Visiting New York

Going ashore in New York

When you start exploring a city, you need to have a good plan in hand, especially if your intention is to visit as much as possible in a short period of time. A few day holiday may offer you a very clear image of any capital or big city in the world, but when your holiday is just a short visit or only a few hour trip, you might need more than just a well done plan. You will also need somebody to help you put your plan into practice and guide you a little by offering some advice. All you have to do is ask for help and accept advice and tips even from people you don’t know. The more people you ask, the easiest it will be in the end to sort things out and to choose the option that fits you best.
To visit New York you need a 3-4 day holiday if you want to make just an idea about the city or a 7-10 day holiday if you want to enjoy and admire all the tourist landmarks the city has to offer. You will need even more time if you want to lose yourself in one of the many museums and art galleries, to stroll along the alleys from Central Park and to dedicate each night to a different show or play in one of the city’s numerous Theatre halls. All these objectives can be covered in a 2 week holiday or can be divided into multiple visits throughout a period of time. You can come back to New York again and again and every time you will discover something new that needs your attention or something old that needs a different perspective.
Since I started my voyages at sea, I had the opportunity to visit many interesting places around the world. It is true that many cities need more than just a few hour visit and not only the largeness of the area can dictate the duration of the visit, but mostly the richness in history, landmarks and important buildings. It is well known that travelling by container vessel nowadays does give you the possibility to touch some distant territories and have an idea about the world, but it cannot offer a full time visit at your liking. You have to be thankful if you ever have the chance to step onto American soil and take the chance to visit a little the surroundings.
For me, visiting New York was a real adventure and it will continue to challenge me every time I will arrive in this area. So far, after two visits, I can put piece by piece together and accumulate a total of 15 hours of actual visiting the city, without considering the time needed for transportation inside and outside the port. The 15 hours did not belong to the same day, not even to the same year, because two different vessels carried me to New Yorkone in 2008 and the other this year.

If I could write down all the tourist attractions I managed to see in this short time I may consider myself very lucky. I have to admit that I was forced to run from one place to another, taking advantage of all possible means of transportation including subway, taxi, train, bus and ferry and I even had to count on my good two feet because walking was the most important key to success. I ended up feeling exhausted, with big pains in every inch of my body, but all the effort was worthwhile. And I even had a six year time to take a good rest between the two visits, recharge the batteries and prepare for the next call.

In September 2008, I arrived in New York for the first time, during one voyage which brought me to USA – also for the first time.
In most cases, port container vessels that come in this area do not enter the port of New York, but one of the other ports that belong to the State of New Jersey, located on the other side of Hudson River. The most important of these ports are Newark, Port Elizabeth and Raritan. Under these circumstances, visiting Manhattan can be very difficult and quite a challenging task even for experienced travelers.
If your vessel remains alongside for a few days, it will be very easy for you to find the time required for a normal visit into the city, without worrying too much about schedule and transportation.
But, nowadays, with all operations inside the port going at high speed, few and few vessels stay alongside more than 24 hours. Even in this case, you can give Manhattan a chance and embark yourself in a trip which will make you very tired, but nevertheless, happy and satisfied.
I first got a glimpse of New York before arriving into the port. As soon as the vessel passed under the first bridge – Verrazano Narrows (which connects Staten Island and Long Island – South of New York) – and entered Upper New York Bay, I saw and recognized the famous Manhattan sky-line and the Statue of Liberty. This image is the most common picture you can find on posters, calendars, postcards, t-shirts and it represents the icon of all New York and a symbol the entire world can easily identify.

Approaching New York - Verrazano Narrows BridgeVerrazano Narrows Bridge

IFManhattan skyline, September 2008 –

IFStatue of Liberty, September 2008

Our vessel had to change direction and moved slowly towards left, passing under Bayonne Bridge (which connects New Jersey and Staten Island) before coming alongside in the Port of Newark, the biggest and busiest port in this area.

