New York City

28 February - 5 March 2002


One Tuesday morning, I left Oxford for Heathrow, at the start of a two-week trip to New York, Boston and New England. I arrived at Heathrow earlier than anticipated and passed some time up at the observation deck above Terminal Two, before heading back to Terminal Three in order to board the flight.

United Airlines flight 905 left the gate around 2pm, taxied for a while and then took off. Back in the passenger cabin, all seemed well until about an hour into the flight, as the plane reached the west coast of Ireland. Watching the film, I did not notice that the plane was making a U-turn until the pilot announced that we were doing so. Owing to the closure of US airspace, the flight would be returning to Heathrow.

Among the passengers there was some talk as to what the cause might be: had World War Three started, or was this just a massive computer failure on the American side? Slowly the truth filtered through via the cabin crew and passengers making calls home. Two passenger planes had been flown into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, and another had hit the Pentagon in Washington. The date, of course, was one that would make the history books: September 11, 2001.

At home over the following days, it quickly became evident that I would not be able to fly to the USA for several days, and so I cancelled the trip, claiming full refunds. I was soon making plans as to what to do instead. I decided upon a short break in Paris (transport on Eurostar courtesy of the air miles earned on my previous US trip) and a longer holiday the next year.

My desire to visit New York was not diminished, and I was considering adding a few days there to the start or finish of a future trip. After Christmas the very low winter airfares (and some holiday days to be consumed before Easter) tempted me into considering a separate trip out there. I decided upon a five-night break at the start of March, booking with the same airline and hotel as before.

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Thursday 28 February

Having got up at 7.30, I left home just before 9.00 in order to catch the bus towards town. I got off at St Clements, made the short walk across to the Heathrow coach stop, and started waiting. The timings meant that I had just missed a coach there, and it was not until 9.45 that the next arrived. This headed slowly up through Headington owing to roadworks, but traffic became clearer further from town. At one of the stops, Pat Roche, a former colleague from Astrophysics, boarded on his way to Munich.

We arrived at Heathrow at 11.05. Check-in was quick and painless, after which there was little to do except to wait until the gate was called. Shortly after 13.00, I headed off towards the gate and found myself in a long queue waiting to enter the departure lounge. I was filtered off to the side, having "randomly" been selected for additional security checks. I was asked to remove my shoes so that they could be checked (presumably for traces of explosives), and the contents of my rucksack were inspected, my sponge bag attracting particular suspicion. I was deemed acceptable and made my way onto the plane, which left more or less on time.

The flight, which was full, was uneventful. I passed the time by reading and watching one of the in-flight movies: "Bandits", starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett. I had time to watch a second, but none of the others appealed. In-flight refreshments were up to the usual indifferent standards.

We arrived at 4.20pm EST at terminal 7 of John F. Kennedy International Airport. As is typical, the terminal was undergoing refurbishment, although the notices apologising for this were all from British Airways, who share the terminal with United). Baggage reclaim and immigration proved relatively quick, and I made my way to the terminal exit.

I had been looking to travel into Manhattan using one of the shuttle vans so popular at US airports, but strangely none were in sight, only yellow taxis. However, signs indicated that there was a free shuttle bus to take one to the nearest subway station. This soon arrived, and after what seemed like an eternity driving around a huge parking lot, delivered me to the entrance to Howard Beach subway station.

I purchased from a vending machine a ticket for seven days unlimited travel. This entitles one to travel on any part of the subway network (none of the zoning as found on the London or Paris systems) and also the buses run in New York by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. I then waited for the next train through the station: the express "A" train from Far Rockaway through Queens and up the western side of Manhattan Island.

I left the train at 34 Street/Pennsylvania Station (not at a quarter to four, nor from Track 29) and made my way up into the city. It was a short walk from there to my hotel, the Herald Square Hotel, on West 31st Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. I checked in and went up to the room. It was a reasonably-sized room with double bed (despite being described as a "small single room") on the third floor overlooking nothing but more of the hotel. This suited me fine, as it would no doubt be quieter than a room overlooking the street.

