Extended Stay in the Big City

I joined the Navy when I was 18 years old.  I did two six month deployments to the Far and Middle East. In that time, I visited at least seven countries and in every case, visited big cities.  Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai. Later, I traveled with my wife, and again, many of our trips took us to big cities – London, Rome, New York, Athens. But in each case, even the Navy, the city visit was short, only a few days. I always had a place to retreat to that was quiet. Yes. Even on the ship. Truth be told, the ship has a unique “silence” about it. I guess you could say it’s the “sound of silence”. No matter where you go, it is always there. As a matter of fact, if you ever stop hearing it, you are in BIG trouble. It is the steady drone of machinery. But unlike city noises, it is constant. A never changing, monotonous sound. White noise. It lulls you to sleep at night. It’s as innocuous as the wind on a prairie.  Any change to it is as alarming as a siren in your ear. But I digress.
The point is, after each city visit, there was a time and place to recuperate. My wife and I are not city people, per se. We live in the suburbs – currently a suburb of St. Louis – but we have never lived in the city, until our trip to Sydney, Australia.
This was a business trip for her and an adventure for me (actually I’m her “boy toy”. It’s tough work, but the benefits are great.)  Her company put us up in a corporate apartment right in the heart of downtown. We were literally minutes from everything. Certainly an advantage to exploration. But over the course of our six weeks, I have made a discovery… An aspect of extended stay that most people do not consider.
If you a not a “city person,” the very first thing you notice when arriving in one is the crowds; the second is the noise. Both are bearable for a short period of time, but the cumulative effect after days and weeks is exhausting.
For starters, there’s the constant drone of air conditioners, ventilation fans, generators and pumps, the basic sounds of life to any city that continue day and night. Sunrise brings the buzz of machinery, the chug of diesel engines, the whine of motorcycles, and the roar of jet engines, not to mention rest of the cacophony of traffic sounds.
Now add people. Adults and children; shouting, laughing crying. The traffic cop, the construction worker, the cabbie, the street-side vendor.
Now add the music. Rap and rock, county and classic, orchestral and opera. It all rises to mix with the rest and it goes on til the wee hours of the morning.
Now add the light and air pollution. Your eyes are bombarded by neon and xenon, argon and the rest of the noble gases that block out the stars. Every breath is a cocktail of diesel fumes and cooking oils, exotic spices and alcohol, garbage and even urine. It is the human experience to be sure, and as a traveler, one I have always embraced. But as a traveler, my time was always limited to a few days, and then I would return to a sanctuary of silence allowing my senses time to recover. This extended stay has taught me a new travel tip. One I’m sure is not detailed in any travel book.
If you are not a city person and you find yourself in an extended stay situation, consider (if possible) a hotel in the suburbs. Otherwise, plan weekend overnight trips to the countryside, to allow yourself time to recover.
People who live in “the city” do so for a reason and they seem to enjoy it. People who live in the country have similar reasons and the same for everyone in between.
When a traveler becomes a resident, the rules of engagement need to be modified to ensure a successful mission. Improvise, adapt, overcome. Semper Fi!

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