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Badlands and Black Hills, Buffalos and Bikes: Wilderness Voyageurs’ South Dakota Biketour

Biking where buffalo roam, on Wilderness Voyageurs Badlands and Black Hills bike tour of South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I find myself mere feet from a swarm of buffalo (or more accurately, bison). I am walking my bike and have wisely chosen to walk between two cars that are essentially stopped as the herd crosses a road in Custer State Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. From this vantage point, though, I can shoot photos from the left hill and the right field and feel reasonably protected even though there is really nothing between me and them.

Biking where buffalo roam, on Wilderness Voyageurs Badlands and Black Hills bike tour of South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the second encounter today with this herd – the first came as our small group biked from the enchanted Sylvan Lake to our lunch stop in Custer State Park at the new Visitors Center. The herd had parked itself right on the field outside the center, as if orchestrated by our tour operator, Wilderness Voyageurs. (I am told this isn’t necessarily a regular thing, but was a fortuitous occurrence on this day). It is only just one thrilling experience in an incomparable day, in an incomparable six-days of biking through South Dakota’s Badlands and Black Hills.

In the days before, we biked through Badlands National Park, completely surprised and enthralled by the stark scenery – essentially an ocean floor that had risen up as the Rocky Mountains formed. I had never realized that the Badlands is a gold mine of fossils from about 65 million years ago and from 35 million years ago (with a curious gap of 30 million years) – a transition period from dinosaurs (which went extinct around 65 million years ago) and mammals. Some 600,000 specimens have already been excavated just from this area, supplying every major museum and paleontology laboratory in the world. On this day, in the Visitors Center, we walk into an astonishingly fine Paleontology lab to watch two paleontologists painstakingly chipping away ever so carefully to release fossilized bones from rock.

The captivating scenery as we bike the road through Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fossils are so plentiful – and more are being exposed with erosion – that fossil-hunting should be added to the list of activities that visitors to the Badlands National Park can enjoy. There is an entire “heroes” wall filled with photos of visitors who have made their own fossil finds just this year alone, alerting the paleontologists to their location. One of those visitors from years ago – he is a legend – was a photographer who happened on a couple of fossils; when the paleontologists came, thinking it was an afternoon’s worth of digging, they found a tennis-court sized bone field that so far has yielded 19,000 specimens over 15 years of excavation.

Biking through Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each day of biking through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, the landscapes change so dramatically, along with such variety of visual and experience, from nature and natural wonders to heritage to history.

Biking the Mickelson rail trail, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the course of the six days of riding, we bike the entire 109-mile long Mickelson Rail Trail (one of Rail-to-Trails Conservancy’s “Hall of Fame” award-winning trails), taking us through ranch land and towns, ending at the historic town of Deadwood (but not all at once – the Wilderness Voyageurs guides have broken up the rides so we get the best ride and the best itinerary); we ride through Badlands National Park and Custer State Park, with the stunning scenery of the Needles Highway, and ride the Wildlife Loop giving us close encounters with herds of buffalo (actually bison).

A buffalo has the right of way outside my cabin at Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The lodgings are also distinctive: after the Badlands ride, we stay at a guest house on a ranch, and after our ride through Custer State Park, we overnight in luxurious log cabins at the Blue Bell Lodge. The attractions are epic: we hop off the Mickelson trail to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial (who knew it wasn’t finished, but that decades after the death of sculptor Korczak Ziokowski who designed and carved the head, two more generations have worked on it and it will likely take decades more to finish); and finish our tour at Mount Rushmore National Monument (who knew that famous sculpture of the presidents Washington, Jefferson, TR Roosevelt and Lincoln also was not finished but never will be?).

Coming upon the Crazy Horse Memorial as we ride along the Mickelson Trail, South Dakota (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I love that the focus is not on racing from point A to B as fast as possible, but that our bikes are our vehicles to explore, to discover, to immerse, to revel in this glorious landscape and history – the bikes become an endorphin-making machine, filling you with exultant feelings. “This is your vacation,” our guide, James Oerding says more than once. I am so glad that most of the rides do not depend upon us all ending up at the van for a shuttle ride, so I don’t have that nagging feeling of holding up other people by stopping for photos or listening to a ranger talk, watching a film or looking at an exhibit.

“This is your vacation.” Taking a break on the Mickelson rail trail, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That attitude, “This is your vacation,” follows into how they carefully the route is constructed for the best possible ride and experience. So we don’t do the Mickelson Trail end to end. We start in the middle and go in one direction, then on another day, are shuttled back to that middle starting point to go in the other direction.

The group – small enough so we all fit in one van – is absolutely delightful. After a dozen bike tours, I have found there is a certain self-selection process that goes into choosing a bike tour – bikers (and especially bikers on trips that involve camping) are welcoming, open, interested, congenial, love and respect nature and heritage.

Riding through the rock tunnel on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The six-day bike tour is spectacular in every way, and once again confirms why bike trips are my favorite form of travel: the pace you travel is ideal to really see things (even stop when you want to more closely observe or explore), but fast enough to provide unending interest. The scenery is certifiably spectacular – the idyllic setting on Sylvan Lake, the stone spires of the Needles, the tunnels cut through stone, the expanse of trees that become prairie. Then there is the wildlife – especially as you ride the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. Plus there is that element of physical challenge that gets the endorphins going (not to mention the pure fresh air, scented with pine and the altitude).

Biking on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Not to mention the delightful places Wilderness Voyageurs organizes for us to stay – Circle View Guest Ranch and the cabin at the Blue Bell Lodge were so fantastic (more on that later), the excellent food – breakfast at the lodgings, lunch as satisfying as any gourmet feast, usually served from the back of the van on a table under a lean-to, with ingredients fresh from the farmer’s market or store, wonderfully prepared sandwiches and wraps on request, and dinners at the guides’ favorite restaurants (they sure know how to pick ‘em).

We’re going up where?? The more challenging part of the ride through Custer State Park, south Dakota (but it is really worth it) in Custer State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The guides on our trip – James Oerding and John Buehlhorn – are not only experienced and skilled, but take care of us like Father Hens (rescuing me on that dark night at the lodge when a buffalo was on the path back from the restaurant to my cabin). And then there are the companions you travel with – on this trip, there were three couples and three single women from all over the country, who contribute immeasurably to the pleasure of the experience.

Each day brings its own highlights and surprises – such variety and diversity in the experience and the visuals on top of the normal adventures of biking and travel. Biking is its own experience – you are in your own head, in control of your own transportation. Wilderness Voyageurs, a company I became familiar with as the tour operator for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourns on the Great Allegheny Passage (the company is headquartered in Ohiopyle, PA, on the trail) operates the bike tour in an ideal way – we ride at our own pace; the second guide serves as “sweeper” hanging back with the last rider (most often me!). Neither John nor James ever push me along or discourage me from stopping, exploring, taking photos.

Our lunch stop in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have cue sheets and a Garmin that show us the route, and can download an app that talks the directions (though there aren’t a lot of turns – I still manage to go off route three times). (This style of guided bike tour is not always the case; I recently was on a bike tour with one guide who we had to follow, no cue sheets or directions and plenty of turns; we all had to ride together at the pace of the slowest rider, and if I wanted a photo, I had to ask for the whole group to stop).They also provide wonderful meals including a few dinners at restaurants where we order off the menu. Guided bike tours are not cheap, but there is excellent value in Wilderness Voyageurs’ tour price.

Biking through Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is a part of the country I have never been before. And frankly, it is ideal for anyone – especially international visitors – who yearn to immerse themselves in America’s mythic Western past. The combination of nature, open country, historic and heritage attractions that go so deeply into America’s psyche, is unbeatable. And on top of that is the endorphin-rush you get from biking.

A key part of the tour is riding the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, one of 30 rail-trails to have been named to the Hall of Fame by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Also known as “The Big Mick,” The George S. Mickelson Trail (originally named the Black Hills Burlington Northern Heritage Trail), was dedicated in 1998 in memory of the late South Dakota governor who acted in strong support of transforming the former rail line into a multi-use trail.

Railroads opened up the Black Hills. The 109-mile long Mickelson Trail is built on the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line that passes through the Black Hills and was abandoned in 1983. Work started in 1991 and the full trail was dedicated in 1998. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The trail follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line that passes through the Black Hills and was abandoned in 1983. After strong activism by locals and Governor Mickelson, the first six miles of trail was opened in 1991. Another decade under Governor Jacklow and the trail was completed in 1998 with the help of the US Forest Service, SD Department of Transportation, SD Department of Corrections, the National Guard, SD Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the Friends of the Mickelson Trail and hundreds of volunteers.

There is a strong link between the very existence of this trail and the railroads, and the Crazy Horse Memorial which we will visit, which pays homage to the indigenous peoples who lived here.

Riding through one of the rail tunnels on the Mickelson Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am reminded that the railroads through these Black Hills can be traced back to 1874, when the infamous Lt. Colonel George A. Custer discovered gold as part of an exploration team. This discovery caused an explosion of miners hoping to strike it rich. Within a few years, many other towns were founded and quickly grew. But what led to the development of railroads, was not the need to transport the gold itself, but to move people and supplies.

Along the trail, we see some mining shafts and go through the towns that developed with the railroads, and will even stay in a casino hotel in Deadwood that was re-created from a slime plant (slime is the waste left when they use cyanide to decompose rock to release the gold), that was part of the Homestake Mine, the largest and deepest gold mine; it produced the most gold and was longest in operation, from 1885 to as recently as 2001.

The trail, largely crushed limestone and gravel and beautifully maintained with rest stops and water cisterns, offers wonderful diversity in landscapes as well as attractions. It travels along creeks, across open valleys, and through forests besides ranches; we ride over 100 bridges and through four tunnels. (See more at www.traillink.com/trail/george-s-mickelson-trail)

Over the course of our trip, we will ride the full 109 miles of the trail, but Wilderness Voyageurs has broken it up in such a way as to intersperse attractions and, in a word, make it easier.

Biking the Mickelson rail trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Wilderness Voyageurs Badlands trip starts in Rapid City where I cleverly organize my trip to arrive the day before, staying at the famous, historic Alex Johnson Hotel (famous on its own, but made eternally famous for the part it played in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “North by Northwest” – an autographed caricature of Hitchcock is behind the front desk).

Indeed, the Alex Johnson Hotel is a major attraction in itself (it’s red and white sign atop the building is iconic symbol of the city) – the hotel even provides a walking tour. (Hotel Alex Johnson Rapid City, Curio Collection by Hilton, 523 Sixth Street,Rapid City SD 57701, 605-342-1210, alexjohnson.com.)

The next morning, our guides pick us up with the van at our hotels, and we drive 55 miles down the highway (following what seems like hundreds of Corvettes who have gathered in Rapid City for a convention) to Badlands National Park, for our first day’s ride and the start of our Badlands adventure. But first, we stop at Wall, a literal hole-in-the-wall town that rose up to serve the Westward-bound settlers. On this spot, a drug store opened – more of a general store – and this quaint Western-looking town has become a must-see tourist stop. Delightful. I keep seeing a sign for a museum but can’t find it before it is time to get back to the group.

We stop in Wall before beginning our bike tour in the Badlands, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wilderness Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of biking, rafting, fishing  and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and Katy Trail in Missouri.

There are still a few spots left on Wilderness Voyageurs’ Quintessential West Cuba Bike Tour departing on March 21.

Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com

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© 2020 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

Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine Welcomes New Year 2020, New Decade with Concert for Peace

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine welcomed in the New Year and a new decade as it has since 1984, with a concert devoted to Peace. The people who fill this enormous space, coming in many cases year after year, come for the solace the concert always brings, the re-commitment to a world of tolerance, acceptance, that comes together in peace and good will to resolve conflicts.

The Cathedral Choirs joined forces under the leadership of Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music and one of America’s leading choral conductors. This signature event is one of many comprising the 2019–2020 season of Great Music in a Great Space.

Kent Tritle, one of America’s leading choral conductors, at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When the first concert for peace was offered, in 1973 at its sister cathedral in Washington DC, America was at war, an election had been decided, but Leonard Bernstein inaugurated the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace in 1984, years after the Vietnam War was concluded, because in the world, there has never been a time without conflict.

Even though technically, America is not at war, there is war raging in the land. “Americans are our own enemy, one against another,” Reverend Canon Patrick Malloy said. But every culture has the means to bring light out of darkness. “The world is varied and venerable ways, strikes fire, refuses to surrender to the dark.”

Kent Tritle conducts The Cathedral Choir and The Cathedral Orchestra at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performed music ranging from Baroque works of Handel and Bach to contemporary works of artist-in-residence, organist David Briggs and Lee Hoiby’s poignant setting of ”Last Letter Home.” This work is based on a letter sent by Jesse Givens, Private First Class, U.S. Army, who drowned in the Euphrates River on May 1, 2003 in the service of his country. His letter to his wife Melissa was sent with the directions, “Please, only read if I don’t come home.”

