Day Two – Monday
I awoke on Martin Luther King day early once more, still not fully acclimatised to the 5-hour time difference. Today was a special day as not only was it a public holiday in honour of MLK on his birthdate, but it was also to be my first visit to the Statue of Liberty having procured a pedestal ticket for $25 before I left the UK (crown tickets near the top usually sell out at least 3 months in advance).
My first task was to work out my subway route to City Hall, the gateway to Brooklyn Bridge. I failed pretty miserably actually due to still being pretty tired. I descended into the subway to find the ticket machine did not accept cards or bills. An Afro-Caribbean dude waltzed up to me, flashed MTA ID and said he could sell me the day pass I wanted.
He opened a gate for me to enter the platform and I parted with $10. As soon as I sat down on the train it dawned on me that I had been scammed. The ticket he gave me was indeed a spent one and I was now free-loading on NYC transport! I tried not to look tense, but at every stop I was like a hawk watching for ticket collectors. Happily none came on at the ten or stops we made before I was free from my jeopardy.
I smiled as I hit the street. The rogue ticket seller was a cool dude who had tricked a seasoned traveller. Good on him I thought. Pretty apt to get fleeced by guy like him on Martin Luther King Day, some sort of poetry in that!
I had time to walk half-way to Brooklyn, from where I could see my quarry for later.
The bridge is one of New York’s icons. The hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge took fourteen years to construct and was completed in 1883 and has a main span of 486 metres. I had intended to walk the whole way across, but realised that time was tight for my allotted 12.30 date with Statue security.
Having marched hurriedly back to Manhattan, I then romped past the Wharfs & Piers of South Street towards the ferry station where public ferries serve Staten Island and onto Battery Park where my ferry would depart from.
I made in good time in fact and was able to enjoy a latte & some WIFI in Starbucks, before joining the airport style security to enable me to board a ferry to Liberty Island. The security was a drag as ever. Belt, coat, fleece & shoes off, iPad & camera in a separate tray. The queue was large, the security guards curt & humourless.
I eventually got on board and we departed soon after. My hands froze taking pictures & videos of Manhattan disappearing and the Statue approaching. It was then that I had the genius idea to buy fingerless thermal gloves for my (then) forthcoming Norway trip to allow me to last longer in the photographic stakes.
The Green Lady loomed large and we were soon ready for disembarkation. Pedestal & crown ticket holders then had to endure another airport style security check. What a fag and to be honest if I had realised that all this hassle was included, I may well have chosen to sail past on the Staten ferry instead and snap the good lady from a distance with my zoom. At the very least I would have just gone for ground tickets and avoided the second undressing & scan of the day witnessed by surly officialdom.
I was also not allowed to take my bag with me, requiring an automatic locker to be rented with two pristine dollar bills. Acceptance took another ten minutes of try and re-try. At last I was free to ascend, once the queue for the lift died down that was. We soared up eight floors to pedestal level and I was soon staring at some massive green toes and a torch that resembled an off-colour Mr Whippy ice-cream. The views were pretty impressive it has to be said.
Back inside we were able to look up Liberty’s gown to the inner workings of the Statue and the staircases that crown ticket holders had to ascend.
On the way down I visited the Liberty museum that told the story of the Statue’s construction. This was a labour of love by the French who gifted the Statue to the American people to celebrate their alliance during the Revolutionary War.
Originally known as Liberty Enlightening the World it was designed by a sculptor by the name of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and Gustave Eiffel was responsible for the iron framework underneath the copper plating.
The Statue was built in Paris and then shipped to the U.S. in 1885. Construction began in 1875 and was not completed until 1884. Labourers & technicians worked round the clock for nine years to finish it and when it was complete in 1885, the statue was disassembled into 350 pieces, shipped to New York City, and reassembled. It took 4 months just to put the Statue of Liberty together again!
Costing 2,250,000 francs (hundreds of millions of dollars today), it was largely funded by public and corporate donations.
The statue is 151 feet tall from its base to the tip of the torch – I found the image below giving you some more dimensions.
The museum also told stories of immigrants arriving from Europe who cheered when entering the harbour and spotting Liberty, a sure sign that their forty-five days or so at sea were coming to an end and a new beginning was on the horizon.
After working out how to retrieve my bag, a quick glance at the ferry timetable told me I had twenty minutes until the next departure to Ellis Island and Battery Park. I zoomed around the base and clicked a few times, before racing to the ferry.
I was tired and still had plans before rest, so I forewent the Ellis Island visit that my ticket entitled me to. I had taken on board enough information already and satisfied myself with a few shots of the Immigration Building that had processed around 12 million new New Yorkers.
Back on land I passed a statue depicting arriving immigrants and then walked up Broadway (it’s a really long avenue). I passed the famed charging bull statue and was mightily amused by a couple of coach loads of visitors from Eastern Asia who formed an orderly queue to be photographed with the bronze beast. I realised I would have a long wait for a people free shot, so thought what the heck, the young Asians looked not unpleasant adornments after all!
Next stop was Ground Zero and the memorial pools that stand where the East & West Towers of the World Trade Center had stood before 9/11. On my previous two visits the Center was still standing and like everybody I was hugely shocked at what happened that day.
The memorials list the names of all whom perished that fateful day and many others, particularly members of the rescue services, who died some time afterwards from respiratory or carcinogenic illnesses caused by breathing in poisonous matter as the huge buildings & their masses of contents, plus the two jets, were reduced to dust.
We had flown home from Naples on 8/11 and had watched open-mouthed as the tragic events unfolded. At the memorials I stood in silence for thirty minutes to remember the chaos, torment and suffering. My mind then turned to 7/7, Syria, Yemen, London, Manchester, Bataclan, Myanmar and the rest. We will sadly never be rid of war, intolerance & terrorism.
Very close by they have built an elegant new World Trade Center and an amazing transport hub & shopping centre for the Wall Street area called Oculus.
The spectacular white Oculus building resembles a giant blue whale skeleton and cost a staggering $4 billion to build. The hub replaced the PATH train station that was destroyed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and took around 12 years to complete.
It is true to say that the new train station has divided opinion with most locals siding on the notion that it is symbol of huge governmental waste and architectural excess.
After taking in the incredible structure, I paid for a single subway ticket and returned to my hotel. I flopped on my bed at 3.30 pm and awoke at 23.30! Boy had I been tired. I was now wide awake, too late for dinner and way way too early for breakfast.
Three episodes of Black Mirror did the trick however and at around 2.15 am I drifted off again. Tomorrow would be another full on day.