09-03-2022 Our First Day in New York City

New York City from a bus window

I entered the photos in this post using the “official” blogger editor, so am unable to link each photo to the Smug Mug site. In case you are interested in more photos, here is the link to my Smug Mug gallery where you can see the rest of the photos for this day.  Sep 3 New York City

Yes, Yes, I know.  I am writing this post from a bit of a long-distance perspective.  It has been more than two weeks since we were in the wild hustle of New York City.  I somehow need to slip back in time enough to remember and feel again what it felt like to stand at Ground Zero.  Here in a suburban, but forested campground in Scarborough, Maine, it takes some effort to do that.  All I want to write about at the moment is the Atlantic Coast, the lighthouses, the lobster roll, and the Holy Donut.  New York City seems very very far away.  Ah, but the blog waits patiently for me to fill in the blanks.  Onward.

Adventure Caravans does not believe in letting any grass grow under our feet during our time in the City.  Our first morning began with a bang at 8am sharp when we departed Liberty Harbor RV Park in a truly gorgeous “coach”, a very big, very shiny, dark burgundy Provost bus, with an adorable driver.  We would learn just how lucky we were to have a driver like Cameron through the next few days.  

Check out the schedule:  (Yes, this will be a “we did this, we did that” kind of post.  There is no other way.)

8:00 AM Depart Liberty Harbor RV Park by Motorcoach

8:30 Am Meet NYC guide, Paula, and begin the NYC Familiarization and Fun tour guide to include: 

9/11 Memorial Museum, Ground Zero and Gift Shop, Lunch on our own, Wall Street, Financial District, Time Square, Madison Square Garden, Herald Square, High Line Park, Chelsea Market, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Grand Central Station.

6:00PM Drop guide Paula at Grand Central after touring the building, then depart for RV park with an arrival time of approximately 6:45 PM

When we finally returned to the park, after an incredible whirlwind of a day, it was hard even then to track back and remember all that we had seen in just that short few hours.  

Now for the feeling part of the “we did this, we did that” post.  

My first impressions of New York City were of course the traffic, the insane maze of bridges and tunnels, and riding that huge bus through the extremely narrow lanes in the long tunnels.  The Lincoln Tunnel especially is tight and low, with old, weathered, and moldy ceiling tiles that meant nothing to me until my friend Jeanne reminded me that they were UNDERNEATH the Hudson River.  Underwater in an old tunnel.

When we emerged from the tunnel into downtown Manhattan, we began circling the streets in roadways that eventually would become familiar to us, but on that first day, it was impossible to keep track of where we were on the tiny 2.5-mile by 13-mile island in a wild 3d puzzle of buildings and humanity.

I was glad we were going to Ground Zero on that first morning.  There is much to see and do in the City, but somehow this particular site has become an iconic symbol of New York City.  We arrived early, before the really huge crowds began to gather, and enjoyed plenty of space to lean over the walls of the deep reflecting pools that are built in the foundations of the two towers.  

Walking through the museum was haunting, but we know the story so well, after more than 20 years of news stories, documentaries, and human stories.  Still, the most haunting part of the museum for me was the first part, with black and white images being projected on cement girders in a dark room and the many voices of many people overlapping with their stories.  

9/11 is about a terrible act of terrorism, but it is even more about the stories of the thousands of people who were killed, their individual stories voiced by relatives and friends, and the many more thousands who were affected by their loss.  The museum brings that into full perspective in a way that is more intense than anything seen on the news or in a book or on a website.

Before we went to Ground Zero, our skilled bus driver followed the direction of our somewhat talkative guide, Paula.  As often is the case on these kinds of introductory city tours, it seemed a bit rushed.  Our first actual stop was at the Cathedral of St John the Divine.  I was disappointed that we didn’t have tickets to enter the cathedral.  At only ten bucks each, I am sure it would have been worth it, but of course, we had places to go and things to see.

We next headed to the Financial District and Wall Street.  As one who keeps track of the market Mo got a kick out of being in front of the New York Stock Exchange.  

Just across the street from the Exchange is the Federal Hall, a historic building dating from the first days of the presidency of George Washington. The story of the right hand on the Bible in the statue is interesting, another little tidbit from Paula that I only remember vaguely.  Definitely too much “stuff” to remember it completely.

After a few more “drive-by’s” of various sites, we were parked and unloaded a couple of blocks from the 9/11 memorial.  

As I said, the experience of the memorial was somewhat astounding, but I didn’t find myself feeling terribly emotional until we came to the room of photos of the rescue and service dogs that worked tirelessly beside their handlers attempting to find survivors or bodies of those that perished. There was a wall of names of more than a thousand people whose bodies were never found.  It was a sobering experience.

I noticed that I experienced much the same reaction to the 9/11 museum that I did when visiting the Titanic museum in Belfast.  It seemed so strange to me that there should be such a massive, almost Disneyesque museum dedicated to such a tragic loss of human life.  I wondered why we tend to memorialize tragic events.  I loved seeing the museum, I thought it was well done, and after we left those uneasy feelings left me.  Still, it is worth noting my response and wondering about it.

As we wound around the tight, crowded streets of New York City, the complexity of the architecture was overwhelming.  I tried to “straighten” photos using a tool in Lightroom and there was no way to do that without cutting out half of the photos.  The crazy perspective of the photos gives an idea of just how high the skyscrapers are and how many kinds of buildings are fitted next to each other like a wild crazy puzzle.  

After our visit to the memorial, we wound around more street mazes and Cameron finally found a landing spot about three blocks from Little Italy where we were supposed to find lunch on our own.  Chinatown and Little Italy are within blocks of each other, and choosing between Chinese and Italian food was a bit daunting.  The choice was made much easier after following the advice of our guide who said, “Just pick something without a long wait line”.  

Arriving at the first corner designated Little Italy, we stopped immediately at a restaurant that still had outside seating available.  I had a truly perfect chicken parmigiana, delightfully thin and crispy under flavorful sauce and a good glass of chianti.  It was fun, and the busy streets were noisy with people, crowded, and crazy.  

After lunch, and once again in the bus, we traveled to Grand Central Station for another walking tour of the building.  Mo and I marveled at the gorgeous architecture and found a way down to the lower floor for a hot, rejuvenating capuccino.  We were a bit exhausted, to say the least.  

The station has a complex history, at one time a landing point for homeless people who slept on the benches, and it was dirty and ugly with smoke.  The stone interior was cleaned and is now brilliant and the mosaics and windows are works of art.  The benches were removed to deter the homeless, and there wasn’t a bench or seat to be found in the entire facility without actually entering a restaurant.  I spent the last 20 minutes or so of our tour of the station leaning against a wall trying to remain upright.  I was completely done in.

Once back on the bus, Cameron drove to the beating heart of the City, Times Square.  Our guide and our rally leader both talked about how it was not a good thing to attempt to wander through Times Square at ground level.  Owen said it was impossible to herd 30 cats at once in that crazy mess of people.  

We saw it from bus level, tourists gawking at the people below us on the street.  I was reminded again of how it felt to be a tourist on a bus in Bangkok looking down on all of it but detached from the reality.  

In fact, at the end of the day, the city I was most reminded of was Bangkok, Thailand.  The nice difference was that at least in New York City I wasn’t blinded by the diesel fumes of thousands of motorbikes.