Tony-award winning composer Jason Robert Brown, an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral since 2000, performs a song especially written for the Concert for Peace, “Sanctuary,” with his wife and daughters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist-in-Residence Jason Robert Brown , who has won three Tony Awards for scores for musical theater, including Parade, The Bridges of Madison County, and Honeymoon in Vegas, at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist-in-residence, jazz-saxaphonist Paul Winter at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Choir’s own Jamet Pittman again led the audience in “This Little Light of Mine” as the assembled in the sanctuary lit candles to welcome the new year with hope, joy, and affirmation.

Soprano Jamet Pittman (right) performs with friends at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Conductors Kent Tritle, Raymond Nagem and Bryan Zaros at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The night also featured special guest appearances and performances by Judy Collins, who sang her iconic “Both Sides Now,” and “Amazing Grace” her voice ringing through this soaring space;  saxophonist and artist-in-residence Paul Winter performed Paul Halley’s “Winter’s Dream”;  artist-in-residence Jason Robert Brown, performed with his wife and daughters, “Sanctuary,” a song which Brown wrote especially for this concert; and host Harry Smith, the renowned journalist, who has hosted the Peace concert for some 30 years.

The incomparable Judy Collins fills the Great Space of Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine with her mellifluous voice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reflecting on recent events, Smith said, “two-thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz was; four out of 10 adults don’t know. So when things happen like what happened last weekend in a suburb of New York, we take pause.”

With that in mind, the Cathedral Choir offered an addition to its program, singing “Oseh Shalom”.

“The real news is terrible – also known as fake news. Mass shootings…Despair of an economy that works really well for a few. Wars without end, conflicts without resolution. It’s why so many of us show up here for New Year’s Eve…

“’We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek,’ said Barack Obama,” Smith said to applause.

Metaphorically wipe away the troubles of 2019 as we look ahead to 2020, Harry Smith, hosting the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, quotes Barack Obama, “We are the change we seek.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The atmosphere in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (not to mention the acoustics) is spectacular. You think you have been plunked down in Europe in a building 1000 years old – this grand Gothic stone structure with soaring arches 177 feet high. The original design, in the Byzantine Revival and Romanesque Revival styles, was begun in 1892, but after the opening of the crossing in 1909, the overall plan was changed to a Gothic Revival design. Actually, the building was never finished – it is still only two-thirds complete. After a fire damaged part of the cathedral in 2001, it was renovated and rededicated in 2008. Even without being fully built, it is the fifth largest church in the world, based on area (121,000 sq. ft.)

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. People from many faiths and communities worship together in services held more than 30 times a week; the soup kitchen serves roughly 25,000 meals annually; social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs; the distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders; Adults and Children in Trust, the renowned preschool, after-school and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences; the outstanding Textile Conservation Lab preserves world treasures; concerts, exhibitions, performances and civic gatherings allow conversation, celebration, reflection and remembrance—such is the joyfully busy life of this beloved and venerated Cathedral.

The Cathedral is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit stjohndivine.org for more information and a schedule of public programs including concerts, among them the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performing J.S. Bach’s monumental “St. John Passion,” on March 31, 2020 at 7:30 pm.

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© 2020 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

Rush to See the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ ‘Mikado,’ Showpiece of its 45th Season

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players take their bows after a stellar performance of “The Mikado” at the Kaye Playhouse, at Hunter College © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my earliest memories of New York theater is of seeing the D’oyly Carte production of “The Mikado,” one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most iconic works. So I am jarred when the curtain rises on a very different production –a first scene which I don’t recall, in which composer Arthur Sullivan, librettist William S. Gilbert and producer Richard D’Oyly Carte himself appear, reflect on the new exhibit of Japanese art at Knightsbridge, and Gilbert imagines a new opera set in Japan. When the curtain rises on the fictional town of Titipu, instead of elaborate Japanese kimonos, the Gentlemen of Japan look a lot like Englishmen with odd hats and outfits, and so do the ladies when they appeared in their modified flowing dresses.

I soon appreciate the bold innovation including the new opening scene and characters, and costumes that make clear these are Victorian Englishmen pretending to be Japanese – as the new character of Gilbert says “They dress like us,” except with bright colors. The device, to address the sensibilities of a modern audience, puts the focus of Mikado properly where it should be: a satire on human nature. And in revising the work in this way, a new generation can be delighted by the magnificent music and ingenious lyrics. If anything makes us laugh, especially at ourselves, that is a gift.

Indeed, Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas – basically inventing today’s musical theater form – are on par with Shakespeare and similarly deserve to be tweaked and reinterpreted, just as “Much Ado About Nothing” was at this year’s Public Theater production, and performed generation after generation.

This production, was first introduced in 2016 as a response to an outcry from New York’s Asian-American community in 2015 over the political incorrectness and insensitivity of the original, regularly performed with Caucasian actors in yellowish makeup and taped-back eyelids. There is no danger of that: this cast is multi-racial.

“NYGASP listened for a simple reason – it was the right thing to do. One year later we created an imaginative new production which all communities, audiences and artists could embrace,” the program notes. The show opened to sold-out crowds and critical acclaim in December 2016; this is its second New York City run. Run to see it before the season concludes, January 5.

The new opening scene and costuming make sure there is no confusion that the Mikado represents Englishmen satirizing Victorian society and politics, capitalizing on British fascination with all things Japanese in the 1880s, to defuse the pointed references that might have gotten Gilbert & Sullivan, who were under censorship of Lord Chamberlain, into trouble. And frankly, the depiction of The Mikado (who doesn’t even appear for the first 2 ½ hours of the three-hour show) as a cruel but ridiculous tyrant is reminiscent of how the Red Queen is depicted in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865). If anything, that character is more relevant today than in 2015 or even 1885.

Of course British audiences of 1885 could have cared less about “political correctness.” The object of Gilbert & Sullivan’s satire was British society and human nature and the human condition, and they created their fictional Titipu, Japan, to make their satire more palatable.

We take advantage of seeing the December 30 afternoon “Grandparents” performance, geared to families, which features a before-show talk introducing the plot and music and an after-show backstage tour in the company with the players.

Conductor and Musical Director Albert Bergeret, who founded the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 45 years ago, gives a family-friendly talk introducing “The Mikado”  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the talk, by the Conductor and Musical Director Albert Bergeret, who founded the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 45 years ago, I learn that my comparison of “Mikado” for Gilbert & Sullivan to “Madame Butterfly” by Puccini is not entirely unfounded. While the music that Sullivan composed runs the gamut of British musical styles (ballad, madrigal, march), he incorporates the Japanese five-note scale and an actual Japanese folk song, Miya-sama (though for this production, new English lyrics are substituted for the Japanese) – music which Puccini also expropriates in “Madame Butterfly.”

“We took out what’s incomprehensible or inappropriate,” Bergeret says, who adds that Sullivan was a brilliant, classically trained musician who was well versed in all genres of music and composers from around the world. In “Mikado” Sullivan demonstrates his virtuosity in writing in many different forms.

Just as Gilbert incorporated contemporaneous digs, so too does this Ko-Ko, a common tailor taken from the county jail (for flirting) and elevated to Lord High Executioner, update his “List” of those who shan’t be missed, to be as current has yesterday’s tweet, changing it each performance, surprising even the rest of the cast.

Ko-Ko, brilliantly played by David Macaluso, includes “the wealthy narcisscist, he never will be missed” on his list and manages to spell out T-R-U-M-P in the subheads of the long, long list as the scroll unfurls.

Backstage with David Macaluso who shows off Ko-Ko’s executioner’s ax in New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The premise of “The Mikado,” is a society under the thumb of an all-powerful sadistic but ridiculous ruler who makes ridiculous but cruel laws on a whim: flirting as a capital offense, then demanding to know why no executions have been carried out. 

The Mikado, played by David Wannen, exclaims, “My object all sublime/I shall achieve in time/ to let the punishment fit the crime.. And make each prisoner pent/Unwillingly represent/A source of innocent merriment.”

The Mikado’s updated list of who to punish and how, includes the instagrammer “made to endure a dungeon cell without not one cellular bar” and “political pundits, who must sail for weeks on a boat full of leaks on a sea of alternative facts.” (That gets tremendous laughs.)

David Wannen who plays the title role of “The Mikado” gives audiences a backstage tour after New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They do manage to slip in a few names, carefully spreading their barbs more or less equally: but one placement in particular is rich – Pooh-Bah, marvelously played by Matthew Wages, signs the execution order with all his official positions, but adds to the list signing of those supposedly witnessed Nanki-Poo’s execution Attorney General William Barr and the chair of the Judiciary Committee (balance).

The Mikado then looks to execute Ko-Ko (the Lord High Executioner), Pooh-Bah (the “Lord High Everything”) and Pitti-Sing (one of the “three little maids from school” and Ko-Ko’s wards, played by Amy Maude Helfer) for carrying out the Mikado’s orders to execute somebody but unwittingly executing the heir to the throne. The Mikado appreciates the effort (he only wishes he could have witnessed the execution) but insists they still should be executed for, well, killing the heir and looks for the entertainment value in their lingering death.

The Mikado justifies killing the three because, after all, this is an unfair world where the virtuous suffer and the undeserving succeed. This leads to the song that probably best sums up the moral of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado,” in which the three condemned sing, “See how the Fates their gifts allot/For A is happy, B is not/Yet B is worthy, I dare say/Of more prosperity than A…If I were Fortune which I’m not/B should enjoy A’s happy lot/And A should die in miserie/That is, assuming I am B.”

In the end The Mikado is less a jab at all-powerful monarchal misrule, than a comic contemplation of what human beings do when in that situation. Their focus is on human nature and the human condition. In Mikado, we see self-preservation – even by Yum-Yum who is willing to marry Nanki-Poo who loves her so much he is willing to be executed after just a month, until she realizes that as the wife of an executed man, she would be buried alive.

This production makes another change at the end, stopping the show for a return to the Gilbert & Sullivan characters trying to figure out an ending that would not rely on a magical or fantastical device like the “magic lozenge” they used in their 1877 opera “The Sorcerer” and almost breaks up their collaboration. (Gilbert finally gets to use the device in “The Mountebanks,” written with Alfred Cellier in 1892). Instead, Gilbert comes up with an argument that actually makes sense given the circumstance: Any order by the Mikado must be carried out, so having given the order, it must have been carried out (not much more absurd than “He was too stupid to know withholding military aid to a vulnerable ally in exchange for political favor was illegal”).

Caitlin Burke as lovelorn and overbearing Katisha, shows off the Titipu Depot set during a backstage tour of New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another part that young people might assume was added as a nod to “Me Too” to make relevant, is Katisha espousing on ‘beauty’ –her face might not be much (and doesn’t cruelty hold some allure?), but she has a shoulder blade, a right elbow, and a heel that admirers come miles to see.

“The Mikado,” the ninth of 14 collaborations between Gilbert & Sullivan, was immensely popular when it opened on March 14 1885 in London, running for 672 performances, the second longest run for any musical theater production. By the end of 1885, some 150 companies in Europe and America were performing the operetta. It even was widely performed in Japan (apparently they took no offense).

There were decades when a production of Mikado could be seen somewhere in the English speaking world any day of the year. Performed for the last 135 years, some of its word inventions have entered the lexicon, such as “the grand Poo-Bah” and “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

The brilliant David Auxier, who plays W.S. Gilbert as well as Pish-Tush, would make the real Gilbert proud in his crafting of a new Prologue for New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The new Prologue, written by NYGASP Director and Choreographer David Auxier-Loyola (who also plays W.S. Gilbert and Pish-Tush), appears actually a distillation of the actual background (or rather the mythology) to Gilbert & Sullivan creating “The Mikado,” especially their references to avoiding a similar plot solution of a magic lozenge. Apparently, the Knightsbridge exhibition of Japanese art came after Mikado opened, though British fascination in Japan had built up from the 1860s and 1870s, after Japan opened to Western trade in 1854. (The 1999 film “Topsy Turvy” is a marvelous film depicting their lives around this time.)

Gilbert & Sullivan actually invented musical theater. At the time Gilbert & Sullivan were writing, there were opera, light opera and music hall theatricals, but nothing like a musical show with story – music that had both class and pop – with real story lines, music advanced the story, Bergeret tells us. This is where musical theater started,. Watching “Mikado” you see a straight line to Rogers & Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim.

Matthew Wages plays the grand Pooh-Bah, a Gilbert & Sullivan character that has entered the lexicon, in New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All eight-performances that are being presented this season are family friendly, but some have special events attached. We had the marvelous experience of attending a “Grandparents” performance which featured a before-show talk introducing the show (especially to children), and a most marvelous after-show backstage tour with cast members. (David Auxler, who plays the Gilbert character said they only had five rehearsals) and so enjoyed going backstage with David Macaluso (Ko-Ko), who showed us the various props including his giant executioner’s ax.

This not-to-be-missed production of the iconic comic opera is fabulous,  featuring original choreography and direction by NYGASP Associate Stage Director David Auxier, who also authored the show’s prologue and plays Gilbert and Pish-Tush, and Assistant Direction by Broadway performer/director Kelvin Moon Loh.

