New York, New Perspective

new york skyline

IMG_5413

I have never visited a city as a tourist after having lived there. I’ve never left anywhere that I didn’t want to leave other than New York. As such, I had no idea what to expect when I went back. I was excited, but also apprehensive. Would I feel differently about it without my own apartment to go home to, my own neighbourhood to pad around in, my circle of friends to hang out with, and the warm familiarity of my old daily routines? Would the splendour of New York and seeing all the places and people I loved throw my current life into sharp relief, making me desperate to escape once again?

The High Line

south street seaport

I soon realised that I had forgotten so much. The oppressive weight of buildings pushing down on you from high above. The sheer volume of noise on the streets. The lack of sky. The visual overstimulation caused by so much being squeezed into such a small space. The dirt. The rats. The smells. Thrown into the throbbing heart of Manhattan every single day, I quickly found myself wondering what I had found to love. Could this be the same city whose streets used to fill me with awe?

west village

Brooklyn brownstones

Desperate to rekindle my love affair with New York, I spent my leisurely days retracing my favourite haunts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. The Highline. The Bryant Park Film Festival. The South Street Seaport. Shake Shack. Union Square. The East Village. Brooklyn. I caught up with dear old friends in a series of delicious restaurants. I had a lovely time. But, to my enormous surprise, I found that the magic had gone. No longer did I see the joy and beauty and possibility that once sparkled for me on every street corner. As a tourist, I saw New York as it really is; not the mythical land of my dreams, but a noisy, crowded, dirty city, just like any other. The life I had there belonged to a person I no longer am.  As much as I often long for those halcyon days of adventure and discovery, this trip has taught me that I can’t go back, and what’s more, now I know that I don’t want to. I have changed and moved on. I don’t need New York to make me happy any more. The whole time I was there, I found myself strangely wishing I were back in London. Contrary to all of my expectations, I came home with the best souvenir I could have possibly hoped for; the realisation that I am perfectly happy right where I am.

33 comments

  1. I love the UK, and it’s hard for me to understand anyone preferring London over NYC. I was interested in your comments and what you learned on your return trip because I have a daughter who’s just left a city she loves, New Orleans, to be with her husband in NYC. She is struggling , I think, because of many of the things you mentioned in your article: the lack of sky, the crowding, the concrete, etc. Thank you. I love following your blog and your book recommendations.

    1. Yes, this trip showed me that I love the UK too. I think sometimes you can get fixated on life being ‘better’ elsewhere, without actually taking stock of all the wonderful things you have right at home. I’m sorry your daughter is struggling. NYC is a hard place to live in, but eventually, it does manage to work its charm on you. I hope she manages to feel like it’s home soon. So glad you enjoy my blog – thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. Hello Rachel, we all can have such different views on places. I do live in the U.S. but belong in the U.K. and can’t imagine not wanting to be there. I’ve never been to New York, but have always felt a certain dislike for it. I think it’s wonderful that you had such a revelation and now will have contentment for where you live, although I hope you’re not too sad that your rosy views of the place have soured. I know what discontentment like that means, for I belong in England and Scotland and I don’t live there and it’s caused me much distress over many years that I feel stuck in a place that I don’t like or identify with. The U.K., is home to me in my heart and mind, and is reflected in everything about me and all my interests and I will always feel that way. Now if I could just find myself a nice husband who lives there….one can but hope!

    I do hope that now you will be doing some more fantastic reviews of British books now that you’ve got New York out of your system! Best wishes, Lori

    1. Hi Lori – so many American people tell me that they are desperate to live in the UK and can’t understand my love affair with their country – it’s funny how different we can all be! I’m sorry that you feel distressed about not being able to live here. It’s hard to be away from where you feel you belong. I hope one day you’ll be able to make your dream come true. There are many ways to get visas!
      Thank you – I’ll do my best to get reviewing!

      1. Hello again, this is a late response after my previous one, but I was just thinking that I hope I didn’t come across too strong as I didn’t mean to put down the U.S. at all in what I said previously, I was meaning that I just have a stronger identity with British things and prefer many aspects of that, but of course there are some things one doesn’t like about any place, as no place is perfect!

  3. Life is never dull, is it? I have returned to places where I previously lived and, for the most part, I haven’t been too nostalgic or sad. You are quite right: you were a different person then to now; that makes such a difference. It’s important to go back and satisfy that hankering for what might have been because sometimes the nostalgia is for that person you were rather than the place where you lived.

    1. It’s certainly not! You are very wise Sue – yes. I think it is more nostalgia for a time in my life than the place, and it was good to get that all sorted in my head. Makes it easier to move on!

  4. Yay! So glad you’re back🙂 Sorry to hear that NY disappointed a little, but very glad if you’ve realised how amazing you are wherever you are and that you don’t need a particular city to bring that out! M xx

  5. Perhaps it was the heat? We had such lovely weather in DC after you left. The whole rest of the week was cool with low humidity. So nice.

    I really love the third picture from the top. The juxtaposition of the bright mural with the brownstones and then that gigantic apartment building is just crazy.

