Alan Gilbert, in His Final Season Leading NY Philharmonic, Conducts Big Hug-and-Kiss to New Yorkers in Free Parks Concerts

Alan Gilbert, in his final season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducts the orchestra in the free summer Concerts in the Parks series in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

This year’s New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks – its 52nd summer – provided a way to say farewell to Music Director Alan Gilbert. The series, presented for the past 11 years by Didi and Oscar Schafer, was a hug and a kiss to the 100,000 music lovers who come out to the free summer concerts (“priceless music, absolutely free”), at the Great Lawn in Central Park, Manhattan; Cunningham Park, Queens; Prospect Park, Brooklyn and Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx. This season’s program was also the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary season celebration of its hometown, featuring masterworks by Dvořák (Symphony No. 9, From the New World), Leonard Bernstein (Symphonic Dances from West Side Story), and George Gershwin (An American in Paris) — all written in New York and premiered by the Philharmonic  – and was the culmination of its season-long “The New World Initiative”.

Throughout the 2016–17 season, The New World Initiative has explored the New World Symphony’s theme of home and honors New York City and its role as an adopted home. The Philharmonic gave the World Premiere of the New World Symphony in 1893, marking the Orchestra’s first World Premiere of a work written in New York City that would become part of the standard repertoire. The Largo theme was later set to the words “Goin’ Home” by Dvořák’s student William Arms Fisher.

New York Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert conducts a community sing-along of “Goin Home” them from Dvořák’s New World Symphony, all part of The New World Initiative and the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary season celebration of its hometown © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Philharmonic’s free parks concerts have become an iconic New York summer experience since they began in 1965, transforming parks throughout the New York area into a patchwork of picnickers, and providing music lovers with an opportunity to hear the best classical music under the stars. More than 14 million listeners have been delighted by the performances since their inception.

Before the New York Philharmonic takes the stage, it has become a new custom to “Share the Stage” with local musicians. This year, that included BombaYo (Van Cortlandt Park); The Ebony Hillbillies and Zulal (Central Park), The queen’s Cartoonists and Slum Suit (Cunningham Park) and The Side Project (Prospect Park).

And at this year’s concerts in the parks series, audiences joined the Orchestra in community performances of the “Goin’ Home” theme from Dvořák’s New World Symphony, all part of The New World Initiative and the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary season celebration of its hometown. (Dvořák’s  symphony also incorporates the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts.”)

We caught the concert at Cunningham Park, in Queens, which also featured fireworks display.

Alan Gilbert, in his final season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducts the orchestra in the free summer Concerts in the Parks series in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The program was a crowd-pleaser – the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story were simply transporting – and Gilbert looked extremely relaxed and joyful.

Alan Gilbert, who has stepped down as music director of NY Philharmonic, just revealed that he will be trading New York for Hamburg, Germany, leading the Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall as chief conductor.

Alan Gilbert, in his final season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducts the orchestra in the free summer Concerts in the Parks series in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In a phone interview with the New York Times, Gilbert, a frequent guest conductor in Hamburg, said that the Elbphilharmonie’s vision aligned perfectly with his own paradigm for successful 21st-century orchestras. “It’s about how they connect to the cities they serve,” he said. “And one condition for that is the existence of a perfectly appropriate physical space. What’s going on there is related to what’s potentially going to happen here in New York with the idea of redoing David Geffen Hall.”

Gilbert bids farewell to New York in the parks concert program, writing, “It has been a privilege to stand upon this august platform and make decisions that have altered and enhanced New York City’s cultural landscape. When this Orchestra does artistic things, they are noticed, and they inspire others, far and wide. Ultimately, I know my tenure is just one chapter in the Philharmonic’s long story, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.”

Alan Gilbert, in his final season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducts the orchestra in the free summer Concerts in the Parks series in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

As Music Director of the New York Philharmonic since 2009, Alan Gilbert has introduced the positions of The Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence, The Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence, and Artist-in-Association; CONTACT!, the new-music series; the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, an exploration of today’s music; and the New York Philharmonic Global Academy, partnerships with cultural institutions to offer training of pre-professional musicians, often alongside performance residencies. The Financial Times called him “the imaginative maestro-impresario in residence.”

Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alan Gilbert concludes his final season as Music Director with four programs that reflect themes, works, and musicians that hold particular meaning for him, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony alongside Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, Wagner’s complete Das Rheingold in concert, and an exploration of how music can effect positive change in the world. Other highlights include four World Premieres, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre, and Manhattan, performed live to film. He also leads the Orchestra on the EUROPE / SPRING 2017 tour and in performance residencies in Shanghai and Santa Barbara. Past highlights include acclaimed stagings of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd starring Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson (2015 Emmy nomination), and Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake starring Marion Cotillard; 28 World Premieres; a tribute to Boulez and Stucky during the 2016 NY PHIL BIENNIAL; The Nielsen Project; the Verdi Requiem and Bach’s B-minor Mass; the score from 2001: A Space Odyssey, performed live to film; Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony on the tenth anniversary of 9/11; performing violin in Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time; and ten tours around the world.

Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic take bow at the end of the concert in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Conductor laureate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and former principal guest conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Symphony Orchestra, Alan Gilbert regularly conducts leading orchestras around the world. This season he returns to the foremost European orchestras, including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich Philharmonic, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw, and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. He will record Beethoven’s complete piano concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Inon Barnatan, and conduct Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, his first time leading a staged opera there. He made his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut conducting John Adams’s Doctor Atomic in 2008, the DVD of which received a Grammy Award, and he conducted Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux étoiles on a recent album recorded live at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Mr. Gilbert is Director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at The Juilliard School, where he holds the William Schuman Chair in Musical Studies. His honors include Honorary Doctor of Music degrees from The Curtis Institute of Music (2010) and Westminster Choir College (2016), Columbia University’s Ditson Conductor’s Award (2011), election to The American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2014), a Foreign Policy Association Medal for his commitment to cultural diplomacy (2015), Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2015), and New York University’s Lewis Rudin Award for Exemplary Service to New York City (2016).

Here are some parting shots of the meistro.

Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic take bow at the end of the concert in Cunningham Park, Queens © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Fifth Avenue Museum Mile Festival Showcases Exhibits Not to Be Missed This Summer in NYC

The Metropolitan Museum of Art at night © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Even if you were unable to get to the once-a-year Museum Mile Festival along Fifth Avenue on June 13, when six museums (some of them with pricey admissions) throw their doors open to one and all for free, it provided a marvelous preview of some spectacular exhibits that are on through the summer or fall.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the southern “border” of Museum Mile, I visited the Irving Penn Centennial, a marvelous survey of this brilliant photographer’s career and an opportunity to see the museum quality prints that would have been seen in the pages of important magazines like Vogue; the exhibit is on through July 30, 2017.

Met Museum-goers viewing the “Irving Penn Centennial” exhibit © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I went from Irving Penn Centennial to the “Age of Empires” exhibit of breathtaking sculpture and artifacts from the Qin and Han dynasties, spanning 221 BC to 220 AD, including near life-size but extraordinarily realistic statues of terracotta warriors from Xian (so life-like they appear to breathe) that I had seen for the first time when I visited what was at the time newly uncovered site in 1978 in China. This important exhibit is on view through July 16, 2017.

One of the terracotta warriors on view in the “Age of Empires” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, I couldn’t resist, I luxuriated in the galleries devoted to Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Outside, the Met Museum hosted performance art – a troupe of dancers whose movements formed artistic poses. (My favorite time to visit is on a Friday or Saturday evening when the Met is open late, has music on the mezzanine; favorite place to eat is in the American Café in the sculpture garden; also, take a docent-led “Highlights” tour, which brings you all around the museum.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street), New York, NY 10028, (212) 535-7710 http://www.metmuseum.org/. 

Performance of Sidra Bell Dance New York outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the Museum Mile Festival © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

(My clever strategy was to start at the Met at 5 pm, giving me an extra hour of the Museum Mile Festival in order to cover more territory.)

I next visit the Neue Galerie New York and get my annual “fix” of the breathtaking “Woman in Gold” and other Gustav Klint paintings (Klint has become one of my favorite artists).  The Austrian Masterworks exhibit is a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the museum’s founding, highlighting Gustav Klint, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin and Egon Schiele.

Neue Galerie New York, 1048 Fifth Avenue (at 86th Street), New York, NY 10028, (212) 628-6200, http://www.neuegalerie.org/. 

The Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, which always gets an enormous crowd for the Museum Mile festival, is featuring “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim,” “Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life is Cheap” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 88th Street) New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3500, https://www.guggenheim.org/

You get to try your hand at design, at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum housed in an exquisite Fifth Avenue mansion © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institutions, a collection established by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt as the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration in 1897, housed in an exquisite mansion, is presenting a marvelous exhibit, “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s” – bringing together the design elements of the era through a range of furnishings, architecture, clothing, paintings and music, and what made the designs so distinctive and reflective of cultural trends of the time. For example, “Bending the Rules,” the cross-pollination of American and European artists (“A Smaller World”), the infatuation with technology and machines. One of the special delights of the Cooper Hewitt is their interactive opportunities to create designs.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street (off Fifth Avenue) New York, NY 10128, 212-849-8400, http://www.cooperhewitt.org/ 

Painting of the Stettheimer sisters and mother by Jazz Age, avant-garde artist and poet Florine Stettheimer, on view at the Jewish Museum © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Jewish Museum’s special exhibit this season also focuses on the 1920s, featuring the painter and poet and exemplar of the avant-garde, Florine Stettheimer. This was all new to me – I had never heard of her, or her incredible sisters, before (their independence, feminism and stunning range of creativity reminded me of the Bronte sisters, except these ladies did not keep their creative output a secret).

