Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Newly Opened Museum of Broadway Celebrates Artistry, Legacy of Theater

A ticket for admission to one of George M. Cohan’s shows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are actual top hat and dance shoes from A Chorus Line. You step into Doc’s drugstore from West Side Story. See costumes from Phantom of the Opera. There are scores of artifacts, music sheets, props, director notes, rehearsal photos. You see the original Playbills of iconic shows and theater posters going back to the very beginning of American (that is New York and ultimately Broadway) theater. And then you go “backstage” to see how all the creative and technical processes all come together, that speaks to you not so much as star-struck audience member but as a person yearning to be in theater. “Hey gang, let’s put on a show!”

This is the Museum of Broadway, newly opened in November, 2022.

Top hat and dance shoes from A Chorus Line, on display at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rather than burst any star-studied illusions or theater magic, this opportunity to go behind the curtain is tremendously exciting – you get to see (and appreciate) what goes into such show-stoppers, cultural icons as Show Boat, Oklahoma, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Company, Rent, A Chorus Line, Lion King, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Hamilton, several offering immersive experiences.

In all (believe it or not), the Museum limelights more than 500 individual productions from the 1700s to what is on stage now.

And you get insights into such theater luminaries as Ziegfeld, Sondheim, Webber, Fosse. You come away even more awestruck and under theater’s spell than when you entered.

The Museum features work from Emmy Award winning illustrator I. Javier Ameijeiras (Rent Live!), neon artist Dani B, Tony Award nominated dancer Robert Fairchild (An American in Paris, former NYCB principal), Drama Desk Award winning scenic designer David Korins (Hamilton, Beetlejuice), choreographer Julio Monge (West Side Story), and dancer Tanairi Vazquez (West Side Story, Hamilton). (Find a full list of the artists featured in the Museum at https://www.themuseumofbroadway.com/artists)

A Museum of Broadway homage to “Cats,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s landmark musical based on the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Broadway is an immersive and interactive theatrical experience devoted to musicals, plays, and the people who make them. Featuring the work of dozens of designers, artists, and theatre historians, you are taken on a journey along the timeline of Broadway, from its birth to present day.

You travel through a visual history of Broadway, highlighting groundbreaking moments in a series of exhibits that showcase – and show off – dazzling costumes, props, renderings, rare photos, videos, artifacts, awards. Stops along the way highlight the pivotal shows or “game changers” that transformed the landscape of Broadway – the moments that pushed creative boundaries, challenged social norms, and paved the way for those who would follow.

Your visit to the Museum of Broadway starts back stage with sound effects, photos, that show how typical it would be for the Broadway performers to use the back stairs for warm ups © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Your visit to the Museum of Broadway starts back stage (actually on the back stairs of the building, next door to historic Lyceum theater),  with sound effects, photos, that show how typical it would be for the Broadway performers to use the back stairs for warm ups.

Walk up three flights, where you hear “warm-ups” as you climb the stairs and go past rooms to show where hair, make-up would have been (performers are taught how to apply their own); the dressing rooms (one labeled “dressing room” is actually the bathroom) and get introduced to the traditions (even superstitions) of Broadway performers. (There is an elevator for those who cannot climb the stairs.)

You are brought into a waiting room before the introductory video – showcasing the Playbills and synopsis of shows currently on Broadway (can point to a QR code and purchase tickets right there), as the music for “Company” plays.

Then you are taken into a small screening room to see a video packing 250 years of history of New York theater into just four minutes. (It is surprising to learn the first actual public performance was in 1732 at the Playhouse, way downtown.)

The history of Broadway theater, told in a four-minute video at the Museum of Broadway dates back to 1732 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Theater at first was centered in lower Manhattan – where Financial District and Chinatown are today, then, as rents moved up, theaters moved uptown along Broadway to Union Square, Herald Square and finally to Times Square (renamed for the New York Times newspaper, which took up residence in 1904).

Oscar Hammerstein I (grandfather of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II) was instrumental in opening a number of theater houses, beginning 1895 with the Olympia; the Schubert Brothers (Sam, Lee and JJ) soon followed, becoming a major powerhouse among theater owners.

Times Square became known as the Great White Way because of the lamps and electric white lights on marquees.

The Great Depression hit the theater industry hard – many theaters were converted to other purposes. But the end of World War II led to a Golden Age of Broadway, and Jujamcyn and Nederlander emerged as theater behemoths. Then, with the decline of New York City in the 1960s – crime, deteriorating condition – theaters were empty.

The city was desperate to revitalize the Times Square area and allowed the Marriott Marquis to build its new hotel (with a theater inside) to spur a renaissance. But that resulted in the destruction of five Broadway theaters – the so-called “Great Theater Massacre” of 1982. The outcry led to a new landmark preservation law to protect Broadway theaters.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking, longest-running “Phantom of the Opera,” has been seen by more than 19 million people over 35 years on Broadway. It is due to close in 2023 to make room for Webber’s new musical, “Bad Cinderella” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The revitalization really was spurred in the mid-1990s, when Disney signed a 99-year lease for the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street and the city cleaned up Times Square. Broadway was back and “family friendly”, to the point there was a waiting list for incoming shows.

Then COVID hit in March 2020, shutting down the theaters -“the heartbeat of the city” – for 18 months, the longest period in theater history. Since Broadway is one of the top reasons visitors come to the city, and one of its top revenue-makers as well as employers, shutting down theater took its toll on the city’s finances.

After the video (I sit through it twice), you are brought into a sequence of rooms in a Timeline, showcasing the people and key productions – plays and musicals – that shaped the past, present and point to the future of Broadway theater.

