And we’ve made it! The number one highlight on our entire roadtrip, the world’s greatest cultural melting pot and the financial capital of the world, the largest city in the US, New York City!
We are foodies and so the first thing we did in New York was eat bagels. They were so good! Because of these bagels, New York was the first destination (and the only one as of this writing) where we went over on our breakfast budget.
We spent our first couple days in Lower Manhattan, the first place we visited being the World Trade Center and 9/11 Museum. We knew the museum would be heavy, so we wanted to do it first.
One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, is the tallest building in the western hemisphere and the sixth tallest building in the world. It is ~400 feet taller than the Twin Towers, but to be honest, as impressive as this building is, I don’t think it’s as beautiful as the original towers were.
Firefighter memorial outside the World Trade Center. 343 firefighters and 60 police officers died on 9/11.
The foundations of the Twin Towers have been turned into these simple yet elegant memorials.
The 9/11 Museum was one of if not the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had (even more than the Flight 93 Memorial). The main exhibits were off limits to photographs, but here are some outer exhibits where photography was allowed.
9/11 art displayed in the museum.
For me, the most powerful part of the museum was the audio recordings, in which someone (not sure who) interviewed survivors and intercut their experiences, as well as recordings from individuals who did not survive, into short audio stories. They were so powerful, here are the quotes (all paraphrased) that stuck with me the most:
“There was fire, smoke, destruction everywhere. Somehow we got to the stairs, and as we were walking down, firefighters were going up. You could see the fear on their faces. Then I saw one, he must’ve been nineteen, and all I could think of was his mother. I stopped him and said ‘Don’t go in there! There’s nothing you can do in there!’. He responded ‘Ma’am, it’s my job to go in there’ and continued on.”
[from a first responder] “There was a huge explosion, unlike anything we’d ever seen. I looked at the two guys next to me and said: ‘Guys, we may not make it through this.’ We took a moment and let that sink in, then shook each other’s hands, said our goodbyes, and went back to work.”
“I came out [of the Pentagon], I had no idea how bad I was until a medic ran up to me and cut all my clothes off. Another one was doing triage, she looked right at me, pointed, and said ‘Him first’.”
Alright, I think we’re good on the 9/11 stuff; if you want more, go to the museum. I highly recommend it.
Lower Manhattan is home to several ethnic enclaves, and the two we visited were Chinatown and Little Italy. Both were fantastic, some of the largest (Chinatown in particular was huge), best themed, most authentic enclaves we’ve been to.
Also in Lower Manhattan is the Brooklyn Bridge, the first non-floating connection between Lower Manhattan and the mainland. The Brooklyn Bridge (right in the above picture) is located next to the much newer Manhattan Bridge, the area between the two now known as “Two Bridges”.
The Brooklyn Bridge is so amazing it deserves its own photograph. This bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges in the US, is both a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark; it is also one of the seven wonders of the industrial world.
Pictures from the bridge. Due to better weather and improved path placement, walking this bridge was much more enjoyable than walking San Francisco’s Golden Gate.
Wall Street is also in Lower Manhattan. I’m not gonna get into how I feel about this place.
Near Wall Street, however, was this cool location: Federal Hall, site of the US’s first presidential inauguration.
Several other impressive buildings are located in Lower Manhattan, including City Hall on the left and numerous skyscrapers. The skyscraper pictured far right reminded us of Aqua in Chicago, although it was designed by a different person (Frank Gehry).
Finally, Lower Manhattan contains the access point to Liberty Island, home to the most spectacular site in New York and maybe all of the US or even the entire world: the Statue of Liberty. There’s something about seeing this statue in person; it is powerful and humbling and inspiring, it is an amazing work that makes you proud to be an American.
My two favorite ladies. Number three would be Leia, I wish she was with me!
Also on Liberty Island are five statues honoring the men and women who made the Statue of Liberty what it is today. They are (starting with the upper left):
- Edouard Rene de Laboulaye, the Frenchman who came up with the idea of gifting a statue to the US, one that honored our freedom while simultaneously calling out the lack of it in France;
- Frederich Bartholdi, the French sculptor and contemporary of Laboulaye who, inspired by the Colossus of Rhodes, set out to create the greatest statue in the world;
- Gustav Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame, although the Statue of Liberty predates the tower), another Frenchman whose architectural and engineering genius allow Bartholdi’s statue to stand;
- Joseph Pulitzer, the American newspaperman who spearheaded efforts to build a pedestal worthy of the statue, and
- Emma Lazarus, the American poet who was so moved by the statue she wrote a poet about it, a poem that contains the words “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”.
Included with the Statue of Liberty tour is a second tour of Ellis Island. This tour wasn’t as grand, but it was still worth doing.
With that, we end our tour of Lower Manhattan. Lower Manhattan alone was enough to make New York a spectacular visit, but we still had the whole upper end of the island still to visit! I said it before but I’ll say it again: New York really is the greatest city in the world. To keep reading about it, head over to Part 2, on Midtown and Upper Manhattan!