5 good reasons to get up early in Venice

I am a fan of the holiday sleep-in, but I can be persuaded to be an early riser if the reasons are good enough.

It is a bit of an understatement to say that Venice is popular with tourists. Venice is small (and expensive), many visitors come in on day trips and stay outside on the mainland overnight, therefore from about 9am to 5pm it is even more crowded. If you are lucky enough to be staying in Venice itself, make the most of both ends of the day, and her charms will be easier to enjoy.

5 reasons to get up early in Venice


1.            The Rialto Markets. The markets which are open from 8am – these are the produce markets that the locals still treat as their local grocery store. The stalls are piled high with deliciously fresh fruit, veges and fish, and the surrounding small shops have bread and cheeses and meats of all descriptions. I love how every stallholder displays their produce in beautiful and creative patterns, they take their design ethic seriously here. Getting here early before the crowds means the stallholders have time to chat to you, and offer you tastings of their wares. At 8am only the produce market is open, the souvenir stands open later, and the Rialto bridge is almost empty. And you can stock up on supplies for your breakfast or lunch as well.

2.            Photography. Get your camera and head outside, the light will be softer and your photos will show the tones and shades of Venice so much better than in the midday sun. And there will be less crowds to shoot around.  In a place like Venice, where clichés like “beauty around every corner” seem very true, I am guilty of getting carried away snapping every thing I see, every minute. So to slow down and get some perspective I signed up for a photography tour one morning (starting early). For two hours I had a photo guide show me new ways to capture the iconic views, as well as hidden corners I may never have stumbled on by myself. More than just photography tips, I also learned interesting tales of history, geography, and how it was as a city to live in now. I’d think you would get value from this whether you are a holiday snapper or a keen enthusiast.

3.            Avoid the crowds. Only once I’d seen the shoulder to shoulder crush in St Marks Square at lunchtime did I really understand how unusually good it is to be in central Venice with no crowds. I can see the Bridge of Sighs without peering over someone else’s shoulder (if only it wasn’t covered in scaffolding and advertisements). I can wander around St Marks Square, get right up close with the detail on the arches on the front of the Bascilica, then stand way back and get the whole vista. I can lie on the ground and peer up at the Campanile (not recommended in the months when Venice is flooded). I get to see rows of gondola tied up together in front of the square, gently bobbing in their bright blue covers, and I can step back to get them in a panorama shot without anyone walking in front of my camera. I can watch the city wake up and come alive. And then when the crowds do arrive, I can breeze past them to all the best sights because I have booked my entry tickets and skip the line passes in advance, for the first timeslot of the day.

4.            Gondolier Spotting. I really enjoyed grabbing an early morning expresso in a hole-in-the-wall café, watching the gondoliers turn up in their black and white striped jumpers, see them throw back their own coffee at the counter in front of me, and then head outside to watch them polish up their boats ready for the day. How to find them? Go (early) to the edge of any canal (not the Grand Canal, go somewhere smaller) where there are gondolas tied up for the night, pop into the nearest coffee shop you can see, stand at the counter with your own caffeine fix and they will be there.

5.            Earning my siesta. By the time it’s the middle of the day, crowded and hot, I now feel justified in taking a siesta, or at least a very long lunch under a shaded umbrella with a good view over the canal. I can watch everyone else get hot and bothered, and then by late afternoon I can head out again, all refreshed, as the crowds start to thin.

