The Big Five-O

The Statue of Celebrity
Thursday  23rd May 2019

Last night's early finish, even if it was more of a crash'n burn rather than being tucked up in bed with a cup of cocoa, at least meant we had plenty sleep in preperation for our  dawn start this morning. 

Neither of us could face another bagel, so we skipped breakfast altogether.

Shortly after 8am we began our brisk walk along the esplanade, down towards Battery Park. The dull grey skies were disappointing; it's not the best light for photographs and today we were going to see the most photographed thing in New York, the Statue of Liberty.   

I had pre-booked our tickets with Statue Cruises so it was today or not at all. At least it wasn't raining!

It took us about twenty minutes to reach Battery Park. We had arrived in plenty of time for our departure so we went to have a closer look at the nearby American Merchant Mariner Memorial.

Positioned at the end of a jetty was a dramatic bronze sculpture recreating the scene of a sinking ship. Three sailors on the bow of a boat, one on his knees in despair, another calling out for help and the other reaching into the water to pull out fellow sailor who's just out of reach.

A plaque reads "This memorial serves as a marker for America's merchant marniners resting in the unmarked ocean depths." It was sculpted by Marisol Escobar in 1991.

 It really wasn't what Julie wanted to see just before stepping onto a boat!

The ferry terminal for Statue Cruise was directly opposite the circular fort of Castle Clinton originally built in 1811 as a military base, it later became the first U.S. immigration station, before that role was moved to Ellis Island.

With our print at home tickets at the ready we entered through airport security style checks and joined the queue waiting for the next shuttle aboat cross to Liberty Island.  I must say I was expecting more people. When I booked on-line all the standard $18.50 tickets were sold out (for every day this week)  and I had to buy the more expensive tickets that included a "hard-hat" tour of Ellis Island hospital at $58.50!

I didn't do a head count but I don't think we were anywhere near the 800 capacity. We probably could have turned up this morning and bought just a regular ticket.

Anyway, we didn't have long to wait. Our boat, named Lady Liberty, the largest of the Statue Cruises fleet, soon arrived, off loaded its passengers, then it was our turn to board. Everyone raced to the top deck for the best view.

We set off out into the bay with Julie clocking the life-jackets.

At first we were all evenly distributed unsure which side to stand, but the closer we got everyone rushed to the starboard side for a clearer view of the most iconic statue in the entire world.

It was a tremendous sight but with most of the passengers concentrated on one side, the boat was noticably listing. Julie's travelling anxiety was now on red alert as she wondered if any boat had ever tipped over?

She stayed on the port side as if she could balance it out a bit!

She was mightily relieved when we safely reached Liberty Island and her feet were back on dry land.

From the harbour we walked up a wide avenue, collecting a complimentary audio guide along the way and stopped at the base of a very tall flag pole with the stars and stripes flapping in the wind.

Just off this plaza was the newly opened Statue of Liberty Museum, and we mean newly opened just a week ago.

We stood behind the colossal copper statue, listening to some facts from our audio guide. This we did by entering a number displayed on signs dotted around the site and it would fill our ears with relevant (but ultimately unretained) information.   

We soon realised that it would take us forever to walk around if we stood still listening to all the information points so we skipped a few of the audio markers and fast tracked ourselves to the front of the statue.

Here we listened intently.

From the ground to the tip of the torch was 93 metres but half of that height was the pedestal, which was itself built on top of an 11-pointed star shaped structure, based on the military fortification that originally stood here.  The statue itself was still 46 metres tall.

It was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and completed in 1886 just a few years before the Eiffel tower in Paris.  Gustave Eiffel himself was responsible for designing the internal metal structure of the Statue of Liberty.

Despite the dull weather the green of the statue's tarnished copper skin glowed and the gold of the torch was aflame against the grey skies. What an incredible sight this must have been welcoming immigrants to America as they sailed past to the nearby Ellis Island to be processed.

It was the modern day equivalent of the Colossus of Rhodes, (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) by which Bartholdi must have been inspired.

