Five places I’d like to live…

When I visit a town or city I judge it on a number of factors: accessibility, the types of shops, history and, probably most importantly, how comfortable I feel walking the streets of said location. When a town or city makes me feel comfortable and the other factors are looked after, I often find myself considering whether I could live there.

So, here are five places that I would like to live…

1. Manchester:

ImageI shall start local, because Manchester is a city I frequent at least a couple of times (if not more) a year. It’s within a short distance from my home town and thus, practically my entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.) live nearby.

Accessibility

The thing I love about Manchester is how accessible it is. If I travel there by train, I am allowed unlimited access to the Metrolink trams in the city centre (which means I can travel from the train station to the shops for free, without having to walk). Manchester itself is a hub of accessibility to practically the entire country. I can get trains to anywhere, I can get a coach to anywhere, all within the city limits.

Shops

Whilst Manchester is very much a standard city by the types of shops that are in the shopping centre and surrounding streets, there are also a few hidden gems dotted around which makes the place something special. The Nexus Art Café is a little bit of unusual in an otherwise standard city, in fact, the whole of the Northern Quarter has a distinctly local/independent feel to it. Manchester has the big brands that, let’s face it, are useful to have nearby from time to time. But it’s also got areas where you can forget that HMV, Next and Debenhams ever existed.

History

Manchester is a city steeped in history, unfortunately that’s something you don’t often notice when walking through the streets of the centre. But it’s there. You just have to look a little harder at buildings to discover that many are works of historical art. Then there are the museums and art galleries on offer, which provide plenty of opportunity to discover the history of the city. Then there is the Arndale Shopping Centre, to the untrained eye it’s a brand new hunk of glass and metal. To those who know, there is a phoenix from the ashes of the IRA bomb that exploded in 1996. It may not be as far back as World War I, or when Queen Victoria was on the throne, but it’s still very much a part of Manchester’s history.

Comfort

In a place that isn’t my home town, I like to feel safe. I like to know that I can walk the streets of a place and feel like I’m not at risk. Whilst I don’t always feel 100% safe in Manchester, I do for the vast majority of the time (it’s only natural that at 9pm on a Saturday night I would feel less comfortable). It’s a place where I have never really had to worry about my safety and that is a huge comfort.

2. Bristol:

ImageUnlike Manchester, I have only visited Bristol three times. The first time I visited (no, the second, I don’t count the first visit because I don’t really remember it), the sun was shining and I was awaiting meeting up with two lovely ladies. Within a couple of hours, I already knew that Bristol was a place I could happily call home (and hopefully, one day, I will).

Accessibility

Travelling to Bristol was not difficult. The true measure of whether a town or city is accessible to me is one where I can book a ticket on a bus the night before and go direct. The first visit to Bristol was on the spur of the moment. I booked my tickets just a couple of days before and it was a relatively easy journey. Whilst I haven’t travelled around Bristol (there were plenty of buses, which suggests it’s probably not that difficult) I do know that the city has a good train station with good links to London. If you can get to London, then you can get anywhere and that feels okay. But the other thing about Bristol’s accessibility that appeals to me is how close it is to Cornwall. I have a lot of love for Cornwall, but it’s not easy to get to when you live in the north of England. Being closer would be a wonderful thing.

Shops

Like many cities, Bristol has an array of big chains, which as I said with Manchester, is a bonus. The newer shopping area is such a pleasurable place to walk around; it almost felt strangely tropical when I visited. But what sets it apart from many towns and cities (particularly my home town and Manchester) is St Nicholas Market, which is a beautiful example of how a town/city can cater for independent/local businesses without having to sacrifice the bigger brands.

History

I’m not familiar with Bristol’s history, I’ve simply not had enough time to wander the streets and explore some of its historical aspects. But being in Bristol and walking through the city centre, I could feel the history. There is, of course, the Clifton Suspension Bridge (by Isambard Kingdom Brunel) which is well known and it was a pleasure to visit and explore this one piece of history I have actual been able to discover. On a slightly more modern front, Bristol is the home of Skins. Whilst the show is still relatively new (finishing this year, though the episodes filmed in Bristol ended a couple of years ago), it’s still an aspect of Bristol that I found fascinating. It may not be history now, but in a few decades, it will be a thing of the past.

Comfort

There are few cities where I feel very safe and Bristol took me by the hand and forced me to dance the waltz with it in the dark. I walked across the city as the sun disappeared and the street lights came on. Some cities I feel uncomfortable doing that in (London, for example, I get really antsy when I’m out in the dark, particularly alone) but Bristol wrapped me in its arms and made it okay. I felt like it wasn’t a problem walking around alone, and actually, for a moment I felt a surge of extra confidence making me want to go out into the night with a bunch of strangers who I was yet to meet. I didn’t. But I felt like I could, and that’s what mattered.

3. Norwich:

ImageI must admit, I had never really had any burning desires to visit Norwich. My parents are very big fans of the west coast of the country, they like Cornwall and the Lake District and we’ve rarely spent much time across the east. So, I guess it’s only natural that I’d never really considered what was out there. But what I did discover was something of a surprise.

