In the opening weeks of this year, Charles and I spent a weekend in Daylesford for our first anniversary. One morning, I took him off to a cafe, and with a pile of blank paper, some brand new pens and big coffees ordered, we each wrote down a list of one hundred things. One hundred ideas, hopes and dreams about the year ahead – in no particular order, freeflow. One hundred unencumbered thoughts, about work – home – relationships – each other. Just anything and everything that came up.
On my list were simple things (cook more – try new recipes at home) – far flung, bucketlist things (work with an International tourism board, grow to 250 wholesale stockists) – and important things (spend more time with my parents). Number 43 was to connect and work with a brand I love – really love. Number 65 was: Wander Europe. Number 23: make time to learn new skills. Number 89: try shooting/editing video; expand my repertoire of content I can offer.
I stuck my list of 100 on the inside of my wardrobe door, and went on with my year. And it was only a few days ago, unpacking my suitcase from travels, when I glanced back at the list and saw how many of those things have managed to fall together, beautifully in place.
Meeting the Olympus PEN E-PL8
I connected with Olympus through The Travel Bootcamp over 18 months ago, and although I’ve always been a Canon girl, I was immediately impressed by what I saw the brand are doing in the photography industry. I could instinctively feel how much they cared. I loved hearing how every little detail, of every single product released was so considered. This is a brand with heart.
Looking at some of the cameras in the Olympus offering, the tiny little PEN E-PL8 first caught my attention. Not as a high-end camera to compete with my Canon, but something I could be more playful with. And so many of the camera’s features appealed to me:
1. It is lightweight, and tiny – something effortlessly easy to sling around your neck and capture moments on the go – even for longest days on your feet when travelling (no more straining my neck: check!)
2. There’s wifi connectivity, so sharing images becomes immediately accessible. You can upload photos straight to your phone, to edit and share on the go.
3. There’s a flip-down selfie screen – perfect for travel selfies, and capturing high or low angles.
4. The camera body itself is aesthetically so sweet – classic, with a little vintage feel (with a gentle tip of the hat to the first Olympus PEN from 1959). I love anything that comes with a story.
5. And, there’s HD video – which meant I could experiment with travel videos, without carrying around a huge piece of equipment.
Charles and I hopped on a plane in late September, to spend three weeks together wandering Italy and Greece. I planned the entire itinerary, picking out destinations that felt like a good contrast of cities to get lost in, and tiny towns to wander well off the beaten track. I also planned for days that could stretch out unplanned – so we could wander where our feet took us.
While I still used my regular camera for much of my travel photography, I used the Olympus PEN E-PL8 to capture content to share on the go [via social media, and Instagram stories] – and I used the Olympus PEN E-PL8 to entirely capture video snippets from our adventure.
Every day, I slung it around my neck and barely noticed it was there – it made me feel free again.
Part 1: Exploring Rome + Sicily
Roaming in Rome
I have been to Rome twice before, and both times, I really didn’t love it. I found it relentlessly noisy, and full of tourists, and beautiful, but just too hectic. For this trip, I was determined to give it another go, and really find my connection with the eternal city. I booked us a beautiful apartment in the heart of Trastevere – a charming, more local neighbourhood across the Tiber river.
Trastevere feels like an unpolished diamond, with its tangle of gritty streets and crumbling buildings, thrice layered with graffiti tags. Our Airbnb apartment was housed within an old university, with big windows overlooking the cobbled streets, and those classic Italian shutters that I could fling wide open, perch myself up onto the windowsill and watch the world go by.
On our first night in town, we stepped onto the labyrinthine streets, with church bells ringing, a seven-piece busking band entertaining, and bars packed with Aperitivo goers, spilling over onto the tiny streets. I immediately loved Rome so much more than my previous visits.
We spent our three days as far as possible away from the Spanish Steps and coin throwers at Trevi Fountain, bar a quick wander to the Colosseum (awe inspiring, despite the relentless swarm of tourists!) We starting each day with strong espresso and cornetto (my favourite spot was Roscioli- via dei Giubbonari 21) and ended it with Aperol Spritz and a side serve of people-watching (don’t miss Pimms Good – my favourite!) We walked for hours without any plan or direction, uncovering a multitude of design stores hidden in the back streets, snacking on fresh produce at Campo de’ Fiori market, and eating all of the gelato and cacio e pepe
It’s still the heady, abuzz, chaotic place I remembered – with energy seeming to constantly pulsate through the streets – but this visit I uncovered another, more local layer to the city.
Next stop, Sicily
Leaving behind Rome, we hopped on a plane bound for Catania, Sicily. This island has always called me – but we had no idea of the treat we were in for!
In contrast to hot-blooded Rome, Sicily immediately felt like time had slowed right down – and, so did we. We had planned very little before arriving (we literally Googled ‘Sicily car hire’ while waiting for our luggage at the arrival carousel. A couple of days earlier (while in Rome) I had booked our first night’s Airbnb in Taormina, a town I had heard beautiful things about, and had a made a quick list of eight possible areas we might wander to afterwards.
What we didn’t realise, is Taormina is a place you’ll arrive at, and never want to leave. Sitting 200 metres above sea level on Sicily’s east coast, Taormina’s old town has panoramic views of the Ionian Sea and snow-capped Mount Etna (Europe’s most active volcano), tiny streets and family-run eateries, an ancient Amphitheatre and so many little hints of a yesteryear.
We were lucky to dine with Belmond for two nights in a row, first experiencing, Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, adjacent to the Greek theatre in the heart of Taormina, and then making our way down the hill to Taormina Mare – to visit Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea’s Oliviero restaurant, set on its own private stretch of beach on the Bay of Mazzaro.
We loved Taormina so much that we ended up extending our stay, three times. It also helped having booked the dreamiest AirBnB imaginable (so much better than the listing’s pictures!).
There was a panoramic rooftop terrace – a huge window in the lounge room that we could swing open, up over the streets. A huge summer thunderstorm rolled in and we spent our days cooking simple and delicious locally grown food, reading, talking and being. Sicily was where we really came back to earth, and experienced La Dolce Vita (the sweet life) to the fullest extent.
Homecooked meals, watching the storm roll in.
For our final night in Sicily, we drove south to Ragusa, a tiny town that our wonderful waiter at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea had recommended (thank you Sebastian – we are SO grateful!)
Our only regret with Sicily is that we didn’t have longer! Stay tuned for part 2 – our next stop – Greece! [coming on Friday]
Have you been to Rome, and/or Sicily? Where did you wander to?
This blog post is brought to you by Olympus. As always, all words and opinions are authentically my own.