The origins of New York can be traced to the arrival of Algonquian-speaking natives in 10,000 BC, when Manhattan was a forested land.  It was first discovered by the French in 1524 followed by the Dutch in 1609.  As part of the New Netherland it gained importance in the fur and agriculture trade.  The Dutch [...]


Getting a feel of the ‘City that never sleeps’


The Empire State building at night

The origins of New York can be traced to the arrival of Algonquian-speaking natives in 10,000 BC, when Manhattan was a forested land.  It was first discovered by the French in 1524 followed by the Dutch in 1609.  As part of the New Netherland it gained importance in the fur and agriculture trade.  The Dutch obtained Manhattan from the Native Indians in 1626.  The English renamed the colony “New York” in 1664 after the Duke of York (after the Dutch let it fall to the British).  New York gained prominence in the 18th century as a trading post for the original thirteen colonies.  Under British rule the city prospered and the population grew rapidly.

The city played a pivotal role during the American Revolution where the sons of Liberty were actively challenging British authority.  After a battle with the Continental Army by the British troops, the city was secured.  New York served as the national capital for a short while between 1785 and 1790 and the Bill of Rights was drafted here.

In the 19th century the city became the gateway to the wave of immigrants from Ireland and then Europe and it was here that I began my visit; firstly to the Statue of Liberty and then to Ellis Island.

A visit to Ellis Island (Enlightening the World) on Liberty Island, in New York harbour, was a moving experience. We sailed past the famous Brooklyn Bridge and saw the skyline of the city with its skyscrapers.  The large Statue of Liberty sculptured by Bartholdi was a gift from the people of France and is imposing as a symbol of freedom and democracy.  It was designated as a national monument in 1924 and the height of the statue from the base to the top is 350 ft.

Ellis Island (sometimes known as the Island of Tears) is now a museum with a history for migrants who camped for weeks in order to pass medical tests to gain entry into the new world.  Twelve million immigrants entered the complex of 27.5 acres from 1892 to 1954.  A chalk mark on their clothes was an indication of acceptance.  Bob Hope, the comedian and film star is one of the famed migrants who arrived at the centre from the UK.

I walked from Battery Park formerly where the artillery batteries were positioned to protect the city towards Wall Street; the Financial District, which obtained its name from the wall that, was built by the early settlers as a barrier against the Native Americans and other enemies.  A huge 7,000 lb. bronze charging bull on the pavement is a symbolic depiction  of the aggressive financial optimism and prosperity and is the unofficial mascot of the district.

The Federal Hall built in 1700 served as the city hall. It was here that George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States in 1789 and where the Bill of Rights was passed.  A statue of Washington is mounted in front of the edifice.  The building was demolished but the present renovated US Customs House serves as a landmark.  The New York Stock Exchange is across the street and traders buy licences to operate each year.

I paused by the Episcopal Trinity Church.  Ghiberti’s Doors of Paradise at the Baptistery in Florence inspired the ornate brass doors at the entrance. I was excited to discover Alexander Hamilton’s grave.  He was the First Secretary of the Treasury and was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, a Vice President.  A play about his life is currently running on Broadway.

Ground Zero is a moving memorial for all those who died tragically on September 11, 2011.  Photos do not capture the size and serenity of the site.

To get a feel of the “City that never sleeps” walking is best. I breakfasted at the Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue where the portions of food are enormous. The Carnegie Deli, which is a third generation chain of delis, has on its walls the rich and famous that have dined there. This deli has since closed. On the opposite side of the street is Carnegie Hall.

Fifth Avenue with its famous department stores, boutiques, the Rockefeller Centre, the Apple store and Tiffany’s was an experience. The window displays were eye catching.

Trump Tower on the same street with its gilt lettering at the entrance and brassy colours is glitzy   with an 80 ft. waterfall within the building, a restaurant, Ivanka Trump’s jewellery store and a small cabinet containing the owner’s election memorabilia.

The Rockefellers obtained their site for the centre(between 48th and 51st street) on Fifth Avenue firstly from Columbia University on a lease and then purchased it.  The centre consists of 19 buildings sited on 22 acres.  Views of the city can be seen for a fee from the “Top of the Rock” observation deck. NBC also houses its studios here.  The Rockefeller Centre was founded by John Rockefeller but is now owned by a consortium.

Two plush hotels that denote the glamour of yesteryear are the Plaza and Waldorf Astoria. It has been said of the Plaza “nothing unimportant ever happens here”.  The classic Art Deco hotel the Waldorf Astoria is as iconic and covers an entire block.  There are suites in the names of celebrities who resided here.

With the suggested “New York Times” walking tour in hand, I spent an interesting morning exploring Greenwich Village. This was formerly a village to which city dwellers escaped and later developed into a bohemian haven.  The leafy streets with houses in Grove Court and Bedford Street are worth seeing.  The architecture of some of the houses is unusual especially the narrow home that John Barrymore and Cary Grant once occupied.  The Cherry Theatre, boutique shops, pet shop and kitchen for dogs and restaurants dot the area.

Undeterred on a rainy Sunday afternoon, my niece and I lunched at “Sylvia’s” in Harlem on Southern Fried Chicken and waffles, which were delicious.  Ruth Samson the Gospel Singer entertained us and there was not a table available in the rooms.  As she sang the famous Gospel songs, she improvised and hearing we were from Sri Lanka sang, “there are Sri Lankans in the room, let it shine”.

Columbia University is an Ivy League University in Upper Manhattan and was established by Royal Charter as King’s College by King George II in 1754. Among its illustrious Alumni have been Alexander Hamilton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warren Buffet and Barack Obama.  The imposing library dominates the quadrangle. Joseph Pulitzer founded the School of Journalism and established the famous Pulitzer Prize.

The former Meatpacking District has now been transformed into a trendy up market district of shops and restaurants.

There are a number of museums and due to time constraints my visits were to the Metropolitan Museum which was founded by a group of artists and philanthropists who dreamed of an institution to rival those in Europe.  Since the “Met” is vast I joined a guided tour of some of the selected exhibits and paintings, and thereafter wandered into the impressionist section and the Jerusalem 1000 AD special exhibition and the Egyptian section (which is supposed to be the best collection outside Egypt) finishing with the Temple of Dendur built by Emperor Augustus. A visit to the Museum of Modern Art(MoMA) where there is a comprehensive collection of modern and impressionist paintings- is a must with Van Gogh’s “Starry Nights” and Monet’s “Water Lilies” amongst the collection.

Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan was built by the Vanderbilts, the Rail Road Millionaires and is worth a visit with its beautiful chandeliers.

Central Park created in 1858 was built on a swamp covering an area of 843 acres.  There is much to see in this varied park such as the skating rink, the lake and boathouse, Strawberry fields, the memorial to John Lennon, Bow bridge, wooded areas, jogging tracks and a lake amongst other attractions.

The heart of the theatre district is Times Square with its neon lights, billboards, and theatre lights that began in 1899 when Oscar Hammerstein built two theatres.  It is an experience to stand and observe the crowds, the street shows and an area, which never seems to sleeps I saw two good shows “An American in Paris” with songs by George Gershwin and the musical “Aladdin” by Disney.

The “Stardust” diner near by whereaspiring waiters, who wish to make it to Broadway sing hits from the musicals as they serve the crowded restaurant, is also an experience in itself .

New York is where the world meets in one spot and is “my kind of place”.  There is energy about the place, and the architecture is varied. The towers are lit at night and those that stand out are the Chrysler with its stainless steel spire and the Empire State building with a colour theme each night. At most times I felt that I was witnessing an American movie surrounded by the various characters one passed on the street.

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