Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra are hosting its
14th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island this summer – as
Arenella notes, just one year shy of 100 years since the Roaring 20’s got
underway. His homage to the Jazz Age era brings out the best of New York, with
ladies donning their flappers dresses, feathers, sequins and pearls, and the
fellows their straw hats, suspenders, bow ties and white linen suits. And each
year, it seems, there are more and more kids.
Michael Arenella, an aficionado of the Jazz Age, has
compiled a song book. He transcribes by hand the music from period recordings,
and introduces them with quaint tidbits.
“For Michael, the Jazz Age never really ended, it just fell
He really gets into character, and everyone thoroughly
enjoys the trip back in time, even looking every bit Gatsby-esque when he
marches his orchestra out among the picnickers and into a vintage Rolls Royce
This year features a return of his popular entertainers:
Robert Ross as Emcee; Roddy Caravella and the incomparable Canarsie Wobblers
putting on different dance routines; the Gelber & Manning Band; Peter
Mintun on the piano; Queen Esther and her jazz trio; Gretchen Fenston; Julie
The event typically starts off with a dance lesson
instructed by Roddy Caravella – on the Saturday, it was the Charleston, and in
the afternoon a Charleston contest which was won by by 9 ½-year old Aidan
The romantic mood really takes over on the dance floor as
Max Singer surprised his sweetheart, Bryanna Doe, with a proposal of marriage.
If you missed out on this rollicking good time, you have
another chance: Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra bring another Jazz
Age Lawn Party to Governors Island on August 24 & 25, noon to 6 pm.
Purchase tickets in advance www.jazzagelawnparty.com.
The New York Philharmonic’s 2019 Concerts in the Parks, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, provided a stunning introduction to conductor Jaap van Zweden, completing his first season as the Philharmonic’s Music Director, leading the orchestra in a program of Rossini’s Overture to “La gazza ladra” (The Thieving Magpie); Copland’s “Hoe-Down,” from Rodeo; and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27. The concert also featured astonishing compositions by two 12-year olds in the Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers (VYC) program, and their opportunity to hear their works performed by the full symphony orchestra in front of 50,000 people in Central Park and thousands more in concerts in Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, Cunningham Park, Queens; and Prospect Park, Brooklyn. (For the schedule, see www.nyphil.org.)
In the 54 years that the New York Philharmonic has offered the Summer Concerts in the Parks (for the past 13 years, the series has been presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer), some 15 million people have enjoyed “priceless music absolutely free, under the stars” and with fireworks, no less. It is a vast communal picnic with music the food of love. Play on.
This is the second year that the concert has also showcased original compositions of its Very Young Composers – a program that was begun 20 years ago to give children an opportunity to learn about music in an after-school program in New York’s public schools, with the best of them being performed by members of the Philharmonic, and the very, very best by the full orchestra. There are some 200 students enrolled in schools all over the city; the Philharmonic also partners with schools around the country and the world to offer similar programs. (The director of Education and Community Outreach, Gary Padmore was on his way to Shanghai.)
Nilomi Weerakkody, a 12-year old who is a sixth grader at the Dalton School, composed “Soundscape for Orchestra,” turning the sounds of nature into a symphonic composition.
For “Ociantrose,” Mack Scocca-Ho,
a 12-year old who has been composing since he was 3, created an imaginary city,
Ociantrose, the capital of Myanolar. His composition celebrates Ociantrose’s
distinctive identity, a bustling city where order is not imposed by the
government but arises from the residents. The musical themes suggest “the
variety of people and the harmony emerging form independence.”
The Philharmonic is raising money
to subsidize its education programs – with a challenge that if it raises
$400,000 by August 31, a donor will match with $200,000 (go to www.nyphil.org).
Next season will showcase “Project
19,” marking the centennial of the 19th amendment with new works by
19 female composers – the largest commissioning program of women ever
undertaken by an orchestra, said Deborah Borda, the New York Philharmonic’s
President and Chief Executive Officer. Also, “Mahler’s New York” honors New
York’s past through two of his symphonies with an examination of the
composer-conductor’s time in the city. The “hotspots” festival focuses on three
“new” music centers – Berlin, Reykjavik and New York.
“New York is more than the
Philharmonic’s home,” Borda writes. “This city is in our blood and its high
standards fuel our planning and performances.”
Here are highlights from this
year’s Summer in the Parks concerts:
On a grand night at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Long Island, five of the Apollo astronauts, including three of only 12 men who have ever walked on the moon, and two flight directors who controlled the Apollo missions, reflected on their experiences. It was an epic event in a year of events at the museum marking the 50th Anniversary of the first man to walk on the moon, inspiring interest in space science, which will climax on July 20 at the exact moment when Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind.”
Cradle of Aviation Museum has special meaning to the astronauts, many of whom
have come to the museum over the years to give talks and participate in events.
Not only is it home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of Lunar
Modules,(LM-13, LTA-1), Lunar Module parts and Lunar Module photos and
documentation, but it also is home to the engineers of Grumman Aerospace
Corporation that designed, built and tested the Lunar Modules between 1961-1972
which successfully landed 12 men on the moon between 1969-1972.
Rusty Schweickartwas the first to pilot the Lunar Module, testing the craft on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969 before it was used on the moon in Apollo 11. He was one of the first astronauts to space-walk without a tether, and one of the first to transmit live TV pictures from space. He is also credited with development of the hardware and procedures which prolonged the life of the Skylab space station.
Schweickart reflected on a moment when he was essentially stranded in space. “I turned around and looked at earth, brilliant blue horizon. There was no sound – I was floating inside my suit which was floating. Just hanging out looking at earth, completely silent. My responsibility at that moment was to absorb: I’m a human being. Questions floated in: how did I get here, why was I here. I realized the answer was not simple. What does ‘I’ mean? ‘Me’ or ‘us’. Humanity – our partnership with machines allowed humankind to move out to this environment. 10,000 years from now, it will still be the moment when humanity stepped out to space. While we celebrate something we were part of, it’s one of the events in human history, , that if we don’t wipe ourselves out, we will still have this unique moment in time when life moved out to outer space.”
Fred Haise,the Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 13 mission, would have been the 6th man to walk on the moon. After the Apollo program ended in 1977, he worked on the Shuttle program, and after retiring from NASA, worked for 16 years as an executive for Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Haise reflected that when JFK made his challenge to go to the moon before the end of the decade, he thought this was mission impossible based on where the technology was. “I saw nothing at hand that would have accomplished that. By then, there was just Alan Shepherd who went up and down, the rockets were invented by Germans in World War II.”
When the disaster struck the Apollo 13 – an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the Service Module which supplied power and life support to the Command Module, he reflected, “We weren’t afraid. All of us in the program did the best we could. We were aware of the problems. Everyone was willing to pay the price to make the mission successful.”
situation was not immediately life-threatening . ”Clearly we had lost one tank. I was sick to
my stomach with disappointment that we had lost the moon. It took us almost an
hour to stop the leak in the second tank. “
The Lunar Module was pressed into service as a literally lifeboat and tugboat – a role never anticipated for it.
“The LM bought time. I was never worried. Not sure how it would operate past the two days. Nothing had been damaged in the LM, so I knew we had a homestead we could operate from, and people on the ground were losing a lot of sleep working through the challenges. We never really got to the cliff we were about the fall off.”
Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of cooling water and the critical need to make repairs to the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth. It was hailed as the most successful failure.
Charlie Duke (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16, the 10th person to walk on the moon and the youngest, at 36 years old), reflected “Driving over the surface of the moon, we didn’t have TV. I was the travel guide for mission control, 250,000 miles away. So I narrated, ‘Now we’re passing on the right…’ – giving a travelogue – as we drove from point A to point B, and I was taking pictures. My job was to get us A to B and describe for mission control what seeing while John was driving…
“The rover did tremendously well, it revolutionized lunar exploration. Prior, we had to walk everywhere, not the easiest thing. Thankfully the rover was a revolution to see so much. Say to all the Grumman folks here who worked on that, you guys built a great machine. We shared the moon speed record because the odometer only went to 17 mph. Three rovers are up there – if you want an $8 million car with a dead battery.”
Harrison Schmitt(Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17) was also a former geologist, professor, US Senator from New Mexico. He was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 17, the final manned lunar landing mission. He was the first scientist and one of the last astronauts to walk on the moon – the 12th man and second youngest person to set foot on the moon.
“The thing about our valley [where the
mission explored], Apollo worked in a brilliant sun, as brilliant as any New
Mexico sun, but the sky was absolute black. That was hard to get used to. We
grow up with blue skies. I never felt comfortable with black sky. But in that
black sky was of course that seemingly small planet Earth, always hanging over
the same part of the valley. Whenever I was homesick, I would just look up –
home was only 250,000 miles away.”
Milt Windler was one of the four flight directors of Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team, all of whom were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard M. Nixon for their work in guiding the crippled spacecraft safely back to Earth. Formerly a jet fight pilot, he joined NASA in 1959 during Project Mercury. Windler also served as a flight director for Apollo 8, 10, 11, 14, 15 and all three Skylab missions. After Apollo, he worked in the Space shuttle project office on Remote Manipulator Systems Operations until 1978. He is the recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.
Reflecting on the Apollo 13 mission, he said, “It is a common misconception that flight control was one person all 15 days of a mission. But missions were divided into distinct phases – launch, lunar descent, EVA, rendezvous – and there were teams for each. Each team simulated, practiced problems. One of the things that worked well on Apollo was anticipating what would happen. After a flight, we would discuss lessons learned, to come up with improvements. By the time of Apollo 13 developed a real serious problem, we were a finely honed machine.”