The show’s sensational cast includes: dynamic bass David Wannen as The Mikado; clever patter man and comic David Macaluso as Sullivan and Ko-Ko; blustering Matthew Wages as Richard D’Oyly Carte and the pompous Pooh-Bah; creative David Auxier as author Gilbert and town leader Pish-Tush; charming tenor John Charles McLaughlin as romantic hero Nanki-Poo; formidable Caitlin Burke as lovelorn and overbearing Katisha; beautiful soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith as self-aware Yum Yum; Rebecca Hargrove as maiden sister Peep-Bo, and mellifluous mezzo Amy Maude Helfer as adventurous Pitti-Sing. 

We get to see the magnificent scenery designed by Anshuman Bhatia close up during a backstage tour with Daivd Macaluso, who plays Ko-Ko in New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The production showcases magnificent scenery designed by Anshuman Bhatia, costumes by Quinto Ott and lighting by Benjamin Weill.  The Mikado is produced by NYGASP Executive Director David Wannen. 

Since its founding in 1974, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) has presented more than 2,000 performances of the Gilbert & Sullivan masterpieces throughout the United States, Canada and England, captivating audiences of all ages.

NYGASP has been hailed as “the leading custodian of the G&S classics” by New York Magazine and has created its own special niche in the cultural mosaic of New York City and the nation.  According to the Company’s Founder/Artistic Director/General Manager Albert Bergeret, NYGASP’s mission is “giving vitality to the living legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan.”

Conductor and Musical Director Albert Bergeret, who founded the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 45 years ago, talks with audience on stage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Everyone loves The Mikado and our new production, with its celebrated premise of imagination, keeps the revered story alive and colorful,” he says.  “I’m delighted to once more be involved in elevating the humor and musical values of this evolving and very theatrical production, while alternating on the conductor’s podium with my colleague, Joseph Rubin, as part of NYGASP’s commitment to the future development of the Company”.

“The Mikado” is the showpiece of NYGASP’s 45th season, presenting eight family friendly performances after Christmas, Dec. 27 through Jan. 5, 2020 at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. An encore Family Overture presentation will take place at 12:45 pm before the Jan. 4 Saturday matinee at 2 pm which features a musical introduction and plot summary made entertaining for the whole family (free to all ticket holders).

Tickets are $95/orchestra, $50/balcony; $25/rear balcony; special discounts:  50% off for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult, 10% off for seniors 65 and older; order by phone:  212-772-4448, order pnline:  www.nygasp.org, or purchase in person at the box office (Monday-Friday, noon-7pm).

The next NYGASP production is Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers,” April 18-19, 2020.

The Kaye Playhouse, 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. 

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© 2020 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

Philadelphia Offers Treasure Trove of History, Heritage, Culture: Magic Gardens, Franklin Institute

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin), and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute and can’t wait to come back.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

You get a taste of what to expect in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) as you enter the South Street neighborhood. The creator, Isaiah Zagar, who has lived in the neighborhood since moving there with his wife, Julia, in the late 1960s when it was derelict and blighted, turned trash and broken walls into sparkling mosaic art. Otherwise forbidding narrow alleyways and whole sides of buildings twinkle with the pieces of broken mirrors and glass and humor (you can’t help but smile). But nothing prepares you for the awe you feel when you walk out of the two indoor galleries into the Magic Gardens.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here is a riot of handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors, international folk art, recreated into walls, pathways, stairways, layers and levels. There is so much to explore and discover – not just visually, but emotionally. Woven into the art are Zagar’s profound, personal sayings, expressions, thoughts, feelings: “I build this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies.” “Imagery which refuses to stabilize.” “The complexity of various problems. Rewind it.”

Messages not in a bottle. Artist Isaiah Zagar embeds his philosophy into his  Magic Gardens© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s called Magic Gardens even though there are no plants, flowers or trees. But you aren’t here long before you realize how it nonetheless is a living organic thing, where broken and discarded trash and objects considered valueless or past their useful life, get new life, purpose, meaning. And value.

The “magic” is how the objects are re-animated – an expression of creativity, infusion of imagination. ”The Garden” grows organically, as if living organism.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is one man’s vision, process, style,” Elisabeth Carter (Lis), a Magic Gardens guide, tells me. “He had assistants. Most of the smaller figurines and sculpture were made by Mexican folk artists and couple of local artists, especially the Aguilar family. Others helped make some of the tiles – including First Lady Michelle Obama (there is a letter that she sent to the Gardens).

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is still a work in progress – new pieces are added – plus it is outdoors, so weather (snow/ice) is factor. We have a full-time preservation team of thee who maintain, repair, and document new folk art.

“He’s interested in how things wear, fade, and change over time – things are constantly changing, new things added – like a breathing animal.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zagar brings the art form of mosaic to a whole different dimension.  “Zagar is known for mosaics. He uses things that others think are trash or have no value. He is inspired by the Hindu God Shiva – the god of destruction and transformation.”

Zagar, who is 80 years old now, studied art at the Pratt Institute, Lis says, “but painting wasn’t fulfilling. He Is bipolar; he used mosaics as mental health therapy. Small, broken pieces of tile people were throwing away, he found satisfying to build into something positive and beautiful.”

Lis points me to a small sculpture which is a self-portrait, depicting the artist with three arms.

Isaiah Zagar (self-portrait in ceramic with three arms) inspired a movement of public art and showed that art could transform a culture, an attitude and create community © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There must be thousands and thousands of objects here. You first see what is in front of you as a whole, but then your eye goes to sections, narrower and narrower, until you spend time searching and discovering individual objects.  And what you see, what you experience would always be different – with light, time of day, weather affecting the colors and textures.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You have to walk through at least twice: the first time is very sensory, overload. The second time, you can focus more. You walk through an alley of art, curved paths, you see things differently from every angle, every step. Like a Japanese Garden, you cannot see the whole thing at once, and you don’t know what to expect beyond. It’s a carnival of art, a riot of color, texture, shapes and subjects that dazzle the eye and the brain and stir the heart.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Zagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since the late 1960s, when he moved to the area with his wife, Julia. The couple helped spur the revitalization of the area by renovating derelict buildings and adding colorful mosaics on both private and public walls. The Zagars, teamed with other artists and activists, transformed the neighborhood into a prosperous artistic haven and successfully led protests against the addition of a new highway that would have eliminated South Street. This period of artistic rebirth was coined the ‘South Street Renaissance.’ After the street was saved, Zagar continued creating mosaic murals, resulting in hundreds of public artworks over the next five decades.

Part of the fun at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is creating your own art, transforming Isaiah Zagar’s 3-D mosaics into 2-D images © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In 1991, Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street. He first mosaicked the buildings on either side of the property, then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects. In 2004, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the destruction of the now-beloved neighborhood art environment, the community rushed to support the artist. His creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, quickly became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the South Street region. Zagar was then able to develop the site even further; excavating tunnels and grottos.”

Philadelphia Magic Gardens opened to the public in 2008, giving visitors the opportunity to participate in tours, art activities, hands-on interpretive experiences, workshops, concerts, exhibitions, and more.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is open Wednesday-Monday, 11 am – 6 pm, closed Tuesdays. (1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, 215-733-0390, www.phillymagicgardens.org)

I continue my walk to the Franklin Institute, all the while coming upon the fantastic public art throughout the city – magnificent murals that decorate buildings, that reflect and speak to that particular neighborhood and inspire with their beauty and their message. No doubt a public art movement inspired by Isaiah Zagar.

Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also Philadelphia’s “Museum Without Walls” of sculptures and art work throughout the city (an audio tour is available, www.museumwithoutwallsaudio.org, 215-399-9000).

Franklin Institute

As you enter Franklin Institute. beneath a giant moon there is a sensational lighted statue of America’s first scientist and Philadelphia’s Favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin, who inspired the institute’s founding in 1824. During the course of a few hours, I travel to outer space in search of life; walk through a human heart; tangle in neurons of the human brain; visit one of the earliest steam engines; and try to unravel the mystery (to me, anyway) of electricity.

Ben Franklin beneath the moon makes for a dramatic entrance to the Franklin Institute © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” Carl Sagan said, the quote opening the movie in the Fels Planetarium, one of the first ever built, that dates from 1933.

Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest and premier centers of science education and development in the country.  Today, the Institute continues its dedication to public education and fostering a passion for science by offering new and exciting access to science and technology in ways that would dazzle and delight its namesake.

Everything about the Franklin Institute is designed to engage, immerse, interact.

I climb through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Climbing through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is exemplified in the special exhibition on view through April 12, 2020, the world-premiere exhibition of “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Experience,” based on the best-selling survival handbook series. The exhibit showcases strategies of survival and elements of escape in the form of a hands-on, minds-on logical series of immersive challenges providing the essential instructions for surviving unexpected but possible real-life scenarios with countless moments of excitement and levity throughout.

Learn how to jump from a moving train car, pick a lock, escape from quicksand, survive an avalanche, and more in the thirteen challenges that fill the Survival Gymnasium, which offers step by step instructions, expert advice, and the training to build the worst-case survival skills.

Tools for extreme survival, including counterintuitive uses for everyday items are on display, plus graphics that share how to identify anxiety and fear within the body and uncover how stress, physical exhaustion, and disorientation can make an activity, like surviving, more challenging.

Neurons become a climbing gym at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A new perspective of the brain at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating founded The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in 1824. The Franklin Institute science museum opened to the public on January 1, 1934, calling itself a “Wonderland of Science,” and was one of the first museums in the nation to offer a hands-on approach to learning about the physical world. It has been expanded over the years to contain more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, two auditoriums, and the Tuttleman IMAX Theater – becoming the most visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a top-five tourist destination in the City of Philadelphia, and one of the leading science centers in the country.

Learn hands-on about machines and technology, like a steam locomotive at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Institute also operates the Fels Planetarium, the second oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The Institute is home to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, which was fully restored in 2010 and which is open free to the public. It is one of just a handful of national memorials in the custody of a private institution.

The new 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion which opened in June 2014, houses a STEM education and conference center, a climate-controlled traveling exhibition gallery, and (an amazing) new permanent exhibit Your Brain, in which visitors can explore neuroscience and their own senses.

Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu.

Staying at The Roost East Market apartment hotel really enabled us to be part of the city, most of what we wanted to see within walking distance. It’s not hyperbole to say the comfort of a fully-equipped, gorgeously furnished apartment meets luxury amenities of a boutique hotel.  All of the apartments feature full-size kitchens with cookware and utensils (I especially love not having to go out for breakfast) and king size beds. A third-floor is devoted to guest amenities including a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center, magnificent and comfortable lounge areas and library, a huge demo kitchen, a private screening room, an outside, 20-meter heated lap pool, barbecue area, landscaped terrace, community vegetable garden;  and bike-share program. There is also 24-hour front desk and concierge, security (you need your card to access the elevator and public areas); and direct access to a parking garage.  They even arrange dog-walking and grocery delivery services. (The Roost East Market, 1199 Ludlow Street Philadelphia, PA 19107, 844-697-6678, https://myroost.com/philadelphia/east-market/).

One of the lounge areas for guests at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The outdoor, heated lap pool at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The living room in our two-bedroom apartment at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

See also:

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: The Barnes Foundation

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: Independence Hall, National Museum of American Jewish History

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© 2019 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

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: Independence Hall, National Museum of American Jewish History

The room where it happened: Independence Hall, where delegates debated and signed the founding documents that created the government of the United States of America, including the Declaration of Independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin, and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute.

Independence Hall

I’m out of The Roost East Market apartment hotel at 8:30 am for a delightful 15 minute walk down Market Street to the Independence Hall Visitor Center to get a timed ticket for a tour of Independence Hall. They start distributing tickets at 8:30 am and I get a ticket for the first tour, 9:20 am (the ticket is free; you can pay $1 for advance reservations online, www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehalltickets.htm). That gives me enough time to watch a short film in the Visitor Center and visit the “Great Essentials” exhibit of original printed copies of the three founding documents signed here at Independence Hall: the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and Constitution. Another interesting artifact: the Syng inkstand, believed to be the silver inkstand in which the 56 Founding Fathers dipped their quills to “mutually pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” in the cause of independence.

Independence Hall, where delegates debated and signed the founding documents that created the government of the United States of America, including the Declaration of Independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We gather in a room and learn that we have come from throughout the United States and the world. “Government as we recognize it, was invented inside Independence Hall,” the Ranger tells us.

The building, in Georgian style architecture which manifested symmetry and order, is on the original site; the foundation was laid in 1732, the year George Washington was born. The founders, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, would have called the building the Pennsylvania State House. All three branches of colonial government were housed here.

“Delegates representing 13 diverse colonies, speaking with a variety of accents, met here, who would have been more familiar with London than Philadelphia. What united them was how disturbed they were how the King and Parliament was treating the colonists. It was the end of the French & Indian War (The Seven Years War), which gave the British victory and control over most of North America, but the Crown imposed new taxes to pay for the war.

We are ushered into a room that would have served as Pennsylvania’s highest court.

Philadelphia’s Highest Court. Colonists had the rights granted to British citizens under the Magna Carta, including trial by jury but the Crown began to erode rights, prompting the War for Independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Magna Carta spelled out the rights of British citizens – no man above law; trial by jury of peers; attorneys would be gathered at one table and colonists could gather and watch the trial. Colonists inherited numerous rights.” But grievances grew – taxation without representation – and the colonists saw their rights being whittled away by the British crown.

