Yesterday, I took a walk in my neighborhood and nearby downtown to watch the day begin. Not before dawn, but before the normal workday got underway. Morning is a good time to see a city, before cars and their rumbling engines dominate the landscape, before stores are open and bustling, and while only a few people are out on the street.
While I was walking, I thought of the advice in the Rick Steves’ guidebook to France. “Here, [France] strolling down the street with a big grin on your face and saying hello to strangers is a sign of senility not friendliness (seriously).” This might be good advice for other countries and cities, but is not necessarily a requirement at home. Even folks walking fast to get to work yesterday made time for a morning smile and greeting.
In contrast to the empty streets around me, stood my neighborhood bakery where people were lining up for coffee and pastries.
Winter morning walks are completely different experiences from warm weather strolls. The air is crisp and clean. Bird songs are few. Squirrels and dogs are the only four-legged creatures outside. And the dogs are running. They give their city-dwelling owners the push — or rather the pull — they need to exercise early in the day.
Cities with open air farmers’ markets are some of the best places to enjoy mornings. Stall keepers are laying out their wares and arranging them in tidy rows. Few people are there to disturb the order.
European cities are excellent places to experience open air markets. In Portugal last fall, we hit the markets early, which allowed us to get close to the produce before real shoppers could crowd us out. And the vibrant colors that called to us from each stall made for a good beginning of the day.
In his TED talk on grateful living, Brother David Steindl-Rast suggests that every day we “stop and look” not only through our eyes, but our ears and noses. The morning walk — any walk for that matter — is not just about exercise, but about opening all our senses and taking in the wonderful richness around us.