Timeline panels at the Museum of Broadway showcase the people and key productions – plays and musicals – that shaped the past, present and point to the future of Broadway theater, going back to the earliest days with historic posters and photos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The first panels are really interesting, featuring posters of plays starring Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, and (ironically) a production of “An American Cousin,” starring Laura Keene at the New American Theater in March 3, 1859 – the play Abraham Lincoln was watching at Ford Theater in Washington DC when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him. There is also, an interesting discussion of censorship – when Olga Nethersole, who played Sapho, was arrested for corrupting public morals (indecency). The scandal, first unleashed by the producer to generate audience interest and then played up by newspapers to sell papers (Yellow Journalism), backfired on the show, which though actually quite tame, was censored, but Nethersole was ultimately acquitted.

The panels also highlight the contribution and breakthroughs of Black Americans in American theater and breakthroughs by women. But it is odd that the contribution by Jewish creators is hardly a footnote, while incorporating photos and hard-to-read photo captions of the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin, showcasing Showboat without mentioning Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, and Porgy and Bess without bothering to mention the Gershwins who wrote them.  

The influence of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Kurt Weill, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Jule Styne is undeniable throughout the museum because of the productions that are highlighted, but unremarked. The only mention of Yiddish Theater comes in a tiny reference in a panel for a 1990 show, “Those Were the Days”) (For this part of history, see “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy” from Great Performances on pbs.org (https://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/broadway-musicals-a-jewish-legacy-about-the-film/1476/)

There is a showcase of Ziegfeld Follies, as if you are in the (very pink and feathery) dressing room, with stunning costumes. There’s a photo but much information about Fanny Brice and a photo of Irving Berlin at the piano, but the notes emphasize how Ziegfeld reacted “when a few Follies cast members complained about sharing the stage with Black comedian Bert Williams, Ziegfeld’s reply was ‘The stage door is that way. I can do this show without any of you, but I cannot do it without Bert.’ And that was that.”

There is a whole set up for Showboat and how the musical changed the course of theater, redirecting the emphasis from the heavy operettas and the superficial music comedies which had dominated Broadway, providing complex, realistic characters, and integrating music and plot (but only passing mention of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II and composer Jerome Kern who wrote the breakthrough musical based on Edna Ferber’s 1926 novel).

Hammerstein lambasted racial prejudice again in South Pacific:

 You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made/And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade/You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Show Boat, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling 1926 novel, changed the course of musical theater, redirecting the emphasis from the heavy operettas and the superficial music comedies which had dominated Broadway, providing complex, realistic characters, and integrating music and plot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It isn’t until the 1990s panel that there is any mention of Yiddish Theater – arguably the progenitor if not the incubator of Broadway theater – when we learn that “Those Were the Days” in 1990 brought “the Shteltl” and “The Music Hall” to Broadway in an intimate two-part review performed in both English and Yiddish. “The show evokes a period,” director Eleanor Reissa explained. “Created by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld, the musical honored the legacy of a vibrant and influential Yiddish stage that flourished on New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of the district’s most formidable figures was Boris Thomashefsky, who opened a Yiddish theater on Broadway in 1923.”

A room is devoted to the coveted Tony Awards and its namesake, Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer, and the dynamic wartime leader of the American Theatre Wing who had recently passed away when The Tony Awards made their official debut at a dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947.

You walk through rooms devoted to Oklahoma and a set for Doc’s drugstore in the homage to “West Side Story” (there’s a Jets jacket on display as well). A small room crams together Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, Neil Simon’s comedies before getting to the rock musicals – Jesus Christ Superstar – that led a new era on the Broadway stage.

Walk through the West Side Story set for Doc’s drugstore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Thankfully, a major exhibit is devoted to Sondheim and you walk through what appears to be the set for Company.

The Wiz, we learn, got bad reviews, but the audience gave it a standing ovation and four curtain calls (the musical used a new marketing strategy of television commercials) – and you ease down yellow stairs.

A Chorus Line – one of the longest-running shows and the first to use computerized light board – features original costumes, marvelous 8×10 photos of the cast, plus I loved seeing original creative notes.

Notes for the opening song for A Chorus Line © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Notes for “Handful of Keys” from A Chorus Line © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(There is so much information crammed into a small space and the captions and notes are so small and hard to read (bring glasses), but you are encouraged to download an app where you can listen or read the notes.)

Honoring Broadway’s longest-running musical, “Phantom of the Opera”: a chandelier made of 13,917 glass beads – for the number of Broadway performances – and if you look at it to an angle, the Phantom’s mask emerges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then you come to Phantom of the Opera – with some sensational costumes (from 1986) and artifacts from the show. Phantom is now the longest-running production in Broadway history (it was scheduled to close in 2023, when a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Bad Cinderella” is due to open). Among Phantom’s plaudits: it is the largest generator of money and jobs in Broadway history and has been seen by 19.5 million people over 35 years. There is an amazing chandelier made of 13,917 glass beads – for the number of Broadway performances – and if you look at it to an angle, the Phantom’s mask emerges.

Along the way, staff people offer their own anecdotes or point you to artifacts or parts of the exhibit you might not have seen. And there are various interactive and videos, as Broadway tunes play in each exhibit.

The innovative costume/props for The Lion King on display at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The setting for “Rent” was designed for the museum by the original set designer. I love seeing some of the innovative props/costumes that turn human actors into animals for Lion King. You walk through the “office” for Producers” (a Tony is in the bookcase), costumes from Hamilton, and there is a whole line of costumes representing the shows currently playing.

