Visiting Manhattan, I had always relegated my trips to uptown, never to the Battery Park area, Wall Street area or... the World Trade Center. Of course, coming into the city from the south, I’d seen a different skyline than before September 11, 2001.
Now there’s a memorial to visit, a new museum opening soon, and Freedom Tower is going up quickly. The whole reconstruction of the World Trade Center area is controversial: some say nothing should have been built there, some say many small buildings should have taken the place of a tall building that could lure more terrorists, others thought the site should be rebuilt as it was.
Although many professional negotiators believe compromise inherently means “lose-lose,” I think the developers and the Port Authority of NY/NJ did a wonderful job of balancing all the competing interests, preserving the dignity of victims while still creating new and future-oriented beauty. Because several streets have been cordoned off to be pedestrian-only or have security checks for vehicles, the Battery Park area can be surprisingly quiet. Each block or so seems to have its own sub-neighborhood designation: “Battery Park City,” “Wall Street,” “Brookfield Place.”
What to do. As might be imagined, there are a lot of security precautions being taken to protect the 9/11 Memorial. You have to get a visitor’s pass beforehand, time-stamped for a particular time. I was there during a frigid Arctic blast; getting a pass and visiting the memorial were more or less the same activity, but that’s not usually the case. There are no bathrooms in the vicinity and you’re limited as to the size of bag you can carry with you. After proceeding through security, you arrive at a serene, fenced-off area that is the memorial. At a distance, there’s a gnarled knot of steel girders – what’s left of the World Trade Center.
I remembered the sunny, ordinary day that was 9/11; I was getting a morning manicure when I saw the planes go into the towers on TV. The manicurist said in broken English, “Oh, accident!” I shook my head as I left, sadly saying, “No, we’re at war.” I figured we had just become involved in WWIII, but where do you go when the world is ending?
In New York City, the casualties were over 2,700, with 411 emergency rescue workers perishing. At the memorial, two perpetual waterfalls over symbolic building footprints are lined with the engraved names of victims, their ages as well as their company/brigade if they were a rescue worker. It’s maintained as a quiet, contemplative area. Volunteers put flowers on the victims’ names when it’s their birthday.
Ice skating at NYC's Brookfield Palace
The new, silvery Freedom Tower being erected resembles a building from the Wizard of Oz. It’s very attractive and unique-looking.
For a more lighthearted activity during winter months, there’s outdoor ice skating at the Rink at Brookfield Place. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day and don’t worry if you don’t travel with ice skates; they have them for rental.
Where to stay. The award-winning Conrad New York is just a couple of blocks from the memorial and feels like the right modern luxury counterpart to Freedom Tower. The hotel is LEED Gold–certified and incorporates modern and contemporary art into almost every aspect. The central atrium (left) has light sculptures that change colors. The seasonal rooftop bar, Loopy Doopy, seems like a clever drinking allusion, but it’s really named after the massive installation art in the lobby. Their gift shop is more like one found in an art museum, with locally crafted pieces and iconic NYC munchies. Many of the rooms have gorgeous views of the Hudson River and New Jersey skyline.
Right across the street, along with different ferries, is the Irish Hunger Memorial. It integrates an authentic rebuilt Irish cottage along with stones and natural materials from the western shores of Ireland, in tribute to the 19th-century famine. You walk around in a spiral to the top, reading period contemporary quotes from people of all walks of life.
Also within a couple of blocks, you can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance.
Where to eat. The Conrad’s wine bar, Atrio, has Mediterranean casual fare at night, but shines with the NYC touch for breakfast: lots of local purveyors are used for tasty creations incorporating sausage, smoked salmon and bagels, of course!
In the same complex as the Conrad, restauranteur Danny Meyer has opened one of his famed Shake Shack locations. They’re spreading all over the world now, and I can see why. The streamlined menu includes modestly priced – but delicious – burgers made to order. They have several communal tables, so that’s potentially a good way to meet people in the Big Apple.