I woke up at 8am. Various other people were now in the room and one by one getting up and going out. I became aware of a very cold Sony portable radio in bed with me. So I switched it on and re-inserted the earphones into my ears. After some twiddling of the dial I came across a somewhat hilarious Christian radio station. Some kind of self proclaimed professor of something-or-other was giving a lecture on how art is the adultery of nature or something. He gave a very vivid account of his trip to the video store where he borrowed a copy of The English Patient. Of course, he never normally borrowed R rated movies, "especially if they contain scenes of a sexual nature, or involving nudity." Presumably death and violence are okay especially if the people being killed and violated are having it done to them in the name of the Lord
I got up. I pretty much had the whole day planned I wanted to get some of the touristy things done in the Downtown area of Manhattan. I headed for Cortlandt St on a number 9 subway train. I had several opportunities to jump on an express number 3 train but as Cortlandt Street wasnt an express station I decided to stay where I was. I later learned that it is by far much quicker to just use local trains to get to and from express stations and change onto express trains as much as possible. As it was it took about forty minutes to get to where I was going. Cortlandt Street is right near the World Trade Center and I wanted to kick off my visit with a ride to the top of one of those tall buildings everyone is always talking about.
I found the center with ease (its hard to miss) and I wandered round the plaza and took some pictures. There were lots of other tourists around so I felt okay about pointing my camera about. In New York I generally didnt feel too happy about taking pictures just anywhere. This was not so much down to a worry that it might get stolen (although it does say "Ive got lots of money, please mug me") but more down to my personal disliking of looking too out of place and touristy. I was asked for directions several times during my visit so I must have at least partly achieved this aim! Looking up, I found that the towers did not seem as tall as I had imagined them, but this was probably due to the fact that there is nothing around from that viewpoint to give any sense of scale. The towers can be seen for miles around and it is much easier to get a sense of their height from a more distant vantage.
I went inside, through the cavernous atrium and up to the desk where I paid my $12. I had arrived fairly early and there was virtually no queue for the elevator. As I handed my ticket to the ticket collecting guy he gave me another ticket and told me that I was "the lucky one." This meant that I got to have my picture taken in front of a great big mural depicting the World Trade Center and other New York sights. I was quite pleased to be the lucky one We piled into the elevator and as it propelled us upwards I felt no motion in particular. The only indication that we were going anywhere was the mounting pressure that was trying to push my eardrums out of my head. In less than a minute we were at the top. The inside observation deck of the World Trade Center is a wide corridor that goes right round the outside of the building, and the middle is populated with all manner of gift shops selling overpriced mugs and postcards and T-shirts with NYC and WTC logos on them. The windows are narrow and separated by the huge concrete columns that run up the entire length of the towers, and you can actually step down and stand between the columns and look straight down. On the day I was there the visibility wasnt perfect there was quite a lot of haze, but I could still see for miles and of course I took lots of pictures from every possible angle.
As I wandered round one of the WTC staff told all within earshot that "if you wanna see the city, only way to see its in there." I walked in to the room and was greeted by a rather groovy scale model of Manhattan. Further on was something called the "Skyride" which was a kind of helicopter flight around the city and that was kinda fun. After walking all the way round the tower I remembered that in good weather it was supposed to be possible to get out onto the roof and lo and behold there was an escalator going (incredibly, as it seemed one could not possibly go any higher) up.
The escalator went up about two more floors and then there was another escalator like it before I finally reached the roof. I should have skipped the downstairs bit all together. This was really the top of New York. It didnt seem much higher of course, but to be this high and in the open air was really something. I walked round and round taking in all the views and taking even more pictures for about an hour before I finally (and with a touch of sadness as I knew I probably would not be back here again for a few years) descended the escalators. Just before I got on the down elevator I spotted my picture (along with hundreds of other peoples) stuck on a notice board and on sale for $10 plus tax. So much for being the lucky one, but it was a souvenir and I got two copies for the price of one so what the hell. I also got a postcard for my granddad who I had promised Id send him one and I think it cost something like a dollar which was probably really expensive considering they normally cost about 20 pence.
Anyway, I plummeted back down to earth and as I was feeling hungry I went and bought a hot dog from a big hot dog stand in the plaza. It wasnt a very big hot dog, and as several people had told me How Big Everything Is In America Especially The Food I was a little surprised by this. Still, not being entirely sure whether or not youre supposed to tip people like hot dog stand staff I handed the guy a dollar and he was either very grateful or thought I was very stupid I will probably never know which. I sat down and ate my food and drank my can of coke and thought about what to do next, and I decided that I would walk to Battery Park and get on the ferry and go and see The Statue.
