I recently returned from the most wonderful trip. I summed it up on Instagram as follows: seven cities + six hotels + five states + four flights + three suitcases + two countries = one amazing trip! But it was so much more than that. Our whirlwind two weeks travelling from New York to Toronto to Boston and beyond took in some amazing sights – some expected, others less so. As you can imagine, I have loads of Wednesday Wanders to write. However, I thought I’d start at the beginning…
We arrived in New York to a sunny sixteen-degree day, warm enough to make the interminable queuing at JFK Customs an even less pleasant experience, heat radiating through the long glass windows. It was a pleasure to finally reach our midtown hotel and kick off boots and jumpers, putting long coats aside as we went out for a walk, eyes wide despite the jetlag kicking in.
However, we woke to quite a different city. Overnight the temperature had plunged to minus two degrees, thick snow falling. But we weren’t going to let the weather stop us – we had somewhere we needed to be. I’d purposely booked a Statue of Liberty tour for our first morning, both to get us all out of bed and to make the most of the short time we had in New York. It was high on our list as somewhere we wanted to see, so we were all excited.
We wrapped up warm and, after getting directions from the hotel staff, headed for the subway. That in itself was kind of exciting – the New York subway system is famous, so it was kind of cool that we were riding it. (and yes, I can appreciate that, if you have to do it regularly, it’s not quite the same thrill). We emerged at Battery Park to a winter wonderland, snow still falling.
Battery Park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, is named for the artillery batteries that have lined the shore since the eighteenth century. Four of the five original battery buildings still remain, including one in the park itself, and we were to meet our guide there. She was a wonderfully warm Puerto Rican lady, who immediately made our small group feel at ease before herding us all onto the ferry which would take us out to the statue.
We were still starry-eyed about being in New York, and, despite the weather, stayed outside to watch one of the most famous skylines in the world as we pulled away from the dock. I can’t think of another city (Paris, maybe?) that has so permeated human consciousness, featuring in books and films and music, on television and across popular culture; there is something quite magical about being there and seeing it for yourself.
As we neared the Statue of Liberty, we crossed the state line from New York into New Jersey. The statue loomed closer, holding her torch high, her oxidised copper robes green against the pale sky. The statue is so familiar as a symbol of liberty and freedom, that once again it’s quite something to see it in person. Gifted to the US by the French as a monument to US independence, the statue was dedicated in 1886, after years of fundraising by both countries to bring her to what was then called Bedloe’s Island. Made of copper and supported by an iron frame, the statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi, and constructed by Gustave Eiffel. The figure of Liberty represents Libertas, a Roman goddess, with a broken chain at her feet. She holds the torch above her head with her right hand, and in her left hand she holds a tabula ansata inscribed with Roman numerals, JULY IV MDCCLXXVI, the date of the US Declaration of Independence.
When the statue was first constructed she gleamed, her copper bright. However, it only took a few years for it to oxidise to the familiar green we know today. The cost to restore the copper finish would be astronomical and, due to the statue’s exposed position, would only last a few years, so it has been left as is. Over the years the elements have played havoc with the fabric of the statue and, in 1984, it was closed to visitors for major repair and restoration works, opening again in 1986. The original torch was also replaced, due to corrosion, and is now displayed inside the museum entrance, giving visitors an idea of the extraordinary scale of the statue. The new torch, rather than containing a light, has been gilded with 24 carat gold and is lit by floodlights at night.
The Statue of Liberty museum, housed beneath the statue pedestal, is interesting and well-presented. It houses exhibits including a lifesize replica of the statue’s face and foot, shaped metal pieces from the original Eiffel frame, and a plaque commemorating Emma Lazarus’s famous sonnet, The New Colossus, which contains the oft-quoted line ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free .‘
The pedestal itself was closed to visitors after the September 11 attacks, and only re-opened in 2004. It was once possible to ascend to the crown but, since 2001, this access has also been limited or closed off, due to safety concerns. On the day we visited the pedestal had been closed early on, due to the weather, but it re-opened in time for us to go inside. There are a LOT of stairs and catching the single lift, as you can imagine, involves a bit of waiting. However, it’s worth it to take in the fantastic 360-degree views. You can also view the statue interior through the glass ceiling, which was fascinating and kind of terrifying. To be honest, even if it was still possible to go up in the crown, I don’t think I could have done it!
I realise I’ve only scratched the surface of the history of this fascinating place, rightly designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1984. However, this is a blog, not a novel, and so I’ll end this Wednesday Wander here. Next stop, Ellis Island…
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