032 | 365 New York, New York: discoveries by a tourist

Downtown Manhattan, NYC

Downtown Manhattan, NYC

When you return from a holiday, the next few months are spent delighting your friends by reliving your holiday experiences and your new knowledge of these places. With New York City and San Francisco fresh in my mind, I repeat my experiences and knowledge of the place gained from experienced tour guides, travel brochures and blogs, eagerly wanting to share my love and amazement of this city.

For example, I never knew that Manhattan had grown in size and shape with landfill and rubble. This city has changed significantly over the last 150 years.

Manhattan translates to “island of many hills” but it’s not hilly, well not anymore. Manhattan’s geology is mainly bedrock that lies closer to the surface in midtown and downtown, which is why it is suitable for building very large skyscrapers close together in these areas. Downtown Manhattan has grown substantially and in fact, the material dug out from building the World Trade Centre extended Manhattan Island even further. So in the photo of Downtown Manhattan on the left, with the new unfinished World Trade Centre (or Freedom Tower) in the centre, I think that if I have my orientation correct, most of the right half of this is the extended part of the island using landfill and bedrock rubble.

Marble Hill

Marble Hill

In fact, on the opposite end of Manhattan Island and across the waterway (called Spuyten Duyvil Creek) in the Bronx is Marble Hill, which initially joined Manhattan but this was separated from the island for easier access through the waterways then refilled with landfill and then separated again. The river, which is more like a narrow canal at some points at this end, separates Manhattan from The Bronx and Queens.

Manhattan is made up of a grid of 12 numbered avenues running north and south, with First Avenue on the east side and Twelfth Avenue on the west side, and 220 crosstown streets. The only street that is not part of the grid is Broadway that runs diagonally from Lower Manhattan (Downtown) going uptown and across the river to the Bronx. This grid is where the term “Gridlock” comes from, which is when traffic is congested to a standstill due to traffic stopping in intersections and blocking through traffic around a block. The “hills” were removed to build the grid of roads.

There are other street names including A, B, C and D Avenues, Houston Street and Wall Street. Fifth Avenue divides the Eastside from the Westside of Manhattan. Most streets are one way, odd run west, even run east.

Looking down Fifth Avenue and Broadway from the Empire State Building

Looking down Fifth Avenue and Broadway from the Empire State Building. The Flatiron building is where Fifth and Broadway intersect (and across from Madison Square Park).

The grid system is very useful to quickly orient yourself with New York City. It’s a huge city. In fact everything in New York is BIG! The people are big, not in size but in their warmth and friendliness.

In the centre of Manhattan is the appropriately named Central Park.

The 843 acres (341 ha) that make up Central Park, like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (which is 20% larger than Central Park at 1,017 acres or 412 ha), was designed and created with input from NYC residents. There are four different types of bedrock underlying Manhattan and when building Central Park they needed more gunpowder than that used in the Battle of Gettysburg (however much that was) to flatten it, unlike Golden Gate Park, which was built on uninhabited sand dunes. Work started on building the park in 1857 after 1,600 residents were evicted from the area. Most of these residents were poor. After removing the infertile soil and rock and replacing with 14,000 m³ of topsoil, four million trees, shrubs and other plants (1,500 different species) were transplanted to the park, which was officially opened in 1873.

While Bison have been kept in a paddock in Golden Gate Park since 1891 as part of a breeding program as numbers were diminishing across the US, Southdown and Dorset sheep grazed in Central Park from 1860s but needed to be relocated during the depression for fear of them being killed and eaten. The sheep were there to add to the English quality of the park and not as part of a breeding program however they did help in trimming the grass and fertilising the lawn. Part of this section of Central Park is still called the Sheep Meadow now used for large concerts and a restaurant was built on the other section. Sheep Meadow was originally rocky and swampy terrain and was transformed into a flat section of lawn during the construction of Central Park.

During my holiday, I took an Uptown bus tour that takes you around the park perimeter, walked past it on a visit to the Guggenheim, Naomi and I rode around the park which took us two hours with stops on a different day and I spent a morning walking through part of the park on my own on another day.

The Great Lawn, Central Park, NYC

The Great Lawn, Central Park, NYC

My walk through Central Park was from the 7th Avenue on the southern end to the lower west corner, up through Strawberry Fields, taking the subway from the Dakota Building to the American Natural History Museum (one stop). After visiting the museum, I walked across the park (via via the Delacorte Theatre where Shakespeare in the Park is performed and the Great Lawn), across to the west side of the park in time for a nice lunch on Fifth Avenue (where this section is called museum mile). I headed over to the Neue Galerie , a museum devoted to 20th century German and Austrian art and design, where I was told there was told I could get a great lunch (at Café Sabarsky). Not only was lunch delicious , the cafe building was beautiful and I was dining in the company of Roger Federer. After lunch, I caught up with Naomi for a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we continually got lost. This visit finished on the roof of the Museum with a Metropolitan before heading off for dinner.

You could spend your whole holiday in New York City just exploring Central Park or going to museums and on tours learning about its history. All pretty amazing and I could go on and on about what learnt about this city during my two week stay.