By this time I was somewhat tired and so collapsed for a while, watching a little television. Later, while looking at my guidebook and considering plans for the next day, I read that the Empire State Building was open until late at night. Since this was only two blocks away up Fifth Avenue, I decided I might as well venture along.

As expected, security checks were necessary there. I had to show photographic ID (fortunately I had my Oxford University card with me) and have my bag X-rayed. Tickets were purchased in the basement: I considered getting a ticket for the Empire State Building alone until I saw an offer for a special combination ticket. For $38.00 this included a two-hour cruise around New York Harbour and entry to five of the city's major museums as well as the ascent of the Empire State. This seemed good value and so I went for it.

It was then a brief journey by express lift: first to the 80th floor, and then change to another lift for the remaining six floors to the observation deck. I wondered why there was no mention of trips to the upper observation deck on the 102nd floor: I later learned that this was no longer open to the public owing to overcrowding. Overcrowding was certainly not a problem that night, everything seemed very quiet and civilised.

Nevertheless the views from the 86th floor, some 320m up, were spectacular. It was a bright night, with an almost full moon, not that this mattered particularly with all the lights of the city below. The main features of the city were clearly visible: the broad avenues crossed by the regular grid of perpendicular streets, the intersections with Broadway, the various bridges around the islands of the bay, the illuminations on the skyscrapers. Central Park was clearly visible by the relative absence of light.

The Empire State Building itself was illuminated with layers of red, white and blue light, although from where I was standing I could only see the blue illuminations of the top 60m of the building, the tower extending from the main observation deck to the 102nd floor, originally intended as a mooring point for airships. (This itself is topped by a 67m antenna, added in 1950, taking the total height of the building to 448m, a height surpassed in New York only by the mast on 1 World Trade Center.)

After a while admiring the views, taking some photographs and purchasing some souvenirs, I returned to the hotel around 10pm and went to bed, at the end of a long but ultimately rewarding day.

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Friday 1 March

My internal clock had evidently not noticed the change of timezone and I awoke around 4am. After trying and failing to get back to sleep for some time, I decided I might as well sit up and read until a more civilised hour.

I went out in search of breakfast around 7.30. The previous evening I had noticed a "Dunkin' Donuts" on the corner of the street which would suffice for breakfast. Refreshed by an orange juice and a doughnut, I went back to the hotel to prepare myself for a day "on the town".

I first stopped to take a couple of photographs of the hotel. The building had started out as the headquarters of "Life" magazine around 1900, and was typical of the architecture of the time, with much ornamentation. To commemorate the building's past, the walls of the interior were lined with framed covers from the magazine's past.

I next paused briefly on Fifth Avenue to admire the Empire State Building from ground level, then started walking down towards Lower Manhattan. I next stopped at Madison Square, at the junction of Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Around the square stood two of the prominent skyscrapers I had seen the previous evening: the Con Edison and Metropolitan Life buildings, while at the southern end stood one of the most famous buildings in New York: the Flat Iron building. This was one of the early skyscrapers and owes its unusual shape to the acute angle at which Broadway crosses Fifth Avenue.

I continued walking downtown along Broadway for a while, until a slight navigational error took me through the campus of New York University. I corrected this at Bleecker Street and soon found myself nearing the complex intersections at the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. I made my way around this towards the East River shore, through the distinctly unexciting region around the fish market (by this time closed) underneath the Franklyn D. Roosevelt expressway, and finally emerged at South Street Seaport.

This area is in some ways similar to Pier 39 in San Francisco, being a redevelopment of one of the piers to include a multitude of shops, restaurants and other attractions. Alongside is a collection of old ships from the days of sail.

My primary reason for visiting, however, was not to see the seaport but in order to obtain a ticket to see something altogether different: the World Trade Center site. Getting this involved queueing for 20 minutes or so to obtain a timed ticket for the temporary viewing platform a few blocks away at the junction of Fulton Street and Broadway.

