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3 Cities of Contrast With a Side Order of Solo Traveling

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It exists. The perfect temperature, where the summer days are hot and winter evenings are cool. A history, worth celebrating the cornerstones of, yet having shades of modernization. A juxtaposition between a set of people who live in mansions on one side of the street and the ones who thrive in relative squalor on the other. To go about a city’s rhythm, wandering about its symphony on a quest to find its vibrant youth culture, one could characterize cities into contrasting realities of their life. One of the striking questions remains- Can you input any world city into these descriptions? 

When east meets the west, land meets the sea,

fantasy overlaps with history – these traveling clichés do not seem all that bad. The thought of having complete freedom in these possibly pseudo suburban truths is what seems so appealing about solo traveling. Putting personal growth aside, which indeed flourishes when one overcomes the amount of fear with mindfulness and serendipitous encounters, I believe solo travel to be a spiritual experience. Getting up in the morning away from the messy structure of reality, it feels freeing to see how inviting the world could be amongst the perception of ‘wanderlust’ – yet another traveling cliché. Sure, Google Maps is your absolute savior when you’re on the road but the time that leads up to the trip, consisting of this nothingness where you’re at a place where there is nowhere left to go, is when you feel the most lost. And clinging to maps like a lifeline may not do the deed after all.

The City as a Character

If romanticized enough, a person recognized as a self-standing character can act ‘in the name of the city’. This is when a city starts becoming a character and therefore you, a contrasting element of it and vice versa. Your Eat Pray Love starts becoming a ‘Tamasha’ (a Bollywood movie, directed by Imtiaz Ali; the term literally means a play) where what happens in Corsica stays in Corsica. Overwhelmed by this feeling of belonging, in either of the scenarios, you almost feel everything that it took to get there. The anxieties of the day before, and the weeks leading up to it, the months and months of preparation and the endless logistics seem worth it when you feel happier than you’ve ever felt in your life. 

Contrasting cities may not necessarily mean the juxtaposition created by its physical features. In turn, they project its inhabitants’ separate universes and uniqueness that a demographic or map won’t disclose.

Prague, Czech Republic

Known as ‘the city of hundred spires’ for over 2000 gold tipped chateaux and medieval church spires puncturing the skyline, the city may as well be known as the ‘city of bridges’ with 18 of them spanning across river Vltava and the others over small rivers and brooks. The bridges, with their geography in the middle of two landmasses, represent a place where there’s nowhere left to go, where one doesn’t belong either way. ‘Crossing over’ as a euphemism for hope or even death serves as a point of contrast where a place meant to transition towards a better place may end up in an unfortunate decision. 

The Czech Republic is a country of architecture. Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, Classicism, Art-Nouveau and even architecture of the Communist era are all on display around the country. Along with being one of Europe’s best-preserved cities, it is also one of the least religious ones. You can go here for pretzels, music, gothic atheists, infinite book towers and cold hues to linger on the fragility of consciousness. 

Varanasi, India

Banaras, to me, felt like a relationship between the established reality and meandering imagination. Between the dream of infinity and the inevitable actuality of human life, this city runs. Posing as a sacred city for Hindus and pioneers who come to plunge in the blessed Ganges waterway as they accept that it will wash away a lifetime of sins, there’s something so tranquil about the time that you spend passing by the holy Ganga – something like a passage, the feeling of experiencing the circle of life when you cross Manikarnika ghat ( river bank ) , feeling anchored to the supreme.

October to March are the best months to visit Banaras, when the winter days are the coolest and rest uncomfortably hot. The city’s narrow streets in the older part of the ghats can only be explored by walking, giving a clear view of activities ranging from bathing to burning the bodies of the dead – the rituals being revealed so openly. Heritage, culture, lots of ghee and miles to walk, watch lives fly by on the divine on earth. 

New York, USA

You can be whoever you want in New York City. Your life will be similar to NYC movies, the ups and the downs, the falling in love at any given moment, dreams at the tips of your fingertips, this urban jungle here is a place where stately old houses stand not far from gleaming post-modern skyscrapers, new restaurants popping up in old warehouses and restored buildings i.e. Downtown, Brooklyn. It is the city where many people lived their whole lives in the same neighborhood yet a large portion moved here from somewhere else.  It is a city with million-dollar mansions and neighborhoods of shanties. 

Food, fashion and arts – that’s what the big apple stands at the forefront of. The frenetic sights and sounds of the grandeur might intimidate you, roaring taxis and fast-paced pedestrians blocking view and making way towards the marquee galleries and cocktail bars but the city’s twinkle and chaos guide you to turn the corner. There will always exist a tomorrow – a bigger and better version of today wherein you never stop or sleep. Want to get lost in the crowd? Visit the solo traveler’s den. 

Submerged in the waves of solo travel deeds, a camera might mean more than a passport, maybe even rightfully so considering your priorities are skewed towards a good Snapchat story. But in the midst of those photo sessions, don’t forget to find the mysteries of your past, present, and future!

Priyal Nanda

Delhi South '23

19| Economics Major "I don't know how much value I have in this universe, but I do know that I've made a few people happier than they would have been without me, and as long as I know that, I'm as rich as I ever need to be." - Robin Williams, 'Mork and Mindy' 1978
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