Gerry Griffinjoined NASA in 1964 as flight controller in Mission Control during Project Gemini. In 1968, he was named a Mission Control flight director, for all the Apollo manned mission. Gerry’s “Gold” team conducted half of the lunar landings made during Apollo 14, 16, and 17, and would have conducted the landing of Apollo 13 but played a key role in the safe return of the astronauts. Later Griffin played several Hollywood roles in movies including “Apollo 13, “ “Contact”, Deep Space” and “From the Earth to the Moon,”, as a consultant and even an actor.
The astronauts reflected on the “perfect storm”
of forces and factors that resulted in the incomparable space program that put
a man on the moon within a decade – Griffin, quoting Neil Armstrong, said you
needed four things: threat, bold leadership, public support and resources. “He
said that most of the time, those are out of sequence with each other – you may
have the threat but not the resources. It was a perfect storm when Apollo
happened”: the threat from the Soviet Union taking mastery of space frontier; a
balanced budget not yet weighted down by national debt; bold political
leadership and public support. “You had the resources and human resources,
primarily from World War II from the aviation industry, with Grumman part of
it hadn’t been Apollo, it would have been something else. When the Soviets
launched Sputnik and then Gagarin [became the first man in space], the threat
was clear, and everything else fell into line. I think he’s right. Nowadays, we
have a threat now – China – those guys are good. There is a technological
threat now, and could be more later. Leadership? Draw your own conclusion. Resources?
We haven’t had them. Public support? … But I’m an optimistic. If we are going
to make 2024 – that’s awful tight, but I was like Fred, I didn’t think we could
land on moon in the 1960s, but we did. Maybe if things line up better, we could
do it by 2024, if not 2028.”
Asked why we haven’t been back to the moon, Schweickart said, “You need to be young, innovative, not an aging bureaucracy….
need technological, political courage. The moon was in exactly the right place.
The next steps are not quite that easy . There is a debate between going back
to the moon or on to Mars that has raged for years and still does. There’s not
the same opportunity that we had at that time. In many ways, the most important
thing in terms of a sense of challenge, moving out, moving forward is one of
age. Bureaucracy – corporation or government – where the average age increases
every year, you’re cooked.”
are much more encouraged by private enterprise taking over space exploration.
“You don’t see much about Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos, but we will. When you see
[Elon Musks’s] SpaceX launch Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and bring back two stages
that land in formation, and the cameras show all these kids, 20 years old,
hooping and hollering, they did it! That’s what it takes. NASA used to be that
way. Part of the real juice in space exploration is encouraging private
activities in space. That today is where most of the juice is, getting young
people involved is the key, giving them the opportunity. Jeff Bezos says it
well. His fundamental motivating, commitment to space is to reduce the cost so
more and more can take part and therefore dramatically increase the quality and
opportunity for innovation. As the cost of getting to space drops, the
creativity will dramatically increase. That’s where it’s at in the future.”
Walt Cunningham a fighter pilot before he became an astronaut, in 1968, he was a Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 7 mission. He’s also been a physicist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author of “The All American Boys.”
“Our society is changing,”
he reflected the next evening when he gave a lecture at the museum. “Back when
Apollo was a story of exploration and adventure – my generation – we had te opportunity
and courage to reach around the moon and to the stars. We were willing to take
risks, didn’t shy from unknown. In those days, it seemed normal to do what we
were doing – exploring the next frontier. Today, the entire world takes pride
in this greatest adventure.”
Sixty years ago, “the
main drive was beating Russians to the moon. They beat us around earth. When
that started a technological fight to finish, not a single American had been in
orbit, but Kennedy was willing to take the risk – not just technological, but
human, economic, political. He took the initiative, the leadership. Today, that
goal is history. Fifty years ago, we never thought of failing –we had fighter
pilot attitude – common dream to test limits of imagination, daring.
“That attitude enabled
us to overcome obstacles. Any project as complex as Apollo required resources,
technology, but most importantly, the will. Driven by the Cold War, all three came
together in the 1960s and we went to moon. Think of it: only three generations separated
man’s first flight off the earth and man’s first orbit around the earth. Only
ironically, on the same day as the astronauts were assembled at Cradle of
Aviation, President Donald Trump was contradicting Vice President Mike Pence
and his own policy, which said that the US would be back on the moon by 2024.
Trump called another moon mission a
waste of money which should be spent, instead to go to Mars.
Trump also has called for the creation of a
Space Force, a new branch of the armed forces, effectively undoing the spirit
of international cooperation in space exploration to advance human knowledge,
with a shift toward militarizing space.
The countdown clock in the lobby of the Cradle of Aviation Museum showed 43 days to July 20, the 50th anniversary of the first man to walk on the moon, on the night of the museum’s grand gala at which seven former astronauts and flight directors were feted – Walt Cunningham (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 7), Rusty Schweickart(Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 9), Fred Haise(Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 13). Charlie Duke (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16), Harrison Schmitt(Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17) and Apollo Flight Directors, Gerry Griffin and Milt Windler – along with Grumman employees who built the lunar module and the equipment which put them there.
Throughout this year, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Long Island, not far from where the lunar module was designed and built by Grumman engineers in Bethpage and a stone’s throw from Roosevelt Field where Charles Lindbergh took off for his historic transatlantic flight to Paris, has been hosting special events to mark the anniversary, use it for STEM education and inspire a new generation eager to reach for the stars.
The events climax on July 20, when at the exact same moment as Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind”, a replica lunar module will descend from the ceiling. Museum goers also can see an actual lunar module, one of the six that Grumman built (three are still on the moon, and the other three are in the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and here at the Cradle of Aviation Museum).
One of the extraordinary exhibits on view at the museum now is“Space: A Journey to Our Future,” which is on view through August 18, 2019, an absolutely thrilling, immersive exhibit which takes you from the dawn of man’s earliest visions of space exploration to the heroic achievements of the past, the unfolding discoveries of today, and the frontiers of the universe that lie ahead. You get to touch actual rocks from the lunar surface and the red planet, explore a futuristic Lunar Base Camp while walking through a full-size space habitat and work pod, get an up-close look at a wide range of artifacts from the space program and experience the past, present and future of space through these and dozens of other displays, interactive (try your hand at landing the space shuttle!) and experiences.
Also, as part of this special celebration, the museumis showing Todd Douglas Miller’s new documentary film, “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition,” a special giant-screen edition created exclusively for science centers and museum theaters, like Cradle’s Dome Theater. With a newly-discovered trove of never-before-seen 70mm footage and audio recordings, APOLLO 11: First Steps Edition joins Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the Mission Control team and millions of spectators around the world, during those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future.
at 50: Moon Fest,” on July 20 will be a family festival (9:30-5 pm, with
activities 12-4pm) with visits from Long Island Space Shuttle Astronauts
including Bill Shepherd (Babylon) and Charlie Carmada (Ozone Park). All day
activities include virtual reality experiences, model rocket launches, and a countdown
at 4:18 pm to collectively watch, re-experience, and honor as a community, the
historic “The Eagle has Landed” Lunar Module landing on the moon. As a special
bonus, all museum attendees will get a free showing of the new highly-acclaimed
documentary, Apollo 11 First Steps Edition in the immersive
Dome Theater. (Tickets: $20)
Then, in the evening, there will be a Countdown Celebration, a lively dinner and champagne toast with 1960s music and dancing, as the community watches and re-experiences the unforgettable first steps on the moon at 10:56 pm with a special moon landing viewing and countdown. There will also be photo opportunities in a re-created 1969 living room. (The dinner event ticket includes admission to Apollo Moon Fest events during the day; tickets: $125).
Island: The Nation’s Cradle of Aviation
Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center is home to over 75 planes and
spacecraft representing over 100 years
of aviation history, from hot air balloons to the lunar module, in eight
galleries, a planetarium and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum commemorates and
celebrates Long Island’s part in the history of aviation and space
exploration. It is set on land once part of Mitchel Air Force
Base which, together with nearby Roosevelt Field and other
airfields on the Hempstead Plains, was the site of many historic flights.
In fact, so many seminal flights occurred in the area, that by the mid-1920s
the cluster of airfields was already dubbed the “Cradle of Aviation”, the
origin of the museum’s name. The Museum was recently recognized and listed on New
York State’s National Register of Historic Places as a significant part of
The museum originally opened with just a handful of aircraft
in the un-restored hangars in 1980. A major renovation and expansion program in
the late 1990s allowed the museum to re-open in a state-of-the-art facility in
2002. The museum is undergoing a major fund-raising campaign for a future
It is remarkable to
contemplate that within a century, aviation went from the Wright Brothers to
the moon, from a dangerous sport to mass transportation and commercial
enterprise, and Long Island played a significant part.
It starts with Long Island’s geography: a natural airfield,
on the eastern edge of the United States, the western edge of the Atlantic
Ocean, adjacent to a major population center, and Hempstead Plains, the only
natural prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains, writes Joshua Stoff, Curator,
Cradle of Aviation Museum.
We trace flying back to the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC
in 1903, lasting 59 seconds over a distance of 852 feet but Stoff notes that the
first recorded aircraft flight took place on Long Island, in 1896 when a
Lilienthal-type glider was flown from the bluffs along Nassau County’s north
shore. By 1902 gasoline-powered airships were flown over Brooklyn (why doesn’t
Long Island get more credit?). By 1910, there were three airfields operating on
the Hempstead Plains, Long Islanders were building their own planes, and there
were several flying schools and aircraft factories that made Long Island “the
center of the aviation world.” Exhibits show artifacts of these early pursuits.
