The View From Assisi – Weekly Travel Photo

Assisi - Cathedral and Fields

Situated in the heart of the rich Umbrian countryside the hilltop town of Assisi embodies the aura, charm, and personality of Italian hilltop cities.  The view from the historic city is enchanting and takes in a vista that includes carefully manicured fields, Assisi’s new town, Italian villas, vineyards, and a number of historic buildings including perfectly maintained cathedrals that are several hundred years old.  Despite the grandeur of the view, it is all flavored by the humble ideals and mentality of the Franciscans, who have served as the city’s dominant religious group for hundreds of years.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

My Top 5 Travel Videos From 2012

Alex Berger Year In Review

In 2012 I filmed a ton of HD video footage as part of my mission to do more videos.  A lot of that footage still needs to be edited.  My equipment has also improved a lot over the course of the year as has my understanding of how to create and edit a video.  Ultimately, I ended up uploading 22 videos that highlight everything from student life here in Copenhagen to polar bears waging fairly epic mock battles in Churchill, Canada.  I’ve gone through and picked 5 of my favorites, but you can see all of the videos over on youtube. I’ll also be adding a bunch of new ones over 2013 (already have the footage from Prague and Scotland lined up!) so make sure to subscribe.

1. The Great Polar Bear Migration

2. The Death of a Hippo (May make you cry)

3. A Video Tour of Cappadocia in the Snow

4. Tasting Olive Oil (watch to the end)

5. The South Luangwa Safari (Wildlife Footage)

These are just a few of the year’s videos and there are quite a few that just barely missed the list (underground cave cities and sleepy lion cubs to name a few).  Now that the year is winding down and i’m forced to pause for a breather and reflect on the past year, it’s amazing to recall just how different the start of the year which was spent in Turkey and Italy was from the summer which I spent in the heart of Africa and Northern Scotland and which was a stark contrast to end of the year which I rounded out in rural Canada.

Video was shot predominantly on my Canon Vixia HF200 and my Canon T3i (600D) dSLR. Voice overs used my iphoneor the built in microphone on the HF 200.

Thank you all so much for your support in 2012, your feedback, your kind words, your likes, your shares, and your attention.

Have special requests for 2012 or questions? Let me know!

A Wheelbarrow Full of Flowers – Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo

Assisi's Beautiful Streets

I captured this photo just before sunset along a side street in the Italian town of Assisi which is located on a small mountain amidst the rolling fields of the rich Italian countryside.  The winding streets of Assisi are delightful and full of small highlights like this wheel barrow.  While the stone facades of the tightly packed ancient homes that line the streets are somewhat uniform most are decorated with vibrantly colored flower pots.  The golden hue of the day’s last night worked to bring out the reds and golds in the stone and wood, casting everything in a warm twilight glow.  I hope you enjoy this shot!

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.

Assisi From Above – Viewing Umbria From A Helicopter

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

Thwomp. Thwomp. Thwomp.  The roar of the wind echoed in my ears as the sound of carbon fiber slicing through the air at high speed nearly drowned out the low scream of the helicopter’s engine.  The pilot touched down briefly in a grassy field at the Valle di Assisi resort. Just long enough for myself and two other travel bloggers to trade places with the three passengers who had just finished their aerial tour of Assisi.  They were all smiles – grins from ear to ear – as they gave us the thumbs up and promised we were in for a real treat.

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

In moments I was strapped into the back seat of a pitch black Robinson R44 helicopter. Then with a smooth ease and grace which surprised me we drifted free of the grass and quickly began to climb skyward.  The day was partly cloudy which added a picture-perfect mottled lighting to the vivid green patchwork of fields, vineyards and small greenbelts which surround the historic hilltop city of Assisi.

I invite you to re-live part of the flight with me in the video above.  It helps convey the experience in a way which photos alone can’t quite express.  The main city you’re seeing in the distance on the hilltop is Assisi.  The town with Cathedral on the open plain at the foot of the hill is also considered Assisi.

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

The first building we flew over was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli or Saint Mary of the Angels.  The basilica was constructed between 1569 and 1679 (whew!) and was created to enclose the Porziuncola, a 9th century holy place of significant importance to the Franciscan monks.

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

Before long we passed over Santa Maria degli Angeli and were presented with a close up view of Assisi’s most famous cathedral and defining landmark: the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. The basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the mother church for the Franciscan Order. The basilica was begun in the year 1228 – making it an incredibly old structure.  The opportunity to see it from above was a rare one and something I really enjoyed.  It’s one thing to look up at the Basilica from the plain that surrounds Assisi, or to walk its courtyards and gardens.  It’s a completely different experience to hover in the air and look down at the sprawling building from a vantage point that truly helps convey the complex’s size and unique architecture.

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

The flight was brief – about 10 minutes – but offered a rare and wonderful opportunity to see the Umbrian countryside from above. The region is gorgeous. Especially in late April when everything is blooming, the fields are all shades of rich green, and the air is crystal clear. When you’re on the ground and are immersed in it, you get to appreciate the finer details – a corner of a field, a small stone house, a carefully manicured vineyard, etc. – but you rarely get the chance to look out over it all and see the sum of the different parts.

A special thank you to the Valle de Assisi resort for the opportunity to take to the skies!   It was a rare and fantastic experience, one which I’ll remember for a long time.