The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, (between 92nd & 93rd Streets), New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3200, www.thejewishmuseum.org.

The two exhibits – at the Cooper Hewitt and the Jewish Museum – are that much more inspiring to see contiguously, to have this extraordinary in-depth insight into the Jazz Age, a time of tumultuous change in culture, social mores and political currents on a scale that only recurred 40 years later, in the 1960s, and now.  I became intrigued when I heard of the Jewish Museum’s exhibit at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island in June (you have another opportunity to enjoy this fantastic festival August 26 & 27, jazzagelawnparty.com; see story)

From there I walked further north, to just about the top of the Museum Mile with only about an hour to go of the festival.

Dancing in the street, outside the Museum of the City of New York, during the Museum Mile Festival © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of the City of New York always has smart, clever exhibits. The not-to-be missed exhibit, “New York at its Core,” that is on now is in three parts, in three different galleries. It explores the essential question, “What makes New York New York?” (Answer: Money, Diversity, Density, Creativity) and takes the city from its very beginnings (room-sized images of neighborhoods morph from centuries ago into today), to its development as a melting pot for cultures, and then lets viewers imagine what the city of the future should look like (“Future City Lab”) and how it should solve the challenges of affordable housing, greenspace, environment, transit, and so forth. One of the most interesting parts is a computer-generated animation that puts you into the scene.

Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029 (212) 534-1672, http://www.mcny.org/  

See yourself in the city of the future and have a crack at solving urban challenges, at the Museum of the City of New York © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at the end of the Museum Mile, El Museo Del Barrio is featuring “Belkis Ayon: Nkame” and “A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayon” El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029, (212) 831-7272 (http://www.elmuseo.org/)

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

 

 

On the River Inn Meets Challenge of Woodstock, Vermont’s ‘Quintessential New England’ Reputation

Discovery Bicycle Tours group gathers in On the River Inn’s restaurant/lounge after the Saturday ride © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagine the pressure on innkeepers wanting to build new in the historic village universally known as “Quintessential New England” with its amazing array of stunning architecture from the 1800s, including the classic Woodstock Inn that graces the village center just across from the green; with its covered wood bridges, classic New England white steepled churches and homes that proudly display dates from the 1800s.

Family owned and operated, the On the River Inn succeeds in stellar fashion, seamlessly integrating the charm of a traditional Vermont inn with lovely vintage and traditional touches while embracing the best of modern design and amenities – large open floor plan, high ceilings, full-length windows from which natural light streams in.

An open floor plan links the bar/lounge and restaurant at the On the River Inn, Woodstock, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, it was deservedly named by Conde Nast Traveler in 2015 as one of the Top Hotels to Open and “the place to visit”. The inn is conveniently located two miles from the picture book village of Woodstock on six acres fronting the Ottauquechee River, so you have easy access to lovely shops, galleries, restaurants without the bustle.

The Inn on the River is selected as our hub for the Discovery Bicycle Tours weekend biking trip (see story). This caps an exceptionally designed program – I mean, you’re in Vermont – in Woodstock, no less – but that is not enough to make a fantastic bike trip. I really appreciate this as I take note of how they have structured the itinerary – the choice of roads (this is a shared-road,, not a bike trail experience) and routes that has to be within the realm of do-ability, as well as stunningly scenic (what you imagine Vermont to be), with decent road conditions (I am amazed at the roads that are unpaved dirt and gravel. But the choice of accommodations is what really caps off the whole Vermont experience. (800-257-2226. 802-457-3553, discoverybicycletours.com)

The low-rise inn is laid out so that each room has view of expansive lawn that stretches to the Ottauquechee River; a balcony (or patio) with rocking chairs, firepits and gazebo (just waiting for a wedding).

The low-rise inn sprawls out horizontally yet is intimate. It may well be feng shui but there is such a sense of peacefulness when you walk in, which also reflects the very welcoming staff.

The indoor pool at On the River Inn, Woodstock, Vermont is refreshing after a day of cycling © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It offers a stunning lap-size indoor pool with gorgeous blue and white tiles, kept to a perfect temperature for swimming, with adjacent hot tub, and dry sauna and fitness center. There is also an expansive library; games and entertainment lounge and toddler play room.

