New York vs. Charlottesville

I’ve called New York City home for the greater part of my nineteen years, and looking back, I would never have had it any other way. But after spending my first year of college in the city that I adored, I came to realize that it was no longer the place for me. They say New York is a place for the young and while that is in no way incorrect, I actually found it to consume such youth.

I was suddenly living a lifestyle that was far beyond my age; a lifestyle that could probably be postponed to the age of 24. New York denied me the college experience that the rest of the country seemed to be enjoying.

The students that attended the school I transferred from seemed to come for New York rather than for the school itself. There was no school spirit because everyone seemed to be dispersed throughout the city and preoccupied with museum mile, the rooftop bars near the Flatiron and the Instagram worthy brunch spots south of union square. The New York Public Library was Alderman, Central Park was the Rotunda and what is known as the busiest rapid transit rail system in the western world was the University Transit Line. New York suddenly became the campus and the university that I was attending seemed that much smaller. I needed a change of scenery; so here I am in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The first thing I learnt here was how to walk like a normal human being.  Just like in New York, people in Charlottesville have places to be but that doesn’t mean one must walk at a pace of 15 miles an hour to get there. There are no jaywalkers in Charlottesville, just like there aren’t any crosswalk buttons in New York. It took me quite some time to get accustomed to the push-to-walk buttons. There were instances where other pedestrians would approach the crosswalk just after me thinking that I had pressed the button. Little did they know that I had done no such thing.

Caffeine is what fuels New York so it’s not surprising that there is a Starbucks nestled on every block all the way up to 114th Street. But what is surprising is the fact that Greenberry’s doesn’t slice and toast your bagel. It was this and the paper plates near the plastic forks that reminded me that this was not New York and not everything had to be rushed and on-the-go. Hell, you could even sit down and eat your bagel.

You’ll never find better street food than the food trucks that circle Grounds. To find street food that good in New York, you’ll either have to wait till the summer months and catch a ferry to Smorgasburg on Saturdays or stumble upon the seasonal pop up markets that last about a week.

There’s no such thing as free public transportation so it’s unsurprising that New Yorkers walk everywhere… regardless of weather or time of day. The worst thing you could possibly do in Manhattan is own a car and my parents wanted no part in that nightmare. So, I never had the urgency to learn how to drive and have been regretting it ever since I arrived in Charlottesville. Now, more than ever, I’ve realized my reliance on Uber, though each ride is admittedly less expensive compared to one’s in New York.

The first thing that surprised me upon arriving here was how small and stress-free the airport was. The second was definitely the kindness and loquaciousness of the Uber drivers. The people are friendlier here; it’s not unusual to smile and acknowledge the strangers on the sidewalk. The weather is indeed bipolar but there is a warmth in Charlottesville that makes everything seem more personal. There’s a sense of community you would perhaps never find in a city as overwhelming as New York. But New York is a city of great character and immense energy; chaos is its charm. Walking aimlessly is itself an experience that I now no longer take for granted.

This is a place where you are guaranteed to belong – no matter who you are, what you are or where you come from. New York is a transient city, it always has and always will be. Thus, one could never completely know New York. It is a city of many surprises and that is, after all, what contributes to its splendor. Charlottesville is anything but transient; it is a city loyal to its past. While New York is transient, Charlottesville is perhaps the exact opposite. Home to a UNESCO World heritage site, Charlottesville is a place abundant in meaning.

It is a city small enough to know and make your own; it’s an easy, beautiful place to call home. One way or another, everyone has heard about New York. Charlottesville is a place that is not talked about or photographed as much, and it is probably not on the top of the bucket list. But this is exactly what makes Charlottesville as special as it is; the experience of Charlottesville is unique to its inhabitants.

You have to live in Charlottesville to fall in love with it — and not everyone has the chance to do that.  


Celeste Azzi is a second-year who appreciates a good lawnmower.