Old Dogs, New Trips

One World Observatory: Reflecting On New York

Viewing familiar NYC sights through the eyes of first-time visitors

We took friends from Denmark on a visit to New York City, and it opened our eyes. To begin, when we parked, we heard the skirl of bagpipes and, looking down on it from the parking garage, saw the Tunnel to Tower Race honoring a fireman who bravely took that route to help others on 9/11. Below us were countless firemen, each holding a banner photo of a fireman who had died that day, and cadets all holding American flags. So we had our breath taken away before we even took our first exhilarating ride of the day, to be followed later by the Westfield World Trade Center, with its infinite memorial pools and One World Observatory.

What did we do next? We took a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, perhaps the greatest free ride in the world! Even if you are a resident of New York City, if you haven’t ridden the ferry in a while, don’t wait. Get aboard. I can’t imagine even a regular commuter on the ferry easily growing tired of the constantly moving scenery, now reflected all around by the mirrored column of One World Observatory that rises above Lower Manhattan. The wind in your hair, the sun on your cheeks — 5.2 miles aboard what has become one of the most iconic attractions of New York City. (Check the slide show at indyeastend.com to see that ride unfold.)

The view from the ferry is, quite simply, spectacular. You see the glitter of Lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty herself, the Verrazano Narrows and the graceful same-named structure that bridges them, even the busy Port of New Jersey. Once we reached Staten Island, we immediately turned around and headed back to Manhattan to repeat our voyage from the alternate perspective.

Then it was time to wonder — and again reflect — at the infinite pools of black water that mark the foundations of the fallen towers. Time to run a finger across the engraved names of some of the many innocent people who lost their lives that day. The pools feel much like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. Dark and eternal and monumental.

Then it was off for total exhilaration — the 47-second ride up the Skypod Elevator to the top of the mirrored tower that is One World Observatory. Your path to the elevator lets you reach out and touch the bedrock that the Big Apple has sprung from. The elevator takes you on a ride from that bedrock through a flashing chronological depiction of centuries of New York’s development, before you arrive, a bit breathless, at the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. One hundred and two stories. And you wonder if the feeling of movement is simply from the elevator ride — or perhaps the sway of the building?

I can’t describe what’s next better than the Observatory itself does. See Forever Theater: Surround yourself with the rhythms of the city. This heart-pumping audiovisual experience sets up your first glimpse of the spectacular skyline. It will take your breath away! Already, we’d lost our breath several times, but that was nothing compared to what came next. The theater itself disappears and all you are left with is the stunning 360-degree view from 1776 feet in the air. You can find the Empire State Building and the Chrysler in Midtown, look across to the New Jersey Palisades, see the Hudson (site of the famous plane landing? asked my Danish friend), see the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

When we descended (just a bit) to the full circle of the observatory, we encountered several of the cadets we saw earlier as they held U.S. flags. I asked one and was pleased to learn that, in honor of their service that day, they were guests of the Observatory. We were proud to be there with them. We wandered and wondered, covering the full circle of the Observatory, which includes a gift shop and restaurant. You can dine, drink, have your souvenir photo taken, and rent a device-guided tour that let’s you pinpoint what you’re observing. Or like us, you can simply look and look and look.

Following our descent from the tower (another opportunity for gasping for breath), we entered a realm neither John nor I had ever seen —The Oculus. This soaring centerpiece of the World Trade Center’s Transportation Hub comprises 78,000 square feet of multi-level state-of-the-art retail and dining. And it is the entrance and exit from PATH trains and subway lines. Next visit to the area, I certainly want to arrive here on a subway train, to ascend to this giant wonder.

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