Thursday, 28 September 2006

Timing is key

Two weeks on Formentera. Not really my kind of holiday; beaches.

Beaches full of Italian tourists and sunloungers. Beaches busy with sunbathers. Roads full of kids on scooters. Not really getting away from it all. More like rush-hour-on-sea.

However, I did find one great thing. If you get up early - and on Formentera that's anything before ten in the morning - you can go for a good swim before the sun gets blisteringly hot, and before anyone else has finished their breakfast. If you go to the beach late, say 630 in the evening, you can have the same experience - a quiet swim with hardly anyone else around.

It doesn't always work. I cycled out one afternoon to the lighthouse on La Mola, and for ten minutes I was the only person on the road. Dry stone walls each side, huge fig trees trained into drooping umbrellas of leaves, rows of vines, blue sky, and the dead straight road towards the lighthouse.

Then three buses passed me all at once - and every single person on those buses got out for a drink at the bar there and a wander over the clifftops. Bad timing!

It's quite easy to find out how to subvert the timing at tourist spots. Cathedrals are a favourite - you can't actively do 'tourism' first thing, but going to an early service is often a good way to get a feel for the building before the crowds arrive. Early mass at Fl0rence cathedral sets the building ringing with song and the low bom of the bells.

And for the photographer, early morning or late evening are often the times to get the best shots. Tewkesbury Abbey comes alive with the evening sun, making the stone glow. Walking out of Granada, the chines and gullies of the mountains are set off by low shadows in the early morning sun. Markets are being set up in the morning; we saw a blind man in Barcelona taking his daughter to her first day at school, and a little boy on the back of mum's bike. And I once did manage to get a picture of the Piazza San Marco with no one in it at all, just a lot of water.

I rather like revisiting places at different times, too. The atmosphere of a place changes according to the time and the season - the way the light falls, the number of people there, a scattering of rain or shade.

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