Travel Journal: Staten Island, Ground Zero and the Brooklyn Bridge

My first day in New York was excellent, I got a feel for the city and really felt at home. My first night in my hostel was quite another matter but day two is packed as I enjoyed the Staten Island Ferry, explored Lower Manhattan but struggled with the 9/11 Memorial and take a trip over the Brooklyn Bridge.

After a long first day in New York I was eager to get settled into my hostel and, after earlier issues with my accommodation, I was happy to have the matter resolved and ended up having a fairly early night.

Unfortunatley, the dorm room issue wasn’t entirely solved and at around 2am I was delightfully woken by a punch in the face followed by an angry guy claiming I was in his bed. In this particular hostel the dorms have assigned bed and this guy had, up until that night, been in my assigned bunk (don’t worry sheets were changed before I got the bed – I witnessed that). The hostel staff did sort out the issue again but it wasn’t exactly a good sleep after that.

The hostel somewhat made up for this with a free breakfast which included muffins, fruit and bagels so that’s my lunch sorted for the week. Making sure a bad start doesn’t ruin my day I was up and out early and off for my first view of that famous New York statue.

View of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry
View of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry

I took advantage of the free Staten Island Ferry which, from what I can tell, is only used by tourists most of the time. The views from the ferry are fantastic both of Manhattan and of course the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty from The Staten Island Ferry
The Statue of Liberty from The Staten Island Ferry

As a typical tourist I was just looking for the free boat trip and the views but unlike the rest of the passengers I did not instantly hop back on the boat once it docked on the Staten Island side and instead took a little wander near by.

I didn’t spend a lot of time here but one thing that is worth visiting and isn’t far from the ferry port is the Staten Island Memorial to 9/11. Though New York is full of bright lights and buzz it is also the sight of great tragedy. The events of 9/11 changed the world and a visit to this city really should recognise that too.

The Staten Island 9/11 Memorial is a beautiful spot. The sculpture know as Postcards holds the names of 274 Staten Island residents who lost their lives in the World Trade Centre, many of them firefighters and police officers who were part of the rescue operation. The names feature on two winged walls which focus on the spot where the two towers once stood. This site really is a fitting tribute in my eyes. It is simple with an iconic viewpoint and a very peaceful spot. On my return to Manhattan I also visited Ground Zero so it is interesting to see the comparisons of the smaller and much larger scale tributes.

After another lovely ferry ride back to Manhattan I weave my way through downtown Manhattan to find Wall Street. Unfortunately the buildings are, like many of the places I’ve visited on this trip, under renovation works so there isn’t much to see. My next stop is Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial. I am quite hesitant at going to this spot and am quite conflicted by the museums and admission charge memorials and therefore will not be visiting these.

The first thing that is very obvious on site is “Freedom Tower” or, as it is officially known, One World Trade Center. Visible from all over the city and actually the second-tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere, bested only by the CN tower in Toronto, you have to admire the attitude of the people of New York, “We will not live in fear, we will rebuild and it will be bigger and better than before”. The new tower defines a new skyline in New York. A defiant symbol of resilience.

Freedom Tower in New York
Freedom Tower

In the shadow of this impressive building, and located in the footprint of the previous World Trade Center towers, is the 9/11 Memorial.  Described as “a tribute to the past and a place of hope for the future.” this area was one I felt I had to visit while here in New York. However, I quickly discovered the stark contrast between the Staten Island site, which was peaceful and quiet to the chaos of crowds surrounding the 9/11 Memorial grounds.

The 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan
9/11 Memorial

For many this spot will be a difficult place to visit. Most people will know exactly where they were when the towers fell. The events of 9/11 changed the world and the tragedy of that day is truly haunting. I approached this place hesitantly, viewing this place where so many lost their lives as almost a sacred area but was utterly horrified by others actions here. My experience of tourists left me completely heartbroken as I watched teenagers take selfies and do peace signs in front of the memorial, entire families pull giant smiles and shout “cheese” and couples egging each other to do another silly face at this place of remembrance. I have a very strong sense of respect, some areas should be treated respectfully and here, at the site where so many lost their lives, this should be such a place. I found my time at the 9/11 Memorial an emotional one. Both immense sadness as you pass name after name of those that perished in this spot and of anger at the disrespect so many people visiting here as “just another tourist attraction of New York”.

A single rose on one of the 9/11 memorials
A single rose on one of the 9/11 memorials

After my experience at the 9/11 Memorial I felt I needed a quick change of scenery and a good walk to try and clear my head so walking over to Brooklyn really fitted the bill.

Heading back toward the river I take this opportunity to walk the Brooklyn Bridge which by this point in the day is very busy. Something, I had never really thought about was how the bridge was sectioned off. Pedestrians actually have a walkway which is above the traffic so as nice as the views are and the walk is, it’s an odd sensation having roaring traffic just under your feet.

I end up spending the rest of my afternoon exploring bits of Brooklyn which has really beautiful little suburbs and a some nice places to stop for a coffee. It was definitely a very mixed day but there’s still plenty more to experience here in New York and my time is quickly running out.