Every so often, I reach a city that I connect with more than others. When I peek out the window as the sun comes up, look out to the street or over to the ocean, and I simply cannot wait to get out there and explore. The day is just beginning, but I bounce out the door with wide eyes and a stupid grin on my face, my camera in hand snapping away at the parks, and buildings, seascapes or mountains, buskers, markets and street art. The sounds and smells invigorate and inspire me, the people fascinate me, I love all the food, and I never want to leave.
These are my favourite places to welcome in the day because of their beautiful sunrises, rich blue skies, mirror flat lakes or quaint cobbled streets.
It’s 8am and I’m out the door, heading for the Old Town Square. The sun bathes the centre of the square in golden hues but there’s pockets still shadowed by the historical and lavish buildings. There’s only a few people milling about – vendors setting up souvenir stands and delivery trucks. I hear a table being folded out, a car door slam, and mother and daughter walk by speaking in English.
A lone man sits sipping coffee with a newspaper folded out at the outdoor tables of a café.
The old town’s archways perfectly frame the activity and buildings of the square.
The market, normally bustling with people, is still locked down and shafts of light pierce through the gate.
I hover in the archways watching the day start and the square gradually fill with people. It’s peaceful and beautiful.
Machu Picchu, Peru
I queue patiently in darkness alongside dozens of other travellers. We’re waiting for the bus to take us up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. There are huddled conversations of faceless travellers in the darkness as the buses steadily roll in and out. For most of us, this is our first time seeing Machu Picchu. As the sky starts to lighten, finally it’s my turn, and I hop on the bus and take the winding 20 minute journey up the mountain to the Machu Picchu ruins. The bus brakes heavily on the corners and turns slowly before speeding up, the driver confident as he takes the road he’s taken many times before.
It’s 7am when the bus pulls up at the entrance and the perfect time to arrive as the sun peeks over the mountains. The light is still soft. The mountains are shaded blue and lined with golden hues. The sun bounces off the ruins, which are empty save for a llama or two. This is the most magical time to visit Machu Picchu.
The sky, ruins and mountains brighten as the sun gets higher. The chill in the air starts to fade. The mountaintops continue to shine golden as I head into the ruins for my much anticipated exploration of Machu Picchu.
The air is frigid. The snow crunches under my feet. I step slowly, making sure I don’t slip on the icy bits. It’s 9am and the middle of winter in Reykjavik. It’s still pitch black.
I’m rugged up against the cold wearing a thick coat, scarf, gloves and beanie, heading to one of Reykjavik’s thermal swimming pool complexes.
I pay the entry fee, go through the turnstile and head to the changeroom. I strip down to my bikini and sprint to one of the 40 degree thermal spas submerging myself into the hot water up to my shoulders.
The temperature gauge on the front of the spa complex shows the outside temperature is -1 degrees.
As I sit there enjoying the warmth, the light starts to change. It goes from black to grey, then the sky is tinged blue. The blue dawn sticks around for more than an hour. Then the light slowly starts to seep in – spreading pink and orange colours across the sky.
The sky gets brighter and brighter by the minute, spreading light across the pristine white snow, which is still thick and powdery inside the local parks.
At 11.30am, the sun is now up and I step out of the spa and sprint in to take a shower.
Provence Region, France
It’s another perfect day in the south of France. The sky is a bright blue and there’s not a cloud in the sky. I open the window shutters and look out onto the nearby vineyard. It’s now autumn in this beautiful region of France.
It’s 7am and there’s a slight chill in the air but I know it will heat up soon. I head out for a morning run, passing straight rows of trees and canals. Up a hill is an olive grove. There’s rows and rows of olive trees. Further down, I pass a farm. The cows look at me with interest and a dog comes running up to me barking. I hear the rumble of machinery out in the corn fields.
I breathe in the fresh air and take note of the bright yellows and oranges of the roadside trees. I keep on running.
My room sits above the main street of the cobblestoned old town. There’s only a couple of people about below me – people with baked goods and coffee in hand. I head outside to get my own coffee. I walk in the middle of the cobblestone street. The old town is mostly car free and in the silence of the morning I would hear the rumble of car tyres on cobblestones long before it reached me.
