Monday, April 12, 2010

The start of the journey (New York, Sept 11, 2001 - Part 2)

So what the heck was I doing in New York City anyway?

I had always wanted to go to NYC. Seeing it in so many movies and tv shows, knowing the history and the architecture, it was just somewhere where I had to go. Being the traveler that I am, I always look for opportunities, and my good friends Heike and Jens, originally from Germany, just happened to move there. Having a place to stay, for free, is always great. Heike and I have been friends since I was in second year university, having met on a ferry going from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, both backpacking our way separately around Eastern Canada. Along with another friend of mine, having been practically thrown out of a Charlottetown Bed and Breakfast on a Sunday morning with a church service blasting on the radio in the background (now that's a completely different story!), we've been great friends since ever since.

I flew in on a Thursday evening, and the plane took the perfect route parallel to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. I couldn't believe that I'd soon be wandering the streets - smelling the smells, walking among Manhattanites, hearing that distinctive New York accent. Heike and Jens picked me up in their oldsmobile - having the word 'old' in it was appropriate as it was nearly as old as I was. It had miles and character and the softest back seats you ever sat in. They lived on the New Jersey side, and soon we settled into their one-bedroom apartment. My space was on the floor in the living room, I soon had a wonderful glass of wine in hand, and being in a distant land, I was as happy as could be.

Of course I had no idea what was to come - I just had the excitement of someone about to explore a new city. On the first day, with Jens at work, Heike and I made our way over to Manhattan. Taking the train to the ferry terminal on the Jersey side, we caught the boat which dropped us off immediately in the shadow of the twin towers. That would become the spot for the next few days where we would always start and end our journey. Heike and Jens knew the city well and showed me many of the highlights - Times Square, Central Park, and on the Sunday, they took me on a special trip all the way through the park to a self-guided walking tour of Harlem. Three tall, very white folks, each with our cameras and backpacks, we set out for about 2 hours, wandering through streets I would never have dreamed of setting foot on before. Was I nervous? Hell yes! But even with the uncomfortable feelings I had for most of the journey, it was excellent and exciting. The coolest thing was seeing a church empty right after a service, everyone dressed in their sharpest and brightest white suit or dress, smiling away.

We'd had a great day, the sun had set, my feet ached, and we made our way back to lower Manhattan, again by the towers, to catch our ferry back to Jersey. Now on this trip, there were many memorable moments, particularly after the 11th. On this night though, as we walked between the rising towers, we paused, looked up the almost unimaginable heights of each of the towers, and Heike, in carrying her slight English accent from having learned English in England, dreamily said "Could you imagine if one of these ever fell?" I can't remember for sure, but I believe neither Jens or I gave an answer.

We soon after caught the ferry then the train back to the apartment, and after some more excellent celebratory wine, headed off to bed. It was a short sleep, and led up to what I will always remember as one of the more remarkable and fun travel days in my life, September 10th, 2001.

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