Rooftops in Perugia – Weekly Travel Photo

Streets of Perugia - Umbria, Italy

Tile rooftops, winding streets built upon the collapsed ruins of ancient city walls, aqueducts, and fortifications all combined with the hustle and bustle of a vibrant Italian city.  The streets of Perugia are the embodiment of everything that comes to mind when one closes their eyes and pictures Italy.  This photo captures the discordant layers that give the roof line of Italy’s historic cities a romantic charm and is a glimpse of the views which capture the imagination.

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 Fantastic Packing Mistake

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

I had a comfortable late-morning flight to Rome.  The route to Copenhagen airport is an easy one.  Hop a reliable bus for a 5 minute ride, switch to the metro for a 35 minute trip and boom. Next thing you know you’re at Copenhagen airport ready to move quickly through their efficient security lines and on to your destination of choice.  The whole process is an easy one and something that I’ve gotten the hang of.  But, what’s the old saying? Complacency is dangerous? That sounds about right.

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

Many of you probably found your way to VirtualWayfarer because of one of my packing videos or blog posts.  Both are an area I specialize in and consider myself a bit of an expert in.  So, when it came time to pack for my 5 day visit to Italy I didn’t stress out about getting things pre-packed.  Oh, sure, I  did the basics and made sure that the laundry was done. I even spent some time the night before fretting over what formal clothing to pack.  You see, I was heading to Perugia as a finalist in the Perugia International Journalism Festival’s ‘Stories on Umbria’ contest but there in lurked my pitfall.

The Colosseum - Rome - Traveling Boots

As I fretted over which suit to pack … to go formal or casual … which tie to take … and how to get it to Italy without turning it into a wrinkled mess in my backpack I neglected actually packing the essentials.  When morning came and it was time to leave I launched into a flurry of motion tossing clothing, electronics, and the usual assortment of items on the bed.  I was confident – and dare I say a bit cocky – chatting on Facebook and chuckling when friends asked if I’d packed yet.  After all, I’m an expert – I only need 30 minutes.

Rome - Traveling Boots

Sidetracked repeatedly by conversations and general distractions I eventually realized that I was running a bit behind.  I made the last minute decision to wear a sports jacket, dress shirt, jeans and a pair of leather dress oxfords for the flight. I’d only have about 30 minutes between when I was scheduled to arrive in Perugia and the welcome reception/dinner so I ruled out changing upon arrival.  I also packed a full suit and dress shirt which I took in a hanging bag as a carry on for the following day’s official ceremony.  This meant I needed to pack my normal walking shoes in my backpack.  Which I did. Quickly.  Grabbing a pair of my signature Keen Targhee IIs, tossing them in an old supermarket bag, and burying it deep inside my bag all took about 45 seconds. Then in went the rest of my clothing, camera chargers, spare batteries, dopp kit and the like. I paused, and with a flourish tossed the bag over my shoulder, snagged my camera bag, my suit and was out the door.

The Vatican - Traveling Boots - Rome

I made my flight to Italy with oodles of time.  The trip from Rome to Perugia was uneventful. I applauded myself for my efficiency.  The dinner was delicious and provided an incredible opportunity to socialize with veteran journalists from the likes of the AP, New York Times, and Telegraph.  The following day’s award ceremony was equally enjoyable. Though I didn’t win the prize, being in the final three was an incredible honor.  Particularly because I was the only blogger in attendance.   I spent the remainder of the day walking around Perugia in my black dress oxfords.  It was only the following morning as I transformed from semi-formal journalist to relaxed travel blogger that I realized I’d made the worst packing mistake in my personal history.

Last Minute Packing

As I sat in my dimly lit hotel room, still a bit groggy from the night before, I pulled on my jeans, tossed a black v-neck t-shirt over my head and then dug around in my bag for my walking shoes.  Unceremoniously I yanked them out and dumped the yellow Netto bag out onto the floor.  With one hand pulling my t-shirt down over the rest of my body I slipped my left foot into my shoe and then kicked the right shoe into position.  Then, as I went to slide my foot into the right shoe I realized it felt odd.  I re-positioned, still not focusing on it, and tried again.  That’s when I looked down and paid closer attention.  That’s also when I realized that in my haste I had made an impressive error.  I had packed two Keen Targhee IIs, true.  Unfortunately the two were also two left shoes in similar, but slightly different colors.

