I have always thought of New York as a big city of sky scrapers. Well, of course it is; but now I know that beneath the sky scrapers beats a warm heart. My recent visit to New York showed me just how helpful and friendly New Yorkers are. From offers of a seat on the subway to readiness with advice and directions.
Our first day was spent shopping in Macy’s, a well known New York store; where we did some Christmas shopping. After leaving Macy’s we went to the top of the Empire State Building. We had our photograph taken and when we collected them later, it was super imposed onto a background of the Empire State Building (well worth having I thought). The Observatory was packed with tourists and we had to wait for a space at the rail. The view is awesome and I took photos from every angle.
On the west side, the black spike of One Penn Plaza dominates the foreground, towering about its neighbours; across the Hudson lays New Jersey. To the south the view is less lofty, with towering Wall Street structures dwarfing many historical buildings. On a clear day I was told you can see the Statue of Liberty, but unfortunately, today was too hazy. The North side has the most sky scrapers standing like sentries; each one unique in their design. One of the world’s elite shopping district’s is here, along with the famous Central Park; one of the musts on my list of places to see. Directly east is the Borough of Queens and a closer view of the Hudson river.
Across the river is Long Island where bridges provide access to LaGuardia and JFK Airports; as well as miles of sandy beaches. To the southeast the Williamsburg Bridge crosses to Brooklyn, where dozens of ethnic cultures live harmoniously alongside one another.
I could see Macy’s painted in enormous letters on the side of the building and as I gazed down onto the city of sky scrapers, it seemed like another world. I tried to visualise Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the film Sleepless in Seattle; but there were too many people. Perhaps if we had come at night, it may be less crowded; that would be a great second visit, after seeing the view in the daylight, a vision of New York at night would be quite something.
Having a show booked on Broadway for the evening we headed for the subway to return to our hotel. However, we struggled to work out whether we had to travel uptown or downtown; east or west. The map on the wall wasn’t as clear as the London underground, so we asked for directions. We had to go across to the west of the city, changing onto the ‘1’ line, uptown to 79th Street. Brilliant, that sounds okay we thought. However, when we reached the station where we needed to jump on the ‘1’ line, we found the line closed for renovation. A female porter gave us explicit directions on how to reach our destination, which involved travelling back downtown a little and crossing over to the ‘1’ line. However, by this time we were beginning to stress as we needed to get ready for the theatre, so we left the subway to take a taxi (cab as they say in New York). Up on the street the traffic was manic and it took ten minutes to stop a cab, even with a friendly policeman’s help. Thankfully we reached our hotel with plenty of time to relax before leaving to see The Lion King, in another taxi hailed by our helpful doorman.
The next day we went to The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. As we approached the Statue of Liberty it was quite surreal; I had seen it so many times on the television and in photos. We disembarked onto the island and ambled slowly around the statue; I marvelled at the detail from every angle, right down to her foot poised behind her. We never went to the top of the statue; tickets for this had to be purchased separately, so we just enjoyed the views. Back on the boat we headed for Ellis Island, where all the immigrants used to go before being allowed entry to the USA. This was very interesting, well worth a visit. I was shocked to see one of the dormitories; hammocks strung head to toe in a small room with a wash basin and toilet. It must have been very crowded.
As we descended the wide, dark wooden staircase I glanced up, and amidst the silence, sensed the ghosts of hundreds of souls, who had climbed these stairs to the dormitories. I imagined their feet clattering on the bare boards, some excited, some despondent; all of them hoping to begin a new life. Only the healthy were allowed to stay, the rest were sent back to where they travelled from.
The next day we went to Central Park and had a horse and carriage ride around the park. Our driver was Irish and regaled us with information as we toured for approximately 45 minutes. This was one of the highlights of my trip. As we finished, our guide pointed out the hotel where John Lennon lived and where Yoko Ono still has an apartment. We saw the memorial to John, a mosaic in the middle of the path with the words ‘Imagine’ in the centre. After wandering around the pathways we had a ride on an ancient carousel. The park surprised me; I never expected it to be so picturesque. It is so big that roads run through parts of it, although these are closed to all traffic on Sundays.
After Central Park we asked directions to Bloomingdales, (another well known store). It was only a couple of blocks from the park so we found it quite easily. We bought some bags in here for Christmas presents and then made our way to Grand Central Station. This is so awesome; a vast open space with paths opening all around leading to stations where one can catch numerous trains out of New York city. In the centre is the impressive round clock; beautiful and eye-catching. You really have to see it to appreciate it. As it was almost Thanksgiving some of the side passages were filled with bazaar stalls of every description.
The following day we visited Ground Zero and this was a sad day. I felt I had to go, even though I was in New York to enjoy myself. I felt I needed to acknowledge the tragedy and show my respect. Like most people I was appalled at the act of terrorism, causing the deaths of so many innocent people. They are still re-building the area and a large fence erected around the site showed a plan of how it will look. Two large water features have been built on the actual sites of the towers and they will be surrounded by a plaza. One tall office block has already been erected close by, although not as high as the original tower. The people working in close vicinity, some standing at shop doorways, appeared subdued. Life goes on, but for some, the memories will never be erased.
Leaving Ground Zero in melancholy mood, my sister and I headed for Times Square, which was buzzing with activity. We went into Madam Tussauds and my sister and I had our photograph taken in the hand of King Kong. We were told to look scared for better affect. When we collected our photos later, there I was hanging onto King Kong’s hand looking terrified, with my sister standing happily beside me, a broad smile on her face (talk about making you look silly). The exhibition is well worth seeing, with lots of famous American celebrities large as life to stand beside. My sister took photos of me next to John Wayne, Harrison Ford and a load of others (I can pretend can’t I?) Inside Madame Tussauds we watched a 4D film of Polar Express; this is not to be missed if you go there! Later we had an early dinner in a restaurant overlooking Times Square.
The following day we did some more shopping in the shops local to our hotel. Today is our last day, we leave tonight for Heathrow. After shopping we walked to Central Park, which was only about three or four blocks away from our hotel. Close to Central Park two streets were closed off, and they were busy inflating large balloons of cartoon characters ready for the Thanksgiving Parade the next day. Reaching Central Park we headed for a castle overlooking a lake. There was a fantastic view of the park from here; this was a different part of the park to which we had previously visited, being further uptown.
Later, as we left Manhattan behind in a yellow cab heading towards JFK Airport, I took photos as we crossed the Hudson. The sun was sinking on the skyline and I reminisced on everything I had seen and done. From my experience, New York is a wonderful friendly city. Of course I only visited tourist places; there are obviously areas less savoury.
Shortly after my trip to New York, my son was mugged in London. It was late at night, but the high street was far from empty. He was left unconscious with cuts and bruises after being struck from behind and kicked. He suffered a broken jaw and now has a plutonium plate in his jaw, but it could have been so much worse. I can’t help comparing the busy streets of New York, where every so often one would see two New York police (man/woman) walking their beat together. Isn’t it about time we put more police patrolling out streets at night? We need to stamp down on this hideous trend of muggings, not just in London, but on every street in the country. It is not acceptable and should not be allowed to continue unchecked!