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.

Venice
Venice

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

Venice Rialto markets
Venice Rialto markets

1.            The Rialto Markets. The markets are open from 8am – these are 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. 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.

Venice Rialto markets
Venice Rialto markets

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. Great for a holiday snapper or a keen enthusiast.

Venice
Venice

3.            Avoid the crowds. Once I’d seen the shoulder to shoulder crush in St Marks Square at lunchtime, I finally understood how good it is to be in central Venice with no crowds. See the Bridge of Sighs without peering over someone else’s shoulder (if only it wasn’t covered in scaffolding and advertisements). 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. Lie on the ground and peer up at the Campanile (not recommended in the months when Venice is flooded). Gaze on the rows of gondola tied up together in front of the square, gently bobbing in their bright blue covers, and step back to get them in a panorama shot without anyone walking in front of your camera. Watch the city wake up and come alive. And then when the crowds do arrive, breeze past them to all the best sights with entry tickets and skip the line passes purchased in advance, for the first timeslot of the day.

Venice
Venice

4.            Gondolier Spotting.  Go grab an early morning expresso in a hole-in-the-wall café and watch the gondoliers turn up in their black and white striped jumpers, see them throw back their own coffee at the counter, 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.

Venice
Venice

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

Top 10 most disappointing travel experiences

To come up with the top 10 best travel list? Thats too hard, there are so many to choose from!

But the top 10 most disappointing, that’s more manageable. I’ve always believed that I can find something to enjoy, to appreciate, anywhere I went. And the vast majority of the time that has been true. But let’s be honest, sometimes, not very often, I am really, really, disappointed.  Maybe it doesn’t measure up to the hype, maybe something else interferes with my enjoyment. So at the risk of generating a bit of an argument, in no particular order, here’s my 10 Most Disappointing from 28 years of travel:

  1. Venezuelan beaches. The beaches along the Venezuelan coastline are beautiful, but are ruined by the locals. In short, the beaches are junk yards, with litter throughout the sand and the water. It’s particularly bad if it’s a weekend and the beach is within a daytrip from Caracas. Playa Colorada looks beautiful, but the sand was full of glass, bottle tops, cigarette butts and other litter, and many of the families visiting the beach disposed of their litter each day by throwing it into the sea.

    Playa Colorada, Venezuela, hiding a lot of litter
    Playa Colorada, Venezuela, hiding a lot of litter
  2. Taj Mahal. I have never met anyone else that didn’t love the Taj Mahal so I know I am out on my own on this one. But I can’t help it, when I visited the Taj Mahal I thought “great, looks just like the post card”, then I thought “I should take a photo” , and then I was bored. All those lovely large alcoves are empty,  it’s a big hollow tomb and has no atmosphere. However I loved Agra and I spent hours enjoying the Red Fort, and found the distant view of the Taj Mahal from the Red Fort the most interesting way to see the Taj Mahal.
  3. Alcatraz. Reputedly the most visited attraction in San Francisco, and I cannot understand why? The boat trip to the island and back is very enjoyable and provides a great view of either the bridge or the fog, depending on weather. Maybe if I had grown up with the history, with Alcatraz stories, it would’ve seemed more atmospheric. But it’s some old, not really ruined, buildings on a rock, that was once a jail. And Hollywood made some movies about it. I even did the night tour to try and amp up the atmosphere, but it still felt like a school trip to a not very exciting museum.
  4. Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco. It’s sounds good doesn’t it? The harbourfront wharf, the famous clam chowder. Maybe a few decades ago it was like that. Now it  is a plastic theme park of fast food and tacky souveniers. There is so much good food, great shops, interesting neighbourhoods and great views in San Francisco, so avoid this bit and enjoy the rest.

    Alcatraz, more interesting than it looks
    Alcatraz, more interesting than it looks
  5. the Mona Lisa, the Louvre. Mona Lisa’s smile is the most visited (and best known) art work in the world, housed in a massively impressive building. So by the time you search through the vastness of the Louvre and queue for a while, it’s a bit disappointing to discover the painting is so tiny, and for its own protection hidden away behind perspex. Maybe if I could see if alone, instead of from beneath a rugby scrum, I could appreciate it more.
  6. Dallas, Texas. To be fair, I didn’t choose to go to Dallas as a tourist destination – I was sent there on a work trip – for seven weeks. On the first afternoon I had covered the two things worth getting excited about – SouthFork Ranch (preserving the iconic Dallas TV show) and the Grassy Knoll. With hindsight I kind of wish I had done the second one with the “JFK death route” tour company who drive you along the same route that he took, in an open top limo, and they even play a gunshot sound in the car as it passes the appropriate spot. Sick and yet at least not boring. After that afternoon I was done, Dallas beat me down into sheer boredom. I saved my sanity by racing to the airport every weekend and jumping on a Southwest flight to anywhere else!
  7. Salar de Uyuni. This is a very different kind of disappointment. I was really keen to see this, one of the world’s largest salt lakes and at a high altitude of over 4000 metres, with it’s quirky salt hotels and traditional villages and cottage salt businesses. It’s immense and links Bolivia and Chile. We arrived there during floods. The arid salt flats were under water, not just a normal downpour but a real flood.  The owners of the 4×4 tour vehicles that normally take tours around the salt lakes were not running, as they feared their vehicles will stall and break down in the wet. We finally found one guy who took us a few hundred metres into the vast flats and then chickened out and took us back to the town of Uyuni which was also completely flooded. I am absolutely sure that I will go back one day and see Salar de Uyuni and not be disappointed.
  8. Riding camels. If you read my blog about camels in Morocco, you will understand why I find camels disappointing (as well as scary and distinctly dangerous). Suffice to say, do not ride a camel that is in heat, or is being mounted by another camel. Actually just don’t ride camels, end of story.
  9. Riding elephants. Yes, it does seem like a theme is developing here. I love elephants, they are beautiful, fun animals. In Laos I went to one of the many good elephant sanctuaries that are dotted around South East Asia. I fed the elephants, I stroked them, I talked to them. They were in an idyllic riverside setting next to some stunning shallow pools under the tropical jungle foliage.

I thought an elephant ride would be slow and majestic. It turned out more like an out-of-control rollercoaster. I sit on a wooden plank (seat) with another thin plank for a backrest and a tiny dowling rod across the front of me, to keep me in the seat, all tied loosely to the creature’s back. Suddenly we were climbing up near vertical 3 to 4 metre high mud banks and back down near vertical drops of the same scale – all in deep slippery mud, me at a right angle to the banks. And the elephant was sliding everywhere. Gravity was trying to claim me, and most of the time I had my eyes squeezed tightly shut and was hanging on to the dowling rod for dear life. The mahout, who seemed about 10 years old, was finding it very funny. This picture shows the misleadingly pleasant part of the ride.

The deceptively calm part of the elephant ride, Laos

10. Juliet’s balcony in Verona. Firstly, it is a fake. The “balcony” is an ugly recent addition to the outside of a house, to con tourists out of their money. The queue to get in is like standing in a particularly crowded and dirty subway. Most of the courtyard is a shop selling a variety of red synthetic plush love hearts to separate romantics from their cash. Again, Verona is a beautiful town with much atmosphere, much to see and do, and this little bit of fakery is not a good example of that.

Is there somewhere you’ve been that didn’t live up to your expectations? Anywhere you’d recommend against going as you found it disappointing?