Everyone’s visited New York haven’t they? They’ve all been to Macy’s and taken in a show on Broadway and maybe even had a helicopter flight around Manhattan. So what is there to say that you don’t already know? All I can do is tell you about our day in New York New York.
After the previous day’s walking marathon around Central Park and along the Highline we should really have scheduled in a quiet relaxing day shouldn’t we? It didn’t quite work out like that as we’d planned to see three big tourist sites whether our feet liked it or not!
The New York Subway
Before we start can I just have a bit of a moan about the NY subway system. The trains are ok, the stations fine but the names of the lines are just hopeless. Our nearest station was 30th Avenue, no problem there, but it’s on the N and Q line (which is yellow). What? To further complicate matters there are also 1, 2, and 3 lines(red). So alphabetical and numerical and coloured? I’m sure the locals get it but seriously it’s crazy. Luckily we didn’t need the M, D, 5, B, or 7 lines or else I’m sure we’d still be there.
We’re fairly early starters and found ourselves at the 30th Ave station just after 8am but joined what seemed to be the entire population of Astoria on the platform. It was packed. So packed that the commuters were even taking photos of how packed it was. We jammed ourselves onto the 2nd train through but it was the busiest subway trip we’ve EVER taken.
The Empire State Building
I think every visitor to New York City has to visit the Empire State Building don’t they? It hasn’t been the tallest building in the world since 1972 and is now the third tallest in New York, but it’s the Empire State Building isn’t it? Made famous in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, ‘King Kong’ and the classic ‘An Affair to Remember’ it’s an iconic structure.
A few Joanna-like facts about one the top tourist destinations in the world.
The Empire State Building;
- Is struck by lightning an average of 100 times a year
- Hosts a running race every year from ground level up to the 86th floor with a record time of 9 minutes 33 seconds.
- Selects 14 couples every year to be married on Valentines Day on the observation deck.
- Claims to be the most photographed building in the world.
- Was originally designed to let airships moor on the top floor.
- Has a secret 103rd floor just for celebrities and VIPs.
- Dims its lights every night during peak bird migration times to prevent the birds crashing into it. Previously up to 90,000 were reportedly killed every year.
- Has seen hundreds of suicides, however on December 2nd 1979 Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor but was blown back onto the 85th floor by a massive gust of wind. Unbelievably she survived with just a broken hip.
So we queued patiently for the lift up to the Observation Deck realising just how sensible we’d been getting there early. One of the building managers told us that they often have queues out of the building and around the block. Thankfully we were on our way up in 20 minutes. But not until Jo had met one of the hundreds of excellent staff and persuaded her that she really need to be featured on the world famous JWalking travel blog.
The whole building looks fabulous both inside and out with marble staircases and beautiful art deco ceilings everywhere. It’s just a classic look. The uniformed staff like Jo’s smiley friend above add to that glamorous feel and it really does seem special. Once on the Observation deck on the 86th we marveled at the views of five US states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) and tried to get a few half decent photos.
What a fantastic experience, we wouldn’t have missed it for anything but as usual we got going and set off south towards the Whitehall Ferry terminal which was where we were planning on getting the Staten Island Ferry.
Staten Island Ferry
Located right at the southern tip of Manhattan Island next to Battery Park the Staten Island Ferry is the only free transport across New York harbour which is why it gets so very busy! We arrived to a huge throng of people not queuing at all and just crowding around the entry doors, it didn’t look good to be honest. But these amateurs were no match for my Joanna! Once she decided that she was getting through they didn’t stand a chance! I just followed like a sheep. As the doors opened we were strangely near the front and managed to get a great spot outside at the back of the ferry. I was amazed. Jo didn’t expect anything less.
The Staten Island Ferry has been running since 1905 and each trip takes around 25 minutes to cover the 5 miles from Whitehall to Staten Island. It was only made free in 1979 and there are all sorts of reasons quoted that don’t tie up so let’s just say that free stuff is brilliant.
The main reason that we cheapskate tourists take this ferry is that it goes right past the Statue of Liberty and the organised trips there are just prohibitively expensive.
We love a boat trip and the ferry was excellent. Great views of the city as we motored away plus amazing close up view of both Ellis Island, where all the immigrants to the US were initially taken, and Liberty Island, on which stands the statue. Without being too negative we were both surprised at a couple of things as we passed by. Firstly how small the actual statue is and secondly how we expected it to be in the mouth of the Hudson River not in the Upper Bay miles in from the ocean. A bit disappointing to be honest.
Anyway, quick turnaround on Staten Island and the same great viewing place on the return trip. Quite impressive seeing the skyscrapers of New York and the ferry terminal and you get closer and closer.
