In April of this year, I got to experience something that I had long wanted to do – ride in a helicopter and get the opportunity to see the New York City skyline from the air.  Having looked at the city’s vast urban vistas from the vantage point of the Empire State Building’s observer deck on several occasions,

I knew that a more dynamic areal view from a helicopter’s passenger seat would be a truly amazing experience!

Having been in Canada for my milestone 50th birthday last December, Jolie and I arranged to have members of my family meet up with us for lunch in the city to celebrate. And my birthday gift to myself would be going up in the air (along with my new Canon Rebel T3 digital camera, Jolie’s birthday gift to me).

We woke up very early on a cool, crisp Saturday in late April; the flight was scheduled for 11:00 am, but we were advised to get there by 10:30. After an early morning drive to the Bronx (where I have a prepaid parking spot at my workplace), we grabbed the subway and made our way down to lower Manhattan. And after having to switch trains because of some unexpected construction work at one of the main subway stations, we made it to the heliport, just in the nick of time; I was very relieved know that we were there. As we excited the subway station, which was down on the southern tip of Manhattan (i.e., “the Battery”), we encountered an employee of a rival helicopter tour company within the same heliport who led us right to the place.

As we approached this location, we could see lots of helicopters landing and taking off.

As I approached the entrance to the heliport (which was, in fact, a fairly small station building but with a relatively large terminal space along the piers, on the East River), I had to show my receipt and ID and stood on a line for entry; Jolie, having not wanted to ride along, was ticketless and would be forced to wait outside in the cold. She is a trooper, for sure 😉 As I was waiting, with rapt anticipation, Jolie took this photo.

So, upon entering the facility at around 10:45, and with a scheduled flight at 11:00, checking in (which requires showing more ID and giving your weight (which they need for knowing how to balance the copter) I was in a fairly long waiting game, sitting, watching an instructional tape about the ride (which was on a loop), overhearing various conversations of people in this small, very crowded waiting room, and most especially, checking out the expressions of passengers arriving back into the station after their rides; most seemed very satisfied.

Finally, after about a fifty minute wait, it was my turn to be called!

We were given inflatable life preservers to wear around our waists and earphones to block out the copter noise. We were then led out, as a group (mine was me and four members of a visiting family from Sweden) and led to our copter on the helipad.

I was given the prime seat, up front, next to the pilot, who was able to communicate with us very clearly through our earphones. Anyway, here is what a helicopter’s control panels look like.

Once we were all safely inside and the doors were closed and locked, the helicopter began to slowly rise; it was very exciting to see, through the front window, the ground getting smaller and the view of the battery more full. We hovered for a few seconds, and then the copter started moving in a clockwise direction, giving us a cool areal view of Brooklyn, Staten Island and the NYC harbor.

Knowing enough basic NYC geography and also that we were basically riding above the Hudson River, I knew what would be next in our view. Very quickly, we passed along

Governors Island – an actual island which is technically part of the borough of Manhattan (itself an island) which was historically used, until around the year 2000, as a military base; it’s now a park and a preserved historical site.

The Statue of Liberty (with Ellis Island just behind it and New Jersey in the background on the left; on the right is Manhattan)

Here is another view of Lady Liberty, with New Jersey behind her.

When I see the statue, I often wonder about what immigrants coming to the U.S. from various foreign ports must have imagined when they first laid eyes upon her at the moment of their arrival in the New York harbor. She probably was – and still is – a potent symbol of an idealized America that fills one with a sense of hope and optimism.

As we went slightly further up the river, we could also see the lower Manhattan skyline more clearly, with this featuring the nearly completed Freedom Tower  (i.e., at the site of  “Ground Zero”)

The Freedom Tower is the tall blue building in the right that has the scaffolding on top. The large building on the left is the Goldman Sachs building in the Newport section of Jersey City (the city where I was born and raised). It is now New Jersey’s tallest building (and was completed in 2004, the culmination of a development boom that began in Jersey City in the 1980s). This part of Jersey City, for better and for worse, is now known as “Wall Street West.”

