Those of us old enough to remember the tragedy of 9/11, will immediately recall where we were and what we were doing, when the news hit that day. Me, I was sitting at my desk at Ernst & Young on Chancery Lane, here in London. One of my co-workers yelled out in shock that one of the twin towers had been hit by a plane. Immediately jumping online, we all scoured the news channels, only to see the tragedy unfold even deeper, when the second tower was hit, followed by complete devastation, the collapse of both towers.
No one could believe what they were seeing that day. Those towers seemed unbreakable. Way back in 1999, my cousin and I stepped into the elevator of one of the trade centres, taking us right to the top, where we stepped outside onto the roof, and looked down at Manhattan way below us. We were so high up, the taxis looked like ants. I have video footage of that day, and clearly remember a helicopter hovering much further below.
With that vision in mind, it was horrific to see what happened that September 11th, and impossible to imagine what those people inside the towers were going through. It was the first time in my life, that such a wide scale tragedy hit home for me in such a personal way.
Every time I visit NYC, I stop by ‘Ground Zero’, and every time it gives me such a heavy, sad feeling. On most of my previous visits, discussions were still being made as to how to best reconstruct the area. On my 2010 trip, they’d started to build the Freedom Tower, and finally when there in April, the whole area around the World Trade Centre had been transformed into the most heart warming space you could possibly imagine.
The Memorial Plaza and Museum occupy eight of the 16 acres of the World Trade Centre site. In the centre of the park are the two largest manmade waterfalls in USA, set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. The names of every victim in the terror attacks of both February 26, 1993 & September 11, 2001 are engraved around the memorial pools.
At the edge of the Memorial Plaza is Oculus, a structure that looks like a white bird in flight. Costing US$4 billion (!!!) to design and build, it serves as both a train station and a memorial to 9/11.
We walked around the 9/11 Memorial Plaza on the second to last day of our recent NYC trip, feeling both heavy hearts, but at the same time such admiration for the way the space had been so beautifully put together to remember those who hadn’t survived.
Discussing whether we had time to visit the museum or not, we decided to wander off for a bite to eat first.
By chance, we walked along Liberty Street, and straight past a building called the 9/11 Tribute Museum. A sign caught our eyes, that they were offering tours, so we stopped to enquire.
They offered tours of the 9/11 Memorial, which are guided by either family members, survivors, rescue and recovery workers, civilian volunteers or lower Manhattan residents who were there on September 11, 2001.
We booked ourselves onto the next available tour, and an hour later were back outside the 9/11 Tribute Museum, waiting to meet our guides.
Our two guides for the tour were Paul and Dan, a fire fighter and policeman, who rushed to the scene on September 11, to put their incredible expertise to use.
We followed Paul and Dan around the 9/11 Memorial, and listened to not only facts and figures, but also to them recounting their stories of that day.
We learnt information we wouldn’t have otherwise known, such as why there were white roses placed inside some of the engraved names. The reason? Each and every victim has a rose placed annually above their name, on their birthday.
We sat in the sun with the rest of our tour group and listened to Paul and Dan share their emotional stories. I glanced around our group, and you could tell, that like myself, everyone had a lump in their throat, and was full of emotion from what was truly the most remarkable tour I’ve ever taken.
The only regret we have about taking this tour, is that we didn’t find out about it sooner. Had we known about it earlier in our trip, we would’ve rebooked with another volunteer guide. It was such an unforgettable experience, and one we urge you not to miss.
To Paul and Dan, thank you so much for leading us on such a beautiful tribute tour. This was the highlight of our stay in New York. Keep doing what you do! x