Belmont Park hosted the 1910 International Aviation Meet of
the greatest aviators from America and Europe.
“The period between 1918
and 1939 is considered the ‘Golden Age of Aviation’ when flying went from being
a dangerous sport to a major commercial industry,” Stoff writes. Most famous of
all was Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo transatlantic flight, from Roosevelt
Field to Paris, in 1927. “This single event revolutionized aviation as nothing
else before or since…
“By the early 1930s Roosevelt Field was the largest and
busiest civilian airfield in America with over 150 aviation businesses and 450
planes based there. In 1937 the first regular commercial transatlantic airline
service in America was begun at Port Washington as huge Pan American Martin and
Boeing flying boats departed and arrived regularly at Manhasset Bay.”
World War II sparked aviation and demand for aircraft. The two
biggest aircraft companies, Grumman, was founded in Long island in 1930;
Republic in 1931. They produced most of the military aircraft; other companies,
Sperry, Brewster, Ranger, and Columbia, also contributed to the war effort. By
1945, 100,000 Long Islanders were employed in the aircraft industry.
Though aircraft are no longer manufactured on Long Island
(the Grumman plant in Bethpage is now a movie and television studio), it is
surprising to realize that there are still 240 Long Island producing parts for
virtually every American aircraft that flies.
Long Island’s important
contribution to aviation is brilliant displayed in exhibits throughout the
Long Island in Space
Thomas J. Kelly, of
Cutchogue, retired president of the Grumman Space Station Integration Division
and formerly lunar module engineering director, writes that there is still some
Long Island left on the moon – six spacecraft built on Long Island remain on
Designing and building those craft, as part of the greater
challenge of beating the Russians to the moon by 1969, was a monumental
endeavor. Writing on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the
moon landing, Kelly reflected, “For some 7,000 Grumman employees, however, it
was far more intimate than an issue of national prestige. We felt personally
empowered to put Americans at the edge of a frontier that even today seems
incomprehensible. Yet not only did we succeed in meeting the mission; the
efforts of our nation’s commitment to lunar exploration also inspired people
around the world and showed the finest possibilities of human achievement and
of creating technology that now helps to power our society…
“Nobody at Grumman who worked on the LM will ever forget it.
Even the 12-and 14-hour weekdays, the frustrating paperwork and the sheer
complexity of designing, building and testing the module could not dim our
dedication. From the sweeper to the chief engineer, we all knew that we were
part of a majestic endeavor, that we were making history happen.”
At the gala, I meet Richard A. Hoffman sitting in front of the museum’s own actual lunar module, built by Grumman in Bethpage. He was a metallurgist who determined what the different parts should be made of aluminum for the struts, titanium for the propellant tanks, stainless steel propellant lines, high output silver and silver oxide batteries. He had to figure the pyrotechnics that would cause the four bolts that secured the module on the descent, to burst at just the right time with guillotine cutters for lift off from the moon. Hoffman told me he came to Grumman in the summer of 1963, and got a job there right after graduating Brooklyn Polytech in 1964. He was in just the right place at the right time, when Grumman started working on the Apollo program and he was transferred to engineering.
It’s officially the start of the summer
family vacation season! Getting out and experiencing things first hand is the
best way to cultivate learning, open minds and hearts. Travel experiences
engage children, forge bonds and build lifelong memories. Here are some “get
out there and do it” summer family vacation ideas:
Looking for adventure, for
discovery, for immersion in culture, heritage or the natural world? Many of the
most respected ecotourism and adventure operators offer special itineraries
tailored for families:
Planet Adventures has family-focused departures in
Costa Rica, Africa, Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Laos, Nepal,
Panama, Peru, Thailand and Zambia. “If your kid lives for
Animal Planet, then their eyes will light up when you bring them to visit the
same world famous Sloth Sanctuary they saw on the Discovery Channel, where baby
sloths are being fed with an eye-dropper at their breakfast table. They’ll go
crazy for our hands-on wildlife rescue center in Costa Rica, our treehouses,
ziplines, tiger sanctuary and floating aqua-lodge in Thailand, the penguins and
mating and courtship rituals of the wildlife in the Galapagos, and the cowboy
adventure activities in Brazil’s Pantanal, culminating with sightings of
jaguars. The mix of wildlife and cultural experiences in India is particularly
suited to parents who want to ignite their family’s passion to make a
difference in the world. It will instill a genuine sense of gratitude and
appreciation for life, for the opportunities we have, and for the things we
take for granted.” Wild Planet customizes family departures with a minimum of 4
travelers and often puts families with similar age kids together on the same
trip which means new friends for the kids.
Austin Adventures is offering 40 family adventures across the globe, among them itineraries to the most popular national parks including Grand Canyon, Alaska-Kenai Fjords National Park, Bryce & Zion, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Glacier, the Black Hills of South Dakota (Mount Rushmore), and Banff to Jasper national parks (austinadventures.com, 800-575-1540). To assist in vacation planning, Austin Adventures also offers a free Insider’s Guide to Planning the Perfect Family Adventure (www.austinadventures.com/free-family-travel-guide/).
National Geographic Family Journeys, in partnership with G Adventures, is a new line of small-group trips designed for adventurous, multigenerational families in search of a meaningful way to discover the world together. Each itinerary features interactive activities inspired by National Geographic’s expertise in photography and storytelling, wildlife, culture, and history to encourage kids and adults alike to connect with the world around them. Among the destinations: Alaska, Costa Rica, National Parks, Japan, Southern Africa, Tanzania: A Serengeti Safari, France, Iceland, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Vietnam to Cambodia. (www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/trip-types/family-journeys)
Thomson Family Adventures, Watertown, MA, has new family itineraries in Iceland, Scotland, Morocco, Brazil, Egypt and Vietnam (familyadventures.com, 800-262-6255).
Adventures, Seattle, WA, offers specially
tailored family adventures to South America, Asia, Central America,
Mediterranean, North America, as well as Africa family safaris (www.wildland.com/travel-styles/family-travel, 800-345-4453)
Biketours.com, Chattanooga, TN which specializes in Europe, has recommended itineraries for families; I can personally recommend the Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, which I did with my sons – one of the best trips of my life. You can do it as a self-guided tour – it is very easy to follow, and that gives you more control over your schedule, as well as excellent value. BikeTours.com also offers an itinerary specially tailored for families with children (1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37377, 877-462-2423, 423-756-8907, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.biketours.com/family-friendly).
Trek Travel has family
itineraries that include biking, hiking, kayaking and ziplining in places like
Zion National Park, the San Juan Islands, Vermont and Prague-to-Vienna. (866.464.8735, https://trektravel.com/trip-type/family/)
have also recommended outstanding biketours close to home that do good
while giving everybody a fantastic experience: Parks & Trails NY offers its annual 8-day 400-mile Cycle the
Erie camping and biking adventure (400 miles and 400 years of history!) that
draws families of all configurations (grandparents with grandchildren,
multi-generations, father-daughter, mother-son) and ages, some with tiny tots
in tow, as well as self-pedalers as young as 10 years old. A major highlight is
camping out at Fort Stanwix, Rome NY, an 18th century living-history
experience. This year’s trip is July 7-14 (518-434-1583, www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour)
Camping has really changed over time, frequently offering a range of experiences from rustic adventures to resort-style all in the same venue. Kampgrounds of America, with 485 locations in North America, makes it easy to find camping resorts by destination, amenities and programming (www.koa.com/Campgrounds). We have a personal favorite: the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA is a true camping resort, set along a creek (tubing, fishing) and close by the Erie Canal (cruises, biking), and most unique of all, a chance to mine for Herkimer diamonds! The Herkimer KOA offers unbelievably delightful themed cabins (would you believe a cabin with its own star observatory?), fabulous activities. Choose a cabin, cottage or RV or tent site. (Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, www.herkimerdiamond.com.)
The most intriguing in my book is the full-service Lion Country Safari’s award winning KOA campground located adjacent to the 320 acre drive through wild animal preserve and theme park, yet secluded enough for a restful campout (though you are apt to hear the lions roaring), offering RV sites, tent sites and rustic cabins (www.lioncountrysafari.com/koa/, 561-793-1084).
One of the best family experiences (a nonstop giggle) is on a dude ranch. New York State actually has several of them, such as Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, Hudson Valley, (845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com), which has been delighting generations of families with its all-inclusive fun (meals, entertainment, activities and riding). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (the new owners of the venerable Pinegrove Ranch), 30 Cherrytown Rd, Kerhonkson, NY 12446-2148, 866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com). Ridin’ Hy, an absolutely delightful guest ranch in the Adirondack State Park, near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com.
Check out the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association members (www.coloradoranch.com, 866-942-3472), like the luxurious C Lazy U Ranch which since 1919 has provided highest level of personalized service, professional horsemanship programs, first-class amenities, enriching children’s programs, gourmet meals and upscale accommodations; or the Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch, which opened in 1912 and considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado, is also ideally located just southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park and nestled in a peaceful valley along the Colorado River.
with a Twist
Harbor Resort, Mid-Coast, Maine: This resort
(“Pure Maine”) manages to be a delightful cross between fine resort and a camp,
with plenty of opportunity to be outdoors, while still enjoying such
refinements as golf, full-service waterfront Fairwinds Spa, plus marvelous activities
like kayaking (do the moonlight kayak trip, it is beyond fabulous), boating.
Actually, you can imagine Sebasco being the kind of “camp” that the Gilded Age
moguls would have for one of their holiday homes. Nestled among whispering
pines on the rugged coast Sebasco spans 550 acres with breathtaking views and a
wealth of activities the entire family can enjoy. We stayed in the converted
Lighthouse for the most magical experience. Check out special deals. (Sebasco
Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Rd., Sebasco Estates, ME, 04565, 877-389-1161, www.sebasco.com).