Quirky antiques and vintage items create a feeling of whimsy feel at On the River Inn, Woodstock, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Quirky Vermont antiques and vintage pieces make you smile with their whimsy when you come upon them in the hallways– an old TV, a telephone, Henke ski boots, US Post Office metal mail box door serve as room #s. The hallways are bathed in natural light that streams through full-length windows – a modern touch –  which also contributes to the feeling of well-being.

The restaurant, bar and spacious lounge with fireplace is laid out in an open-floor plan though the room doesn’t feel large because of intimate sitting areas with plush leather chairs and sofas, that make it feel cozy.

The 506 Bistro serves a seasonal menu emphasizing Vermont specialties like Yankee Pot Roast, a organic burger (outstanding) sourced from a nearby farm, fresh strawberry shortcake with Vermont berries. The menu for our group is very varied so there are fish selections (grilled salmon), pasta, meet selections, vegetarian options (ratatouille) and Caesar salad with ahi tuna.

The antique bar and the furnishings of the “kitchen,” where each morning we help ourselves to a buffet breakfast, just add to the pleasant ambiance.

The inn serves a complimentary country breakfast, has coffee/tea out all day (as well as coffee maker, microwave and refrigerator in the room), free WiFi and parking.

Construction is top quality; the furnishings in neutral brown, beige and white. The bedroom is spacious with a king-sized bed, pull out sofa, lounge chair, flat-screen TV; the bathroom is marble with a warming rack.

On the River Inn’s expansive lawn extends to the river © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the River Inn, which is very much a four-season retreat (Killington, Pico, Suicide Six are nearby for winter skiing), is one of several inns owned and operated by a couple  with Vermont roots: Aaren Macksoud is originally from Woodstock; his family owns and operates a maple syrup farm and a Vermont country store). They also own hotels in East Africa (where they live now): Palacina Berlin, Palacina Hotel Nairobi, Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar, Breezes Beach Club and Spa Zanzibar, The Palms Zanzibar and Zawadi Hotel Zanzibar. They also own and operate Tour Africa Safaris, a tour company that specialized in safaris to East Africa and Palacina Interiors one of East Africa’s most prestigious and internationally recognized Interior Design Studios and Retail Stores specializing in Hospitality and Restaurant Design. (Now I understand where the lovely design comes from.)

“We work with a set of principles which we firmly believe customers recognize and appreciate: Maintain international hotel standards, incorporate a beautiful design which reflects the destination, create a feeling of home and ensure that the clients understand from the moment they arrive that the property is family owned. The attention to detail, the emphasis on creating a home away from home, warm hospitality and personalized service have always been our guiding principles.”

Besides being so near Woodstock, nearby attractions include the Billings Farm and Museum, Killington, the Longtail Brewery, King Arthurs Flour.

(On the River Inn, 1653 Rt4 West Woodstock Rd., Woodstock Vt., 802-457-5000, reservations@ontheriverwoodstock.com, generalmanager@ontheriverwoodstock.com, www.ontheriverwoodstock.com.)

See also:

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ On the River Weekend in Woodstock, Vermont, Shows How Personalized a Group Tour Can Be

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ On the River Weekend in Woodstock, Vermont, Shows How Personalized a Group Tour Can Be

Riding Vermont’s country roads on Discovery Bicycle Tours’ On the River Weekend © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have joined a Vermont bike tour centered around Woodstock village, that takes place over Bike Travel Weekend in June. The popular itinerary offered several times during the year by Discovery Bicycle Tours is one of some 850 events around the world this weekend to raise awareness of the joys and benefits (and ease) of bicycle touring.  No one has to convince me – I have long appreciated how bike tours provide everything I look for when I travel: the opportunity to discover, explore, immerse, photograph, encounter at a perfect pace– not too fast and removed as you are traveling by car or bus, and not too slow as hiking so you can cover just the right amount of distance – and, still have a physically exerting experience, a personal challenge, plus the camaraderie of a shared adventure. A bike tour is sight seeing rather than sightseeing; being a participant not an observer; a part of, not apart from, your surroundings; an experience rather than a scene. Bike tours are enriching and satisfying on so many levels.

Making it to the top of the hill! The Pomfret Town Hall © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But as I appreciate during the course of this short weekend, all of that doesn’t just happen. It requires knowledgeable and careful planning that we just take for granted as we experience it – how the route is designed for distance, topography, scenery; the choice of accommodations; the quality of the equipment; the attention, expertise and personality of the guides, not to mention having snacks and cold water readily at hand.

