Riding the rails

    Medium US
    Spotlight 1/2022
    Person blickt über New York
    © Noam Galai/Getty Images
    Von Talitha Linehan

    My trip is about to begin. I’ll be traveling from bustlinggeschäftig, hektischbustling New York City to historical Savannah, Georgia, about 1,290 kilometers further south on the Atlantic coast. During the 15-hour train ride on the national railroad, Amtrak, I’ll see the landscape that lies between these port cities.

    What’s new in New York?

    A triangle of glass is the only thing holding me 100 stories above the streets of Manhattan. I’m standing on the glass floor of the Edge, a new, outdoor observation deckAussichtsplattformobservation deck that to extendsich erstrecken, reichenextends nearly 25 meters out from the building at 30 Hudson Yards, on Manhattan’s West Side. Below my feet, streets to wrap aroundsich windenwrap around a row of skyscrapers, built in the last decade to form New York’s newest neighborhood.

    I lean against the glass at the deck’s edge and can see right across the Hudson River to the city of New Jersey, recognizing landmarkWahrzeichenlandmarks on the skyline, such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

    One of New York’s tallest skyscrapers, 30 Hudson Yards is part of a multibillion-dollar developmentMilliarden-Bauprojektmultibillion-dollar development: a new neighborhood of residentialWohn-residential and commercial buildings. I explore the shops, restaurants, and art installations – including a wall of ceramic flowers – on the lower stories of the building before leaving to meet Millie, from Royal City Tours.

    Millie guides me through Hudson Yards, pointing out some of the eight structures that were built in the first phase of development and completed in 2019. The most remarkable structure is the Vessel, an attraction often described as New York’s Eiffel Tower. It looks like a honeycombHonigwabehoneycomb and is 16 stories high, with about 2,500 interconnectingmiteinander verbundeninterconnecting steps. Sadly, it’s currently closed to the public, but Millie is hopeful that it will reopen not too far in the future.

    Along the High Line

    At the edge of Hudson Yards, Millie and I turn onto one end of the High Line, an elevatederhöhtelevated garden path that runs south from here for two and a half kilometers, through the neighborhoodhier: (Stadt)Viertelneighborhood of Chelsea. Millie explains that the path is built along an old railroad that closed in 1980 and lay abandonedverlassen, aufgelassenabandoned for decades.

    We’re standing on the newest and final part of the High Line, a public space called the Spur, which opened in 2019. At our feet is a stretch of the original railroad, built around the early 1930s to transport freight trainGüterzugfreight trains through the city. In front of us is a military droneDrohnenflugzeugmilitary drone sculpture by artist Sam Durant. It’s mounted on the Plinth, which to showcaseausstellen, präsentierenshowcases a different artwork every 18 months. All around us are panoramic views of the reflective glass exteriors of Hudson Yards and the busy streets of Midtown Manhattan.

    From the Spur, we walk south along the High Line, between strips of garden planted with flowers, shrubBusch, Staudeshrubs, and trees grown organicallyhier: in biologischer Anbauweiseorganically in as little as 45 centimeters of soilErdbodensoil. We take in the views of the city below and stop to admire the many art installations along the path. My favorite is Equal Measure, a giant metronome by Israeli-born artist Naama Tsabar. Near the end of the High Line, we pass rows of long wooden benches, where artists sit to sketchzeichnensketching, and we walk through the building that once housed the National Biscuit Company, birthplace of the iconickultigiconic Oreo cookie.

    I say goodbye to Millie and walk across a footbridge to Little Island, an artificialkünstlichartificial island park in the Hudson River that opened to the public in 2021. It’s supported by 132 pot-shaped columnSäule; hier: Trägercolumns rising out of the river at different heights. I follow a path through manicuredgepflegtmanicured gardens to the amphitheater, where a group of drummers are filling the air with a rhythmic beat. From here, I climb to one of three overlooks, ending my exploration of what’s new in New York much as I began it, with more spectacular views of Manhattan, the Hudson River, and the horizon beyond.

    Adventure on Amtrak

    The next morning, I’m up early to take the 6:02 a.m. Amtrak train from New York to Savannah. I’m one of the first passengers of the day at Moynihan Train Hall, an expansionErweiterung, Ausbauexpansion of Penn Station that opened on January 1, 2021. It’s inside the James A. Farley Building, which served as New York’s main post office for much of the 1900s.

    Inside the near-empty hall, I wheel my luggage across polished floors and under high glass ceilings, joining a handful of other sleepy passengers in the waiting room. Here, I to pass the timesich die Zeit vertreibenpass the time by admiring the wooden decor, which was inspired by historic train stations, and the artwork on the walls. There are nine photographic panelFototafelphotographic panels by artist Stan Douglas, recreating scenes from Penn Station’s history. One of the panels to depictdarstellendepicts a vaudeville showVarietévaudeville show organized by performers stranded at the station during a snowstorm in 1914.

    My train is waiting at the platform, so I go over to the other long-distance passengers at the back. We to settle insich niederlassen, es sich gemütlich machensettle in and soon leave the station, beginning a 15-hour journey south through ten states, including the capital of the U.S.: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

    A window on another world

    This is my first time on a long-distance train journey in the U.S., and my first time in this part of the country. Scenes flash by my window, each one a story I wish I could tell: demolition yardSchrottplatzdemolition yards piled high with flattened cars; water towers on long metal legs; empty buildings with boarded upzugenageltboarded-up windows; rows of headstoneGrabsteinheadstones in ruralländlichrural cemeteryFriedhofcemeteries

    Our first extraordinary moment comes in Pennsylvania, where we’re to treat sb. to sth.jmdn. mit etw. verwöhnentreated to a clear view of Philadelphia’s skyline, dreamlike in the hazydiesig, dunstighazy morning sun. A short time later, we’re riding alongside the Susquehanna River. This is the longest river on the East Coast of the U.S., running more than 700 kilometers through three states. The calm waters to give way to sth.etw. weichengive way to lushüppiglush greeneryGrüngreenery and then to thick forests of toweringhoch aufragendtowering trees.

