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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Big Gotham

It had been a long time since my last trip to New York. How long had it been? The last time I was there (coincidentally my first visit as well), I stayed with a friend at his apartment on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. One of the nights I was there, he and I, plus his Japanese girlfriend, were among the 76 million people watching the final episode of Seinfeld. That's how long it had been (and my friend, sadly, is no longer with us), and another trip was long overdue. 

With the Thanksgiving holiday providing for a four-day weekend (not to mention a badly-needed break from the ordeal of learning Russian grammar rules), the time seemed right for a second visit to America's biggest city, this time with my wife and daughter in tow. So on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, the three of us took the Amtrak Northeast Regional train from Alexandria, headed toward Penn Station:

It was the first time for me to ride on a passenger train in the U.S. since I was about my daughter's age. Though the lack of assigned seats was a potential source of anxiety (though we were able to find some upon boarding), and despite the sometimes-grim scenery as the train made its way through some depressed areas around Baltimore and Philadelphia, it was an enjoyable way to travel. We reached Penn Station roughly on time, and took the subway to 79th Street, the closest stop to our hotel. After checking in, we searched for an open restaurant in order to have dinner. Most places were closed for the holiday, while many of the others were packed with diners, but we did find an open table at a bar and grill on Amsterdam Avenue and West 76th Street. Happy Thanksgiving:

We stayed three nights at the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street:

The sightseeing began in earnest on Friday, as the three of us took the subway to South Ferry, then caught the, um, ferry to Liberty Island. The iconic Manhattan skyline as seen from the boat:

The first time I was in New York, I rode the Staten Island Ferry for the free view of the Statue of Liberty as the boat passed by. This time Amber, Pamela and I got off the ferry at Liberty Island and walked toward the statue:

Like so many things in New York, the Statue of Liberty is instantly familiar, yet still nonetheless impressive as we walked around the colossal sculpture:

Seeing Liberty Enlightening the World in the flesh (so to speak) was a poignant reminder of the ideals this nation supposedly stands for, a message particularly relevant in the current political climate of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and other anti-immigrant demagogues:

Perhaps our friends on the rabid right should pay a visit to Ellis Island, for a refresher course on American civics and a reminder of who actually built this country (after it had been seized from its original inhabitants, of course):

12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, lured by the promise of starting new lives in a new land. The Immigration Museum, housed in the Main Building, does an excellent job of explaining the history of immigration to the United States, as well as on the particulars of the immigrant experience at Ellis Island. To its credit, the displays do not shy away from the darker side of that experience and history:

Immigrants were processed in the Great Hall, though to the best of my knowledge none of my ancestors passed through here (though my father says his grandmother immigrated from Ireland to New York in the 1880's). It's possible that someone on my paternal grandmother's side of the family lived in North Carolina before the American Revolution (moving to Canada afterward, which strongly suggests they were Loyalists); my grandfather's American lineage isn't clear at all:

Having seen the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, we returned by ferry to Battery Park, then walked up Broadway toward the Financial District. On the way we passed by the famous Charging Bull bronze sculpture, surrounded by a throng of tourists waiting to have their pictures taken with it:

Trinity Church stands near the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway. According to Wikipedia: During the September 11, 2001 attacks, as the 1st Tower collapsed, people took refuge from the massive debris cloud inside the church. Falling wreckage from the collapsing tower knocked over a giant sycamore tree that had stood for nearly a century in the churchyard of St. Paul's Chapel, which is part of Trinity Church's parish and is located several blocks north of Trinity Church. Sculptor Steve Tobin used its roots as the base for a bronze sculpture that stands next to the church today:

The burial grounds of the church are home to the remains of luminaries such as Robert Fulton and Alexander Hamilton:

There was a heavy police presence in New York in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Wall Street was one of those places with especially stringent security, preventing people from walking up to the entrance of the New York Stock Exchange. On the other hand, with so many police officers around, getting directions was an easy matter:

Across from the Stock Exchange stands Federal Hall. Again, quoting Wikipedia

Federal Hall, built in 1700 as New York's City Hall, later served as the first capitol building of the United States of America under the Constitution, as well as the site of George Washington's inauguration as the first President of the United States. It was also where the United States Bill of Rights was introduced in the First Congress. The building was demolished in 1812.  Federal Hall National Memorial was built in 1842 as the United States Custom House, on the site of the old Federal Hall on Wall Street, and later served as a sub-Treasury building. It is now operated by the National Park Service as a national memorial commemorating the historic events that occurred there.

Inside the memorial are exhibits, including the Bible used by Washington to swear his oath of office:

The Father of His Country stands in bronze outside the memorial:

Back on the subway, going from Wall Street to 34th Street-Penn Station. Much has been written as to how New York's subway trains are a microcosm of the city's diversified population. Cliched, perhaps, but also true:

Macy's Herald Square, the flagship store of the Macy's chain. The famous Thanksgiving Day Parade took place the previous day, but was over by the time we arrived in the city:

Amber gives a hint as to our final destination on this Friday:

The Empire State Building, the world's tallest building from 1931 to 1970 and arguably still the most famous skyscraper in the world, reaching a height of 1454 feet (443 meters). I visited the site of King Kong's last stand in the morning during my first trip to New York in 1998. This time the family and I took the elevator up to the 86th floor observatory as the sun began to set:

The view of the night lights of New York was stunning from the 102nd floor:

We finished our day with dinner at the Heartland Brewery at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, where the Voyage Sampler of eight 5-ounce house brews proved to be the perfect way to cap off the evening:

Cheers! (To be continued...)

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