Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Day 2: New York

We woke at 5am, unable to sleep, so snuggling was on the agenda until 6am when we went down for breakfast. The doors were not yet open so we tested the temperature outside - balmy and sticky already!? Then we retreated to the air-conditioned breakfast room where I wasted time looking for Vegemite to put on my bagel. Alas, I was unsuccessful. I was bemused to see that there was a bucket of waffle mix next to a waffle iron!

We left at 7am, striding for a nearby subway station. On either side of the road were stairs to a platform. Crossing the road was the only way to change from “uptown” to “downtown”. The station was dark and warm, the barriers were very narrow and the platform was tiny. Sydney's peak hour crowd at Wynyard Station would not fit in there!

Have fun getting to the other platform...!

My fiancé ran a MetroCard through at the barriers then handed it back to me. Apparently it is fine to share train cards here - the balance is what matters. Every trip costs $2.75, no matter where you’re going.

The train hurtled in then waited long after we’d sat down before the doors closed with a beep. Blessed air-conditioning once more. I looked around for manspreaders but found none. The seats were marked out by painted suggestions on the benches.

Each time I thought we were going to skip a station, the brakes would be reefed on and we’d slam to a stop. It was as if the driver was waiting for the last second to brake. The speeds that the trains travel up to could cause serious injury.

Only the first five carriages open onto South Ferry. I jolted in my seat when I heard this, but a nice Asian lady sitting opposite me held out her hand and smiled, nodding, indicating that we were in the right carriage. We disembarked at South Ferry. I had noticed the ground near the tracks was wet as we pulled in - no surprise, this close to the water.

We passed the Staten Island ferry, fumbling our way through Battery Park which seemed a bit tired but they were fixing it up. It was still balmy and the sun threatened to slip above the dense clouds and fog hiding the tops of skyscrapers. We fretted as we had assumed the overcast day removed the need for sunscreen.

We picked up our Statue of Liberty tickets at 8am at “the round stone building” (as a sign called it!). This turned out to be Castle Clinton, a fortification built in the lead up to the War of 1812. We weren’t due to go to Liberty Island until the time stated on our tickets (9am) but my fiancé brilliantly decided we should try anyway.

Dat skyline.

We were waved through to “airport style security” which had a sign telling you which knives you were allowed to carry on you (!!). The queue wasn’t bad as most people had already boarded the 8:15am ferry. Once aboard, we stood on the deck and snapped pics of the Manhattan skyline and the rapidly approaching Liberty Island.

All around us people were doing the same thing. Out came the selfie sticks. Out came the family poses. Up stood a guy with a camera on a seat even though we had been told not to stand on the seats. The onboard recordings told us that new immigrants arriving by steam ship to New York used to cheer at the sight of the statue. Lady Liberty still causes a stir.

Damn majestic.

She’s smaller than I expected, but very majestic. I had no idea she was erected on top an old fort! What a great reuse of a building. After docking, we joined what I thought was a considerable throng that lead towards the audio guide shack. This area gave us a view of the back of the statue. We then joined the Crown & Pedestal Only ticket queue which saw us whipping out passports and tickets (which had our names on them) to confirm that we were allowed up. The guard became the first American I have met to pronounce my name properly.

$2 in $1 bills hires a locker for 2 hours. Your fingerprint unlocks them. We had to stow everything in our locker as we were only allowed to carry water, phones and one camera per person up into the statue. High security!

The stairs to the pedestal seemed to take forever - more ominously, the steps to the crown were far higher in number, according to a sign. These wide steps took us to the pedestal where we rested by walking around and taking in the view.

Then we attempted the crown. The stairs were steeper and narrower than those found in medieval castles. We climbed them as they spiralled into eternity. My legs were sore as we finally approached the crown where two people were enjoying the view. A guide distracted us from spoiling the others’ special moment by showing us where to look down on the tablet the statue held. Then it was our turn!

The crown’s windows were tiny and curved. You couldn’t get 6 people standing there in a row. We had our photo taken then I went berserk with my own shots - no one came to disturb us.

Inside the crown!

The guides joked to themselves about difficult guests. One had liked how a little boy had tried to use the buttons in the lift downstairs.

“How old are you?” she’d asked.

“Three,” was the answer.

“Well, you have to be fifteen years older and work here to touch those buttons,” she’d told him.

Apparently the boy had looked very thoughtful as he said, “Okay.”

Going down the stairs was worse. I gripped both railings as I lowered myself - my fiancé bounced down. The guides had told us that on the way down we’d be able to see the inside of Lady Liberty’s face. It resembled a chocolate mould.

Down, down to the fort level we went. Now a real throng had arrived at the Crown & Pedestal queue. I was so glad we’d come early!! It was bedlam getting back to our locker and my fingerprint only worked on the second go to unlock the door.

Bought souvenirs and water - so badly needed after that climb, though the interior had been air-conditioned. Onto the ferry, which unleashed a full cohort of passengers baying for blood and their time with Lady Liberty. Very pleased to be leaving.

Then onto Ellis Island for 20 minutes. There’s not much there but the old immigration building/museum. I liked being told what room I was in (i.e. where the luggage was matched to passengers) and marvelled at the original tiling in the room for those heading elsewhere in the US between 1890-1920.

Probably sees as many tourists now as it did immigrants!

A registry was there to peruse - I could find no one with my surname but I later ran an online search which revealed how many of my brethren had passed through there. We ran onto the boat after a souvenir stint. 10 minutes later, we were back at Battery Park where another crowd loomed.

We walked towards Brooklyn Bridge but could not seem to get close enough to a pylon for my camera to take a good shot. We then followed Beekman Street which oddly vanished into a complex before appearing on the other side. Lunch was had here. Cream puffs! Mostly we stopped for air-conditioning and water.

"The greatest erection of all time!"

Down to Wall Street! We saw the church from National Treasure but I loved the Bank of New York building - very Art Deco and takes up a chunk of the skyline. It’s somehow not quite as forbidding as the Bank of New South Wales Building in Sydney. We wandered around looking for the famous bull statue but found ourselves at a loss (turns out it is closer to Battery Park!). We took a very fast express train in the subway to 42nd Street - again, no sane person with a back injury should ride this thing. Ouch. Sudden stops. Disaster around each curve.

Back to the hotel via Times Square. We were amused by M&M’s World and its three storeys of amazingness. We were accosted by people on the street trying to collect donations - their main tactic for grabbing out attention seemed to consist of saying loudly, “I like your shirt!”

We dozed in the cool air-con of our hotel. When we woke, we lumbered over to the Hard Rock Cafe where the gift store was as busy as any New York street. After descending stairs into the basement, we were warned of a 30 minute wait but 2 minutes later we were perusing the menu. Waaay too much food came out.

As we made our way back to the hotel, there were large crowds swimming in the thick heat. Youch. Times Square was doubly awful.

Now dozing off in a hotel chair.

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