So although I only had a three week holiday, I will continue to relish it, with this being a snippet of the stories I have from my holiday to share.

Information gathered from the following sources:

  • Tour guides on Hop on Hop Off buses in San Francisco and New York
  • Alex, our tour guide from Manhattan Walking Tours
  • Lonely Planet guides
  • Tourist information centres
  • Tourist guides and maps

and the following:

028 | 365 Surreal memories

Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

Imagine, John Lennon

Imagine, Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York CityThis time 11 years ago is one that I will never forget.

I was in shock, grieving for my friend Rick who had died suddenly a few days before. In the afternoon I had been to view his body. Another friend, Tracey, had told me that it might help me with my grief. I’m not sure if it did. As I spent some time alone in the room with him, I imagined that he was breathing, felt like shouting out to others that he’s still alive. It was the air conditioning that I think gave that illusion. I didn’t know what to do. He always had a big cheerful grin on his face when he saw me and he’s asleep and emotionless but peaceful.

Tracey took me home via the pub for a beer. We had walked to the funeral home as it was close by and the pub was on the way home. Tracey thought I needed something to help me sleep, and I also hadn’t been able to eat.

The funeral was the next day. I just couldn’t believe it.

I sat in front of the television and dozed.

I woke to what I thought was a movie that I hadn’t seen before, one of those tragedy movies like towering inferno. However the movie seemed to be stuck. It was repeating the same scene. It was the news. They thought a light plane had just crashed into the World Trade Centre. As I’m becoming more alert, the live vision of the World Trade Centre remains on the screen and then another plane hits the other building. I thought I was seeing things, that perhaps they were showing footage of the plane that went into the other building but from a different angel, but it’s not. They are saying that there are reports of more high jacked planes. It’s 9am in New York, 11 September 2001.

It was so surreal. Did that really happen? Was it the news or a bad joke? I change channels and every station is the same. This is serious. Unbelievable. I continue watching and wonder. Rick leaves and the world falls to pieces.

The night Rick died I had a dream that felt so real.

Rick was in this dream. It was so real that I left a message on his phone asking if he had had the same dream. It was a wonderful dream. I woke feeling fantastic, full of love.

It wasn’t until I got home from work that day, my brother was waiting at my door for me to arrive home, that I knew. He had died suddenly while visiting his mum. She had thought he fainted, his last words “Gee Whiz”. It wasn’t for a few months until they found out he had Long QT Syndrome, which is genetically inherited and only usually detected when a family member dies suddenly or faints frequently.

From a dream that felt very real to a reality that felt very surreal.

Rick was a journalist. After the funeral, over a few drinks, we all wonder on Rick’s reaction to the events. How he would have reported it. We will never know, can only imagine.

It was terrifying to think about how the governments might act. How could we fight for peace, not war, after something like this?

That is now 11 years ago.

After going to the 9/11 Memorial site on my recent visit to New York, I expected it to be a solemn place, like when I went to Gallipoli. It wasn’t.  The Memorial’s reflective pools that sit in the imprints of the World Trade Centre with water falling around the sides, trees and grass and reflective buildings surrounding them gave me the feeling of positivity. I’m struggling to explain it now and explained it much better in my post on reflections, written shortly after visiting. But I think the city and it’s people have moved on. They are free. They know that every moment of every day is precious.

It wasn’t until entering the visitor’s centre on the way out that I remembered the feelings of that night, those few days/weeks. It wasn’t just the sadness of that event, it’s was also a strong reminder of how I felt about the loss of one beautiful person, Rick. The world lost a special soul when Rick died, and then lost a lot more a few days later on September 11.

Here’s wishing love and peace to friends, family and strangers.

Imagine peace!

014 | 365 Reflections

9/11 Memorial Pool

In Manhattan, New York City, there are many reflections. This includes buildings reflecting other buildings and traffic sounds reflecting off these buildings. It also reflects stories of its history, through its art and architecture. There are reflections of hard times and of good times in abundance, as this city is all about being big. It is the Big Apple after all.

Today, I visited the 9/11 Memorial with its two reflective pools on the sites where the two World Trade Centres stood. It is a beautiful place with the water sparkling and moving in it’s own rhythm as it falls. The noise of the water almost drowns out the noise from the street and building works around it.  And it is not only the two pools that offer reflections. There are reflections all around, in the buildings, in the water, in the erection of new World Trade Centres, the Museum around the site and the people who are visiting.

It was a moving place, but not a sad place. One thing that became apparent when going into the visitor centre on the way out of the memorial, viewing the photos and videos of survivors or loved ones of those who did not survive was a story of determination, respect, courage and love. It was a very positive place, on looking forwards and upwards.

This city is built on rock and its inhabitants are rock solid.

New Yorkers are lovely, friendly and warm. They will stop what they are doing to ask if you need help or to chat. As I haven’t been here before I wonder if this is how they were before September 11, 2001. In such a busy city where there is so much happening and so many people, locals go out of their way to help you and make you feel welcome.

New York City should be referred to as the Big Heart instead of the Big Apple.