To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it. — Freya Stark
The above is one of my favorite travel quotes, as it reminds me of how travel leads people to use their five senses in a way they don’t at home. Picture yourself waking up in your bed at home: rolling over to curse at the alarm, brushing your teeth with your eyes half closed, running out the door with your buttons undone because you’re late for work. What smells were in the air? What sounds did you hear? Unless it was a garbage truck that woke you up or someone in your house was making something particularly delicious for breakfast, you probably didn’t notice.
Now think about yourself on the road. It’s like your senses become reborn, and every smell, sight, taste, touch and sound registers in your brain as something journal-worthy. Even the odor of decaying fish or street sewage becomes an aroma, as it helps reveal the personality of your destination.
I remember many different mornings, awakening in Ghana to the strangest sights and sounds. One morning was particularly unusual, as at 3am I was startled out of pleasant dreams by the sounds of a church choir. As the nearest place of worship was a mile down the road from my homestay, I knew something was up. In my Batman t-shirt and red Sofie shorts, I made my way out of the room and into the small hallway to investigate, the smell of dirt and goats filling my nostrils, as the bahhing animals added to the already-present music.
Sitting in the living room were eight women completely lost in focus as they praised the lord through their voices…before dawn. I soon came to realize this was something my house-mom did every Monday night (or Tuesday morning, depending if you went to bed or not). While at home in NYC it infuriated me to be woken up before the sun rose, in Ghana I laid in my bed relishing the sounds and chalking it up to a cultural experience.
There are also times when a destination is particularly serene, and you may encounter no sounds at all. This happened to me on a recent trip to Italy, staying at Castello di Gabbiano in the Tuscan countryside. In contrast with the bass-excessive rap music, never-ending sirens and room-rattling above-ground subways I hear 24/7 in Brooklyn, I never heard a peep when resting my wine-heavy eyelids. That being said, Tuscany is a delicious treat for both the mouth and eyes, as you awake to the sight of rolling hills dotted with olive trees and Sangiovese vines while eating a breakfast of Pecorino cheeses, cured meats and fresh yogurt.
There’s nothing quite like waking up in an unfamiliar town, your senses immediately engaged as your everyday stress-ladden routine becomes replaced with curiosity and discovery, and the sounds of chipper roosters, the salty smell of the ocean or the sight of markets setting up their wares on a dusty road become your alarm clock, at least for the time being.
What is your favorite memory of waking up in an unfamiliar town? Please share in the comments below.