What is surprising to me about the Discovery Bicycle Tours approach is that even though this is a guided, group tour, it is really very individualized. Jim Ortuno, our expert guide, tells us at our first gathering that the goal is for each guest to have “a perfect day” whatever that is – and I contemplate what that actually means and how that might be achieved. So people who are relatively new to biking who don’t want to do the climbs can simply hop into the van (Jim, orients us in advance as to what the topography will be like and where he will be parked for those who don’t want to make the 3 ½ mile climb.)

It is fascinating to see this in practice: how with the two guides – one driving the van, the other biking at the back as the “sweeper” – they are able to accommodate everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, biking ability or interest. It is a guided, supported group ride, but we all go at our own pace, have our own interests and goals – some (like me) stop often for photos and don’t mind the physically exerting climbs; others are new bikers or really don’t want to climb; still others are intense bikers and want to cover the distance at a fast pace.

The On the River weekend bike tour takes you to scenes that evoke Currier & Ives © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, Vermont provides an exquisite setting. Just crossing the border you immediately feel a sense of peace come over you. But these are the Green Mountains, after all. The trip planner has to be cognizant of the hills as well as the traffic situation, since we ride on roads, rather than bike trails.

Riding at our own pace means we can spend time without feeling we are holding up the group investigating an equestrian competition, watching glass blowing at Simon Pearce, or visiting the Billings Farm, or hiking down the Quechee Gorge, or shopping at an artisans market, or constantly stopping to take photos (guilty!) – but are being watched over to make sure nobody has any issues.

The bikes that are included in the program are top quality – Trek, Specialized – and we get to choose whether we want a hybrid or road bike. We have sent in our request and dimensions earlier so that they have our properly sized bikes ready for us at the inn. We can bring our own seats or pedals or clips if we want. They provide the helmets as well and water bottle, and the bikes have a carry-bag with a place to put the written directions and maps.

When I hear a flapping sound in my rear brake that I can’t figure out and Jim, who restores classic cars, can’t immediately fix it either, he whips out a spare bike, just my size, from the top of the van.

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ On the River weekend takes you through Vermont’s scenic countryside A classic Vermont country scene © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The advance preparation is also extremely good. We receive a complete itinerary and directions, packing list. Discovery also makes available the trip’s maps and directions on a Smartphone based GPS app, RIDE WITH GPS (as well as providing meticulously written directions and maps). By downloading the app which has our exact tour routes, we get turn by turn spoken directions, a map of the day’s cycling route, and a live plot displaying our progress throughout the day – how far we’ve gone, average speed, accumulated elevation. “She” gives us fair warning when the big climb is coming so we can get into proper gear, and at the top, gives a verbal high-five; “she” tells us when there is a good general store to stop at where we can take care of business, and even notes when we are coming to an attraction we might want to visit.

Despite the video that we are directed to, most of us can’t figure out how to download the app properly, but Jim and Kenzie Novak get it going for each of us before we set out.

We meet the first night at dinner at the delightful inn selected for this trip, On the River Inn, just about 2 miles outside the center of Woodstock, a quintessential New England village that is visual eye-candy.

After dinner, we meet for an orientation and Jim cleverly organizes an “Icebreaker” (think of one word to describe you:”adventurous”, “fun”, “embarrassing,” “easy-going”, “quirky”, “excited”). There are 11 of us on the tour – a mother and her son and daughter-in-law have come from Illinois and found the tour by a Google search; a fellow came from Miami;  a couple came from Massachusetts; two ladies came from downstate (one had traveled the famous El Camino de Santiago in Spain with Discovery before). Three of us are traveling on our own. Cyclists are the most open-hearted, open-minded, open-to-new-experiences sort of people and within moments we congeal into a single group.

Jim suggests a trick for tackling the climb: just look down and directly in front, relax hands and shoulders, breath in once out twice, and sing or whistle (I find that’s exactly what I’ve been doing), and gives us riding tips.

35-Mile Pomfret Ride

On Saturday morning, we come down between 7 and 8 am to be properly fitted for the bike and helmet; we can attach our own pedals or seats if we like and if we bring our own bike, Jim checks that out too.  The bike has a pouch which has a plastic holder for our written directions. We are given a water bottle and a bunch of goodies marking Bike Travel Weekend.

Safety is clearly the tour company’s top issue, so they give us their cell numbers, and let us know where the closest emergency medical services are located in our written directions.

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ guide Kenzie Novak offers snacks and cold water © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jim, who is driving the van on the first day, tells us the two places where he will be pulled over if anyone doesn’t want to do the climb, then passes us often to make sure we are all right – we can give a thumbs up sign or wave him on, but if we put thumbs down, he knows to find a safe place to pull over to give aid; he would put on his blinkers to acknowledge.