Costumes from “Hamilton” on display at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Then you go down the stairs to the first floor where you are really treated to the back-stage, “let’s put on a show” tutorial.

This part of the Museum celebrates the behind-the-scenes of this dazzling American art form with a special exhibit, “The Making of a Broadway Show,” justifiably honoring the entirety of the community of brilliantly talented professionals – both onstage and off – who bring Broadway plays and musicals to life every night.

This section features multiple videos of directors of lighting, sound, music, as well as costumers and set designers discussing their craft. (Here, they should have given way more space and separated the sections of the exhibit better because the videos and sound overlap – even three and four at once – and the room is dark.)

Hey gang! Let’s put on a show: An entire floor Museum of Broadway is devoted to how a theater production comes together. Computerized lighting board © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But if you put in some effort – and time – you are treated to absolutely fascinating information about producing, designing the music, the lights, the sound, costumes (and tricks of “distressing” costumes), direction, choreography. This whole section – most of an entire floor – is a goldmine for anyone who harbors any interest in pursuing a career in theater production. There are even time sheets for what a costumer’s day is like, and a timeline from conception to opening night of a production.

Techniques of a costumer at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Want to be a costume designer? Check out what a day looks like at the Museum of Broadway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the end, I follow an arrow and found myself in a fantastic exhibit of Al Hirschfeld – the extraordinary cartoonist/caricaturist who was synonymous with every Broadway opening. We see many of his illustrations – from newspapers, posters, the originals, and I love the display of his sketchbooks that give a glimpse into his creative process – and learn about the origin of his iconic “Nina” embedded into his illustration (that became an obsession, much like Wordle is today, for New York Times readers). There is even a photo of him with his daughter, Nina, and a caricature of Nina, herself.

The origin of the famous Nina’s in Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures that so defined Broadway productions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Broadway is founded by entrepreneur and two-time Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman and founder of the award-winning experiential agency, Rubik Marketing,Diane Nicoletti. Elie Landauis the general manager.

The team of expert curators for The Museum of Broadway is headed by Ben West (Resident Historian and Curator, Timeline & Special Exhibits) and includes Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Curator, Historical Buildings), John Kenrick (Curator, Game Changer History), Faye Armon-Troncoso (Set Decorator & Props Supervisor, Making of a Broadway Show), Lisa Zinni (Costume & Props Curator) and Michael McDonald (Historical Assets Manager).

The Museum of Broadway is founded in collaboration with Playbill, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, The Billy Rose Theatre Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, The Al Hirschfeld Foundation, Goodspeed Musicals, Creative Goods, and Concord Theatricals.

There is so much to delight anyone who enjoys, appreciates theater – you don’t have to be an avid theatergoer or aficionado or maven.

The artifacts, costumes, inside (backstage) info, and insights throughout the Museum of Broadway are fabulous. You need at least two to three hours to go through. And bring reading eyeglasses or magnifying glass to read the tiny captions and notes. Open 7 days a week, 10 am – 10 pm.

Indeed, the Museum of Broadway seems to be very much a hit – the museum had a steady stream of visitors.

The Museum of Broadway, 145 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400, www.themuseumofbroadway.com, follow @museumofbroadway on social channels.

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Top Things to Do to Celebrate the Holidays in New York City

Rockefeller Center, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Santa has arrived on his sleigh to close out the 96th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The tree is alight at Rockefeller Center. Saks has its sound-and-light show and decorated windows. Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman have their windows decorated. People flock into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, stop to hear a choral concert at St. Thomas. Cartier and Tiffany’s come gift wrapped. Fifth Avenue is decked out for the holiday. It’s Christmas time in the city. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy the city:

Macy’s windows theme for Holidays 2022: Give Love © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As one of the most iconic holiday destinations in the world, New York City once again hosts a potpourri of festive experiences, attractions and events across dining, shopping, culture and entertainment throughout the five boros.

Macy’s windows theme for Holidays 2022: Give Love © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s windows theme for Holidays 2022: Give Love © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the past few years, Bryant Park has emerged as the quintessential holiday destination in New York City – crammed with the most picturesque holiday market (actually marvelous items) in the city, a skating rink (free skating; skate rentals available) below a Christmas tree, an enchanting carousel, lovely eateries and snack places. It is the synthesis of the holiday.

Holidays in New York City: Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more highlights of Holidays in the City:

HOLIDAY PERFORMANCES

A New York City holiday staple: Radio City Rockettes performing Christmas Spectacular Wooden Soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • DREAM BIG: Big Apple Circus Returns to Lincoln Center for 45th Anniversary, through Jan. 1. For eight weeks, Big Top at Lincoln Center will be home to astonishing wonders and daring acrobatics, setting imaginations soaring to the most astounding, awe-inspiring heights.
  • Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, Nov. 18–Jan. 2 has dazzled audiences of all ages for nearly a century with incredible costumes, festive songs, synchronized high kicks, new acts and several shows daily.
  • A Christmas Carola one-man show on Broadway, Nov. 21–Jan. 1. In this astonishing Broadway adaptation, Tony Award–winning actor Jefferson Mays tackles more than 50 roles in this season’s limited run of A Christmas Carol at the Nederlander Theatre. The beloved Dickens story featuring notable characters—Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the four ghosts—is making its return for the first time since 2019 and will enchant theatergoers with its redemptive story.
  • George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker Presented by New York City Ballet, Nov. 25–Dec. 31 at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center returns for its annual performance featuring exquisite costumes, magnificent sets and Tchaikovsky’s iconic score that transports audiences to a land of twirling snowflakes, leaping candy canes, waltzing flowers and more. On November 27, TDF Autism Friendly Performances will present the first-ever Autism-Friendly Performance of New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.
  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center, Nov. 30–Dec. 24, returns to New York City Center for a season that has become a joyous winter tradition. Led by Artistic Director Robert Battle, Ailey’s extraordinary dancers will move audiences with world and company premieres by Kyle Abraham, Jamar Roberts, Paul Taylor, and Twyla Tharp. In addition to repertory favorites, founder Alvin Ailey’s choreography is spotlighted with a new production of Survivors and the staging of over a half dozen classic works, including the must-see American masterpiece Revelations.
  • The Magic Flute Holiday Presentation at The Met Opera, Dec. 16–Jan. 6. The Met Opera’s abridged, English-language version of Mozart’s magical fairy tale is a classic holiday treat for audiences of all ages, bringing the charming story and enchanting music to life. This year’s series features Maestro Duncan Ward, making his company debut conducting Julie Taymor’s irresistible production.

