A Personal Reflection.
I hope you enjoy this story of the charming people, rich cultures, and stunning landscapes of Europe! At age 11 I had the opportunity to travel with my family in a Volkswagen van through 13 countries in Europe. Memories of the thatched roofs, flaky pastries, lazy windmills, pastel Vespas and fairy-tale castles stayed with me through the years. So it was a dream-come-true to return for my Enlighten tour and use visual imagery to share the stories of the people, cultures and landscapes of Europe.
I am so grateful to BYU–Idaho for sponsoring this Enlighten project to conduct research, develop new materials and skills for the visual communication students I teach and love. I want to thank my creative director, Alex Brown, who assisted me with videos, content management and this final website that displays some of my favorite images, YouTube video interviews, and Instagram photo tips from my Enlighten project. We will continue adding content and would love to hear your feedback so feel free to connect with me through email, Facebook or my website. Click here for my contact information.
Follow me on YouTube at www.carynesplin.com/youtube or on Instagram @carynesplinphoto or at www.instagram.com/carynesplinphoto for free photo tips and more adventures as we discover new people, cultures and landscapes.
Making connections with so many intriguing people throughout Europe was the highlight of this project. Most were curious about my Enlighten tour and when they could see I respected their lifestyle, they were eager to help me understand their culture and history. I learned the importance of having a genuine interest in someone before trying to tell their story. Once they could see I was intrigued and positive, they allowed me to capture their portraits and share their culture through video interviews. The people and their stories have truly become the “LIGHT” of the Enlighten Tour.
The customs, food, art, and history of each region in Europe are so varied, though physical boundaries are often close in proximity. This patchwork of unique cultures makes each village a fascinating new discovery. I was pleasantly surprised with how many things have remained the same since I traveled here over four decades ago. The culture lives on because the people stay true to their heritage and they love to share stories of their ancestors and history. I found it fascinating to learn more about the background of the people and the places they live.
Capturing the landscapes, architecture and natural features on this Enlighten tour helps to tell the story of the people who have alwayed worked the vineyards, tended to their homes and created the magnificent art. The varied landscapes are inviting and beautiful. I enjoy looking out across the rolling hills of Tuscany just as much as exploring the castles on the Rhine. I try to notice what makes each place unique. For example, the light in Tuscany seems to have a warmer, glowing quality than anywhere I have ever been. This shows up in my landscape photos of that region.
Yvonne De Dreu
Yvonne De Dreu lives with her husband and daughters in the charming village of Bergen, where bicycles and sidewalk cafes abound. She has a flair for fashion, interior design, and throwing delightful dinner parties. Her daughter, Jip, came to live with us after her senior year in High School through the student exchange program. We were impressed with Jip’s loving kindness and tolerance for our customs and beliefs, so it was a pleasure to be immersed in Dutch culture and spend a few days with the De Dreu family. We learned that Dutch friends kiss each other on the cheek three times, instead of two, typical in other parts of Europe. Our friends in Holland are bold, happy, opinionated, and extremely loving people.
Pieve di Cadore - Dolomiti, Italy
Tiziana operates a bed and breakfast, Panorama Dolomitico, through airbnb with a breathtaking view of Pieve di Cadore – Dolomiti, Italy. Like the other Italians we met, Tiziana was happy and full of life, curious about this Enlighten project that brought us to her airbnb apartment. We arrived in the dark after a long drive from the Italian Dolomites, so we had no idea what our morning view would look like. Clouds swirled around the jagged Dolomite peaks to the right of our balcony and soon dissipated to reveal a breathtaking view. This view in this photo was on the left of our balcony and you can see just how incredible it is! We wanted to stay all day, but after a few hours lounging on the deck, we packed the Volvo to keep up with our itinerary. Tiziana and I shared business cards and friendly hugs after we looked through the images I had taken on the trip so far.
Tuscan Biking Tour
I thought I found Olivia Newton John when I stopped to chat with Marion and her husband Cary from Australia who were on a three-week biking tour of Tuscany. I was fascinated with their charming accents and asked if they would be willing to do a video interview and tell their story. Cary often helps people repair their bikes and they both love to find ways to serve the locals and travelers they meet. Biking tours are common throughout the rolling hills of Tuscany because people can enjoy the beautiful sights and a challenging climb. Watch the full video interview here.