We continued walking whilst listening to the audio guide, stopping every now and then to photograph the statue from every conceivable angle.

She was an interesting figure. There were many symbolic features incorporated into Bartholdi design. The statue is based on the Roman godess Libertas, the embodiment of Liberty. She is stepping forward over broken chains, representing the abolition of slavery.

In her left hand she holds a tablet with a date in Roman numeral form "JULY IV MDCCLXXVI", refering to the Declaration of Independence, America's liberty. The torch showing the way forward. The statue was originally known as Liberty Enlightening the World.

I'm not sure what the seven pronged crown symbolised but it has become synonomous with the statue of liberty.

It was possible to enter the statue and walk up the internal staircase to reach the crown, however, our tickets, despite being the most expensive only allowed us access to outside areas. Go figure, as they say around these parts.  At least we have a reason to return.

She had a very solemn face, an expression of strength and determination to overcome rather than a welcoming smile. Her strong features, that square jaw, is very warrior like. It was rumoured to be the face of Bartholdi's mother but that was never confirmed.

We had been lucky with the weather, so far. There was definitely rain in the air and it must have rained heavily overnight because there were puddles galore but at least it was holding off for now.

As we walked behind the statue we came across a small gift shop selling all sorts of paraphernalia, from seven-pronged foam crown headbands, to massive scale models. We have started buying little trashy trinkets from our travels and wanted to pick up a statue.  After some deliberation we evetually found the smallest replica possible.   

Next to the gift shop there was a cafe. Having skipped breakfast we were famished so we popped inside. It was only about 10am,  still early enough to be called breakfast, certainly brunch but all they had on offer was their lunch menu.    

I had a plateful of roasted veg and some kind of malt loaf. It reminded me of the breakfasts I had in Puglia. The only thing missing was a ball of burrata cheese. I enjoyed mine so much I thought about getting second helpings, and I would have if it hadn't been so bloody expensive!

We had some time to spare whilst we waited for the next scheduled boat to arrive so we walked over to the sparkling new $100 million museum.

There were a lot of fascinating facts and artefacts on display but unfortunately we didn't have the luxury of time to stop to read most of them. We just gravitated towards the big things. There was a scale model of the statue with the back cut out to reveal the intricate Eiffel designed internal structure, which was pretty cool.

Also on display was a replica of a bronze plaque (the original is situated inside the pedestal) on which was inscribed Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, “The New Colossus,” with its stirring line, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

On one wall they had a full scale replica of that enigmatic face which looked more manly without the ringlets of hair softening her features. Perhaps it was Bartholdi's father, not his mother!

The piece de resistence, the musuem's climax, was the original torch.

In 1916 after damage caused by some German spies (it's a long story) the keepers of the statue decided to turn her into a lighthouse and inserted amber coloured glass panels to the flame. It was a bit of a waste of time as it never did shine very brightly.

In 1985 in preperation for its centenary the torch was replaced with a painstakingly exact replica of the original, with the exception of the flame which was now a shining gilded beacon of 24 carat gold!Apparently it was always Bartholdi's original intention but could never afford the extravagance. 

It's incredible to think that up until 1916 it was possible to walk all the way up to the torch.

We returned to the harbour where ferryboat Miss New York was waiting to leave. There wasn't a time restriction, we could have spent all day here if we wanted, but we had tickets for the Ellis Island Hard-hat tour which was schedule to start at 10:30am precisely. We had to leave.

We boarded and once again sat on the upper desk, not so much for the view this time but for the fresh air.

As we left, Lady Liberty was arriving. It had an even larger load of passengers than this morning and it was leaning so much we could see its red under belly.  It was eyebrow raising.

On this return leg we could see Liberty with the Manhattan skyline behind. The dull monochrome grey skies had now darkened and become a more dramatic backdrop.

It was only a short distance from Liberty Island to Ellis Island but we were still cutting it fine. We were one of the first off the boat, and raced up the steps. We entered the main building, looking frantically for a sign to show us where the starting point for the tour could be.

