I love city dynamics, the movement, the energies flowing in all different directions and unique expressions; the arts, the nightlife, the anonymity and ability to walk out your door donning a pair of scruffy tracky b's, pair of shades and a beanie to get a coffee in the small hours without worrying about who might recognise you (having grown up in small villages - where everyone knows everyone - I also know that feeling).
It is really hard for me to write a list of only 10 but I thought I'd give it a go. Here are my top 10 most mind blowing cities from around the world. Not in any particular order.
- Florence, Italy. Birthplace of the Italian language thanks to Dante, a beautiful river with old fashioned bridges, delicious Italian food and the old market square really made Florence a special place to visit. Nearly a third of the world's art treasures reside in the Tuscan capital of Florence. It's terribly romantic but has such a timeless essence to it that I just love. I would love to sit outside at a cafe and drink an espresso watching the world go by while learning Italian or eating homemade pasta.
- Vienna, Austria. I wasn't so interested in Austria until recently. Over the last few years I've visited a couple of times and been fortunate enough to pass through Vienna. A land where time stood still and horses and carriages still trundle through the cities beautifully paved streets. Known as the “city of dreams” a term coined by Sigmund Freud’s influence on the city as the world’s first psycho-analyst born there. The baroque architecture is so regal, perfect and pristine white that it just glows in the sunshine and the city is such a fantastic place to wonder around feeling safe and philosophical...
- Kyoto, Japan. Ah I loved my time in Kyoto. Like Japan, this city has a beautiful blend of old and new. From the old narrow streets where one might glimpse Geisha's amongst the temples to the new modern neon lit buildings, Kyoto has something quite unique about it. Sat in a valley, while the weather is humid in summer and rainy in winter, it has a wonderful river passing through it and beautiful walks alongside temples and gardens. It is great for a hot saki and sushi street snacks and gatherings, it is also very bike friendly. The main challenge I found was the language but a great way to sharpen your skills in 'communicating by stomach' and recognising when a friendly Japanese has no idea but doesn't want to say that word they don't like to say ('No'). I did a day trip to Mount Kurama where there's an old temple and the ancient energy healing technique 'Reiki' was born from. Very spooky spiritual place.
- New York, USA. Start spreading the news! This is a city where you very much feel a part of it. Wow. I'm buzzing just thinking about it. I've not had my socks blown off quite like it as I did when I was in the Big Apple. Never have I found a metro underground system so grimy yet entertaining. I got lost countless times while living in New York and would love finding a random band jamming on the platform, kids pulling out epic dance moves swinging from the bars in the carriages and the fascinating conversations to be had with people from all walks of life. My British accent went down a treat in New York and it was a city that even during winter, had fun activities and a Christmassy cheer to it. I still get a sense of nostalgia thinking about that city. Ridiculously competitive, loud mouthed and happy to kick you in the balls if you've got some, I got kissed a few times by this city in a way that was totally forgivable but challenged me oh it did.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina. Everyone in this city is beautiful and having therapy. Which is probably a good thing. I have always said you can tell a city by its pigeons and Buenos Aires is the only city where I've seen pigeons eating beef scraps. The pavements are broken and littered with dog poop and the architecture is spectacular while the sky a dream. A recipe for disaster if you're someone who likes to look up in admiration, especially if you're in heals. Nevertheless, I just love this latin city. It was one of the most heart breaking cities I've visited but in a way that has left a mark forever. The football, the theatre, the ice cream and the sky. I loved living in BA. People challenged so many of my Britishisms and the city pushed all my buttons and yet I kept loving it out, loving it out and still love this mind-blowing chaotic latin city fiercely. This is a city for poets and artists preferably on a foreign income...
- London, UK. An organised, prestigious, diverse and interesting city. London is the only city I've been to where I've seen a man with jewels embedded in his head as a mohawk sat next to a man in a pin stripped business suit on the underground. I love London and I love my London crew. I play in the East when I want to dress like a teenager, make grimy look cool and dance to some of the world's best electronic music. I settle in the West if I want to visit some fancy art galleries or my favourite building, the History Museum, while drinking tea and going for a city stroll. It is a city of many faces and many stories. If they could make the sky higher, rain less frequent and people less busy and stressed, I'd be tempted to live there again...
- Sydney, Australia. I lived in Sydney for 4 years - so I knew it pretty well. Life by the beach, coming home to sunshine, having access to some amazing restaurants and asian cuisine is such a dream. With the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley close by and an abundance of fun outdoor things to do, such as surfing, trekking, cocktails on rooftops, yogging, picnic, BBQs and festivals etc. this cosmopolitan city will always have a special place in my heart. It's miles away from the rest of the world but sometimes I wonder, perhaps that'd not a bad thing after all.
- Kathmandu, Nepal. One of the most hectic, crazy, cows in the road, monkeys on the highway city I've been to. Waking up to the sound of all the temple bells and the morning puja's is a beautiful experience. Going to one of the many UNESCO Heritage sights such as Boudhanath Stupa and doing the auspicious walk around the prayer flagged stupa is a very unique experience. As is visiting the burning ghats. Not for the faint of heart but certainly a place to have the eyes opened wide and feel a million miles away from one's comfort zone (old post on Nepali trip here).
- Jaisalmer, India. The Golden City of the Rajasthan desert (old post on Rajasthan here), this place is just magnificent. My friend and I slept under the stars in the desert one night on a camel safari, watched camel racing and walked around the lake feeling totally mesmerised. This city is a place of pure wonder, deliciously spicy curry and days easily spent admiring the fantastically etched buildings of the Raj. It is the kind of place where one could live for a few months and write a novel.
- Siem Reap, Cambodia. This country is actually incredibly sad. Its one of the saddest places I've ever been to and the wounds of the Khmer Rouge are still fresh in the hearts and bones of many generations that survived the horrific killings that took place in the 70's. The Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap however are absolutely astounding and walking round imagining the ancient civilisations that lived among these old grand relics embedded in the jungle is just amazing. Siem Reap is a great city to give to by donating blood, supporting the anti land-mine efforts or getting a massage by the blind community. I would never choose to live there but for a mind blowing experience, it's pretty impressive.