New York City

Before the road trip to New York City from Niagara Falls we made one last overnight stop at Finger Lakes in New York State to break up the journey. The finger lakes region of New York State includes eleven Finger Lakes forming part of Lake Ontario and the Erie Canal. The beautiful landscape was formed as a result of glaciers carving out the Finger Lakes. Sadly, we did not have much time to look around and also, very sadly, it was our very last night camping in America. I had mixed feelings about this. After nearly seven weeks of camping in remote locations I was looking forward to four comfortable nights in a hotel. However, camping across America had been a uniquely fun experience. Nothing can beat waking up with the wonders of nature all around you from the sounds of the birds to nearby streams and the fun around the campfire it had been brilliant. Our final night camping was a pretty wild one. Everyone was in good spirits and there was plenty to drink as well as an amazing campfire barbecue. As we had joined up with the parallel Best of the East Trek America tour there was nearly thirty of us on the last night and so it was loud and wild and fun.

The next morning, we were all worn out and most of us slept on the ride back to New York City. After the wild night before driving all that way must have been a nightmare for our guide Shawn but as usual, he was courteous, positive, and professional as he drove us to New York City. Although I loved the rural National Parks in America, I was extremely excited about the prospect of visiting New York City.

Millions of words and thousands of books have been written about the wonder that is New York City. Known as the ‘Big Apple’ the best way to approach New York is to take a big bite out of it and that is indeed what I did in a remarkably busy four days in New York City.

The Island of Manhattan was bought by the Dutch in the early 1600s with twenty-four dollars’ worth of trinkets and jewellery from a local Indian tribe. Later the British took control of this growing bustling market town until it was won back by the Americans during the War of Independence. Today New York has everything you could conceivably want! From the drama and dance of the theatre shows on Broadway to the world class shopping provided at Macey’s and Bloomingdales. There are numerous opportunities to enjoy panoramic views of the city from dozens of skyscrapers including the Empire State Building. The city is culturally rich with lots of museums and galleries and Wall Street is the undisputed financial centre of the world. The New York harbour provides fantastic views and is host to over 30,000 ships each year. The city is vibrant and lively and indeed it is the city that never sleeps. I will never forget my first visit to New York City in 1999, when I was sixteen years old, staring up at those magnificent skyscrapers. I could feel the raw energy and I had been thrilled and excited by my brief trip to New York back then but now I was back and really excited to be spending some proper time in New York with the opportunity to explore by myself in more depth.

Before my independent tour of the city I had one more night left with the group before we parted. The group decided that a visit to the Yankee Stadium was in order! I know absolutely nothing about baseball and do not know any of the rules which seemed to be a recurring theme with regards to American sport. I thought it looked similar to rounders but of course it was different! For me it was just the experience of going to a baseball match in New York City. I had thoroughly enjoyed my brief experience of high school American Football in Indiana, so I was pleased to be able to watch a professional baseball match in the world-famous Yankee Stadium. To get to the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx we had to go on the subway. I am glad I was with a group of people as I have no common sense with regards to using vast public transportation networks and knew without the group, I would get lost. Thankfully, that did not happen!!

Yankee Stadium is home to the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball and is located in Concourse, Bronx, New York City. A new era in the history of the New York Yankees began in 2009 when the Yankees moved from the old Yankee Stadium to the new stadium on East 161st Street. The old Yankee Stadium was home to the Yankees for eight decades and opened in 1923. It had a long and triumphant history and was legendary across the world. When the Yankees moved into their new stadium in 2009, they won the 27th World Championships so it was an awesome start to their history in their new home. They also won the World Series when their original stadium opened in 1923 so it was a dream start and one what was mirrored in history. The heritage of the old stadium has been incorporated into the new Yankee Stadium with the look and feel prior to the old stadium’s renovation in the 1970s. The new Yankee Stadium seats up to 52,000 fans and it was a pleasure to watch the Yankees play the Cleveland Indians. The crowd went wild each time the Yankees scored, and it was a fantastic end to my Trek America tour.

A baseball match at Yankee Stadium

Although it was sad to say goodbye to the group, I was keen to explore New York City independently at my own pace and I didn’t have to negotiate with anyone about what I wanted to see and do. I ended up staying in a hostel called Jazz on the Park which was located on the Upper West Side of New York City and ran adjacent to Central Park. The hostel was comfortable but was quite a long way from the subway and as I was getting back late each day, so I did have several very lonely walks. I spent extraordinarily little time in the hostel indeed I was out by 8am and then returned to the hostel around 11pm so I had some exceedingly long days walking around the city. On each day I walked for miles only occasionally catching the subway. I had stayed at the Hotel Beacon at the corner of Broadway and West 75th Street either side of the Best of the East Trek America Tour which seemed like a bustling and lively part of town.

Spending most of my time walking and exploring I managed to cram a lot of sightseeing of New York City into my remaining four days. It was great and I enjoyed the freedom. I had the main attractions on my to do list of attractions and I was keen to visit the Empire State Building first for its spectacular views of the city. I scaled the Empire State Building with my family back in 1999 when I was sixteen and so I was happy to be reacquainted with this awesome landmark.

