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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014

Location: New York City, USA

MapAh, New York City, it’s good to be back. I’ve now visited you three times, the first was 34 years ago, BC in my life (Before Children), and you scared the living daylights out of me. I was too young and too inexperienced with overseas travel, and you were the first international city I’d ever visited. You were loud, dirty, crowded, and frightening, but brimming with sights to see and things to do. Years later you beckoned my whole family in the year 2000, when my kids were young teenagers, and we saw you through their eyes – loud, dirty, crowded and frightening, but they learned a lot about life and the history of the world and the United States. Exactly a year after that visit, you came under attack and suffered unimaginable disaster.

So I have now come back for a third time. Maybe I’m a little older and wiser than my previous visits, because I can see beyond the noise, the garbage in the streets, the crowds and the fear to see a vibrant and exciting city.

Our hotel was on 79th Street on the Upper West Side, two blocks from Central Park, and a short walk on our first afternoon took us past so many familiar places. There was the Beacon Theatre, where many of my favourite artists have played, and the Dakota building where John Lennon lost his life, and Strawberry Fields just over road, the small section of Central Park that Yoko set aside as a Garden of Peace in her husband’s honour. There was Broadway, the Lincoln Arts Centre, and Columbus Circle, diners and the subway. We arrived on July 4th, American Independence Day, but celebrations were subdued, almost as if people were enjoying a day off at home, enjoying a hot summer’s day. Three million people gathered by the river to watch fireworks that night, but we watched them on TV.

Venturing downtown there’s the Empire State Building, where I was very happy get my sister to the 86th floor observatory, as she is afraid of heights. A hop-on, hop-off bus tour took us through Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. A ferry took us out to the Statue of Liberty, giving us not only gave us a close-up encounter with the Grand Old Lady of New York Harbour, but also the classic view of the Lower Manhattan skyline. There was something wrong with the view, however, something drastically different to our previous visits. That anomaly came next in our touring itinerary.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum can hardly be called a tourist attraction in the strictest sense, and it was not something we were particularly looking forward to seeing. It felt like an obligation. No matter how well we know the story of what happened, after seeing countless news reports and documentaries, we were not prepared for the solemn symbolism and the confronting exhibits. The footprints of both of the Twin Towers now contain the three thousand names of the people who died, and fountains cascade water into the holes left by the demolished buildings. Dayna mentioned that the water could represent the millions of tears that have been shed since that fateful morning. Beneath this area lies the ruined foundations of the former World Trade Centre, transformed into large underground spaces containing images, artefacts and explanations. It was silent, intense, bewildering, but I sensed that it was New York’s way of dealing with the aftermath of an horrendous episode in its already colourful history. We came away feeling achingly sad for the families of the victims, but reassured that the city has bounced back with gusto. Directly nextdoor stood a brand new skyscraper, the Freedom Tower, that soars over everything else in New York City.

New York people are friendly, fun and helpful. A guy sitting on a park bench randomly struck up a conversation with me, and was fascinated to know where I was from. As we said our friendly goodbyes and I was walking off, he called out to me, “… and the dingo did it.”