Today finally saw the rains come down, right at the time and place I wish they hadn’t. Standing in a line for a ferry ticket to Liberty island, while an icy wind forced the rain right at me. The ticket booths are in a central area with no covering, which considering it’s New York and you know, cold and wet for portions of the year, you’d think they would have more tourist-friendly access. These days I’m not too perturbed at standing in these conditions, after all those podcasts and readings of Buddha helped me understand; when you resolve yourself to the inevitable, the inevitable ceases to become a burden.
Overhearing the other lines, it appeared there were no more tickets for the day to go inside the statue, but this was never going to be an issue. According to the website, you walk around the observation level at the foot of the statue and get a glimpse inside, to see how the statue was made – no Hollywood moments or singing Black and White from the torch, I’m afraid. I was quietly bemoaning the droves of whining french again, and chuckling at the prospect of green faces from the choppy waters but had my hopes dashed when upon cruising out toward the island, the rains stopped and the going was smooth.
Liberty Island itself is quite small and really just a stopping point, on the way to either Ellis Island, or New Jersey. On a clearer day, it would make for that stereotypical New York skyline shot of Manhattan and I wouldn’t mind returning, on such a day. Apart from the exercise, distant views and up-skirt shots of Lady Liberty, your only choice here is to buy some god-awful trinkets (some of the T’s and caps weren’t too bad), or eat in the fast-food style ‘restaurant’. What was nice to see, is the fact they proudly announce to recycle everything from the food area, supplying relevant figures. Still, I wasn’t about to part with over $7 for a heart attack and actually opted for a hot-dog, on the ferry ride back to Battery Park.
Not long after doing the rounds, it was back on the ferry and off to Ellis Island. This was the main port of call for immigrants, at the turn of the century and had an expansive and quite thorough display, detailing the history. Considering it’s widely accepted that modern America doesn’t have much of a history of its own, they should offer this tour up to every schoolhouse in the country. The cultural diversity even though not all positive, lends an exciting tale to the populating of the US, offering more than the standard Brit and Irish diets so often read, from the watered history books. Had I only been visiting this place from England, I would have been interested enough to learn more and calling this country my home since 2001, I’m even more intrigued. One of the main facts that is often skimmed over, is how much of America is built on slavery. I’ll be finding out more about that at the African Burial Ground Monument tomorrow, but the graphs and charts here showing the flow of slaves, is just incredible.
Reaching the end of the exhibition, the ferry was pulling up outside. Perfect timing to head back to the mainland, with those imprints of history firmly engraved in my mind. I can’t help but think if circumstances had been different – if there were no influx of Irish escaping a potato famine and no slave trade, would America be the physical item it is today?
A short walk outside of Battery Park, is the fenced off areas of the World Trade Centers. The space left is naturally huge but until you’re there and peering through the chain-link, you don’t truly get the concept of size. I thought while approaching the area that the surrounding buildings are so densely built that, it’s a miracle that the entire area wasn’t wiped out with the collapse. Next to the site is the firehouse, with a few plaques noting the date and missing comrades. The side of the firehouse carries on its length, an engraving depicting the events of September the 11th and certainly gave me pause for thought.
Instead of turning around to get to the next location, a perimeter walk via the World Financial centers, seemed a good idea. These four towers are interconnected buildings, that have some wonderfully polished marble interiors. Couple that with the warmth (damn cold outside), and it made a great way to enjoy a walk, while covering the western side of ground zero. Seeing as it was New Years day, the place was all but deserted and I was actually surprised, not to see at least one cop, suspiciously eyeing me.
Heading East, to complete the perimeter walk on the way to City Hall there was a church which was literally closing, as I photographed the first gravestones. It’s not been that unusual to see small, older buildings in New York, but this was almost like the village church back home. It turns out that this is St. Paul’s church, which was founded by the Church of England in 1766 and after having survived the Manhattan fire of 1776, quietly stood in the shadow of the collapsing Trade Centers, directly across the street in 2001. According to the guide, it is now “Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use and its only remaining colonial-era church.” After the 9/11 events, the church was turned into a relief ministry for nine months, to accommodate recovery workers. Watching those events on TV is almost surreal, especially after only being in the country a couple of days and wondering what would happen next, but walking up to a small memorial table on the right, inside the church, and seeing all those photos of young ordinary people covering it, just left me with a more connected feeling. I opted to not take any photographs of the small altar, out of respect. Gravestones are one thing, but I just think there’s something disrespectful about making a recent personal tribute to families, a photo opportunity.
After the solace of the church, it was time for something a little more touristy to brighten up the tone. Cutting through City Hall park, and some quick shots of City Hall itself, there was enough time to join the crowds walking across Brooklyn Bridge. The cold and lessening light made for a short stay, and not much bridge coverage but hey, at least I’ve been there now; couldn’t spot Dave Letterman’s studio though.
Attempted shortcuts to the next destination of Chinatown, actually went right past police HQ, of which I’ll say is big, with no cops (well, except for two cars). Hopefully they’re all out, catching those criminal types! Emerging on the other side of the HQ, it was exciting to finally get to Chinatown.
Chinatown is a lot smaller than I anticipated, but a lot busier than either the one in San Francisco, or Seattle – at least while I’ve been at them. As the English translations were reduced to footnotes and the food turned more into intestinal items, you had that feeling that you were actually in some foreign land. The food displayed on the sidewalk table outside the fish store, was so fresh the fish were still occasionally flapping around; a little unnerving but interesting, all the same.
There are buses in Chinatown, that you can just jump on apparently, pay your $25 or whatever and get a ride to whatever destination is scrawled on the piece of card, in the bus window. After seeing New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there was one without a card, obviously headed off to some mystery tour, or meat house. If I’d had days to spare I may have jumped on this one, just to see where it actually went.
Forgoing the sit-down meals, I did try out some safer snacks at a couple of bakeries. Steamed buns, pork items and pastries were about all I required, and was quite content with the amount of Chinatown, that I had soaked in. Time to head back to the subway, which was a short but icy walk back near Brooklyn Bridge.
Seeing as it’s the final night, I couldn’t leave town without going for another drink at the nearest bar to the hotel, called the ‘Blind Pig’. Plenty of large screens showing football (*yawn*), and less than a handful of customers to distract conversation. Taking the barman’s recommendation of a Guinness mixed with a local ale, seemed to be the ticket and cranked up the drowsy factor enough, to decide on heading back to the hotel for some sleep.
Last day tomorrow, and yet I’m extremely contented with things so far. There has been so much taken in, yet in less of a rush than my other trips this year. Funny how this actually feels like a vacation.