You can go up the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

For much of the 1990s I assumed you’ve couldn’t go up the Leaning Tower of Pisa … because you couldn’t go up the Leaning Tower of Pisa! It’s only now after a recent trip there that I realise it was just closed between 1990 and 2001 for maintenance work in an attempt to reduce its lean, which at the time was 5.5°. So now, 14 years after the works’ completion the lean is a far less “leany” 3.97° and since December 2001 tourists have once again been able to climb up it. And you can climb up it too!

Staring up to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Staring up to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

We visited Pisa’s Piazza del Miracoli in May while enroute to Florence so we could tackle Pisa’s tower, check out the Cathedral, and behold the beautiful Bapistry. Many friends had advised us to only spend half a day in Pisa and not stay overnight there. However due to our flight times from Luton it was easier to stay for 24 hours; the late afternoon on arrival to have a “wander around” amongst all the day-trippers, the evening to have a nice meal and savour the tower in relative peace and quiet, and then the following morning to actually climb up it.

We bought our tower tickets for €18 each from the official site at http://www.opapisa.it/en/tickets/buy/ which releases them 20 days in advance. This gave us a far better time selection throughout the day compared to sites like http://www.towerofpisa.org/tickets/ who additionally add on a cheeky €10 booking fee! Our €18 choice included entry to the Cathedral too.

Pisa's Piazza del Miracoli

Pisa’s Piazza del Miracoli – Baptistry, Cathedral and Tower

So having photographed countless tourists pushing the tower upright, holding it up between their fingers, karate kicking it and pretending it was an ice cream cone we headed the 100m from our hotel (Hotel Kinzica) to the tower. With pre-bought tickets in hand we waited in the welcome shade of the tower’s shadow 15 minutes before our time slot of 11am. Handbags/bags/luggage/bumbags aren’t allowed up and must be left in the cloakroom (which is free) so we patiently waited our turn to enter with just cameras hanging around our necks, before having a routine hand-held metal detector check. Up close you notice how incredibly clean the tower’s smooth marble is along with the jaunty angle of the door as you walk through it.

The base of the Leaning Tower and the door at the entrance

The base of the Leaning Tower and the door at the entrance

The entrance room has some pictures and vertical metal stands to show you what “straight” looks like. A few of the devices we couldn’t work out immediately so we headed speedily for the staircase instead. There are 8 stories in total but you’re not allowed to walk out onto any of them apart from the very top level so it’s a straight 55 metres slog to the top. It was a hot day when we visited so it was a relief to eventually exit the narrow staircase and arrive up on the top level.

Inside the entrance to the tower

Inside the entrance to the tower next to a vertical metal pole

 

The Leaning Tower's view half way up!

The Leaning Tower’s view half way up!

As you climb up be sure to check out the worn white marble steps which must have had millions of feet walk over them to erode them like this since its construction begun back in 1173. Once at the top I was surprised to see a round open roof rather than a flat domed roof of some sort. I didn’t even realise they had 7 bells at the top (one for each note of the musical major scale). One of which scared the living skylights out of an Indian family posing right next to it as it struck 12.

Millions of footsteps up the Leaning Tower of Pisa have done this

Millions of footsteps up the Leaning Tower of Pisa have done this

 

The top of the Leaning Tower and its 7 bells

The top of the Leaning Tower and its 7 bells

A round trip might take about 40 minutes but there’s no one ushering you down so within reason you can stay up there as long as you like. We took some photos of the Cathedral below on one side and our hotel on the other, and then sat on the south side which slopes forward sufficiently enough that you’re weary of placing anything on the steps in case it slides forwards and falls through the gaps onto the crowd below. Also it’s only just noticeable but on the way down you also have that sensation of slipping down off the steps as they are angled down slightly due to the 4° tilt on that side of the tower.

Sitting at the top of tower on the downward facing side

Sitting at the top of tower on the downward facing side

A few shots you don’t see that often are of the base of the tower and of its exposed open top half so make sure you take photos of both while remembering to chill out 251 steps up in the air as well. Grateful that the tower didn’t fall down at some point in the past, wasn’t targeted with an artillery strike when the US army found out the Germans were possibly using it as an observation post during WWII, and finally that it’s now open to the public once more. 🙂

The view from the top of the Pisa Cathedral nextdoor

The view from the top of the Pisa Cathedral nextdoor

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Sunset and starburst photography in Menorca

I was both surprised and honoured to be invited on a press trip to Menorca recently, courtesy of the guys at Traverse, allowing me to experience both Jet2 to get there and Turismo Menorca when I was there! I’ve been to both its sister islands of Majorca and Ibiza for your more typical “lads/group” beach holidays so until now Menorca had been overlooked. I won’t be making that same mistake again.

