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Sunday, September 24, 2006

CRUISING AROUND MANHATTAN ISLAND: DAY FOUR, PART ONE

SEPT. 8/06

We were on the go early today, headed for the Port Authority (Pier 83 at the foot of W. 43rd St) a good walk from our hotel. Along the way we noticed a group of police officers from Toronto who had arrived that morning to attend a ceremony at Ground Zero. The city was beginning to fill up with visitors that weekend, most of them there to attend the anniversaary of 9/11. We had considered going to Ground Zero but changed our minds, because of the crowds, and decided it would be best to leave this emotional time for those who had come to mourn or pay their respects.

We had tickets for the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan Island, a pleasant three-hour boat trip which I'd recommend to anyone who's never visited NY before. The view from the water gives you a magnificent perspective of the city skyline, offering views of many different points of interest. That morning, as we slowed down nearing the Statue of LIbery, the guide pointed out the exact location where the World Trade Centre towers had once loomed over the other skyscrapers. Now there is a wide void, a chilling reminder of the tragedy of 9/11.

The little tour boat chugs down the shore of the Upper Bay, past the tall, impressive Statue of Liberty, circling around so you can get a good close-up view of it. The statue was given to the U.S. by the people of France in 1886 to commemorate the alliance of the two countries during the american Revolution. It was the work of of French sculptor Auguste Barthode with the help of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who built the supporting framework. The statue's face is apparantly modeled after the scultpor's mother. She stands 152 feel high, the pedestal is another 150 ft., the uplifted arm holding the liberty torch is 42 ft. and the head is large enough for a couple of people to stand inside. I recall on my first trip to NYC in 1968 that I actually climb up inside the Statue to the observation deck which is the Lady's "crown".

Just a hundred yards north of the Statue is Ellis Island, the portal through which more than 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. between 1892 and 1954. The buildings on the island have been restored in 1990 and now house a museum.

The boat tour, narrated by an amusing and very informative tour guide, cruises up along the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, by the former Brooklyn Navy Yard. The guide points of places of interest such as the wharves where "On the Waterfront" were film, and the berth where the Titanic was supposed to land. Along the East River we passed the splendid glass buildings of the United Nations, headquarters for almost 6,000 men and women from all over the world who carry on the work of the Secretariat of the General Assembly. You can actually get tickets to attend the General Assembly, free of charge.
Next to it is the home of Koffi Annan (one of my heroes) and just below, other notables such as the actress Signoury Weaver has a vine-covered house by the River. Farther along is Gracie Mansion, home of the NYC mayor. Apparantly this mayor who is a billionaire, does not reside there but has opened it for tours, and because of his wealth, has contributed his 'salary' to the City. Past here, the East River merges into the Harlem River, and the boat sails north through Hell Gate to the Hudson River, under the great lattice-work of the George Washington Bridge, by Riverside Park and all the docks of the big shipping companies where the great liners like QE II birth.

The cruise was certainly a highlight of our short stay in NYC and a refreshing way to spend a warm, sunny day away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square and downtown Mahattan.

We bypassed a tour of The Intrepid sea-air museum, the aircraft carriet docked alongside Pier 86. This ship wis a veteran of air and sea battles of the South Pacific during World War II and later Vietnamn and is now converted into a fascinating floating museum of naval history and technology. Instead, we headed uptown for a visit to the famous Guggenheim Museum.

(**See Day Four, Part Two)

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