New York, New York

central-park
Chilly strolls through Central Park

I wasn’t in Times Square when the ball dropped, but arrived a few days later to kick off 2017 in what’s arguably the world’s greatest city.

Other than a quick jaunt into the city during a 12 hour layover to Toronto from Ecuador, this was my first time in NYC. All I can say after my short visit: 4 days, 3 nights, is that I want to go back. Many, many times.

times-square
Times Square
grand-central-station
Grand Central Station (photo taken in August, 2016)

From 2009-2010, I lived in London, UK, another one of the world’s great cities. Even though I lived and worked there, met some lifelong friends, connected with locals, and even played on a rugby team, I still don’t feel like I really KNOW London. I’ll never be able to go to all of the pubs, cute little cafés, bookstores, or visit all of the unique neighbourhoods. No matter how many times I go back, I’ll never really know London. New York felt the same: every trip will be filled with new discoveries, new adventures, new possibilities, new mistakes, new lessons.

Maybe this is what makes a city great: a combination of sameness and newness, predictability and adventure, traditional and modern, stale and fresh. It’s nodding to the past while looking to the future.

There’s the awe and nostalgia of walking in the theatre district and imagining all of the stars who performed there. Or spending nights in gritty comedy clubs, wondering which celebrities once got their big break in the same run-down bars, likely hovering over the toilet seat because it was too disgusting to sit on, just like you did. There’s the fascination of staring at fancy cars with tinted windows, imagining that they might be escorting A-Listers, or picturing the cute barista who served your Grande Bold at Starbucks as the new McHottie in the next season of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s where dreams are made but also interrupted.

chelsea-market
Chelsea Market

 

high-line-graffit
West End Graffiti

 

While in New York, I was reminded that everyone starts somewhere, and that what we are doing right now doesn’t make us who we are. It was also a refreshing lesson that life is full of surprises, from stumbling upon inspiring street art on the High Line, to discovering the most delicious pizza I’ve ever tasted in Midtown, to practising my Spanish at 2am in Greenwich Village, to reconnecting with friends in Hells Kitchen.

New York helped me realize that greatness doesn’t come without struggle, and that the struggle always takes us somewhere, even if it wasn’t where we thought we’d be going. So I guess there’s no other option than to accept the struggle, to stick with it, and not to beat myself up if I ate too much pizza or drank too much beer along the way, as tomorrow will always be a new adventure and New York will always be there.

tonight-show
My 1.5 sec of fame on the Jan. 4th episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (second row on right, second from right)

Embracing new relationships & yearning for an old flame

When I lived in London, UK, I brought my camera on every weekend getaway or school vacation.

Looking through my travel photos, I have hundreds of pictures of my adventures in Europe: celebrating my 25th birthday with the Mona Lisa, cycling with my Dad in Spain and Italy, and journeying through Eastern Europe by rail.

Dad and Shannon in Italy
Dad and I representing “Team Canada” on the Giro d’Italia. Next stop: Monte Grappa!

But I have very few pictures of London itself. In fact, I don’t have a single photo of the places cinco minutos de mi casa (five minutes from my house) that I saw every day and developed a connection with.

No photos of the old Victorian buildings.

Or of the cobblestone alleyways.

Or of the artsy cafés & bars (where I’d go to write my blog, inspired that Oscar Wilde may have once sat down to write in the same places).

Or of the designer consignment stores, like the one where I bought a funky shirt-dress for five pounds, which my students decided was a hideous fashion blunder and claimed made me look like a cupcake/sumo wrestler.

Or of the many electronic shops on Tottenham Court Road that I walked by every day but never stepped inside.

Or of my favourite pub, the King & Queen.

Maybe I didn’t take as many pictures at “home” because it’s harder to look at the parts of  my life that go deeper than tourist shots. I started to see a London that captured all of the joys and heartaches that come with living.

In my neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, I developed strategies for coping with struggles at work, like rainy runs in Regent’s Park, or a Turkish Wrap at the Camden Lock Market, as well as rituals for celebrating success, like pints at the neighbourhood pub, or spontaneous dance parties followed by late-night Korean food.

I learned to feel the pulse and beat of the city (“Do you hear that sound? It’s London, calling…”, an old man whispered to me after last call at a pub he’d been frequenting every night for the last 40 years).

I discovered the most efficient routes for navigating public transit (don’t fall asleep on the last train from Clapham Junction and avoid night buses at all costs!) and the etiquette for using it (avoid eye contact, keep to yourself, become as stressed out as possible, and most importantly, “mind the gap”).

My relationship with London was definitely love-hate. It inspired me to live wildly and deliberately. It broke me down and drained my bank account. It’s a city that brought out the best and worst in me. It’s left me with a hopeful yearning that, perhaps, if we’re lucky, our stars will eventually align and we might have another shot at each other sometime in the future.

My passionate affair with London pushed me to those moments of agony and ecstasy that sometimes get lost in the monotonous grind of daily life. Ultimately, it forced me to grow and become stronger than I was before because I wouldn’t have survived if I’d stayed the same.  That’s what the best relationships do: they change you.

My relationship with Manizales, Colombia, is still fresh–I moved here in October 2015. So, it’s too soon to know which parts of it will stay in my heart and which parts I’ll want to leave behind. But with all of its cafés, vibrant culture, and easy access to the outdoors, I can easily see how it’s been voted as Colombia’s best city to live in.

In light of my regret about not documenting my life in London, here are some photos of places in my new neighbourhood in Manizales: spots that are all cinco minutos de mi casa. I’m still in tourist mode, though, so let’s see how intimately I come to know them in the future.

Juan Valdez
Since Manizales is in Colombia’s “Coffee Triangle,” there’s no shortage of places to go for a caffeine fix.
Juan Valdez cafe
Juan Valdez Café is a popular spot to sit outside and have una capuchino y croissant con queso (a cappuccino and cheese croissant)
La Suiza
I like going to La Suiza on a Sunday afternoon for a coffee, pastry, or a limonada de coco.
Kaffe Florida
What better way to spend an evening than writing at Kaffe Florida?
Bar
It’s always patio season when you live only 5 degrees north of the Equator!
Track
Estadio Palogrande soccer stadium & amazing outdoor sports complex: cycling track, running track, soccer fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, bike park
University
Manizales is known for its academic culture and has been called the “Boston of Colombia.”
Avenida
Los Domingos (on Sundays) Avenida Santander, a main strip, is closed to cars in the mornings. Hundreds of cyclists and joggers take advantage of being able to workout on the paved, flat road.
View of mountains
For me, the best part of living in Manizales is its easy access to the outdoors. View of the mountains from a side street off of the busy Avenida Santander.