Friday, October 18, 2013

New York City - Day 3: World Trade Center & Wall Street

On our third day in New York City, we packed in quite a punch!

We started our day by visiting the 9-11 Memorial.  It's strange to think of it, but my kids really don't have any memory of the events of that fateful day, assuming they were alive in the first place!  I didn't really realize it until we got there, but Steve and I actually had to explain to the kids about what happened that day.  They had a vague idea, but really didn't know any details.  The twins were only 5yo when it happened, and the other two boys were 3yo and 1yo.  My two youngest children weren't even born yet!  The way that the world suddenly changed that day is the only way that they will ever remember the world as being.  How odd!

The 9-11 Memorial is a somber place.  There are two sunken reflecting pools where each of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center used to stand.  Thirty-foot waterfalls - the largest in North America - cascade into the pools, each then descending into a center void. Surrounding each reflecting pool are the names of each person who perished that day at either the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or the field in western Pennsylvania. 

On the grounds of the memorial site is something called the "Survivor Tree".  This tree was planted on the original World Trade Center plaza in the 1970's.  After 9-11, workers found the damaged tree, reduced to an eight-foot-tall stump, in the wreckage at Ground Zero. The tree was nursed back to health and grew to be 30 feet tall.  In 2010, the tree was returned to the memorial site and continues to grow to this day.

Adjacent to the memorial site is the new "One Trade Center" still being built.  It reaches 1776 feet (coincidental height?), and will be the tallest building in the United States when it is finished.

And lastly, still being built and not yet open to the public, is the 9-11 Memorial museum and visitor center.  While we weren't able to go inside, we were able to look through the window and saw two trident beams that were part of the original WTC buildings.

After we left the 9-11 Memorial, we stopped in a quintessential NYC coffee shop for a restroom break and some coffee, then started up the street into the financial district.

Along the way, however, we got sidetracked (again) when we stumbled upon the historic Trinity Church.  We viewed the inside, then walked through the gravesites on either side of the church.  It seems a bit odd to have this smack in downtown Manhattan, but it does predate the "concrete cliffs" surrounding it.  It is here that Alexander Hamilton is buried.  It is fitting that his gravesite is at the head of Wall Street, considering that he was our country's first Secretary of the Treasury.

After visiting the church, we started down Wall Street, which today is closed off to automobile traffic.  We first found the back door to the New York Stock Exchange, protected by armed guards. In following around to the front of the building, we encountered a massive amount of tourists and found a National Park Service Historic Site called "Federal Hall". And it just so happened that only a few hours earlier the government shut-down had ended, so we were able to go inside!

Federal Hall is the site of our country's first capital.  This isn't well known, but our capital was first New York City, second Philadelphia, then third and finally Washington, D.C..  It was at this site that George Washington took the oath of office as our country's very first president.

Going back outside of Federal Hall, we found markings on the ground designating where the original palisade wall (i.e., "Wall Street") stood back when the city was known as New Amsterdam.  And of course, we got up close to the front of the New York Stock Exchange - a very impressive building!  Unfortunately, the NYSE stopped giving tours following the attack of 9-11, so we weren't able to go inside at all.

Walking another block down Broad Street brought us to the famous Wall Street Charging Bull bronze statue.  Surrounded by tourists, this statue has come to symbolize America's aggressive financial optimism and prosperity.

Then we sat in the Bowling Green Park in the financial district of Manhattan and ate our brown-bag lunches.

Following lunch, we hopped onto the subway and rode to Chinatown.  While I was impressed with the unique quality and ethnic diversity of Chinatown, my kids were less impressed, mostly due to the open-air fish markets which freaked them out a little bit.  Besides the smell of fresh seafood, they were squeamish about the crabs that were still alive that people were buying for their lunches.  We did, however, find great bargains on "I Love New York" t-shirts in Chinatown.  Interestingly enough, NYC's Chinatown is the western hemisphere's largest concentration of Asian immigrants.

A few blocks away was Little Italy.  Back in the late 1800's/early 1900's, New York City was the home of many European immigrants, Steve's paternal line included.  Italians formed their own society, and Little Italy was born.  In Little Italy we had only one goal: find Lombardi's Pizzeria.  Lombardi's is the country's oldest pizzeria, and they still bake their pizzas in a deep coal oven.  We ordered our pizza, watched them bake it, then took it "to go" in a box with us on the subway, then ate it on the ferry on our way back home.  I'm sure the people around us were jealous!