CULTURAL EVENTS

Fifth Avenue, decked out for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Holidays in New York City: St. Patrick’s Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

HOLIDAY LIGHTS

Amaze Light Festival is the newest holiday attraction in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Shine Bright Only at Hudson Yards, throughout the holidays, Hudson Yards, Manhattan. Featuring over 2 million twinkling lights, Shine Bright Only at Hudson Yards, presented by Wells Fargo, adorns the neighborhood with 115-miles of string lights, 725 evergreen trees dressed and 16-foot-tall illuminated set pieces in the shape of hot air balloons arranged through the Public Square and Gardens with a 32-foot hot air balloon centerpiece suspended in The Great Room of The Shops and Restaurants.
  • Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Nov. 16–Jan. 8, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Explore the garden after dark at the illuminated Lightscape, celebrating the beauty of nature with an enchanting one-mile trail through BBG’s 52-acre landscape. Sold out in its first season, this year’s after-dark, illuminated spectacular features new works of art alongside returning favorites. Enjoy the Winter Cathedral tunnel, Fire Garden and Sea of Light, as well as new site-specific light works by local artists, accompanied by a curated soundtrack.
  • Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights, Nov. 18–Jan. 8, Bronx Park, The Bronx. With more than 360 lanterns representing nearly 90 animal and plant species, Bronx Zoo’s family-centric holiday lights festival will connect visitors with real wildlife and wild places. During the evenings, the park comes to life with holiday cheer as immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns (with some life-size, some larger-than-life-size) and animated light shows sparkle across the zoo. The celebration is complete with seasonal treats, classic holiday music and other festive entertainment. The beloved tradition is sure to enchant visitors of all ages, making it the perfect way to kick off the holidays this year.
  • NYBG GLOW, Select dates from November 18–January 14, Bedford Park, The Bronx. Discover the beauty of New York Botanical Garden through NYBG GLOW, which will illuminate the garden’s landmark landscape and historic buildings after dark with a newly expanded 1.5-mile colorful experience. Building upon sold-out evenings the past two years, the event is expanded across more of the garden’s collections.
  • Amaze Light Festival at Citi Field, Select dates from Nov. 20–Jan. 8, Flushing, Queens. Guests are greeted by the lovable characters Zing and Sparky from the Amaze storybook, who bring the stage dancers, singers and light show to life with their magic powers. Visit the holiday market and grab a treat at Sparky’s Sweet Spot. Enjoy culinary treats, specialty drinks and cocktails. Zip down Zing’s icy Thrill Hill, take in the wonder on a train ride, and write a letter to Santa.
  • NYC Winter Lantern Festival: Journey to the East, Oct. 21–Jan. 8, St. George, Staten Island. The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is back for its fourth year to transform a new venue, SIUH Community Park in Staten Island, into an immersive world of light. Enjoy over eight acres of luminescence, live DJ, projection mapping, food vendors.
  • NYC Winter Lantern Festival: Illuminate the Farm at Queens County Farm Museum, Nov. 11–Jan. 8, Glen Oaks, Queens. Back for its second year, the NYC Winter Lantern Festival transforms Queens County Farm into an immersive and radiant oasis with festive lights and handmade lanterns in the shape of flowers, tractors, farm animals.
  • Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights from A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours, Dec. 1–31 (except 24 & 25), Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Experience the extravagant Christmas light displays in Dyker Heights, also known as “Dyker Lights.” This guided bus tour, departing from Manhattan, offers visitors a special experience to view the uniquely decorated homes, learn about the history and stories of the neighborhood tradition.
Holidays in New York City: Bergdorf Goodman’s stunning window displays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

ICE-SKATING, OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES:

Holidays in New York City: Ice skating at Bryant Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center, Skate under the iconic Christmas tree, a quintessential NYC experience on the world-famous rink. In collaboration with Coach, Rockefeller Center will unveil this year’s activations, including a bespoke holiday gift shop, custom hospitality cart serving special treats, and live onsite patch customization for a curated line of Coach products. Santa will join visitors on the ice in December.
  • The Rink at Bryant Park, Midtown Manhattan. Enjoy NYC’s free 17,000-square-foot outdoor ice-skating rink at Bryant Park’s Winter Village. Visitors can also enjoy the Holiday Shops, free shows, events, activities, and eats and drinks at The Lodge.
  • Wollman Rink in Central Park, Midtown Manhattan. Enjoy skating in Central Park with the picturesque Manhattan skyline in the background. This year, Wollman Rink is partnering with Culture Pass.
  •  Classic Harbor Line Holiday-Themed Cruises, Manhattan. Enjoy four-course holiday brunch cruises, a Cocoa and Carols cruise and more holiday themes, while sailing across the East and Hudson Rivers with views of the NYC skyline and Lady Liberty.
  • City Cruises Holiday-Themed Cruises, Manhattan. Enjoy a NYC dining cruise (available Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s) featuring festive decor, meals and stunning views of the City while sailing across the East and Hudson Rivers from the glass-enclosed deck.
Holidays in New York City: Watching Saks’ light show at Rockefeller Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