Vipiteno, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
Operai del cimitero (Cemetery workers) outside La Chiesa di Santo Spirito a Vipiteno were laying a new monument stone. This church cemetery is unique because each gravesite is surrounded by its own 4′ x 5′ garden plot where families keep beautiful flowers and groomed plants to pay respects to their loved ones who passed on. Spending time at cemeteries is an important part of Italian culture. I met an Italian woman after photographing these three friendly men. She was planting new flowers and pruning about in the plot where her brother and parents were buried. She told me in her broken english they had died in a car accident. There were several others enjoying the sunny afternoon as they paid respect for family members who had passed on. This experience seemed much less gloomy than walking through an American cemetery, so I plan to be happy the next time I visit family gravesites and celebrate the happy memories of loved ones.
James' Blue Volvo
While visiting the Palace Het Loo in the Netherlands, I noticed James roll up to the gate in this classic blue Volvo. He then proceeded to use his iPad to photograph his car in front of the Royal Palace in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. When I showed interest in his story, James told me he had been working for a long time to get this vintage Volvo in shape, because this same model was the first car of Queen Beatrix who lived in this palace in 1965. He was so proud of his restoration job and his special connection to the history of this palace and the people who reigned here.
San Gimigiano, Italy
The spectacular scenery surrounding the Casale Gregoriano Bed and Breakfast Inn is the finest in all of Italy. In the front you will find the walled, medieval city of San Gimignano and its 70 towers. Grape vineyards, rolling hills, and wineries dot the landscape on all sides of this property, that includes a garden, swimming pool, outside terrace, inviting cafe and premium sleeping accommodations for the reasonable price of $69 USD. As I wandered around the property, I found an old blue Vespa. I was preparing to photograph it when much to my surprise, a man came out of his apartment for a ride. He coasted down a steep hill while he attempted a push start. I watched him in hopeful anticipation but was disappointed when it seemed she didn’t start. So I was surprised when I saw him driving up the hill 5 minutes later with plenty of power. I used Google Translate to ask permission to do a night time light painting of this Vespa classic. You can see the final image further down this page in the Italy gallery slider. I made several lifelong friends and definetly plan to return to Casale Gregoriano! Sogni d’oro!
Holland is the home of our second family, the De Dreus. Jip lived with us in Rexburg when she came to America through the student exchange program after her senior year. We knew we loved the Dutch people after having Jip live in our home. It was a thrill to visit our friends in their homeland and see the sights of the Netherlands. After exploring the quaint towns of Alkmaar and Bergen where the De Dreus live, they showed us the sights of Amsterdam. What a fun city with so much to explore! Of course you need to steer clear of a few wild and crazy areas, but for the most part we loved discovering the art museums, flea markets, and picturesque canals. Driving through the countryside you still see the many windmills and tulip fields that have become so famous.
It is easy to see why so many famous artists chose to live, study, and paint near Amsterdam. It is extremely picturesque and unlike any other place in Europe. I loved seeing original masterpieces and tour the stomping grounds of my favorite master artist, Rembrandt. While we visited, it was rainy and cloudy, but that added to the intrigue and made for some interesting photographs. I made Holland the bookends of my Enlighten Tour loop, since we flew in and out of Amsterdam and rented a trusty Volvo at the airport. We flew in on KLM Airlines, the Dutch Delta partner and the flight attendants were extremely tall and beautiful, just like our Jip and her lovely sisters. I’m quite sure I will return to enchanting land of Holland.
I have fond memories of traveling throughout Germany with my parents and siblings at age 11. We explored the town of Baden Baden where some of our ancestors lived. Next, we traveled to the town of Bacharach along the Rhine River, complete with ancient castles encircled by large stone walls and entrance gates. The tudor style architecture was a beautiful contrast with the colorful flowers found that lined the village streets. Corner bakeries produced perfect pastries and crusty breads we enjoyed while we watching the barges and ships travel up and down the Rhine river. Bacharach is a great home base for exploring the many castles of the region.
