My Visit to the World Trade Centre

The events of 9/11 have changed each of us – no one can argue this fact; it made the world a smaller and more complicated place. I’m pretty sure everyone can remember what they were doing, where they were when the news filtered through about the tragedy.
For me, living on the other side of the globe and having no direct connection to the events in 2001, I wondered exactly what my reaction would be visiting the site during my time in NY. Would I be overwhelmed by the emotion? I initially was reluctant to buy into the “hype” surrounding the construction site, a little hesitant to be swept up in all the emotion as I feared it would either be a “show” of American power or a “shrine” tainted with hatred and anger.

In the end, it was none of that.

It was a juxtaposition or sorts – existing beside the massive void left when the towers collapsed is the city’s busiest corporate area. It is noticeable the defiant statement these workers and companies make; nothing will stop us getting on with business. But little things make you realize that every person is honestly just trying to live in a way they can remember and honour the victims.

Firstly, it is important to mention what a fantastic job the volunteers do – those that are involved with the museum as well as the hard working folk who run the walking tours. They really to do provide a personal insight that brings the site to life, and will ensure generations to come understand what happened that day. Should you find yourself in NY sometime soon, find a spare half-day and head down to the Tribute WTC Visitor Centre to see the exhibits or take a tour. All volunteer guides are survivors or have personal links to that day in 2001.
I was lucky enough to get on a walking tour led by two guides – one of which was a “first responder” and lost his brother; the other guide was on duty and in charge of security in the South tower (somehow making it out alive!!).

But before I started the official tour, I had time to explore the World Financial Centre – a group of buildings built along the Hudson River, as part of Battery Park City. Believe it or not, this entire section of Manhattan island is “man-made” comprised of landfill and material excavated from the original construction of the World Trade Centre site (the complex was opened in 1973).
Today, the buildings of the World Financial Centre are inhabited by workers and tourists a-like under very strict security, but it really is a mini-city complete with shopping complex, restaurants, cafes, beauty shops and even holds live music/entertainment for all to enjoy. Although there was no live entertainment the day I visited, I did enjoy a yummy salad and chocolate eclair from Financier Patisserie sitting in the sun surrounded by business workers wheeling and dealing over the phone, or relaxing in the sun. The Winter Garden (below) gives the best views over the memorial site and on-going construction.

The Winter Garden atrium was heavily damaged in 2011, but now stands proudly restored
Views across to New Jersey
Winter Garden

 During the reconstruction of the Winter Garden, the whole floor of Italian marble had to be removed and replaced. In fact it was a diplomatic exercise – the Italian government helped source “matching” stone from its quarries because the original source of marble was no longer operating! You cannot tell the difference between what is old and what is new….

Looking out over the construction site from Winter Garden – the memorial site is complete but the museum (right) is still under construction in late 2011

The walking tour began beside the Tribute centre – on the brick wall of NYFD Station 10 is a memorial mural and plaque dedicated to the 343 New York City Fire Department members that died. It was installed by law firm Holland and Knight, who lost a partner of their own also involved in the fire and rescue response on September 11.

Most of these workers were first responders – some entire squads were lost from stations scattered all over Manhattan.
The plaque did not aim to identify any particular station, engine number or ladder – instead commemorate the brave effort of all.

 It was here that we had our first view of One World Trade Centre a.k.a. “freedom tower” – which when complete will reach the same height as the Twin Towers were. Currently it is about 80 stories high, so there is still a fair bit more height to go on this building before it gets to 110 stories, or 1368ft!!

 This Southbridge cross-walk is the only original one that survived the impact and collapse of the nearby WTC 7 buildings. It would have originally ferried people across from the Financial Centre to the Trade Centre complex, near the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (which had to be demolished secondary to damage). This is also the site of the last building to be demolished in relation to 2001 – the Deutsche Bank Building. In total, 16 acres were cleared at “Ground Zero”, and will form part of the memorial as well as being rebuilt to house the seven WTC buildings once again.

Rebuilding the Deutsche Bank Building with a city backdrop
It was amazing and emotional to hear the stories our guides shared…of near misses and fate, of losing loved ones, and the inability to comprehend the scale of the disaster – even when standing amongst the rubble of Ground Zero. It seems stupid to us now, but I’m sure that shock reaction helped many people survive.
Where I thought the tour would be sombre and sad it was uplifting to hear the reactions of those who responded to the tragedy – perhaps donating time, money or resources to the recovery. The amazing memorials that have been set up in tribute don’t wreak of anger or sorrow or revenge – they commemorate and inspire us that visit never to forget.
The original mission of the World Trade Centre complex was to “promote world peace through trade” – and hopefully there is plenty of peace vibes that continue to be conveyed in the memorial and museum  at Ground Zero when complete.
Possibly the most surprising element of doing the tours is that I managed to get entry into the memorial site – despite the fact you need to book online months in advance (they were booked out for 2011 I believe). So from the tour I wandered back around to the entry, proceeded to stand in an endless queue before being searched and x-rayed as if I was hopping on a long-haul flight. Then proceeded on to the next stop – I.D. check. Then again another stop before the entrance to make sure I had a valid ticket!! But being inside gave a new perspective to the void left from September 2001 – as well as the remarkable re-build.
This gives you an idea where the names are written on each “imprint”
Part of the “forest of trees” planted on the site around the pools of reflection….there will eventually be over 400 trees planted, as well as plenty of grassed areas and seats for people to stop and reflect.
South tower memorial

North Tower memorial

L to R: museum (under construction); WTC 4 going up; city backdrop looking south
Looking back in the late afternoon sun towards Winter Garden
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Getting lost in Midtown….