My ticket was for entry between 11:00 and 11:30, and as by now it was 10:45, I started heading over. Numerous street vendors were offering memorabilia of the twin towers, often bearing some suitably patriotic slogan. I paid them little attention and continued towards my destination, noticing that straight ahead I could see one of the towers of the World Financial Center, alongside the Hudson River, still showing clear signs of the damage sustained six months previously.

The entrance to the platform was next to St Paul's church. The railings around the church were completely covered with toys, flags and messages of support and condolences, many sent in from all across the country. It was but a brief wait to reach the platform. An attendant from the New York Police Department gave a brief introduction, explaining that we would have only a few minutes there owing to the large numbers of visitors, but that we were free to use that time as we saw fit: whether to pay respects, take photographs to be shown to those at home, or merely to stand and attempt to take it all in.

The site of the World Trade Center itself looked like nothing more than a large building site. Excavations were by now well below ground level, with virtually all remains of the buildings removed.

What did show around the site was the damage to surrounding buildings. Some had suffered relatively superficial damage, in the form of broken windows or damaged exterior masonry. Others showed much more severe damage. Most noticeable, on the south side of the "square", was the Deutsche Bank building completely shrouded in black netting. Through this could be seen a vast gaping hole in the exterior wall running for half the considerable height of the building. Evidently there was severe structural damage and the risk of further falls. I later learned that it was still highly uncertain as to whether the tower could be saved.

On the western side were some of the buildings along the Hudson River most prominent in the photographs of the events of September 11th and their aftermath, those of the World Financial Center. These still showed considerable damage, especially around the arched roof of the Winter Gardens between the towers. At one end of the complex a covered walkway crossed West Street towards where the Marriott Hotel and the South Tower should have stood, but it was now a walkway to nowhere. At the other end stood the Barclay-Vesey building, a ziggurat-shaped structure dating from the 1910s and boasting many embellishments, as was the fashion in its day. Substantial work was underway on restoring these, as the building had stood next to the bland 49 storey tower of 7 World Trade Center, the collapse of which went largely ignored, overshadowed by the events of earlier that fateful day.

With time being limited, I spent a few moments looking across the scene before me and reflecting on the events six months previously before getting out my camera for a more permanent record. I had time for just a few wide-angle shots before being moved onward, but found a suitable vantage point on the exit ramp from which to obtain some close-up shots of the surrounding buildings.

Partway down the ramp, several large posters had been fixed to the hastily-erected walls as temporary memorials. Two brightly-coloured ones commemorated the hundreds lost from among the city's police and fire departments, while a third, several metres wide, listed the names of all three thousand victims in New York.

I was surprised to discover that I could make my way down to the reopened Church Street, along the west side of the site. A large department store on the street was proudly proclaiming its recent reopening, although the neighbouring Hilton Hotel was still closed for repairs. I continued down the street, passing under the high wall of the cemetery of Trinity Church, then turned west towards the river.

By a small bay overlooking the World Financial Center another temporary memorial had been set up, illustrating all too clearly the human costs of September 11th, with photographs of some of those who had gone to work that morning but never returned, and messages from their family and friends.

A pleasant riverside walk alongside the relatively new Battery Park City complex allowed me time to turn my thoughts towards more pleasant things. As I headed towards the southern tip of Manhattan, two of the most prominent sights of the harbour came into view: the Statue of Liberty and the buildings of Ellis Island.

In Battery Park, by the old defensive fort of Castle Clinton (named for a former governor and not the former President), I turned inland in search of somewhere to eat. Finding little among the skyscrapers of the Financial District, I made my way back to South Street Seaport. After deliberating for a few minutes on choice of eating establishment I went for a sandwich from the food court inside the Pier 19 buildings. In typical American fashion, this was very large and filling.

I next headed back up town to see about the harbour cruise included on my ticket. This departed from Pier 87, at the end of West 42nd Street. The nearest subway station deposited me five blocks away from the river, necessitating quite a walk down to the riverside, not helped by the time spent waiting to cross each of the major north-south avenues in my path.