Among our favorite grand, historic
resorts for families for facilities, activities programs, destination, sense of
heritage and “place,” and overall aahhh experience:
Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vermont on 700 acres of
Lake Champlain shoreline is about the best family-friendly luxury resort you
can imagine. Just about every activity you would want is on hand: golf, hiking,
biking, kayaking, cruises on Lake Champlain, fishing, watersports, tennis,
outdoor pool children’s activities program (4800 Basin Harbor Road Vergennes,
VT 05491 email@example.com, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com).
Top Inn & Resort, tucked in a Courier & Ives
landscape in Chittenden, Vermont, near Killington, has all the charm, the
warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury,
amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It offers just about
every outdoors activity you can imagine, even an equestrian center, private
lakeside beach, children’s adventure camp, tennis, disc golf, clay-bird
shooting, and hiking, biking, golf nearby. (195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden,
Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com)
A real novelty in historic hotels (and a fantastic city to visit) is the Choo Choo Train Hotel in Chattanooga, TN, where you actually stay in a historic train car (motel rooms also available), and the station is the restaurant and lobby. So fun! (1400 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, 423-266-5000, 800-Track29, choochoo.com)
Other favorites: Mohonk Mountain House (gorgeous setting, water sports, horseback riding, fantastic hiking, climbing, Victorian elegance); Equinox, Manchester, Vt. (all sports including falcon training, world-class spa,); The Sagamore, Bolton Landing on Lake George NY (Gilded Age ambiance); The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania (added benefit: proximity to Hershey theme park); Cranwell Resorts, Spa and Golf Club, Lenox, MA (proximity to all the culture of Lenox, including Tanglewood, plus historic sites like Melville’s home, Arrowwood);The Boulders, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pennsylvania. (Many more ideas at historichotels.org, 800-678-8946.)
Also, many of the mountain resorts known for skiing transform into summer destinations with mountain biking, hiking, ziplines, children’s activity programs and scores of outdoor pursuits, and significantly, typically offer great rates and package deals for summer: Smugglers Notch is renowned for having the best children and family activities program anywhere, smuggs.com); Stowe, Vt. (stowe.com), famous for its Topnotch Resort (find specials at www.topnotchresort.com/packages-specials); Hunter Mountain (huntermtn.com); the Vail resorts (www.snow.com/info/lodging-sale.aspx).
you lucky enough to be visiting Yosemite National Park? You couldn’t ask for a
more spectacular accommodation than Tenaya Lodge,
a full-service luxury resort hotel, closest to entrance to the park, now
offering guests to receive a
free 7-Day Yosemite Park Pass and up to 25% off select activities at the time
of booking. (My Yosemite Offer
valid through Sept. 21, 2019, based on
availability, 866-467-0874, use Promo
Code: MYYOSEMITE, TenayaLodge.com).
Cruising is always a great choice
for families – a way to see lots of different places with minimal hassle. Best
itineraries (and cruiselines that have best family programs) are to Alaska, the
Galapagos (really a favorite for grandparents to take their grandkids). I would
also suggest Bermuda as a fantastic cruising destination, easy to reach from
the New York metro area, that is so rich in culture, history and nature
(beaches!) (Royal Caribbean sails from Bayonne; Norwegian from New York)
For those who want a floating resort with rock walls, ropes course, ziplines, glitzy Broadway and Las Vegas-style entertainment and great supervised children’s activity programs, the most acclaimed lines are Royal Caribbean; Norwegian Cruise Line; Carnival Cruise Line; Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. (See more at www.cruisecritic.com; booking help at cruisecompete.com).
But here is a novel choice: Maine Windjammer Cruises – these are
historic sailing vessels repurposed for passengers, that ply the waters around
Rockland and Camden, Maine in the Penobscot Bay. The experience is more rustic
(part of the fun!), where passengers can help raise and lower sails, even
steer, help serve and gather plates for meals served in the galley or on deck.
You can even choose to sleep out under the stars instead of in the cabin, which
is outfitted more like you would expect of summer camp, with bunk beds and
shared bathroom facilities (hot showers are available). All the cruises
typically include a lobster bake on a secluded beach.
Many of the cruises have
special-interest themes, and some are very dramatic that include a Schooner
Gam, where all the historic schooners gather in one place and tie up and
passengers can go and visit; there is also an annual Schooner Race which is
tremendous fun. Visit the Maine Windjammer Association for a list of the eight
ships in the fleet and description of age-appropriate sailings (usually 10
years old) and themed cruises (music, storytelling, whaling, wellness,
seamanship, among them). In the past, we have sailed on the Victory Chimes (the
largest in the fleet) and the American Eagle (www.sailmainecoast.com, 800-807-9463).
Another novel experience is renting a canalboat on the Erie Canal (like a floating RV), tying up where whimsy takes you and exploring the canaltowns on foot and by bike on the tow-path that has been turned into a bikeway. It’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in history, and terrific fun to go through the locks, and have the bridges lift just for you. Mid-Lakes Navigation, Skaneateles, has these specially designed Lockmaster canalboats that are easy to maneuver, very comfortable, and oh so charming. (800-545-4318, firstname.lastname@example.org, midlakesnav.com).
with Living History, Immersive Experiences
And what about immersing in today’s headlines? One of the best family destinations in the world is the nation’s capital, Washington DC, where you can visit the Capital, the National Archives, Museums of the Smithsonian Institution (19 of them) including the National Air & Space Museum, Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution Building (the castle), the National Zoological Park (National Zoo); as well as private museums including the Newseum and International Spy Museum. Plan a visit at Washington.org.
Summer is a magical time in New York City, with a burst of the finest cultural institutions opening their doors, coming outdoors and letting all the world in.
Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park
The Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis;
Executive Director, Patrick Willingham) has begun performances of the 2019 Free
Shakespeare in the Park production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Delacorte
Theater, continuing a 57-year tradition of free theater in Central Park. Directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon, the
all-black staging of this beloved comedy will run through Sunday, June 23.
Then, for the first
time since 1979, Free Shakespeare in the Park will present CORIOLANUS, the Bard’s blistering drama about a general voted into
power by a populace hungry for change, and the unraveling that follows. Tony
Award winner Daniel Sullivan (Proof, Shakespeare In
The Park’s Troilus and Cressida) directs a
modern-day version of this riveting epic of democracy and demagoguery, July
This year, there will be voucher or ticket distributions
over the course of the summer in all five boroughs for almost every public
performance of Free Shakespeare in the Park, continuing The Public’s mission of
making great theater accessible to all. This summer’s distributions at
libraries, recreation centers, and community partners throughout New York City,
will have more locations and dates than ever to provide New Yorkers even more
opportunities to obtain free tickets. To see a complete borough distribution
schedule, visit publictheater.org/borough.
Kenny Leon directs a bold new take on Shakespeare’s
cherished comedy of romantic retribution and miscommunication, MUCH ADO ABOUT
NOTHING. In this modern production, we find the community of Messina
celebrating a break from an ongoing war. But not all is peaceful amid the
revelry, as old rivals engage in a battle of wits, unexpected foes plot
revenge, and young lovers are caught in a tumultuous courtship – until love
proves the ultimate trickster, and undoes them all.
The all-black cast of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
includes Jamar Brathwaite (Ensemble), Danielle Brooks (Beatrice), Grantham
Coleman (Benedick), Chuck Cooper (Leonato), Javen K. Crosby (Ensemble), Denzel
DeAngelo Fields (Ensemble), Jeremie Harris (Claudio), Tayler Harris (Ensemble),
Erik Laray Harvey (Antonio/Verges), Kai Heath (Messenger), Daniel Croix
Henderson (Balthasar), Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Friar Francis/Sexton),
Tiffany Denise Hobbs (Ursula), Lateefah Holder (Dogberry), LaWanda Hopkins
(Dancer), Billy Eugene Jones (Don Pedro), Margaret Odette (Hero), Hubert
Point-Du Jour (Don John), William Roberson (Ensemble), Jaime Lincoln Smith
(Borachio), Jazmine Stewart (Ensemble), Khiry Walker (Conrade/Ensemble), Olivia
Washington (Margaret), and Latra A. Wilson (Dancer).
To enable as many New Yorkers as possible the
opportunity to experience Free Shakespeare in the Park there will be an open
caption performance of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING on Friday, June 14; an ASL
performance on Saturday, June 15; and an ADA audio described performance on
Thursday, June 13.
Since 1962, over five million people have enjoyed
more than 150 free productions of Shakespeare and other classical works and
musicals at the Delacorte Theater. Conceived by founder Joseph Papp as a way to
make great theater accessible to all, The Public’s Free Shakespeare in the Park
continues to be the bedrock of the Company’s mission to increase access and
engage the community.
This season, The Public proudly welcomes the return
of Jerome L. Greene Foundation and Bank of America as season sponsors.