Milford Sound – the Wet Wonderland of NZ

As a proud ex-pat Kiwi, I head home to New Zealand every chance I get to visit friends and family. The downside is I am usually visiting the same (lovely) places every time. But sometimes I want to branch out and see somewhere new, because there is no end of beauty in NZ. So when I visit friends in Lake Hawea, outside Queenstown, I finally take the chance to visit somewhere I have always wanted to visit – New Zealand’s Wet and wonderful Milford Sound, in Fiordland.
Milford Sound

Wet & wonderful Milford Sound

I come here expecting rain and I am not disappointed. Milford Sound has the highest annual rainfall at sea level anywhere in the world – more than 6 metres of rain each year. It rains 2 days out of 3, but usually not all day every day. Of course it is the rain that makes it so stunning, lush rainforest clinging to vertical cliff faces and waterfalls twice the height of Niagara. Perversely, my best chance of a blue sky day is in winter time, but then I am only going to see the five permanent waterfalls, and not the thousands of temporary ones which appear during every rainfall and disappear about a few hours later.  
Milford Sound

Remote Milford Sound

One of the reasons I have never been into the Sounds is because it is a remote and difficult area to access. There are 16 fiords on the bottom half of the western coast of the South Island of New Zealand. They are hidden behind the Southern Alps, have almost no road access, and open into the Tasman Sea, a notoriously rough piece of water.

But the sounds themselves are deep, calm and serene, up to 500 metres deep, surrounded by sheer cliffs (the highest is 1,600 m) soaring vertically above the sounds, and protected from the sea by many twists and turns.

The thrill of the road to Milford

The drive out to Milford Sound is as stunning and as much an adventure as the Sounds themselves. We pass down the side of Lake Wakatipu, and then stop at Kingston early on, to jump on board the Kingston Flyer. This restored steam engine takes me back to another era of travel for the half hour chug through the countryside to Fairlight, where the bus picks us up again. The high country farmland turns into ski fields, and as we go ever higher up through the Alps and over two high mountain passes, the view from the road alternates between soaring and scary. The penultimate point is passing through the very steep, one-way, 1.2km Homer Tunnel at the top of the pass. On the descent to Milford the view changes again to lush alpine rain forest. We get lots of photo stops as the driver stops whenever we request it, but the rain is so heavy it makes getting the photos quite difficult, (and staying dry impossible)!

Milford Sound
The landscapes are dramatic – I recommend stopping at the Chasm, just after the tunnel on the Milford Sound side – the river levels here rises 3.9 metres on the day we stop by, and the small streams become raging glacial torrents. The same big rain dump has trapped about 120 hikers on the famous Milford Trail and other neighbouring trails – stuck between trekking huts, between rivers both in front of and behind them which have become too dangerous to cross, they all have to be helicoptered out.

Overnight on Milford Sound

Once in Milford we get onto our boat as soon as we can and head out into the Sound. The towering vertical walls, clad in rainforest, are so straight up & down that the boat can get really close, nosing in under waterfalls just a few feet from the cliffs, but still with a huge depth beneath the boat. It’s magical, with views emerging from and disappearing back into the rainclouds. As I am already wet from the rain, I have no hesitation to get even wetter standing too close to waterfalls, almost being knocked over by their sheer force. I stay outside, and wet, for a good couple of hours as we cruise up the Sound. The only downside of the wild weather is that it is deemed unsafe to let us out in the kayaks. I have been looking forward to getting out on the water for a paddle. Instead I take advantage of the hot shower and hair dryer in my comfy little cabin. Dry and warm again, I make friends with other passengers over a delicious dinner. I enjoy some good NZ pinot noir with my new-found friends, and the evening is topped off with an entertaining talk from the onboard nature guide. I feel pleasantly exhausted.
Milford Sound

Morning on Milford Sound

I know something is good if I am up at sunrise (not normally a morning person), and this is a good one. I can see a rain-free and snow-capped Milford sound in all its cloudy glory (and yes, the winter snows also started last night!). We head out through the mouth of the Sound into the Tasman Sea, the dolphins find us and swim alongside, we pass some seals resting on the rocks, but no penguins today. We cruise back up the Sound, revisiting the scenes of the previous days waterfalls, many of which have now disappeared. Everything looks different and new again without the torrential rain, and I am sure that will be true again if I ever get to see it in sunlight.

The locals say that if you want a change of weather in Milford, just wait a few hours. I contemplate this as I sink into my hot tub back in Queenstown.