On arrival I discovered that the next boat was not until 4.00, 90 minutes away. Aside from the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, based around a retired aircraft carrier at the neighbouring pier, there was little in the neighbourhood of interest, and I decided to head east to Grand Central Station, taking a bus to save my feet a little.

Progress on the bus seemed incredibly slow, and I opted to switch to the subway once I was near a station. This would have been better had I not faced a wait of several minutes for the shuttle service from Times Square to Grand Central Station.

Eventually I arrived at my destination and made my way up into its magnificent entrance hall, a feature of many American films. The whole concourse is topped by a high arched roof, decorated with the signs of the Zodiac (supposedly the wrong way round, but who cares in such a splendid building?) Aside from one or two information boards there was little to suggest that it was a station at all, with the many platforms being hidden away underground, along with a selection of restaurants and shops.

Given that it had taken me nearly 45 minutes to reach the station from the pier, I was not too hopeful of making it back before the departure of the boat. I decided on a change of plan and headed north, beyond the top end of Central Park to the Episcopalian Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on the Upper West Side.

This vast building has been under construction since the late nineteenth century and is still decades from completion, with building work having stopped several times over the years. On completion it is supposedly set to become the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, possibly a little misleading as parts of it are clearly in a Romanesque style. The building had suffered a major fire in December, in which the gift shop area had suffered severe damage. Fortunately most of the building suffered little other than smoke damage, but the smell of smoke still hung around much of the cathedral.

After some time looking around the cathedral and the gardens outside, I started on my way away from this quiet neighbourhood to the rush of midtown Manhattan. I was only a few minutes' walk from the top end of Central Park, and made my way over, intending to walk at least part of the way down.

The top end of the park is evidently considerably less well visited, and I encountered few people until I had walked a considerable proportion of the length of the Park. In the end I walked its entire length, a distance of maybe 4-5 miles given the twists and turns of its pathways. On the way I passed most of its major features: lakes, the Great Lawn, the ornate Bethesda Terrace, and the fake Belvedere Castle built upon a rocky outcrop, supposedly the one place on the island of Manhattan where the original bedrock is visible.

I was by then ready to rest my feet and took the subway back down to Pennsylvania Station, then headed back to the hotel for a rest.

Some time later I headed out again in search of something to eat. I was a little surprised to find that restaurants were not so easy to come by in the neighbourhood, and spent some time wandering around until I came across a small French restaurant on one of the side streets off Fifth Avenue. I had an excellent veal escalope, Normandy style, but by now lack of sleep and the exertions of the day were catching up with me and I decided to forego dessert. Instead I went back to the hotel, watched a little television blearily and then went to bed.

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Saturday 2 March

I got up at the more usual time of 8.15, and again had breakfast at the Dunkin' Donuts. The weather forecasts had been predicting rain for most of the weekend, but although it was cloudly there was no sign of imminent rain. I decided to start the day's sightseeing with another ascent of the Empire State Building, allowing me to view the city by daylight.

Having already used up the relevant portion of my combination ticket, I had to buy a nine dollar ticket, but it was well worth it. The place was considerably busier than it had been on Thursday evening, but I did not have long to wait for the lifts and there was still plenty of room to move around on the observation deck.

It was still somewhat hazy over the city, particularly over Lower Manhattan, although it showed signs of clearing as time went on. I had splendid views of the midtown area, however. The Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Madison Square Gardens (the rotund monstrosity above Pennsylvania Station rather than the gardens of the actual Madison Square, that is) and the Flat Iron Building were all easily recognisable. St John's Cathedral was just visible with the aid of binoculars. On the south side I could look down on my hotel, not particularly conspicuous in itself but easily located via the bizarre cushion-shaped roof of the parking garage opposite. Less conspicuous than before were the bridges around the city. At night these had been illuminated by elegant green lights along their suspension cables, but by day they stood out poorly against the water and the buildings of the city.

I made a detour a couple of blocks west upon leaving, down to the grandiose Post Office building to buy some stamps for postcards. I next caught the subway downtown, heading for the Staten Island ferry terminal. A change of train was necessary owing to the closure of lines around the World Trade Center, but despite arriving at a different station it was but a short walk to the ferry terminal.

