My American expedition has begun! Yes, I’ve finally managed to get myself off the tropical rock I currently call home and the last week has been spent exploring some of the United States of America. Specifically, starting in New York and venturing all the way down to New Orleans. Other than Disney World, I’ve never seen any of the USA before so I knew this would be a real adventure filled with new sights, new people and new flavours. So far, I’ve not been disappointed!
The trip began in New York; I arrived on a Saturday night but wouldn’t be meeting my fellow travellers until the Sunday evening so I had a whole day to myself in the Big Apple. New York is such a huge place and there’s absolutely no way to see any more than a small fraction in just one day, so I had to prioritise what I most wanted to do and plan it very carefully. The day started out bright and early on the first boat of the day from New Jersey (where my hotel was) to Ellis Island and the famed Statue of Liberty. Everybody can recognise this iconic landmark but the part I wasn’t expecting was the included trip to Ellis Island. This was the gateway to the USA for thousands of immigrants from all over the world between 1892 and 1954, making their way to the New World for a new life. They would be brought here to register their details and go through a medical screening before being released to board the boat to Manhatten.
Ellis Island hasn’t been an immigration portal for over 50 years now, but instead there now stands a large museum where you can not only learn about the journeys immigrants made and where they came from (as well as what they brought with them, from food and recipes to language, music and culture from their respective homelands) but you can also follow the journey they would have gone on when they arrived on the island. They were led up a huge staircase into a huge great hall filled with thousands of people chattering away in different languages; it must have been a very disorienting and intimidating experience, especially for younger children and solo travellers. Medical screenings were conducted in the lines and papers were processed at a number of high desks at the far side of the room. Once you were processed you would be herded down one of 3 staircases – one would lead you to the boats bound for Manhatten; one to transit for New Jersey, and the final would lead you to a detainment room if you were to be held on the island for further processing. These were known as the stairways of separation.
Once the boat left Ellis Island, we headed for Lady Liberty. I must say, although she is a very impressive sight to behold, Liberty Island leaves a lot to be desired compared to Ellis island. Crowds of tourists crush each other in order to get the same photo and swarm to walk up the steps of the monument. I was quite content to get off the boat, take a couple of photos and get right back on the boat bound for New York City.
After I left the boat and the Statue behind, I paused to appreciate the view from the East Coast of the US. This was really where my Coast to Coast journey would start from; the mere beginning of many, many more miles to come. I started the walk up through Manhatten, stopping only to pick up some food (a simple panini from a cafe) and a new phone sim for my trip ($30 from T mobile for 3 weeks of roaming like you’re home with unlimited data, 1000 mins and unlimited texts – bargain!). When I reached Ground Zero and the sites of the former Two Towers, my breath was taken away by 2 enormous memorial pools. They filled the space formerly occupied by the towers and had names of the deceased carved into the borders. Though they were surrounded by tourists, they had a definite feeling of peace around them; they were a really beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. The new World Trade Center building is worth a mention too, if not simply for it’s size but for it’s testament to New York’s fighting spirit in the face of terrorism. The building really does seem to say “No matter how hard you strike us, we will come back bigger and stronger than ever”.
The day was starting to get away from me, and as I had tickets for a Broadway matinée booked I decided to speed things along by taking the subway. This was a real experience as there was no maps, no guards or any sort of guidance whatsoever other than a couple of signs. Luckily I managed to get the right train and headed up to Soho to grab a quick snack before the show. I was desperate to try one of NYC’s most famous “trendy” snacks of the moment, the Cronut from Dominique Ansel’s Bakery. There was about a 15 minute wait to get to the counter to pick up the cronut of the month but it was so worth it; the pastry was so delicious and filled with a key lime and dulce de leche sauce. It was also aptly named the Coast to Coast cronut! After sitting down in a local park to polish it off I jumped back on the Subway to the theatre for my show.
I’ve been hearing amazing things about the Book of Mormon for years but have never managed to see it in the West End on my trips to London, so I thought I would use the show to pop my Broadway cherry. My ticket, bought in advance, cost the grand sum of $99 (actually very cheap for a Broadway show) and the seat was fantastic. I was right on the front of the Mezzanine so nobody’s head would be blocking my view. The show was spectacular and hilarious – I won’t do a full review here but if you haven’t seen it and you have a good sense of humour (and don’t get too easily offended) you must go! You won’t regret it.
So my day in NYC came to an end as I had to get back to the hotel for the welcome meeting of my trip. I still need to go back to see Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State building and so many more things but I feel I got a good chunk done in one day. Once I made it back to Newark I met up with the rest of the travellers I’d be spending the next 3 weeks with – we spent the evening chatting before heading to bed ready to start our adventure proper the next day!
Stay tuned for the next update, or share with me in the comments what your favourite experiences or must-dos for the great NYC are!