It’s not just about where you are…it’s when you are.
Have you noticed that there are times of day that are familiar – grabbing a coffee on the way to work feels the same in Monroe, Manhattan and Montepulciano. We’re all in it together before 9. Alone as dusk falls, I feel more alone walking past cafes filled with tables of friends and first dates whereever I am.
One of my very favorite times to wander a new city alone is in the very early morning. There is something about this time of day. Everyone is making their own way – walking the dog, grabbing a coffee and a paper, heading to the market or even dragging back home…alone.
There are three things I like to do in the morning. They start the day with the feeling that I’ve already had one grand adventure or gained entrance into the real experience of the town. Admittedly, I love having a purpose or a destination. If you are not that completion-bound, you can probably just substitute “taking a walk” for any of these.
The Market. Imagine it’s 6:00 a.m in Venice – the muffled chugging of motorboats on the canals rolls in your window. Peering through the curtains, you see boats weighed down with fruit and vegetables coming through the first light. Throw on your clothes, find your shoes, grab a coffee on the way and head to the market! When you’ve been touring cathedrals and museums, it’s so good to see the other side, the behind-the-scenes real work of bringing in the city’s food. You also see the grocers making art out of stacks of peppers, chefs choosing seafood and produce of the day, housewives checking in with their regular vendor.
Now major point of clarity. I DID dash out at 6. The book said “very early morning” indicating that if you didn’t get up and get out, you’d catch the slacker dregs of market day. Coming from a southern farm family, I know early…in Mississippi. In Italy, I can tell you that it’s different. And it’s embarrassing to be sitting on a fountain with the last of your second coffee when the first trolleys roll in. Early in Venice means 7:00. Good to know.
The Dog Walk. If you’re in the city near the river or a green space, you can count on early morning with the dog walkers. It’s a sweet time to walk, grab an early pastry from a shop that has just opened, and people watch. It’s another look, behind the curtain, into real life as little old ladies, super-joggers, kids and business suits all level the international playing field as they walk behind their dogs with plastic bags.
The Camera Tour. I’m not a great photographer but there is something about capturing the first sunlight of morning or the perfect sunset that makes us all artists. There is also joyful purpose in getting up knowing that you are looking for the perfect view. In Venice, I rose with the sun (again) to take the first ferry across the lagoon to San Giorggio Maggiore. I failed to find the mass with the Gregorian chants that morning but the trip was full of beauty as we rode back to the city just as the sun was hitting San Marco square. It’s worth getting up.
And one more that isn’t for everyone. The big drive. If you are in a car, there is magic
slipping away in the early morning. With the right timing, you can make quite a day trip on your own. In Iceland, I left Hella at 7:00 a.m, missing a pretty extraordinary breakfast buffet but that’s not the point. I was able to see the sun rise over the glaciers at Jokulsarlon and still be back for dinner. Or, as in the picture here, if it’s your first day driving on the left side of the road in Scotland, get out of Stirling before the traffic!
What I’ve Learned
I never feel alone in the morning (or maybe no one wants to be with anyone at 6:30).
Having a destination or a goal gives shape to an early morning adventure.
Being a part of the early morning work of the day gives me a sense of confidence that I belong to the city that lasts all day.