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Friday, May 24, 2013 : New York City

 

As planned, it is cloudy and rather cool when we get up. This won't prevent us from spending the whole day in lower Manhattan.

 

After a plentiful breakfast and a Skype conversation with the family back in France, we set out to discover a part of New York City I was not previously that familiar with.

 

The Wall Street Inn, 9 S. William St, New York

The Wall Street Inn, our hotel for three nights

 

We are going to spend two full days crisscrossing New York City on foot, with the subway, by boat. We will get the car later. Within the city, there is no point in driving.

 

In this part of the city, streets do not have numbers but real names, and they cross each other the European way. The Manhattan Commissionners Plan of 1811, with straight angles and numbered streets and avenues, has been designed in 1811, much later than this neighborhood. We are in the oldest part of the city, which dates back to the 17th century.

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Federal Hall, Wall Street, Manhattan

The Federal Hall and George Washington's statue

 

We stroll in the financial district of Wall Street. It is Friday, in theory a working day, but there is absolutely no frenzy around us. The long Memorial Day weekend must be for something in this apparent lazyness.

 

In front of the Federal Hall, we can see the statue of George WashingtonNew York City has been the United States Capital from 1785 to 1790, before being overtaken by Philadelphia. Nowadays, New York City is not even the capital city of it own state.

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The New York Stock Exchange, seen from the corner of Broad and Wall Street

The New York Stock Exchange on Broad Street

 

Wall Street is famous all over the world for being the dominant financial center of this planet. But although the New York Stock Exchange building is at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, its famous main entrance is actually on Broad Street.

 

Today, the famous Star-Spangled Banner that often decorates this building is not on display.

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The Titanic Memorial, Pearl Street, New York

The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, Pearl Street

 

We then walk down to the old seaport on the East River, which is not a river but actually a strait, its current changing sides with each tide. At the corner of Fulton Street and Pearl Street is the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, on which a plaque displays the ship's position when she sank.

 

Some South Street Seaport buildings look sort of derelict and abandoned. Others have been restored and host bars, restaurants and what looks like a vibrant nightlife. But at this early time, everything is really quiet.

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New York Pass

The New York Pass

 

We get our New York Passes at the nearest booth, which happens to be on the port. This pass, valid for two days, gives free access to many attractions in New York City, including some cruises.

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Zephyr Statue of Liberty Express

Zephyr Statue of Liberty Express

 

Since we are on the port, we immediately board the Zephyr, toward Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

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Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, New York City

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, between Brooklyn and Staten Island

 

The weather becomes more menacing by the minute, and we were wise to take our raincoats with us. Wind has picked up and, on the boat deck, it gets pretty cold for the season !

 

We nevertheless enjoy a decent visibility, up to Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Staten Island and Brooklyn. This bridge is slightly longer than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

 

We already know that we will not be able to go to Ellis Island, the Immigration Museum, which I really wanted to visit, and to Liberty Island and its famous statue. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded the basements of both islands, which have no electricity, phones or security systems at the time of our visit, May 24, 2013.

 

Liberty Island reopened July 4th, 2013, a few weeks after our visit. According to the NPS website, the statue is now accessible again, with no restrictions.

 

Ellis Island has also reopened, but on a limited basis. Significant parts of the museum are still undergoing renovations.

 

Our guide, a very talkative character, set his mind on becoming the most photographed tourist guide of the planet. I can't tell whether he is going to make it one day, but he is at last the one who knows the most jokes about New Jersey and its inhabitants. New Jersey jokes in New York City are a bit like Belgian jokes in France.

 

By the way, dear Sir, both Ellis Island and Liberty Island are actually located in New Jersey.

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Ellis Island, Immigration Museum

Immigration Museum, Ellis Island

 

We are getting very close to Ellis Island, first on the side of the ferries that used to link the island to Manhattan, and then on the Museum side. The boat slows down almost to a stop, the time to take a few pictures.

