Often the best travel experiences are those which catch us by surprise. I spend a fair bit of time researching and planning my trips, but love to stumble onto unexpected and memorable events. Like when our visit to Kandy in Sri Lanka coincided with the Perahera and we enjoyed the parade of elephants and performers. Or after a long tiring day of canoeing in the British Columbia rain, watching the skies clear to one of the most memorable sunsets ever. Or watching a perfect sunrise from the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. These unexpected experiences are an important part of what makes traveling so great.
And so it was when Sylvia and I visited the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor for the first time. This site had been on our travel bucket list for a long time, not only because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but because it is such an American icon, a symbol of freedom, a special gift of enduring friendship between the United States and France (where it was designed and crafted). As we were traveling through New York on our trip from Southern Africa, we took advantage of being in the city to do a little sight-seeing. I made ferry reservations for Liberty Island as soon as they became available and was also able to snag 2 tickets for a hike up to the Statue’s Crown. So the day after we returned to America from Johannesburg, we took the subway to Battery Park at the south end of Manhattan for our ferry ride through New York Harbor to Liberty Island.
The ferry ride is lovely and provides memorable views of Manhattan, New Jersey, Ellis Island and finally, looming ever closer, Liberty Island! When we landed we were surprised to find that the day of our visit was the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. I had not known this when I made our reservations and we were treated to one of those special travel moments. The day was one of celebration, with free birthday cake and Cokes, bands playing, a 21 gun salute, and many special presentations and honors throughout the day, including to the men and women of our military. This alone would have made for a very special day but as it turned out, we were also one of the last 250 people who would visit the crown of the Statue for two years, as the interior of the Statue of Liberty was being closed to the public the following day for a two year remodel and upgrade.
The journey to the crown was fantastic. A lot of stairs and climbing, but we took our time, stopping often to enjoy details of the interior of the statue — the sturdy metal skeleton, extensive riveting, and finally the string of small windows that let’s you know you’ve reached the top. The Crown is a fairly small place, able to comfortably handle only 6-8 people at a time, so you can see why they limit the visitors to only a few hundred in a day. Two rangers were there to answer questions and look after everything. We took in the views and enjoyed the experience, knowing it unlikely we’d ever be back here again.
It was on our way down that we stopped on the statue’s pedestal to enjoy the views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey. Later we walked the perimeter of the island (which is fairly small), all the while taking in the different perspectives of the Statue which remains magnificent from almost every angle. From the many photos in the accompanying slide show you’ll see what I mean by this.
The bulk of the day was spent at Liberty Island before we caught the ferry to Ellis Island where we finished out the afternoon. This is a worthwhile stop. It’s good to have the audio-guide to help you understand the role of this large complex. Between 1892 and 1954, twelve million immigrants (mostly from Europe) arrived at Ellis Island to apply for residency in the United States. You have a chance to retrace the steps of these people from their arrival, entry into the Registry Room on the second floor, walk down the Stairs of Separation and visit an exhibit outlining some of the hardships encountered by some those who were processed here. The National Park Service has done a nice job preparing these exhibits and we found this a nice end to a very memorable day.