The Public continues the work of its visionary
founder Joe Papp as a civic institution engaging, both on-stage and off, with
some of the most important ideas and social issues of today. Conceived over 60
years ago as one of the nation’s first nonprofit theaters, The Public has long
operated on the principles that theater is an essential cultural force and that
art and culture belong to everyone. Under the leadership of Artistic Director
Oskar Eustis and Executive Director Patrick Willingham, The Public’s wide
breadth of programming includes an annual season of new work at its landmark
home at Astor Place, Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in
Central Park, The Mobile Unit touring throughout New York City’s five boroughs,
Public Forum, Under the Radar, Public Studio, Public Works, Public Shakespeare
Initiative, and Joe’s Pub. Since premiering HAIR in 1967, The Public continues
to create the canon of American Theater and is currently represented on
Broadway by the Tony Award-winning musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Their programs and productions can also be seen regionally across the country
and around the world. The Public has received 59 Tony Awards, 170 Obie Awards,
53 Drama Desk Awards, 56 Lortel Awards, 34 Outer Critic Circle Awards, 13 New
York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, and 6 Pulitzer Prizes.
Tickets to The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in
the Park are distributed in a number of ways. On the day of each public
performance, free tickets may be acquired in person at The Delacorte Theater,
through a digital lottery via the TodayTix website or mobile app, in person at
a borough distribution site, and via an in person lottery in the lobby of The
Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. All tickets are subject to
availability. A performance calendar and complete ticket distribution details
can be found at PublicTheater.org. A limited number of tickets are also
available via advance reservation by making a contribution in support of Free
Shakespeare in the Park. To learn more, or to make a contribution, call
212.967.7555, or visit PublicTheater.org. The Delacorte Theater in Central Park
is accessible by entering at 81st Street and Central Park West or at 79th
Street and Fifth Avenue (publictheater.org).
Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series
Features 6 Free Concerts
The Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 Summer
Recital Series once again brings free outdoor recitals, featuring established
artists and young talents of the opera world, to New Yorkers in all five
boroughs. The series, now in its 11th year, features six free concerts
embracing all five boroughs, and has become an operatic summer tradition.
Presented in collaboration with City
Parks Foundation’s SummerStage Festival, the first two concerts, on Monday,
June 10 at 8 p.m. at Central Park SummerStage (Manhattan) and Wednesday, June
12 at 7 p.m. at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn), will feature soprano Ying
Fang,who sang a featured role in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito this
season,and tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Nathan Gunn,who sang
together this season in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. They will be joined by
Met pianist Dan Saunders.
Four additional recitals feature soprano Leah Hawkins and tenor Mario Bahg, current members of
the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and baritone Joseph Lim, a winner of the Met’s
National Council Auditions. They will be accompanied by Met pianist Dimitri Dover. Their concerts will
take place on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m. in Jackie Robinson Park (Manhattan);
Saturday, June 15 at 4 p.m. in Williamsbridge Oval (Bronx); Monday, June 17 at
7 p.m. in Socrates Sculpture Park (Queens); and Wednesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. in
Clove Lakes Park (Staten Island).
The Met’s Summer Recital Series will
feature arias and duets, as well as Broadway standards and other classical
Met’s Summer Recital Series is supported, in part, by public funds from the New
York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council,
and in collaboration with the Department of Parks and Recreation. Major funding
has also been provided by The Elizabeth B. McGraw Foundation, in honor of Mrs.
The New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks,
Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, have become an iconic New York summer
experience since they began in 1965, transforming parks throughout the city
into a patchwork of picnickers and providing music lovers with an opportunity
to hear the best classical music under the stars.
The concerts will take place Tuesday June 11 in Van
Cortlandt Park, Bronx; Wednesday, June
12 in Central Park, Manhattan, Thursday, June 13 in Cunningham Park in Queens,
Friday, June 14 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and Sunday, June 16 in Staten
All performances begin at 8 PM except the Free Indoor Concert in Staten Island,
which begins at 4 PM.
The scheduled program includes Rossini, Overture
to La Gazza Ladra; Works by Very Young Composers of New York City; and Copland’s
Hoe-Down, from Rodeo.
There will be fireworks by Volt Live following the
performances in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.
Now celebrating its
41st year, the annual Museum Mile Festival takes place rain or shine on
Tuesday, June 11, from 6 to 9 pm. Walk the Mile on Fifth Avenue between 82nd
Street and 110th Street while visiting some of New York City’s finest cultural
institutions, which are open free to the public throughout the evening. Special
exhibitions and works from permanent collections are on view inside the
museums’ galleries, with live music and art-making workshops on Fifth Avenue at
stretch of Fifth Avenue is home to seven participating institutions—El Museo
del Barrio, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Jewish Museum, Neue Galerie
and the Museum of the City of New York. In addition to all the art to see
inside, there are plenty of outdoor festivities: face painting, chalk drawing,
live music and other block-party-type events. (http://museummilefestival.org/)
Age Lawn Party, Governors Island
Nostalgia doesn’t begin to describe the feeling that
permeates Governors Island for the two weekends (June 15 & 16, August 24 & 25) each
summer that thousands of people, many decked out in 1920s regalia, elaborate
picnic baskets in hand, disembark from ferries from lower Manhattan and
This, the 14th year of the festival, is
especially poignant because it is also the 100th anniversary of
Prohibition and all that the counter-culture (women’s rights!) Jazz Age
It is also one of New York City’s
most glamorous and entertaining events of the summer.
Jazz Age Lawn Party started in 2005 as a small gathering on NYC’s Governors
Island, and has since grown into one of New York City’s most beloved events.
This historically sold out event attracts thousands of time travelers each
year, who come together to discover the music and zeitgeist of the 1920s.
Consistently selected by the New York Times as one of the year’s most memorable
events, Jazz Age Lawn Party offers a unique, interactive opportunity to relive
one of the most colorful and formative epochs in American history.
The event is held rain or shine; food is available
for sale but people love to bring their own picnics (outside alcohol is prohibited, but
there is alcohol, including Prohibition-era inspired cocktails, for sale).
Though enjoying Governor’s Island is free (and there
are fascinating historic sites as well as art and cultural and recreational
activities on the island, and you can hear the music, admission to the
festivities is by ticket (which cost up to $175). Purchase tickets in advance https://www.eventbrite.com/o/jazz-age-lawn-party-18523813336
(no charge for children 12 and under).
The US Air Force Thunderbirds headlined the 16th Annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, flying the thrilling red, white and blue F-16s. The event over Memorial Day Weekend draws almost 400,000 in the course of three days.
Most thrilling at this year’s Memorial Day weekend
Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, Long Island, were the number of women doing
the most daring feats: US Air Force Thunderbirds pilot Michelle Curran,
commanding the “Opposing Solo”; Jessy Panzer, the only civilian woman aerobatic pilot in the
country, mimicking the astonishing stunts of Sean D. Tucker, a “living legend”
of aerobatics; Golden Knights parachutist Maj. Marissa Chierichella and the Red
Bull Air Force sky diving team had Amy Chmelecki.
This was the 16th
annual Jones Beach air show – I’ve seen almost all of them – and though many of
the performances repeat year after year, or follow a two-year cycle, this show
was particularly exciting with the infusion of new energy.
The headliners, the US Air Force
Thunderbirds, are a team of
six F-16 Fighting Falcons that roar through the skies, to demonstrate the power
and dexterity of these fighting crafts. Most thrilling is when the two opposing
solos race at each other at combined speed of 1000 mph.
We were treated to the final appearance of Sean D. Tucker’s specially-engineered plane that enables him to do feats never before imagined, the Oracle Challenger 3, will be donated to the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington, where it will be part of a new Thomas W. Haas We All Fly gallery, opening in 2021.
This year, for the first time, Tucker flew in tandem
with Jessy Panzer, the only female civilian air show pilot in the USA. Together,
Team Oracle performed the most
exquisite, thrilling pas de deux in flight, with incredible precision at 200
miles mph, at bone-crushing G-forces, with Panzer magnificently following the
smoke trails of Tucker. Her skill is all the more apparent since she is flying
a different plane from the Oracle Challenger 3 biplane. And the back-story –
that each were afraid of flying initially, he because his father was an
aviation lawyer who knew all too well the risks, and she because her father
died in an airplane crash.
GEICO Skytypers, a team of advanced training aircraft used in World War II, are
fascinating because they demonstrate actual fighting techniques – an implosion
run where they evade the enemy by actually flying into each other to create
confusion, missing each other by mere feet; opposing craft which come at each
other at incredible speed.
traditionally kicks off with a ceremonial parachute drop by a representative of
the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, delivering the
American flag to a tiny target on Jones Beach. The whole team then returns for
a demonstration performance. They barrel out of their plane from an altitude of
12,500 ft, at a speed of 120 mph before pulling the cord to release their
parachute; in one demonstration we see what happens when a chute fails at just
5,000 ft. (they have a spare chute). We learn that the parachutes they use, use
the same aeronautical techniques as the original Wright Brothers plane in 1903.
Red Bull Air
Force launch out of a plane from 13,000 feet, speeding like
a cannon ball at almost 200 mph, crossing in flight, before releasing the
parachute, and sailing down at 60 mph to the target. The helicopter is the only
aerobatic helicopter in the US.
The F-18 Super
Hornet, traveling at 700 mph, nearly breaking the sound
barrier, where the pilot experiences bone-crushing Gs. The fighter is flown by the United States Navy and Marines
flying for Embry Riddle, performs maneuvers in which he experiences as much as
9 positive Gs and 6 negative Gs.
John Klatt Airshows
and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky teamed up to create a one-of-a-kind plane, the Screamin’
Sasquatch, powered by dual powerplants: a Pratt & Whitney 985 Radial
Engine and a General Electric CJ610 (J85) Jet Engine with 3,000 lbs of thrust.
This system allows the plane to achieve feats other stunt planes are unable to
do. During his performance, Ret. USAF Lt Colonel John Klatt experiences forces
of plus and minus 4Gs, which means a 200 lb. man would weigh 800 lbs. He
travels at 250 mph. Considering the ridiculous aerobatics Klatt performs in the
plane, it is astonishing to learn that the plane is a Taperwing Waco made
famous by the barnstormers of the 1920s and 1930s, and is based on a 1929 Waco,
modified and “beefed up” big time.