Rome - Traveling Boots

That’s right.  I packed two left shoes. Two left shoes that were also different colors.  Sure, it would have been bad if I ended up with one left shoe and one right shoe from different pairs – that I could have passed off as being creative, or gritty, or…hell, I don’t know.  Instead I was left with one simple conclusion.  I was an idiot. Not only was I an idiot sitting in a dark hotel room, 2 days into his trip laughing at himself, I was an idiot that had three days of hardcore walking around Rome scheduled.  Not something you typically want to do in a pair of black dress oxfords with minimal support, smooth souls, and stiff leather. As far as just wearing the two left shoes?  Fat chance.

The Pantheon - Rome - Traveling Boots

Too stubborn (and perhaps cheap) to buy a replacement pair of shoes for a mere 3 days I pressed on and wandered Rome alternating between my shower flip flops and my Oxfords.  To make matters worse the Oxfords were relatively new, which meant that the leather was still quite hard and hadn’t formed to my feet. So, my penance for rushing out the door and not packing properly?  Blisters, sore feet, and a bit of blood.

Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II - Traveling Boots

Oh, and for those of you that might wonder why I have two pairs of near-identical Keens – it’s because I picked up a replacement pair right before my 50 day Africa/Europe trip this past summer.  The old pair were still good, but not quite good enough to risk the trip.  The end result: two near-identical pairs of keens which sit like old dogs at the foot of my bed. The latest in a long line of shoes which have been featured repeatedly in the 320+ photos that comprise my traveling boots album. So, if you noticed that the shoes in my recent Italy Boot Shots were a bit out of place…now you know why.

Moral of the story?  Even if you think you’re an expert, it’s still a good idea to pay attention.  After all, no one is perfect.

When It Rains – Weekly Travel Photo

Rainy Streets - Perugia, Italy

The life of a street performer isn’t all showmanship and entertainment. I captured this patient, and more than a little forlorn, costumed street statue during a light spring rain in the historic part of old Perugia. Over the two days I spent in Perugia as a finalist in the Stories on Umbria journalism competition, a part of the Perugia International Journalism Festival, we had mostly sunny weather. Unfortunately, the 2nd evening brought with it scattered rain showers. While perfect for my relaxing walk through the city with my camera, it was far less ideal for this gentleman whose exposed face was painted completely white.

After capturing this photo and several closeups I chatted with him briefly. In return he smiled and with a flourish produced a tiny rolled scroll. The small piece of paper was held in place by a cut piece of pasta…very clever and Italian…and contained a small proverb. Of the various encounters I had in Perugia and Umbria during the trip, it was one of my favorites.

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

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

2012 – A Year of Travel In Photographs

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

2012 was one of my best travel years to date.  In it I added two new continents, four brand new countries and scratched some pretty major destinations off my bucket list.  In addition to completing my first year in Copenhagen I made it to the United Arab Emirates, Scotland, England, Germany, Sweden, Zambia, Botswana, Italy, Turkey, Canada and the Czech Republic.  Experiences ranged from my first time back in North America in 15 months where I came nose to nose with wild polar bears to an incredibly awkward Turkish Hamam experience to a week spent cooking over a charcoal brazier in rural Zambian villages.  2012 also saw me upgrade from my trusty Canon G11 to a Canon 600D, my first ever dSLR.

I feel like you have all been there with me throughout my many adventures.  Your readership, support, comments, feedback and advice really means a lot and is part of what makes the hours, money, blood sweat and tears I put into this blog worth it.  So, thank you.

Without further delay, I give you 42 of my favorite photos from 2012 in no particular order.

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

Lion cubs relaxing – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Snow

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) – Istanbul, Turkey

Lilac-breasted Roller - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A Lilac-Breasted Roller – Chobe, Botswana

Polar Bear and Setting Moon in Churchill

Full moon setting as the sun rises – Churchill, Canada

Lazy Leopard in South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard in the grass – South Luangwa, Zambia

The Streets of Stockholm

One of many beautiful streets – Stockholm, Sweden

Rainbows - Victoria Falls - Zambia

The last of my big three – Victoria Falls, Zambia

Elephants - South Luangwa - Zambia

A young male pausing to stare us down in South Luangwa, Zambia

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

Spices at a traditional souk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Faces of Zambia

Children clowning for the camera in a small village in Luapula Province, Zambia

Zebra - South Luangwa - Zambia

A Zebra relaxing just before sunset in South Luangwa, Zambia

Berlin - Beautiful Marbles

One of my favorite marble statues – Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