Soaring majestically the Empire State Building defines the New York skyline offering spectacular panoramic views of New York City. With its iconic Art Deco design, the Empire State Building is easily recognisable and has been identified as one of the most photographed buildings in America. For nearly 40 years after its completion the Empire State Building stood as the world’s tallest building  and when it opened in 1931 on New York’s Fifth Avenue it was one of the first buildings to have more than 100 floors. The Empire State Building was recently revitalised to enhance its Art Deco splendour. Today it is the fourth tallest building in New York City, the sixth tallest in the United States and the forty-third tallest in the world. I was eager to get the best view so I took the lift up to the 86th floor observatory which is the main deck and it is possible to get 360 degree views of all of New York City including Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. I also went up to the 102nd floor which is the top deck and highest view from the Empire State Building. It was late evening but still light when I ascended to the 102nd floor so I could see over New York City and spot all the different landmarks as well as spy on the people and traffic below as New York bustled with life. As the light began to fade, I was treated to a view of the New York skyline lit up with dazzling lights. Of course, the view was spectacular, and it was fantastic to see a beautiful bird’s eye view of this magnificent city.

The Empire State Building

I had been told by some of the other travellers on the Trek America tour that Times Square was brilliant after dark and so after a long time gazing at the New York City skyline from the top of the Empire State Building I headed there. It was getting late but there were so many people around and the city was still so full of energy I knew I would be out until the early hours. There was so much to see, and I did not really want to be stuck in a hostel dorm room. With the dazzling lights and vast numbers of people, energy, and activity I felt happy and content sitting watching the world go by at Times Square. The billboards and numerous entertainment attractions as well as the Broadway lights were very impressive. It was easy to spend such a long time there and it was on 42nd Street I visited Times Square several times during my stay in New York City. I saw the guy dressed as a cowboy and Spider-Man was also talking to people on the streets and drawing a crowd. I was also able to check out the Hard Rock Café,  Dave and Buster’s, Madame Tussauds and check out the theatres on Broadway to decide which of the Broadway shows I was going to watch on my final night in New York City.

Times Square, New York City

Although I was back late, I was out of the hostel early as I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. I did not have time to go during my family visit to New York in 1999 so I was keen to make sure I was able to see this iconic landmark. In fact, ever since I saw the Ghostbusters riding the Statue of Liberty through New York City in ‘Ghostbusters 2’ I have dreamed of seeing the State of Liberty with my own eyes. I booked myself on the Statue Cruises experience so that I was able to get a great view of the Statue, but I was also keen to go to the island and see the statue too. The Statue of Liberty was a joint effort by France and the United States and was intended to commemorate the lasting friendship between the two nations. The Statue of Liberty was created out of sheets of copper by Frederic -Auguste Bartholdi who was a French sculptor. Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, who was the guy who designed the Eiffel Tower also designed the Statue of Liberty’s steel framework. It was given to the Americans by the French and erected on a small island known today as Liberty Island and it was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886 and represents an enduring symbol of freedom and democracy. It was a gloriously sunny day so when I eventually landed on the island, I spent most of the afternoon chilling in the shadow of the statue, taking photographs and enjoying the views back across of New York City. I intend to visit again and would love to be able to gain access to the crown and go inside. This option was not available to me on the day I visited but I still enjoyed my time there.

Statue of Liberty

After arriving back in Manhattan, I had a walk around Wall Street and the financial district before I headed to the World Trade Centre. Unfortunately, when I arrived there the lines were too long to get into the One World Trade Centre building, but I enjoyed looking around the complex. I was eighteen when the Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists in 2001 and five days from starting university. When I visited New York with my family in October 1999 I had glimpsed the magnificent Twin Towers from the ground and when we scaled the Empire State Building together and so I remember being completely shocked and stunned watching the attack on the Twin Towers live on BBC News. I was eager to pay my respects to the people who died during the attack, so I visited the 9/11 Memorial. The twin waterfall pools surrounding bronze parapets that list the names of the victims of the 9/11 and 1993 World Trade Centre attacks are very moving. They are set in the footprints of the former North and South Towers and descend thirty feet into a square basin and from there they drop a further twenty feet into a smaller, central void. Michael Arad designed the pools and although the water falls into the voids they can never be filled. It was a very moving experience. After visiting the 9/11 memorial pools, I decided to visit St. Paul’s Chapel which is remarkably close to Ground Zero of the 9/11 terror attacks. In the weeks and months following September 11th the chapel become a focal point for the community with people from different faiths and backgrounds coming together and the chapel became a symbol of faith and resilience in the face of adversity. Again, it was a very moving experience and an excellent opportunity to pay my respects to the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

9/11 Memorial Pools

Initially, I felt a little self-conscious going to a theatre production on my own but it was my last evening in New York City and I wanted to experience a Broadway show and make my last evening in New York City a memorial one. However, I was not alone for a long. A lovely woman from South Carolina started talking to me before the show started and I told her all about my trip around America and my final few days in New York City. It is always great to share a moment with someone especially when you are adopted by strangers which I have experienced several times travelling solo both in America, Australia, and New Zealand.

As a boy I had enjoyed watching the animated version of the Lion King and I was curious as how they were going to pull off a musical theatrical version of my favourite Disney film, but I was not disappointed. The Minskoff Theatre provided an amazing background to watching the musical. I was very much impressed in fact it was pretty spectacular. The costumes and the intricate choreography were absolutely amazing, and I have always enjoyed Elton John’s songs in the musical. I loved the musical and it was definitely a dream end to my time in New York City. I loved the show so much that I also managed to see it in Sydney in Australia as well!

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