The lights of the big city at night twinkled like a thousand stars in a velvet sky. The rumble of the boat engines was loud but monotone and gradually faded into the background. People perched on stools around the small bar in the middle of the indoor section looking eagerly around and chatting avidly, whilst others huddled together on the seats warming their hands over the heaters. Outdoors on the deck hardy individuals stood against the freezing wind determined to enjoy the full experience of the Harbour Lights at Night boat trip that John and I booked as part of our long weekend stay in The Big Apple. I bet you thought I’d be curled up in a cosy corner of the cabin with a warm bowl of cat-friendly milk. But actually I was one of the troopers shivering outside on the benches as the boat charged down the River Hudson and the chilly air parted my fur and made it all clumpy.
The Statue of Liberty was the first significant sight to behold on our river cruise and by the time we reached it the sun was setting in the West, casting long shadows across the shimmering grey water while the orange horizon gradually transformed to midnight blue. With her 35 foot waistline, she was an imposing figure standing at 305 feet from the base of the pedestal foundation to the tip of the torch. But I thought she looked small compared to the plethora of high-rise buildings that sweep across Manhattan Island. The light green of her robes are the result of natural weathering of the copper that covers the statue and a close look at her feet reveal the symbolic broken shackles of oppression and tyranny. Her torch is covered with thin sheets of 24carat gold and there are seven rays on her crown, one for each of the continents of the world.
The boat continued chugging South flanking downtown New York as the tour guide whose voice could barely be heard above the roaring engines told us about the buildings we were passing. The likes of the Empire State Building and the new World Trade Centre stood proud amidst the concrete jungle of office and apartment buildings and brightly lit shop fronts that criss-cross the city. The captain navigated the edge of Staten Island and took us under the Brooklyn Bridge before showing us a 120 foot long Pepsi Cola sign that has gained landmark status. The red neon sign was built in 1936 in an industrial area bordering the East River in Long Island City and is a recognisable icon at the waterfront of Queens. By the time the boat turned around to head back to Pier 83, the river water was pitch black and my fluffy toes were numb with cold. Happy that I had seen the sun set over New Jersey and the flickering lights of the iconic Manhattan skyline, I headed into the indoor compartment to warm my cockles on John’s thick fleece and wonder how I would cope with the dizzying heights of the Rockefeller Centre which we had planned for the next day.
Well folks, Shad’s back, and there’ll be no more baby talk! Instead I’d like to tell you about the time I took a trip down the River with John. Initially I was apprehensive about the idea given that boats don’t have brakes and I had visions of drifting down the Thames out of control, crashing into the lions that line the embankment (I’ll tell you about those in a minute) and coming a cropper across the Thames Barrier. A daring helicopter rescue would ensue and the newspapers would be hot on our trail, no doubt ending with embarrassing pictures of me in a life jacket clinging to the captain’s trouser leg. John assured me that this scenario was very unlikely as the crew were experienced at parking boats by using reverse thrust from the engines and drag from the water before securing the boat with ropes to the pier.
So let me tell you about the lions along the embankment. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were actual lions from Africa patrolling the banks of the River Thames, stopping bad guys from committing crimes and roaring whenever a boat passed by, may be wearing capes to indicate their super hero status! Sadly they are not that kind of lion, although I don’t suppose real lions from Africa would be that keen on hanging around the streets of London! No these lions hold mooring rings in their mouths and keep watch along the river as a flood warning system from a time before the Thames Barrier was built. It was said that if the water hit the lions’ mouths, the underground should be evacuated. The captain of the boat told us a few fun rhymes that local people say including, “If the lions will drink, London will sink”. “When it’s up to their manes, we’ll go down the drains”. “If the lions are ducked, London is … out of luck”.
If you’re wondering about the pirate ship in the photographs, it’s the Cutty Sark – a 19th century sailing vessel called a ‘clipper’ ship with wooden hull planks and an iron framework used to carry tea from China and wool from Australia before steam powered boats became the new master of the seas. There are many bridges over the River Thames and the unique construction of each one of them tells a story. We passed under Blackfriars Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge, Charing Cross Railway Bridge and Waterloo Bridge which was constructed by women while the nation’s men were sent to fight in the Second World War. Go girls! Another monument of interest on our river boat cruise is Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,500 year old obelisk made in Egypt and shipped to Britain in 1878 to commemorate the victory over Napoleon, at the peril of many of the sailors who navigated the treacherous seas in a cigar-shaped container ship to convey this treasure to England’s shores. The things some people will do to show off!