Kenzie, the second guide, is on the bike today and rides “sweep” – at the back of the pack, but as she comes upon us, also asks if we need anything, or makes helpful suggestion to be a better biker – like shifting gears more efficiently or choosing the right gear.

Watching how glass is made at the Simon Pearce Glass Works, Quechee © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Saturday’s ride is 35 miles (a shorter, flatter option is available, or those who don’t want to do the 3 ½ mile climb can ride in the van to the top and sail down a 6-mile stretch with views of stunning countryside (Currier & Ives come to mind) that Vermont is so famous for. The first three miles are relatively gentle ascent; it’s the last half-mile that is a wonderful strain that gives you that endorphin-rush for having done it.

We bike along the road (as opposed to a dedicated bikeway) but as Jim has promised, the Vermont drivers are very hospitable.

We come to the charming village of Quechee, where we visit the Simon Pearce Glass Works. I am transfixed watching the glass-blowing and shaping process.

Quechee Gorge © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We continue on to Quechee Gorge (but Jim has put my bike with the flapping brake into the van and I ride the 2 miles to the snack bar where we have lunch). I will still get to bike this stretch because we will backtrack these two miles after lunch. The Gorge offers dramatic views from the bridge and I hike the half-mile trail down to the bottom (the view isn’t worth it).

We come down a short steep hill and the GPS lady notes the sharp turn-off onto a dirt road just before an absolutely marvelous Taftsville Covered Bridge (watch out for loose gravel!). I am really appreciating the care that Discovery Bicycle Tours puts into designing the route.

Centuries old cemetery just outside Woodstock, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Who would have believed that Vermont still has unpaved roads! This part of the ride though is so beautiful, along the river, passing farms that go back hundreds of years. I stop off at a cemetery where I note one of the tombstones is for a veteran of the American Revolution; others from the Civil War. It is striking to see the family stones in a line.

Just before coming into Woodstock, we pass the Billings Farm and Museum, a Rockefeller institution, where we can stop and visit.

Soon we cross The Woodstock Middle Bridge, a picture-perfect covered bridge that takes us right into the heart of the village to the Woodstock Green.

Woodstock Middle Bridge © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

We arrive here around 3:30 pm and have plenty of time to explore, shop (I love Gillingham’s General Store, which dates back to 1886 and offers everything from the practical to the whimsical to the touristic). The van is available for those who want to shuttle back to the hotel rather than tackle one last steep climb at College Hill (it turns out to be such a short hill that by the time you feel it, you are at the top).

There is time before we meet for dinner to swim in the inn’s gorgeous indoor pool – big enough (and just the right temperature) for lap swimming – the hot tub, dry sauna and fitness room.  On the River Inn proves a superb choice for accommodations, that really rounds out the Vermont experience.

Discovery Bicycle Tours group gathers in the restaurant/lounge at the On the River Inn after the first day’s ride © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jenne Farm Ride

The Sunday ride is shorter, 20 miles, to accommodate the fact that people are traveling back. We check out of our rooms but Discovery has arranged for two rooms to be available for us after the ride to shower and change before hitting the road.

The itinerary is basically 10 miles in and back on the same road – but it is remarkable that coming back is a totally different experience, it might as well be a different route.

Stunning scenes along the Discovery Bicycle Tours On the River ride © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a beautiful ride that takes us south along Kedron Brook passing through picturesque South Woodstock (a good thing, too, because we avoid a major half-marathon event going on where we biked Saturday), visiting a charming country store and passing the Green Mountain Equestrian Association (where  a cross-country equestrian competition is underway) before arriving at a vista overlooking the Jenne Farm, possibly one of the most photographed scenes in New England.

The 10 miles going is virtually all up – beginning with a gentle pitch to a gradual pitch, and only the last half mile of a steep pitch (the GPS “lady” gives the heads up when we are to prepare for the steep climb). But the challenge is made easier because we already know we can do it from the previous day’s ride.

Jenne Farm, “one of most photographed places in the world,”is highlight of Sunday’s bike ride © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the very top we are warned to be careful as we start the descent and not gain speed because very shortly there is a hard-right turn off the paved road onto a private dirt road that begins very steeply. They have made sure to mark the place where we will turn. I choose to walk the bike up that sandy hill. This is actually the private drive to the Jenne Farm, which for good reason boasts being “one of the most photographed farms in the world” especially in autumn. The scene (which I recognize from the inn’s posters) has appeared on magazine covers, photography books, a Budweiser television commercial, and was used as the setting in the films “Forrest Gump” and “Funny Farm.”

Bike tours have a way of bringing people together © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gradually, we all find ourselves gathered together beside a tree looking down at the classic country scene (we are reminded this is a private road and we are on private land).