Windmiller, Long Island’s
hometown hero (from Melville), thrills spectators in his Zivko Edge 540
aircraft, built especially for aerobatics, with seemingly impossible feats at
speeds of up to 220 mph that keep his peers and his fans in awe. Windmiller has
been flying since 14 year old, soloed at 16 year old and started aerobatic
flying before he got his license and has accumulated 18,000 flight hours,
including 8,000 doing aerobatics. He performs snap rolls, inverted flat spin
(where the plane falls from the sky), 4 knife edge tumblers, inside-outside
US Coast Guard demonstrated a rescue by helicopter into churning seas – on a typical
day, the Coast Guard, with fewer members than can fit in Yankee Stadium, save
15 lives, patrol some 96,000 miles of coastline through the US, as well as
South China Seas, Pacific, Persian Gulf and wherever the US has forces.The air
show also pays homage to aviation’s heritage.
Bayport Aerodrome Society, formed
in 1972 ands composed of aviation professionals, recreational pilots, and
people interested in preserving aviation history, flies aircraft from the 1920s.
As a “living museum” they have a variety of antique aircraft flying on the
field including Bi-Planes, Champs, and Cubs. One of their pilots, is 92-year
old pilot who served in World War II, who flew with his grandson.
World War II vintage aircraft from the American Air Power
Museum, at Republic Airport (flights available over Memorial
Day weekend) were flown, including the B-25 Mitchell Bomber used in the “Catch
22” series on Hulu.
When I signed up for Biketours.com’s guided eight-day “The Emerald
Tour of Slovenia’s Gems”bike tour, I was expecting
sprawling landscapes and quaint villages. What I wasn’t expecting was to be
surprised each day by some unique attraction. The final days of the trip
bring us to the stud farm in Lipica where the famous Lipizaner horses,
so identified with Vienna, were first bred, to Skocjan Caves, so special as to
be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the enchanting medieval city of
Day 5: Štanjel – Lipica – Divaca (30
Our fourth day of riding brings
us first to the lovely village and botanical garden in Sežana, which is at the
stop of a high hill (all castles are), in a very quaint village.
We stop in a nearby village to
buy food for lunch and picnic in a rather scenic spot under a tree just next to
Then it’s on to the stud farm of
Lipica, where we visit these beautiful thoroughbred Lipizaner horses whose
glistening white coats and gentle, graceful dancing have earned them a
worldwide reputation. The history of the Lipica horses is closely linked to the
Vienna riding school, because this part of the country used to be part of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. They continue to breed and train the famed horses
Founded some 430 years
ago, this is claimed to be the oldest stud farm in the world. The Archduke of
Austria bought it in 1580 – the Turkish
Empire had invaded and Austrians needed horses for the military. They bred the
local karst horse – well built, muscular, intelligent, long lived – with
Spanish stallions and later Arabian and Italian stallions.
We get to visit the
stables and learn that the white color is the result of selective breeding from
the 1750s, but not all the horses are white.
We visit the stables,
the Lipikum Museum, the museum of carriages, an art gallery, and on the way
out, see the horses in pastures, tree avenues (they used to plant trees in
honor of the horses that were sent to Vienna).
There are other
experiences available here (including a luxury hotel and casino), but we have
arrived at the end of the day.
We finish the day’s ride
at the Hotel Malovec, where the owner, a butcher, also opened a restaurant (he
also owns the Hotel Kras where we stayed in Postojna). I have a massive t-bone
Day 6: Divaca – Muggia (23
This day offers the most varied
of experiences, beginning with a hike through Skocjan
Caves (a UNESCO natural monument), biking 39
km through countryside to the picturesque town of Muggia on the Bay of Trieste,
where we arrive early enough in the afternoon to get to swim in the Adriatic
(or we can take the ferry into Trieste).
Visiting the Skocjan
Caves is no less spectacular
than the Postojna Caves (minus the thrilling train ride) but the experience is
quite different – this is more of a hike, but unbelievably spectacular – the
highlight is walking over a bridge 45 meters above a roaring river.
Ranking among the most important
caves in the world, the caves, one of the largest known
underground canyons in
the world were
designated a UNESCO natural
world heritage site in 1986.
What distinguishes Škocjan Caves from other caves and places it among the
most famous underground features in the world is the exceptional volume of the
underground canyon and the Rika River that still rushes through. An underground
channel is 3.5 km long, 10 to 60 m wide and over 140 m high. At some
points, it expands into huge underground chambers. The largest of these is
Martel’s Chamber with a volume of 2.2 million cubic m, believed to be the
largest discovered underground chamber in Europe and one of the largest in the
The existence of the
cave has been known since ancient times (and the area is rich with
archeological sites), but concerted exploration of Škocjan Caves began in 1884.
Explorers reached the banks of Mrtvo jezero (Dead Lake) in 1890. Silent Cave (Tiha jama) was discovered in 1904, when some local men climbed the 60-metre
wall of Müller Hall (Müllerjeva dvorana). Then, in 1990, nearly 100 years after Dead Lake was
discovered, Slovenian divers managed to swim through the siphon Ledeni dihnik and
discovered 200 m of new cave passages.
The cave is colossal,
other worldly, that takes your breath away as you walk through in the course of this
2-hour, 2 km tour, during which we will climb/descend some 500 steps.
There are two main parts
to the cave that we get to visit Thajama (Silent Cave), the part that was
discovered in 1904, and “Water Murmuring” Cave (more like water roaring), which
has been opened to tourists since 1933.
We are marched through
the cave (they have an extraordinary number of visitors each day) and
periodically stop for the guide to give us narration. We are informed about the
collapsed ceiling in the Silent Cave, the result of an earthquake 12,000 years
The canyon’s most
spectacular sight is the enormous Martel Chamber. The Great Chamber is 120 meters long, 30 meters high. It takes 100
years for 1 cm of stalagmite to grow, and we see the biggest “dreamstone,”
Giant, 15 meters tall.
We see a square pool of
water which was carved by the first explorers and the original stairs that were
carved with hand tools by these early explorers – mind-boggling to contemplate.
They originally came into the cave following the river, to find a supply of
drinkable water for Trieste.
We walk over the
suspension bridge, 45 meters above the river – an incomparable thrill. Prone to
flooding, as recently as 1965, the river rose 106 meters higher, almost to the ceiling,
so the entire cave would have been underwater.
You almost swoon with
the depth below and height above and space all around – you feel so small.
Looking back to the other side, the flow of people coming down the lighted
trails look ants.
At the very end, there
is an odd area where tourists from a century ago used to actually carve names
into the rock.
We come through the
enormous opening – there is an option to take a cable car back up, but I am
delighted to continue to hike. You come upon a dazzling view down to the
rushing water flooding through an opening in the rock. You again get a sense of
scale by how small the people are nearest to the rushing water.
It’s very cool in the caves
and you should wear decent footgear and a hat (water drips down).
(Skocjan Cave is open daily, but you enter with an organized tour at
specified times; 16E/adults, 12E/Seniors & students, 7.5E children, travelslovenia.org/skocjan-caves/)
With a cheer of “Gremo!”
(“Let’s go”), from Vlasta, our guide, we’re
Vlasta is good natured
and good hearted, patient and considerate. She knows how to organize and keep
us in order without being tough, and has a great sense of humor.
We picnic again, this
time along the country road (not as scenic as yesterday’s cemetery) amid sounds
of a new highway.
Our ride today, 42 km,
is mostly downhill, some of it along the seacoast, to get to Muggia, on the Bay
of Trieste, where we overnight at the Hotel San Rocco, a very pleasant seaside
hotel in the marina (with its own swimming pool).
We arrive about 3:30 in
the afternoon and have the option to take the convenient ferry (half-hour) to
Trieste (I had come through Muggia (and Trieste) the week before on the
Venice-Trieste-Istria biketour.). I decide to have a leisurely afternoon, enjoying
swimming in the Adriatic off the stone beach, and then walking through the
A few of us took the ferry into the city of Trieste in Italy –
once an important port with its worldly flair and wonderful atmosphere –where
you could visit the castle, cathedral
and Piazza Unita central square.
We have a farewell
dinner at a delightful waterfront restaurant in the plaza outside the hotel Vlasta,
our guide -ever patient, considerate, excellent humor, knowledgeable, she asks
us to vote, “Democracy rules,” and tailors the experience to what the group
wants – will be leaving us after she delivers us to our end-point in Piran the
next day and presents us with certificates of completion of the tour.
Day 7: Muggia – Piran (23 miles/37 km or 30 miles/48 km with side trip)
Today’s ride, 46 km from Muggia to Piran, brings us along the coastal road on a new cycling path following a former railway line. There are beautiful vistas of Slovene coast (Slovenia has only 44 km of shoreline).
We ride through Koper, a
major port city, which also has a picturesque old town and Tito Square, one of
few squares still with Tito’s name. There is a beautiful Romanesque cathedral
and a town hall and a market.
There is an exquisite
view of Izola from top of trail at first of three tunnels which were built for
trains, and now is used for the rail-trail.
We stop at a restaurant in the
fashionable resort of Portorož before riding into the adjacent village of
Piran, on the tip of a peninsula. On my prior trip, we had come to Portoroz but
not as far as Piran, and now I see how enchanting this tiny Venetian harbor
Our hotel, the Art Hotel Tartini (very chic, it prides itself on
looking artfully unfinished), overlooks the massive piazza, and is steps away
from the rocky border that serves as a beach for people to swim in the Adriatic.