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Liberty Enlightening the World

Liberty Enlightening the World

 

Liberty Island is very close. Our boat is showing us the island from the front and sides, long enough to take pictures of the Statue of Liberty at various angles.

 

I remember climbing in the statue's head and torch, long before Hurricane Sandy, and even long before 9/11.

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Lower Manhattan, seen from the Bay

Lower Manhattan, seen from the Bay

 

After the photo stop, our ship crosses the Bay again, back to Pier 16 on the East River, where we came from. Here is a very classical view of Lower Manhattan and its skyscrapers.

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Three bridges in a row : Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg

Three bridges in a row : Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg

 

Just before leaving the boat, we enjoy a view of three bridges in a row : Brooklyn just before our eyes, then Manhattan, then Williamsburg. According to our guide, there is an easy way to remember them : just think of their initials and BMW cars.

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Memorial Day celebration, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza

Memorial Day celebration, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza

 

After leaving the boat, we go on discovering Lower Manhattan on foot.

 

It is Memorial Day weekend, the national holiday dedicated to veterans of all wars. On Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, we spend some minutes watching a rehearsal for a celebration in a few days by a group of veterans. In spite of their outfits, they are not Scots but really Americans.

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Our Lady of the Rosary church, State Street, New York City

Our Lady of the Rosary Church, State Street

 

From the boat, we noticed this little church sourrounded by skyscrapers, and we wanted to see it closer. It is Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, just across the street from the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

 

We are going all around Lower Manhattan, more or less following the shore of the Bay.

 

After the Staten Island Ferry terminal, we cross Battery Park.

 

Hurricane Sandy left traces, with some parts of the park still bearing the scars. Seven months later, the tunnel under Battery Park between the end of the FDR Drive and West Street is still closed. I let you imagine the hectic traffic between Greenwich Street, West Street and Battery Place !

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Immigration Memorial, Battery Park, New York City

Immigration Memorial, Battery Park

 

Battery Park has a number of memorials, monuments dedicated to the main conflicts the United States of America were involved in : the East Coast Memorial, dedicated to the servicemen who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean during WWII, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the American Merchant Mariners Memorial, in memory of all merchant navy sailors who died in WWII.

 

Some monuments are not about conflicts at all : there is an Immigration Memorial.

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Squirrel, Battery Park, New York City

Squirrel, Battery Park

 

As in every city park, animal life is quite vibrant. Here, squirrels are not especially fearful of humans. This one stood on its feet just before us, most likely expecting some kind of candy food.

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Castle Clinton, Battery Park, New York City

Castle Clinton, old fort protecting the City

 

Also in Battery Park is Castle Clinton, the last remaining of a series of forts that used to protect the shore of the Bay, mostly against the British during the War of 1812. It is closed for renovation too, because of Hurricane Sandy. I have to satisfy myself with a detailed conversation with the rangers at the gate.

 

Nothing in common with the former President, the fort takes its name from DeWitt Clinton, the sixth Governor of the state of New York (1817-1822). From 1855 to 1890, it was used as a processing center for immigrants, before the opening of Ellis Island in 1892.

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9/11 Eternal Flame, Battery Park, Manhattan, New York City

9/11 Eternal Flame, Battery Park

 

A little further in the park is the World Trade Center Sphere, which used to stand on the former plaza between the Twin Towers, and has been recovered, with surprisingly little damage, in the rubble after the 9/11 attacks. It now rests in Battery Park, a few feet away from this Eternal Flame.

 

The closer we get to the World Trade Center, the more we see various marks and traces of 9/11. The city of New York has not totally healed its wounds (can it ever ?) and, 12 years after, pain and grief are still acutely felt.

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One World Trade Center seen from West Street, Manhattan, New York City

One World Trade Center seen from West Street

 

After Battery Park, we walk West Street up to the World Trade Center. One World Trade Center, a. k. a. Freedom Tower, approximately in line with the former North Tower, largely overlooks the perspective. South Tower, the one that used to be open to visitors, was slightly on the right.