Travel Bloggers Unite Umbria

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

I’m delighted to say that I’ve just returned from an absolutely fantastic trip to the Umbria region of Italy.  As long term readers may recall, the last time I was in Italy was in 2007 as part of my three month European adventure that started in Scotland and ended in Greece. To be frank, since that trip I felt like I had covered most of the major parts of Italy during that trip and that my travel funds, time and energy were better spent exploring new destinations elsewhere in Europe.  Historically, I’ve also had a fairly sub-par opinion of Italian food – particularly as someone who is lactose intolerant and not a huge pasta fan.  After this trip to Umbria with a stop in Bologna and the associated press trips I’m happy to throw both conclusions out the window.  The food I sampled was absolutely amazing and the taste of Umbria  I got while attending TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite)/during the post-conference press trips has left me with a strong desire to rent a motorcycle next spring and to spend several weeks wandering from Italian hilltop village to Italian hilltop village.  I’ll be back and sooner rather than later.

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

The Conference

TBU Umbria was held at the Valle di Assisi resort located just outside of the city of Assisi.  The resort was a beautiful sprawling facility situated in the midst of a number of fields, olive groves, and a local vineyard.  It offered a mixture of options: the main resort building and small stand alone apartments.  My room fell in one of the outlying stand alone apartments situated near a picturesque vine covered well and with a view over the vineyard back towards Assisi.  While the location was several miles outside of Assisi which made trips into the town a bit more challenging, it worked out perfectly for the conference.  Located as it was with meals on site it made it much easier to socialize and network with all of the other attendees in a very inclusive fashion which is often fairly challenging at conferences where people splinter off into small sub-groups to socialize or eat as soon as the day’s sessions wind down.

I personally got a lot out of the talks which to be quite frank surprised me. Not because I didn’t have high expectations for the speakers – they were all high caliber experts in their fields – but rather because I usually find conference material to be fairly redundant if you are active in industry/community groups related to the content being covered and have made a decent effort to self educate.  Which isn’t to say that I don’t get a lot out of conferences – I just find it to be more about the people in attendance and the small group/one-on-one conversations than narrated powerpoint talks.

Not so with TBU.  One of the things I really liked in particular was that the presentations were identified by experience level allowing me to easily target and skip presentations which were not likely to be relevant for me.   This was a huge frustration and time saver for me. Over the last few years I’ve probably sat through 10-15 talks about Search Engine Optimization.  Out of those maybe 2 have been worth while and had new information. I got a lot of new information, and key questions answered in the advanced session provided at TBU – a very pleasant surprise.

As I reflect on the various talks I attended, I was quite happy with each.  The Travel Blogger, Industry, Public Relations and SEO experts that gave talks were all extremely candid, skilled in their field, up-front, approachable, and eager to put together a great presentation. I took a lot away from the nuggets of wisdom they shared, and have already begun implementing a number of key changes here on VirtualWayfarer.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Jeff of Career Break Secrets and Jodi of Legal Nomads which offered great information, and compelling arguments for how bloggers and industry experts in the travel niche need to re-frame the way we communicate, interact, exchange social capital and do business.

A fairly common thread throughout the conference was embodied in the “bloggers and business a year on” panel discussion which focused on the maturation of the industry.  I’m a firm believer that we will see drastic changes in the role travel bloggers play in the travel industry over the next year.  As with most new industries there was an initial “wild west” style explosion in popularity where there were few rules, few guarantees, and virtually no industry standards for engagement, interaction or professionalism. Over the last few years savvy businesses have been able to get a lot of amazing deals, content and press from travel bloggers for virtually nothing. At the same time, however, the lack of standards and rules for good practice have also created a caveat emptor situation for those brands. As the industry starts to organize, settle, and differentiate between casual 1-trip bloggers, and long-term semi-professional/professional travel bloggers I think we will finally see viable revenue models emerge.  While this means that advertisers interested in engaging travel bloggers will have to start paying monetary compensation in addition to the current practice of trading freebies, it also means that the quality standards and reliability of the bloggers brands end up working with will increase and professionalize.  It is an interesting time, and I am very curious to see if 2012 finally becomes the year where travel blogging becomes financially viable as something more than a casual hobby.  I’d like to especially thank the panelists; Melvin (Traveldudes), Kash (Budget Traveller), Debbie (Four BGB), Wilde und Partner and Ryan (Housetrip) for a great session. Also of note was Deb and Dave of The Planet D‘s advanced workshop on how to engage with, seek out, and partner with brands.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

Other Fun Stuff

The conference had a lot of secondary perks that added to the experience. While several had minor scheduling issues (what conference doesn’t?) I found them to be a fun added bonus, and a fantastic boon to my experience at TBU.

1. Conference attendees had the opportunity to sign up for a series of half-day photo and video workshops.  These included an hour long presentation by the likes of Ken KamineskyKristen Alana, Rachelle Lucas and Yvonne Zagermann and then post-talk walking tours of Assisi or Perugia. I owe Ken a huge thank you for finally helping me figure out and get straight in my head how to use ISO, Aperture, AV and TV modes.

2. A Q&A session and short talk by Steve McCurry, the famous photographer who is perhaps best known for his National Geographic photograph of an Afghan Girl.

3. 10 minute helicopter rides around Assisi with stunning views of the Umbrian country side (more in a future post).

4. Six post-conference press trips with varied itineraries setup through the Umbria Tourism Board and Umbria on the Blog to showcase one of Italy’s most beautiful regions (more on this in future posts).

5. A bunch of great prizes including a series of fantastic trips via Intrepid Travel, several iPads and a spectacular competition for a trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see wild Polar Bears in their natural habitats near the arctic circle via the Canadian Tourism Commission.  I’m thrilled to announce that I won the Polar Bear trip w/ iPad 3 and am now very excited to share the experience with you later this fall when I’m able to make the trip (more details to come soon).

I had an absolute blast at TBU, and look forward to keeping in touch with everyone I met. I apologize to anyone I left out of this summary and to those of you who attended and had a favorite part I may not have mentioned, feel free to share it in a comment.