"There" Julie spotted an information desk to the far left. With the speed and grace of a pair of penguins we skiddadled across the hall.

Huffing and a puffing we presented ourselves to the informaion desk bang on 10:30am where we were greeted by a short man in a hard hat "Great, you're here. We can all go now."

He had a pleasant way about him and couldn't cause offence even if he tried. His name was Richard and he was a historian who volunteered for the Save Ellis Island Foundation.

We quickly signed a disclaimer and were good to go.

There was about a dozen of us on the tour and as we walked outside he asked us all to introduce ourselves with a "What's your name and where do you come from ?" question.  Most were from all four corners of the USA but there was a couple from Scotland.

"Oh, Scotland?" he said with a question mark on the end. "Do you know a Billy Connolly? Have you heard of him?" he asked. We found it hilarious, I mean he's probably the most famous Scotsman ever.

"Well, he's coming on the tour tomorrow" he said, which explained why he asked.

After a short walk we entered an outbuilding to put on our hard hats. "They are just a precautionary measure" Richard reassured us "but much of the site is in disrepair." 

Safe from any potential bump to the head we followed Richard through the long outbuilding, crossing over to the other Ellis Island, or Island 3 as it was labeled on which the facility's hospital was built.

"This is the hospital's laundry room." he explained. We would never have guessed. It looked more like a factory with all these massive industrial equipment.  Some facts and figures followed all of which I instantly forgot.

Instead I was drawn to the window where a black and white photograph had been stuck onto the glass.

It was an image of a family, immigrants obviously. They were standing with their backs to us. The father was pointing to something in the distance, towards their future perhaps. They weren't life-size but the perspective made it look like they were actually there.

It was one of many dotted around the site, installed by a French artist known only by the initials JR. It was a very powerful way to subtly bring this place to life. 

We stepped outside and walked down the abandoned site. It had been off limits to the public for sixty years, from the day it closed in 1954 until 2014 when they began these hard hat tours.

To be honest the whole place was in disrepair, broken windows, damaged roofs. 

It wasn't long before we saw our next JR instalation, plastered on the wall of a caged verdanda. Their haunting images looked at us through the steel mesh of the psychopathic ward.  

One of the many immigration laws actually forbid anyone who was considered an "idiot or  insane person" to enter the country. It's a good job they didn't apply the rule these days otherwise we may have been detained at the airport!

Richard explained that if the authorities suspected any weakness of the mind they would have ended up in this secure facility. Then after a medical professional assessment they would either be allowed to enter or be deported on the next boat home. I think the idea behind it was probably they did not want the American gene pool to be sullied!

A few of the hospital buildings had been made safe enough for us to enter under supervision and protected by our standard issue construction hard hat.

It was a large site. They kept on having to expand to keep up with the demand. Another immigration law was that anyone with a contagious disease could not enter. Hospital beds quickly filled up with sick people, with measles and dysentry the most common.

Richard explained how the staff quickly realised that having mixed wards was a mistake. Those with dysentry caught the measles, and those with measles got dysentry. Many died as they were too weak to combat both.

We went inside. The place had been emptied with the exception of a couple of things.

Richard said that a complete renovation to install a permanent museum had been ruled out because of the prohibitive cost and the excessive amount of asbestos used in its construction. When he said that I wished I had read the discalimer I had signed earlier! There was a lot of dust but I'm sure they would have done their risk assessment and concluded that respiratory masks were not necessary. I'm sure it'll be fine.

We followed Richard around listening to him explain the revolutionary hospital design, how the wings were off set rather than doors directly opposite each other to limit the spread of airbourne diseases from one ward to the next. He also talked about how they came up with a solution to control airflow with ducts bringing in fresh air from the outside and other ducts to let the bad air out.

Most of the rooms were empty with the exception of perhaps a singular chair.


When we passed the linen room the door was slightly open, so we peeped inside. A few empty shelves were left behind. It was interesting how a few pieces of furntiure transformed the atmosphere. It was very eerie.

In the next room was a series of incinerators where soiled linen were burnt. It sounded the most unpleasant of chores to be given.

