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Statue of Liberty on a stormy day

New York City in six hours or less

I didn’t feel that our East Coast run for 2015 would be complete without a trip to NYC. Having been raised in upstate New York, Terry had never visited the city and had no desire to. But I cajoled him into going, and I think it was worthwhile, although he promptly professed that he never wanted to go there again. So alas, if I want to experience more of NYC than just the six hours that our tour guide afforded us I will need to go without him.

Photo of an NYC tour guideOur bus picked us up at our RV campground in Florida, NY (blackbearcampground.com). Al, our tour guide, looked like an old retired mobster, including the attitude and the requisite blue fedora. He was pushing 80, but had no complaints.

Even though we were only 60 miles or so from the city, the bus ride still took two hours. We drove through the commuter traffic, under the Hudson River in the Holland Tunnel, and emerged in Manhattan, where Al pointed out the last remaining tenements that housed immigrants throughout the city. The tenements are being replaced by high rises due to the city’s insatiable need for dense housing.

Through our bus windows we saw sidewalks filled with city residents hurrying to their destinations, talking on their cell phones and doing their best to ignore the hoards of confused tourists getting in their way. We saw a two-story McDonald’s, the famous NY City Library, Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and the Rockefeller Center where they were just finishing the day’s Today Show (flanked by the plaza where they ice skate in the winter). We drove past Times Square and onto Broadway, where we were finally allowed to explore on our own.

I was expecting some Las Vegas style venues on Broadway, so it was surprising that the street is somewhat nondescript. It is lined with theaters, most of which were on the small side. Barkers were standing on every street, trying to get us to buy tickets to ride the double-decker tour buses that circle the city streets. Maybe some other time we had to say.

We hurried to Times Square where we hoped to get a hot dog from one of the stands. I was sure that a trip to the city had to include that. But the stands weren’t open yet, so after taking a few pictures in the Square we headed back to Broadway where the bus was parked. We were in luck though, because there is a bakery on Broadway that serves cheesecake. So instead of a real New York hot dog we got New York cheesecake instead. I think that was a good compromise.

Then it was back on the bus to get a little closer to our next spot: Wall Street and Ground Zero. Al told us some surprising things about the city, which included a walk to Federal Hall, where George Washington took his oath of office in 1789. We walked to St. Paul’s Chapel, which George Washington and his family had their own pew for worship. Above his pew is an incredibly ugly painting of one of the early drafts of the Great Seal of the US. Some scholars think that Benjamin Franklin may have had some influence on the artist, because the bird in the seal looks more like a turkey than an American Bald Eagle. Apparently Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be designated as the nation’s official bird. I’m so glad they went with the eagle.

Our walk turned somber as we approached the Ladder Company 10 station. There is an elaborate mural that serves to memorialize the six firefighters that Ladder Company 10 lost on 9/11. Their station was directly adjacent to the World Trade Center. But rather than go down in defeat, the station was restored and is still in service today.

Al had us gather under a tree as we reached the 9/11 memorial. He said it has been named the Survivor Tree, as it was the only tree to withstand the explosions. It was carefully removed during construction, rehabilitated by the city, and then put back in its original spot. I think he even got a little teary-eyed as he described its fight for survival.

Then we quietly walked over to the memorial itself, where Al pointed out the names of two young men who were lost. They were in Al’s Boy Scout troop and had just started new jobs at the World Trade Center when the planes hit. The scene was so inspiring with the Freedom Tower reflecting a sky full of possibilities, while at the same time honoring those who lost their lives.

We grabbed some quick New York pizza, then got back on the bus for a trip to the ferry that would take us to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Along the way we passed by the harbor area where they are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, saw some trapeze artists practicing high atop Pier 40, and got more great views of the cityscape.

With only 45 minutes to see Ellis Island I don’t think we did it justice. The building itself resonates, and the worn stone steps that all of the immigrants climbed are a testament to the sheer volume of people who have come through its doors.

Then it was back on the ferry for the most anticipated stop of the day (f0r me anyway): Lady Liberty. The weather at that point had turned stormy, which I thought was fitting, given our country’s own storms. She stood in stark contrast to the clouds, welcoming even in the dreary light. We fought our way through the tourists with selfie sticks to spend a few minutes with the statute that we had traveled thousands of miles to see. Three of our fellow bus riders had traveled from France, and I asked them what they thought. They said that they were a little disappointed: they thought she was a lot taller than she really is.

The bus ride back to the campground took another few hours, this time going through the Lincoln Tunnel and coming out in New Jersey.

So there you have it, a whirlwind tour of one of the most interesting, noisy, iconic, unique, and historic cities in the world.

 

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