In this and all the classic Vermont scenes we have seen (at one point I think to myself that the aging red barns and covered bridges have been put there for tourists’ benefit), serendipity makes the scene and the experience unique – the weather, colors, light, time of day, season, and myriad things that make it unique.

Stopping to watch part of the cross-country competition at the Green Mountain Equestrian Association © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning, there is that short steep hill which we came down, and then pretty much downhill for the 10 miles. But even though we are traveling the same road, the scene is completely different – the return takes you alongside a creek. And because we are going at our own pace, I linger at to watch the equestrian cross-country competition underway at the Green Mountain Equestrian Association grounds and stop frequently for photos. I think I am the last rider back to the inn, happy as a lark. 

Turning a Group Tour into a Personalized Experience

Discovery Bicycle Tours began offering inn-to-inn bicycle tours throughout Vermont in 1977. Larry and Dawn Niles have been running the business since 1991 and have expanded the tour offerings to include a variety of tours in the United States, Quebec and Europe.  They range in length from our 3-Day/2-Night weekend tours to 11-Day/10-Night tours.(New this year is a 10-day/9-night Dolomites to Venice tour). Each tour is designed to provide a uniquely memorable experience for the rider and includes all accommodations, most meals, bicycles, helmets, detailed directions and maps, van support and tour guides.

“We continue to encourage a culture that values substance over flash, where our focus is on the individual guest’s experience rather than a preset ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula. We are all about treating people personally,” Larry says, and this becomes clear from the first moment we gather together.

It’s hard to envision, at first, what our guide, Jim Ortuno, means when he promises that the plan is that each of us have our own perfect day. And if it isn’t, it’s not for the lack of trying. They go over-the-top to be accommodating each person’s individual abilities, interests and goals.

Discovery Bicycle Tours has designed several itineraries in Vermont where the company is based © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The selection of offerings this year include:

Vermont – On The River Inn Weekend (offered throughout the season, https://discoverybicycletours.com/bike-tour-vermont/bike-tour-vermont-river/); North Hero House Weekend; Shoreham Inn Weekend; Lake Champlain Islands; Vermont Discovery; Northeast Kingdom; North Hero House Midweek; Vermont Lake and Leisure)

California Wine and Coast

Cape Cod/Martha’s Vineyard

Gettysburg to Washington DC

Maine – Coast/Acadia

Florida Keys Multi-Adventure

Maryland (Eastern Shore Chesapeake Bay; Harbour Inn Weekend)

Quebec – Eastern Townships

Italy – Puglia; Tuscany; Dolomites to Venice

Scotland

Ireland – County Clare / Connemara

Spain – El Camino de Santiago

France – Provence

 

Kenzie Novak is on hand with snacks for the Discovery Bicycle Tours riders © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Discovery Bicycle tours also offers private and family tours, as well as customized tours. Each is designed to recognize and encourage varying skills and interests of riders. The tours are flexible and most include easy-to-moderate riding, plus optional routes for the more energetic cyclist.

At this writing, Discovery was offering a $400 discount on the 6-day/5-night Coast of Maine tours, that includes all ferries and excursions, guided kayaking, 5 nights lodging, including three nights in premium rooms at the Bar Harbor Inn, each with a private balcony overlooking Frenchman’s Bay, 5 breakfasts, picnic on Swan’s Island, 4 dinners, bicycle, helmet, and free transfer provided from/to Bangor International Airport (July 23–28, July 30–August 4, and August 13–18).

There also was a recent “Teacher Appreciation Sale” of $250 off longer tours and $100 off weekend trips.

Discovery Bicycle Tours, Post Office Box 207, 2174 Maxham Meadow Way, Woodstock, Vermont 05091 800-257-2226. 802-457-3553, discoverybicycletours.com, info@discoverybicycletours.com.

Next:  On the River Inn 

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gatsby-esque Jazz Age Lawn Party is Joyful Escape on Governors Island

 

Heidi Rosenau & Joe McGlynn, regulars at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, dance to Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

New Yorkers love to dress up – any excuse to don a costume will do, but in the case of the Jazz Age Lawn Party, now in its 12th year on Governors Island, it is a chance to push back the clock and create your own community, a Gatsby-esque Brigadoon of sorts. It is the best of New York and brings out the best of New Yorkers. The music and atmosphere brings out pure joy.

For an entire afternoon on Saturday and Sunday of the weekend of June 10 and 11, and again on August  26 and 27, you are transported – quite literally by ferry – to the 1920s era of hot jazz. People of all ages, dressed to the nine’s as flappers and gents, bearing wicker picnic baskets, stream onto the island, with its forts and structures from the Civil War and World War II. A stone’s throw from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and yet a world and an era away.