We continued down the corridors where the ghostly images of the immigrants were now coming thick and fast. They were such a genius idea.

As Richard narrated the remarkable story, not just of the hospital but of the entire immigration process of Ellis Island, his words were brought to life by the imagery on the walls, by the faces looking back at us. 

Richard was certainly a well informed guide. At times it did feel like a school trip but by its nature this was a very educational experience; it couldn't have been otherwise. 

It was interesting to learn that first class and even second class passengers did not have to come through Ellis Island (unless they were sick). They would have been fast tracked through immigration checks whilst on board the ship and able to disembark in New York. 

The masses in steerage (or third class) were ferried over to Ellis Island for a thorough check. 

In 1907 alone 1.25 million people came through Ellis Island.  Due to the vast numbers the screening process had to be very effiicient. There were many tests the immigrant had to pass ( immigration act 1891 ) before being allowed to enter America.

There was a pauper test; they had to prove they had sufficient means. At one time it was fixed to $25 which was a fair amount of money back at the turn of the century.

Then there was the idiot test where they had to complete an intelligence test to prove they weren't a complete imbecile. One of the tests was known as a Gwyn Triangle test. t was a simple shape sorter with four wooden triangles that required the person to insert the pieces back into the board to make a larger triangle and a square. To be honest a child as young as two could probably have done it but there were mitigating circumstnces. The stress they were under was immense.  

Then there was the health check. The doctors performing this initial scan had it down to a six second physical check.  Anyone who looked remotely ill had a chalk mark  on their coat and were sent over to the hospital for further assesment.  An 'X' was suspected mental illness, a circled X was a definite case of mental illness!  Other letters gave the doctors an indication of where to look. L for lameness, B for the back, F for the face, Ft for the feet.

Often families were faced with the stark reality of being split up when one of their clan was being deported. The shipping companies on which they sailed over to America were responsible for the cost of returning the deported person home but not their family. Many simply couldn't afford to go back.

Our tour ended in the hospital director's home. He and his family lived in this grand house attached to the contagious disease wing by a very long corridor. Richard said the daughter of the last governor, now an elderly lady, came back to visit a few years ago, before it was open to the public. It was an emotional reunion by all accounts.

We walked back through the outbuildings, depositing our hard hats back in the lockers and returning to the main building. It had been a fascinating tour giving us greater insight into the history of Ellis Island.

 We clearly couldn't get enough facts and figures so we decided to walk around the Ellis Island museum.

It began in the Great Hall or the Registry Room where the immigration process took place. It was a large space but it had to be. At its peak almost 5000 people per day stood in line beneath its grand vaulted ceiling with their hopes of a new life in the balance. In reality almost all were allowed entry, only about 2% were denied.

I'm glad we had done the hard hat tour before the museum as all the artefacts suddenly became more interesting with our deeper understanding of its history.

My favourite part of the museum was the wall of citizens (I think that's what they called it?)   where on display were hundreds of citizenship documents with photographs of the newly declared Americans. It was amazing to look at their faces and wonder what became of their new life.

One in particular caught my attention, and held it for quite sometime. Her name was Anna Singer. She had such sad eyes. She had clearly been crying, her smudged mascara could not lie.  It was quite a haunting image.

There was no metion of her back story. Was she was being deported or worse being seperated from someone she loved?  I guess we'll never know.

By now we had been on Ellis Island for about three hours, so once we finished walking around the museum we were ready to leave.  We headed over to the harbour and caught the next ferry boat back to Manhattan. 

All the way across we were in awe of the phenomenal view of downtown.  I think what surprised me the most was the amount of older skyscrapers there was in the crowded skyline. It wasn't all just steel and glass.



Whilst I spent the whole time trying to get that perfect image to capture the juxposition of old and new Juile was busy on her phone checking out Tripadvisor for somewhere for lunch. The filter was set at the highest rated within Battery City and it recommended Grigino, which described itself as a waterfront Tuscan restaurant. 