Battery Park and Castle Clinton
Lunchtime and as all around us feasted on a healthy diet of chilli dogs and chocolate donuts we picnicked on ham salad rolls, crunchy nut bars and low calorie potato chips. Healthy or what? Battery Park is just as it sounds, a green space on the shore where the gun batteries of old used to sit. Now its a shady spot where you can watch the world go by and also count the tourist helicopters racing out to the Statue of Liberty and back again.
To the west of Battery Park is Castle Clinton which sadly is nothing to do with Bills conquests of the 1990’s but is the old immigration station pre-Ellis island which welcomed over 8 million new citizens to the states in the 19th century. It’s a fairly impressive circular fort in amazingly good condition. I love the fact that Harry Houdini, Oscar Hammerstein, Nikola Tesla, and Frederick Trump (yes, Donald’s grandfather) were all processed through Castle Clinton when they arrived as immigrants.
So enough sitting around, we were off on the next part of the journey. First though I was completely distracted by a tiny ice cream van claiming to sell the worlds greatest ice creams. How could we not test that claim so I asked for ‘Two of the World’s Greatest Ice Creams please’. Our verdict? They were actually unbelievably good. No idea if the claim is true but in that moment we were convinced 100%.
The Twin Pools Memorial
We weren’t sure if we really wanted to visit the scene of the twin tower tragedy. We just weren’t sure if it was something we should see or not but in the end we decided to walk up and just wander through and see how it felt. The site is actually called the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and contains two large pools on the sites where the towers stood on a quiet reflective site full of trees. Very tastefully done but unfortunately a magnet for selfie-obsessed ignorant tourists who seem to have no respect or knowledge of what the memorial is all about (rant over).
The most amazing part as far as we were concerned was the small insignificant tree on the west side of the pool called the Survivor Tree. Its a callery pear tree that was buried beneath the rubble in 2001 and recovered with just one branch that was badly damaged. Not expected to survive it was replanted out in Brooklyn where it recovered but was then uprooted in a subsequent storm. Still refusing to give in the tree recovered and was replanted on the site in 2010. To us this felt like the most important and meaningful memorial of all, and there wasn’t a selfie-stick idiot to be seen.
More miles walked and with the sun seemingly hotter by the hour we pushed on towards Brooklyn. Along Broadway and into City Hall Park and the impressive New York City Hall building. It doesn’t actually feel as if its in the right place to be honest, it feels very out of time and place in the middle of all of those skyscrapers.
An impressive place though but we pushed on after a quick water stop as we really wanted to get across Brooklyn Bridge and the day seemed to still be getting hotter and hotter.
Built in 1883 it’s a real icon of New York and at over a mile long stretches from Manhattan Island to Brooklyn Heights. There’s a pedestrian/cycle path all the way across so we thought a nice quiet stroll over the East River would cool us down after the busy day we’d had. No chance. One or two other people had decided to do the same thing and although not packed it was fairly busy. Not a problem if everyone sticks to their own side and keeps walking of course but that seems to be impossible for the selfie-stick brigade, they have to keep stopping in the middle of the path and posing for numerous photos whilst blocking both sides.
I didn’t get that angry but I won’t mention how Jo was! Spacial awareness! Some people have no idea. Sorry, rant number two is now over. The walk across was great though, the bridge looks fabulous and the views of Brooklyn as you approach and Manhattan as you leave are spectacular. We may even have been ‘blockers’ a couple of times as we took a few photos.
So an absolutely perfect touristy day, not our usual JWalking experience but there were just a few iconic sights that we felt we couldn’t miss. We hadn’t booked very long in New York as we knew we weren’t interested in shopping or shows but perhaps we could have done with another day, not sure. A busy subway ride back to Astoria preceded an end of the day treat as we spoilt ourselves and our aching feet with a meal out at the Grand Cafe just across the street from our Airbnb. It sounds a lot posher than it actually is, it’s a cool bar on the street with great music and a laid back feel. After a couple of drinks and a plate of good food we were all sorted. What a grand day out.
New York to Boston
As I mentioned earlier, the subway had been stupidly busy at 8am so we decided that we needed to leave as early as possible the following day en route to Boston our next stop. Bags all packed in super quick style the previous evening and a quick shower and we were out at 6.30am. Sometimes our travelling days are short and simple and sometimes they’re not, today was not. Ready?
- Walk to 30th Avenue subway
- Subway to Times Square
- Subway to Penn Station
- Walk to Pennsylvania Amtrak station
- Amtrak to Boston South station
- Subway to Downtown Crossing station
- Subway to Haymarket station
- Bus to Medford
- Walk to Airbnb
A mammoth trip that took close to ten and a half hours door to door as we journeyed from New York through Connecticut into Rhode Island and finally to Massachusetts. The train trip hugged the coastline of the Block Island Sound as we passed Yonkers, New London and Providence on our way north. The whole trip went like clockwork and it wasn’t long before we were yomping up a hill in Medford Massachusetts looking for our new home. That was when the trouble started though! I’ll let Jo tell you about that next time.
6.6 – 7.6.2016