London vs New York

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I have been feeling incredibly homesick for New York lately. I ache for its streets. I want to sit out on a terrace and eat dinner in the balmy warmth of a May evening. I want to walk along the river and watch the lights of the Queensboro bridge twinkling in the distance. I want to listen to free music in Bryant Park while eating a picnic from Whole Foods. I want to wait in the line for Shakeshack while staring up at the beauty that is the Flatiron Building. I want to sit on a skyscraper rooftop, watching New York throb with life beneath me. I want to get lost in the streets of the Lower East Side, I want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, I want to hop on the ferry to Staten Island just for the fun of the ride, and I want to spend an afternoon wandering through Central Park watching the world go by. When I lived there, I never wanted to be anywhere else. It was always a relief, after going away for the weekend on a Greyhound bus, to reenter the city through the Holland Tunnel and see those skyscrapers looming above me; it was a comfort, a joy, to know I was back home again.

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It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost two years since I returned, and I haven’t been back since. Part of me doesn’t want to; returning to a city you love passionately and never actually wanted to leave can’t help being painful. There are memories everywhere; memories of a delirious happiness I had never felt before. Living in New York was euphoric; every day was an opportunity for adventure. In moving there, I had proved to myself that I had a courage I never knew I possessed; a courage that could conquer any fear if I allowed it to. That whole year, I felt brave, adventurous and confident in a way I never had before. It was the best experience of my life.

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Last weekend, feeling morose, I met up with my intrepid university friend Emma, who has coincidentally also lived in America. We went to the V&A and the King’s Road and I talked about how I’m bored of London again and it’s all just so dull compared to New York. She nodded sympathetically as we drank wine and ate pizza, and then went for a wander. We looked in Anthropologie, which sent me into even more reveries as I thought of the beautiful Anthropologie on Fifth Avenue, and then decided to walk up to Hyde Park, which prompted another moan about how our parks are so dull compared to the varied delights of the lovely Central Park. We popped into the pretty gardens of St Luke’s Chelsea (where Dickens got married) on our way, and I compared them with Riverside Park in New York (with a sigh, of course) before continuing on to Cromwell Road. It was here I had to stop making comparisons, because nothing in New York really does compare to the red brick gorgeousness of the upper end of Albertopolis, with the magnificence of the Royal Albert Hall flanked by the wonderfully curved mansion blocks, though I couldn’t help but comment that the big Federal style 1930s mansion block next to the Royal Geographical Society does bear more than a passing resemblance to the Museum of the City of New York in Harlem.

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As we passed the Royal Geographical Society, we noticed that they were having a photography exhibition related to the first successful Everest ascent, so we popped in to have a look. It is a small but perfectly formed display, and made me realise that actually, if I bother looking, London does have just as many quirky and interesting places to visit as New York. With hand metaphorically slapped, we headed into Kensington Gardens, which I have never properly explored. When I worked at the V&A, I only ever had time to walk up to the Albert Memorial and back, so there was never an opportunity to go off and find the Peter Pan statue, which I have been meaning to do for years. Emma and I decided that today was the day, and so off we went. As we walked, I found myself amazed by the beauty of Hyde Park. We passed a temple, and then a beautiful lake filled with swans, and then we found the Peter Pan statue (which isn’t as good as Alice in Wonderland, but you know) and then we came across the Italian Gardens, laid out to look like a terrace of a stately home. There are fountains and flowers and stone balustrades and urns, and it’s absolutely delightful. I had no idea it even existed. Sitting on a bench and surveying the scene, I thought that perhaps I might have been doing dear old London a disservice.

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After basking in the sun a while, we caught the tube and parted ways at Tottenham Court Road. I wandered down Charing Cross Road, popped into the bookshops, smiled affectionately at the tourists clambering over the lions in Trafalgar Square, dodged a red bus as I crossed the street in front of St Martin in the Fields and caught a glimpse of the Houses of Parliament as I rounded the corner to go over to the station and catch my train. No, it’s not New York, but London has its own special charm. I do love it really, and my weekend jaunt taught me that there is still much for me to discover in this city that I have always called home.

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But even so, I booked a flight to New York that evening.