If you’re like me, you read up on the “must-do” things in a guide book before you even set foot in a city. But time and time again, I am reminded that the real stand-out moments are the ones we cannot forsee or plan. Cue, my adventures around Midtown on the way to Times Square and Broadway.

You probably sleep in a little, maybe wander to the nearest coffee/breakfast location.
Then, with your walking shoes on, you head down Park Ave. through Grand Central Station, past Waldorf-Astoria, and turn onto W49th St.

View down Park Ave. to Metlife Building @ Grand Central.

You stop and admire the view at Rockefeller Centre, window shop a little along Fifth Avenue (be sure not to get too laden with purchases along your way!)

Instead, perhaps you might take a turn on the ice-skating rink, or drop into the NBC studios at Rockefeller Plaza for tour.

Eventually you’ll turn and head west along Central Park South (maybe grab pretzel from the street vendors at Grand Army Plaza).

The Plaza, at Grand Army.



You leave Central Park behind as you wander downtown on Broadway – yes, by now you are truly lost in the midst of it all.

There you find a new dimension to your world: the brights lights, big city dazzle of Time Square.

So naive-looking by day.

More street vendors will pry their wares – all those nic-naks you never knew you wanted or needed.

Maybe you’ll do some more shopping, or stop for a bite to eat. 
Try resisting the “wall of colour”….

Peanut, almond, plain, even coconut and pretzel flavours!!

Or here for another dose of sugar!!
 

As the sun sets, sit awhile under the watchful eye of George M. Cohen (“the man who owned Broadway”) to soak in the sights and sounds; another day in New York done.

But the real heart’n’soul, the buzzing energy and dazzle is only really obvious when you venture there after dark.



 



Maybe you are satisfied just to walk the streets, surround yourself with the energy and excitement of Times Square. But if you are organised, or perhaps lucky enough you will go to a show. No-one should leave New York without experiencing the entertainment of a Broadway Show.
There will be queues to buy the tickets, queues to enter the venue, and of course a long wait for the loo during intermission. But remember some of the most memorable things happen when you don’t expect…like meeting some friendly folk in line, who give you some great tips for restaurants or coffee.
For me, there was no second thoughts about what I would see – I was off to see The Phantom of the Opera, which has been showing at The Majestic since 1988. Worth every queue of the day and each penny spent, and more…..

Maybe you’re fortunate enough to go backstage after the show, meet the artists and really feel part of the show. If not, you might find your very own spot to chill and have a drink in one of the many bars nearly.

Then you’ll stumble home, amazed that the same streets you saw this morning are transformed by the night-time vibe.


Central Park

There’s no way I can narrow down my “highlight” to just one day, or even one location! But perhaps one of the most memorable days was exploring Central Park and Times Square. Iconic NY – yes!! But so much more than a tourist hot-spot.

 It’s like the gateway to a different universe…alternate “horse-power” wait patiently to take you rolling through the park. Or you can hire a bike, roller blades – I chose to do it on foot. There is so much to see I don’t think you can do this Park justice without planning at least a day there.


On the Sunday I visited, the warm weather had bought everyone out for one last taste of “summer” weekend fun. Children chased birds, collected leaves, climbed atop the rocks for a better view or explored the water’s edge. Families picnicked on the lawns, or by the lake. Early Autumn colours popped with their city backdrop. You can seriously feel the busy vibes melt away the further in the park you get.

Some people ran. Others biked. Many more soaked in the sun, sitting by The Lake with music, a book or even a camera.

Couples paddles their way across and around, taking in the view. The almost cloud-less day gave everyone a good reason to slow down, relax and enjoy what was left of the weekend.

Other boats floated where the currents took them.


 I had only seen a small portion of this park, but was taken aback by how much creativity and vision went into this icon of Manhattan – Central park covers over 800 acres at the “centre” of the island, all of which were man-made by Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1800’s. The vision was formed by William Cullen Bryant (famous editor of New York Evening Post, and poet) to transform the “waste-land” north of 59th Street and provide New Yorker’s with a quiet oasis for recreation.

Central Park, looking from Harlem south over Manhattan.

Bizarre meets vista – Belvedere Castle (1872) sits in the middle of Central Park as an imitation of medieval Scotland. It also provides amazing views across the northern, less popular part of the park.

From here, you turn the corner and find the Shakespeare Garden along side a “Swedish” playhouse. By this stage I was ready to find some food and a place to sit and soak it all up. I wandered further along the paths trying to dodge the runners, prams and bikes then stumbled upon buskers.
These guys were pretty good – simple music, melodic (Love the double bass!).

 Apparently this “eclectic” collection of folk are regulars, entertaining Central Park visitors by playing Beetles’ cover songs – smashing out the tunes damn well!!

 I couldn’t visit Central Park without a trip past Strawberry Fields and “imagine” tribute to John Lennon. A few more guitars and buskers were cashing in there too.

Wandering back along the western side of the park, I found open space and sunshine I craved – The Sheep Meadow. Framed by distant sky scrapers, this was where I would work on capturing a bit more of that lazy Sunday vibe everyone had.
Even managed to enjoy a late afternoon snack – my own taste of “sex and the city” – courtesy of Magnolia Bakery (just two blocks west of the park on Columbus Ave – it’s worth the trip!! But go early, as these delicious and interesting creations seem to sell out very quickly)……