Equally fascinating was the Black Forest of Germany. We stayed in Triberg, which is home to one of the most amazing waterfalls I have seen. Right in town you can walk to this beauty and it keeps on giving as you walk uphill. I counted 13 different waterfalls as it cascades down a steep, forested hill. Each one was different but just as beautiful as the rest. It was a photographer’s dream.. At least for one who loves waterfalls as much as I do. I found the many churches and cathedrals of Germany to be a fascinating subject to photograph. And we were fortunate to visit one of the most incredible structures in Europe that took 600 years to build. You can see many different architectural periods by studying the Cologne Cathedral, which is the most visited landmark of Germany.
The peaceful, rolling hills of Tuscany seem familiar to me, like going home, for some reason. When visiting here at age 11, Italy was my favorite country and I must say it is still my overall top choice. While my favorite single city was Brugge, Beligum, the Tuscany region with its grape vineyards, cypress trees and walled, medieval cities had endless places to explore. I think I could live there and be very happy. Exploring the town of San Gimignano, Sienna, and others was like walking back in time. I thrive on seeing the famous art and ancient architecture in the larger romantic cities of Rome, Venice, Florence, and Pisa. But whenever possible I chose to stay in smaller towns outside the cities with fewer tourist and locals who take the time to sit and chat.
Leaving the car behind and riding the train into the five towns of the Cinque Terre, Italy, was a surreal experience. I loved hiking the hills to get a magnificent view of each steep town with its multi-pastel buildings deep blue waters. I don’t know if I will ever get through the process of sorting and editing all my photos of Italy. But it is so fun to open a new folder of images when I get a chance to relive the experiences and vistas. The people of Italy are absolutely some of the most charming people I have ever met and the visitors are having such a great time, they are fun to meet as well. I still have to say the best part of this Enlighten Tour was meeting the people who bring the history and culture alive!
Touring the Provence region of France holds many similarities to the Tuscan region of Italy, but with a different flavor, of course. The Loire Valley with its endless chateaus was simply stunning. But it wasn’t until I found Cassis that I really gained an appreciation for the people and places of France. Cassis is a small harbor town with with dozens of beautiful boats, colorful row cafes along the water, a charming beach, lighthouse and castle on the hill. People come for day visits to explore the nearby coves with glistening turquoise waters. There are so many photo ops and gelato shops waiting to be enjoyed, that is was hard to leave after four wonderful days. This is one of the few places I chose to extend our stay so I could keep capturing the harbor reflections and sunsets from the highest point in Europe that overlooks the sea.
Visiting St. Remy, where Van Gough painted Starry Night was one of my favorite learning experiences. He checked himself in to a mental hospital so he could focus on painting and be inspired by the people there. I stood in his bedroom and walked through the gardens where he created hundreds of paintings and drawings. It was an incredible experience! Next we stayed in the delightful Moret-Sur-Loing, near Paris, with a nice river and side ponds where everyone seems to congregate in the hot afternoon and evening to have a picnic and enjoy a swim with the resident swans. We rode the train from there to Paris and were charmed by the many sights and sounds of the capital city. I loved the Catacombs Tour underneath the city and learned a great deal of history during the two-hour tour. I was amazed out how spectacular the Eiffel Tower still looks, especially at dusk when the brief twinkling light show lights up the night sky!
Entering the old town area of Brugge, Belgium, is like stepping back in time. I loved every single minute I was in this magical place! Every cobblestone street was an unforgettable experience because the shops, churches, plazas, and architecture were all like something you see in a romantic old movie. The many canals, swans and sidewalk cafes were just waiting to be discovered and experienced, so we accommodated by renting bikes to explore more. It seemed like the world has not discovered Brugge. I could not wait to turn the next corner and breathe in yet another fairy-tale feeling.
We promptly parked the car in an underground parking garage for $8 a night. It costs $60 to park on the street and there are very few places you can even do it. But I did not mind at all once I learned how the absence of motor vehicles transformed this town of horse-drawn carriages into a walk into yesteryear.
The countryside around Brugge was equally inviting with its thatched-roof homes. I can’t wait to return and experience more of this beautiful country. Next time I will add Brussels to the tour, which sounds like a delight as well.