As you can see, we experienced a lot of New York City on our third day!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New York City - Day 2: Central Park

The second day of our NYC adventure found us a little tired from our late night the night before.  We took our time the following morning getting out the door, which was fine because we avoided the rush hour commute.
We got ourselves back to Manhattan and onto the subway.  Just for kicks, we rode the subway to Grand Central Station.  We wandered around Grand Central for a little while, just to see what was there.  It is immense!  Pictures can't even begin to capture the sheer size of the place.  This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Station, and it looks very much like it does on television. Quite impressive!
After getting back on the subway, our next stop was Central Park.  We packed lunches into a backpack that morning, so when we got ourselves to Central Park we found a nice spot on an outcrop of rock and had a lovely picnic.  After we ate, the younger two boys played on the playground while the older boys played frisbee for a while.
Then we called everyone together and decided to explore the park.  Besides the scenic arched bridges and horse-drawn carriages, there is a lot to see in the park.  The first thing we stumbled upon was an old restored covered carousel. We watched it circle around for a little while and listened to its nickelodeon music play, then wandered off to find a chess/checkers pavilion where all the boys enjoyed a friendly game of either checkers or chess.
Next we found what's known as the "literary walk", which is a wide walkway through the park with statues on either side of famous literary authors.  While along this walkway we encountered a street magician who called out two of our sons to participate in his magic act.  His trick was that he had one of our sons write his name on a playing card, and by the end of the act the card was found inside an intact banana!  It was quite impressive!
At the end of the literary walk is a clamshell pavilion where people can see "Shakespeare in the Park" during the summer months. At the end of the mall we found ourselves at Bethesda Terrace where there is a beautiful angel fountain.  Behind the fountain is the lake where people can rent rowboats, and that day there were plenty of boaters on the water! We wandered across the lake on the famous "Bow Bridge" and snapped a few pictures of the family.
On the other side of the lake is what's known as "the ramble".  As the name suggests, this is an intertwining ramble of pathways through woods - easy to get lost, which we did!  We emerged near a statue of Alice in Wonderland, then followed our map to the Belvedere Castle.
Belvedere Castle is a stone castle in Central Park that today is used as a weather station. We walked to the very top of the castle and saw a panoramic view of the turtle pond down below.
At this point, we had spent several hours at Central Park, and we only saw a small portion of the park!  But our day was done, so once again we did the subway/ferry/car and got home by dinnertime.  A successful second day!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New York City - Day 1: Rockefeller Center

After spending a week doing schoolwork and enduring rain while Steve was in Texas, we got the family back together and decided to tackle New York City for a few days.
Our method of traveling into the city consisted of a patchwork of modes.  First we traveled by car from our campground at Earle Naval Weapons Station, New Jersey, onto Staten Island, New York.  Then we parked in a parking garage and walked down the hillside to catch the Staten Island ferry.  After riding the ferry to Manhattan, we caught the NYC subway.  Then we rode the subway to anyplace our hearts desired!
On our first trip on the ferry, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could see the Statue of Liberty very clearly across the bay.  We got to enjoy that view each day that we traveled into the city!
Once we disembarked the ferry, we bought our subway passes and tried to figure out the subway system signage. We rode in the direction of the USO, hoping to come out somewhere near the USO.

We emerged from the underground subway, and - BOOM! - we found ourselves right in the middle of Times Square!  I'm sure we looked like the proverbial "country mice" with our mouths agape at all the glitter and lights around us.  After we regained control of our sensibilities, we snapped a few pictures - we saw the Times Square New Year's Eve ball and Broadway! - and then continued on our walk toward the USO. However, we got sidetracked one more time when we came across the Cake Boss Cafe.  (A couple of our boys love watching Cake Boss on TV.) So we popped inside to snap a few more pictures, then continued on our way to the USO.
Finally, we arrived at the USO.  The kids rested and ate some refreshments while Steve and I worked with the USO attendants to plan our adventures in the city.  We learned of many places with great military discounts.  The attendants, however, when they learned that we were exploring NYC on our own with six kids in tow, suddenly got wide eyes and exclaimed, "Wow! You're BRAVE!"  Why, yes. Yes we are.
We decided our first stop would be the Rockefeller Center, home of NBC studios.  With a 50% military discount, we could afford for all of us to go to the top of the 67 stories to the observation deck.  Money well spent!  From the "Top of the Rock" we could see the Manhattan skyline (including the towering Empire State Building), a great view of Central Park, the harbor with the Statue of Liberty in the distance, and acres and acres of "concrete jungle".
When we descended the Rockefeller Center, we exited at street level and watched the ice skaters at the Rockefeller Center outdoor ice skating rink.  Then we wandered into a LEGO store across the street to see some really amazing LEGO creations, which impressed the younger boys a lot.  By this time it was getting near dusk, so we decided to start back home again.  We walked a few blocks, passing Radio City Music Hall along the way, then rested in a small park to look at the map.  We realized that we were right across the street from FOX studios.  By this point, I was starting to get the idea that you can't go anywhere in NYC without being somewhere, if you know what I mean!
So we found the subway street entrance, rode the subway back to the ferry, rode the ferry back to Staten Island (in the dark by this time, which allowed us to view the Statue of Liberty illuminated), then drive back home again.

What an exciting first day we had!