FESTIVE HOLIDAY SHOPPING

Holidays in New York City: Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, Bryant Park, Manhattan.
  • Shop at Grand Central Terminal, through Dec. 24, Midtown Manhattan. Grand Central Terminal welcomes back its famous indoor Holiday Fair to the splendor of Vanderbilt Hall after a two-year hiatus. The Grand Central Holiday Fair is one of New York City’s most coveted attractions, welcoming thousands of locals, commuters and visitors for a curated holiday shopping and gifting experience. This year’s event features 36 vendors, including Ekologic, Garden of Silver and Rebel Designs.
  • Union Square Holiday Market, throughDec. 24, Union Square, Manhattan. Urbanspace’s longest running holiday market returns with over 160 vendors featuring unique gifts created by local craftsmen, artists and entrepreneurs.
  • Brooklyn Flea Holiday Market, Sundays, through Dec. 24, Dumbo, Brooklyn. Come to Pearl Street for Dumbo’s iconic Brooklyn Flea Holiday Market. One of the borough’s most popular attractions, shoppers support local vendors and cross off holiday shopping with vintage and antique items, crafts and gourmet food stands.
  • Columbus Circle Holiday Market, through Dec. 24, Upper West Side, Manhattan. Known as one of the most elegant places for holiday shopping, visitors will lose themselves in aisles of art, jewelry, home goods and delicious eats from local artisans and designers, with the backdrop of NYC’s iconic Central Park.
Strolling Fifth Avenue is one of the highlights of Holidays in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Strolling Fifth Avenue is one of the highlights of Holidays in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NEW YEAR’S  

Gotta do it at least once in a lifetime: Watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in Times Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Times Square, Manhattan: The Waterford Crystal Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball will sparkle in Times Square all season, but watching its descent in person on New Year’s Eve is a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime way to ring in the New Year. Guests can also stop by the New Year’s Eve Confetti Wishing Wall from December 1 on to submit (in person and online herefor nye wishing wall) a wish for the New Year on a piece of official NYE confetti that will be dropped at midnight as the ball drops. 
  •  NYRR Midnight Run in Central Park, Midtown Manhattan: Start the new year off on the right—and left—foot at the NYRR Midnight Run. Join the fun and celebrate as 2022 comes to a close; the countdown to 2023 begins at 11:59pm, and at the stroke of midnight, a fireworks display will light up the night sky and kick off the start of the 4-mile race.
  • Coney Island Polar Plunge, January 1, Coney Island, Brooklyn: Each year on January 1, members of the Polar Bear Club and anyone else brave enough to participate venture into the frigid waters at Coney Island. Watch hundreds of daring souls plunge into the Atlantic Ocean, where the temperature of the water hovers right above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the air temperature can be well below freezing. The event is free, but in lieu of admission, participants are encouraged to donate to community organizations.

For additional holiday celebrations and itineraries, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

For the official source on all there is to see and do in New York City, go to nycgo.com

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Long Island Has New Destination Attraction: Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame Opens in Stony Brook

Guitarist Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Guy Gelso of Zebra perform under a vintage poster from way back when, at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Your eyes open wide as you enter the new, permanent location of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame, housed in a former Ward Melville Historical Organization building in historic Stony Brook Village, and realize the prominent musicians who grew up, got their start, built their careers on Long Island. That is, the whole of Long Island, from Queens and Brooklyn through Nassau and Suffolk.

While the Hall of Fame has been inducting honorees since 2004, this is its first permanent home, so is the first opportunity to really see the breadth and depth of the talent nurtured on the island. And it is so much fun to see the original posters, costumes, musical instruments, memorabilia from inductees including Twisted Sister, Zebra, Blue Oyster, Public Enemy, Vanilla Fudge, even Billy Joel’s actual motorcycle and Joan Jett’s 1983 Jaguar.

Dee Snider, frontman of Twisted Sister, donated 12 costumes that hadn’t been seen in years, designed by Suzette Snyder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jay Jay French, founding member and bassist of the heavy metal band Twisted Sister, manager and record producer, went so far as to declare, “Without Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens, you got nothing.  The circuit never existed before, and will never exist again.”

Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister; Kevin O’Callahan, Hall of Fame creative director and board member;  and Ernie Canadeo, LIMEHoF chairman © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That might be hyperbole, but he can be forgiven when you go up to the second floor, where there is the “Hall of Fame” with plaques and exhibits that recognize over 120 inductees, displayed across the walls the inductees year by year. In fact, you can easily imagine they will soon run out of wall space entirely when beginning next year, they also induct people from television and film. There are also cases chock full of memorabilia such as Perry Como’s Emmy (you have to really search – it’s like an attic).

An eclectic assemblage of memorabilia from Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Famers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also areas for a library, classrooms for educational programs, and master classes, a surround sound theater, and a gift shop with music and entertainment-themed memorabilia.

Having an actual space means that the Hall of Fame also can present special exhibits.

