07/12/2012 04:13 EDT | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Would You Rather Be a Traveller or Vacationer?


Travel, of course, is about the joy of discovery. Vacation, though, is best spent re-discovering. I was reminded of that fact this week when I returned to New York, where I lived for 10 years.

When you travel to places for the first time -- especially big cities or destinations with a high concentration of attractions in a small space, such as Jerusalem -- your time is often spent running from one tourist spot to the next, taking tours, and exercising your brain to retain the knowledge and information coming at you. Beyond that, there's a sense of urgency to see as much as possible, to devour the experience of being in the place that attracted you so much you chose to spend your precious vacation time there. You aim to get an insider's glimpse of the culture and people, and if it's a good trip you will end up doing so.

In a lot of ways, such connections are the best part of living, not just travelling. Sometimes, however, you just want to feel the comfort that only comes when you know a place so well it removes the usual inconveniences of travel, like learning how to get around, knowing what landmarks will help guide you, understanding how long it is from museum A to theatre B, figuring out where to eat, how to get good deals, and what areas are best to avoid.

As I curled through the streets of Manhattan, the sense of familiarity was liberating. Greenwich Village remains timelessly entertaining while staring at Picasso's masterpieces at the Museum of Modern Art never gets tired, neither does a walk along the Esplanade or a visit to Central Park. Yet, there was still plenty that was new. It is New York -- change is as inevitable there as crowds at rush hour.

The highlight attraction of this visit was the High Line, the elevated three-year-old green space that runs over top of 10th Avenue from 30th to Gansevoort Streets. It is an oasis, a well-conceived public park that gets people away from automobile traffic and looking anew at urban environments. The High Line offers a place to stroll, to lounge, to sightsee, and to ponder while gazing out at the Hudson River. (And there's also the infamous Eyeful Tower, a.k.a. the Standard Hotel known for its exhibitionist guests.)

At the south end of the High Line is the rejuvenated Meatpacking District, with the Gansevoort Hotel being the focal point of the redevelopment of the few city blocks below 14th Street into a hip spot with trendy bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. It's like Stone Street in Lower Manhattan, where Ulysses' Folk House has been a popular spot for about 10 years and has picnic tables lined outside for casual dining reminiscent of a European square. I also ventured to Williamsburg to see the development of that Brooklyn neighbourhood whose gentrification had begun a few years before I left in 2005 and is now flush with tiny boutique shops and an airy feel that seems more like Georgetown in Washington, D.C. than Park Slope.

None of this travel was rushed or planned. There were dinners and visits with friends, and some work duties, but it felt very much like a vacation. Sometimes, when we plan our travels, it's good to understand that the new is attractive, but the old is where our hearts often are, and where we might be the happiest when we finally get around to taking that week off.