Beautiful Sunset in Istanbul

A mosque at sunset during Istanbul’s worst storm in 25 years – Istanbul, Turkey

Faces of Zambia

Children showcasing their zeal for life – Luapula Province, Zambia

Streets of Perugia

A particularly beautiful street – Perugia, Italy

Hamish the Highland Cow

Hamish the world famous Highland Coo (Cow) – Kilmahog, Scotland


Fishing boats in Antalya harbor – Antalya, Turkey

One Eyed Leopard

This beautiful male leopard has survived with only one eye – South Luangwa, Zamiba

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Dancing or fighting?  Perhaps a bit of both – Churchill, Canada

Dubai at Night from the Burj

Dubai from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Wild Leopard at Night - South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard warning a nearby hyena not to come closer – South Luangwa, Zambia

Cappadocia Region in Winter

The famous rock chimneys that decorate and define the Cappadocia region – Goreme, Turkey

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

A moment of love and companionship – Orvieto, Italy

The Streets of Stockholm

The historic streets of Gamla Stan – Stockholm, Sweden

Elephants Posturing - South Luangwa - Zambia

Elephants posturing near a watering hole – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sunset over Samfya Lake

Fishermen at sunset – Samfya Lake, Zambia

Elephants in a Line - Chobe Safari - Botswana

An elephant convoy walking single file – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Polar Bears play fighting while waiting for the ice to freeze – Churchill, Canada

The Quirang, Isle of Skye

View out over the Quirang – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Lioness Feeding on Hippo

A lioness chewing on a baby hippo’s head – South Luangwa, Zambia

Bikes in Stockholm

A Swedish bike with a traditional twist – Stockholm, Sweden

Luapula Province, Zambia

The night sky over the village of Chisunka – Luapula Province, Zambia

Lion Stalking Impala - Chobe National Park

A lion casually stalking alert Impala – Chobe National Park, Botswana

The Isle of Skye, Scotland

An abandoned boat – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Perugia's Rooftop Textures

Looking down on Perugia’s beautiful rooftops – Perugia, Italy

Polar Bear Tears

Polar Bear tears – Churchill, Canada

Mother and Child - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A baby Baboon preparing for launch – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Geese Families in Stockholm

A mother and her babies resting – Stockholm, Sweden

Faces of Zambia

Hard at work preparing and seperating corn kernels for sale – Chisunka, Zambia

Old Painting from the Archaeology Museum

A close up of a beautiful piece of art in the Antalya Archaeological Museum – Antalya, Turkey

Alert Impala - South Luangwa, Zambia

A very alert Impala – South Luangwa, Zambia

Luapula Province, Zambia

d’Artagnan, my brother’s cat – Luapula Province, Zambia

It was nearly impossible to select 42 of my favorite shots from the last year.  There are a lot which I absolutely love that didn’t make this post. If you enjoyed these shots, please head over to my flickr albums and continue browsing.  You may have noticed that this post only includes one photo from Berlin, and does not include any shots from England, the Czech Republic or Denmark.  I wasn’t doing much shooting in England or Germany and I have not edited my photos from the Czech Republic yet so you’ll have to stay tuned for those!  I chose to exclude Denmark because it is my current place of residence. I’ll be doing a special post featuring 10-20 shots from the past year dedicated specifically to my life here in Copenhagen.

The photo at the start of the post (technically #43) is from the traditional spice markets in Dubai, UAE.

Most of the photos in this post were shot on a Canon T3i (600D) while using either a 18-135mm lens, 55-250mm lens, or a 50mm f1.4 lens.

I would LOVE to know which of these shots is your favorite, or if you have other photos I’ve taken over the past year which you think should have made the list but did not.

Thank you again so, so much for all of your support.  Your comments mean a lot to me!  I cannot wait to see what adventures 2013 brings!

Fresh Food and an Italian Agriturismo

Umbria's Amazing Countryside

A few hundred (or perhaps thousand?) years ago the Italians figured out one simple truth: food is king.  At the end of the day if you want to win someone over you can offer them riches and fame with mixed degrees of success OR you can skip all that and feed them with an abundance of amazing food.  The more time I spend in Italy, the more convinced I am that Italy’s latest plan to re-conquer the known world stems not from boardrooms or council chambers, but rather small country kitchens across the country.

Umbria's Amazing Countryside

Our whirlwind tour of Umbria whisked us from the beautiful vineyards and olive groves I mentioned in my last post to a wonderful old villa and agriturismo in the countryside about 10 miles outside of Perugia.  Our hosts were the owners of the Poggiolo Villa who had opened their doors (and kitchen) to us along with a number of local business people, and poltico’s eager to share some of the area’s noteworthy attractions, foods, and wines.