Bayonne BridgeBayonne Bridge

In less than two hours I was ready to go out, very anxious to discover the city and make the best of my time in Manhattan.
A shuttle bus took us to the gate and a taxi took us to Penn Station in only few minutes. From there we continued our ride by metro and we arrived in World Trade Center in less than 25 minutes. Unfortunately, the first image I saw when I stepped outside the Metro Station made me very sad and uncomfortable for a while. I had not had the privilege to admire the Twin Towers when they were standing tall against the Manhattan sky-line, but I know the panoramic view was quite amazing. Seven years later the exact site – crowded with cranes and all sort of working machinery – reminded me about the terrible day of 11 September 2001.

IF– World Trade Centre Ground Zero, September 2008 –

I knew we didn’t have too many hours to visit the city, but I found the best solution to my problem very quickly as I looked around me and discovered lots of tourist buses rushing around the streets and hundreds of tourists ‘fighting’ to get a sit on the superior deck. A complete tour of Manhattan was due to last for 3 hours and this was exactly the amount of time we had available before returning to the port.
We got on the bus in Times Square and got off exactly in the same spot after three hours. We couldn’t benefit from the hop on hop off opportunity and we remained in the bus for the whole trip, without getting off like most of the people were doing. Despite the fact that we looked like real tourists – with maps, cameras, caps and small backpacks – we were quite different from them and came into the city only for a few hour visit. This tour allowed us to see and admire most of Manhattan landmarks and places of interest – Empire State Building, Greenwich Village, Soho, Little Italy, China Town, World Trade Centre Memorial, City Hall, Buttery Park, Madison Square Garden, Rockefeller Centre, Central Park, Metropolitan Museum, Carnegie Hall, Broadway Theatre, Wall Street.

IF

IFCarnegie Hall

IF– Madison Square Garden –

IFTimes Square

IF

I remember I was very much impressed by the huge sky scrapers and I spent most of my time with the head up, gazing towards the sky and fighting hard to find a little piece of blue among the high concrete and steel buildings which were blocking the sun completely.

IF

I arrived in New York again, six years later with the same strong desire of going out and visit Manhattan. This time, our vessel docked in a different port belonging to the State of New Jersey – Port Elizabeth – closer to Bayonne Bridge than Newark.
During a 4 month voyage I had the possibility of admiring Manhattan sky-line on three distinct calls, offering me a superb image at different moments of the day, but also with great variation regarding the weather. I admired Manhattan at sunrise and sunset, in a foggy morning, but also in a very bright afternoon and the image of all the sky scrapers gazing at me from the distance almost hypnotized me each time.

Manhattan Skyline

Manhattan skyline (2)

Manhattan skyline (3)

Manhattan skyline (4)

Manhattan

New York Sky line

Sunset over Manhattan

The first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty
As different and unpredictable events prevented us from going to Manhattan during our calls from February and March, the chance of visiting the surroundings finally came on our last call, in May. We were very excited about seeing more than just the mere sky-line glimmering at a distance and even continuing the visit we had started six years before. We knew we were on a very tight schedule and for this reason I did not put my expectation too high. I decided to dedicate all our time to the two little islands situated in the middle of the Upper New York Bay – Ellis Island and Liberty Island and, if time allowed it, to continue our visit towards Manhattan and some other new and undiscovered territories.
From Port Elizabeth, the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to arrive in Manhattan is by train from Penn Station New Jersey. In less than 25 minutes, the train passes under the Bay and arrives on the other side of the River, just in front of World Trade Center. From there, only a 10 minute walk is needed to get to Battery Park and to embark in one of the ferries going to the islands.

Being on the other side of Hudson River did not make things more difficult for us because we didn’t have to follow this exact road in order to get to the islands. We were advised to go to Liberty State Park New Jersey and catch a ferry from there which would take us to the islands, before getting us to Manhattan. We got all the information we needed from a very kind gentleman working for the Seafarers & International House who came on board one hour after our arrival. Reverend Arndt Braun – Storck gave me three different maps of the city and after pointing out the best route to take, the closest subway station, the shortest and fastest way to get back, he offered us a ride to the Ferry Terminal in Liberty State Park. We arrived there in 20 minutes, just in time to catch the first ferry available to visit the islands. After the security check, we embarked on the ferry and started our journey East towards Ellis Island, the first one on the schedule.