We enter the very room where the Continental Congress brought together delegates from 13 free and independent states. “We don’t know for sure but we think they were probably seated by geographic area.” As they gathered to consider their grievances with the crown, shots were fired at Lexington and at Concord, “the shots heard ‘round the world.” The War for Independence officially began.

July 8 1776, the bell in the steeple announced the first reading of Independence. (You can see the Liberty Bell with its famous crack now housed in its own pavilion.)

The visit, coming at such an auspicious time in American history, is like going back to ground zero of the founding:

The “Great Essentials” exhibit of original printed copies of the three founding documents signed here at Independence Hall: the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and Constitution includes the Syng inkstand, believed to be the silver inkstand in which the 56 Founding Fathers dipped their quills to “mutually pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” in the cause of independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the start, colonists were deeply divided. The delegates met for a year before Thomas Jefferson penned the words, “All men are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”

“That was one of the most profound and inspiring statements in human history. That government derives just power from the consent of the governed,” he said.

The War for Independence lasted eight years – France and Spain aided; the Dutch provided financial support. But the War for Independence also was a civil war that divided communities and even families. Ben Franklin’s own son, Sir William, was the Royal Governor of New Jersey, and remained a loyalist. He left America for England. (You can also visit the marvelous Ben Franklin Museum, housed below where his house would have been.)

The powerful words, “All men created equal” presented a paradox, even to the Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave owners from states where the economy derived from slavery. Despite Abigail Adams’ exhortation to husband John Adams to “Remember the ladies,” women’s rights were not even a consideration. “The Declaration is a document of promise,” the Ranger reflects. “Lincoln mentioned the Declaration of Independence in his Gettysburg Address; suffragettes Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Frederick Douglass & Martin Luther King Jr. all drew on the Declaration. We are exhausted from becoming independent, but work had just begun.”

The Articles of Confederation which set up the United States’ first government “was more like treaty of 13 independent countries, with 13 armies, 13 currencies. In less than four months, it was replaced with a central government under the Constitution.”

The room where it happened: delegates were likely seated by geographical area; Washington sat in the center, Independence Hall, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the chair used by George Washington, which has carved into it a rising sun. James Madison  and Alexander Hamilton argued and debated over making of three co-equal branches of government; they compromised over representation of large and small states; compromised over the power and function of the presidency.

“George Washington called it the ‘miracle in Philadelphia.’ But they knew they could not predict the future. So the Constitution was designed to change, with provision to amend it.”

Plan your visit, get itinerary suggestions at Independence National Historic Park, 215-965-2305, www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/index.htm.

The tour takes about a half-hour, and I am trying to pack a lot into one day. I decide to forgo a tour of Congress Hall and the Liberty Bell to race over to the National Museum of American Jewish History because I spot a banner showcasing the special exhibit, “Notorious RBG” which is only on view through Jan. 12. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my heroes.

Notorious RBG at NMAJH

“Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH)  is the first-ever museum retrospective of the Supreme Court Justice-turned-pop-culture-icon. The special exhibition traces a career that traveled from trailblazer to pop-culture icon, exploring the roots of her precedent-setting role on the nation’s highest court, as well as her varied roles as a student, life partner, mother, change-making lawyer, judge, and women’s rights pioneer.

Take a photo with “Notorious RBG”, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after seeing the exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia.

Even though I had seen the excellent “Notorious RBG” documentary and the superb “On the Basis of Sex” film (written by her nephew) which formed the basis of the exhibit (photos, home movies), there was still so much to learn, and the artifacts, and explanations.

The second woman—and the first Jewish woman—to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg acquired the “Notorious RBG” moniker after a series of fiery, record-breaking dissents she gave from the Supreme Court bench in 2013 around the Voting Rights Act. Then-NYU law student Shana Knizhnik was inspired to create the Notorious RBG tumblr, referencing rap star Notorious B.I.G. (In homage to Notorious B.I.G., the exhibition section titles are inspired by his lyrics.)

Based on the New York Times best-selling book of the same name by Knizhnik and Irin Carmon, the visually rich and entertaining exhibition explores RBG’s legacy through archival photographs and documents, historical artifacts, contemporary art, media stations, and gallery interactives. It presents not only the Justice’s writings, opinions, and interviews, but also the whimsical yet powerful world of Notorious RBG memes, fan art, and parody – from a cartoon action figure named Wrath Hover Ginsbot to renderings of the Justice’s likeness on t-shirts, nail decals, and even as tattoos. (Clearly, Justice Ginsburg has always had a sense of humor, which was at the essence of her long-time relationship with her husband, Marty).

NMAJH’s location on Independence Mall provides an ideal backdrop for exploring Justice Ginsburg’s story and the circumstances that brought her to the Court. It places the Justice’s story at the very location where the United States was founded and the US Constitution established the Supreme Court. In fact, just diagonally across from NMAJH is the National Constitution Center (constitutioncenter.org).

The National Museum of American Jewish History, located on Independence Mall, Philadelphia, is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience, going back 360 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Established in 1976, the National Museum of American Jewish History is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience, going back 360 years.  NMAJH, a Smithsonian Affiliate, was originally founded by the members of historic Congregation Mikveh Israel, which was established in 1740 and known as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution”.

The National Museum of American Jews is a revelation to me – beginning with why it is “National”: it is the only museum of its kind in the nation. That’s why.

I have seen parts of the story in other venues – notably Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (www.tourosynagogue.org), the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida; Ellis Island and the Jewish Museum in New York City– but none presented such a comprehensive unfolding of the epic Jewish experience in America that dates back nearly as far as the Puritans in Plymouth (though Jews first settled in the New World since Columbus).

Its exhibits and galleries, the artifacts and commentary brilliantly presented to express complex concepts – the sweep of history, in effect – but taken down to very personal levels of a person, with a face, a name and a genealogy.

It comes down to legitimacy – much as the museums which speak to the Jewish people’s history in Israel – and the illegitimate notion of the United States founded as a Christian nation. Non-Christians were part of this country’s founding and the Founders, who were humanists, globalists and men of the Enlightenment – among them George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin – were not only tolerant of other religions but open-minded about philosophies. But what is painfully clear are the strains of anti-Semitism and racism that have persisted throughout American history despite George Washington’s assurances to the Touro congregation (“To Bigotry No Sanction,”), despite the Bill of Rights and the Naturalization Act of 1790 which bar the establishment of religion, an issue as relevant as today’s headlines.

There are four floors which wrap around a huge atrium, each floor devoted to a different era and theme. The displays, including multi-media , interactive stations, and artifacts, are well presented to convey complex, even nuanced concepts, intertwining real people with places, historical events and cultural movements. In some instances, it is the sheer numbers that impress: “Foundations of Freedom: 1654-1880” (Do most Americans realize that Jews were already settled in the New World colonies from 1654?); “Innovation & Expansion”  is part of the timeline of Jews in America usually ignored entirely, but Jews were very much a part of the Westward expansion and the march to the Industrial Revolution; “Dreams of Freedom: 1880-1945”, chronicling the migration of millions of immigrants who came to the United States beginning in the late 19th century who profoundly reshaped the American Jewish community and the nation as a whole; and Choices and Challenges of Freedom: 1945 – Today.

NMAJH , 101 South Independence Mall East at the corner of Fifth and Market Streets, www.NMAJH.org 215.923.3811.

Next: More Philadelphia Treasures: Magic Gardens, Franklin Institute

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

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© 2019 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

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: The Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Collection: a docent displays a photo of Henri Matisse sitting in the very room and gazing at his own painting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin, and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute.

Barnes Collection

The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, has one of the greatest holdings of Renoir in the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We spare no time once we drop our luggage at The Roost East Market, park the car in the garage, but grab an Uber to race over to The Barnes Foundation. The Barnes Collection is one of the world’s greatest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modernist paintings, with especially rich holdings in Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. Assembled by Dr. Albert C. Barnes between 1912 and 1951, the collection also includes important examples of African art, Native American pottery and jewelry, Pennsylvania German furniture, American avant-garde painting, and wrought-iron metalwork. In fact, we are told, Dr. Barnes has the greatest collection of Renoir anywhere – 181 of them acquired by Dr. Barnes between 1921 and 1942 that you actually see (as opposed to museums that keep most of their collections in storage). Plus 69 by Paul Cézanne; 59 by Henri Matisse; 46 by Pablo Picasso; 21 by Chaim Soutine; 18 by Henri Rousseau and the list goes on and on, as you walk from gallery to gallery to gallery.

Masterpieces at The Barnes are displayed in rooms that replicate how Dr. Barnes originally displayed his collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The building complex is new, but the gallery rooms re-create the rooms and how Dr. Barnes displayed his art, intentionally juxtaposing masterworks by Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso next to ordinary household objects – a door hinge, a spatula, a yarn spinner; a French medieval sculpture displayed with a Navajo textile; African folk art with Modigliani and Cubists. Dr. Barnes called these dense groupings of objects from different cultures, time periods and media his “ensembles.” He meticulously crafted the ensembles to draw out visual similarities – even the source of inspiration. He meant them as teaching tools, essential to the educational program Dr. Barnes developed in the 1920s.

Dozens of Renoirs are on view at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“He believed you could as likely learn about how to do surgery wandering through a hospital as art wandering through a gallery – you have to be taught how to see, what to look for,” a docent explains. “He wanted people to appreciate how culture influences art.” She adds, “He wasn’t an artist himself.” In fact, she relates, 10 years ago, Central High School (Dr. Barnes grew up in a working class family in Philadelphia), came across his school books. “He got A’s in everything but art.”

A very recognizable Van Gogh, “The Postman,”, on view at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Barnes, you experience these masterworks in the most intimate manner, as if visiting a home (albeit a mansion). We are exceptionally lucky to visit when the museum is not at all crowded (actually we are there until closing) – I even get to have some of the art completely to myself. It is very comfortable to view – many of the rooms (and they seem to go on forever, one after another) are small and there is seating in each one, with guides to the artwork at hand. But you should try to take a docent tour. At one point, the docent pulls up a photo of Henry Matisse, sitting on the very bench and gazing at his own painting in that very room.

Dr. Albert Barnes had a particular way of displaying his extraordinary art collection, replicated at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia: Here George Seurat (“Models”) and Paul Cezanne (“The Card Players”). © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Visiting the Barnes Collection, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In every room, you are astonished to see art that is amazingly familiar – because they are so famous: Georges Seurat’s “Models” (the basis for “Sunday in the Park with George”); Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Postman”; Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players”; Edouard Manet “Laundry”; Pablo Picasso “Acrobat and Young Harlequin”, and a plethora of Renoirs – so many, you get a sugar high. Every gallery takes your breath away, and for that moment, the art, the masterpiece, is yours.

The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, has one of the greatest holdings of Impressionists in the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, has one of the greatest holdings of Impressionists in the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And then there are the surprises – the art and artists you “meet” for the first time. I fall in love with a Van Gogh country scene I have never seen before.

A Van Gogh country scene, at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A Van Gogh, Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a wonderful painting of Dr. Albert Barnes (1872-1951) by Giorgio de Chirico (1926), which makes you wonder more about who he was to have assembled such an astonishing collection. Dr. Barnes was born and raised in working-class Philadelphia, earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to study chemistry in Germany. After starting his own business and making a fortune in pharmaceuticals, he began collecting art.

Portrait of of Dr. Albert Barnes (1872-1951) by Giorgio de Chirico (1926) at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Dr. Barnes believed that art had the power to improve minds and transform lives,” the notes read. “In 1922, he established the Barnes Foundation as a school for learning how to see and appreciate art. He had a gallery built in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, to house his growing collection. He held classes in the gallery so that students could learn directly from the artworks.”

Picasso’s “Acrobat and Young Harlequin”, at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Picasso’s “The Ascetic”, at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 2012, the collection was moved to Philadelphia, to a building designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architecture. The collection gallery replicates the original gallery building in Merion.

Claude Monet’s “The Studio Boat,” at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130, 215-278-7000, www.barnesfoundation.org.

From here, we go to a family gathering at the mega-popular Zahav Restaurant (the Uber driver can’t believe we are getting in there since lines are usually around the block), an award-winning restaurant which elevates Israeli cuisine to gourmet status. The small plates menu is designed for diners to sample the variety of cultural influences on Israeli cuisine, from Eastern Europe to North Africa, from Persia to the Mediterranean. “Creamy, nutty hummuses, sizzling skewers of meat grilled over hardwood charcoal, and laffa breadar,  the soul of Zahav, baked to order in a wood-fired Taboon.” (237 Saint James Place, 215-625-8800, zahavrestaurant.com).

My holiday happenings (see: Holiday Happenings Give Visitors to Philadelphia Even More to Enjoy) are bookended by visits to several of Philadelphia’s incomparable sites and attractions. Next:  Independence Hall (you need to get a timed ticket, either walk up for free or in advance online for $1 fee, www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehalltickets.htm); a fabulous exhibit devoted to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG) at the National Museum of American Jewish History, located within the Independence Hall  area (thru Jan. 12, at 5th & Market, mnajh.org, 215-923-3811); Philadelphia Magic Gardens (doesn’t need any holiday embellishments, 1020 South St., 215-733-0390, phillymagicgardens.org);and Franklin Institute (222 North 20th St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu), before having to pull myself away from Philadelphia.

