With St Patrick’s Day looming there’s plenty talk of travel to New York. Big deal I used to think, with all the fuss and interest in the place, until my first visit there a few years ago. Since then I have been back a few times – twice in 07. I have become a Big Apple fan and look forward to going back again. People, picking up on my enthusiasm and planning to go themselves, have asked my advice and looked for suggestions on going there. So I thought I would try to re-capture the enthusiasm I experienced on my first trip to give those of you who have yet to go across ‘the pond’ to that super city yonder.
The Irish have had a long association with New York. To many it’s just another state of Ireland and fite fuaite with each other. We have known that but it was not until I visited Ellis Island that I fully realised how much New York in particular and the US generally is equally part of the story of a hundred other countries, all of which like our tribes arrived there in their teeming masses and were accepted. Yes, the Irish celebrate their presence annually with the St. Patrick’s Day parade – even the Empire State Building adorns itself in a luminous livery of green.
But I was very much aware of the multiplicity of cultures that pulsate in its vibrant existence. That was my first time crossing the Atlantic and a journey that had to be made at least once. I was told that I would find much of the cityscapes surprisingly familiar as we have seen New York so often in the movies, TV shows and in news and current affairs programmes. Indeed, by way of such media, we have seen/been there much more often than, say, Dublin. And so it proved to be but nevertheless the place is truly ‘awesome’ and yes it pulsates 24/7. Like sharing holiday snapshots, here are some of mine of that summer time voyage of discovery.
Summer in the city
The moment we emerged from the cabin of Airbus 340 the intense 33 degrees of heat hit us – this would take some getting used to – even the New Yorkers said they were melting in it. JFK is huge but organised and so super efficient (Dublin Airport, please take note). And yes the Yellow Taxis are everywhere, fast and business-like. Despite it being mid-rush hour we were at our hotel within 35 minutes of stepping into a wonderfully air-conditioned cab. After a few hours rest and orientation we were all set to take a big bite of the Apple.
It proved good advice next day to take the open top hop-on-off tour bus as it gives an excellent over view of most of Manhattan so as to help plot and plan the sightseeing of the days ahead. The first hop off was near the very impressive City Hall close to the financial district which had the World Trade Centre at its heart which was so devastatingly ripped out of it. It now has become a place of pilgrimage – Ground Zero. Voices remain hushed and a stillness prevails in this place and so it was again on a subsequent visit. Nearby stands the church of St. Paul’s which once lay in the giant shadow of the towers but survived unscathed and now bears witness to the courage of Fire Department of New York. One could not but be moved – I read that people from over 50 different counties died together here.
Moving on we discover that the street structure hereabouts is less geometrical and more organic that developed from the original settlements going back hundreds of years. At the end one finds Battery Park which is always bustling with life especially as it benefits from refreshing sea breezes and of course it’s the ferry points for Ellis Island and Liberty. Nearby is the ferry terminal for Statten Island and many day trippers take advantage of the free ride over and back which affords great views of Manhattan and of Liberty her self en route.
Back on the bus the tour which previously had taken in Times Square et al, Little Italy, China Town and the Village now heads back uptown via Lower East Side, East Village, these areas once hosted the immigrant Irish and in turn Russian and East European peoples is now almost 80% Chinese and is in fact a living Chinatown. There’s lots more to see on the way to the United Nations. In any other city this building would loom large but here it’s just another ‘biggie’ however, it is a symbol for hope and international cooperation.
Central to the city
The weather by the way on day two is much better at mid- twenties Celsius with a nice breeze, TG for that, otherwise moving about would have been most trying. In fact the weather for the rest of the time was just perfect for a pair of pale-faced paddies! Next stop the Rockefeller Centre which is a fabulous area and a real gathering spot. Screens were being erected for an open -air movie that evening. There was a real buzz about the place.
On to Central Park, just the south-east corner, it stretches up for another 2 1/2 miles and represents a vast amenity area for New Yorkers and its visitors. The following day it was time to start hitting the museums and art galleries. There are so many and so varied that one could spend a month of days getting around to them all. So one has to prioritise, so then off to the most impressive MOMA on west 53rd St. This one is really worth the time and effort and worthy of repeat visits.
Another adventure was to the Guggenheim where the very building itself was the prime exhibit. Then to the magnificent Metropolitan Museum of Art a little down along what is dubbed Museum Mile, it stands to the east side of Central Park at about 82nd St. The guide book says it holds up to 2 million exhibits! No way would one get around all that so you have to be selective and we mostly zoned in on the fabulous collections of Moderns. The view from the rooftop was super too.
The trusty and well used map indicated that if one traversed the park via 72 Street that one would reach a very special place for reflection: Strawberry Fields. This is a tribute garden to John Lennon and people gathered to pay silent homage to a very special person. The garden is located near the Dakota Building where John lived and died. The time spent revisiting Battery Park and from there to Ellis Island was well spent. The authorities have done a wonderful job here and it stands as an amazing memorial to the millions who came through here.
The photographic collection is a stunning reminder of the harrowing conditions many of the immigrants had to survive. An excellent guided tour by one of the rangers was most informative, telling the story of the whole process that had to be gone through (only by the steerage passengers, of course). At its peak the facility here was handling 5,000 people a day! One photograph’s caption which catches the attention of many reads: I once thought that the streets were paved with gold but then I discovered not only were they not paved at all but that I was expected to pave them. I also discovered the name of an Aunt who had gone through Ellis Island in 1921. Again the experience here was most touching and well worthy of a visit.
Another highlight was an evening visit to the top of the Empire State Building coming up to nightfall which comes befalls twixt 8.30 and 9.00 pm. Arriving in still bright daylight one quickly sees the light of day wane as the glow from the towering buildings wax to vistas of stunning views every which way you look – it’s truly beautiful.
Some enchanting evening
There was so much more that would beckon one back to revisit or explore new places of much promise. Other enthralling places included Central Station, Carnegie Hall and some amazing jazz. St Patrick’s on 5th Ave. Soho had some great galleries in Downtown. The Lincoln Centre was awesome with its beautiful plaza and Metropolitan Opera and Ballet Centres. I have even got around to talking about the mega-buzz around Time Square! And not forgetting either an enchanting evening cruising in the harbour again watching the sunset and the lights go up and what a sky!
Either of the two Fitzpatrick’s hotels are super places to stay. Go for it and take a big bite!
Go seachtain eile, slan.