Umbria's Amazing Countryside

As our bus rolled to a gradual stop in front of a large ivy covered gate I eagerly hopped down and out, skipping the last step and eager to dive into lunch. What greeted me was a tree lined gravel road that paused briefly at the gates before slipping through and winding up a cypress lined drive. As I paused to inhale a deep breath I was hit by a wave of rich scents. The flowers were all in bloom and the buffet of smells they offered were incredible. As I slowly inhaled – soaking up the fresh, natural scent, I found myself in one of those moments where you don’t want to pause to exhale, eager instead to keep gobbling down the sweet air until your chest refuses to take in and hold so much as another sniff.

Eating in Umbria

The sprawling villa was gorgeous; small fountains, green grass, flowers in bloom, vine covered walls, beautifully colored buildings. We paused briefly for a quick introduction in a small courtyard. Before long the general ambiance of the place left me itching to lay down on the grass, surrounded by a bed of small yellow flowers beneath one of the gorgeous trees heavily laden with bright purple blossoms. Instead, we were welcomed into the old villa and shown the way to a small living room. The ceilings were painted, the entire building decorated in traditional artwork, paintings and furnishings – it was as though we stepped back 2 hundred years into the past. Then as we passed into the next room we were greeted by a wonderful spread of locally grown food, all of which seemed freshly harvested. It included great breads, fresh tomatoes, spices, eggplant, beans, delicious shaved onions in olive oil, wild boar, and then a series of pasta dishes that left my mouth watering.

Eating in Umbria

Before we devoured our meal, however, we were introduced to two house specialties.  They were thick juices – the type you’d get at a juice shop…almost pulpy, thick-but-smooth.  They were fresh and frothy. It was obvious that they had just been pressed. Sweet. Refreshing and the perfect way to re-hydrate.  Our hosts explained that they were packed with natural vitamins and every bit as good for us as they were delicious.  I quickly noticed that my glass was empty and couldn’t help but go back for 2nds and thirds.  Then, we were introduced to each of the different plates displayed artfully on the table nearby. Introduction complete it was time to sample the local wines, fill our plates, and to dive into lunch and rich conversation.

As we enjoyed our meal (which was fresh, flavorful, and embodied the spring weather we were enjoying), a light storm blew in offering us a wonderful view of the Umbrian countryside. The light rain combined with a soft breeze to enrich the scents of the nearby fields and served to magnify the sweet, potent scents of all of the blooming flowers located around the villa.  Somewhere over the course of the meal, I made a mental note that at some point in the future I’ll have to return for a a few days – enough time to relax, slow down, unwind, acclimate and to properly soak up the complete experience.

For those unfamiliar an agriturismo is typically an agriculturally based facility which has been expanded to include hospitality options for visitors.  In Italy these usually include old converted villas, farms and ranches. Often the food made available is grown/raised/picked either on the spot or in the immediate area.  Many have started offering organic options, and they offer a chance for wonderful local food in a fresh and very personalized way.   While not always super budget oriented, they offer a great option for people looking for a more intimate experience and interested in enjoying Italian food in a truly natural environment.

I’d like to extend a hearty thank you to our hosts for their wonderful hospitality, sharing their local cuisine, and a fantastic taste of another aspect of Italy’s rich culture.

A Visit To Picture Perfect Perugia With Ken Kaminesky

Streets of Perugia

Nestled atop a prominent hilltop in the heart of Umbria about two hours north of Rome, the medieval city of Perugia stands constant vigil over ancient trade routes.  The current capital of the region, Perugia has a long and storied past that pre-dates the Romans and stretches back to the Etruscan period.  With a population of just under 170,000 the city serves as home to a large university, and a plethora of wonderful festivals and events.

Perugia - Metro Line

My visit to Perugia occurred as part of an afternoon photo workshop and walking tour with Ken Kaminesky as part of the Travel Bloggers Unite Umbria conference.  Ken is a fantastic photographer with a specialty in HDR (High Dynamic Range Imaging). He was speaking at the conference and had offered to host one of the workshops which allowed a small group of us to pick his brain and discuss the simple (and not-so-simple) subtleties of advanced travel photography.  After Ken’s initial presentation filled with great info, we piled onto a bus and were shuttled to the foot of Perugia. Once there we were greeted by the city’s futuristic mini-metro cable-driven cars which quickly ferried us up past ugly modern buildings and into the gorgeous heart of the old city.  In a way, it felt as though we had boarded a time-ship and were pulled back hundreds of years in time.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

We had parked and ascended on the side that was marked by modern structures – hotels, office buildings, and the types of structures you would expect.  The first views as we exited the MiniMetro however,  were breathtaking.   The far side and the overlook were mostly natural and almost completely historic.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