Staying at The Roost East Market apartment hotel really enabled us to be part of the city, most of what we wanted to see within walking distance. It’s not hyperbole to say the comfort of a fully-equipped, gorgeously furnished apartment meets luxury amenities of a boutique hotel.  All of the apartments feature full-size kitchens with cookware and utensils (I especially love not having to go out for breakfast) and king size beds. A third-floor is devoted to guest amenities including a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center, magnificent and comfortable lounge areas and library, a huge demo kitchen, a private screening room, an outside, 20-meter heated lap pool, barbecue area, landscaped terrace, community vegetable garden;  and bike-share program. There is also 24-hour front desk and concierge, security (you need your card to access the elevator and public areas); and direct access to a parking garage.  They even arrange dog-walking and grocery delivery services. (The Roost East Market, 1199 Ludlow Street Philadelphia, PA 19107, 844-697-6678, https://myroost.com/philadelphia/east-market/).

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

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© 2019 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

Holiday Happenings Give Visitors to Philadelphia Even More to Enjoy

Deck the Hall Light Show at Dilworth Park uses Philadelphia’s City Hall as its canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia, a city proud of being where the United States was invented, where history, culture and art and entertainment ring out everywhere, a city which boasts being the “City of Brotherly Love,” is particularly warm, welcoming and filled with good cheer during the winter holidays.

During the course of a holiday weekend in Philadelphia I devoted one day to reveling in the special events and festivities – all within a 15 minute walk of my hotel, the newly opened apartment hotel, The Roost East Market.

I set out at 3 pm from The Roost, walking through City Hall – this most magnificent of structures which becomes Holiday Central, with a carousel in the center, Christmas markets, street musicians playing in each of the four corridors. Outside, in Dilworth Park, is an outdoor skating rink, snack bars, more markets. And each night, beginning at 5:30 pm, every hour on the half hour, there is a light show in which the entire building façade becomes animated.

I head to Comcast Center (17th & JFK), which features an extraordinary 20-minute Holiday Spectacular light show in the lobby (you just walk in, no tickets needed), that happens on the hour, from 10 am to 8 pm.

My holiday card photo, courtesy of Comcast, one of the holiday happenings in Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’m about 30 minutes early and the guard suggests I go over to the Universal Sphere at the Comcast Tech Center. You have to register for a time and I sign up for 4:30 pm. With time still before the light show, I go to Comcast’s lower level where families (and others) are lining up for  a kindly photographer to take photos (free) you can use for your Christmas card photo (I can’t resist:  I get to take a holiday photo with E.T.), take in the pop-up Christmas market, and go back to the Comcast Center for the holiday show.

Enjoying Comcast’s Holiday Spectacular, one of the holiday happenings in Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Philly holiday tradition, the Comcast Center’s annual Holiday Spectacular transforms otherwise innocuous walls transform into a super high-res LED, 27-million pixel display so detailed that the figures – an orchestra conductor, dancers – almost seem three-dimensional, that is to say, real. There are delightful scenes: the Pennsylvania Ballet’s The Nutcracker, scenes that are reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia or Dumbo, a magical sleigh ride over the city (with a bird’s-eye view of the new Comcast Technology Center) and a sing-along. More than 2 million people have seen the show since its debut in 2008. The 15- minute show (free) runs daily through New Year’s Day, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (every hour on the hour except 5 p.m. on weekdays; Comcast Center, 1701 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.)

I return to the Comcast Tech Center just in time for my “trip” in the Universal Sphere – this is a permanent installation that was introduced last spring. You enter a sphere (it looks like a giant golf ball), that becomes a space capsule (like in “Contact”, you actually move and feel like you are traveling, but thankfully, it doesn’t make you motion sick) to explore where ideas come from. In just 7 minutes, this multi-media work of genius produced by Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks is an inspirational, heart-warming, optimistic  exploration into what is an idea, where ideas come from, and where the next idea will come (it doesn’t have to be a big idea; even small ideas can change lives.). “Ideas start with nothing, become an intuition, a notion, a thought, a concept. Ideas build upon each other, evolving and changing to make new ideas.” The essential message is this: “Ideas are our superpower, the very thing that makes us human.”  Spielberg said of the project. “I want everybody who experiences this to feel that they matter, that they count,” The experience is enlightening, inspirational, absolutely fantastic and free and not-to-be-missed.

Universal Sphere at Comcast Tech Center is your vehicle to voyage to explore where ideas come from © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can reserve a time online and get a ticket; same day reservations open at 9 am.  (Extended holiday hours, Nov 29-Dec. 31, daily 10 am-8 pm; Christmas Day & New Year’s noon-5 pm, 1800 Arch Street, Comcast Technology Center, Upper Lobby) More background info: https://comcastcentercampus.com/universal-sphere/. (Comcast Center Campus, 1701 John F. Kennedy Blvd., www.comcastcentercampus.com)

I still have time before my next holiday stop, so even though it is foggy, I ride up 57 stories (883 feet) to the One Liberty Observation, the highest point in Philadelphia, that normally provides a 360-view of the entire city. (1650 Market Street, PhillyFromTheTop.com, 215-561-3325.)

Deck the Hall Light Show at Dilworth Park uses Philadelphia’s City Hall as its canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’m back at Dilworth Park, in front of City Hall, in time for the Deck the Hall Light Show, featuring. technicolor projections synchronized to holiday music that animate the western façade of City Hall over Dilworth Park. Created by Klip Collective, a new feature for 2019 is that visitors can deck the hall themselves on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings using an interactive keyboard that projects lights onto City Hall. (Nightly every hour on the half hour from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm, see dilworthpark.org)

Skating on the Rothman Orthopaedics Ice Rink set underneath City Hall’s lights at City Hall while listening to a mix of holiday tunes and bouncing beats, creates its own festive vibe and also affords perfect views of the Deck The Hall Light Show from the ice. ($5/skate, $1-0/rental, thru Feb. 23, Dilworth Park, 1S 15th St.)

Ice skating at Rothman Orthopaedics rink, in Dilworth Park beside Philadelphia’s City Hall, is particularly festive © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the new Wawa Holiday Plaza at City Hall’s North Apron (a first for Philly this year), is a 65-foot tall Christmas Village Ferris Wheel and a Holiday Train and holiday shops. ($4 to ride the ferris wheel, $3 to ride the holiday train. (Thru Dec. 24, 1400 John F. Kennedy Blvd.)

The Wawa holiday plaza also hosts the Visit Philadelphia Holiday Tree— a 50-foot-tall white fir covered in 4,000 feet of multi-color LED lights, ornaments and a base that reflects Philly’s 22 diverse neighborhoods around the city. 

I walk back through City Hall’s beautiful courtyard featuring ACME Winter Memories, Christmas Village vendors and a fanciful carousel ($3 a ride, but free on ACME Family Wednesdays, when each visitor also gets a complimentary Santa hat). 

The Carousel at Philadelphia’s City Hall is at the center of a holiday market. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A few steps away, at LOVE Park, is a mega-popular Christmas Village in Philadelphia, featuring a traditional German Christmas market with more than 80 vendors to check out.

I’ve timed my next stop at Macy’s, housed in the former, historic Wanamaker’s Department Store – grand doesn’t even begin to describe the interior. For the holidays, there is a giant light show displayed three-stories high in the appropriately named Grand Court, an atrium that soars four-stories, with balconies around, preceded by an organ recital on what is called “The King of Organs.” At the center is a famous brass eagle.

Macy’s holiday events include concerts on the “King of Organs” and a lightshow narrated by Julie Andrews starring the 40-foot tall “Magic Christmas tree,” that has been a traditional Philadelphia favorite for generations since 1956 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Macy’s Christmas Light Show, starring the 40-foot tall “Magic Christmas tree,” is a traditional favorite that generations have enjoyed since 1956. Narrated by Julie Andrews, it features “The Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Frosty the Snowman” with an enchanting nod to Julie Andrews’ “Sound of Music” and the wistful “good bye, good bye.” (Through Dec. 31; every two hours, from 10 am to 8 pm). Macy’s also hosts Santa visits through Dec 24, and there is a Dickens Village open until Dec. 31, where you watch as a Christmas Carol comes to life (photos with Santa packages start at $18.99, macys.com/santaland). (See macys.com/events.)

The organ is actually a notable attraction. It boasts being the “world’s largest pipe organ” and was first played in the Wanamaker soaring atrium at the exact moment King George V was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Macy’s holiday events include concerts on the “King of Organs” and a lightshow narrated by Julie Andrews starring the 40-foot tall “Magic Christmas tree,” that has been a traditional Philadelphia favorite for generations since 1956 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After the crowd clears out (the store is open for holiday shopping until 11 pm), it’s also an opportunity to become familiarized with the enormous Grand Court Eagle, which was created for the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair by sculptor August Gaul. Wanamaker purchased the brass eagle for his flagship store and it became a catchphrase for shoppers, “Meet me at the eagle.” The floor beneath is reinforced with extra girders to accommodate its 2500 pounds; its 5,000 feathers (including 1600 on the head) were wrought by hand.

A historic marker (one of Philly’s many fascinating markers) outside Macy’s notes that John Wanamaker (1838-1922) was a Philadelphia merchant famed for the department stores that bore his name. He opened his first store in 1861, and built his “new kind of store” in Philly in 1876, implementing new concepts including one-price system and money-back guarantee. He also built schools and churches and as US Postmaster General (1889-93), he fostered rural free delivery and introduced the commemorative stamp.

I’m not done! I find out that one of Philly’s newest holiday festivals, East Market Snow Walk, happens in the plaza next door to The Roost East Market hotel, a nightly light show featuring the giant Christmas tree throughout December (6:30, 7:30, 8:30 pm) with live entertainment on Saturday nights (tonight’s is a sensational 1920s-style swing band, Parlour Noir) (get schedule, EastMarket.com).

Swing dancing to the music of Parlour Noir at the East Market Snow Walk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are more holiday happenings through the city that I couldn’t fit in during my all-too-brief stay:

The annual Franklin Square Holiday Festival features a free Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show presented by PECO that makes this historic square twinkle with more than 80,000 LED lights dancing to a soundtrack of seasonal tunes from The Philly POPS. A 12-foot-tall kite serves as an ode to Philadelphia’s favorite son, Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite-and-lightning experiment, hovering 20 feet above the square’s centerpiece fountain. Light shows begin every day of the week at 4:30 p.m. and light up every 30 minutes until 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Other festivities include Saturdays with Santa; rides on the holiday train and carousel; comfort foods, local beer and hot beverages at Ben’s Sweets & Treats and holiday fare at SquareBurger; and mini-golf. (Through Dec. 31, Franklin Square, 200 N. 6th Street ).

Deck the District – Fashion District Philadelphia, the retail and entertainment space which opened in September in the city’s Market East neighborhood, celebrates its first holiday season with an inaugural light show. The destination boasts a 45-foot-tall floating tree with giant stainless steel mirror ornaments and a light show timed to music by The Philly POPS. The five-minute show, by designer Matthew Schwam, known for putting big, bright red bows and dazzling lit-up snowflakes on significant city buildings, is best viewed from in front of Candytopia, located near the entrance at 9th Street and Market Street. The show runs every 30 minutes from 4 p.m. until closing. (Thru Dec. 31, 901 Market Street, 215-925-7162, fashiondistrictphiladelphia.com)

LumiNature at Philadelphia Zoo – Two years in the making, a new, immersive display transforms the zoo’s day-scape into a nighttime multimedia light and music spectacle. Dancing lights, sounds (even talking trees) throughout furnish illusions of animals coming to life. A flock of flamingos forms a 25-foot-tall tree; an enormous polar bear broadcasts the magnificence of our planet; all four seasons host their very own party. Seasonal fare, live performers, hot chocolate and adult beverages promise to spark the winter spirit. (Timed tickets through Jan.5. 3400 W. Girard Avenue, 215-243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org.

Photo Pop Philly: Winter Wonderland ­– The ultimate selfie station, located inside the historic Bourse building (now a modern food hall), invites ticketed guests through a series of artist-envisioned, purposefully Instagram-able rooms featuring virtual reality, a photo booth and lots of snow-filled backdrops. (Select days through Jan. 5. 111 S. Independence Mall East, 215-925-7900, photopopphilly.com)

One of the lounge areas for guests at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Staying at The Roost East Market apartment hotel really enabled us to be part of the city. It’s not hyperbole to say the comfort of a fully-equipped, gorgeously furnished apartment meets luxury amenities of a boutique hotel.  All of the apartments feature full-size kitchens with cookware and utensils (I especially love not having to go out for breakfast) and king size beds. A third-floor is devoted to guest amenities including a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center, magnificent and comfortable lounge areas and library, a huge demo kitchen, a private screening room, an outside, 20-meter heated lap pool, barbecue area, landscaped terrace, community vegetable garden;  and bike-share program. There is also 24-hour front desk and concierge, security (you need your card to access the elevator and public areas); and direct access to a parking garage.  They even arrange dog-walking and grocery delivery services.

