I visited two cities recently. One is at the sea, while the other is in the mountains. One, bustling with life and energy, the other, quiet, serene and peaceful. Both were covered in snow when I got there. One has a really huge International Airport, the other has an airport smaller than a train station about one hour away from the city with just two airlines running. One is Boston/Cambridge in Massachusetts, the other Los Alamos in New Mexico.
Because I went to the two places within two weeks of each other, I couldn't help but notice the difference. Los Alamos is a desert with vast empty spaces, few people and fewer restaurants. But, it is also a beautiful place. You step out of the Los Alamos National Lab and you see the snow capped mountains and realize that you can't take your eyes off them. When writers wax lyrical about nature hypnotizing you, this is what they mean. The scenery is so beautiful with the morning sun rays falling over the snow capped peaks turning them a faint glow of white and yellow. And, they're right outside the lab. I can't imagine a more beautiful setting to do research.
The other place I visited was right in the heart of Cambridge with busy narrow streets, well connected with the Metro and the bus service, which they call the T-line. Even in that cold winter of -10 deg Celsius and a few inches of snow, there were people on the streets walking about, some salesmen selling you stuff or asking for donations (in one case to help curtail climate change). It wasn't beautiful in the usual sense, but it was rather quaint with graffiti and other revolutionary or modern writings or drawings on the walls. It had many small bookshops, which I really liked, something that in most places has given way to huge chain stores in recent times. I wondered how they survived as I browsed through them. Even at night, it was bustling with life, the cafes were filled with people. It gave me a sense of belonging even though I didn't know anybody. I didn't have time to go to the sea, but I walked around until I was too cold. Then, stopped to have a quiche and a cup of coffee at a cafe and then walked around some more before I had to catch the T.
It was during dinner at Los Alamos though that the question of the ideal place to live in came up. Was it the sea or the mountains? Everyone had their preference. But, as I tried to answer this question, it made me realize something about myself that I hadn't known earlier. I was in a very beautiful place at the time; I knew I had never seen something like this before. But, I also wondered if I would be happy living and working in such a quiet place. It might be nice for a vacation, but wouldn't I get tired of it if I had to look at it everyday? I didn't know the answer to that. But, what I did know was that city life appealed more to me and a quiet place scared me a bit. It is strange really as I am not a people's person. I like to be in my own little space with a book or my laptop. I don't mind walking around alone. But, I do know something now. I know that I prefer being alone in a crowded place than lonely in a quiet place.
So anyway, what is it for you? The sea or the mountains, the city or a quiet retreat?