New York City, USA
In July 2009, I spent a week in the Big Apple, New York City. Arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport about six hours late due to a delayed flight via Melbourne and Los Angeles, it was sunset by the time I was heading from the airport through Brooklyn to Manhattan, where the Empire State Building dominates the skyline (picture 1).
After a few hours sleep in the hotel I headed over to Times Square, which was only a couple of blocks from the hotel, in search of food. Even at 2AM, Times Square was busy with people and a seemingly endless vista of neon signs and big screens covering almost every available surface (picture 2). The next morning things didn't look very different (picture 3).
Further south, in what the locals call the Lower West Side, I visited the Chelsea Brewery, a large microbrewery in the Chelsea Pier complex on the bank of the Hudson River (picture 4). Their signature Chequer Cab Blonde Ale (named after New York's chequered yellow taxis) was rather good, but the standout was their unusual Raspberry Ale.
One of the highlights of the trip was a helicopter ride to see New York from above. Taking off from the West 30th St Heliport (picture 5), the ten-minute flight headed south along the Hudson River and over New York Harbour to pass by Ellis Island (picture 6), where many immigrants to the USA first disembarked after long sea voyages.
Just beyond Ellis Island is Liberty Island and the famous Statue of Liberty (picture 7). When the chopper turned back towards Manhattan there were good views along the Hudson and the Manhattan skyline (picture 8).
Off to the east of the Harbour there were good views over the borough of Brooklyn (picture 9) which lies to the east of the island of Manhattan. On the way back to the heliport, the flight passed just west of Lower Manhattan (picture 10), with Battery Park at the southern tip and the East River snaking away on the opposite side of the island. A few blocks further north the huge scar left by the terrible events of September 11 2001 was still very visible (picture 11).
Between Lower Manhattan and Midtown, the buildings are comparatively smaller, and mostly residential, before the heights increase once again, with the Empire State Building towering over everything else (picture 12) as it has done for the last 80 years.
Back on solid ground, I headed off to the Empire State Building for some more views from high above Manhattan. The 4th of July was probably not the best day to visit the Empire State Building, as the queues to get up to the viewing platforms on 86th and 102nd floors were more than two hours long. (Despite having visited England a number of times, I have yet to master the great British pasttime of queueing, and neither had most of the other visitors in the queue.)
The wait was worth it though, as the views from the small, enclosed gallery on the 102nd floor, around 400 metres above street level, were spectacular. To the north, one could see over Central Park and the borough of Harlem (picture 13). Just to the west was Madison Square Garden, while further west were the Hudson River and the state of New Jersey beyond (picture 14). Looking south, the view is over the largely residential area below midtown and then the tower blocks of Lower Manhattan and beyond them to the harbour (picture 15). Finally, to the west the view stretches beyond the East River to the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn and out to the Atlantic, while nearby stands the unusual rounded spire of the Chrysler Building (picture 16).
One afternoon, I headed north up the Avenue of the Americas towards Central Park. The Avenue of the Americas is flanked by many tall office blocks (picture 17) containing corporate headquarters of some of the world's largest companies. For some reason it also seems to be the favourite haunt of dozens of mobile hotdog vendors.
Central Park itself is a huge green area to the north of Midtown, separating Manhattan from Harlem. The park includes areas of woods and lakes (picture 18), and some open grassy slopes where many New Yorkers were enjoying the sun. There are many apartment buildings along the east and west sides of the park, reminding you that you're still in the middle of a big city (pictures 19 and 20).
Leaving Manhattan for a while, I visited the Brooklyn Brewery, which occupies a century-old former iron works in an industrial area of Brooklyn (picture 21). A pint of their Brooklyn Local 1 made the hair-raising cab ride across the East River worthwhile. Keeping up the beer theme, I also visited the Henry Street Ale House (picture 22), which offers a wide range of American and imported beers.
Walking distance from the Henry Street Ale House, the Brooklyn Bridge crosses over the East River to Lower Manhattan. A wide footbridge runs above the level of the road (picture 23 and 24) and seemed to be quite popular with cyclists.
On the last day of my visit to New York I took a crowded ferry called Miss Liberty from Battery Park to Liberty Island for a closeup look at the Statue of Liberty (picture 25 and 26). The statue was given to the United States by France in 1886 and represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. The statue itself is 46 metres tall and weighs 204 tonnes, while the pedestal adds another 47 metres.
For most of its history, visitors have been allowed to go up inside the statue to see the view from the crown, though the statue is currently closed for its third round of major refurbishment. Originally it was also possible to climb up a narrow ladder to a balcony around the torch (the arm of the statue is only 104 centimetres wide at its narrowest point), but this has been closed to the public since 1916 for safety reasons after the arm was damaged by a large explosion in a munitions depot on the nearby mainland of New Jersey, caused by German saboteurs trying to stop supplies from being shipped to Europe.
From the grassy area in front of the statue there were good views across the harbour to the Manhattan skyline when yours truly wasn't getting in the way (picture 27).
After waiting in a long queue for the ferry, I returned to Manhattan and spent some time wandering around the financial district, including the famous Wall Street -- where a tall cathedral tower is framed by office buildings (picture 28) -- and the perimeter of Ground Zero. There wasn't a lot to see at Ground Zero as the whole area was surrounded by construction hoardings and some kind of security officer was doing his best to discourage tourists from climbing up on the low wall of a garden across the street to see over the barriers.