The hotel has beautiful
outdoor patio/bar and rooftop bar. My balcony overlooks the main square.
I go off to explore – finding myself on this last full
day in Slovenia much as the first: climbing fortress walls that oversee the
I visit the historic
church and walk the Town Walls (2E to climb) that offers a spectacular view of
the Peninsula (it occurs to me the symmetry of ending my Slovenia biketour the
same way I started, looking down at the city from castle walls). The fort dates
from the 10th century – the Venetians ruled for 500 years.
I go off to swim before meeting
our group for our last dinner together, at the
Ivo restaurant, right on the water where we are treated to a gorgeous sunset.
The next morning, I have
more time to enjoy Piran before I catch my bus at the Portoroz bus station for
the airport in Venice.
There is a pirate
festival underway, and a Slovenian Navy battleship in the harbor (very possibly
in celebration of the end of World War I a century earlier).
Art is everywhere in
this whimsical, free-spirited place (women go bare-breasted; people change
their bathing suits in public).
A free bus takes me
one-third of the distance back to Portorose and I walk the rest of the way,
along the glorious waterfront, to the station where I wait for the bus (flixbus.com)
that will bring me back along much of the route I first traveled, back to Marco
Polo International Airport in Venice, a chance to review in my mind the
marvelous sights and experiences of the bike tour.
(I booked this 8-day “Emerald
Tour of Slovenia’s Gems” guided bike
tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of
well-priced guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe,
and has very attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street,
Chattanooga, TN 37405, 423-756-8907, 877-462-2423, www.biketours.com, email@example.com)
When I signed up
for Biketours.com’s guided eight-day “The Emerald
Tour of Slovenia’s Gems”bike tour, I was expecting sprawling landscapes and
quaint villages. What I wasn’t expecting was to be surprised each day by some
unique attraction. Postjana caves, Predjama Castle, Škocjan Caves, the
most magnificent parts of the trip prove not to be above ground, but
underground, as we experience what Slovenia’s karst (limestone) geology really
Day 3: Vrhnika – Postojna (20
miles/32 km or 27 miles/44 km with side trip)
Our second day of biking is a bit
more demanding as we cycle 36 km up and down over hills, forest roads and a “typical”
karst polje (field) with intermittent rain showers. We leave the main tourist
routes and ride through the Slovenian countryside, cycling passed the beautiful
Slivnica Mountain and the “disappearing” lake of Planina. And if there is a
theme for the day, it is about Slovenia’s remarkable natural wonders.
We stop in the Rakov Škocjan nature reserve, where the Rak River
has carved out a beautiful gorge, interesting landscape
formations, including two natural bridges – which proves just a teaser for what we will experience later.
Indeed, the spectacular highlight comes after we check in to our
hotel, Hotel Kras. We quickly
drop our things and walk
up to Slovenia’s justifiably most popular tourist attraction, the Postojna Caves.
Spectacular is an
understatement. Colossal only begins to describe it. Stupendous is probably
The jaw-dropping Postojna Cave, the most extensive cave system in
Slovenia, is a series of caverns, halls and
passages some 24 km long and two million years old.
The visit begins with a
spectacularly thrilling train ride that Disney would envy (but there is no
warning to “keep your hands inside the car, your head down and hold on to your
kids!” just a brief whistle and we’re off). The open railway car speeds us
through the narrow, twisting opening more than a mile into the cave, some 120
meters below the surface and I swear, unless you were mindful, you
might lose your head on a protruding rock face.
Rather than a Disney ride, the image that comes to mind (no less surreal) is
the frantic train ride Harry Potter takes to escape Gringots.
Then we get to walk 1.5 km
through this fantastic cave system of massive halls, stunning rock formations,
stalagmites, stalactites that have been carved by the Pivka River. It is impossible to
imagine how the first people explored these caves – it was discovered 1818 and first opened to visitors in
1819. We walk over what is
known as the “Russian Bridge,” built by World War I Russian POWs, for tourists. The scale of the
halls is not to be believed.
They manage to
move some 1,500 people through the caves each day on the 1 1/2-hour tour, that ends with a peek at an aquarium
containing the proteus they call a
“human fish”, a mysterious creature that lives in dark pools inside
the caves – just one of some 100 species that live in this netherworld.
Another thrilling rail ride
whisks us 2.5 km out of the caves to the surface. (Wear a jacket, the cave is
about 10 degrees Celsius, and you need appropriate foot gear.)
Day 4: Postojna – Štanjel/Kodreti (26 miles/42 km or 30 miles/48 km with side trip)
It is hard to imagine anything as thrilling as the
Postojna caves, but this day’s attraction is also breathtaking and
It is foggy when we set out on
what will be a 48 km biking day, but becomes sunny and cool. We take a short
detour, riding 11 km (much of it uphill), before we arrive at the incredible
sight of Predjama Castle, improbably built into a crevasse halfway up a
The impenetrable fortress, first built in 1274 by the Patriarch of Aquileia (I was there! just a week before on the Venice-Trieste-Istria self-guided bike tour! See bit.ly/2JnF8Su) that looks down at the valley protrudes dramatically into the surrounding basin. It is claimed to be the biggest castle in the world built in a cave.
We are enthralled by the
story of the vivacious and daring knight, Erasmus, the “Slovenian Robin Hood” who
lived here. Erasmus of Lueg, son of the imperial governor of Trieste, Nikolaj
Lueger, was lord of the castle in the 15th
century and a renowned “robber baron.”
As legend has it, Erasmus riled
the Habsburg Monarchy when he killed the commander of the imperial army,
Marshall Pappenheim, for offending the honor of Erasmus’s deceased friend. He
took refuge in the family fortress of Predjama, and, allying himself with
King Mattias Corvinus, attacked Habsburg estates and towns in Carniola. This
angered Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III (a Habsburg) who dispatched the
governor of Trieste, Andrej Ravbar, to capture or kill Erasmus.
The enemy’s strategy was
to blockade the castle and starve Erasmus out, but they didn’t realize that the
castle was actually built at the mouth of a cave, linked to a network of
tunnels that provided “a secret path to freedom”.
had steady access to supplies. He would acquire freshly picked cherries which he would
throw at his adversaries to taunt them.
Erasmus is revered as a hero for keeping the Austrian army at
bay for a year and a day.
The self-guided audio tour you
listen to as you climb through the warren of rooms, is unbelievable. and
learning how Erasmus met his untimely demise (literally caught with his pants
down), is worthy of Greek mythology or Hollywood.
Apparently, the weak
link was the lavatory: Someone in the castle was bribed to signal when Erasmus
went to the lavatory, and they launched a cannonball that killed him. (There
are stone cannonballs laid out so you can get the picture)
“It was never a pleasant
place to live in – cold, dark, damp but safe. There was safety but little comfort.
In the Middle Ages, safety was most important.”
It is fascinating to see
how the castle and the cave intertwined the natural and manmade.
What you appreciate, as
the audio guide notes, is “the inventiveness of Middle Ages people.”
For example, a channel chiseled into the rock provided fresh water, which
was directed to lower floors.
The ruler’s bedroom had
the brightest light, and was the most pleasant and the warmest part of the
We see the 16th century
coat of arms of the family who lived here for 250 years.
We visit the castle
chapel and the vestry and see how it overlooked the torture chamber (there are
sound effects to add atmosphere).
The ceiling of the
medieval Knight’s Hall was painted with ox blood and there is a small secret
room where the family documents were kept safe.
I subsequently learn that after
the siege and destruction of the original castle, its ruins were acquired by
the Oberburg family. In 1511, the second castle, built by the Purgstall family was
destroyed in an earthquake. In 1567, Archduke Charles of Austria leased
the castle to Baron Philipp von Cobenzl, The castle we see today was built in
1570 in the Renaissance style, pressed up against the cliff under the original
Medieval fortification. The castle has
remained in this form, virtually unchanged, to the present day.
In the 18th century, it became one of the favorite
summer residences of the Cobenzl family, among them the Austrian statesman and
famous art collector Philipp von Cobenzi and the diplomat Count Ludwig von
The castle was inherited by Count Michael Coronini von
Cronberg in 1810 and was sold to the Windischgratz family in 1846, who remained
its owners until the end of world War II, when it was nationalized by the Yugoslav
Communist government and turned into a museum.
It costs 37E for a combo
ticket (with the Postojna
cave park and castle),
definitely worth it.
We bike in the
countryside through small villages (“Slovenian
flat “ – rolling terrain- as our guide Vlasta calls it). Quaint homes are decorated with flowers. Vlasta says that
locals are in competition with each other for the best floral decorations.
Stopping for a picture
of flowers that decorate houses, we find ourselves in front of a World War II memorial.
Vlasta uses it as a teaching moment to explain some of the history of Slovenia
and Tito: “Slovenians were against Hitler after Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia,”
she tells us. “Tito broke with Stalin – allowed freer movement (things were
never as bad as in Soviet Union). People could move freely, could go to Trieste
to buy Western goods. There was some self-management.”
She adds, “People always
wanted democracy but some say things were better under Communism. Today, there
is free enterprise but there is also rising income inequality, unemployment,
young people can’t get jobs or afford houses,” she says, sounding a familiar refrain.
“Slovenians used to like to own their own house but mortgages were affordable;
now too much. Now, you may have three generations living in the same house.”
We stop in front of one
of the oldest houses to appreciate the architecture, and again, the use of
flowers as decoration. At another stop, she points to a flag hoisted on top of a
tree pole to signify a marriage.