47 comments

  1. Fantastic post, Rachel! Funnily enough, your feelings about New York echo my feelings about London. As a naive young American from a small desert community in the western United States, going to London alone was the bravest thing I ever did — and many thought I was crazy.

    I loved it so much I went back to another part of England and then another (and I’ve started accumulating degrees there). It really does feel like home in a way that the place in which I was born and raised never has. Isn’t it funny how that happens?

    Like you, I haven’t been back to England in nearly two years (despite my best efforts), so I’m very much looking forward to returning this summer, staying with good friends, revisiting favourite haunts and discovering new spots.

    I’m thrilled that you’ll be going back to New York soon. When will you be leaving and how long will you be gone? Any exciting travel plans? I look forward to hearing all your travel news.😀

    1. It’s strange, isn’t it, our longings for these other places? If only we could swap passports, we’d be all set! I’m glad to hear you’re coming over this summer – how wonderful. I hope you have an absolutely amazing time!
      Thank you – I’m leaving at the beginning of August and will be in the US for two weeks. I’ll be making a trip to DC to visit a dear friend but other than that, I’m not sure yet – there has been talk of the Berkshires and Boston, so we’ll see!🙂

  2. Your life sounds so exciting, Rachel. You should try living in Devon! I just wish I had your courage to go off exploring new cities. New York sounds wonderful, I would love to go one day. Ahhhh, one day…!!! Until then I will live vicariously through you. Please keep us up to date on your travel news! xxx

    1. Oh I wouldn’t call it that, Laura! I have my moments but day to day it’s pretty humdrum! I love Devon – beautiful part of the world. Courage is easy to find when you get bored, I find – eventually it becomes more scary to stay where you are than to move forward. You must save up and go to New York – it has an energy like no other place on earth. I will keep you up to date, do not worry! x

  3. I think this kind of yearning can happen whenever one has left a place behind. Especially when one is still south of 30. I’ve had the same feelings about my six months in London at 22, my two years in Honolulu at 26, and even my two years in little ole Ithaca. Each one of those places can send me into flights of longing and desire. And as you realized, London is pretty fantastic, with more than enough to offset the wonders of New York.

    Incidentally, when I lived in London I worked very close to St Luke’s in Chelsea…and now I am starting to feel all moonie about it.

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me. I think it’s a part of a yearning for adventure as much as anything else, I suppose…wanting to go back to a time when everything was new and exciting. I need to work on getting the new and exciting feel into my normal life!

      Did you? It’s a gorgeous place, isn’t it…I spent many a lunch hour in those gardens!

  4. Its funny how we yearn for something we don’t have. Sometimes I yearn for London! Having lived in Melbourne for the last 37 years I thoroughly enjoy my holidays home. Enjoy New York!

  5. Think it must have been something I was reading, but I woke up this morning thinking about New York – and how I haven’t been there in far, far too long now that work no longer takes me there occasionally. And much as I love London, it doesn’t have the same energy.
    Me too, I still haven’t got round to visiting Peter Pan though I’ve been meaning to since I was a child! But I had a long, chilly walk in Hyde Pk a couple of days ago. Must go back when the roses are out. There are wild flower beds in the rose garden – still bare earth – but they should be entrancing if we ever get a summer! And I came across another bed planted with lilies of the valley … it just needed a balmy breeze for wafting the scent!
    I came home from shopping yesterday with an enormous armful of cow parsley and borage – the lady in the bread shop kindly held it for me while I rummaged for my purse – so maybe there’s something to be said for the slightly rural charms of Central London!

    1. I love London too, but nothing can match that throbbing heart that New York has!

      You’re so funny – I love hearing about your adventures. I think you’re the person who makes the most of London out of everyone I know – I need to take a leaf out of your book!

  6. I used to live in Lexham Gardens just off the Cromwell Road and I have to say, I love London; have you been to the Japanese Garden in Holland Park? Also the other day I discovered Chiltern Street in Marylebone, which has some lovely little shops, including the Cire Trudon candle shop.

    1. You lucky thing! No I haven’t been to the Japanese Garden – another place I can add – as is Chiltern Street – there you go. Always new places to explore!

  7. I wish I could go back with you, Rachel. I miss New York terribly at the moment. It’s brilliant that you’re going back soon. Have a fantastic and amazing time, and enjoy every single moment – which I know you certainly will. If I only could, I’d be booking a flight, too.