Accessibility

Norwich isn’t easy to get to from the north, which is frustrating. But it does have good links with London (even if the train is slow and stops at every station along the way). It was actually easy for me to travel to Norwich via London (as strange as that may seem), but knowing that is one of the best options means that Norwich is accessible to every location in the country (except maybe the ones close by?). I didn’t have much opportunity to travel across Norwich, but the bus I travelled into Norwich on was fast and reasonably reliable. It gave me an opportunity to see the city’s bus station, which was accessible and made it feel like Norwich is an easy place to visit.

Shops

My time in Norwich was limited, but I was able to explore some of the shops. Naturally, there are the usual chains which make up most towns and cities in the UK. It had a Waterstones, which is always a bonus as far as I’m concerned. But it also had a feel of independence in some of the streets. Not everything was about the big chains and there was a distinct feel that you could run a successful business if you were a local trader wanting to try something a bit different to the usual shops.

History

Norwich has a castle. I’m not sure what else there is to say about that. I didn’t explore the castle, or any of Norwich’s heritage, but the presence of a castle sitting on a hill in the centre of the city shows just how historical a place it must be. The inevitable castle walls and the history of the castle and city are something which I am keen to explore, one day.

Comfort

In the short time that I was in Norwich, I wasn’t once alone. This probably impacted on my comfort level to an extent. But I still felt safe there and I could sense that it was a city I would happily live in. Even walking along a street which I was told would be full of drunken people at some point I didn’t feel afraid. It felt okay and that means something (especially when you live in a town where drunken people make you feel intimidated).

4. Oxford:

ImageI’ve only been to Oxford properly, once. (Discounting the number of times we stopped at McDonalds on the way to the south.) But, like Bristol, I could instantly see myself happy living in the city.

Accessibility

I came into Oxford in the car. It’s not an easy place to get to when coming from home, but it does have good transport links to London, so it’s really not that bad. When I arrived, though, my mum was going to see my sister on the outskirts of the city. So to save time/traffic, she dropped me off at a park and ride and I got the bus into the city centre. This allowed me to see how bus friendly Oxford is and I wasn’t disappointed. I feel like I could easily travel across the city on public transport, and as a non-car driver, that is important.

Shops

Oxford is unlike most cities I have visited, though most of what I could say belongs in the history section. There were many shops of varying types: from the big brands, to ones a little more…historical. The variety of different shops is definitely a bonus that I would more than happily accept, even if some of the shops are a little posher than my liking.

History

The University of Oxford, need I say more? I will, though. Oxford is probably one of the oldest cities in the UK, not by age, but by the amount of history seeped into every nook and cranny. You can’t even walk one step across the city centre without being near a historical building or a location of an important event. I took a walking tour of the city (free, by a group called Footprints) and through that I discovered the vast amount of history that there was to see. It’s almost breath taking how much history there is in what is quite a small area.

Comfort

I felt at home in Oxford the second I got off the bus and the more time I spent travelling across the city, both in the Footprints tour and on my own, it felt like a comfortable place to be. Not once did I feel threatened or unsafe in any way and it felt like one of the safest places on Earth. There are not many places where I have felt that way and this one definitely gets that acclaim.

5. Stanford:

ImageThe only international location on my list isn’t even a valid location to live, really, because it’s a university campus. But it’s on here anyway. I visited Stanford as part of a training course/conference/camp that I did through my university, as part of my degree. I undertook leadership training which has really been a huge part of my life. Going to Stanford, the experience wasn’t simply about the training, though. It was a place which I will always hold heavily in my heart.

Accessibility

Stanford has a free bus service. That’s right, free (or at least it was free in 2008). You can hop on and off it and travel around the place as much as you like. That in itself is a wonderful thing. In addition, the bus takes you to the train station which is located between Stanford and Palo Alto (which some of you may know as the home of Facebook) and has great links to both San Jose and San Francisco. We used it a couple of times to travel to San Francisco and I was amazed by some of the towns we travelled through. The fact Stanford is practically attached to a town means that it is also accessible to the ‘real’ world, which I think is important.

Shops

For a moment I was going to tell you that Stanford doesn’t have many shops (aside from a couple of university shops) but I was forgetting something. Stanford, whilst it’s a university campus, is practically a town in its own right. It has its own medical centre and shopping centre (though they’re considered to be part of Palo Alto). The shopping centre (that’s an outdoor street of shops to us in the UK) probably isn’t considered much more than chain after chain (Abercrombie and Fitch, GAP, etc.) but to an outsider, it felt like somewhere a little bit special.

History

In the same way that Oxford is very much historical based on the University of Oxford, Stanford probably wouldn’t be very historical if it wasn’t for Stanford University. It is the length and breadth of its history and there is so much there to be seen. I walked around the place with a fellow traveller and though we didn’t have anyone telling us about the history of Stanford, we learnt a lot from reading information along the way.

Comfort

Stanford is the first place I ever visited where I felt like it was the safest place in the entire world. I wonder if it’s down to the fact that it’s a university campus and I’m probably right, but that doesn’t change the fact that I felt safe. There were police buttons on every corner (a box where you can press a button and be instantly connected to the local police), but I didn’t feel like I would even need them. As we had travelled to Stanford as a group, I was told that I shouldn’t go anywhere on my own. I broke that rule. I walked to the library to use the computer, I walked to a ‘gas station’ to buy some Skittles, and not once did I feel like I was in danger. I walked the streets in the dark like I was walking through them in the daytime. If I could live somewhere with that level of safety, then I would be a happy bunny.

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