To self-proclaim yourself a "Tuscan" restaurant and not just a plain old Italian was a bold statement but if the menu stood up to scrutiny then I would have been impressed.

It was in an area known as Wagner Park, not far from where we got off the Statue Cruise boat and on the way back to the hotel, so it was in a perfect location. We entered through the front and were shown through to their patio with views of the waterfront. 

We browsed the menu and wasn't suprised to see it had influences from all over Italy, Orecchiette is a Puglian pasta speciality, I believe Ossobuco is more from Lombardi, Brocolli Calabrese, well .... the clue is in the name, and don't get me started on Bolognese!  

Regardless of the lack of true Tuscan heritage the choices available were interesting.  I ordered their signature dish, Spaghetti del Padrino, pasta with beetroot, escarole (similar to chicory or  radicchio) capers and something called colatura. Fortunately I googled the mystery ingredient and found out |it was an anchovy fish sauce. They very kindly obliged when I asked if it could be omitted. 

It was tasty enough but lacked that punch, that umami of the colatura would have brought to the plate. With hindsight perhaps a drizzle of balsamic would have made a big difference.  

Julie had a Pollo Limone, a lighly battered chicken breast in a butter, white wine and lemon sauce.

The bill came to $150 which at first I thought was extortionate but in addition to those two main meals we had breads with oil and vinegar, two starters, (caprese salad, fried calamari), two side dishes, (spinach and roasted potatoes), a bottle of white wine and the obligatory 18% tip tax. So it wasn't that expensive, considering our location.

It looked like the day was brightening up but we decided to head back to our hotel for a siesta. By the time we reached the Conrad's entrance there was a bit of a chill in the air and the wind was picking up.

In our room, looking out our window towards Jersey, we saw the skies suddenly darken and a wall of rain literally sweep up the Hudson. The wind was whipping up a proper storm, lashing against the glass. At one point the visibility was down to a few metres. We couldn't even see the building opposite.

There was nothing else for it, but spend a few hours in bed, sleeping off lunch!

Refreshed a ready to rock we left our pit, called an Uber taxi and headed across town to Greenwich Village. The area had a comfortable local feel to it, with its narrow streets and low-rise buildings, and MacDougal Street in particular, lined with bars and restaurants, looked like party central.  

We were ready for supper and had already made a reservtion at Monte's based on some impressive on-line reviews. It described itself as a Trattoria so we knew it was going to be more old school.

Stepping inside was like being transported back to Rome. It was only a small room, but the walls were filled with black and white photographs of famous clientele, gesticulating waiters waltzed between tables of diners sat elbow to elbow and the heady aroma of garlic and oregano wrapped your senses in a mediteranean hug.

It was a wonderful classic Italian menu. With so many choices we struggled to whittle it down. In the end we went for Mozzarella in Carozza, (fried cheese sandwiches) and Portabello Balsamico, large field mushrooms in a balsamic vinegar reduced gravy.

The waiter took one look at Julie's white tunic top and shook his head. "Who were's white to an Italian restaruant?" he said laughing. He even offered Julie a bib to protect her clothes. 

When the mushrooms arrived they looked a little underwhelming, simply served on the plate with no garnish but oh "mamma mia" they tasted amazing! It didn't need dressing up with a bit of frizee frizee on the side. Its flavour spoke for itself. Undeniably most delicious thing we had tasted in New York.

For our mains Julie chose the sirloin streak which was cooked to medium-rare perfection whilst I went for an"old world classic" of Melanzane Parmigiana, one of my faourite dishes ever. Once again simply served, just dolloped on the plate. They certainly never heard the phrase "You eat with your eyes", and I totally agree with Monte's  no fuss approach.

However, pretty presentation was suddenly back in fashion when I had chef's (owner Pietro Mosconi) "classic recipe" tiramisu. It was sublime. A neatly cut triangle, dusted with cocoa powder and drizzled artistically with chocolate sauce.

Without a doubt tonight's feast had been the best.

After a bit of chat with the Croatian waiter about European football we paid our $152 bill and left.

