Monday, May 1, 2017

A day in Lower Manhattan

My sister lives in NYC (Brooklyn to be exact) with her husband. This spring break we set our sights on the Big Apple, and hit the road with stops at Appomattox Courthouse, Natural Bridge State Park, Harpers Ferry and Antietam National Battlefield. Having crossed several bridges (and payed multiple tolls!) and survived what was possibly a GPS hacking incident, we finally arrived in the City That Never Sleeps – and after catching up with the sister, sleep is exactly what we did. Our first day in New York we were headed to Manhattan!

Oculus and One World Trade

To access Lower Manhattan we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, a landmark 19th century hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge that is one of the oldest bridges of either type in the United States. The bridge connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn was completed in 1883, the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever constructed. There are plenty of sites that give good advice on how to cross the bridge (for example here), but as long as you stay out of the bicycle lane you’ll be fine.

You can read more about DUMBO, the area on the Brooklyn end of the bridge, in my post Mikus and the Big Apple. 

Once we emerged into Manhattan we found ourselves in City Hall Park. The park was crowded, with vendors hawking everything from hot dogs and ice cream to fresh juice. We headed south along Broadway, but soon cut over to Nassau St. where the boys insisted on lunch which we ate on the steps of Federal Hall

Its location on Wall St. guarantees enormous crowds out front, but having stepped through the door of this National Memorial we found ourselves completely alone save for the Park Ranger stationed inside. It was here in the Federal building that George Washington took the oath of office as our first President, and this site was home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. The current structure was a Customs House, and later served as part of the US Sub-Treasury, however today the building serves as a museum and memorial to our first President and the creation of the United States of America.

George Washington took the oath of office standing on this stone

We continued south past the New York Stock Exchange, eventually crossing back over to Broadway to see Charging Bull and Fearless Girl. The crowds gathered around the two statues were so enormous there wasn’t much to be seen; I was most amused by the line of people waiting to take a picture of the bull’s balls. That’s right, they were lining up for the pleasure of a selfie with the rear of the bull… you can only imagine what the space between the bull and the girl looked like! We continued on to Battery Park, a bit disappointed not to be able to get a better look at the controversial statue.

Most visitors to Battery Park are there to buy their tickets to Statue of Liberty, and then board the official ferry that will take them to the National Monument. What they maybe don’t realize is that there is a National Monument right there in the middle of the park – Castle ClintonThe circular sandstone fort was initially constructed as a fortification against British invasion in 1811, one of the five forts on New York Harbor. Connected to Manhattan by a 200-ft wooden causeway and drawbridge, eventually the landfill extended Battery Park to connect the islands. Castle Clinton might be best known as America's first immigration station, where more than 8 million people arrived in the U.S. from 1855 to 1890. In its life it has been a beer garden, an exhibition hall, a theater and an aquarium, and today thousands of people impatiently stand in line around it awaiting their turn to board a ferry to Liberty Island.

I helped Lauris and Mikus work on their Jr. Ranger badges, and eventually we approached a ranger to ask a few last questions. As we approached he finished giving directions to several pairs of tourists, answering the same question multiple times and directing the flow of pedestrian traffic to the correct windows. I was expecting a quick interaction, but as Mikus asked his questions about cannons the gentleman straightened, looked around, and pronounced “boys, come with me.” The next 20 minutes were fascinating, as our unexpected tour guide brought the dusty fort to life with the boys hanging on his every word. It was with reluctance that we returned him to his chores of people-herding, but we had our own ferry to catch.

At one point in late winter we decided that if we were to visit the Statue of Liberty, we would want to enjoy the full experience. Vilis is too short for the climb up into the crown, and so we put off this particular sightseeing trip to a later date. Instead, we headed to the Whitehall Terminal to catch the free Staten Island Ferry, a favorite of tourists and locals alike for the views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the snack bar which serves beer and food during the 25 minute trip. The ferry runs 24/7, covering the 5.2 miles in the New York Harbor between the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Staten Island. It’s my opinion that the best views of the Statue of Liberty are from Governor’s Island, Red Hook, and the Staten Island Ferry.

Lady Liberty from the Staten Island ferry

The last time I rode the ferry was one month after 9/11, smoke still visible rising from the rubble. The road trip had been in the works for quite some time, but we arrived to an unnaturally quiet NYC, even the taxicabs laying off their horns. While I still had that gut feeling of something missing as we viewed the iconic NYC skyline, it was a completely different experience seeing the sights through the eyes of the boys.

Manhattan from Staten Island ferry, October 2001
Manhattan from Staten Island ferry, April 2017

Once back in Manhattan we cut through Battery Park again and headed north on Greenwich St. to the 9/11 Memorial. After paying our respects we turned back east, and made our way through the Oculus before passing St. Paul’s Church and finding ourselves at the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge.

South Pool at the 9/11 Memorial

Although the sun was not yet setting, the golden rays of late afternoon put on a completely different show than that morning. Our legs grew heavy, but our steps across the bridge were light; we knew we would return to Manhattan during our stay in NYC…


  1. GPS hacking incident?! That would be interesting to learn about, and possibly who might do such a thing.

    1. Our gps kept inexplicably rerouting, attempting to take us off the highway only to get back on at the same exit. The app would close, then restart - with a new detour. Can't imagine it was anyone but a bored New Jersey teen. Or the New Jersey board of tourism.


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