Flappers at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra create this literal dream, with his meticulously recreated music of the 1920s.

There is impeccable faithful reproduction – even the cocktails are Speakeasy worthy and if you didn’t have appropriate attire, you could rent or buy vintage, take a tintype photo or a photo sitting on a blue moon with a vintage camera. Little boys are there with their caps and suspenders, little girls with hair bows. Interlude music is provided on vinyl recordings over antique gramophones.

Michael Arenella leads his Dreamland Orchestra, faithfully re-creating the Roaring ‘20s sound and spirit © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At one point, Michael Arenella, who throughout the afternoon gives these wonderful asides about the music, says his trombone “is so old I have to use a string to keep the slide on- that’s how authentic we are, folks.”

The only thing marring the illusion are the ubiquitous cell phones.

Conductor, composer, musician and crooner Michael Arenella presents a personally transcribed, one-of-a-kind songbook for your listening and dancing pleasure by his Dreamland Orchestra, playing the Hot Jazz of the 1920s.

The Dreamland Follies at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The entertainment abounds on two stages (and two dance floors): The Dreamland Follies evoke Ziegfeld-esque grand dance routines; Roddy Caravella and the Canarsie Wobblers is a fun-loving dance troupe that conjures the rebellious and exuberant spirit of Roaring ‘20s; Queen Esther pays tribute to jazz royalty of yore and Peter Mintun takes the moniker of “world’s greatest piano man”; Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society have come from Philadelphia, presents wry, spry, and certifiably Hot Jazz and the Gelber & Manning Band, feuding vaudevillian lovebirds quarrel, coo and make beautiful music together.

Nick Pankuch of Astoria demonstrates the exuberance that won him the Charleston contest at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are fun activities as well which you can join: Charleston Dance Contest to determine who is the Bee’s Knees; Bathing Beauties and Beaus Promenade, wearing vintage swimming outfits of the age (for entry email: bluevoon@aol.com), The High Court of Pie Contest (categories include “Mom’s Best” “Best Savory ”, “Most Original” and “Hobo’s Choice”; for entry email: govislandpie@gmail.com).

Glenn Hanna and Jared McNabb have come to the Jazz Age Lawn Party from Boston for the third year © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The afternoon starts off with dance lessons in the hottest dance steps of the time, like the Charleston. You can immortalize the day in your own Vintage Portraits-You Ought To Be In Pictures, perched on a Paper Moons or in tintypes using the same techniques and chemicals (a mixture of gunpowder and ether) as were used more than a century ago; the ultimate family-friendly event also features Kidland carnival games and prizes for junior Gents and Flapperettes. There’s also a 1920s MotorCar Exhibition, where you can get up close and personal with flivvers and Tin Lizzies, and Antique Gramophones that reanimate original recordings from the 1920s.

Bride-to-be Melissa Colabraro brought her Bachelorette party to the Jazz Age Lawn Party from Boston © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island creates a Gatsby-esque Brigadoon © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Barbara Tito and daughter Kim Tito from Connecticut celebrate Barbara’s 75th birthday at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And what would a Prohibition-era, speakeasy event be without booze? VieVité, Côtes de Provence Rosé is the official wine sponsor of the Jazz Age Lawn Party. In addition, refreshing summer cocktails feature Lejay, the official liqueur sponsor which created crème de cassis in 1841, and Bootlegger 21 NY Distilleries, crafted in Roscoe, NY, which is this year’s the official gin and vodka of Jazz Age Lawn Party,. Libations available also include ice cold beer, lemonade and soft drinks. (Take note: you can’t bring in your own alcoholic beverages.)

The Jazz Age Lawn Party draws many families © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

New for 2017, Dreamland Gourmet Picnic Totes, featuring freshly prepared, custom ordered lunches that you receive when you enter, complete with a chilled bottle of VieVité Rosé, and other treats! (included in all “Bee’s Knees and “Bonnie & Clyde” ticket packages).

Jim & Yoko from Japan join in the dance © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

People also took advantage of the Gourmet Picnic Market’s fancy picnicking fare, treats and snacks including ice cream, cotton candy, hot popped corn; the Dreamland General Store, offering picnic blankets, parasols, hand fans and assorted sundries; vintage clothing vendors and artisans who create a veritable village of timeless treasures.

Roddy Caravella & the Canarsie Wobblers at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This event sells out and this year, for the first time, tickets are only available for purchase in advance. For tickets and information, visit, http://jazzagelawnparty.com/. Purchase tickets at http://jazzagelawnparty.ticketfly.com/.

Queen Esther pays tribute to the jazz greats © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures