We’ve finally arrived in America! It feels good to be back in travel mode and it feels even better to be travelling here in the US. It’s been a while since we set off with the sole purpose of simply exploring and soaking in a new country, but that’s exactly what we intend to do for the next three months, starting with the Big Apple.
Returning to New York
Although this is Andrew’s first visit to the US, I took a brief college trip to New York when I was just 18, only a few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Besides endless hours of wandering the freezing streets with my neck craned upwards, taking pictures from the top of the Empire State Building and eating Lucky Charms straight from the box, what I remember most from that trip was visiting Ground Zero.
I remember the wall of missing posters and standing on a wooden platform overlooking the wreckage. This experience had a big impact on my 18-year-old self, who was just beginning to realise that the world wasn’t quite the innocent place it appeared to be and that life is indeed finite. Now I’m back again, 13 years older and relatively wiser. On the ride from the airport I spotted twin pillars of light shining up through the darkness in the distance, a reminder of the past and how things change over time.
We were lucky to be staying with Christine and Pam, Andrew’s relatives, in Brooklyn. We immediately fell in love with their quiet neighbourhood with its coffee shops and wide, tree-lined streets, huge mansion houses with flights of steps leading up to the front doors and apartment blocks with fire escapes zig-zagging down the sides. Christine and Pam live in a beautiful old carriage house with lofty, open spaces and a wooden deck with a ladder leading up to the roof.
It was all exactly as I’d imagined New York would be; being here feels strangely like stepping onto a living movie set because the city and its streets, skylines and parks have been burnt into our consciousness through film, TV, books and stories all of our lives. New York feels familiar but new and I see in it echoes of other cities I’ve visited; Sydney, Auckland, Melbourne, Taipei.
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New York in a Day
We’ll be back in New York at the end of our trip in November, but for now we had just one full day to get a taste of the city before we headed off to Boston. Despite the jetlag and exhaustion, we felt energised with excitement to explore; the skies were clear and the sun was shining as we caught the subway to Battery Park for a boat trip to Liberty and Ellis Islands.
It was surreal to approach the Statue of Liberty across the water, to see such a familiar, iconic figure in real life. As we wandered around Liberty Island and craned our necks up to gaze at the statue, we listened to the audio guide and imagined what it would have been like for those immigrants who sailed across the world to build a new life in America, what it would have felt like to catch a first glimpse of the statue and realise that you’d finally arrived.
We spent hours in the excellent immigration museum on Ellis Island; as we read and heard the stories of people who left their homes behind to build new lives in the West, carrying aspects of their own cultures with them, I couldn’t help but think of the mass migration that’s occurring at the moment into Europe and how similar the issues are. It was a fitting start to our trip to visit the place where so many people began their lives in America and to understand the origins of the country.