Back through Time in the Big Apple

I sat in the front of the ferry, my back perfectly straight as I stared ahead with my camera poised. There, across the water, was Ellis and Liberty Island, on which the Statue of Liberty stood tall and strong, posing for dozens of pictures. As we puttered towards the island, my brain spiraled back in time as I imagined how the immigrants felt to see the Statue rising in front of them, marking their arrival in the New World after the long journey across the Atlantic.

Maybe they were encouraged by this symbol of freedom. Maybe they were excited for the chances of opportunity, of starting a new life. Or, more realistically, they were relieved to be done with the crossing and couldn’t wait to get off the ship.

I, at least, couldn’t wait to get off the ferry. The moment it docked and it was safe to get off, I ran down the steps and, after waiting for the crowds to thin out, walked the plank onto, fortunately, land.

We walked along the island, given an amazing view of the bay around it and the Statue of Liberty, with its green weather-stained copper gleaming in the sunlight, looming above us. I was impressed, since I had not expected it to be as tall as it was in real life than in pictures.

We walked to the gift-shop/entrance building where we stored our backpacks in lockers. Then, after climbing up a few steps, we entered the first hall.

In the middle of the room was a huge torch, old-looking but still magnificent. It was the original torch of the pre-restored Statue of Liberty, one that had to be replaced to prevent it from falling off. I have to say, you couldn’t tell the difference.

We climbed up a staircase into the museum, whose exhibits showed the history of the Statue of Liberty.

It was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built to last by Gustave Eiffel’s signature iron truss skeleton. Richard Morris Hunt was hired by the New York committee to design the pedestal. I found it very special that the French made the statue and the Americans made the pedestal, truly giving the Statue of Liberty the bond between the two nations. As Bartholdi himself said,

“The dream of my life is accomplished; I see the symbol of unity and friendship between two nations – two great Republics.”

After the museum, we took an elevator up to the top of the pedestal, where a full view of the New York City skyline was visible, together with the New Jersey shore in the distance, and the Brooklyn bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the U.S. The wind from the height was quite fierce, stinging me with bitter cold, so after circling the pedestal, we went back inside.

It was time for the moment I had been waiting for: the climb up the inside of the Statue to the Crown’s lookout. But as I soon discovered, the climb wasn’t so nice. The steps were steep, perhaps a foot tall, and very narrow. I had to grip the railing for dear life and remind myself not to look down, though of course I took a peek or two.

When we finally made it to the top, my legs burned, but I was rewarded with the warm welcome of the park rangers, the amazing interior of Lady Liberty’s head, and the beautiful view from her crown.

Inside the crown, lining the ceiling were strands of…hair! I was surprised at how detailed it was! As I gazed down, I could see the words on her tablet: July 4, 1776, written in Roman numerals.

I sat there for a moment, enjoying the feeling of actually being in the head of Lady Liberty, before it was time to make way for other visitors.

The descent was even more precarious than the ascent, and I wasn’t sure if I could even hold on to the slippery railing, take a step, watch where I was going, and not fall onto the nice French people in front of me, all at the same time. But, after some perseverance and many heart thumpings, I reached the bottom! Warning: climbing and descending the steps of the Statue of Liberty is not for the faint of heart.

We walked down more steps and went outside, where we circled the Statue and took more pictures.

Again, I was amazed at the height, and how I, Elisha, was just all the way up there in the crown!

It was very windy…thus the hair.

We went back to the gift shop and picked up our backpacks, then, after searching the whole island for Mama who had gone missing, we boarded the ferry, and puttered back to the docks.

At this point, I. Was. Starving. I had eaten breakfast about six hours ago, and I was more than ready for a late lunch.

We wandered the streets of New York City (yes, that’s an exaggeration), looking for a good place to eat, my poor stomach squeaking for just a crumb, when…Eureka! I found it! A pizza shop, with original, NYC…pizza!

Mhmm, it was delicious. Not any different from all the other pizzas I have consumed, but still wonderfully filling.

Thus energized, we headed on towards our next stop, the 9-11 memorial. But along the way, we encountered a pleasant surprise: Trinity Church.

Behind the tall, stone walls was a large cemetery that was actually quite nice. It was more like a garden with grave-stones, a tranquil place splat in the middle of the city. Birds tweeting, sun warming, trees shading, and a sweet aroma from the flowers surrounded me, and as if I was a monk in the elder days, I closed my eyes, breathing everything i-

“Elisha! Do you want to go inside?”

Slowly, I opened my eyes, just in time to see Micah disappear inside the church. I sighed, my moment of peace gone.

I followed my little brother inside, and gazed at the beautiful arches and mosaics in the back. But I couldn’t stay longer, since it was, after all, a church and a place of worship, and we needed to get going.

After maybe ten minutes, we arrived at the no-cars intersection in front of the memorial, the new One World Trade Center rising up in front of me, sparkling in defiance to the havoc caused by the terrorist attack.