I head into the Town Hall Square, which is normally packed with tourists and performers in the middle of the square. In the morning, the tourist restaurants are closed. I head down Pikk Street, the long street. I wander up Toompea Hill and spot a lone painter practicing his art. His prints line the stone walls. He is absorbed in his work and doesn’t even slip a glance at me as I wander past admiring his work and continue walking alongside the city walls.
Haleakala Volcano, Maui, Hawaii
I leave the hotel at 4am. Sunrise is due just before 7am. It’s still pitch black outside. I follow the signs to the Haluekala Volcano – the road steadily gains altitude. I arrive at the ticket booth as it’s still pitch black. There’s no light pollution and the stars are bright. I wind up the switchback road for about half an hour, joining about a hundred people to watch the sunrise over the crater.
The sky starts to turn grey as the light seeps in. An orange line appears on the horizon on the edge of the clouds.
Blue starts to seep into the sky and the faint edge of the sun starts to peek over the clouds. The crowds of people press against the fence, cameras and phone points towards the horizon. It’s chilly up here at 4,000 metres above sea level. My hands and nose are cold. People are wrapped in blankets.
The sun rises and lights up the huge crater just below the crowd. The crowds leave quickly but they missed one of the best parts of the morning. I stick around until the light is completely lit to take in the expanse of the volcanic landscape. I feel on top of the world above the blue tinged clouds.
Te Anau, New Zealand
It’s 6am at the Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers and I want to get on the road early to beat the tour buses heading to Milford Sound. There’s no one about at the hostel. The carpark is full and my roommates are still sleeping. I creep out quietly, make myself a coffee in the kitchen and then hit the road.
Heading out the driveway, Lake Te Anau is dark but there’s a gold beam of light stretching across a patch of the water and lighting up a tree on the lake edge. There’s a couple of people walking by the side of the lake, and the water quietly laps at the bottom of a boat.
As I head out towards Milford Sound, there’s only a few cars on the road. My first stop is Mirror Lakes – hoping the early morning will mean the lake is still and reflect the surrounding mountains. I’m right and prove the lake is appropriately named.
I head further through Milford Sound, I pass fields of yellowed grass with a couple standing in the middle of the field taking photos. Then I drive into the fog. It rolls around and puts visibility down to a few metres. It gets very humid. I pass azure blue rapids in the fog and waterfalls cascading down huge mountains. There’s not a soul in sight and it’s quiet except for the sound of the water.
The early start was worth it. I beat the tour buses and was able to enjoy the sun come up over the Fjordland National Park.
There’s no rumble of buses over the cobblestoned streets yet. The street food stalls aren’t set up this early, or the women selling colourful bracelets and shawls. There’s only a few people milling about – a couple of tourists and some locals.
I find a café and order a papaya smoothie. There’s no one else on the rooftop terrace and my drink arrives quickly. The sun is warm and I quickly wish I’d put some sunscreen on my shoulders and arms. It’s a beautiful day. In the square below next to the fountain, a busker suddenly starts up playing a musical instrument. Soon after I can hear children playing, their laughter and voices carried up to the terrace, but I can’t see them through the trees.
There’s a few horses and carts this early though – horses trotting with tourists looking wide eyed around them.
I smile. I never thought I’d be in Guatemala, but here I am, even ordering food with minimal Spanish and the old point trick and a polite “Gracias”.
There’s an active volcano to my right – visible throughout most parts of Antigua. To my left is a cross on the hill– with only a handful of people up there taking in the view of Antigua and the Agua Volcano. I’m so glad to be here.
It seems like every day is a brilliant sunny day in Mykonos during the summer. I wake up with the sun already bright outside your door and oh look, it’s another fantastic day. You can’t fault it.
My accommodation looks out to the port over the rows of whitewashed buildings. Cruise ships sit silently in dock. The ocean sparkles bright from the sun.
The streets, which are usually teeming with people, are empty. You can really appreciate the beauty of the blue and white buildings and the winding streets amongst the bright pink bougainvillea. The colours are vibrant. The businesses are slowly opening their doors – putting out table and chairs on the streets.
The smell of crepes and bread cooking wafts through the streets.
The ocean laps at the edges of the city next to cafes and restaurants that will soon be filled with people taking in the views. The morning sun on my skin is glorious and it feels like I’ve found paradise.