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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Our first taste of The Big Apple

Monday 8 October

Today we have to get up at 5am.  Ouch!  We have a quick shower and breakfast and are ready for Eric to drop us off at the train station in Ronkonkoma.  It’s a bit further then the one in Bellport, where we are staying, but the express train gets us to the city faster.  We buy our tickets, find the train and settle for the 1-1/2 hour ride to Penn Station in Manhattan.  As it is still dark we doze a bit until we get closer to the city.  By then it is light and we can briefly see the New York skyline before we go underground.

We get off at Penn Station and after a bit of orientation find the way to 34th Street.  From there we have to walk to 51st Street and the corner of Broadway to board the tour shuttle.  As we haven’t had much time to check out the map of Manhattan we need to ask which way is up or down and are pointed into the right direction.  The walk is manageable. We have been told that each block takes about 2 minutes and since we have to walk 17 blocks we know we can do it in time to arrive before 8.30am, the tour departure time.

It is a beautiful morning with the sun coming out for most of the time.  It’s cold though, so we are happy with our jackets.  The walk along 7th Avenue is pleasant, but after a very early breakfast I am ready for a cup of coffee and I also need a toilet stop, so we pop into a McDonalds along the way.  And here we have a taste of what one can expect in a big city like New York.  There is only one toilet and another lady and I are waiting forever and a day, until a person comes out of that toilet and it is hard to describe what ‘it’ looks like….  We don’t know if it is a druggie or a homeless person, but he carries a stack of belongings in a backpack and in a plastic crate.  The lady in front of me walks up to a staff member and asks for the toilet to be disinfected before she goes in.  The staff member obliges and we get to go to a clean rest room.

At 8.20am we find the bus and our guide for the day, who ticks off our names and we get to board.  After a welcome the tour guide explains that the tour will differ a bit from the usual as it is Columbus Day, a public holiday in the States.  Some streets will be closed off for fairs and a big street parade and we may come across other little obstacles.  We do, because our first stop, St Patrick’s is a ‘no go’ area.  We were to visit the church and walk around inside, but there is a Service and we are not allowed in.  Next we drive past (the Radio City Music Hall which we know from Andre Rieu's concert, the Library)

Radio City Music Hall

The city Library
 and visit various sites like The Rockefeller Centre, where we also discover a Lego store

Rockefeller Center

The Lego store



Radio City of Lego
and the Grand Central Terminal near the beautiful Chrysler Building.  

Grand Central and the yellow taxis

Grand Central Terminal (part of the exterior)
The clock is an original Tiffany stained glass model

The Chrysler Building behind the square glass buildings
(beautiful architecture)

We get to walk through the Grand Central, which is breathtakingly beautiful.  I am not going to talk in depth about all these places, because it would take me month of Sundays, so if you want to know more, just google it! J

The hall leading to the various platforms

The domed roof (restored)

Stately stairs

The most famous opal clock at the information booth, made with Australian opal.
The clock appears in many movies, The Godfather being one of them.

The waiting hall for the well-to-do people who (in the distant past)
didn't want to be waiting out in the rain

One of the chandeliers
Next on the list is a visit to the Empire State Building, where we get express tickets.  For us the express tickets don’t work well enough to get up and down fast, because we are too polite and not pushy enough, so we don’t get to use them properly.  It means we end up being 10 minutes late back at the bus.  The visit is worth it though.  The views from the 86th floor are magnificent and of course we have taken plenty of pictures.

In the Hall of the Empire State Building

Looking west towards the Hudson river

The tip of the Chrysler Building and
Grand Central below Met Life



Looking South towards the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island
The new World Trade Centre Buildings nearly finished (10 floors to go of the tallest one)

Two of the WTC buildings (with the cranes on top)



Moving around towards the east (Brooklyn)

Flat Iron Building in the centre (triangle)


Of course we had to prove we were there :-)

Chrysler Bldg and Queensboro Bridge

Looking down from the 86th floor into the then quiet streets
(public holiday)

Pigeons get to visit without tickets...
Following is the 9/11 Memorial.  We visit a gift shop first where we receive our tickets.  The tickets are free, but you need to present the people with your name and the security to the actual site is very strict.  We have already had to pass security at the Empire State Building, but this is worse.  However, understandable to some extend, so we go with the flow.  We are a little early for our 12.30pm visit, but that works out well.