Created by renowned designer Kevin o’Callaghan, “Long Island’s Legendary Club Scene – 1960s-1980s” is laid out to be like a club crawl, sparking those pangs of nostalgia for those places © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Its first exhibit now on display re-creates those cherished clubs. Created by renowned designer Kevin o’Callaghan, “Long Island’s Legendary Club Scene – 1960s-1980s” is laid out to be like a club crawl, sparking those pangs of nostalgia for those places. The exhibit features replicas of clubs – My Father’s Place, The Mad Hatter in Stony Brook, Oak Beach Inn, Malibu in Lido Beach, Speaks in Island Park and Pips Comedy Club in Brooklyn -with videos of artists performing, ads, posters, instruments. There is also a replica of a typical 1960s stage, complete with vintage equipment and sound system (donated by Zebra).

At the opening, guitarist Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Guy Gelso of Zebra performed on that stage with the very sound equipment they used at clubs in the 1970s and donated to the museum (in order to better re-create the sound), and below a poster which showed their 1970s selves. Surreal time warp.

Blue Öyster Cult perform at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also performing, bassist Joe Bouchard and drummer Albert Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult, Paula Janis and Carole Demas of “The Magic Garden,” singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy, and Jen Chapin, daughter of Harry Chapin.

The newest honoree in the Hall of Fame, Wayne Robins, had to wait two years (because of COVID) to officially be inducted. At the official opening, Robins, who for more than 50 years has been a leading music and pop culture journalist, waxed nostalgic as he recalled being at Shea stadium for the Beatles Concert, Diana Ross sitting in his lap at her concert at Westbury Music Fair, using fake ID to get into music venues before he was 18. He began his career in 1972 at CBS Records, then writing for Rolling Stone, the New Musical Express, Melody Maker, the Village Voice and Creem Magazine before joining Newsday in 1975 as its pop music writer, where he worked for the next 20 years.

The 2020 inductee to the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame is Wayne Robins, a longtime music and culture journalist, who was presented with his award by Norm Prusslin and Chairman Ernie Canadeo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Throughout, there are compelling visual elements and artifacts on display. Among the inducted artists who have donated memorabilia, are Billy Joel, Joan Jett, Debbie Gibson, Blue Oyster Cult, Twisted Sister, and the families and estates of Harry Chapin, Guy Lombardo, John Coltraine. Donations include various musical instruments, performance outfits, vintage automobiles and motorcycles, rare posters and photos, and handwritten lyrics.

Jen Chapin, daughter of Harry Chapin, performs at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dee Snider, frontman of Twisted Sister, donated 12 costumes that hadn’t been seen in years, designed by Suzette Snyder. Suzette was 15 years old when she first met Dee, having borrowed her cousin’s ID to sneak into a show. She designed an outfit – pink with fringes – and created the ‘Twisted Sisters look’.”

Suzette was 15 years old when she first met Dee Snider. She designed an outfit – pink with fringes – and created the “Twisted Sisters look” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The opening night event included performances by guitarist Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Guy Gelso of Zebra, bassist Joe Bouchard and drummer Albert Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult, singer/songwriter Jen Chapin, Paula Janis and Carole Demas of “The Magic Garden,” singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy, and Jen Chapin.

Rich L’Hommedieu, one of the co-founders of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rich L’Hommedieu, one of the co-founders, said, “The music industry started on Long Island – song sheet sellers came from Manhattan, Jazz musicians who couldn’t afford Manhattan had homes in Queens. Duke Ellington, Louie Armstrong. Then there were the street corner doo wop groups, the hip hop. Garages in suburbia incubated rock bands.

It’s mind-bending to realize how many music groups and musicians have ties to Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, every musical genre is represented among the122  honorees (so far) – there’s Aaron Copland, Brooklyn (2008), Barbra Streisand, Brooklyn (2008), Beverly Sills, Brooklyn (2008), Eddie Palmieri, Queens (2010, George Gershwin, Brooklyn (2006), George M. Cohan, Kings Point (2006), Carole King, Brooklyn (2008), Ervin Drake, Great Neck (2012), Cyndi Lauper, Brooklyn/Queens, (2006), Guy Lombardo, Freeport (2008), Marvin Hamlisch, Westhampton Beach (2008), Morton Gould, Queens/Great Neck (2010, Oscar Brand, Brooklyn/Great Neck (2010), Perry Como, Port Washington (2006), Simon & Garfunkel, Queens (2008), Steve Martin, Long island (2010), Tony Bennett, Queens (2006), Vince Giordano, Brooklyn/Hauppauge (2016), William “Count” Basie, Queens (2008), and Cousin Brucie Morrow, Brooklyn (2018), Arlo Guthrie, Coney Island (2008), LL Cool J, Bayshore (2008) (The full list is mind-blowing.)

It’s mind-bending to realize how many music groups and musicians have ties to Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the groups with roots on Long Island: Gary U.S. Bonds; the Lovin’ Spponful; Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge; Public Enemy; Salt-N-Pepa; The Ramones; The Shangri-las; The Tokens; Twisted Sister, Vanilla Fudge, Zebra, Blue Oyster Cult, little Anthony and the Imperials

Also among the honorees: My Father’s Place, Dream Theater, WALK 97-5 FM, Westbury Music Fair, Jones Beach theater, Stony Brook University, CSS Security Service.

The idea for the Hall of Fame originated with co-founders Jim Faith, Rich L’Hommedieu and Norm Prusslin, who met at Stony Brook University in the fall of 2003 and by January 2004, launched the nonprofit without any government assistance at all, but with lots of volunteer help.

It was created as a place of community that inspires and explores Long Island music in all its forms. In addition to the Hall of Fame, the organization also offers education programs and scholarships to Long Island students, sponsors the Long Island Sound Award, and features traveling educational exhibits, including a state-of-the-art mobile museum.

