I am not a morning person. As a kid, my mom (poor lady!) would have to start waking me well before I really needed to get up just to make sure I made it to school on time. Night has always been my favored time - I would get busted reading books well after I was supposed to be asleep. Even now, I'm rarely tired until at least after 1:00AM. Though now, no one scolds me for reading into the wee hours anymore.
When I'm traveling though, it's a whole new ball game. Almost instantaneously, my sleep habits shift. I go to bed (and sleep!) by 11:00 PM. Morning comes as a welcome friend to me, not something I hide from under the covers. I can't imagine being in another country, one I may not see for years more, and sleeping in. Exploring a city in the pre-dawn hours is delightful, even meditative. Everything is so hushed, the bluish light gently draping historic buildings and warrens in calm.
The legendary "Ponte dei Sospiri" just before a foggy sunrise. This part of Venice is usually near-chaotic, but was completely deserted at about 6:00AM
In Venice, where the narrow and twisting streets are packed with people even outside of peak tourist season, seeing it virtually empty was a true treat. I only saw a handful of people - a lone nun passing through Piazza San Marco, the garbage collectors with their ingenious carts trundling to the garbage boats - and the silence was pervasive yet airy. I could hear the famous pigeons slowly waking from their own sleep, the gentle lap of water against ancient palazzi, and the soft bump-thump of gondolas awaiting the day's tourists.
The best part about getting up early, especially from a photographer's viewpoint? Not having to restrict yourself to close-ups or super long exposures to get clear of the crush of people that descend by mid-morning. While people are indubitably part of what shapes a place's personality, experiencing a place in a rare time of tranquility shows a whole new side.
The Doge's Palace with the Basilica just behind it, seen from an archway in Piazza San Marco. Just me and the pigeons!
Every place I go, I am determined to rise at least two hours before the sun at least once. Twice or thrice is even better! For me, it is a perfect way to create travel art, and it makes me feel so calm and happy. Once the sun is rising in the sky and the people are bustling around, I can sit in a small cafe with coffee and a pastry and ride that feeling for a while. It's a beautiful few hours that are inevitably one of the absolute highlights of any trip I've taken. Then I get to go back to my bed and catch a pre-lunch nap!
Florence's Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River just after dawn. The other advantage to getting up super-early is that you can really give the light time to develop without feeling rushed.
Dawn breaks along the Amalfi Coast, viewed from the hamlet of Praiano. Crowds were not necessarily a concern here (though in Amalfi they were in abundance!), seeing this subtle sunrise's unique colors and light was absolutely worth rising early!