Thursday, August 14, 2014

The French lady in Manhattan

Day 2 in New York - back to the Princeton station, this time to catch the 'express' - have to admit, I was a bit disappointed that the express wasn't any faster, it just meant that it was a non-stop train to Newark! This was the train that so many people take in to work everyday, so Monday morning meant a lot of suits - I'm sure our casual clothes screamed 'tourist'!! Our second connection took us into the heart of downtown - to the very station, in fact, which used to be the stop for the ill-fated World Trade Center towers - the whole station is being rebuilt and renovated, but just being there gave me the chills - thinking of the so many people who must have streamed in to work, completely unaware of the horrors of the day to follow...

We would come back to the memorial later in the day, though! For now, we had a rendezvous with Madame Liberte - and as we had thought the day before, getting to Battery Park early did mean a shorter wait - we were through the security and on the ferry fairly quickly!! Liberty Island - to see the Statue of Liberty from the water is to see it through the eyes of countless immigrants, not merely as a statue or a landmark - but as the very symbol of freedom from oppression, freedom to live and dream.  To leave everything familiar behind, to venture out in search of a new life with no hope of ever turning back - after a dismal, perilous voyage at sea, the first sight of the Statue of Liberty, her beacon held high, must have seemed like a vision from God!

An audio guide was included with our ticket to Liberty Island - and we walked around the base of the statue, listening to a comprehensive history of the iconic statue and its makers, some first-hand accounts of immigrants who had sailed into the New World under the Statue's gaze and some priceless nuggets of information! Everyone knows the statues is hollow - but did you know that the veneer is only as thick as a penny?? Or the framework on which the copper 'statue' is bolted was designed by Gustave Eiffel? Or the base on which the statue stands is actually a converted fort?? Most ironic - at the time of the unveiling of the statue, this statue of a strong determined woman breaking her shackles, women's liberties were actually severely curtailed, no women were allowed to be present at the unveiling - and a group of suffragettes actually hired a boat and sailed around Liberty Island to protest!! Hands down, being here on Liberty Island, gazing on the Statue of Liberty's serene face - the absolute best for me on this whole vacation!!

We decided to skip the Ellis Island tour and headed back to Battery Park - the whole Manhattan experience awaited us!! We made our way to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange - the very pulse of the nation, and maybe, even the world! I had always imagined Wall Street as almost futuristic - sleek skyscrapers, the rich and powerful striding along purposefully, the smell of money all-pervasive - was a bit surprised to see a fairly narrow street, lined with historic buildings and tourists like us! And what's the story with the bull?? - people were almost climbing over each other to take a picture (of course, I did too!) - but I do have to look that one up!!

New York Stock Exchange

The bull of Wall Street
From Wall Street, we meandered slowly back towards Ground Zero - the brand new Freedom Tower raising its proud head, New York's fitting reply to the events of 9/11. The site where the Twin Towers used to stand are now memorial pools with the names of the victims carved all around - those elegant towers that defined the very skyline of Manhattan - gone, absolutely gone! All these years later, the hushed silence around the memorial shows that the people have not forgotten, will never forget. The memorial is at once serene, and also immeasurably sorrowful. I think an entire generation will always remember where they were, and what they were doing at the time of the attack - I was driving to work when the report of the first plane hit the news - at that point, it was still thought to be an accident - and then the shock, the disbelief, those searing images of the towers in flames - all those lives lost! Very, very disturbing to be faced with this piece of living history.

WTC memorial

Freedom Tower

We were in a somber mood as we headed back to New Jersey - this last time we took the ferry across the Hudson, to get the full effect of the New York skyline. The ferry was surprisingly empty - until I found that it costs at least 3 times as much as the subway!! The view from across the Hudson was, as expected, absolutely spectacular!! And too soon, our time in New York was at an end! Easy to see why this vibrant city has captured the imagination of so many - the allure, the magic of NYC was not something I was expecting! I know we'll be back - next time, not so much as tourists, but to explore this wonderland a little further, to capture a little more of the elusive New York spirit! Au revoir, New York, until next time!!

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