One of the first things I learned when I moved on my own to a big city, back when I was only eighteen years old, was that it was easier to love the hustle and bustle of city life when you had someplace to retreat to. Living with roommates in cramped apartments in Brooklyn and London, my homes weren’t always the tranquil retreat I wanted them to be.
Ever since, after moving to New York after college and then to Warsaw, London, and finally settling in Philadelphia, I have sought out places of retreat that, even when filled with other people, help me feel at peace. These are the places I go to think, to journal, to be inspired, and to rejuvenate my love for city living whenever things seem to move too fast.
Here are some of my favorite places to find retreat in the cities I’ve lived in.
Even when it’s bustling with people, nothing beats the tranquility of the courtyard at the Boston Public Library. Some of my favorite summer memories are camping out there with my best friend, Erica, while we worked on our respective novels. There was something about being surrounded by books and other readers and writers that just fueled my creativity.
Whenever I got overwhelmed in London, I’d escape into a place with art. Even though places like the Tate Modern and National Gallery are almost always bustling, I quickly learned where to find the quiet galleries. One of my favorites was the Wallace Collection, which is also one of my top picks for having tea in the city. The other was Raven Row, within walking distance of my apartment, which always had stunning exhibitions and just the right number of people.
Top: Ian Baxter&’s Rebecca’s Bagged Place at Raven Row; bottom: inside the galleries at the Wallace Collection.
I have a vivid memory of the best cry I’ve ever had: after getting my visa to Poland denied, I left the Polish Consulate and crossed the street to the Morgan Library, and fell to pieces in front of a Dan Flavin beautifully installed on its own in a small gallery. Since that moment, the Morgan Library has been my place of comfort and refuge in New York City, one of the places on earth where I feel most like myself.
Photo of Pierpont Morgan’s Library from the Morgan Library website.
Warsaw might be the city closest to my heart, partially because it is so easy to escape into paradise in the middle of an otherwise often grey and dour city. There are two places I would go when I needed a reprieve from city life: Krolikarnia and Wilanow, both former estates of the nobility that have been converted into public parks and museums. Krolikarnia has a beautiful sculpture garden, and Wilanow lovely cafes where I loved to sit and write in my journals.
Top: the Krolikarnia sculpture garden in the winter; bottom: the gardens at Wilanow.
Here’s the funny thing — even after three years of living in Philadelphia, I’m still on the hunt for my favorite place to escape. At the moment, I think I’d have to say it’s Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown, which is right on the Delaware River and has stunning views of the Ben Franklin Bridge crossing into New Jersey.
Now it’s your turn — where do you find retreat, in the city or otherwise?