It’s been a hectic few days, but we’re now leaving New York for Philadelphia having seen and done pretty much everything we wanted to. Neither of us have ever walked so much in such a short space of time – our feet are still recovering from day one!
After the first glorious day of sunshine, the weather took a bit of a turn and when we woke up in the morning all of the tallest skyscrapers were obscured by a thick layer of cloud. Although it wasn’t raining, we decided to visit some museums that were on our hit list while it was so overcast.
We started with the American Museum of Natural History (which involved more trekking across Manhattan!) to see the dinosaurs, and were surprised to find that the vast majority of exhibits were actually of stuffed animals. It was a little morbid and, although they were arranged in amazing displays showing the tundras of Africa, woodlands of Europe and mountain ranges of South America, it made me feel a bit sad. At least in a zoo the animals are alive!
After walking around the museum for the entire day and taking a little detour into Central Park, we decided to get a quick bite to eat at nearby restaurant and – while stuffing our faces with burgers – James Corden and his family sat at the table behind us! He graciously posed for a photo with me and after he’d gone we had to explain to the waiter who he was.. I guess James hasn’t broken America just yet.
The next day was still pretty gloomy, so we decided to check out the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art – housing two million pieces of art spanning five millennia. Amongst all the Renoirs, Van Goghs, Cezannes and Rembrandts were artefacts from ancient Greece and Rome and two very impressive suits of armour owned and worn by Henry VIII! The heaviest suit of armour we saw was 27kilos – which is more than both of our rucksacks put together. We left the building with a new respect for knights who would have carried all that weight while trudging through battlefields wielding a sword.
Our next stop was the Rockefeller Centre, Radio City (where the NFL draft was happening!), Times Square and Madison Square Garden. We spent quite a while in Times Square trying to decide if we should see a show, but after looking at the prices and deliberating for what seemed like hours we decided we could spend the money on something more worthwhile later in our trip (I’m crossing my fingers for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas!).
On our last day the weather had finally cleared and we could see the tops of the buildings again! We decided to take advantage of the sunshine to go back to ground zero and see the new memorial, which we found WAS open (it’s the memorial museum that’s opening at the end of May). We’d also heard that the 9/11 tribute centre was worth a visit and I would whole-heartedly agree. After the attacks happened back in 2001, families and friends of the victims, rescue workers and volunteers started to form their own visitor centre to preserve evidence and accounts of the events in the absence of an ‘official’ museum. Although the new official museum is now opening, these people have created an amazing place filled with different people’s experiences of what happened on that fateful day.
People with direct links to 9/11 perform guided tours for visitors and we were shown around by a lady whose father had owned one of the offices in the north tower and she became a volunteer rescue worker when the recovery teams were searching the site. She told us about the history of the World Trade Centre, what it was like to have lived near/worked in the twin towers and how events unfolded during 9/11. She also spoke about the aftermath – the rescue and recovery effort, including the ‘Band of Dads’, which was a group of retired firefighters searching for the bodies of their firefighter sons – and the eventual rebuild of the centre.
It was really moving to see the memorial, which is a place of calm and quiet reflection surrounded by all the new world trade centre buildings that have been/are being rebuilt (there are seven in all). Our guide reminded us that, of the near 3,000 people that died during the attacks, just 1,629 bodies were found and identified – meaning that the memorial is the final resting place for so many people who lost their lives that day.
To look into the pools, which are set in the exact place each tower stood, is to remind you of the void that those buildings – and the people who fell with them – have left.
After the memorial (where we spotted Leonardo DiCaprio getting a special guided tour of the new unopened museum), we went back to the tribute centre which showed some artefacts that had been found in the rubble – such as lumps of twisted steel and molten glass. Shockingly not one desk, chair or computer was found – everything was pulverised into dust when the 100-storey buildings collapsed down to just 10 storeys in a matter of seconds.
The most stark piece on display was the fire jacket and helmet of Jonathan Lee Ielpi. Jonathan’s body was the only one recovered successfully by the Band of Dads – his jacket was found days later having been literally ripped off his back.
Following that was a tear-jerking room that had walls filled with images of people who had died, donated by their families. Thoughtfully, there were tissues provided throughout the centre, which I made full use of!
After such an emotional morning I needed some cheering up, so we took the subway uptown, meandered through Chelsea Market and took a nice quiet stroll on the High Line – which is a mile-long walkway above the streets of the lower west side that’s been built using a disused elevated railway line.
The High Line finishes close to 5th Avenue, so we decided to make the most of the clear(er) skies and take in the sunset from the Empire State Building – 86 floors up!
We finished off our stint in New York with a well-deserved slice of pizza from Little Italy before heading back to our hostel for the last time.
Now we’re on the bus to Philadelphia, where we’re looking forward to learning all about the American War of Independence! I promise not to go into quite as much detail next time…