Ellis Island and Liberty Island belong to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and can be reached only by Statue Cruises from Battery Park (Manhattan) and Liberty State Park (New Jersey).
One round-trip ferry ticket includes access to the grounds of Liberty Island and to the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island and also an audio guide in 6 different languages. For Pedestal Museum and Crown access in the Statue, a reservation is needed in advance and a small fee is required. This kind of ticket costs 18$ and includes three ferry rides – one from Battery Park (or Liberty State Park New Jersey) to Ellis Island, one from Ellis Island to Liberty Island and one back to shore (Manhattan or New Jersey).

Coming from New Jersey, the first stop of the ferry is at Ellis Island.
More than 100 million people living today on the territory of the United States can trace an ancestor back to Ellis Island – as they are children and grandchildren of the immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island with high hopes for a better life. Statistics show that more than 12 million immigrants passed through Registry Room between 1880 and 1924.
The main point of interest of Ellis Island is the 30.ooo m² building representing the Immigration Museum.The original building of the immigration station had been made by wood, but it was destroyed by fire in 1897. In its place, a new brick and granite building was erected at the beginning of 1900, which still stands tall after undergoing lots of repairs, renovations and improvements.

Ellis Island - Immigration Museum

Immigration Museum - Ellis Island

The museum is a memorial of Immigration from the arrival of first Immigrants to the present and it has exhibits of photography and documents, theaters, gift shops and cafes. The history of the immigrants passing through Ellis Island (between 1880 and 1924) is described and revealed through historic photos, artifacts, personal papers and original audio recordings – gathered in one big exhibition located on the second floor, called Through America’s Gate.
The photo exhibition takes you back in time, moves you deeply, but fills your heart with joy and hope. Reading the stories and listening to some audio recordings from that time, I fully understood what a huge difference there is between us – who were visiting now – and millions of people who were lucky enough to arrive on the Promised Land at the beginning of the twentieth century, after three difficult weeks at sea. Many of them departed from their home land without looking back, leaving anything behind and they arrived on a foreign territory only with one suitcase, but with the great hope for a better future. Because the price ticket for a crossing over the Atlantic was quite high (~2000$ in today currency), many families had to separate, allowing only one member to make the trip and the others to join in the following 1-2 years.

As soon as you step inside the building, you discover the first room where immigrants entered – Baggage Room. Here they had to leave all their belongings before continuing with the examination process.

Ellis Island - The Baggage Room

In the historic Railroad Ticket Office – where immigrants were buying their tickets to different areas of America – there is now a permanent exhibition ‘Journeys: The Peopling of America’, which focuses on the history of Immigration from the Colonial Era to the opening of Ellis Island.

Immigration Museum - Ellis Island (2)

The most important room of the building is located on the second floor and it is called the Registry Room (or Great Hall). In this big room with high ceiling, thousands of immigrants were waiting in line to be checked by the doctors and get questioned by the inspectors, hoping that in the end they would get their approval to remain on American soil. Immigrants who passed their medical examination were now facing the last test: the interview. The interview lasted only two minutes during which more than 30 questions were asked and the big registry books were filled with personal information about each immigrant.

Those allowed to pass continued downstairs through the Stairs of Separation and finally, through the Gate of America.