    Hey! If Eisenberg’s Sandwich and Coffee Shop is still there (between 22nd and 23rd Streets on 5th Avenue, near the Flat Iron Building), please, please, please go in and have one of their amazing egg creams (along with their brilliant sandwiches or omelettes or knishes) – oh! and if you do treat yourself to Eisenberg’s, do get one of their tee-shirts for yourself as a wearable authentic NYC souvenir, too! I tried to buy one from them via their website, but they (very politely but apologetically) told me that ‘it wouldn’t be a real souvenir unless you actually visited NYC, visited the coffee shop and purchased one right here in our place.’ Ah well…I guess that means I’ll have to definitely make a return visit🙂. How I wish it could be sooner rather than later.

    This was a wonderful (and for me, an emotional) post.Thanks Rachel, as always, for sharing this with us. It truly touched me.

    1. I wish that you could come, June! I hope you can visit again too. I’ll do my best to get to Eisenberg’s, don’t you worry! I’m glad this touched you, but I didn’t want to make you sad! New York is just one of those places that captures your heart!

  8. And now I am totally sad. I want to wander the book tables on the South Bank and eat at a Wagamama and go to the National Portrait Gallery and see the sexy picture of John Donne. It’s just life, I guess: you never seem to get enough of the places you love, with the people you love. (Jenny? Are we booking flights soon?) (It’s okay, I know we can’t. But I wish we could.)

    1. I’m sorry! You can swap with me any time!! I wish you could book flights…London is, I know, a wonderful place and I would love to be able to see it with fresh eyes sometimes.

  9. I have followed your posts since before you went to New York and have never left a comment. I just have to say that I think we become desensitized to a city that we live and work in sometimes. I live in a historic little town in California and I have to force myself to remember the euphoria I felt when we first moved here. I went to London five years ago and still feel like it was this wonderful, wonderful dream. I think about it still and yearn to return. I loved everything about it, even the smelly deisel fumes! I did learn an appreciation of New York from your posts, but honestly, London has it over New York any day! By the way, I hope you continue to write your excellent posts.

    1. Hi Cheryle, lovely to hear from you! I think you’re absolutely right – it’s hard to see beauty when it’s all around you sometimes! A historic little town in California sounds blissful to me! The London v New York debate will forever rage! Though some might say Paris is better than either, though I don’t think it is. Thank you – I’m glad you’ve been enjoying reading!🙂

  10. And my only yearnings are for a little country village – any little country village, really! I should just get myself together and move to one…

    When are you off the NY, then?

  11. Congratulations on booking that trip! You are such an adaptable person, Rachel, something tells me you would find something to fascinate no matter where you were dropped. Certain candy bar companies had better ramp up production though – fair warning!
    During one of our walks with Deacon yesterday, Roman and I played ‘what would we do in London today?’. My pick was Greenwich; he wanted to tube out to Chiswick and walk all the way back to central London. And speaking of Charing Cross Rd…where’s my book?!! Piled under brochures and travel guides, no doubt!

    1. Thanks Darlene – you are so lovely! Oh yes – I will be hitting Economy Candy in the East Village to get my Oh Henry! fix!

      Oh Darlene…I wish you could live here and enjoy it every day. I know I should appreciate what I have more! Your book is officially on its way, don’t you worry!

  12. Congrats on booking the tickets! You’ll have so much fun (although you know my feelings on the NYC vs London debate😉 ). I look forward to hearing / reading all about it, and we must do some fun UK based things this summer too🙂 x

  13. Living in Cape Town I yearn for London. Aren’t we strange animals. I see on Old fashioned girls you are reading Wallace Stegner Crossing to Safety- It is wonderful I do hope you enjoy it too. Now I must book tickets to London as Johson said When one is tired of London one is tired of life !!!!!!

  14. I think NY is a fantastic city but so is London. They have very diferent cultural scenes yet they are both fantastic. But remember that what attracts us the most about a place is that it is not the one we feel at home in, so, when dislocated we can actually explore our identities, behave differently. But home will always be home, right?