    As we travel deeper into the South, I keep reaching for my phone to look up the names of the cities we’re passing through, places I’ve never heard of, such as Weldon in North Carolina.

    I learn that it was the first railroad “hub,” or center, in the South. When it opened in 1840, this was the end point of the 260-kilometer-long Wilmington and Weldon Railroad – the longest railroad in the world at the time.

    Many of the cities in the South have histories tied to the railroad, to the American War of Independence, fought in the Thirteen Coloniesdreizehn britische Kolonien an der Ostküste NordamerikasThirteen Colonies between 1765 and 1791, and to the American Civil War (1861–65), between the United States (the North) and the 11 Southern states that had to secede from sth.sich von etw. lossagenseceded from it. The final stretchStück, Streckestretch of the train journey is dominated by rural scenes that make me try to imagine those times: grand, colonial-era homes with large gardens, a patchwork of cropGetreidecrop fields, and the thickest forests I’ve seen yet. I can’t help feeling to cheatbetrügencheated when darkness falls, to blot sth. outetw. verdunkelnblotting out my view.

    What’s old in Savannah

    Savannah prides itself on being America’s most haunted citySpukstadthaunted city, and I get the unnervingbeunruhigendunnerving sense that I’m not alone in my room at the East Bay Inn. Housed in an 1852 Greek Revival styleklassizistische Richtung der engl. Architektur Anfang des 19. Jh.Greek-Revival-style building near the edge of the city’s Historic District, the hotel has high ceilings, elegant brickworkZiegelmauer(n)brickwork, and antique-style furnishings that make me feel as though I’ve traveled back in time.

    After a breakfast of Southern-style gritsMaisgrützegrits and eggs, I walk down a set of historical steps to Yamacraw Bluff on the south bank of the Savannah River. A plaque(Gedenk)Tafelplaque tells me that this is “where the colony of Georgia was founded [on] February 12, 1733, by Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe.”

    A British army general and Member of Parliament, Oglethorpe was greeted on arrival here by Tomochichi, chief of the Yamacraw – Native AmericanUreinwohner(in) NordamerikasNative Americans to descendabstammendescended from those who had lived in the area for thousands of years. Oglethorpe managed to establish a relationship based on mutualgegenseitigmutual respect with Tomochichi and the Yamacraw, who helped the colonists to lay out roads and maintain peace with other neighboring Native American tribe(Volks)Stammtribes.

    I walk east along River Street, which is to pavepflasternpaved with cobblestoneKopfsteinpflastercobblestones. Laid during the city’s early years in the 18th century, the stones came from ballast material on the ships that sailed into Savannah’s harbor. To my left is the Savannah River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean just over 30 kilometers away. To my right is a row of shops, restaurants, and art galleries, housed inside buildings where cotton was once bought and sold, and where, tragically, people from Africa were held captive as slaves.

    From River Street, I walk south into the heart of the Historic District, past stylish buildings of varying colonial styles and grand oak treeEicheoak trees hanging with Spanish mossLouisianamoosSpanish moss. This is the oldest part of Georgia’s oldest city, and it’s laid out in a grid patternSchachbrettgrundrissgrid pattern to envision sth.sich etw. vorstellenenvisioned by Oglethorpe, with 22 park-like squares of greenery, fountainSpringbrunnenfountains, and monuments.

    Tales of light and darkness

    On the west edge of the Historic District is the Savannah Visitor Center. Here, I board the Hop-on, Hop-off Trolley operated by Old Savannah Tours. Our guide, Richard, narrates as he drives, pointing out places of interest. Chippewa Square, for example, is where Forrest Gump famously compares life to a box of chocolatehier: Pralinechocolates in the 1994 film of the same name.  

    I hop off the bus at the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters. Built in 1819 and later the home of a wealthy family, this historic house is now a museum – as well as one of the country’s finest examples of English Regency architecture and one of the oldest and best-preserved urban slave quarters in the South. When it opened in the 1950s, the museum focused only on the lives of the Owens family, but now visitors are also able to explore the family’s relationship with the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and labored here.

    Guided by an audio tour, I visit the grand rooms where the wealthy family members dined and to socializesich treffen, Kontakte pflegensocialized, and the simple quarters where the slaves slept at the end of a long, hard day. I’m particularly touched by the storyStockwerkstory of Emma, an enslaved nannyKindermädchennanny who had helped to raise the Owens family’s children. In 1860, she was jailed for a day. We don’t know why, only that it was the adult children who sent her there! And yet Emma stayed with the family after slavery was to abolishabschaffenabolished five years later. Maybe she had nowhere else to go.

    As darkness falls, I walk south through the Historic District to join the Sixth Sense Savannah Ghost Tour. Our guide, Lady Ravenwood, takes us to the Mercer Williams House, where its owner shot dead his male lover in 1981. Guests at the Mercer Williams House have reported seeing the ghosts of both men. The murder became the subject of John Berendt’s 1994 nonfiction novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was made into a movie by Clint Eastwood in 1997.

    We also stop by the Forsyth Park fountain, beneath which the bodies of 666 people who died of yellow feverGelbfieberyellow fever are said to be buried in a cryptKryptacrypt. And finally, we visit what’s believed to be the city’s most haunted house. I don’t see a ghost, but I do walk away with a strong sense of Savannah’s spirit – rich in history, mystery, and a Southern charm I will never forget.

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