Ellis Island - The stairs of Separation Ellis Island - Stairs of Separation

At the bottom of the stairs, many immigrants met family members or friends at the ‘Kissing Post‘. Others were completely alone, but ready to start a new life, regardless the hardship and danger arising from living in a perfectly foreign country. About 20% of those arriving at Ellis Island were detained for medical treatment and only 2% were denied entry.
On the third floor of the building there is an exhibition called Treasures from Home which display more than 2000 possessions that immigrants brought from home (artifacts and photos). On the same floor, visitors can take a look at a restored dormitory which was renovated but following the original design from 1908. Unfortunately, during our visit, the third floor was closed due to some maintenance work.
Before leaving the building, we spent few minutes in the American Family Immigration History Center. In this room full of computers, visitors had the possibility to search for names of relatives or friends who had passed through Ellis Island before becoming American citizens. More than 25 million immigrants are registered in this huge data base which offers easy access for a minimal fee.
I would have liked to look for someone myself, but I have no record of any relative who immigrated to USA before 1930. I might have a distant uncle, but, unfortunately, I have no evidence, nor even small detail on which to build up my research. Looking around, I noticed that many young people were searching for proves that their grandparents or great – grandparents had passed through Ellis Island, offering them the chance to be born and live on American soil.

Ellis island - Immigration Research Centre

America offered them a different life – the chance of starting fresh and build something new. For most of them America was the dream. It is still the dream for many immigrants today. Millions of people from different countries around the world found their happiness here and made America their homes. They are and will be forever grateful to this country that offered them this chance and allowed them to make their dreams come true. But America also must be grateful to them because thanks to all these people the country grew up and became what it is today. The America we know today is a country built on the hopes and dreams of millions of people of different nationalities, religions and races who were offered here the chance of starting a new life.

We didn’t have too much time to wonder around the island, but we managed to have a quick look through all the available rooms and also enjoy the beautiful Manhattan sky-line across the River, before embarking the next ferry to go to Liberty Island.

Ellis Island -view towards Manhattan
Although the area was very crowded, we didn’t have to wait more than 20 minutes before stepping on board the ferry, together with a numerous group of pupils – very nosy, but nevertheless, nice and friendly.

Ellis island - waiting for the ferry

Staten island Ferry New York
We climbed up the superior open deck and hardly managed to occupy an available spot on the starboard side for a better view towards the Statue of Liberty. Our ferry slowly approached the island from the South, giving us the opportunity to admire the entire construction from different angles, before docking in the NE.

Statue of Liberty - Liberty Island and Manhattan in the background

Statue of Liberty - view from the ferry

Statue of Liberty - close up
Received as a gift from the French people in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was a symbol of freedom and friendship between two allied countries. Its meaning and importance changed very quickly and it became a symbol of hope for millions of immigrants who were arriving from the other side of the Atlantic in the big steamed vessel. For this reason, nowadays, the statue does not impress only by the construction itself, but mostly by the emotion it produces in the hearts of ordinary people. Until 1924, but even during the Second World War and in the years that followed, the image of the Statue was the most important and happiest moment in the life of millions of immigrants. Regarded as a symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty was also a living proof that the nightmare crossing of the Atlantic was finished with a happy – end and immigrants arrived safely on the other side of the Ocean.
Immigrants were not the only ones who were glad to see the Statue, but also millions of tourist who started to arrive in New York with the passenger vessels and continue to arrive today. After a 8-10 day passage (sometimes longer) at sea, you become incredibly happy at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, especially if the Ocean was not so friendly during your crossing. Under these circumstances, the Statue of Liberty stands for that dream, that goal you tend to achieve, which helps you face the sleepless nights and heavy seas during the voyage.
Nowadays, the Statue of Liberty attracts millions of tourists every year, bringing huge profits to the National Monuments USA and becoming one of the most visited landmarks throughout the country.
Because we were tourists – but only on the run – and my plan included some more tourist attractions to be discovered before heading back to the port, we had only a half an hour walk on the island, admiring the Statue from different positions, without entering the Pedestal Museum. We would have needed an advance reservation pass to visit the exhibition and go to the Observation Level inside the Statue and we were not so lucky to achieve something like this. If we had wanted to climb into the Crown, we would have had to book more than one month in advance. We didn’t have this privilege either, but we were very happy for what we had accomplished so far.
We boarded the third ferry and started our voyage towards New York, for the last part of our visit.

