Day trip to Pisa

If you’re staying in or near Pisa, it goes without saying that you should visit the city itself. The Leaning Tower – the cathedral’s campanile, or bell-tower, to be exact – is of course the stand-out attraction.

If you’re looking to get good photos, visit first thing in the morning both to benefit from the soft light of sunrise and to avoid the crowds, which are huge in the summer. Most visitors seem to be overtaken by the urge to pose for a photo, pretending to hold the tower up, which makes for amusing people-watching. Sunset doesn’t work quite so well for the tower because the adjacent cathedral casts a large shadow shadow in the evening; conversely, it is very good for shots of the west front of the cathedral and nearby baptistry.

Getting into the town from our hotel, the San Ranieri, was easy: the no. 13 departs from a stop nearby every 20 minutes, took about 20 minutes and cost just a couple of Euros each way. We alighted at the railway station and then walked north through the city centre; the streets you take, Corso Italia and then the Via Goisuè Carducci, have been pedestrianised nearly all of the way to the Leaning Tower.

Climbing the Leaning Tower costs €18/person; perhaps the strange sensation of climbing a building that is listing heavily is worth it but, arguably, the view of it is far better than the view from it. The real secret is the cathedral which, thanks presumably to the revenues raised from tourists who queue to climb the tower, is free to enter. Entry is timed but, since there were only two of us, we were allowed in immediately when I explaind that we were flying home later in the day and couldn’t visit later.

Unlike in Siena Cathedral, with its ornate mosaic tiled floor, ugly and very utilitarian blue plastic seats filled the central aisle of the nave. Look up and around, though, and there is an ornate gilded ceiling, a higly ornate octagonal pulpit by Nicolà Pisano and his son Giovanni, huge paintings and a flamboyant mosaic of Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist in the apse behind the high altar.

The views along the river are very picturesque and would would make a great dusk cityscape but it’s probably no coincidence that the main pedestrian street from the station leads directly to the tower: my impression is that there’s not so much else in the city to inspire the culture-seeking visitor.

Florence is of course the mecca for Tuscan tourism; my wife and I are saving it for a future trip.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Day trip to the heart of Tuscany

No less beautiful than all the architecture in cities like Siena and Lucca is the countryside of rural Tuscany, as we found on our ramble through it from Pisa. In fact, we liked it so much that we went out on two trips.

Assuming that you have only one day spare, though, I’d suggest an itinerary like this.

From Pisa, take the FiPiLi and turn off at the first junction after your spur from Pisa has merged with that from Livorno: follow signs for Ponsacco. Strike south-east towards Volterra through Capannoli and La Sterza.

Beyond there, follow signs to Saline di Volterra rather than those for Volterra itself. We took the direct road and, with little warning, it became very steep, winding and difficult to drive. It’s from the road to Saline that you’ll enjoy views of the rolling fields that epitomise the classic Tuscan landscape.

From Saline, turn left and climb towards Volterra; there are some steep hairpin bends on the final approach from the west, too. Volterra dates from Etruscan times and has been continuously occupied for nearly three millenia, so there’s lot to see, especially if you’re interested in archæology.

From Volterra, continue east along the main road towards Poggibonsi; it’s not as steep or winding as the one you’ve just followed. There are some gorgeous views to be enjoyed along this road, not least a mile or so down the hill from Volterra, just before a hairpin bend.

The road between Volterra and Poggibonsi
The road between Volterra and Poggibonsi

After 15 km, turn left off the main road at Castel San Gimignano and head north towards San Gimignano. Pause and enjoy some of the lovely rural views along this route, if you can.

Another of the highlights of Tuscany and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is dominated by a dozen mediæval tower houses. Its historic centre is pedestrianised and thronged with tourists, probably for much of the year. We were fortunate to get to its main square when a historical re-enactment – watched by a newly-married bride and groom – was in progress.

There are various car parks dotted around the outside of the city walls but finding a space must be quite a challenge during the summer months. It’s only a fairly short, albeit steep, walk into the town centre from most of them. We parked in the one off Via Ghiacciaia on the north side of town; the charge was €2/hour.

I particularly wanted to get some good sunset photos of the city from the west and found a good vantage point a kilometre or so along the SP69. I found that the sun sets more quickly than in England.

From here, follow the road north-westward  towards Forcoli, Pontedera and eventually back to Pisa. It runs through woodland for much of the time, with very few villages along the way, so it’s not a great place either to break down or run out of fuel.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Day trip to Vernazza

Vernazza al crepusculo
Vernazza at dusk

One of the villages of the Cinque Terre, a rugged stretch of Ligurian coastline to the west of La Spezia, Vernazza is among the most photographed locations on It was therefore on my bucket list for this holiday and part of the reason why we chose to stay in Pisa.

My major concern with this trip was the last leg of the journey. The road to Vernazza from the autostrada looked to be narrow, steep and winding – unforgiving to somebody unfamiliar with it like me – so I found a very good alternative.

My top tip for you is Continue reading »

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Ranieri, Pisa, hotel review – a good base for exploring Tuscany

In early September, my wife and I spent a week exploring Tuscany and used the Hotel San Ranieri on the outskirts of Pisa, as our base. We chose Pisa because it is served by a weekly direct Ryanair flight from our local airport, Bournemouth (at the time of publishing, this route doesn’t appear on its Summer 2015 schedule). It is, moreover, an interesting city in its own right and offers good road connections, both to the heart of Tuscany and northwards to the Cinque Terre in Liguria.

The San Ranieri was our chosen hotel because Continue reading »

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

5 tips to make your photos rank high in search results

In August, I published 15 tips to get your photos Popular on As I mentioned, each photo you upload gets 24 hours to rise towards the front page, propelled in that direction by likes, favourites and comments from other community members, after which a 10 point penalty is applied so that ‘fresher’ photos get their turn. Thereafter, to some extent, photos descend into oblivion as their pulse score decays.

Nevertheless, there are a number of ways you can  tailor what is effectively a photo blog post – you create textual content around it – to help people using the site as a stock library. With the advent of 500px Prime licensing, this is becoming increasingly important. Here are my top five tips to get your photos found by potential buyers. Continue reading »

Posted in Photography | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ukip steals Tory and Labour core vote

And so, with Douglas Carswell’s landslide victory in Clacton, Ukip has won its first ever MP. It also came close to causing an even greater upset in Greater Manchester, coming within 617 votes of winning the formerly safe Labour seat of Heywood and Middleton.

The former result was predicted from the outset; Mr Carswell had cultivated a large personal following and Ukip performed well in Essex in the European elections in May. The latter, caused by the death of the incumbent MP, was contested by candidates previously  unknown to the electorate.

In their different ways, however,  both contests show that Continue reading »

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment