ESCAPING COLUMN Intrepid adventurer Sian still loves a city break.
Exploring a brand new metropolis can bring adventure and an immersive cultural experience
So often in this column I wax lyrical about the joys of remote adventure travel. Of wandering far from the madding crowd, escaping to empty landscapes, answering the call of the wild. But there’s also a lot to be said for the lure of the big city. For the excitement of travelling to a brand new metropolis stu ed with exotic food to taste, winding streets to get lost in and locals living what my friend Nick once nicely summed up as ‘other people’s normal’, a normal that is so fascinating to watch and to experience when it’s vastly di erent to your own way of life at home.
My absolute favourite city in the world is New York, New York. It’s a place where you can be anyone, do anything you want, where liberty has been the buzzword since the statue herself was erected in 1875. When I’m in the city I always think of journalist Tom Wolfe’s words: “One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in ve minutes as in ve years”.
The great thing about a city is that you can create your own personalised version of it. In New York there’s the wonderful Highline garden to walk in if you’re a nature lover, ea markets for vintage fanatics and even a ying trapeze school set against a backdrop of skyscrapers, if you fancy an adrenaline rush. Plan a city break around what you love and you’re guaranteed a good time – you could spend a week nding the perfect bento in Tokyo, losing yourself in the jazz clubs of New Orleans, seeking out Berlin’s quirkiest bars and secret underground nightclubs. You can live like a local, too, especially if you rent a local’s apartment instead of staying in a hotel.
Another reason I love city exploring is how much you can quickly immerse yourself in the art and culture of the country you’ve touched down in. Even if I’m o on a wild adventure, I love to begin my trip with a few days in the capital. When I was headed to Mexico’s beautiful cloud forests for a mountain biking trip I was warned o tarrying for more than ve minutes in Mexico City, but the capital turned out to be fabulous – a bright, busy city, a mishmash of the old and new, full of museums stu ed with incredible indigenous artefacts and home to the best tamales I’ve ever eaten. And like all cities, when the bustle gets too much you can always escape to quieter places. My highlight was taking the metro out to the quiet, leafy neighbourhood of Colonia del Carmen, where Frida Kahlo’s home, La Casa Azul (the Blue House) is now a museum to her life and work. A day spent amongst its rainbow of treasures was enough to make me fall in love with both Kahlo and her hometown.
City hopping in Europe is one of my favourite dropeverything-and-go adventures. Flights are often cheap (especially if you’re exible and keep an eye out for deals) and you barely need to plan anything – just pack a bag and go, and grab a map and rent a bike when you get there. Paris, Copenhagen, Seville; they’re all perfectly sized for a long weekend of exploring.
You don’t need to cross borders to be an urban explorer, either. When were you last a traveller in your own city? I feel the same about London as I do New York – you can make it exactly what you want. Foodie? Plan a gourmet safari around its markets and street food stalls. Wild at heart? How about a swim at Hampstead Ladies’ Ponds, one of my absolute favourite places on earth? Looking at where you live with new eyes can really change how you feel. I’ve lived in Bristol for ve years and I’m still nding new ways to explore my very own city – I’ve stand-up paddled on its harbour, rock climbed up its cli s and ridden a tandem bike on its streets. There’s always hot air ballooning to try next...