A ferry ride to visit New York's Business and Financial District
09.06.2013 27 °C
It's the last Sunday of my around the world trip and time for the last big item on my bucket list - Lower Manhattan. I had already explored Mid Manhattan and the Empire State Building the week before and it was now time to explore New York's business and financial district at the southern most tip of the island. To get there we boarded one of the famous free orange coloured ferries from Staten Island, initially passing to seaward the double decked Verrazano-Narrows Suspension Bridge that links Brooklyn and Staten Island.
We then excitingly on the portside of the ferry got a close up view of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island and Ellis Island where millions of immigrants to the US landed between 1892 and 1934. I would loved to have landed and visited them but unfortunately they were both still being repaired from damage they sustained during Hurricane Sandy on the 28th October 2012.
After a voyage of about 25 minutes across one of the largest natural harbours in the world we passed Castle Williams constructed between 1807-1811 on Governors Island on the starboard side before arriving at the Ferry Terminal on the southern most tip of Manhattan.
From the Ferry Terminal we made our way up to the Financial District a short distance away where the bronze Wall Street Bull was surrounded by tourists queuing up determined to have their picture taken holding its horns - most frustrating when you are trying to getting a clean picture and eventually I had to give up.
We then made our way up Lower Broadway, the famous "Canyon of Heroes" down which the famous ticker tape parades are held. They use to happen quite often (for instance for visiting heads of state) but are now quite rare and only held to celebrate great sporting occasions such as the NY Yankees winning Baseball's World Series or the NY Giants winning American Football's Super Bowl. They also now use shredded paper rather than outdated ticker tape!
Continuing up Lower Broadway we passed the back entrance to the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, the largest stock exchange in the world. The main façade with its 6 corinthian columns was actually around the corner in Broad Street. Being a Sunday New York's Financial District was quite quiet. A bit further along we walked past St Paul's Chapel with One World Trade Center emerging behind it. Built in 1766, St Paul's is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan.
We had timed tickets for the National September 11 Memorial and as we were slightly early we managed to also visit the nearby Irish Hunger Memorial opened on 2002. During my trip I've also seen other memorials to the million people who died during the Irish Famine between 1845 and 1852 but the one in New York with its landscaped plot (using specially imported Irish soil, vegetation and stones) incorporating an authentic rebuilt 19th century Irish cottage (from Carradoogan in the parish of Attymass in County Mayo) is my favourite.
The National September 11 Memorial itself is surrounded by building sites, the most advanced of which is the One World Trade Center. Its top floor is the same height as the North Tower destroyed by the terrorist attack on September 11th 2001 with its spire above making it's official height 1,776 feet, symbolic of the 1776 US Declaration of Independence.
Despite the queues, with our timed tickets we got through the airport style security to the memorial in less than 10 minutes (when all the rebuilding is complete there will be open access to the memorial from all sides). The memorial itself consists of two 30 feet deep square pools on the footprint of the twin towers with waterfalls cascading down their sides and feels a very fitting and surreal tribute to those who died.
The names of the 2,983 people who died in the 9/11 and 1993 attacks are inscribed on the bronze parapets around the perimeter of the two ponds with their names carefully arranged to be adjacent to people they knew and worked with. The day we went was also New York's 56th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade so in addition to lots of brightly dressed Puerto Ricans on the subway trains there were small Puerto Rican flags placed by the names of the 21 Puerto Rican victims.
All but one of the trees surrounding the ponds are swamp white oaks; the exception is a Callery pear tree known as the Survivor Tree, which was the only tree to survive from the original plaza. It was reduced to an 8 foot tall stump by the attack and has been carefully nursed back to health and is anchored to the ground to help it re-root.
We then stopped for a quick lunch at the Village Pizza on 8th Avenue in Greenwich Village; I'm not normally a pizza fanatic but the slice of thin crust pizza we got from this traditional small (i.e. two table) hole-in-the-wall restaurant/take-away was the most delicious I've ever tasted. I now know why so many people crave about New York pizza!
Suitably fed we walked a couple of blocks to the 14th Street entrance to the High Line, an abandoned elevated freight railway line originally built in 1934 to avoid the frequent accidents that occurred when the railroad ran at ground level and last used (for a train load of frozen turkeys!) in 1980. In 1999 a local residents group began campaigning for it to be "repurposed" into a 1.45 mile (2.33 kilometre) long public park 30 feet above the streets.
What an inspired idea! The first section of the park was opened in 2009 with the second section opened 2011 and has proved incredibly popular with New Yorkers. All along its length beside the path there are wildflowers, seating and specially commissioned art work. A third of the original rail tracks have been retained amongst the plants enhancing the park's unique urban character.
In addition to the views of the city skyline I was fascinated to see the elevated parking next to the High Line near West 18th Street where cars are positioned by a lift, it reminded me of the Multi Storey Boat Park I saw in Auckland. The final section of the High Line extending it from West 30th to West 34th Street is due to open in 2014.
From the High Line we made our way up West 23rd Street to Madison Square Park see the famous Flatiron Building. Built in 1902, the Flatiron Building was New York's first iron-frame high-rise and the world's tallest building until 1909.
Nearby we went to see the birthplace of Theodore ("Teddy") Roosevelt, the 26th US President (1901-1909). The original building was built in 1848, demolished in 1916 and then the lot was purchased and the house rebuilt in 1919 to recreate how it looked in 1865 when "Teddy" was just 7 years old; only in America!
It was then time to make our way back to catch the ferry back to Staten Island, with a minor detour to the Brooklyn Bridge after our subway train terminated early! The Brooklyn Bridge when it was completed in 1883 was the longest suspension bridge in the world and first one built using steel wire. It's one of the signature landmarks of city and walking across its pedestrian walkway above the automobile lanes is one of the "must do's" in New York.
We then re-boarded the New York Subway for a handful of stops and boarded the ferry back to Staten Island, buying the obligatory "I ♥ New York" T-Shirt from a street vendor on the way. Back in our car on the freeway on the other side we passed Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser Brewery which is such prominent landmark just outside Newark International Airport. I've seen it - but you wouldn't catch me drinking it!