The outdoor, heated lap pool at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Roost East Market is wonderfully situated on the edge of Philadelphia’s Midtown Village neighborhood (aka Gayborhood), a short walk away from City Hall, Reading Terminal Market, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the shopping destination Fashion District Philadelphia. It is a 15-minute walk to Independence Hall and all the attractions in that area. (The Roost East Market, 1199 Ludlow Street Philadelphia, PA 19107, 844-697-6678, https://myroost.com/philadelphia/east-market/).

This is the third location of the Philadelphia-based extended-stay brand (though there is no minimum length of stay). The others are the ROOST Rittenhouse (1831 Chestnut St. Philadelphia) and ROOST Midtown (111 S. 15th St. Philadelphia). The brand is also expanding to other cities including Washington DC, which will also have a restaurant; Charleston, and Tampa.

Take a selfie with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the National Museum of American Jewish History, which is featuring “Notorious RBG” exhibit through Jan. 12 (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

My holiday happenings are bookended by visits to several of Philadelphia’s incomparable sites and attractions: Barnes Museum (2025 Ben Franklin Pkwy, barnesfoundation.org); Independence Hall (you need to get a timed ticket, either walk up for free or in advance online for $1 fee, www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehalltickets.htm); a fabulous exhibit devoted to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG) at the National Museum of American Jewish History, located within the Independence Hall  area (thru Jan. 12, at 5th & Market, mnajh.org, 215-923-3811); Philadelphia Magic Gardens (doesn’t need any holiday embellishments, 1020 South St., 215-733-0390, phillymagicgardens.org);and Franklin Institute (222 North 20th St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu), before having to pull myself away from Philadelphia. (See story)

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

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© 2019 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

Favorite Places to Go to be Immersed in Holiday Spirit

Christmas in Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun, has great decorations, and a festive feel. Here are more of our favorite places, where the spirit glows bright throughout the holidays, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. (See also: Favorite Places to Go Where the Holiday Spirit Glows Brightest)

Philadelphia’s Winter Wonderland

Philadelphia is well known for its wintertime holiday traditions. The season begins with America’s oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade—enjoying its momentous 100th running this year. But this year, three newcomers get an early start on the holidays. These include a vast, immersive, evening light display—LumiNature at the Philadelphia Zoo—a seasonal selfie station at The Bourse—Photo Pop Philly: Winter Wonderland—and a massive floating tree, with a sound and light show, at the center of the just-opened Fashion District Philadelphia.

Here is what’s new for the 2019 winter holidays in Philadelphia:

Holiday pop-ups abound around City Hall in the heart of Center City, including the dazzling nightly Deck the Hall Light Show (November 25, 2019 – January 1, 2020), projected on to the side of City Hall. The outdoor Rothman Orthopaedics Ice Rink & Cabin (November 8, 2019 – February 23, 2020) offer ice skating, skate rentals, twinkling lights and indoor space to warm up and fill up on snacks, cocktails, seasonal beer and hot drinks. The charming, stroll-worthy Wintergarden (November 8, 2019 – February 23, 2020) is aglow with seasonal plants and lights. Also, the Made In Philadelphia Holiday Market (November 23, 2019 – January 1, 2020) returns with dozens of independent local vendors selling their wares. (Dilworth Park, 1 S. 15th Street).

During the annual Franklin Square Holiday Festival, the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show presented by PECO makes this historic square twinkle with free shows every night. Among the 75,000 bulbs set to music is a giant, illuminated kite. Other festivities include Saturdays with Santa; rides on the holiday train and carousel; comfort foods, local beer and hot beverages at Ben’s Sweets & Treats and holiday fare at SquareBurger; and mini-golf.

Deck the District – The Fashion District Philadelphia offers great local art, amazing bargains, delicious drinks and a holiday light show. Designer Matthew Schwam, known for putting big, bright red bows and dazzling lit-up snowflakes on significant city buildings, has promised a magical, 45-foot tall floating tree featuring 600 mirrored, stainless steel orbs for the center of the complex. Every half hour from 4 p.m. until closing, the tree will host a free light show featuring the festive sounds of the Philadelphia POPS. November 14-December 31, 2019.901 Market Street, (215) 925-7162, fashiondistrictphiladelphia.com

Photo Pop Philly: Winter Wonderland ­– The ultimate selfie station, located inside the historic Bourse building (now a modern food hall), invites ticketed guests through a series of artist-envisioned, purposefully Instagram-able rooms featuring virtual reality, a photo booth and lots of snow-filled backdrops, just in time for holiday card-making. Select days, November 15, 2019-January 5, 2020.111 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 925-7900, photopopphilly.com

LumiNature at Philadelphia Zoo – Two years in the making, a new, immersive display transforms the zoo’s day-scape into a nighttime multimedia light and music spectacle. Dancing lights, sounds (even talking trees) throughout furnish illusions of animals coming to life. A flock of flamingos forms a 25-foot-tall tree; an enormous polar bear broadcasts the magnificence of our planet; all four seasons host their very own party. Seasonal fare, live performers, hot chocolate and adult beverages promise to spark the winter spirit. Timed tickets. November 20, 2019-January 5, 2020.3400 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org

The Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and more perks, and is  bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

Festive Holiday Traditions on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket

Christmas on Nantucket.

Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket bring the classic spirit of the season to life Thanksgiving through New Year’s, each putting their special stamp on beloved holiday traditions.

Nantucket Island’s month-long (November 29, 2019 to January 1, 2020), Nantucket Noel, is a venerable tradition. This year’s theme is Winter Nights & Holiday Nights — a reminder that, on Nantucket, the winter holidays commence with the Tree Lighting and continue for 33 days through The New Nantucket New Year’s Event and The Nantucket Hotel’s Anchor Drop on New Year’s Eve. Nantucket Noel 2019’s festivities — including the signature event Christmas Stroll Weekend (December 6-8, 2019) features more than 150 majestically attired balsam Christmas trees lining the side perimeters of cobblestoned Main Street and adjoining byways. (Book your ferry reservations online at www.SteamshipAuthority.com or call 508-477-8600.)

Christmas in Edgartown: Downtown Edgartown comes alive December 12-15 for the 38th Annual Christmas in Edgartown. Twinkle-lit architecture sets the scene for cookie contests, wreath making, amazing store promotions, The Great Chowder Contest, and a parade down Main Street.

Cape Cod Enchanted Village takes place December 6, 2019-January 2, 2020. Free and open to the public! Thousands of lights, a Santa’s Village and the Cape Cod Surftone Carolers sing holiday music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from 5 pm to 8pm. Bonfire nightly (weather permitting). Holiday lights go on at dusk. Please bring a gift card of new, unwrappped toy for the “Giving Tree”. Proceeds go to Independence House. (www.capecodderresort.com/packages/enchanted-village-package)

Old-Fashioned Family Fun: Take a guided ride along a winter wonderland route in an over-sand vehicle to the remote Cape Poge Lighthouse for Christmas at the Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard (December 7-8). The Nantucket Whaling Museum is ablaze with color during the Nantucket Historical Association Festival of Trees (December 6-31), featuring creatively decorated trees by local merchants, artists and children. And nine miles of twinkling lights greet visitors to Heritage Museums & Gardens’ Gardens Aglow, where you can visit with Santa in a 1913 Model T Ford, roast marshmallows over outdoor fire pits and stroll through the grounds on a reindeer scavenger hunt (November 29-December 29, Fridays-Sundays).

Shop Local: Quaint boutiques, charming bookstores and eclectic galleries adorn downtown areas, making it easy to tackle your holiday shopping list. One-of-a-kind gifts by local artisans can be found at Featherstone’s Holiday Gift Show(November 15-December 15), the Vineyard Artisans’ Annual Holiday Fair(December 21) and the Holiday LoveLocal Fest in Hyannis (December 7-8). Peruse the beautiful glass-blown ornaments at Sandwich Glass Museum’s Glassblowers’ Christmas, featuring handmade ornaments available for purchase (November 15-December 30). And if you shop on Nantucket between November 1 and December 24, you can earn red tickets and enter for a chance to win up to $11,000 through the Holiday Red Ticket Program.

Yuletide Cheer in Greater Williamsburg, Virginia

Visitors tour on Palace Green in an open carriage during the Christmas Season. Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area (photo by Danielle Hendricks).

What a holiday combination! Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

America’s colonial past can be seen through the Illuminations taking place throughout Colonial Williamsburg. Between December 10 and 15, stroll through the Palace Green, the Capitol, Market Square or the taverns to enjoy an 18th century seasonal celebration as candles and cressets illuminate these sites, and the firing of muskets and a musical performance by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drums whisk us back in time.

Jamestown: Military history aficionados may take delight in Christmastide in Virginia at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown between December 20 and 31.  17th and 18th-century holiday traditions are recalled through special interpretive programs and musical entertainment of the period.  At the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, hear accounts of Christmas and winter in military encampments during the American Revolution and relive holiday preparations on a Revolution-era farm.  At Jamestown Settlement, English Christmas customs of the period can be compared and contrasted with how the season may have been observed in the difficult early years of the Jamestown colony.

Busch Gardens—Christmas Town 2019 offers one of the largest lights displays in North America with more than 10 million tiny globes making all merry and bright.  Between November 16 and January 5, 2020, the season rejuvenates with festive food and drink, lighted Christmas train rides, holiday shopping and heart-warming shows in Busch Gardens – Christmas Town 2019. New for 2019, the Traditions Tree Maze presented by Coca-Cola features 500 fresh-cut Christmas trees creating a spectacular maze that allows park-goers to take a stroll around the world and explore holiday traditions celebrated in places like Japan, South Africa and Mexico. Country of origin themed craft-making stations for the kids, picture-taking moments, music and lights make this immersive experience like no other.  Also debuting this year, Believe lets guests dine while enjoying inspirational holiday music performed by a solo pianist in the Italy’s San Marco Theatre.  Not for the faint at heart, the new Finnegan’s Flyer tests the bravest of riders as they swing at speeds of 45 mph and 80 feet above the cliffs of the Celtic Coast, taking in the festive sights of Ireland.

Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five-Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

For more information and itinerary suggestions, visit www.visitwilliamsburg.com.

Holiday Family Fun in San Francisco  

Christmas in San Francisco (Ralsy Sabater).

Here are some essentials that epitomize a lovely winter holiday in the City by the Bay.

Winter Park at Civic Center: Now in its second year, the Civic Center Plaza is converted into a pop-up winter park to celebrate the holiday season. From Nov. 30 to Jan. 5, you can skate the night away or participate in Learn to Curl sessions.   https://winterparkicerinksf.com/

Ice Skating: Winter in San Francisco also means pop-up ice skating rinks. The most popular one is at Union Square, under Macy’s giant Christmas tree.Through Jan. 20, purchase tickets in advance; also check for special events ( https://unionsquareicerink.com/). Embarcadero Center has the biggest pop-up rink in the city, with gorgeous views of the waterfront (http://embarcaderocenter.com/experience/holiday-ice-rink/)

“Curious Contraptions: Flights of Fancy”: For indoor holiday fun, head to the Exploratorium at Pier 15 for an exhibition of whimsical mechanical sculptures, also known as automata. Brought to life by simple mechanisms and handmade pieces, each automata performs an entertaining drama. Understand the inner workings of these automata in “Curious Contraptions” from Nov. 21, 2019 to Jan. 26, 2020. www.exploratorium.edu

Classic Cable Car Holiday Nights & Sights City Tour: Ring in the holiday season aboard a cable car, Nov. 22 through Dec. 30, 2019 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Classic Cable Car Holiday Nights & Sights City Tour begins at Taylor St. and tours through Fisherman’s WharfNorth BeachChinatownUnion SquareFinancial DistrictThe Embarcadero and PIER 39. Along the way, you’ll see San Francisco’s festive holiday trees, trimmings, and twinkling lights decorating the city for the winter season. Enjoy jovial jingles along with a complimentary Santa hat.  www.classiccablecar.com/tour/holiday-nights-and-sights/

Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar: Off the Grid (OTG), the quintessential champion of the mobile food movement in the Bay Area and beyond, is debuting Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar Nov. 29 to Dec. 24, 2019. Inspired by the tradition of European Holiday Markets, the Bazaar will take place at the iconic Salesforce Transit Center and Salesforce Tower Plaza.  Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar will deliver a magical experience with classic holiday décor, cozy spots to relax and connect, and opportunities to shop for unique, handmade gifts – all paired with the soul-warming food and drink for which Off the Grid is famous. https://offthegrid.com/emperor-nortons-holiday-bazaar/

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair: A treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970, The Great Dickens Fair is takes place Nov. 23 – Dec. 22, 2019 at the Cow Palace. The Fair’s 20th season features over 800 performers in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, dance floors, and Christmas shops. https://dickensfair.com/

Lucky Tuk Tuk Tour: This might just be the most holiday fun you can have on wheels. Lucky Tuk Tuk’s vibrant vehicles are eco-friendly and colorfully decorated with holiday lights to tour you through the city with holiday cheer. Lucky Tuk Tuk can fit up to six riders, perfect for a family outing. While on board, you can enjoy a hot cup of cocoa, candy canes and even sing-along karaoke.  www.lucky-tuk-tuk.com/

For information on reservations, activities and more, visit www.sftravel.com or call 415-391-2000. 