    1. You are so right, Elena – that’s exactly what it is. I think you have to realise that and learn to be more adventurous where you are sometimes. I’m doing my best on that front!

  15. Okay, on one hand, I am insanely excited about you coming to visit, and I cannot wait to see you and go out to eat delicious food and do fun activities. On the other hand, it seems completely insane to be bored of London. I miss London terribly. If I could swing it, I would go back there in a second. All the museums are free and the subways are clearly marked.

    (Not to say I don’t love New York. I do of course. Dear lovely New York.)

  16. There you go, Rachel – bloom where you’re planted! But I’m glad you’re coming back for a visit.
    I was in New York yesterday, visiting cousins, and I hadn’t been there in 13 or 14 years! We walked more than we realized and spent much time in Central Park hearing all sorts of musicians and joke-teller. Ate at a lovely place called Basta Pasta.

    1. Isn’t it just a wonderful place to go strolling? I miss the park so much! Lucky you for getting to visit at such a beautiful time of year.

  17. I lived in London as an exchange student and loved it. After my year abroad, I didn’t return to London for ten years, afraid my memories of it would be spoiled. Finally, for my 30th birthday, I gave myself the gift of a trip to London and I loved it just as much as when I was a student. Now I visit the city at least once a year.
    Enjoy your trip to New York!

    1. I’m glad you got the chance to live here and come back so frequently! I hope I will find my trip to New York a lovely store of new memories rather than a painful reminder of old!

  18. I live in Los Angeles and used to have the good fortune to travel to Manhattan on a regular basis. Now, my position doesn’t require it and I find I can only take it so long before I have to go for a visit. Watching the Tony awards in less than two weeks might send me over the edge! It was desperately cold on my last two trips and I’m longing to walk the Highline!

  19. Nice post though I have always liked London over New York having spent around the same time (very short_) in both of them. Though the weather in London can be depressing, I can not ever relate to a place which isn’t at least a 1000 years old , which is where my problem comes with New York. I think in terms of energy they both seem the same to me. If given a choice I would pick London over New York any day.

  20. I’ve been reading through some of your entries on New York City, and I was simply amazed how positive your experience of Manhattan was, in comparison to mine.

    I personally find it to be too architecturally ugly, miasmic and dirty (especially the preponderance of dog waste) for it to be an enjoyable walking and dining experience. Post-gentrification, one finds ubiquitous soulless corporate chain shops, and rows upon rows of identical-looking street corners. Worst of all, ratchet people of all shapes, colors and sizes crowding the sidewalks, public pools and the paucity of open spaces.

    Within this deranged mess (often referred to by some as “energy” or “vibe”), one infrequently finds a handful of oases of culture and charm such as the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts.

    There is simply no comparison with Central London.

    1. Yes, if you have a problem with people of all “shapes, colors & sizes”, perhaps New York is not the place for you. Best to stay home where only your own shape, color & size can be found.

      1. ‘All shapes, colors and sizes’ is implied as an ethnically neutral statement; to exclude the occasional usage of the term that refers specifically to black ghetto dwellers in New York City.

        Your inference here is pragmatically weak, given that both cities are regarded to be ethnically diverse.

      2. (*Intended)

        I should probably point out some of my positive experiences of New York City, if my criticism rubs some natives the wrong way.

        It is a more cost-affordable city, and offers more variety and quality for the budget-minded visitor, whereas Central London tends to be geared around providing services for the well-to-do. The service culture is excellent, with more attention paid to basic courtesy to customers. It is a more religiously-minded culture based around foundational values that are ‘morally realistic’ and substantive in the philosophical sense. The people are more laid back and easy to befriend.

  21. In your original statement, you stated not simply that the sidewalks in NY were crowded, but that they were crowded with people of all “shapes, sizes and types”. So if you don’t wish someone to infer that diversity is an issue to you, why mention it all?

    1. Well I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m not here to bait an argument.

      The proposition conveyed by my criticism should be read: ‘It is bad that there are undesirables of all colors in NYC’; not: ‘It is bad that there are undesirables and people of all colors in NYC’.

      Simply put, complaints in NYC regarding ‘undesirables’ sometimes tend to be racially specific for non-white immigrants and transplants. The terminology I chose was specifically intended to dispel such implicit meanings.

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