I was mildly surprised to be able to walk straight onto the ferry, with no turnstiles or ticket booths in the way: the ferry is entirely free, at least for foot passengers. I made my way upstairs and onto the deck to take advantage of the views on offer, noting on the way that the boat was the "John F Kennedy", dating from 1965.

We soon left the Manhattan terminal and headed out across New York Bay, passing Ellis and Liberty islands on the way to the distinctly unenticing Staten Island. After a few minutes on deck I was reaching for my gloves, for there was a cold wind blowing - unfortunately this made operation of my camera a little difficult. On arrival, I disembarked for the sake of it, walked around the back of the terminal, found nothing in particular to hang around for, and walked back on to the boat, which was just a couple of minutes away from heading back to Manhattan.

The captain made a rather inelegant approach to the berth back at Manhattan, with much scraping of the boat against the timbers of the side before it finally docked. I disembarked and went inland in search of lunch. This I found in a deli a couple of blocks away in the form of a cajun chicken bagel, a little hot for my liking.

Suitably refreshed I headed back up town. I had by now decided not to bother with the harbour cruise, given that I had seen quite a bit from the Staten Island Ferry, and that the timings for the two trips per day were not ideal. I went instead to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, entry to which was included on my magic ticket.

I first went aboard the museum's primary exhibit, the USS Intrepid. This 34,000 ton carrier entered service in 1943 and saw considerable action during World War Two, twice suffering severe damage during kamikaze attacks. Later the ship was modified to carry jets and saw service off Vietnam and as a recovery vessel for several NASA missions during the 1960s. For the past twenty years she has been moored at the museum in New York.

A small platform by the steps up to the flight deck contained a rather lonely-looking Harrier, isolated from the many planes lined up along the forward section of the flight deck. The rear portion was kept clear, and I first walked to the stern in order to get some idea of the vast size of this ship, some 270m (888ft) long. The forward section contained a large collection of aircraft, both fixed- and rotary-wing, from World War Two to the present. Most of them might well have been operated from the Intrepid but there were some oddities, such as an F-4 Phantom in Royal Navy colours and an A-12 "Blackbird", the fastest jet plane ever built, capable of at least Mach 3.6.

After a brief explore of the bridge, I descended to the vast hangar deck below. This had been divided into several sections and had much of interest, including exhibits on the history of the ship and on the US space programme. Also visible was the original Iwo Jima statue, modelled on the famous photograph of soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes. A replica now stands in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. In one corner was a recent addition, a memorial to the victims of the September 11th attacks. This included a small sample of the debris recovered from "Ground Zero", with everyday office materials such as papers and computer disks visible among the grey concrete dust.

The museum closed at 5.30, and by now time was a little pressing. I had the choice of a look around a destroyer, USS Edson, or a submarine, USS Growler, before closing time. Having previously been on a submarine in the UK, I opted for a walk around the Edson, built in 1958 and a recent addition to the museum following retirement from the Navy.

On my way out of the museum, I passed a collection of miscellaneous artifacts. This included two Cold War era tanks (one US, one a Soviet-built model captured from Iraq), a genuine segment of Berlin Wall, and a propeller from the liner "United States", holder of the Blue Riband for many years.

I took a bus part of the way back, then walked the rest of the way via Times Square, looking at the overabundance of neon signs. I stopped at a shop to buy some postcards, also looking at the prices of some of the electronic gear on offer but being put off by worries as to import taxes, the need to carry it home and some distinctly dodgy salespeople.

After a rest back at the hotel, I headed out again for dinner. It was by now raining heavily, but fortunately I had noted a reasonable-looking diner just a block away and so made my way there hastily. I had a reasonable meal of salad, pork chop and cheesecake (rather than strudel), then returned to the hotel and read for a while before retiring for the night.