On our way to the 9/11 Memorial information centre

Areal photographs on the enclosure

Steel, recovered from the site

Explanation

Building works on the site

This tower has 20 floors to go before it is finished
The site itself is very impressive and the visit is a bit emotional too when you realise you are standing in an area where so many people have perished, many of them doing their duty to fellow citizens. The site is quite big and new buildings are arising around the two ‘footprints’ of the original twin towers.  What we have never realised is, that the original World Trade Centre consisted of seven buildings.  The twin towers were only two of them, but the other five were demolished at the same time.  So, the twin towers are not going to be re-built, but the other buildings are. One of them is finished, another one has nearly reached its peak and has only 10 floors to go and a third one is within 20 floors of finishing.  The site also contains a 9/11 Memorial museum which is to open very soon.  When the rubble was being removed from the site, all those years ago, the workers discovered the remnants of a tree, which was still alive.  They have recovered this tree, nursed it back to health and re-planted it at the site of the memorial.  It’s now called the Survival Tree.

The fountain where once a tower stood and where so many lost their lives



Our 'photographer'  next to the Survival Tree...

The Survival Tree

The new 9/11 Memorial Museum

The 2nd tower: 20 floors to go

The fountain of the other building


Peeking through the window of the museum -
one of the steel constructions left over from a demolished building

Beside the tour through the various parts of Manhattan the aim of the day is to visit three major landmarks and of course, the Statue of Liberty is another one of them.  It is about 1pm when we catch the ferry to Liberty Island, and not without going through heavy security again. It is way past our usual lunch time, so first thing we do is getting something to eat at a restaurant on the island.  The clouds have been closing in for a while, but it still is pleasant enough to sit outside, where numerous birds fight over the crumbs at every table.

The Statue of Liberty in the distance
(seen from Battery Park)

Looking down onto Battery Park from the ferry

The sky line fading away...

Add caption

Closer to the Statue now

Frank wants to capture it too

The Statue standing tall


After lunch we pick up our audio equipment and, while listening to the story and interesting information about the Statue, we walk around the island and look at the various items of interest that are pointed out to us.  Of course, pictures are a must, so plenty of those too!

One of a number of smaller statues depicting important people
that had something to do with the creation of the Statue of Liberty.
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was the designer

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was the structural engineer who based
the structure of the statue on the same metal frame work
which he used for La Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower)

Marion with audio and head phones

In the gift shop

A life-size part of the structure (the torch)

Impressive as ever

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Long Island and Staten Island


Frank on the ferry and Castle Clinton in the back ground (behind the trees)

American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial
Korean War Memorial

We’ve been allotted 3-1/2 hours for this part of the tour, so we catch an early ferry back to make sure we are on time at the bus.  The rest of the tour brings us to China Town, Little Italy, a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Soho, Chelsea, Wall Street, etc. and back to Broadway where we take our leave and walk back to Penn Station.

Our tour guide
A few impressions of Little Italy and China Town:




And bustling Broadway and Times Square, which you want to keep going back to:



The nine-hour tour has taken more than 10 hours, so we are pretty tired.  There was not only a lot of walking to be done, but taking in all the information at every site takes its toll as well.  But it was well worth it.  Although we feel like real Americans, who 'do' a whole continent in a week, we are glad to have all these wonderful impressions of this marvellous city, that indeed never sleeps...

On our walk back to Penn Station we come across a few interesting figures that everyone seems to know about, The Naked Cowboy and the The Naked Indian.  They are only two of many, mostly movie and Disney figures like Mickey and Minney Mouse, Puss 'n Boots, Bat Man and Spider Man, which we'll see during the days that follow.

The Naked Cowboy (as written on the back of his undies...)

The Naked Indian
When finally we arrive at Penn Station we need to ring Eric to let him know which train we are going to be on so that he can pick us up.  Since we have had a very late lunch we're not hungry, so don't want to hang around a lot longer for dinner.  When I want to ring Eric I discover that my international roaming service has disappeared, so we'll have to find a pay phone.  There are plenty around and they actually work!  Try that in Australia!  Eventually we catch the 7.30pm train to Bellport  instead of Ronkonkoma.  We only need to upgrade our tickets and change trains at Babylon, but Eric doesn't need to drive as far to pick us up.

When we finally get home we vege out on the lounge with a nice cool glass of juice and Eric and Nancy want to hear all about our day.  The great people they are they had offered us a bite to eat, but we told them we were happy with a cool drink.  After that we discussed the train schedule for the next day, watched The Voice and finally went to bed at 10.15pm.  Tired, but more than happy about this memorable day.

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