Traveling Tuscany: Capturing Ancient Streets

Traveling Tuscany: Capturing Ancient Streets

My camera accompanies me wherever my journey leads, and this year has taken me on a remarkable odyssey. In the early summer of 2023, I embarked on a transatlantic flight from Detroit, Michigan, to the enchanting city of Florence, Italy, with a brief layover in bustling Amsterdam. Navigating through the sprawling expanse of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport can be a daunting task, yet I consider myself fortunate never to have missed a connecting flight amidst its bustling terminals. My gratitude extends to the thoughtful English signage, a saving grace for linguistically challenged travelers like myself.

The significance of international travel cannot be overstated. It has been the crucible for my personal development and the architect of a broader worldview. To assert mastery of the world while confined within the borders of one's own nation is, at its core, an act of hubris, all too common among my compatriots. While the digital age may bring the world to our screens, it pales in comparison to immersing oneself in diverse cultures and landscapes.

For the privilege of these journeys, I am eternally grateful. My wife and I embarked on our consistent travels in the mid-2010s, and since then, every spare dollar above our modest Detroit living expenses has been earmarked for our expeditions. We leverage travel credit cards to accrue points and miles, and with my wife's frequent work-related travel, we rarely find ourselves directly funding more than half of our adventures. I implore those who have yet to embrace travel to contemplate its allure; life's expiration date is unknown, and no one ever reviews a bucket list on their deathbed. There is no bucket; just seize the moment, now, for tomorrow is uncertain.

Allow me to step down from my soapbox and share my recent sojourn in Italy, specifically, the enchanting Tuscany region.

Upon arriving in Florence and enduring an overpriced taxi ride to the hotel, I knew my camera would remain a constant companion. Having been awake for nearly 28 hours at that point, I completed check-in, stowed my luggage, and took a moment to refresh before venturing into Firenze. The narrow streets, ubiquitous across Europe, seemed imbued with a unique magic. Most were too slender for even the smallest vehicle, yet teeming with people. Overwhelmed, perhaps by jet lag, I found myself entranced by the potential of street photography.

Navigating the labyrinthine passageways, I caught sight of the iconic Duomo at the end of one avenue. To witness it in person is an experience beyond words. Curiously, I couldn't help but hear the voice of Hannibal Lecter whispering in my ear, echoing a line from "The Silence of the Lambs": "Do you know Florence?"

My reverence extended to the Santa Maria del Fiore as I meandered toward the Arno River. The renowned Italian architecture, the vibrant populace, the kaleidoscope of colors, and the palpable echoes of antiquity all held me in their thrall. I strolled, I hunted for moments, and I savored the act of waiting for the perfect composition, of which there were many.

During my stay, I also had the privilege of attending the Pitti Uomo fashion show. My wife's professional obligations granted me this opportunity to witness its magic, which began with an early breakfast before parting ways for the event. I pursued my own passion, capturing images that resonated with me. We reconvened for dinner and even ventured to a small church hosting an intimate opera performance, a testament to the value of immersing oneself in culture. The acoustics were impeccable, with only a handful of attendees. Even now, with closed eyes, I can still hear their voices, mere feet away.

Our last day in Florence culminated in a train ride to Pisa. Prior to this, my knowledge of Pisa was limited to the iconic leaning tower, a subject of countless photographs throughout my life. Seeing it in person was an experience unto itself. Yet, what I hadn't anticipated was the architectural splendor of Cathedral Square and the remarkable city that lay beyond. We spent the day enthralled by ancient structures, most notably the walk along the towering city walls that enveloped the historic core, affording us breathtaking vistas from Cathedral Square to Piazza delle Grondole.

While Pisa's street life didn't match the bustling vibrancy of Florence, I seized the opportunity to capture some of my most cherished images of the trip. As the day wore on, the heat grew intense. As we exited the ancient walls, we made our way back to the train station, allowing me to snap a few final shots. The following morning, we departed for Siena.

However, before reaching Siena, we made a stop at the Petriolo Hot Springs, nestled within the Tuscan countryside. This ancient spring has been frequented by Italians since the days of the Roman Empire. Navigating the winding roads in our rented Fiat 500 (the largest car available for rent) until they ceased, we continued on foot along a dirt path until the springs' soothing sounds greeted us. Within moments, it became apparent that this was a nudist location, a fact perhaps foreshadowed by a "no cameras" sign along the path. Remarkably, such nudity was not only accepted but entirely normal, a striking contrast to the prudish sensibilities of my homeland. Children played alongside unclothed adults without any hint of impropriety. America, it seems, could stand to shed its puritanical veneer.

My spectacles suffered an unfortunate fate as we exited the springs, but we pressed on to Siena. Of all the places we explored on this Tuscan expedition, Siena captured my heart.

Siena, much like Pisa, is enclosed by ancient city walls, preserving its historical core. Our hotel perched upon a hillside provided us with a vantage point over the city walls, affording splendid views of church spires, basilicas, and apartments that seemed to stack like crates in a shipyard. Cars were forbidden within the city walls, with motorbike access requiring special permits. Streets even narrower than Florence's winding lanes featured steep inclines, tunnel-like passages, and streetlamps that transported me back in time. My camera in this setting was nothing short of magical.

The juxtaposition of modern storefronts and restaurants within the context of ancient streets and walls fascinated me, reflecting the timeless coexistence of old and new. Walking these same streets among structures that had witnessed centuries of history, I was reminded of the transience of our own lives. My camera offered a window to capture individuals in a place that transcended the constraints of time. I couldn't help but wonder if the city's inhabitants fully grasped the beauty of their surroundings, or if my perspective was colored by my own experiences in Detroit—a city, while endowed with its share of historic gems, could not claim the millennia of history found in Siena.

On our final night in Siena, illness struck me with a vengeance. High fever, chills, aches, and chest pains—symptoms alarmingly reminiscent of Covid-19. Given the proximity to an unwell passenger during our flight, I had little doubt about the diagnosis. Nevertheless, I soldiered on, for the next day held a journey to Rome, with a stopover at the ancient seaside castle.

Upon arrival, the sea's chill felt invigorating, a welcome respite from the scorching heat. As I surfaced from the water, my gaze fixated on the majestic edifice that we had passed on our way to the beach—the Castello di Santa Severa. Its towering presence, spanning several acres and rising hundreds of feet, was awe-inspiring. While the beach was crowded, I maintained my distance and relished my inaugural swim in the Mediterranean at the age of 47.

It may seem peculiar to conclude my narrative before recounting my final experiences in Rome, but as the day progressed, my illness intensified. By the time we reached our hotel in Rome, my photographic pursuits were abruptly curtailed. I endured a miserable night, with temperatures in the city soaring to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My time in Rome, while still laden with opportunities, was marred by discomfort and fatigue.

The day of departure marked the end of my ailment, albeit tinged with sadness at leaving such a captivating place behind. Nevertheless, I remain resolute in my determination to return. Italy beckons with so much more to explore. If you have yet to experience its wonders, or if it lingers on your "bucket list," heed my advice—just go. My wife and I have already marked our calendars for a return in January 2024, and the anticipation is building!


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An Afternoon in Pisa



Abstract Tobacco



Basilica of Secrets



The Dark Ages



Forsaken in Firenze



Florence's Embrace



Startled Encounter



Ancient Wisdom


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Brandon, knowing you as a child and seeing how well you’ve done is wonderful. Exploring the beauty of our country and others. Writing such beautiful excerpts of your travels and the beautiful pictures that you have taken is so awesome! I love seeing your view’s through your camera. You are an excellent photographer!

Robin Carr Sawyer

Amazing photos B

Nichol Markos

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