’ve got a grip on that, we’re going to break down the most common uses of aperture when it comes time to compose a shot.

  • A lowered f/stop can be artisically chosen if you want to focus in tight on a foreground subject while introducing a silky, beautiful blur (that’s the ‘bokeh’ we mentioned above) around the subject. This is great for focusing on a person with a less-than-exciting backdrop.
  • A higher f/stop is useful for capturing vast groups, where you want the persons on the edges to be just as sharp and in-focus as the person in the center of the image.
  • A lower f/stop is very useful for letting more light enter an image during dimly lit or dark situations; this prevents you from having to boost your ISO (and thus, inject noise and grain) or dramatically slow your shutter speed (and thus, potentially introduce unwanted blur from hand-shake).

Let’s look at an example of how lowering your f/stop can be beneficial at night and in situations where you want oodles of bokeh surrounding the subject. The image below shows an identical shot at f/1.4 and at f/8, both taken in a dimly lit room with very little ambient light around. Lowering the f/stop allows a tremendous amount of light to flood in, in turn giving us a useful image without resorting to firing a flash. The moral of this story? Lower your f/stop when you’re in dimly lit areas — your images will thank you!


Now, let’s look at an example of injecting bokeh into a shot. These two pictures were taken with a f/1.4 (left) and f/16 (right) aperture. You’ll notice the shot on the left has a soft, silky, progressive blur surrounding the focal point. This highlights the subject and simultaneously hides the ho hum background. The f/16 shot has most of the background in focus, effectively destroying your ability to focus only on the foreground subject and disregard the lackluster backdrop. On the flipside, your backdrop is in focus, so if that is your goal for a shot, now you know how to accomplish it. The moral of this story? Lower your f/stop if you want to introduce bokeh, bring out the foreground subject and blur the background; raising the f/stop will help you to focus on a larger image, such as capturing an entire soccer team.


Our suggestion now is to give it a try! If you have a camera where you can adjust the aperture manually, try placing your camera in Aperture Priority (the “A” mode on the dial) and stopping it completely down as low as it’ll go. This will vary based on the lens, but toggle the f/stop and lower it to the smallest number allowed by whatever lens you are using. Focus close on a foreground object, and snap the shot. Check out that bokeh! If you’re having a hard time getting the bokeh effect, try holding an object out in your hand and focusing; that’s an easy way to get the background to blur nicely. Now, try that same shot with an aperture of f/8 or greater in order to see how wide your focal range becomes.

Keep in mind that this is just a basic explanation of aperture to get you started. In future articles, we will cover tips on how to use changes in aperture for creative effects in scenarios related to travel. For example, using the aperture to help you focus on your kids while blurring crowds behind them, ensure that your entire background is in focus in self-portraits, and more. Hopefully with the pointers listed here and in our previous articles on ISO and shutter speed, you’ll be three steps closer to understanding your camera’s ‘Manual’ mode.

Let’s recap:

  • The lower you set your f/stop, the more light you’ll have access to. This allows you to rely less on a boosted ISO and a sluggish shutter speed to still get a usable image in low-light situations.
  • If you need to focus on a large group of people, or you want the ocean behind you to be sharp, use a higher f/stop.
  • If you want to introduce artistic blur (or ‘bokeh‘) into your images, use a lower f/stop.

Stay tuned for more tips on understanding metering, white balance and more! Our basic guide to understanding ISO and shutter speed can be seen here.

Pack your alter ego – International travel tip

Admit it! Deep inside you, there is a wild child — or perhaps a sophisticate? — waiting to get out. Pack those outfits you’ve been too afraid to wear. Remember, on vacation you run the show! You can be whomever you want!

Since no one knows you, there are no preconceived notions … except your own. Express those hidden personality traits you’re usually too shy to reveal.

That green eyeshadow doesn’t have to continue gathering dust, neither does the purple feathered fedora. Vacation is about enjoying yourself. Have fun and show off!

[Photo: Flickr | dreamglow pumpkincat210]