    1. Oh Thomas, your version of cool is not mine!!

      I loved it still – I had fun, I adored revisiting my favourite places – but the feeling of excitement I used to have every time I stepped outside had just gone.

      I know, it’s a great image, isn’t it? There are so many fantastic views like that from the Highline.

  6. This post makes me reflect on a perfect period of my life working on a French campsite. It was perfect because it didn’t go on forever & get tainted with the humdrum of year on year life. Enjoy these last few weeks before returning to school.

  7. Like other commenters, I’m very glad to see that you’re back.

    You seem to have learned early in your life about that unique heart-tugging thing ‘home’ and what it means to belong. I always wanted to live abroad and be a foreigner wherever I found myself (3 other countries) and have lived away from England for 13 years in a row now. I find I’m desperate (not too strong a word) to get back, lovely though France is. So I understand and applaud your feelings, so beautifully put, as always!

    And there’s still a bit of (English) summer left!

    1. Thanks Chrissy! I think it’s all part of life experience, isn’t it – working out what home is and where you belong. As much as I love new experiences and foreign travel, I think I have finally realised that I love the UK too much to make anywhere else my permanent home!
      Oh yes – it’s very sunny today!🙂

  8. “I have travelled among unknown men,
    In lands beyond the sea;
    Nor, England! did I know till then
    What love I bore to thee.”

    William Wordsworth

  9. You have discovered one of the secrets to happiness; being happy with what you have, where you have it and when you have it. I lived in Switzerland, and loved it whilst I was there, but the UK is my home – although maybe one day when I have less obligations I will disappear to hotter climes when February starts to inch it’s cold, grey, damp fingers round the door…

    1. Thanks Lilac. I think home will always be where my heart is. It just took me a while to realise it! Though February is always a tough month for me, too…

  10. Rather like trying to jump back into a very good dream, or fairy tale, isn’t it? As I read this, Rachel, I started thinking of Dorothy in the movie version of the Wizard of Oz, clinking her red ruby slippers and and saying “there’s no place like home”. There is nothing like experiencing a big, or a little, city for the very first time, is there?

  11. I agree with you. I’m an American, but living in London for 15 years has spoiled me. Every time I’m in New York or Boston, the two US places I occasionally visit, I can’t wait to get back here.

  12. I hope someday you will have the chance to visit some more of the USA. It truly is a beautiful country. I am not a person who would enjoy a long visit in a big city, but there are many parts to America that are breathtaking and some that are more subtle with peaceful vistas and a slower pace. Canada also has so much beauty, especially my personal favorite, Prince Edward Island.

  13. When I was on my year abroad I embarked upon my time in Paris expecting to adore it. It was my teenage dream. I thought I’d never, ever want to leave but my New Year holiday at 15 stayed my highlight. I was, perhaps inevitably, disappointed. It was beautiful yes, entertaining, yes but it just wasn’t me anymore. It did make me feel a bit lost at first. I had left England thinking I’d fulfil a dream. I did in away, it just left me with a slightly empty feeling.

    My departure for St. Petersburg was the opposite. I spent weeks at home wondering why on earth I’d chosen Russian instead of a sensible western European language, promising six months in sunny Italy or Portugal. However, and again perhaps inevitably, I adored it. Everything I thought I’d feel about France and Paris, I found in Russia and St. P. It changed me, similarly to how New York affected you. Now, I see Paris in my pictures or on the TV and I think, I want to go back on holiday there. I see St. P and yearn for it, my heart lurches a bit for my life then. But I think that’s just it – the life, the experience more than the city. I find it hard to extricate the two from each other. Do I just yearn for pre-graduation, pre-I-have-to-be-an-adult-now life rather than the city? I’m actually weary of re-visiting out of fear of disappointment. Part of me is also worried my feelings won’t have changed. Whichever may be the case, for now, I’m happy for my bubble of rosy memories to continue from afar.

    I’m glad you found what you needed in your trip. I suppose it’s easier this way too.🙂 Anyway, sorry about the essay!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience – it sounds like we have had been through the same sort of thing. I think it’s always hard to go back to a place you loved at a particular time in your life. It’s less about the place and more about the person you were and you can’t get that person back. Having said that, going back to NY and not loving it hasn’t tarnished my old memories at all – I will always treasure the time I spent living there, and more than anything, it’s a relief to know that I can let go of those longings, look back fondly, but be happy where I am now. I hope you will get to go back to St P – I thought it was the most beautiful city when I visited as a teenager. How lucky you are to have been able to live there!

  14. What a fantastic post. I have never been to NY and I am currently starting to plan a trip there for next Spring. I see where you were coming from in what you said, but what you wrote made me want to go even more! I have been researching all blogs and looking for literature and well written pieces on the city. So far your post has really been a favorite. I did fine a great book 365 Guide New York City by Monica DiNatale, monicadinatale.com and it’s been a really great help in finding places to eat and drink while visiting the city on all kinds of budgets. So I can say I am well on my way to having a great experience there!

  15. Thanks for checking out 365 Guide! I also tweet out free deals everyday. Please let me know if you need restaurant recommendations. I eat out 8 days a week!

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