Hats off to Lady Liberty

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal
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Don’t expect a relaxing time visiting New York’s iconic landmarks in the city that never sleeps, writes Chris Stratford.

YOU may recall the final scene in Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston is brought to his knees by the sight of the partially-buried Statue of Liberty.

My partner Shirley and I also stumbled upon the statue accidentally, as we searched for our hotel in Downtown Manhattan. But our first glimpse of her across the Hudson River from Battery Park City brought awe not anguish.

Given by France as a token of friendship, between 1886 and 1924, she welcomed almost 14 million immigrants entering the USA through New York.

Here she was greeting two weary visitors from England and giving instant validation to our trip. It would have been rude not to have visited her as soon as possible and so, the next day, we took the short, packed ferry ride across to get a closer look at the most photographed woman in the world.

Her warm salutation was not matched by the weather when we put a tick in another box by climbing (okay, taking two elevators up 86 floors) to the observatory level of the Empire State Building.

Scudding rain clouds surrendered only occasional glimpses of the city laid out beneath like a model village, but the price of admission included a free return after 10pm. Then, under clear skies, the night-time vistas dazzled the audience, three or four-deep in some places, all jostling to get photographs of other iconic landmarks such as the neighbouring Chrysler Building.

An absorbing exhibition about the Empire State Building’s history is on the 80th floor, and the magnificent art deco adornments deserve a look.

Admission prices to this and other must-see New York features can be reduced by using, as we did, New York CityPASS booklets bought in advance, although the Empire State casts its shadow over free-to-view spectacles, including Grand Central Terminal.

The busiest train station in the USA celebrated its 100th birthday this year and it is easy to distinguish the commuters from the sightseers.

The former, scurrying for trains, often have to detour around the latter who, stock-still, scan up and down, left to right, assimilating the beauty of the terminal, with its elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling and the instantly recognisable iconic brass clock atop its information desk.

Outside, above Grand Central’s 42nd Street entrance, is another famous timepiece, the largest Tiffany clock in the world at 14ft in diameter.

It sits close to the company’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue, which has to be traversed as a first-time visitor to the city.

The luminosity of its higher-end merchandise is matched, at night-time, by the neon-lit Times Square where once again tourists are clearly identifiable by the frequency with which they stop to take photographs as a maelstrom of theatre-goers and would-be diners swerves around them.

We walked a great number of miles in New York – and rode an even greater number on its subway, £20 each buying us a week’s travelling – so it was only right that we indulged ourselves with a carriage ride around Central Park.

The park is inhabited by three groups of people; locals enjoying its many amenities, tourists, and those seeking to get the first two to part with some money.

All manner of park performers offer entertainment of varying standards, the most eye-catching of which was a troupe called The Positive Brothers whose act, involving gymnastics, acrobatics and dancing, was played out against a backdrop of hilarious jibes, aimed at themselves and their audience. If not the best show in town, it is certainly the best in the park.

The Brooklyn Bridge is another must-see to tick off the list and from the Brooklyn side, a 20-minute subway journey takes you to Coney Island, not on everyone’s list when planning a trip but well worth visiting as it chimes with memories of films and TV.

Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Flatiron Building – the first to use a steel skeleton whose invention ushered in the skyscraper era – were all visited with judicious use of the subway and a helping hand from passers-by.

Stand for a few moments looking bemusedly at a street map and a solicitous New Yorker will offer guidance.

You may decide to eschew all of the above in favour of your own itinerary, but please take the Circle Line sightseeing boat ride around the island, and when you book ask for a trip with Malachy Murray on board as guide. Malachy – actor, writer and philosopher – provides a captivating lesson on New York’s history delivered with passion, humour and an encyclopaedic knowledge during the two-and-half-hour trip.

That there is no mention here of New York’s welter of museums may seem a little philistine but it was more an issue of time.

In mitigation we both appreciated the striking blue and purple painting by renowned artist Sol LeWitt which dominates the 15-storey atrium at the AAA Four Diamond-listed Conrad New York Hotel, in which we were staying.

It is one of around 2,000 works of contemporary art in the Conrad New York and many adorn the walls of the hotel’s 463 suites, including our 12th-floor accommodation which had a stunning view across to New Jersey.

LeWitt’s painting, entitled Loopy 
Doopy, lends its name to the hotel’s rooftop bar, from which we gained our last night-time viewing of the Statue of Liberty and raised a glass to a magnificent lady – and a wonderful city.

Getting there

Chris and Shirley stayed at the Conrad New York,a 463 all-suite luxury hotel. Rates start from $249 and are subject to availability. www.ConradNewYork.com

Buying CityPASS tickets in advance reduces admission prices to many of New York’s most famous sights.