The streets in that part of town are not all conveniently arranged in a nice grid format but are instead all spaghetti like, so I had to refer to my discreet and trusty pop-out map that could be whipped out, consulted and put back in my pocket before even the most eagle eyed New Yorker saw past my cunning non-tourist fašade. It didnt look very far on the map but it was about a half hour walk and the start of a long tradition of walking that would leave my feet feeling very sore indeed by the end of the day. On the way there I came across a Sam Goody record store where I bought a CD of what turned out to be very poor Metallica cover versions I also bought Pick Floyds The Wall for a fraction of the usual cost. At Battery Park I got Circle Line ferry tickets and went and stood in line for the ferry. I only had to wait a few minutes before getting on the ferry which was a shame because it was quite amusing watching the reactions of the female tourists as a busker repeatedly asked them for a kiss (because he wanted their holidays to be fun )
The view from the ferry of the Manhattan skyline was pretty spectacular. There seemed to be more of a sense of the scale of things from here. After about ten minutes we arrived at the island and the statue loomed above. It was teeming with tourists, and the place had a very patriotic feel to it with American flags everywhere. On the ferry they had told us that the there was a lift to the top of the pedestal, but if you wanted to go to the top of the statue you had to take the stairs. Feeling a bit lazy I opted for the lift, and after a bit of queuing whisked almost to the top of the pedestal. The attendant told us that there would be fifty or so steps to climb to get to the observation deck. He also said that the Statue of Liberty, officially called Liberty Enlightening the World, was the largest national monument in the country. "The largest one in the form of a big green lady anyway," he quipped, and everyone in the lift chuckled. He probably tells that joke every time no doubt if I return to the statue in several years time hell tell it again, and Ill probably laugh again.
The view from the pedestal was very good. I could see Manhattan from yet another position, and there was a good view out across the water in all directions. I wandered around, took pictures and after a while returned, just in time to catch the ferry back.
Back on dry land I was amused to find the same busker hassling a new group of tourists. I had a quick look on my map and decided to head for South Street Seaport, where I thought I might be able to pick up something boaty as a gift for my dad. I walked there, and on the way I got a proper hot dog from one of the street corner vendors much better value at only $1.25. Before long I found Pier 17, where there were some large historic looking ships moored, and a shopping centre. The place reminded me a lot of Ocean Village in Southampton, back home. Only it was a lot bigger. I tried to find something boaty for my dad but there seemed to be just tacky gift shops and expensive clothes shops. Away from the pier, back on dry land, I came across a marine junk shop but it turned out that all it sold really was junk and very extravagant junk at that. So after spending far too long in there (just in case there was a bargain somewhere) I left and went in the South Street Seaport Museum Shop. (I never did see any museum). In there I bought a model of The Little Red Lighthouse which I thought would go well with my parents collection of boaty ornaments. I also found out that said Little Red Lighthouse was actually in New York, and that the George Washington Bridge was built over the top of it. I decided to find out where the bridge was and go and take a picture of the lighthouse so I could say "Look, heres that lighthouse I bought you a model of!"
I was planning to walk across Brooklyn Bridge and get to Brooklyn Heights by dusk but it was a little too early for that, so instead I found myself walking up Broadway towards City Hall. There was actually nothing at City Hall except the hall itself but at least I can say Ive been there. I walked on a bit further and came to a kind of plaza just opposite where the Brooklyn Bridge walkway starts and there was a woman walking around with a billboard saying "We Forgive You Bill Clinton." A couple of cops walked past and found this rather amusing. On the back of the billboard was presumably the same thing written in Spanish. I was actually quite surprised by the amount of Spanish spoken in New York. Most notices on the subway were bilingual, and I heard people speaking Spanish all the time wherever I went. I think it would have been a more useful language for me to do at school than French and German but the opportunity never came up, so now I will never know what all the Spanish people were saying about me
I started across the Bridge. The walkway ran above the road, and was divided into lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. It took about twenty minutes to get across and there were some good views of the city. When I arrived in Brooklyn I walked about ten miles in search of Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and in the end I found my way to a tourist map (which I had passed about an hour previously and ignored) and had to retrace most of my steps. By the time I found the promenade it was just getting dusk so the timing worked out well and at least I got to see a bit of Brooklyn. The view from the promenade was yet another spectacular vista of the famous skyline. I watched the sun go down and the lights go on which was very pretty, and I took a picture for some French tourists and in return they took my picture. By the time I was walking back across the bridge it was completely dark but the bridge was all lit up and there were lots of other people around so it never felt threatening in any way. I walked up Broadway for a while, and browsed in a couple of bookshops and music shops (which all stayed open until about 10pm or even later) and finally tried to find a subway station. This actually took me a lot longer than it should have as I looked at my subway map and assumed that the 1 and 9 trains followed Broadway - they do, but only as far down as Times Square where the N and R trains take over. So I walked passed about four N and R train stations before realising my mistake. On the way I found a really cool magazine shop which sold just about every kind of magazine imaginable. I bought a copy of Car & Driver because you cant get that in England. I finally made it back to the youth hostel and was so tired I went straight to bed.
This page was last updated on October 20, 1998