Four Cities, One Great Thing

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 8th, 2009

Here’s a challenge. Think of your favorite city and pick your very favorite thing about it. Think of it as a “you are stuck on a desert island and you can only bring 1 thing” type of question. Except this time it’s “think of your four favorite cities and pick just one thing to share about them.” That’s the challenge Matt and I made for each other – pick four cities we both love, and share just one thing about each place. It is harder than you think.

New York City
New York City Skyline
I used to live in New York City. This make it both easier – and much harder – to pick one thing to love. And I’m going to cheat just a little here. I am not going to pick one thing about New York to love, I’m going to pick one idea about New York to love.

No doubt you can find a million unique things to chose from in New York – street-side pretzels, sidewalk dinners at 3am, the first day of spring, the Brooklyn Bridge, the museums. But all of that is just stuff. And as a former short-term resident of New York, I think there’s a more powerful idea here. The very fact that New York exists, and that you can actually live in it.

I believe, firmly, that every person should live in New York City for at least a year. Whether you’re rich or poor, American or foreign, young or old, single or married, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s such an amazing, confusing, frustrating and rewarding place to live. It’s unlike any other city I’ve visited. And that madness is something everybody should experience.

London
London Parliament house
I’ve been to London many times. And I’ve read the collected works of Charles Dickens more than once. And that’s what I love about London – its history is right there, just below the surface. Sometimes it’s even right there on the surface, like when you enter a pub that was mentioned in Great Expectations or Bleak House, and virtually nothing has changed since Charles Dickens wrote about it in the 1850s!

I’ve had this experience more than once, reading a passage from Dickens inside an ancient London pub, noting the very same decorations Dickens noted in his pages. You can’t just walk into the streets of San Francisco and into a Gold Rush-era saloon. Paris and Rome have many beautiful and historical buildings, yet history feels less intimate, less ‘right there’. You have to use some imagination to conjure up a gladiator battle at the Colosseum. Yet in London, in many parts of the city, its history is very much alive and present. And that’s what I love about London.

Amsterdam
Amsterdam in Winter
Most people think of Amsterdam and they think of weed. But for me, the thing I love about Amsterdam is how beautiful it looks under a light coat of snow. I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times in the summer, and there’s no denying that Amsterdam is a wonderful place to spend a warm summer day.

But a few years ago, we ended up changing planes in Amsterdam in the middle of December. Our layover was something like 20 hours. So we headed into the city for a night. We were sunburned and dirty after 3 weeks camping in the Serengeti. I’m not sure any of us had warm coats. But no matter, we had 20 hours in Amsterdam and that was good enough.

It snowed nearly the entire time. We wandered the streets until 3am, marveling at the gently falling snow, the achingly beautiful canals, the towering architecture. And I was awed by how beautiful love Amsterdam looked in the snow.

Bangkok
Bangkok Wat Pho
I struggle when people ask me a question like, “what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?” I don’t know, I’ve had lots of great meals. And there’s no easy way to compare them.

But when it comes to massages, I can answer in a heartbeat – Bangkok. At the massage school inside Wat Po in central Bangkok. Wat Po is one of Bangkok’s most impressive temple complexes. You can easily spend a few hours wandering the grounds and enjoying the tranquility. The hectic streets of Bangkok seem a million miles away inside the grounds of Wat Po.

And then you come upon it: a massage school in the center of the complex, where a 30-minute massage from massage students costs $10. And it’s not a second-rate massage. Anything but. To my mind, the massages offered are the best in the world. All over Bangkok you find massage parlors. Thai massages are world famous and whenever I am there, I consistently get one, especially when I am at Wat Po.

Guest blogger Scott McNeely is normally found managing the online activities at the tours and activities website Viator.com.

comments 9 Comments

I couldn’t choose one thing about New York City either, I think it’d have to be 8.3 million things—it’s people. A friendly, diverse, wonderful crowd. I could spend weeks just walking around Manhattan! Which is of course, all I could afford to do if I were to live there. Haha!

Of the four of these places I have only been to Amsterdam. I bet it would be a lot more enjoyable in the snow than it was for me in the POURING rain!

Very interesting post idea. I will be keeping your thoughts in mind when I do make it to the other cities!

I choose three cities, and they were London, Amsterdam and NY. it seems that every body falls in love with those great places!!! What I love about all of them is the sort of easiness you can feel when wondering those cities.
A fourth city, probably Ljubljana, Slovenia. I had a great time there.

Great concept. Of the 4 cities I haven’t been to Amsterdam but it’s way on the top of my list. I think the diversity in NY will be what I will pick for one great thing about the city.

And yes, massage in Bangkok is top notch (not just because it’s my hometown) but I also would be hard pressed to pick between that and food.

Wat Po is a fantastic place. I just wish it wasn’t in Bangkok. I’d like to visit again but don’t particularly like Bangkok.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only been to Schipol airport, never Amsterdam itself, which considering I live in London is pitiful.

I too love the history in London. Have you read Peter Ackroyd’s ‘London: the biography’? It’s a fascinating book and talks about the idea that the streets themselves hold memories. If you walk around an area like Brick Lane, which seems to have history seeping out of the bricks, it’s easy to believe.

I’d also choose London, NY and Bangkok as favourite cities. Probably Tokyo would be my fourth. This post is a great idea.

I agree with Sean on this one. Very interesting idea to share only one thing from each city.

Would love to live in New York City for a year. The longest time I’ve spent there is 2 weeks; that’s far from enough.

Toronto: Well, my hometown, but what’s great about it really is the diversity of the city. When we say we are the most diverse city in the world we mean it. It’s not just a whole bunch of people from different walks of life living in one city, it really is a melting pot of culture in here. I’ve been to other cities (like New York) that also claims their diversity but there is something truly different with how we do it here in Toronto. We don’t just accept it, we embrace it. How we do it is by recognizing their culture. Some ethnic cultures lose their identity once settling in other cities, in Toronto our city thrives on keeping those culture without hurting our Canadian identity as well. “Diversity, our strength” is our city motto. Try coming here as a tourist/traveler and you blend in real fast.
The word: Diversity

New York City: Wow, there is nothing quite like it! The first i went to NYC was in 2002 and at that time the city was still grim from the previous event. I thought the city was ugly. In 2007 I came back with a different attitude towards the Big Apple and fell in love with it. What made me fall in love? The vibe! You can’t explain it, there’s just something pulsating in this place that keeps it alive, strong and beautiful. Could it be the people? Could it be the skyline? Could it be that big city attitude? Whatever it is, the pulse of the big apple is what made me fall in love.
The word: Pulse

San Francisco: Compared to the Big Apple, this westcoast city is just plain beautiful. Imagine a beautiful painting in an art gallery compacted in a small frame in a far corner of the room. Now stand in front of it and be awed by its beauty. The city is beautiful to look at, admire and explore. Don’t be fooled by the slow(er) pace in this city, it is action packed! From Alcatraz, to the Castro, Golden Gate Bridge and the fog that envelopes it to the Wine country in its backyard, it is the Monet of American cities.
The word: Monet

Panama City (Panama, not Florida): Boy this place took me by surprise! I didn’t expect this city to blow me away. This city has the real beauty of old meets the new, colonial marrying the urban, traditional embracing modern. One moment you are walking in a cobble stone admiring old churches and houses built during the Spaniard colonization, next thing you know you are gazing up to a skyline the likes of Miami. During the day you explore Casco Viejo and at night you party it away with the locals at a nightclub. This is a city with dual personality that blends well.
The word: Gemini City

I will definitely try to get a massage at Wat Po when we are in Thailand in a few weeks…can’t wait. Thanks for the tip!

Leave a comment