Day Eight: Monday March 14th:
Monday was a morning of revitalisation and reenergising. This was a day I had been looking forward to since I left New York last year, for One World Observatory was still a couple of months away from being opened when I visited in March 2015 and being something of a skyscraper enthusiast, and having visited both Top of the Rock and Empire State Building first time around, I was determined to see it. I admired the majesty of the World Trade Center from afar and I HAD to see the city from its windows.
So when my eyes flickered to life on Monday morning, the beginning of my second week in NYC, and I heard an unfamiliar sound (at least unfamiliar to this trip) lashing against the window of the 26th floor of the Club Quarters my soul filled with dread. I wearily turned on the television as I prepared to shower and the news was confirmed: rain. And lots of it. New York City was a washout. There had been nary a cloud in the sky up until now (and the rest of the week would be good too after a cold start on Tuesday) and yet here they were, congregated en masse around the skyline on the very day I would be soaring to its highest summit. I briefly tried reorganising my itinerary in my mind, being that I hadn’t actually reserved OWO in case of this very scenario, but I only had another two days in New York and they were both locked down pretty tight. Plus I was down at the Tribute Center and Museum today anyway; I was going to have to grin and bear it.
I waded down Lexington to E42nd to Pershing Square, where I would enjoy a substantial sit-down breakfast. The service was smooth and attentive and I wasn’t seated too long before my order of the New Yorker was in front of me and being devoured. The New Yorker consisted of fresh orange juice, tea or coffee, toast, eggs cooked to your taste (I went for poached), bacon and hash browns. Very filling for $20. I had regretted not visiting this place sooner, considering that it was virtually on my hotel doorstep.
It was around 11.20am by the time I’d made it to the World Trade Center and navigated my way around the various construction sites. There is a LOT going on down here and the area feels so much bigger than it was even a year ago. At One World I could walk unhindered to the ticket booth – though I’d imagine that was as much due to the weather as anything else – where I was warned before I purchased my ticket that visibility would only be ten miles (I believe on a *perfect* day it is up to fifty miles?). I begrudgingly accepted this and made my way through security and to the foundation level, onto the elevators. I’d read about the video presentation on the walls of the elevator and it is indeed impressive. It put into pictures the history I had learned about the growth of Lower Manhattan from the various tours last week. And, of course, that brief moment where the Twin Towers are visible is quite haunting.
The presentation at the top is slick and professional and the slow reveal of the Manhattan skyline is impressive, even on a day like this. You are then taken down another couple of levels to the observation floor (why tease you with a view from a higher level??) where you are free to explore the city from above. I got some great photographs of the bridges and the Woolworth Building in particular (which I was especially pleased about considering the green top is largely obscured from the ground by scaffolding) but sadly much of Midtown was cloaked in clouds, and what was visible was difficult to photograph through the rain kissed glass. As disappointing as that was I knew what I was getting into before I bought my ticket and I was still thrilled to be up there.
Having done all three observation decks in New York City over two trips I feel I’m placed to rank them against one another:
Top of the Rock was by far the best experience. Both in terms of service and, more importantly, view. Going up there half an hour or so before sunset is the best advice you’re going to get going to New York. The view is unforgettable. If you can do only one observatory in NYC, make it Top of the Rock.
I’d rank One World Observatory next, but I’m cheating a little there by imagining what the view must be like on a clear day. The video presentation is very impressive and I loved the tantalising reveal of the city.
Empire State Building, like the crown of the Statue of Liberty, would be a “bucket list” box ticker. It’s the most famous of the skyscrapers and I can completely understand why people want to visit it. The view is excellent too, but it doesn’t have Central Park (unlike TOTR) and it doesn’t have, of course, the ESB (like the others do). And the glass really hinders the photo-taking opportunities (as it does with OWO). The lines were worst here, too.
After exiting the World Trade Center I had 40 minutes for a quick lunch before the next scheduled item on my itinerary, so I made my way across to Brookfield Place and the plethora of lunchtime options on offer at Hudson Eats. This place was crazy busy and there was a lot to choose from, but I eventually ate a very tasty shrimp noodle from [whichever place was selling the noodle boxes]
The 9/11 Tribute Center is a very different experience from the 9/11 Museum which I visited last year. The artefacts on display and the stories being told are of a much more personal nature. The first exhibit demonstrating how much of a community there was inside the World Trade Center was very moving and humanising. Their survivors tour, which was altered somewhat to account for the conditions outdoors, offered an entirely new perspective on that fateful morning. It was surreal to be standing by the memorial pools having the route of the planes pointed out and hearing the words “you are now standing in what was the lobby of the Marriott Hotel”. The emotion is still very palpable and the tour was very respectfully and beautifully done.
I had probably gone overboard by following that up with the guided tour of the 9/11 Museum, but despite spending four hours in there last time I felt there was still a lot more to see. To be entirely honest, I don’t believe that the 60 minute tour offers any more perspective than the free audio guide app which is downloadable from the official website. And it certainly pales in comparison to the personal stories of the Tribute Center tour. The guide takes you around the main points of interest in the museum and then leaves you to explore the two larger presentations at your leisure. After around an hour or so of this I was feeling thoroughly fatigued and emotional. I had definitely under-estimated how much there would be to take on board doing these two tours so close together.
Upon leaving the World Trade Center site I had no firm plans for the remainder of my evening. I decided to take a walk in the relentless drizzle and, much akin to tossing a coin, I would take the first subway train I encountered to the nearest bar I was familiar with. Holding Rebecca (the Rattle N Hum barmaid)’s list in my satchel this turned out to be the R train from Cortlandt St to 23rd St for Taproom No. 307 on 3rd Ave. This was a great recommendation, with over 40 beers on tap and a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The wings were also pretty decent, although the carrot sticks weren’t particularly crunchy.
Following a good sampling of the drafts on offer at Taproom I left with no real idea of where to go next. It was on my mind to return to Grand Central and walk out to Hell’s Kitchen for one or two of my favourite bars out there, but the rain was getting on the heavy side again, matching the weight of my emotions after an afternoon spent contemplating 9/11. So I decided to get a relatively early night and save my energy for tomorrow.
Best tip today: Don’t under-estimate the emotional turmoil a visit to any of the 9/11 sites might leave you with. I didn’t feel it so bad last year, but it was definitely too much doing both of the guided tours. On that note, if you are minded to do one of the 9/11 tours – and it is worthwhile – then I’d highly recommend those offered by the Tribute Center. These personal reflections deserve to be heard and their memories ought to be kept alive.