Starburst under an arch at Cova d'en Zoroi

Starburst shot under an arch at the Cova d’en Zoroi cave bar

Our group was provided with a jam-packed itinerary for the week ranging from kayaking, to gin tasting, to boat riding, to cheese tasting … even driving Nissan electric cars around the island. Menorca was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993 so the island is seeking to further promote its tourism with an emphasis on sustainability.

What struck me most however was the ever present sunshine and stunning sunsets. Menorca is the most eastern of the Balearic Islands so you get to see the sunset before anywhere else in Spain so I wanted to share my favourite “sunshine” photos of the trip! Plus add some beginners’ top tips on how you can achieve beautiful starburst shots and sunset images too!

15 starburst and sunset top tips

1. Sunny day
Shoot for sunbursts on a bright sunny day. It’s hard to create the effect if the sun’s not out! Same goes for sunsets.

Sunset from the Cova d'en Xoroi cave bar

Sunset image from the Cova d’en Xoroi cave bar


2. Clean that lens

Any specks of dust will become more obvious when you’re pointing towards the sun.

A starburst in beautifully white-washed Binibeca

A starburst in beautifully white-washed Binibeca


3. Use a small aperture
Set your camera to the aperture priority mode. Then set your aperture to F/14 or above (so it’s a smaller hole) so more of your landscape scene is in focus. Go up to F/22 for those starbursts (thanks for that tip Sean Byrne). The smaller the aperture, the longer and more defined the rays of the sunburst will be. Be careful not to stare at the sun of course!

The aperture dial setting on my Fuji DSLR

The aperture dial setting on my DSLR


4. Set a low ISO

A lower ISO setting will mean less grain and noise in your final image. Set it to 100 or 200.

ISO 100 setting on my DSLR

ISO 100 setting on my DSLR


5. Consider a tripod
– “sunsets”
As it gets darker your camera’s shutter speed may go too low and you could end up with blurry photos. Also a tripod might help to compose a better photo through the viewfinder.

6. Partially block the sun – “starbursts”
For starbursts have the sun poke out behind a building, arch, mountainside, or even some trees as that will help defract the light. Move around slightly so you can see the starburst image get bigger or smaller in the viewfinder depending on how much of the sun is being blocked by the object.

Starburst over the corner of the Catedral de Santa-Maria de Ciutadella

Starburst shot over the corner of the Catedral de Santa-Maria de Ciutadella


7. White Balance
– “sunsets”
Change the white balance from ‘auto’ to ‘shade” to make the image more “golden”.

White balance shade setting

White balance shade setting


8. Foreground objects
– “sunsets”
Consider having something interesting in the foreground to add depth to the scene.

Sunset from Cap Roig restaurant looking over Punta de sa Creueta island

Sunset photo from Cap Roig restaurant looking over Punta de sa Creueta island

Sunset at Cova d'en Xoroi again but so much better with the foreground. Source: https://www.teacaketravels.com/

Sunset image at Cova d’en Xoroi again but so much better with the foreground. Source: https://www.teacaketravels.com/


9. Set the horizon lower … and level
– “sunsets”
Try not to put the horizon in the middle of the photo. Have the horizon 1/3 of the way up and focus 1/3 up from the bottom of the photo too.

Sunset looking back over to Es Castell from Illa del Llatzeret

Sunset image looking back over to Es Castell from Illa del Llatzeret


10. Underexpose
– “sunsets”
Slightly underexposing your shot should make the sunset colors look more rich and defined. Use aperture priority again and the exposure compensation dial and set it somewhere between -1 and -2.

The exposure dial setting on my Fuji DSLR

The exposure dial setting on my DSLR


11. Check behind you
– “sunsets”
A beautiful backdrop behind you might be bathed in some magical warm light.

12. The “Golden Hour” -“sunsets”
The sky and its clouds will start to change colour after the official sunset with a “second sunset” 25 minutes later. Well worth hanging around for!

13. Silhouettes – “sunsets”
Have some fun with the foreground, finding a recognisable subject such as a body, a lamppost of a detailed pier. Just not anything too big and blocky.

Sunset looking back over to Es Castell from Illa del Llatzeret

Sunset shot 25 minutes later after “sunset”, looking back over to Es Castell from Illa del Llatzeret


14. Don’t delete from the camera
A photo that looks ok on your LCD screen might be too light/dark on a computer screen so check them on the computer first before deleting (a tip from Pete of Compass Chasers).

A Starburst shot looking up towards a tree in Binibeca

A Starburst shot looking up towards a tree in Binibeca


15. Enjoy it! 🙂

One of the most important tips! Make sure you “look with your eyes” and savour the view and not solely see it through a viewfinder or LCD screen.

A Starburst sunset at the Alcaufar tower

A Starburst sunset at the Alcaufar tower

Have I missed any sunset and starburst photography tips? Anything you would add?