One thing I had always wanted to do since I got here was to visit the Statue of Liberty. While other sights had been higher on my priority list of things to see, I gave this idea maybe a maximum of a few months after relocating until I would make it out to Liberty Island. It has now been almost two years since the day I moved here. In those (almost) two years, I have never been to Lady Liberty.
My friends once went in the winter (well, technically that is now, but I am talking about 2010). Even my parents made it when it was raining and probably freezing outside. And I am proud to say that quite recently I have finally given myself the chance to experience one more piece of American culture every other tourist is irking to see.
It was a sunny day. It was a relatively warm day. It was the ideal day to go see what Liberty and Ellis Island are up to. While the weekend before I had tried to snatch some tickets for those two tours, I had to discover to my dismay that I had arrived at the ticket castle about an hour too late. “Tours to either Ellis Island or Liberty Island only. Both cannot be visited today!” was the announcement made by the ticket sellers. This at an early 2:30 PM, so I decided to try it out another day, as I wanted to kill two birds with one stone and see both attractions at the same time. Finally, this Sunday, it worked out. After getting up way too early for a weekend day, I took the R train for a short 15 min ride. A ride during which I came across five singing and guitar-playing guys from Madrid who were jollily traveling the world, their last stop being the USA. Then finding myself amongst other tourists at Battery Park, buying a ticket at the castle-like building in the center. And for all of you who would have gone straight to the waiting queue like I had erroneously done before: You have to either reserve your ticket online or buy it there, otherwise you won’t get on the boats.
That particular day the wait was not too long. In comparison to my friends, who had waited a good one and a half hours, I was through airport-like security within less than 20 minutes. Off we went, with the ferry towards the best piece of New York. Halfway through on the Hudson River the wind picked up quite a bit, blowing in all directions, making everyone on top of the deck freeze.
The first stop was Liberty Island. Liberty Island offers a nice view on the Manhattan skyline. Undisguised, blatantly open – a beautiful sight towards Downtown New York. The isle by itself is small, of course. It only has the Statue of Liberty, a restaurant, and a souvenir shop. Everything you need to keep tourists on it for one hour max. The statue by itself is impressive. It’s big and tall, and nice to shoot a memory photo of. I wonder what it must be like to go on top and see the open sea from its crown. Since I missed the ferry after 30 mins, I wandered around for an additional thirty minutes. I ran across a film crew from Holland filming a guy talking with the Manhattan skyline in the background. I also went inside the souvenir store just to see what
overprized crap interesting pieces they had to offer. Came to find that I most likely would be better off buying my stuff in Chinatown than there.
A great thing the ferry to Liberty Island has to offer is a detour to Ellis Island. This was actually a trip I had been looking forward to. Magical images of all sorts of immigrants who first set foot onto the Promised Land popped into my mind. But after seeing several documentary writings and reading through some of the background info, I left the first floor with a rather sick feeling to my stomach. I hadn’t known that some people had signed indenture documents to offer their services in exchange for the travel fee. While the history of the African slaves had been somewhat known to me, it still made my stomach twist to listen to and read eye witness stories from the 19th century on how they were hurdled together, one next to another, into a boat for 7 weeks straight and then sold off to high prospects farms in the South. Not to mention the Native American history and the fates they had endured.
Ellis Island is definitely going to give you a lesson in American History I. A common phrase “the Island of Hope and the Island of Tears” refers to the 98% of people who were accepted and the 2% of immigrants who had to return home and were deported. After reading through some very touching stories I sometimes wondered why people still wanted to wander off onto the New Continent…
Aside from exhibitions, the three story main building offers the Great Hall, which is the place people were admitted, right next to the Mental Testing Center and Examination Station. What I found most interesting were the personal item of pieces people had forgotten or donated to the Ellis Island Museum. Festive wedding dresses, tiny children’s shoes, daily housewares from over 100 years ago. This museum has been built up after 1984 and the former employees and volunteers have done quite a job in doing so. I am thankful to have seen so many historic pieces and to get to know this part of American history better, thanks to the Ellis Island project. I would highly recommend anyone to stop by here, if even only for half an hour.
Of course this was not the first time I had seen the Statue of Liberty from close by. So what some of my touristy friends and even I have done is to simply take the Staten Island ferry which departs from the Whitehall Terminal. It leaves every 20 mins during daytime and from late nights on every hour. Also, it ships very close to the Blue Lady and for some that is truly the only view they need. A positive aspect is that you don’t have to endure the long wait you would if you were to take the Liberty Island ferry. And even though you see a very long line of people waiting ahead of you, usually everyone who is waiting on the top floor gets on board of the ferry. So don’t lose hope, you most likely will make it. Now there is not really much to do on Staten Island itself, so I can only recommend riding back with the very next boat. They are for free, which makes out another advantage for those who are tired of spending endless amounts of dollars on fantastic things to do in New York!
[For more pictures on the Staten Island Ferry and Whitehall terminal, go here]