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Sunday 3 March

I was up at 8.15, and after what was by now becoming a traditional breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts headed out for the day. I took the subway up to Rockefeller Center and then found myself in a maze of underground corridors. Any other day of the week the numerous shops along these would have been open and plenty of people would have been around, but on a Sunday it was completely deserted. After some time I found a way out and crossed the road to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, a magnificent Gothic building on Fifth Avenue. I looked inside briefly but as a service was in progress I contented myself with a brief look at its splendid interior from the back before leaving.

I walked up Fifth Avenue for some distance until I reached the block between 56th and 57th streets. I looked briefly at Tiffany's (closed, with not even breakfast available) and took a look inside the building next door, Trump Tower. The interior was lavishly decorated with gold-coloured marble floors and walls, a contrast with the black glass exterior.

I decided that next I would visit the Museum of Modern Art, a few streets away. Unfortunately on joining the queue outside I found that I no longer had my combination ticket with me. After a moment or two trying to work out where I last had it, I decided that it must have dropped from my pocket when I stopped to look at my map a few minutes earlier. I returned to the same spot and was grateful to find it still lying on the pavement, then headed back to the museum.

The museum was undergoing refurbishment and substantial parts were closed off. Only a small part of the permanent collection was on display, along with a large exhibition of works by the German artist Gerhard Richter, and a smaller display of cinema posters downstairs. Had I paid full price for the entry I might well have felt a little cheated in not having been able to see more. As it was I shrugged and went in search of lunch.

I ate in a moderately upmarket burger bar (in other words, not McDonalds or equivalent) nearby, before heading further up Fifth Avenue to the Guggenheim Museum. This elegant building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, consists of a broad helical pathway around a large central atrium, with further rooms in a block to the side. At the time the main pathway featured an exhibition on the art of Brazil, dominated by a huge altarpiece and with much else of interest on display, including paintings, sculpture and other treasures from Brazil spanning several centuries.

A couple of small rooms contained a selection of paintings from the museum's permanent collection. Another was taken over by a single work of modern art in the form of hundred of lumps of charcoal hanging from the ceiling on fine threads, around which one was free to wander (exercising a little caution to avoid too many collisions). I forget what point the artist was supposed to be making; I was reminded of the scenes in science fiction movies in which a spacecraft has to penetrate an asteroid field.

The other large temporary exhibition in the museum was one on the artworks produced by the American painter Norman Rockwell. These had been produced over more than forty years for the cover of the "Saturday Evening Post" magazine, and often reflected scenes from everyday American life or else made some gently satirical point.

I left the museum around 5.00 and decided to wander back partway through Central Park in the gradually diminishing light, passing some of its features I had not seen two days earlier, including statues of Hans Christian Andersen and of various characters from "Alice in Wonderland".

After resting my feet for a while back at the hotel, I went out for dinner. Along West 31st Street I passed the local fire station - from the photographs and newspaper cuttings on the doors, it was evident that this was one of many to have lost crewmen on September 11th.

A little further along I encountered a shifty character asking for money, who seemed rather upset when I refused. I headed on rapidly towards the subway which I took to 42nd street in the hope of finding a little more of interest than I had closer to the hotel, but again found little to attract me. I eventually stumbled upon a French-style cafe/restaurant and had a three-course meal of paté, gigot d'agneau and sorbet, unfortunately a little more expensive than I would have expected in France but otherwise fine. I returned to the hotel with the aid of the subway and soon went to bed.

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Monday 4 March

I was up again around 8.15 and breakfasted down the street once again. It was a bright, sunny (if cold) morning, and I decided upon a trip out into the harbour. I took the subway down to the Bowling Green stop and wandered into Battery Park. At Castle Clinton I purchased tickets for the ferry across to Liberty and Ellis islands then joined the long queue waiting to board the boat.

Airport-style security had been set up in a marquee by alongside the dock, and I was a little surprised that as well as the usual requests, people were being asked to remove belts before passing through the metal detectors: evidently the sensitivity was turned well up.