Here are a few more views of the lower Manhattan skyline.

We then quickly started making our way up past midtown Manhattan. More landmarks were visible from this vantage point. Here, for example is one shot; you can see Pier 40 in the foreground and the Empire State Building in the background.

And, another view of the various piers and other river structures along this part of Manhattan.

Then, a few closer views of the Empire State Building and other midtown architectural landmarks.

The round structure in the image above – to the left of the Empire State Building – is Madison Square Garden. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of very memorable performances there, including circuses, ice shows, Knick and Ranger games, and concerts by acts ranging from Paul McCartney, Queen, Aerosmith and Black Sabbath; it’s a great place to see a show in NYC.

Eventually, more of the Upper West Side came into view.

And with this, a clear view of Central Park.

Our next destination point would be Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and a turnaround at the George Washington Bridge. As we made our way up the upper tip of Manhattan, you could truly see the geographic shape of the island’s northern parts, an image I have long seen in maps.

It was truly breathtaking to see this, along with all of the other views, in person.

Next, we approached the George Washington Bridge, which spans Interstate Route 80 and connects Washington Heights in NYC to Fort Lee, New Jersey.

And then very quickly after this, we flew over the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx; I should note that to a lot of old time NY Yankee fans, the new stadium, which replaced the now bulldozed “House that Ruth Built”  is really not Yankee Stadium. Also, I should add that I am a die hard NY Mets fan.  Nonetheless, this was an awesome thing to see from up above.

Here, also is a view from up on this part of the tour, looking back south into Manhattan.

And as you look north, the Hudson River and its surroundings look a whole lot less urbanized.

Eventually, we began the turnaround to make our way back to the heliport. We flew back more or less above the GW Bridge.

And from here, we moved southward. NYC is here on the left and NJ is on the right.

I was very excited as we approached Hoboken NJ, as my old childhood neighborhood was clearly visible.

The large white highrise here is a building called the Doric. Just behind it is Washington Park, which sits on the border, of Jersey City and Union City and the Palisades, cliffs known locally as “Hoboken Hill.” Behind the Doric and to the left is the neighborhood in which I grew up, the Jersey City Heights. In the background is Newark Bay and the Pulaski Skyway.

We made our way down and were quickly looking at the large scale high rises of the Downtown and Newport sections of Jersey City.

Finally a return to the heliport.

A smooth landing and we were all soon back inside. What a truly fun ride!

After meeting back up with Jolie (who had been waiting, patiently, outside and was not aware that my flight had been delayed, we quickly made our way up to the next scheduled destination – John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street

John is a well known pizza place in Manhattan which specializes in brick oven pizzas with a variety of toppings. They sell whole pies, rather than individual slices. Fortunately, we were all hungry and the pizza, which looks like this

was delicious! Joining Jolie and me to help me celebrate were my sister and brother-in-law, and their son, as well as my brother and sister-in-law. It was really nice to be able to get together with everyone. Here we are, after having eaten, enjoying the wonderful taste of Johns pizzas on our tongues.

As for the rest of the day? Well, after the pizza, the group of us walked to a cafe for coffees and desserts. After that, we said our goodbyes. Jolie and I made a short walk, through Greenwich Village, to her old workplace, Jefferson Market Library, where we stopped in briefly, allowing Jolie to say hello to a few former coworkers.

Jolie has fond memories of various children’s programs which she held in the library’s beautiful garden.

A short walk later down 8th Street and past the Electric Lady Studios (here’s a list of artists who’ve recorded there), we then in one of my favorite spots in NYC, Washington Square Park.

Taking in such sights there as an artist doing some chalk art,

a group of Hare Krishnas

and inside the fountain (which was not yet turned on) kids on skateboards and bikes racing around to the beat of a drummer.

What a fun place, as usual.

We knew that we wanted, before the day was over, to make our way down to Houston Street to our favorite gelato place, Il Laboratorio del Gelato.

The gelatos there – rich, flavorful and varied – are amazing!

So, beyond the sky view, the meetup with my family, the library, park and gelato, here are a few more images from our fun, memorable day in NYC.