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After wrestling with mad city traffic and New York's famous potholes for almost an hour I finally called the motel for instructions to find that we had the wrong ones - wrong freeway and wrong exit. Eventually we managed to cross the Bronx to find the right freeway, only to discover that we could see the motel over the other side, with no place to cross. The motel looked like a bit of a dive so we decided to seek elsewhere. We stopped at a nice looking place that we had passed during our search, only to discover that no rooms were rented by the night - all were on an hourly rate - don't think that would have been a place conducive to a good night's sleep!!!
Eventually we decided to drive north-east, toward Connecticut, which has good train connections to the City. We spent the night in a small, old, but well cared for motel in Mamaroneck, which is still in New York state. We would have stayed longer, but it was incredibly noisy, with a lot of coming and going by other guests. When we were researching places to stay, we had found a motel in Stamford, Connecticut, so we drove there on Wednesday morning and checked in. They provide a shuttle bus to the train station and the train into Grand Central Station takes somewhere around an hour - shorter if you catch an express. One of the major problems we faced when trying to work out the logistics of a visit to New York City was finding somewhere to stay that we could easily park the truck. A lot of motels closer in to the city have height limitations on their parking and hotels in Manhattan were completely out of the question because, in lots of cases, they provide no parking at all. Stamford was actually quite convenient, even with such a long train trip.
We spent 3 days visiting the city. One of the main reasons for going there was to visit the MoMA - the Museum of Modern Art. We made it our first stop because we weren't sure how Juergen's foot would hold up. When we arrived there we asked about the possibility of having a wheelchair - they provided one immediately, free of charge, and Juergen happily wheeled himself around the museum for the whole afternoon. I don't think he would have lasted more than an hour without it. The museum really lived up to expectations and I think it is worth all the time we spent - and more!
We took a ferry to Staten Island on Thursday. It is a free service which runs every half hour, and passes the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It also affords a fantastic view of the New York skyline that is only possible from the water. The trip takes an hour there and back, if you are lucky enough to get off one ferry and straight onto a returning one. Unfortunately we were moving a bit too slow for that and had a half hour rest in the waiting room of the Staten Island terminal. This is a great way to see these sights, and unlike everything else in New York, it is definitely not expensive...
After a short wander through Chinatown, we went to the Empire State Building in order to go to the top and see the view. I didn't really expect much from this, but had always wanted to do it, since on my first visit to New York in 1979 it was always shrouded in cloud. At this very touristy sight, Juergen's foot problem worked in our favour. We were taken out of the queues and fast-tracked to the counter to buy tickets and then to the lifts. They even charged him less for the entry because he was 'physically impaired'. It was fairly crowded at the top and a bitterly cold wind was blowing out on the observation deck, but that couldn't disturb our absolute wonder at the view. I had no idea that skyscrapers could be so beautiful. When you walk between them at ground level, it is hard to appreciate the intricacies of design, but from up there the beauty is spread like a smorgasbord for the eyes. It was late in the afternoon, so we decided to stay for the sunset and the lights to come on. Fortunately the gift shop inside had a very good heating system, so we could alternate between being outside getting the best view but freezing, and inside where the large windows still afforded a great view and it was warm. As the lights started to come on in the dusk, it was like seeing a fairyland come alive.
On Friday Juergen decided to give his foot a much needed rest and I went to the city alone. I walked a lot more than in previous days and visited Times Square and the Rockefeller Center, before taking the subway to Central Park. Times Square was every bit as gaudy as I remembered it and the Rockefeller Center also came back in my memory as I stood and watched the skaters on the ice rink. The Sky Mirror is a new addition which is very impressive.
I caught the subway to the W 72nd St entrance to the park. The exit from the subway brought me to street level right across from the Dakota Building where John Lennon lived and died. Directly across Eighth Avenue/Central Park West is Strawberry Fields, the part of Central Park dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. It is a Garden of Peace and a quiet, meditative attitude is encouraged. I found it an emotional experience being there. I'm not old enough to remember where I was when I heard that John F Kennedy was shot, but I can definitely remember where I was when I heard John Lennon was shot.
I walked across Central Park to E 72nd St, and then into the area where the rich and/or famous live in some of the most expensive real estate around. The Park was a great experience for me - in 1979 you would think twice about walking through it, even in the day time. (New York has reclaimed its city and parks over the years and is now one of the safest large cities in the USA.) This was a reflection of the whole New York experience for me. Even the weather was nicer - in January 1979, it was overcast, wintry and sometimes raining - this time we had clear, sunny days although the wind was "fff---freezing" (as described by Meatloaf when he performed outdoors on Friday morning for one of the morning TV shows!). In 1979 it was also my first overseas travelling experience, which made me more hesitant in exploring, but I always wanted to go back. Somehow the whole New York experience this time was more pleasant, because I felt safe and secure enough to go anywhere I felt like, and I'm glad we included it. I can really understand why people love it so - although I'm not one of those who would love to live there!