We crossed the street and entered the park, but as Papa reminded Micah and I, it was no ordinary park where couples walked and children played. This was a place of solemn remembrance, of reflection.

I stood at the edge of the North Pool, gazing at the streams of water as they cascaded down the smooth walls, dripping into the seemingly endless hole in the center. Around the pool were the inscriptions of the names of rescuers who had died saving the lives of people affected by the attack.

As I watched, Mama told me, “Each jet of water flowing down symbolizes one life lost.”

I couldn’t believe it. There were many jets, hundreds, and this was only one pool. There was another similar one.

It put things in new perspective for me. I was not born yet when the attacks occurred, but Papa remembered it. He was at a gas station in Santa Clara, California, where he lived at the time. He heard of the news on TV, and like thousands of other Americans, stood there in shock. To think that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, had been hit so hard by such an unpredictable threat!

But in times of trouble, America proves her resilience. We did not back down in fear as the terrorists wanted us to. We Americans united together, stronger than ever. Since the Twin Towers had been knocked down, we built another, stronger tower: the One World Trade Center. And we created this memorial, so that future generations will remember that fateful day but will see how we rose against it.

I left the memorial with a sense of pride. Pride for my country. Yes, America is not perfect. Yes, it makes wrong decisions. But the resilience of the people is what makes us a strong nation. I am proud to be an American.

We took the subway, which was a bit stressful with the crowds and confusing maps, to Central Park.

I had seen it from the top of Rockefeller Center and ‘knew’ how big it was, but only until I started on the trail did I truly realize how immense it was.

I could hardly believe I was in the middle of the huge metropolis, surrounded by all-natural wood skyscrapers, beeping birds, and bounding squirrels. Around every corner were huge boulders and cliffs of bedrocks, all covered in a soft blanket of moss.

With the perfect ledges naturally carved into the rock, I couldn’t resist to climb one of the cliffs, even with a backpack on. I scampered to the top as fast as a squirrel, and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the winding branches of pine and beech.

Micah and Papa followed behind me, and we found with amazement that Mama had already beaten us to the top, courtesy of a hidden staircase that I didn’t notice.

We continued on a (to my disappointment) concrete sidewalk instead of a dirt one, and emerged from the forest onto a boulevard on which many bicycles and pedestrians passed.

I gazed in awe at the white beeches, enthusiastic for the ones promised when we got to Russia. How I love trees!

We cut down a path to the side, and saw a trickling stream. Which must lead to…a gorgeous, shimmering lake!

I was so surprised, since it was the very same one in so many movies, with the city skyline beyond the trees, canoes gracing the water bearing couples, and, not included in the movies, adorable sparrows!

While my family rested, I squatted in the grass and coaxed the little cuties towards me, bribing them with cookie crumbs. Oh, there were so many of them, all eager to get a little nibble!

But my time with them ended all too soon, for Papa gathered us up and started marching us out, if we were not to miss our flight. Which would be…bad. Very bad indeed.

We power-walked out of the park and hurried to the subway, which we took back to our hotel. We picked up our carry-on luggage and rolled them all the way to another subway. This doesn’t sound very difficult, but that is a lot of walking, especially after already walking all day.

…And riding the subway all the way to the airport. By riding, I mean standing. Oh, my feet throbbed and stabbed, and they did not feel any better when we had to walk through the airport and ride the air train to the terminal. (By ride, I mean…yeah, you get the picture.)

We went to the storage place, and I gained Miss Bulky yet again. For some reason, this time was harder to manage her.

I struggled with my two suitcases and my backpack, hoping my water bottle and umbrella wouldn’t fall out. We made it to the Aeroflot Airline line, which happened to be very long, to my feet’s despair. Yep, no sitting on your suitcase.

Eventually, after entertaining myself with listening to a Russian lady talk to Papa in a lovely Russian accent, we arrived at…another long line! Yay! I tried playing chess on my tablet to take my focus away from my feet while moving my baggage ahead in the line. At some point, we stumbled to the counter, and checked our luggage.

Then, we rolled our carry-ons to…another long line! Go security! This time, I swigged down the water in my bottle, and went through the arduous practice of taking my computer out of my carry-on and into my backpack.

By the time we finished security, I was starving and exhausted. Mama offered me an apple, which I devoured while we stood in … yet another long line! Two of them, lining the terminal on both sides. One going to Russia, the other going to Turkey.

I was about to pass out by the time we boarded the airplane, but since my stomach was filled with just a single apple, I had to stay awake for dinner.

Some time later, we took off. I saw the New York City skyline against the orange of sunset, and gave a slight wave. (Call me crazy, I don’t mind!) My last glimpse of the Empire State, my last gaze of my homeland: USA.

Farewell thee, America! I will miss you, until my feet land on your shores once more in a few months. Farewell!

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