Manhattan - view from the ferry approaching Baterry Park
We arrived in Battery Park in less than 15 minutes with two more important objectives to touch before taking the train back to New Jersey.
From Battery Park we found ourselves on Broadway and after only 2 minutes we arrived in Ground Zero – the area where once stood the Twin Towers. We saw the new Freedom Tower and continued our trip towards the Times Square. We found the area as crowded and colorful as it was six years ago when we arrived here.

Manhattan BroadwayBroadway

Manhattan Times SquareTimes Square

Times Square ManhattanTimes Square

Our first goal was Rockefeller Centre because I really wanted to climb up in a tower to have a panoramic view over the city. The most popular place to have a bird eye view over Manhattan is Empire State Building, but we decided to try something new and we chose Roof Top Observation Deck – located in the Rockefeller Centre.

Manhattan - Rockefeller Center Observation Deck

The subway helped us save some time and we arrived there very fast, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t buy a ticket to go up on the Roof because the next available group for us was at 7 o’clock p.m. – later than we could have afforded to stay in the city. To climb up on The Roof Top, visitors must buy a ticket (29$) and come back for the visit at the scheduled time. No one has to stay in line there (in front or inside the building) because the purchased ticket entitles you to have some kind of reservation for a specified time and no time is lost for queuing.

We had to give up our intention to see the city from a high level area and we resumed our walk around Rockefeller Centre, admiring the golden Statue of Prometheus and some other smaller statues and works of art which were decorating the buildings that make up the business center.

Manhattan - Rockefeller Center the golden statue of Prometeus

Manhattan - Rockefeller Center
We continued our trip towards the last important landmark from my list – Brooklyn Bridge. The subway saved us again and took us to the City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge Station in ~ 20 minutes.

Manhattan Brooklyn Bridge
Inaugurated in 1883, Brooklyn Bridge spans over East River and connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. Together with the Statue of Liberty, it represents one of the images which are most copied and multiplied in calendars, posters and postcards – especially in the warm colors of a night sky. It has a pedestrian area – located somehow above the very crowded traffic lanes -and it is divided into two sections – the right side for walking and the left side for biking. A walk across the bridge can offer you a very nice view over East River – towards Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge, the second bridge that connects the two neighborhoods of New York.
When we arrived there it was 6 p.m. and many people were crossing it towards Brooklyn. Most of them were tourists and were walking on the right side of the wooden platform, but there were also many bikers, speeding pretty fast on the left side and using continuously the horns to announce their approaching. We walked up to the middle of the bridge, admiring the sky-scrapers in the right side – the Financial District, the Manhattan Bridge in the left and we could even catch a glance of the Empire State Building, amid the roofs of many tall constructions of steel and glass.

Financial District - view from Brooklyn BridgeFinancial District, view from Brooklyn Bridge –

Empire State Building - view from Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan Bridge - view from Brooklyn BridgeManhattan Bridge, view from Brooklyn Bridge –

Our visit in Manhattan ended around 7 o’clock, in the train that took us to Penn Station in New Jersey, crossing under Hudson River. From New Jersey, a taxi took us to the port in ~ 25 minutes, putting an end to a very exhausting, but amazing 8 hour ‘holiday'( the taxi fee was 25$).
We know we still have a lot more to see before we can say that we really visited New York City, but, after 15 hours of running around, we are very much pleased and happy with the result.
If by some chance we might arrive in the area again, we’ll be more than happy and ready to re-make our trip inside the city, to witness new discoveries or to meet old friends and we won’t mind waiting six more years for this moment.
ve the chance to step onto American soil and take the chance to visit a little the surroundings.
For me, visiting New York was a real adventure and it will continue to challenge me every time I will arrive in this area. So far, after two visits, I can put piece by piece together and accumulate a total of 15 hours of actual visiting the city, without considering the time needed for transportation inside and outside the port. The 15 hours did not belong to the same day, not even to the same year, because two different vessels carried me to New York – one in 2008 and the other this year.

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