Moving on, only a short distance up MacDougal Street on the corner of Minetta Lane, was the main reason why I wanted to come here, to listen to some live music at the legendary Cafe Wha? !

It was here, in the sixties where such performers as Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix played. Even Bruce Springsteen did a turn here as a young kid with a band called the Castilles.  Despite its infamy it closed down in 1968 and became a Middle Eastern restaurant.  For almost 20 years it was more hummus and hookah pipes than rock and roll, then at the end of the eighties the music gradually returned with regular performances by the Cafe Wah House Band.

We entered down some steps into the basement where the latest incarnation of the Cafe Wah House Band were performing.

It was a full house of revellers. We were shown to their last free table at the very end of the room, out of sight of the band. Before they took our order they asked for our credit card, then disappeared into the back.  She returned a while later to ask for some ID. Company policy apparently. I didn't have anything else on me. She disappeared again, this time for longer.

Whilst we waited we watched a small TV in the corner showing the band bounce around the small stage floor. I have to admit I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a tribute act to one of its legendary alumini but the house band seemed very popular. Musically they were not my cup of tea but you couldn't fault their energy.

Eventually the waitress came back and explained she had spoken to her boss and unfortunately they could not accept my card without accompanying identification. We had to leave.

To be honest we weren't that bothered. We had spent about 10 minutes in Cafe Wah which was long enough to say we've been. I can tick that box now. It's just a shame it didn't live up to my own hype.

There was a silver lining however as we also wanted to find another bar before the night was over. MacDougal Street was filled with brash neon signed bars but we were on the lookout for something completely different. Our next drinking hole was to be found almost opposite Cafe Wah? at No.124 but it needed finding.

It was known as the Old Rabbit Club, and was one of these hidden establishments in the speakeasy tradition. A black door in a black wall was the portal through which you entered this wonderland of craft beers.

A slightly sinister looking white rabbit graffiti and a "CRAFT BEER" sign above the door was all it had to identify itself. If you didn't know it was there you wouldn't stop and walk in.

We walked down the steps into the shadows. The door was locked from the outside, but by pressing a buzzer you released the lock and you entered this gloriously dark and dingy cellar bar.

It literally was a cellar with a long bar on the right running down its entire length.  Other than a couple of tables at the very end the only seating were the bar stools. It wasn't that busy but had a seriously cool vibe. We sat down at the first pair of bar stools and were handed today's beer menu.

It was so dark in here that we used the glow of our mobile phone to light up the page. They had a great selection of European beers, in particular German and Belgian but they also had plenty of American breweries to choose from. I didn't notice any draught pumps so I guess they only served beer in bottles and tins. I went for an IPA from a small batch brewery in Brooklyn and Julie went for a German pilsner.

We got chatting to a young couple sat next to us at the end of the bar. Conversation briefly strayed into politics and what a knob Trump was and that we were hoping to go to Iran next year as long as he hasn't started a war. They were both architects and wished they could also visit Iran one day because of the phenomenal architecture. 

When they were leaving they offered us their left over beer. It was such a strange thing to do. "We've not drunk from it" they reassured us. They explained it was their third of the evening and they simply couldn't handle anymore before leaving. 

Despite my mother always telling me to never accept sweets from strangers I accepted the beer with a cheers. It was a ridiculously strong stout (15%) from no wonder they were walking as if they were on a boat in stormy seas.

We weren't too far behind them. Once we finished the delicious potent brew we also left the Rabbit Club and decided to hail a taxi, rather than use Uber. They just seemed a lot cheaper. The down side was that we wandered about looking for a cab to hail but struggled to find one. The convenience of Uber cannot be underestimated.

Just as I was opening up the app to get Uber we spotted a yellow cab with its "I'm free" light on and we pounced, waving frantically as if we were being chased by a maniac and we wanted to commandeer the vehicle. Fortunately we didn't scare him off and he stopped.

His name was Jampa Jamyang and we thanked him profusely. Ten minutes later he dropped us off safely outside the Conrad.

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