Paris. You wake up early, and instantly know you're not going back to sleep. It's dark, and your family is still sleeping. You listen for a moment to the rhythm of their breathing. You fumble for your phone and wallet and some clothes in the dark. You step into the hallway in your underwear, and the automatic light unexpectedly comes on, blinding you momentarily. You finish dressing and head downstairs where the man in the lobby helps you find the door release, and gives you a look like you've lost your foreign mind to be up so early.
You walk a few blocks to the Champs de Mars, and it's completely deserted. At first it is nice, but then you start to worry you could be mugged, and you've brought all your money and credit cards so that would be a big problem. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. You avoid a few darker walkways for that reason, and that means you pass almost directly under the Eiffel Tower. It's impossibly impressive up so close, the base is just so huge. And there is no artifice to it - it literally is a giant version of the mini toys you're constantly being harassed to buy during daylight hours ("1 Euro 1 Euro! Mister!") There's a few more people around now. You start to feel a little safer.
You buy an overpriced but admittedly good espresso at the only place you can find open, ordering in stilted French. You sit awkwardly and finish it while the staff mill around getting themselves ready for the day. Croissants arrive. You are offered one, but decline. Too early to eat. You pay and wander on, crossing the Seine just because it's there and you can. The bridge is insanely old and awesome.
You come through a park with fairy lights where they seem to be setting up an aquarium show and you just randomly stumble across a huge Palace (later you discover this is the Palais de Chaillot). You climb the steps and at the top you see a couple taking wedding photos, all made up in the early morning, and you wonder why here, before you turn around and see the Tower behind you, it's that classic view of it, straight back down the Champs de Mars from on high. And then you smile. You are here.
I enjoy the mornings. There is a stillness about them you don't get at other times of the day - the dust has settled, literally, and the background noise of civilization (which you're unaware of until it's gone) is muted. I like to sit, probably with a coffee, and just listen to the world for a bit. I might exercise, I might not. There is time. There is space. You can breathe.
For a while now, and not by intention, I've been a reasonably early riser. Not crazy early, like the 4am club, but I'm usually awake by 7, without an alarm, and I can't get back to sleep. At home, that usually means I am on Sam duty in the early morning. On this trip, Sam has been staying up a bit later and therefore sleeping in a bit in the morning, so that has meant some morning solitude for me. Often the place we're staying doesn't have much space (read: one double bed and a kids bed in one room), so I end up going out for an early morning walk.
It's a unique experience, watching a city wake up. For obvious reasons, the tourist crowd isn't around, and you see real people, local people, going about their actual business. Delivering baking and produce for the day, setting up their stalls, sweeping the streets. The first rays of sunlight creep over the landscape, or the buildings, and you see a bit more. The slow reveal lets you take things in step by step, and your mind can process it more consciously.
I know mornings aren't for everyone. Annamarie struggles to rouse herself, I think mainly because she doesn't sleep that well at night (partly related to the other health issues we've mentioned here). And it is a balance - you need to make sure you've got enough sleep on board so you don't crash halfway through the day. But I think, if you can get yourself up, it's a great way to see another side of the world (or I guess more accurately, the Sun).
Shake off the dust. Get some space. Take a breath.
And for a bonus, here's a pic from good ol' NZ when we managed to catch Te Ra (the sun) rising in Whananaki, Northland in January this year. There is nothing like a NZ summer sunrise!
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.