We stop for lunch at a
delightful restaurant, where we eat at tables outside, under a walnut tree –
Vlasta says women used to take the black for hair dye and to make schnapps (“Of
course, Slovenians make everything into schnapps”). The restaurant has page
after page of items with truffles; I enjoy the fish soup immensely.
vineyards, we meet a woman biking with her two children whose family owns these
500 Riesling vines. She tells us that the family comes together to pick the
grapes – it takes 4 hours – and produce 600 liters of wine.
We arrive at a charming
guest house, Hisa posebne sorte, in Stanjel, at 4 pm, having biked 44 km for the day.
The guest house was built
1991, a modern representation of karst architecture using old stones. The
cellar, which serves as the restaurant, is a large open arch, absolutely
gorgeous, decorated with their daughter’s sculpture (Teacurksorta.com), which I learn also was part of the “dragon”
exhibition at the castle museum in Ljubljana.
The guesthouse offers a
set dinner menu which this evening consists of zucchini soup, fresh baked
bread, a pork dish, and a delectable dessert using the juice from forest
Along the way, we have
seen vineyards, farms, orchards of apples, pears, plums, figs.
The attractions along the
Emerald tour of Slovenia are what make this 8-day bike tour so special. The
climbs – the ups and downs of Slovenian hills make the ride a bit physical. There is not a lot
of English spoken (except in the facilities that accommodate tourists) and it
is hard to read the language, but that just makes Slovenia more exotic, more
interesting, and you find other ways to connect.
(I booked this 8-day “Emerald
Tour of Slovenia’s Gems” guided bike
tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of
well-priced guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe,
and has very attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street,
Chattanooga, TN 37405, 423-756-8907, 877-462-2423, www.biketours.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
When I signed up for
Biketours.com’s guided eight-day bike tour of Slovenia, I was expecting
sprawling landscapes and quaint villages. What I wasn’t expecting was to be
surprised each day by some unique attraction – the most mind-boggling caves I
have ever seen (and most thrilling train ride ever!), a castle built into the
face of a mountain with a cave as a secret back door, the horse farm where the
original Leipzaners we
associate with Vienna were bred and trained,
as well as the surprises we chanced upon, like getting a tour of a centuries
old water mill by the family.
I wasn’t expecting to
find myself at the intersection of a multiplicity of cultures (flowers hoisted
high on a pole to announce a wedding), or thrown back into history. The
picturesque landscapes were like icing on a fabulously rich cake.
This actually was the
second week of my Biketours.com European biking experience. I had decided to
fly into Marco Polo International Airport in Venice to meet up with this guided
tour that started in Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, so I thought, it’s a far way to go for only
eight-days, so why not stop in Venice? And then I thought, Why not see if Biketours.com
offers another biking trip that I can link together?
I found a
Venice-Trieste-Istria itinerary, operated by FunActiv, that ended on the day this
“Emerald Tour of Slovenia’s Gems”, operated by another local operator, Helia,
would start, but it was self-guided. I thought about doing it on my own, but
sent out an invitation and successfully recruited my son to join me. (Thank
goodness, because I think I would have been lost and still wandering around the
wilderness if I had to do it on my own.) The Venice bike trip ended in Istria, in
Croatia, and, after a search on Rome2Rio.com, I found a bus (Flixbus.com) that
would take me into Ljubljana right on time for the
start of the second tour (and then from Piran, where that trip ended, back to
Marco Polo International Airport in Venice).
It is very interesting
to compare the experience of a self-guided tour, with the guided tour.
In the first place,
the guided tour of Slovenia averages 26 miles a day and each day; our
self-guided trip averages 50 miles a day (though we could have shortened the
daily rides by taking train or ferry), so there is more time for sightseeing on
the guided trip which is organized around sightseeing – that is, getting to
sites in a timely way (our leader, Vlasta, our wonderful guide, also takes
votes to see whether we want to detour to take in some attraction, whether we
want her to make dinner reservations for us at a restaurant).
our self-guided trip, we are able to set out from the hotel after a leisurely
breakfast and stop for lunch when we want and spend as much time lingering in a
village but when we come to a cave in time for a 5 pm English-language tour
with still an hour to ride before reaching our destination, we don’t take the
chance and so miss an opportunity. We also miss out on visiting the
castle of Miramare high above the Bay of Grignano just outside of Trieste
(which has a Manet exhibit) because we didn’t know better.
On this Slovenia bike
tour, we ride as a group – Vlasta says we ride only as fast as the slowest,
that one of us will be the “sweep” riding at the back. We don’t even have our
own maps or cue sheets, but follow the leader. I am only a little frustrated
because I have to ask to stop every time I want to take a photo, but it all
We are informed
in advance that the terrain is flat and downhill from Ljubljana to Postojna,
from where it gets a bit hilly (Vlasta says it is “Slovenia flat – rolling hills.
From Stanjel, the cycling is downhill on the way to the coast.
Most of the ride
is on quiet roads, 25% on roads shared with traffic, 3% on dirt or gravel roads
and 2% on dedicated bicycle paths. The tour is appropriate for hybrid and road
Day 1: Arrival to Ljubljana
It is pouring rain as I make my
way from the Porec Hotel in Porec, Croatia, where my eight-day, self-guided
Venice-Trieste-Istria bike trip has ended, to the bus station directly behind
it, and I am grateful that it is not a day I would be biking. I am pretty proud
of myself for having figured out the Flixbus connection – convenient and
inexpensive (after having looked online at Rome2Rio.com for how to get between
the two cities).
At the bus station in Ljubljana,
Slovenia’s capital, I use my GPS to figure out what public bus to take to get
to my hotel in the old city, and after wasting time waiting on the wrong side
of the street, hop on the bus. The driver doesn’t understand me but a fellow on
the bus helps me figure out where my stop is in the Old City, and I find the hotel
just a short walk from the bus.
I have the afternoon to explore
Ljubljana, and miraculously, the rain clears and sun begins to shine as I begin
to explore. I come upon a flash mob dance on a small bridge – one of the most
scenic spots in the city – and roam the narrow, cobblestone streets of the old
town center with its “fin de siècle” mansions.
The Old City is dominated by a
mighty fortress on the highest hill, so of course, that’s where I head, along
with others who realize it is the best place to watch the sun set.
The castle has a museum
inside, open until 9 pm, though you don’t need a ticket to walk around.
Day 2: Ljubljana – Vrhnika (24
miles/39 km or 36 miles/57 km with side trip)
Our group meets together for the first
time after breakfast at the hotel and our guide, Vlasta, orients us to how the
trip is organized. It turns out we are English-speakers from three continents:
a couple from England, a couple and their friend from New Zealand, a couple
from Denver and me, a New Yorker.
We are fitted to our bicycles, load our
luggage into the van that accompanies us, and are off.
Vlasta has organized an easy (flat) first
day of biking (notably, her rule is that we bike only as fast as the slowest
person), but generally 15-20 km/h or 30 km/hr downhill.
Interestingly, we are not given any maps
or cue sheets, and the alphabet is not pronounceable and signs are not
readable, nor do many people speak English; we are completely dependent upon
following the leader. But this is not a problem.
We ride across
the historic plains surrounding the capital, a flat, easy first day. The immense 160-square kilometer marshy
plain, the Ljubljansko Barje, was once a great lake until it dried up 6000
years ago, leaving behind landscape that, we are told, is now home to some of
Europe’s rarest forms of bird, plant and insect life.
We stop at the picturesque Iški
Vintgar Gorge Nature Reserve, carved deep into a stunning limestone dolomite
plateau, and visit the remnants of the world’s highest railway viaduct in
The highlight of the day’s ride –
as is so often the case –is one of those serendipitous happenings:
As we are riding back from
visiting the Gorge, I stop to take photos of a picturesque water wheel.
A young man comes out
and offers to take us inside to see how this ancient mill works. He is soon
followed by his father who explains that it is one of only two left in
Slovenia, and has been in their family for 380 years. There
used to be 9 mills on the river, now he keeps this one running to preserve the
heritage. It is private, not even a designated historic landmark. I admire an
old carriage, and the older man says it was his mother’s dowry 65 years ago.
We continue on, and stop
at a charming restaurant alongside a pond for lunch.
Just before arriving in Vrhnika, where we overnight, we visit
the Technical Museum of the Republic of Slovenia (actually a science and
technical museum), housed in Bistra Castle (later a monastery). The castle (technology museum) is like a maze
inside and it is tremendous fun to explore.
It provides a different
perspective on “technology”. Hunting, for example, includes the dogs used for
hunting and the birds and animals that were hunted.
A woman demonstrates how
she makes lace using a century-old pattern.
Here, we first encounter Joseph
Broz Tito, who served in Yugoslavia’s government from 1943-1980 and was the
dictator for much of that (apparently, he was considered a benevolent
I find my way to this
wonderful collection of Tito’s cars: his Rolls Royce (against the backdrop of a
giant photo), a Tatra from1898, a 1923 Chrysler, a Piccolo which was
manufactured from 1904-1912.
There are all modes of
transportation on display – cars, trucks, bicycles, bus, tractors – and
agricultural tools and machines. It evokes 1960s Communist-era vibe.
Today’s ride, 57 km, all
flat on roads (not dedicated bike trails), is easy cycling today, the weather
cool and comfortable for biking.
was just the warm up. The best is yet to come.
(I booked this 8-day “Emerald
Tour of Slovenia’s Gems” guided bike
tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of well-priced
guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe, and has very
attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN
37405, 423-756-8907, 877-462-2423, www.biketours.com, email@example.com)