Festivities in Louisville, Kentucky

WINTER WOODS SPECTACULAR: Experience the twinkling of millions of lights at this new event from the producers of the popular Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular. Held in scenic Iroquois Park, the event features a half-mile drive of lighting and artistry exploring and celebrating the holiday season. (Nov. 30 through Dec. 31)

FÊTE DE NOËL: Louisville’s Paristown neighborhood is the site of this inaugural event. A six-week Winter Village features Louisville’s only authentic outdoor ice-skating rink, along with the return of Louisville’s award-winning Holiday Laser Dome, Stoneware & Co. ornament decorating, holiday family movies and more. 

LIGHTS UNDER LOUISVILLE: At this holiday favorite, Louisville Mega Cavern is transformed into a festive underground light spectacular. Enjoy a 30-minute ride through part of 17 miles of underground passageways. Featuring more than 850 lit characters with three million points of lights. ( Open through Jan. 4)

For more information, Louisville Tourism,gotolouisville.com

Christmas on the Beach in St. Petersburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords a marvelous opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with white sand beach. St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland. The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation). Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!. Stay at the glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com) or the Vinoy Renaissance, both members of Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946).

For more ideas, visit www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.

Enchanted Garden in Chattanooga

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents when you visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium.

Enjoy Chattanooga’s Holiday Trail of Lights Nov. 15, 2019 – Jan. 17, 2020: Now in its third year, the Chattanooga Holiday Trail of Lights showcases 12 major holiday activities featuring millions of twinkling lights, holiday meals on a river cruise, live holiday music and entertainment, animal encounters, ice skating, Santa sightings and train excursions to the North Pole! Throughout the trail there are an array of festivals, gingerbread-house making workshops, special holiday meals, live music, theater performances, shopping deals, artist demonstrations, fireworks and plenty of ways to spend New Year’s Eve in Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the legendary railroad station dating back to 1909, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), and the station serves as the hotel lobby (you can also tour some of the historic trains and meet the engineer). A free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown. I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and enchanted stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)

Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter

Historic Holiday Sites

National Trust for Historic Preservation (the organization is the umbrella for Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org), offers Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com). The National Trust has just introduced a new program to make history fun for families: Distinctive Destinations. From grand homes to artists’ studios to working farms, these places across America can add memorable moments to your off-the-beaten-path road trip, create new opportunities for your next vacation, or even be your new favorite gift shop (https://savingplaces.org/distinctive-destinations). They even have created an online list of holiday experiences at its collection of historic holiday sites. (https://savingplaces.org/collections/distinctive-destinations-historic-holidays, info@savingplaces.org, 202-588-6000,:800-944-6847).

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© 2019 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

Favorite Places to Go Where the Holiday Spirit Glows Brightest

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The best thing about Christmas is that the festivities that brighten and warm all the days of the holiday season go on from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. And the best part is you don’t have to wait for Christmas week – festivities are happening throughout December. Here are some of our favorite places to revel in the holiday spirit:

Christmas in the Capital

Here are some of the best, can’t-miss ways to experience the holidays in Washington DC::

The National Christmas Tree, one of DC’s iconic holiday traditions, lives in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse, surrounded by trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories. Each night throughout the holiday season there are musical performances. The display is free to visit and open from 10 am – 10 pm while the National Christmas Tree is lit each day from 4:30-10 pm, from Dec. 5, when the lighting ceremony takes place.

Visit the Smithsonian National Zoo during ZooLights, when the zoo is illuminated with more than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LEDs,  animated light installations, live music and various animals on display. ZooLights runs Nov. 29 – Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24, 25 & 31).

Enchant Christmas is a light maze, billed as the biggest in the world, that is in DC for the first time at Nationals Park from Nov. 22 – Dec. 29. Throughout the holiday season there are ice skating trails and a large holiday market offering products from more than 60 vendors, including local businesses and international brands. (Use promo code “VISITDC” to get 10% off when you buy tickets.)

Downtown Holiday Market: Located at 8th and F Streets NW, the market holds down the area in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. At night, its bright lights bring Penn Quarter to life, providing a holiday spark to the neighborhood, but you can shop during the day too. (Open daily 12-8 pm, Nov. 22 – Dec. 23).

Georgetown GLOW exhibition of light-art, a stroll through DC’s most historic neighborhood  has proven to be such a hit that it’s now a month-long celebration (Dec. 6 – Jan. 5, 5-10 pm). Afterwards, wander through a winter wonderland at The Washington Harbour, one of the district’s favorite places to ice skate.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon: A George Washington-inspired Christmas awaits at the Founding Father’s Mount Vernon estate, Nov. 29 – Dec. 31. Walk through Washington’s home and visit Aladdin the camel, which pays homage to Washington’s 1787 Christmas in which he paid 18 shillings to entertain guests with a camel. See Mount Vernon by candlelight (Nov. 29 & 30, Dec. 6-7, 13-14 and 22) between 5-8 p.m., when you can enjoy a character-guided tour, 18th century dancing and fireside caroling.

The U.S. Botanic Garden gets decked out for this annual exhibit. This year’s display focuses on gardens from Hawaii to Maine, including iconic spots like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Franklin Park Conservatory and Huntsville Botanical Garden. Inside the Conservatory are  the garden’s collection of DC’s iconic landmarks and a showcase of poinsettias. Season’s Greenings is open from Nov. 28 – Jan. 5 (10 am – 5 pm), and stays open until 8 pm, with holiday concerts on select Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

A magnificent tree decks the Great Hall of the Library of Congress‘ Thomas Jefferson Building each December, visited from the First Street SE entrance between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm (the Jefferson Building is closed Sundays and on Christmas). (Check the guide to visiting the largest library in the world so you can properly explore.)

Ice slide at Gaylord’s ICE! © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visit National Harbor, a shopping, dining and amusement park-like landmark located just 20 minutes south of DC (reached by public transportation). Step inside the Gaylord National Resort for ICE! (Nov. 15 – Dec. 30), an indoor winter wonderland featuring two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, ice slides, a live carving area and a retelling of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. While at National Harbor, view the tree from atop the Capital Wheel, shop for gifts at the Tanger Outlets and experience weekend events like holiday markets, performances and movie screenings.

Beautiful lights, seasonal food and holiday-themed attractions and characters make up this annual Christmas event at Six Flags America, on weekends and select days from Nov. 23 – Jan. 1.

Located in the Brookland neighborhood, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, dresses up with more than 50 Christmas trees, over 65,000 lights, halls decked with 500-plus poinsettias and two manger scenes. (Free and open to the public daily from 7 am – 6 pm)

The Willard InterContinental Washington offers a holiday tradition throughout December. You can enjoy afternoon tea from 1-4 p.m. in the elegant Peacock Alley every day of the month (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31). There will be seasonal decor, sandwiches, pastries and the beautiful sounds of a harp to accompany you as you sip on festive teas from one of DC’s most historic hotels.

Visit https://washington.org for more details and ideas.

Christmas in Washington DC: The historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel hosts holiday afternoon tea, nightly caroling, and a gingerbread display.

15th Annual Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth, NH

Now in its 15th year, Vintage Christmas, taking place throughout December, transforms Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which National Geographic/Travel described as “possibly the greatest small town in the USA,” into a picture-postcard winter wonderland.

Those who visit Portsmouth during the holiday season discover an intimate streetscape framed by 19th century storefronts, boutiques and sidewalk cafes. The city’s reputation as a “foodies’” haven is upheld by chef-owned restaurants on more than every corner. The thriving craft beer and local music scene banish all suggestions of “staid New England” without losing the charm. And sales tax-free shopping offers delights for every age and taste.

For 2019 Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth includes:

The Music Hall, a historic theater dating from 1878 on Chestnut Street, presents “Annie” from November 27 to December 22, with Sally Struthers reprising her Broadway tour reprisal of Miss Hannigan. Juston McKinney: Last Laugh 2019 on Dec. 27, 28 & 29, looks back at “the year that was” with one of the region’s most “popular stand-up comics. New Year’s Eve Champagne Pops with the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 31.

Strawbery Banke Museum:  40th Annual Candlelight Stroll on December 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22, showcases 300+ years of daily life and holiday festivities around the theme “A Tradition for Every Family” in the historic waterfront neighborhood and living history museum of Puddle Dock. Saturdays 5-9 pm. Sundays 4-8 pm. Adult $25; child (5-17) $10, Family (2 adults/2 kids) $60. Children under 5 and Military families, free.

It’s Chanukah at the Shapiro House at Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth NH’s living history museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond, Strawbery Banke’s seasonal outdoor ice skating rink, open daily 9 am to 9 pm, also hosts costumed Victorian skaters evoking Currier & Ives during each of the December evenings of Candlelight Stroll.

Vintage Christmas Trolley. This free trolley, courtesy of the City of Portsmouth, shuttles visitors on a 15-minute loop throughout the festively decorated downtown, from hotels and parking garages to the key events and shopping areas on weekends,  December 7-22, 1:30-10:30 pm.

For more information, visit VintageChristmasNH.org; Discover Portsmouth, PortsmouthHistory.org, 603-436-8433.

Christmas in Newport, RI

Newport, Rhode Island, the Gilded Age’s favorite summer resort, is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. A sampling of “Christmas in Newport” (now in its 49th year) and winter festivities include:

Holiday Lantern Tours: Hear the history of early American holiday traditions on an evening walk and learn how Newporters did, or did not, observe the holidays. Tours depart from the Museum of Newport History and Shop (Nov. 22 – Dec. 28, Fridays and Saturdays at 4 p.m.)

Christmas in Newport: The Breakers, Vanderbilt’s opulent “summer cottage”, decked out for the holidays.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions: The glitter of gold and the sparkle of silver dazzle as you tour three magnificent mansions decked out in yuletide finery. Music, tours and spectacular decorations highlight celebrations at The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House – each of which will have Gingerbread Mansion replicas on display. Special events include “Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions” and “Santa Sundays.” (Nov. 23 – Jan. 1)

Christmas at Blithewold: Enjoy elaborate holiday decorations around every corner of this historic early 19th century estate in Bristol. (Nov. 29 – Jan. 1)

Holiday Market at Gurney’s: Features a curated selection of travel, lifestyle and fashion finds. (Nov. 29 – Dec. 20, Friday – Sunday).

Dickens Holiday Dinner Train: Immerse yourself in the classic tale of humbuggery, ghosts and redemption with this interactive retelling of “A Christmas Carol” by the Marley Bridges Theatre Company. Experience a dining journey along the Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad in a custom-designed theater car featuring special tables for two all facing center stage. (Nov. 30 – Dec. 21, Saturdays)

A Rough Point Holiday: Experience the holiday traditions and winter caretaking practices at Doris Duke’s Rough Point with various rooms of the mansion museum both spruced up for the Christmas holiday and cloaked in their winter coverings. 30-minute guided tours offered throughout the day. (Dec. 7 – 28, Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m)

48th Annual Christmas in Newport Candlelight Tour of Historical Private Homes: Experience the rare opportunity to tour private homes of note in Newport. (No children 10 or under and no high heels. Dec. 28) 

Festive Igloo Pop-Ups at Gurney’s Newport Resort: Features heated multi-sensory igloos overlooking Narragansett Bay, each with its own theme including Santa’s Workshop, Winter Wonderland, Cozy Log Cabin, Roaring 20s, Harry Potter, Tropical Summer, Northern Lights, Astrology and Après Ski, complete with activities and cocktail pairings. Proceeds will go to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Rhode Island. (Nov. 22 – Feb. 29)

Gurney’s Newport Resort Skating Rink: Opens for the season with outdoor skating on the North Lawn overlooking the Newport Harbor Lighthouse, The Point and the Newport Bridge. Open seven days a week. (Nov. 26 – March 1)

Goat Hikes at Simmons Farm: Spend an afternoon on a two-hour hike led by Farmer Karla and her crew of adventurous, fun-loving goats. Each participant gets their own goat to walk on a leash. The afternoon finishes with hot chocolate made with the milk from the farm. (Nov. 24 – Jan. 1)

Meanwhile, “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light,” an exhibit of colorful glass artwork and objects by the renowned Louis C. Tiffany opens at Rosecliff beginning Sunday, Dec. 8, and continuing through March 1. The exhibition is free to view with paid admission to Rosecliff (548 Bellevue Ave.). For tickets and information, visit newportmansions.org/learn/adult-programs or call (401) 847-1000, ext. 178. Rosecliff is one of the Preservation Society of Newport 11 historic properties, seven of them National Historic Landmarks, collectively spanning more than 250 years of American architectural and social development. (NewportMansions.org)

See more holiday and winter events in Newport and plan a visit at DiscoverNewport.org, 800-326-030, 401-849-8048.