The Circle Line ferry first headed for Liberty island, and took us right around the head of the island for good views of the statue before docking a short distance away. Its stop at the island was brief before moving onward to Ellis Island, but with frequent sailings this was not a problem. After taking a few photographs looking back at Manhattan, I headed for the shady and warm interior of the Visitors' Center to change film and to look at a small exhibition on the history of the statue.

The statue was a gift to the American people from the French, initially proposed by a group of libertarians in 1865. The site in New York harbour was chosen by the statue's sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, who enlisted the help of Gustave Eiffel in converting the original models into the 46m (151ft) copper-clad statue. The Americans still had to pay for the pedestal on which the statue was to stand, and considerable fund-raising was required in order to finance the construction of a granite structure within the walls of an old fort on Bedloe's Island (renamed in 1956) in New York harbour. The completed monument was dedicated in 1886, and stands 93m (305ft) high in total. It depicts Liberty stepping forth from the chains of oppression, wearing a seven-pointed crown (depicting the seven seas and continents) and carrying a tablet bearing the date July 4th, 1776 in Roman numerals, while holding aloft a gilded torch.

The monument was originally under the control of the Lighthouse Board, but control later passed to the National Parks, with Statue of Liberty National Monument expanded in 1965 to incorporate the nearby Ellis Island. Considerable restoration work was undertaken in the early 1980s in preparation for the centenary celebrations, not least the construction of a new torch.

I took a brief walk around to the head of the island for a better look at the statue. It used to be possible to go up inside the statue, but this had been closed since September 11th, which saved me the worry as to whether or not to queue up for two or three hours in the freezing cold. I soon returned to the warmth of the gift shop/cafeteria building, purchased a couple of postcards and purchased some lunch. The cafeteria was similar in style to that I had encountered out west in Zion National Park, but without the benefit of warmth (still, I suspect Zion would be no warmer in early March). Suitably refreshed, I headed out just in time to catch the boat across to Ellis Island.

I disembarked close to the grandiose reception building, constructed at the end of the nineteenth century after fire destroyed the previous timber construction on the site. This had been erected in 1892 to deal with the large numbers of immigrants entering America via New York, the former facility at Castle Clinton being too small. 6 million immigrants, two-thirds of the country's total, entered the USA via Ellis Island during the first decade of the twentieth century, but World War One and the introduction of immigration quotas in the 1920s took the facility into decline although it did not close completely until 1954. Much restoration work was required before the main building was reopened in its current form as an immigration museum in 1990.

This is the only building open to the public on the island, although there are several others in varying states of repair. The island is largely artificial, having been extended several times over the years in order to make space for further facilities.

The main entrance took one into the baggage room, in which would-be immigrants would deposit their belongings before passing upstairs into the huge registry hall to begin the process that would determine whether or not they would be admitted (a small percentage were not). Typically the procedures would take a few hours, although sometimes much longer, making it necessary to provide dormitory facilities - cramped, but no worse than those most would have endured on board ship.

The building provided many rooms of exhibits describing the immigration process and what life would have been like for the millions to pass through over the years, from the lives and people they had left behind to their experiences in the New World - often somewhat different from their expectations. Computer facilities were provided to enable visitors to look up the details of relatives who would have passed through Ellis Island. In all there was plenty to see, and I had barely finished looking around the museum before it was time for the last boat of the day back to New York City to depart.

Back on Manhattan, I took a brief walk through some of the parts of Lower Manhattan I had not yet visited. I walked up the narrow Wall Street (named for its location alongside the defensive wall built around the early town), looking ahead to the magnificent sight of Trinity Church, somewhat out of place among all the skyscrapers. After a brief look inside the church, I headed up Broadway, stopping to look at some of the tributes left close to Ground Zero and at the nearby Woolworth Tower, before catching the subway back to midtown and the hotel.

A little later, I headed out again for dinner. Rather than venture far afield I went again to the diner just around the corner, this time having chicken noodle soup, salad, lasagne and chocolate cake. I returned to the hotel to prepare a little for my departure the next day, read some more and then retired to bed.

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Tuesday 5 March

I was up at 8.00, and after my last Dunkin' Donuts breakfast of the trip, finished packing and headed down to the hotel lobby. I left my case for the day in one of the lockers, paid my bill, and headed out.

I started by taking a gentle walk northwards along Fifth Avenue. A few blocks north I found a Barnes & Noble bookstore, and spent some time browsing before making a couple of purchases, including a rather fine book about New York City.

I continued north until I reached Saint Patrick's Cathedral and looked inside again, only to find that a service was again in progress. I decided to take a walk down to the East Side to take a look at the United Nations building, which I had so far only seen from the Empire State Building. Upon reaching this I found that I could see little other than its rather unappealing exterior without passing through stringent security checks. I decided not to bother and instead headed back west along a street from which I had an excellent view towards the top of the Chrysler Building. Again I tried the cathedral and had a few minutes in which to look around inside before another service started (poor timing on my part).

I headed across the road into the Rockefeller Center, rather busier than on Sunday, and down to its subway station. From this I took a train up to the American Museum of Natural History, by the western side of Central Park, another of the museums available to me through my ticket. Having entered through the dinosaur hall, I took a brief look at some of the cosmological exhibits around the huge Hayden Sphere planetarium, then went down to the basement cafe to get a bite of lunch, sufficient to see me through until the evening.

A visit to the museum could easily occupy an entire day, so I contented myself by exploring a few parts of it. I wanted to see its full-size model of a blue whale but was disappointed to find the huge hall containing it closed for refurbishment. However I found plenty to see in some of the nearby rooms, featuring such diversity as exhibits on human evolution, the Pacific Northwest Indians, meteorites, gemstones and minerals. Another room attempted, reasonably successfully, to depict the amazing diversity of the plant and animal kingdoms.

After a brief look in the museum shop it was time to head back for the hotel so as to be in plenty of time for the Gray Line shuttle which was to take me to Newark International Airport. As it happened, I was a little early and naturally the shuttle arrived a few minutes late, but this gave me time to redistribute items between my suitcase and rucksack.

The shuttle made subsequent stops at other hotels around the midtown area, which it reached via a somewhat circuitous route and some fine examples of New York driving. After the last stop, we headed for the Lincoln Tunnel approach, spent some time queueing to enter, and then passed under the Hudson River into New Jersey, a state which, judging by the limited amount I saw during the remainder of the journey, seemed to contain little which would entice one to linger there.

We arrived at the airport around 5.40. I checked in quite quickly and then passed through security to the gate area, where I sat reading until boarding commenced at 7.20. The plane was a Boeing 777, considerably larger than the aircraft on the way out, and to my surprise was no more than about a quarter full. The seat next to me was empty, allowing me to take a window seat and have room to spread out

We took off at almost exactly the scheduled time of 8.00 and headed out over Long Island and Cape Cod into the darkness of the Atlantic. I watched a couple of films: "The man who wasn't there" by the Coen Brothers, followed by "The Last Castle" starring Robert Redford. Neither seemed particularly good but they helped pass the time.

Owing to strong tailwinds (at times reaching 150mph, giving us a ground speed in excess of 700mph) we made extremely good time, arriving almost an hour ahead of schedule. The first glimmers of daylight appeared as we crossed the Severn Estuary, and by the time we reached the London region there was plenty to be seen on the ground. Our early arrival necessitated a little waiting, and as we circled we were treated to excellent aerial views of both Heathrow and Gatwick airports before making our final approach into Heathrow.

Having landed just after 7.00, baggage retrieval, passports and customs were suitably quick and I found myself with some time to spare before heading to the Central Bus Station for the 8.00 coach back to Oxford, which I passed with the aid of a Chelsea bun from one of the terminal shops.

The bus reached Oxford's temporary Oxpens bus station (standing in for the usual Gloucester Green site while repairs were made) at 9.10. The prompt arrival meant that I had to wait a few minutes outside Jessops for them to open so that I could deposit my first two films (out of four and a half consumed on the trip) before heading for home, pleased at the completion of a successful trip.

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© Robin Stevens,
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