As we paused to gather our group together and lay out our plan of action I was immediately taken by the rich textures and colors of the surrounding buildings.  Buildings that embody the very image of what I think of when I think “Italy”.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

There’s something about the brick and earthen tile work on Perugia’s old buildings that really add to their character and charm.  It gives them a mottled aged look, but in a way that still seems fresh, vibrant, and strong – only tempered with depth and added character.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

One of the things I love about hilltop towns is the varied rooftop levels that result and the crazy quilt juxtaposition of building shapes.  These can be gorgeous to behold. Hilltop towns offer the added depth of windows, portals, and views down partially obscured, winding streets. Each small alleyway begs exploration and beckons enticingly. There is mystery and magic unfolding in the twisting streets below. I pick out a few distinctive elements that I would later search out once I began my exploration of Perugia’s environs.

Perugia - Atrio Postale

With more than 2,000 years of rich history and a far from insignificant role in Italy’s history, Perugia’s streets are decorated with small but historically interesting highlights. There are lots of features to photograph and enjoy.

Perugia - Street Scene

As we wound in towards the city’s core Ken paused periodically to discuss framing, best conditions for lighting different shots, how to hunt for good people shots, and shared what he looks for when capturing a moment. Our path took us past the old palatial city hall before we paused in Piazza IV Novembre by the Fontana Maggiore.

Perugia - Building Textures

I mentioned previously that the city is awash in wonderful textures. Those textures go far beyond the mottled reds and grays of the roof tiles on the city’s building’s. They permeate all aspects of the city, from the wonderful local Italian foods, deserts and famed candies to the marble decorations that highlight the walls of the local buildings.

Old Buildings in Perugia

It is only when you pause and look closely at the buildings that you start to realize just how old the city is! These buildings have stood for centuries and sustained a myriad of renovations and updates.  Closer inspection reveals bricked in doorways, windows, arches, and building dividers.  I find my eye is often drawn to the contrasting elements of  modern plumbing and electrical lines attached to the surface of these ancient stones.  All integrated into the crumbling (and oft repaired) brick walls that support foundations that have seen the passing of countless generations.

Perugia's Rooftop Textures

As we continued to cut across the crest of the hill we were soon met with by another wonderful overlook and a steep staircase that cut down into the small saddle where the majority of the city’s residential districts sit.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

One thing that made me chuckle were all the satellite dishes. They serve as an interesting reminder that behind the facade of history and tradition lies a thriving, modern, 21st century city that is busy relaxing, working, and engaging with the rest of Italy and the world at large.

The View from Perugia

As we made our way down the staircase, our luck with the weather began to turn.  We had driven through a light rain before arriving at Perugia.  About 2/3 of the way through our walking workshop, the rain decided to make a light (but bearable) return.  While we were all less than thrilled with the prospect of it turning into a more aggressive rain, it did serve to bring the colors out of all of the city’s stone and vegetation.  It left sparkling water droplets on blades of grass and the city’s many flowers adding to their crisp and natural beauty.

Winding Roads of Perugia

The downside to exploring Italy’s incredible hilltop cities is, of course, that they’re actually on hills. Not just any hills – but usually quite steep ones. I can’t imagine what sort of adventure the streets turn into in the rare event that the towns get snow or rain-turned-ice. Regardless, it makes for wonderful curving streets that catch your eye and race with it down and away towards the flat plain below.

Perugia in Bloom

If you find yourself planning a trip to Umbria, definitely consider late April and early May. You avoid the conventional high season, the flowers are in bloom, and the air is fresh and crisp. It is just right for casual walking.

Perugia - Man and Umbrella

Just make sure to pack an umbrella and a sense of relaxed time. The weather in the region often seems to come in waves with a brief afternoon rain that quickly gives way to movie-perfect clouds and drifting skies. While animated, the Italian pace of life in these cities is often fairly relaxed and serves as a wonderful reminder to pause and enjoy the moment before setting aside an hour or two for an amazing meal.

Perugia - People Wandering

Thanks again for Ken for the fantastic tips, TBU, Umbria on the Blog and the Umbrian Tourism Board for a great look at the city of Perugia.

These photos were shot on my new Canon T3i (600D) dSLR Camera with an 18-135mm lens.  My time in Italy was the first opportunity I’ve had to experiment with the camera “in the wild”. It has been a wonderful upgrade to my trusty Canon G11 (which I still love) and I look forward to truly mastering the camera in the future.

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.