Holidays in the Brandywine Valley

Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley is one of the most picturesque and historic places especially during the holiday season From Christmastime exhibits at du Pont family estates to the dancing fountains at Longwood Gardens. Here are highlights:

Christmas lights at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Longwood Christmas at Longwood Gardens, is magical with 500,000 lights gracing 150 trees throughout the outdoor Gardens, a four-acre Conservatory with holiday sing-alongs accompanied by a 10,010 pipe Aeolian organ – the largest organ ever constructed in a residential setting. At the Open Air Theatre, fountains dance day and night to holiday classics. Delight in Longwood’s outdoor train display as it travels past miniature Longwood landmarks illuminated for the holiday season. In the Meadow Garden, stroll through a 140-ft tunnel of light in the winter landscape, and discover a grove of glowing architectural orbs that pulse and change to the rhythm of holiday music.  Grab a hot chocolate and cozy up to one of the many fire pits. ALongwoodChristmasruns November 22, 2019– January 5, 2020 (including Christmas Day). Admission to the Christmas display is by Timed Admission Ticket, with tickets purchased in advance for a specific date and time. (Tickets and reservations at longwoodgardens.org.)

Yuletide at Winterthur: From November 23 through January 5, you can experience one of the Brandywine Valley’s most memorable attractions. Henry du Pont’s mansion is transformed into a magical holiday spectacle, with food, music, exhibits, an exquisite 18-room dollhouse mansion, and an Enchanted Woods children’s garden. Reservations are recommended for the Yuletide exhibits, and the last chance to see Winterthur’s Costuming THE CROWN (showcasing costumes from Netflix’s Emmy winning series) before it closes on January 5.

Nemours Estate: Starting November 17, you can  experience holidays in traditional du Pont style as you tour the 1907 mansion and gardens that Alfred du Pont built for his wife Alicia. See original decorations (including a 19th century German crèche), twinkling lights, and bright colored ornaments.

Holidays at Hagley at Hagley Museum takes you back to 1803 as you visit the du Pont ancestral home Eleutherian Mills, decorated in vintage holiday charm. There’s also a “Christmas Trees Past and Present” exhibit.

Brandywine Christmas at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, renowned for its collection from three generations of Wyeth family artists, during the holiday season showcases the region’s most impressive model train display, which includes nearly 2,000 feet of track. Throughout the season, festive trees and crafts, live musical performances, and imaginative “Critter” ornaments made by local volunteers. There’s also a Polar Express Pajama Party, breakfast with the trains, and more special events. (www.brandywinemuseum.org)

Holiday Light Express throughout December you can take a 45-minute ride in 100-year old (heated!) coaches and experience thousands of holiday lights twinkling as you pass decorated homes along the route.

A Christmas Carol: Delaware Theater Company’s adaptation of the Dickens classic has a twist:  performed with just five actors bring Charles Dickens’ beloved characters to life using props, puppets, bold physicality and the imagination of the audience. Opening night is December 7, so make this a cultural must-see on your holiday road trip.

For more information, trip planning help and accommodations, visit www.visitwilmingtonde.com, 800-489-6664.

Visit Christmas City, USA: Bethlehem, PA

Christmas in Bethlehem, PA, America’s “Christmas City.”

Experience the magic of the Christmas City: Bethlehem, in Lehigh Valley, PA boasts one of the top-ranked holiday markets in the world, now celebrating its 27th season. Christkindlmarkt (weekends, Nov. 22 – Dec. 22) offers visitors wares from 100 vendors, musical performances, and glass blowing demonstrations.

 Along Main Street, browse the Christmas Huts on Main (weekends, Nov. 22 – Dec. 22), a shopping experience inspired by a German Weihnachtsmarkt, complete with charming wooden huts lining the streets offering holiday gifts. Browse the Moravian Book Shop, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the country.

Join Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites for a variety of tours including Christmas City Stroll, which takes you on a walking excursion through the city’s National Historic Landmark District. Led by a guide in period dress, this tour will give you a peek into what Moravian life was like in the 1700s.

To get a great view of the famous star atop South Mountain, get tickets for the Bethlehem by Night bus tour. On this tour, participants will learn why the north side of the city dons white lights and the SouthSide dresses up in colored lights. (Reserve in advance.)

One of the most distinctive holiday traditions is the Bethlehem’s Live Advent Calendar. Thought to be the only one of its kind in the country, visitors can join locals in this activity nightly, Dec. 1 – 23, at 5:30 p.m. Crowds gather outside the Goundie House at 501 Main Street. A selected visitor knocks on the door and the group is greeted by representatives from local businesses offering a surprise for all to enjoy. Nightly surprises could include musical performances, a story, or a tasty treat.

As you wander along Main Street, enjoy the music. Trombone choirs stroll the sidewalks playing holiday tunes, a nod to the city’s Moravian heritage.

For a special view of the city’s historic district, take a horse-drawn holiday carriage ride, hosted by the Bethlehem Carriage Company.

A free Christmas City Trolley is offered Fridays-Sundays, Nov. 15 – Dec. 22. The trolley runs every 20-30 minutes, shuttling between the Historic District and the SouthSide Arts District.

More information at discoverlehighvalley.com, info@DiscoverLehighValley.comOpens in New Window
610-882-9200, 800-MEET-HERE.

Victorian Christmas in Cape May

A Victorian Christmas awaits in Cape May, NJ.

Share a special holiday tradition with friends and family on a festive tour of Victorian Cape May during Christmas Candlelight House Tours, presented by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC). Every year since 1974, a large selection of Victorian inns, homes, churches and hotels open their doors and welcome visitors to share the warmth and hospitality of the season during these popular, self-guided, walking tours. You will be welcomed inside with holiday hospitality and cheer. Enjoy Christmas carols by candlelight, strolling musicians along the historic streets of Cape May and beautiful holiday decorations. Walk from site to site, stopping at hospitality centers for warm beverages and holiday treats during your travels. Free heated shuttles make limited stops along some routes. The three Christmas Candlelight House Tours of the 2019 holiday season are held on Saturdays, Dec. 7, 14 and 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (tickets should be purchased in advance). The festivities begin Friday, Nov. 22 and continue through Jan. 1, 2020. 

For information about MAC’s year-round schedule of tours, festivals, and special events, call 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278, or visit MAC’s Web site at www.capemaymac.org. For information about restaurants, accommodations and shopping, call the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May at 609-884-5508 or visit www.capemaychamber.com. For information about historic accommodations, contact Cape May Historic Accommodations at www.capemaylodging.com.

Next: More Favorite Holiday Places

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© 2019 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

Photo Highlights of 93rd Edition of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 93rd edition of the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade  ushered in the holiday season with 16 giant character balloons; 40 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats of fantasy; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 11 of the nation’s finest marching bands, starting with the pilgrims riding a giant turkey and finishing with Santa Claus on his sleigh.

Macy’s Inc CEO Jeff Gennette and NBC’s Al Roker kick off the 93rd edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Despite strong winds and gusts on the cusp of forcing the giant balloons to be grounded, heroic balloon handlers acted more like wranglers to keep the balloons in control, though flying so low as to touch the ground. Still, there were thrills to be had, and not just the excitement at seeing favorite characters as tall or as long as a building flying overhead, as the balloons passed cross-streets where the winds were strongest, almost pushing the balloons over. The crowd cheered their encouragement, “Go, go, go.”

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Snoopy, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chris Janson. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marching Band from Ronald Reagan High School, Texas. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Kelly Rowland. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New giant balloon characters joining the line-up this year included Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide, Green Eggs and Ham by Netflix, and SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon. In celebration of his 75th birthday, a heritage balloon and fan favorite Smokey Bear once again takes to the skies over Manhattan.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alvin Ailey dance troupe. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mighty Morphin Power Ranges. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning giant balloon characters included Diary of A Wimpy Kid® by Abrams Children’s Books; Sinclair Oil’s DINO®; The Elf on the Shelf®; Goku; Illumination Presents Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch; Jett by Super Wings™; Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen 2”; Chase from PAW Patrol®; Pikachu™ by the Pokémon Company International; Pillsbury Doughboy™; Power Rangers Mighty Morphin Red Ranger; Ronald McDonald®; and Trolls. Completing the inflatable lineup is the famed Aflac Duck, Sinclair Oil’s Baby DINOs and the Go Bowling balloonicles, as well as Universal Orlando Resort’s The Nutcracker.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Black Eye Peas. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Goku. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ozuna. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The parade also featured special performances and appearances by Natasha Bedingfield, Black Eyed Peas, Chicago, Ciara, Josh Dela Cruz, Celine Dion, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Debbie Gibson, former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire & Janet Kavandi, Chris Janson, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk, the cast & Muppets of Sesame Street, NCT 127, Ozuna, Billy Porter, Kelly Rowland, That Girl Lay Lay, TLC, Tenille Townes, and Chris Young.

Ronald MacDonald. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Josh Dela Cruz. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
610 Stompers from New Orleans. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Awesome Original Second Time Arounders from St. Petersburg, Florida. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Awesome Original Second Time Arounders, St. Petersburg, Florida. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Billy Porter on the Rexy in the City float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rexy in the City float. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Nia Franklin, 2019 Miss America, is from New York. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, five new floats debuted including Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You! (Josh Dela Cruz), The Brick-changer by The Lego Group (NCT 127), Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® 3 (Tenille Townes), Rexy in the City by COACH® (Billy Porter), and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life (Kelly Rowland).

Green Eggs and Ham. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Madison Central HS, Kentucky. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Madison Central HS, Kentucky. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sponge Bob Square Pants. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Big Apple Circus. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chris Young on South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore float. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The returning float roster and its scheduled performers and special stars included 1-2-3 Sesame Street® by Sesame Workshop™ (The cast and Muppets of Sesame Street); Big City Cheer! by Spirit of America Productions (Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin); Central Park (Lea Michele); Christmas Cheer is Near by Elf Pets®/The Elf on the Shelf®; Cornucopia; Deck the Halls by Balsam Hill® (Idina Menzel); Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® (Jimmy Fallon and The Roots); Fantasy Chocolate Factory by Kinder™ (Natasha Bedingfield), Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant® (Chris Janson); Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel (Chicago); Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism (Chris Young); the NHL® Most Valuable Hockey Mom presented by MassMutual (Black Eyed Peas and NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk); Parade Day Mischief by SOUR PATCH KIDS® Candy (Ozuna); Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Nickelodeon (Ciara); Santa’s Sleigh (Santa Claus); Shimmer and Shine by Nickelodeon (Debbie Gibson); Snoopy’s Doghouse by Peanuts Worldwide (Charlie Brown and former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire and Janet Kavandi); Splashing Safari Adventure by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions (TLC); Tom Turkey; and Universal Playground by Universal Kids (That Girl Lay Lay).

Smokey Bear. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. High School’s Kings of Halftime, Lithonia, GA.Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Blue Springs Golden Regiment Marching Band, Missouri. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Trolls. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Balloon handlers wrangle the Trolls. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jimmy Fallon and The Roots. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, Cullowhee, NC. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning for a third year by popular demand, the Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree by Delta Air Lines will feature the harmonious voices of more than 100 Macy’s colleagues and friends from Delta hailing from across the nation and the world. Performing an original song to celebrate the start of the holiday season, the golden-voiced chorus will touch the hearts and uplift the spirits of millions.

Lea Michele. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chicago. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Enthusiastic parade watchers. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pillsburgh Doughboy. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For this year’s 93rd march, 11 of the specially chosen marching bands from around the country included Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band (St. Petersburg, FL), Blue Springs High School Golden Regiment (Blue Springs, MO), Catalina Foothills Falcon Band (Tucson, AZ), Franklin Regional Panther Band (Murrysville, PA), Macy’s Great American Marching Band (United States), Madison Central High School Band (Richmond, KY), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. High School’s Kings of Halftime (Lithonia, GA), Morgan State University’s The Magnificent Marching Machine (Baltimore, MD), NYPD Marching Band (New York, NY), Ronald Reagan High School Marching Band (San Antonio, TX), and Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band (Cullowhee, NC).

Catalina Foothills Falcon Band, Tucson, AZ. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Catalina Foothills Falcon Band, Tucson, AZ. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Keeping The Nutcracker under control. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Idina Menzel. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Great American Band. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Great American Band. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Olaf. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Singing Tree. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Singing Tree. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Parade watchers also got a taste of the specialty performance groups. Joining the line-up this year were the teen dancers and cheerleaders of Spirit of America Dance Stars and Spirit of America Cheer – together featuring more than 1,200 of the very best performers recruited from hometowns nationwide. Also, the hilarious 610 Stompers (New Orleans, LA), modern dance youth talent showcased by The Alvin Ailey School (New York, NY).

Santa Claus. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other performances included the tap dance theatrics of children from The Nice List (New York, NY). Rounding out the performance group line-up and joining select talent performances will be Gamma Phi Circus (Normal, IL), Manhattan Youth Ballet (New York, NY), the dance stars of the world-renowned in-school arts education program National Dance Institute (New York, NY) and Young People’s Chorus of NYC (New York, NY).

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Some 3.5 million people turn out to line the two-mile parade route; another 50 million watch on television.

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© 2019 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