I've been to Leeds before, but mainly going through it on a coach on my way to Leeds Festival and once to visit the university. Yesterday, I took a semi-spontaneous trip to the city for a change of scenery, to kick off my plans to visit all the nation's major towns and cities, and to take in some of its culture. My plan was to venture around the art gallery and museum - only half of the former was open due to refurbishments and the latter wasn't open at all. So I had a lot of time to amble around the shops and take in the sights, swoon over the architecture and drink high doses of coffee.

It's a beautifully compact city centre; a maze of hauntingly beautiful and traditional buildings like the town hall and central library, juxtaposed with a modernist's dream, the Trinity shopping mall. There is a visible lack of independent shops and substantial amount of chain stores in quite a close proximity of one another, but this is common in every city's economic hub. Yet the Leeds high street has a distinctive air to it, one that's different to Manchester and Sheffield. The markets are directly opposite the Victoria Quarter, home to fashion power houses like Harvey Nichols and Vivienne Westwood - the proletariat stares the bourgeoisie right in the face. It's a strange contrast, but not in a look-how-the-other-half-live way.

Leeds is the kind of encouraging culture where you can expect to find modern muses nestled in the back of Cafe Nero writing the next literary classic. There's so much inspiration everywhere: the signs for road names, people watching in a Starbucks that was once a bank, mooching around the galleries. I think what I liked most about Leeds, however, was that despite the 50 minute coach journey plus an hour or so to get my bearings, it felt not so different from home. I knew I could be there alone, be safe and enjoy myself, even when my initial plans were ruined by refurbishments.

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