Billy Joel’s motorcycle is on view at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 2014, when the Billy Joel Band was inducted into the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, Billy Joel said this in a statement: “After The Stranger was released, people began to recognize that the ‘Long Island Sound’ wasn’t just a body of water.” Indeed, it isn’t. Over the years, Long Island has produced some of the most talented and accomplished musicians and has become a respected music scene.

But, according to the museum’s history, it didn’t start off that way.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Long Island music landscape was rather barren and more of a stepchild to that of New York City, which had become a focal point of the music industry, with recording sudios and iconic music venues such as Max’s Kansas City, Fillmore East, and Electric Circus. Beside some local bars, schools and Westbury Music Fair (which had sporadic star performances, such as Judy Barland in 1967, The Who in 1968 and Bruce Springsteen in 1975), there were few live venues on Long Island.

Paula Janis and Carole Demas of “The Magic Garden” at the opening of the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to Norm Prusslin, music historian and a founding member of the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, in the late 1960s Stony Brook University, emerged as an important venue to bring music to Long Island.

FM radio stations began popping up on Long Island, giving national recording artists Long Island airplay, and college radio stations began to showcase Long Island’s burgeoning musicians.

 “Long Island college radio stations were important in bringing to the airwaves local musicians of all genres, and that certainly contributed to Long Island artists getting heard and getting spoken about,” Prusslin stated.

Joan Jett’s jaguar is on view at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame and Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the same time,  Long Island-based publications, such as Good Times magazine, began pioneering local music coverage and talking up Long Island artists. And venues, such as My Father’s Place in Roslyn, brought in a lot of local bands who didn’t have the opportunity for commercial exposure before.

By the early 1980s, some of the commercial radio stations, particularly WLIR and WBAB, began to follow Long Island college radio’s lead, focusing on Long Island artists.

An eclectic assemblage of memorabilia from Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Famers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the early 2000s, Long Island had become a hotbed for upcoming musicians as well as a sophisticated music scene. It now had its own music festivals, such as the Great South Bay Music Festival (established in 2006) and the Long Island Bluegrass Festival (which premiered in 2002), as well as the establishment of music-specific societies and organizations such as the Long Island Blues Society and the Long Island Traditional Music Society.

Co-founder Norm Prusslin reflects on how the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame came to be © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In August 2003, Prusslin had been reading an editorial in a local music magazine written by Richard L’Hommedieu—who would go on to become the founding chairman of the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame—about the new Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which had opened in 1996. L’Hommedieu wrote that it would be great if Long Island had its own music hall of fame.

In January 2004, this enterprising group of founding members including Prusslin, L’Hommedieu, and other music educators, held an event at the Patchogue Theater announcing the creation of “a nonprofit organization that would recognize, honor, and preserve Long Island’s longstanding and diverse music heritage—a heritage that fought its way out of the shadow of New York City and would go on to inspire generations of music lovers.”

The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame was born.

“This is your home, your place, personal space, when can come and remember where great music came from on Long Island,” Jay Jay French said. “It’s your legacy.”

LIMEHoF is open Wednesday-Sunday, 12-5 pm. Tickets are $19.50/adult, $17/seniors (65+)/Veterans; $15/students with id, 12 and under free.

Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame, 97 Main Street, Stony Brook Village, https://www.limusichalloffame.org/.

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

All that Glitters, Shimmers and Glows this Holiday Season

Amaze Light Festival is the newest holiday attraction in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Traveling this holiday season? There are so many special activities and attractions to enjoy. Here are some of our favorites:

Shimmering Solstice at Old Westbury Gardens

Shimmering Solstice at Old Westbury Gardens, a Long Island landmark, returns for its second year.  You are enchanted by a series of magical light displays as you walk along the beautiful meandering paths through Old Westbury Gardens’ Walled Garden, Rose Garden, South Lawn, and Allée.

The enchantment of Shimmering Solstice returns to Old Westbury Gardens to enchant this holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This walk-through light show is uniquely designed specifically for Old Westbury Gardens, a beautiful Long Island landmark” said Nancy Costopulos, President and CEO of Old Westbury Gardens.

This year, even more beautiful visuals have been added including a re-designed interactive area featuring three new exhibits that will engage adults and children alike; seasonal music throughout the expanded illuminated event path, a new illuminated water feature on the West Pond, and the Garden of Appreciation will be turned into a lively warming area with a concession stand for seasonal snacks and
drinks.

The enchantment of Shimmering Solstice returns to Old Westbury Gardens to enchant this holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shimmering Solstice is a completely custom-built show by Lightswitch, a collective of internationally recognized lighting, media, and visual designers that has been uniquely designed to highlight the features of Old Westbury Gardens. The goal was to turn the gardens into a visitor location that can be enjoyed during the fall and winter holiday season and that would remain consistent with the mission of Old Westbury Gardens.

The magical Shimmering Solstice returns to Old Westbury Gardens to enchant this holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Shimmering Solstice was designed to be a celebration of our space,” said Maura Brush, Director of Horticulture at Old Westbury Gardens. “The features that define Old Westbury Gardens such as the formal allées, ponds, and statuary are all illuminated so visitors can view them in a completely different light.”

This walk-through show is a family friendly experience people of all ages can enjoy and is designed to explore at your own pace. For the exciting finale, you are again be dazzled to see the south facade of Westbury House come alive with magical lights and seasonal sounds—this year with an exciting twist!

See the finale of Old Westbury Gardens’ Shimmering Solstice, projected on the historic mansion, Westbury House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tickets are $34.95/adults, $19.95/kids 2-13, $26.95/Senior Sundays (65+), $80/Anytime, Any Day.

