There’s something very unreal about travelling.
You look at countries on a map, you know they’re there, that they exist and people live there, but somehow the knowledge remains as intangible as a dream. It’s only when you clamber off the plane and start paying for things with Monopoly money that it begins to sink in.
I’ve spent the last two weeks haunting Manhattan, pounding up and down the avenues, my shoes worn thin by the hot tarmac. The first week was for work (my day job), the second holiday — the two combined long enough for me to slip into the smog and bustle of NYC as if it were a second skin, my life in London all of a sudden a distant dream.
Midtown Manhattan is a true concrete jungle, hard flat lines of asphalt, angular buildings, thousands of windows. There is little space to breathe between the ever-open shops and restaurants. At night white vapour rises from the manholes and twines with the wheels of the ubiquitous yellow taxis, curling long, hot fingers into the air. Gothic churches snuggle up beside sleek skyscrapers, and there is always, forever, the droning hum of air conditioning.
By day, you can escape to Central Park and within minutes lose sight of all buildings and traffic. Yet from the top of the Rockefeller you realise that Central Park is but a tiny carpet in the living room of NYC, an ornamental rug neatly placed in the centre of the room.
Little Italy is laughably fake, Chinatown is surprisingly grimy and bewildering. East Village is rough around the edges but with a flair of style, West Village is low-storied and peaceful. And the only word I have for the nightlife in the Meatpacking district is ‘eurotrashy’ (although I’ll admit that Soho House does a mean burger).
The little I saw of Brooklyn was more akin to a bedroom—residential, quiet, restful. From the shoreline you can look on to the furore of Manhattan and wonder why anyone would live there.
And yet… for two glorious weeks the city was mine. I saw the Statue of Liberty. I crossed Brooklyn Bridge, I went to the Natural History Museum. I picnicked in Central Park, ate bruschettas at Inoteca and ventured into the bowels of the underground. I walked far more than my legs care to remember and ate a lot of (very good) food.
Yet here I am, back in London, fighting exhaustion, dreading work tomorrow morning. I’ve only been in the country for six hours and the memories are already fading, ephemeral, as if I never travelled at all.
There’s something very unreal about travelling. It feels like the last two weeks were a dream, and a part of me wonders whether — during the flight over — New York has simply evaporated into a thin mist.