 

From far away as from up close, One World Trade Center is really beautiful. Unfortunately, the overcast weather makes it look dull. But we will see it against a sunny sky two days later.

 

We make a brief stop at 9/11 Memorial Visitor Center, where commercial bargains vastly outnumber genuine tragedy memories. Later on, we will find the 9/11 Tribute Center much more interesting.

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South Pool, World Trade Center Memorial Park, Manhattan, New York City

South Pool, where the South Tower used to be, World Trade Center Memorial Park

 

We walk around the World Trade Center by Albany Street. After a short wait, we visit the 9/11 Memorial Park, almost complete. I already came to that place in October 2002, it was merely a big hole in the ground, where trucks were clearing away the remaining rubble. Nowadays, the hole has become a nice plaza with a park. Two pools mark the places where the former Twin Towers used to stand. A museum, that can be seen in the background, will soon open.

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The Survivor Tree, World Trade Center Memorial Park, Manhattan, New York City

The Survivor Tree, World Trade Center Memorial Park

 

A little further in the park is the Survivor Tree. The tree was found in the World Trade Center rubble, badly bruised but miraculously alive. It healed, was planted again at its current place in the park, and used to grow all the saplings that gave all the other trees in the park, as a powerful symbol of survival.

 

Once again, Mother Nature's resilience to human misdeeds leaves me stunned and admiring.

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9/11 Firefighters Memorial Wall, Greenwich Street, Manhattan, New York City

9/11 Firefighters Memorial Wall, Greenwich Street

 

On the East side of the Park, Greenwich Street has been partly given back to pedestrians. The wall of FDNY Ten House, the fire station closest to the World Trade Center since there is only a street to cross, is decorated with bronze plates commemorating the sacrifice of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. The 9/11 Firefighters Memorial Wall is 57 feet long. it's impressive.

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9/11 Tribute Center

9/11 Tribute Center

 

Next door from FDNY Ten House on Liberty Street is the 9/11 Tribute Center, a rather small museum, but full of all sorts of 9/11-related objects. We can see firefighters' suits, a few twisted metal rods from the Twin Towers, plane windows ... Time froze on the morning of September 11, 2001.

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Firefighter suit, 9/11 Tribute Center, Liberty Street, Manhattan, New York City

Firefighter suit, 9/11 Tribute Center, Liberty Street

 

After a short lunch pause in the middle of the afternoon, we take the subway to Brooklyn, to visit the New York Transit Museum. When we exit the subway, it is raining cats and dogs ! Fortunately, the museum is in an old subway station, and we use it as a rain shelter during our visit. Unfortunately, taking pictures is not permitted.

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MTA MetroCard

MetroCard

 

We strongly recommend people having to use transit in New York City to choose the MetroCard. This permanent pass costs $1 to purchase, and can be very easily refilled of the amount you choose. Each passage in a subway turnstyle deducts the fare from the MetroCard and displays the card's balance.

 

Back in Manhattan, we visit the New York American Indian Museum on Bowling Green Square, just at the corner of Broadway and State Street. Here too, pictures are not allowed. This museum leaves us puzzled. It displays very rich collections of Native American objects and artifacts, but grouped according to a classification we are still struggling to understand. It is slightly disappointing.

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Inside Trinity Church, Broadway, Manhattan, New York City

Inside Trinity Church, Broadway

 

Looking for the Bowling Green Bull, we walk up to Trinity Church, and take a few pictures both outside and inside the church. After walking down Broadway, we finally find the Bull at the tip of Bowling Green Square, facing the Museum we left a few minutes ago. The place is so crowded we put the photo session off to the next day.

 

After a few necessity purchases, we walk back to our nearby hotel. The podometer app running on Marie's iPhone displays 7.5 miles !

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