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Travel Memories: USA Part 1 - My Two Cities

This post is part of our Travel Memories series, where I'm reminiscing about trips we took prior to starting this blog. To read more about the series, please check out Travel Memories: Fiji.

New York City

Although the United States is my home country, I've been playing tourist when we've visited over the last seven years. I left a big part of my heart in New York City when I left in 2005 and since John loves it as much (well, I think almost as much) as I do, we have always vowed to move back there someday when we can afford it. It's complicated - John needs a Green Card, which we can get but must apply for, and I would have to sponsor him - a whole other scenario that requires some planning on our parts. So in the meantime we have to make due with trips back when we can, this one being in 2009.

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View from the top of the Empire State Building, New York City

I always knew I would move to New York City one day. My mother's side of the family are from New Jersey and reside both there and in New York, though I didn't have any opportunities to visit growing up. In college, many of my closest friends were from New York and I first experienced the city by visiting them on different occasions. It was love at first sight. After finishing portfolio school in San Francisco I finally made the move. My time there was relatively short but long enough to make lasting friendships and business connections. These have lasted long since I took off to Australia one day to spend the summer with John and began my international nomadic adventures.

statue of libertyThe first time John visited the city was just after Christmas the year we met. It was cold and, being Australian and all, he was averse to the cold and spent most of his time indoors. I was working and didn't get to take him around to any sights (we did eat at Peter Luger, saw Avenue Q and went to a Giants game so I wasn't a completely terrible host). Aside from a few Broadway shows and concerts, I hadn't done too many touristy things myself. So this trip we decided we'd do all the typical things one does when they visit New York for the first time for sightseeing. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, saw the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, went to Ground Zero, had several dinners at top restaurants and visited Central Park. We spent the rest of our time with family and friends, which is always the best part of any visit to NYC for me.

ellis island immigrant names

The Statue of Liberty is beautiful but I was more interested in getting to Ellis Island to find my great-grandparents' names on the immigration wall. I knew they were there but had never ventured out to see them before.

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Sea Lions at Central Park Zoo

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Penguins at the Central Park Zoo

This trip was also the first time either of us had the opportunity to visit friends in Harlem and it quickly became my new favourite neighbourhood. I highly recommend that anyone who visits the city should check it out. It's huge so I realize I'm not being a very good guide here by saying, "You must go to Harlem!" but with so many beautiful buildings, affordable quality restaurants and stunning views along the river, just a wander will leave you wanting more.

river view harlem

View from Harlem across to New Jersey

So while my mother's entire side of the family hail from New Jersey and most of my friends are from or in New York City, my father's side migrated to another great American city...

Chicago

I'm a big city lover and I believe this came from the many trips I took to Chicago as a child. My father would always take me to the city at least one day during our family visits and we'd spend lots of time exploring the city, shopping or going to museums. While I prefer New York (sorry, Dad), I still love Chicago with all my heart. I only slightly prefer a New York slice to a stuffed deep-dish pie and the parks along Lake Michigan rival Central Park for me. After a brief detour, which I'll talk about in Part Two, we headed to the Windy City over the 4th of July.

the bean chicago

I'm a big fan of The Bean, which creates interesting reflections of the city skyline. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else and it's great for taking cool photos like the one below.

chicago bean photos

We didn't have much time because of the holiday but I wanted to take John around the city. Last time we visited it was over Thanksgiving and the one day we planned to go downtown we were thwarted by a blizzard that closed Willis Tower. The number one reason why I've never considered Chicago as a place to live is the weather. Yes, it gets cold and icy in New York, but the proximity to the ocean keeps it reasonable. When the Chicago wind blows it's cutting. I can't hack it. In this respect I think Chicagoans are tougher than New Yorkers.

cop on a segway

One of the main things I wanted to do was to take one of the brilliant architecture boat cruises so that we could learn more about Chicago's incredible buildings. I took a lot of photos on the tour but I'll only share this one, because it is the iconic building that I always remember from my childhood visits.

chicago architecture

In keeping with the architecture theme, my cousin also took us to Oak Park where it is possible to view many homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen them before as he is one of my favourite architects. When you visit places where you know people I think it is easy to overlook some of the wonderful things there are to do there.

oak park Frank Lloyd Wright houses

My father and his wife live on a beautiful lake in the suburbs so it was the perfect place to hole up and have a family barbecue for a rainy 4th of July.

I don't know if they still do so many in this economy, but in 2009 several different suburbs had their own fireworks displays so it wasn't necessary to go downtown if you wanted to see fireworks on the holiday. After plenty of nice food and drinks we settled in to watch them from the deck.

chicago fireworks

On our last day we visited the Field Museum, which houses natural history exhibits and artefacts. Chicago has an incredible collection of museums, from the Art Institute to the Museum of Science and Industry to Shedd Aquarium.

sue field museum

'Sue' is the largest, most complete and most well-preserved of all T-rex skeletons in the world.

We saw quite a few things at the Field Museum but the exhibit that most struck a chord with me was the one called "Mass Extinction." It discussed the chronology of extinction events throughout the planet's history, leaving me with no doubt that another one will occur sometime in the future. Who knows whether it will be in our lifetime or not - a pretty sobering thought that reminds one to follow the old cliche of living life to the fullest now.

What's your favourite big city in the world?

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35 Comments on "Travel Memories: USA Part 1 - My Two Cities"

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Nick

I really like Chicago because it has kept its mid-western attitudes (friendly and a bit slower paced) even though it’s a large city. I’ve never been to New York (I really want to, though), but from interacting with people there I have to admit it’s more intimidating because the people talk faster and the pace seems a lot faster… Of course, the fact that I’m from Iowa most likely means I’m biased towards Chicago (:

Inspiring Travellers

Both great cities and yes, quite different. You have to keep your wits about you in New York (well, anywhere really). Thanks for the comment, Nick! =)

Kurt

Isn’t absolutely amazing what you don’t do as a tourist when you live in NY? I have yet to go to the Statue of Liberty. Funny.

Inspiring Travellers

I had never been there either until I came back as a tourist – you should go – it’s a fun experience! =)

Megan

i completely agree with you on loving chicago. i, on the other hand, prefer it over new york (the east coaster in me just became completely disloyal). while i love NY’s food scene…and the city in general, i just find chicago inspiring for some reason. i love all of the little neighborhoods and the people…especially their toughness as you mentioned 🙂 im heading back to take the boyfriend this summer (actually were gonna be in both NY and chicago) and he has never seen the windy city! i hope he falls in love and wants to move there someday

Inspiring Travellers

I think with those two cities you always prefer one over the other. There’s a certain laid-back-ness to Chicago that I love…it’s big city while still staying decidedly mid-western.

Emily in Chile

I love New York from the little time I’ve spent there and really want to go with Rodolfo. It just has such crazy energy!

Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com

I didn’t like NYC that much when I was there, but I think that might have had something to do with the company I was keeping. I will probably give it another chance though.

Inspiring Travellers

Good company is so important when you’re checking out a destination. We felt that way about a large portion of our time in Peru, unfortunately, which I think we would have loved so much more if we did it on our own. Definitely give NYC another chance!

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