The show runs on select dates through January 1, 2023. The admission time starts at 5:30 p.m. Check website for available dates and times.

Old Westbury Gardens, 71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury, NY 11568, https://shimmeringsolstice.com/.

Amaze Light Festival, NYC’s Newest Holiday Attraction, Dazzles at Citifield

A million lights fashioned into fanciful characters and iconic symbols of the holiday season – so big you can walk or climb through, sit inside a train locomotive, a gigantic teddy bear, a Christmas tree, Santa’s hat, a giant Frosty the Snowman. Teams of reindeer. A Castle of lights.  This is the Amaze Light Festival – a new immersive, interactive holiday attraction for New York City, taking up a sprawling 50,000 square feet of outdoor space at Queens’ Citifield where this is plenty of space to run around in the winter night air (bundle up).

Amaze Light Festival, New York City’s newest holiday attraction, offers umptium opportunities for photos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Amaze Light Festival is produced by Artistic Holiday Designs, a holiday decoration design firm known for designing interactive experiences, in partnership with Leblanc Illuminations. Debuting  last year at Rosemont in Chicago, Amaze Light Festival has expanded this year to two new sites, running simultaneously in New York City’s iconic Citi Field and Chicagoland’s Odyssey Fun World in Tinley Park, Wednesdays through Sundays through January 8.

Amaze Light Festival, designed as an ‘immersive” storybook experience, takes you on an “illuminous holiday adventure” inspired by storybook characters Zing and Sparky through five thematic displays, each one offering dazzling photo opportunities.

Ride the Arctic Express Train at Amaze Light Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also a couple of optional rides available: a cute Arctic Express Train ride through a light display headlined by a giant Frosty the Snowman ($10 pp) that takes about four minutes, and a tubing experience down Zing’s Thrill Hill ($5/per ride or $10 for 3 rides) that lasts about 10 seconds.

There are also live performances every two-hours and a light show every 30-minutes.  Throughout, classic holiday music plays, weaving together the experience.

Storybook characters Zing and Sparky make live appearances at the Amaze Light Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

German-styled cottages housing goodies and featuring local small business offering special gifts fill the Amaze Market, a version of a Christmas market. You can also find an array of sweet and savory dishes and festive beverages including: baked goods, hot cocoa, savory plates, sweet dishes, and crafted cocktails, plus various items from food trucks.

Additional highlights include the candy-fueled Sparky’s Sweet Spot, an enclosed candy emporium, and Zing’s Toyporium, selling a selection of educational-style toys, where you also find Zing’s Buddy Builder, a toy machine which provides the opportunity to donate to Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, Hurricane Ian Relief (American Red Cross) or Toys for Tots (simply press a button and watching the magic happen). Participants can choose the charity and Amaze Light Festival will donate $1 for each participant. 

With one million lights, Amaze Light Festival boasts being the nation’s largest holiday light show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Amaze Light Festival is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 4-10 p.m (you choose your time slot, but VIPs can stay as long as they like), with the last ticket sold at 9 p.m. In Chicago, ticket prices start at $30 for children and $36 for adults while in the New York City location, adult ticket prices start at $44 and $36 for children.

A castle made of lights at the Amaze Light Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is the option of a VIP upgrade ($50 more) that provides reserved seating during the live performances and light shows; exclusive access to mingle with the Masters of Light, Zing and Sparky; enjoy complimentary holiday themed food items (it was Greek souvlaki from a truck when I visited), in a heated indoor lounge where you can purchase hot chocolate ($5 and $6) and premium craft cocktails.

An Amaze App provides pre-arrival information including festival maps, venue details, food and beverage menus and Frequently Asked Questions. Customers are able to purchase festival tickets and buy add-ons in real time, such as to Zing’s Thrill Hill and the Arctic Express Train Ride and use the Amaze Pay mobile wallet, a completely contactless method of payment. 

The Amaze Light Festival illuminations are large enough, sturdy enough to climb on, walk through, and sit in © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you drive, there is parking at the Southfield lot and Stadium View lot, which costs $30 per car (credit or debit card only, no cash accepted); or you can take the 7 train or the Long Island Railroad to Mets-Willetts Point.

Amaze Light Festival runs through January 8, 2023. Tickets for Chicago are available at amazelightfestival.com/chicago-tickets/and tickets for New York City are available for purchase at amazelightfestival.com/newyork-tickets/. There are limited tickets for peak time slots and guests are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance for this limited season run. Additional information for New York City can be found in the NYC FAQ and for more information on Chicago see the FAQs

Polar Express at B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore

An enchanted meeting with the conductor on the Polar Express at the B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore (Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com)

Our kids, 5 and 8, were so excited about the prospect of riding the Polar Express at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, they purchased special pajamas for the trip. This wasn’t just a hop on a train through some holiday scenery. We were amazed by how closely to the story/movie (really recommended to see the Tom Hanks movie before you go), the event tracks – down to the golden ticket (exactly like the movie), the conductor, the flush of steam and blow of the train whistle of the vintage train, where you meet the Hero Boy and the Conductor from the classic tale.

The event starts with a DJ and dance party (reminiscent of the scene in the movie with the kids dancing as the boy gets on).  Then you get on an actual train (not vintage)- its windows frosted just like in the story – for a 45 minute train ride. Chefs dance to the “Hot chocolate” song, delivering the sweet beverage and a sugar cookie.  At the end, the kids come into the North Pole – the historic Roundhouse (just like in the movie), decorated for Christmas, with a 35-foot tree, and get to meet Santa.

Then there are activities (spend as long as you like) – making tree ornaments, and holiday crafts, see model train layouts and enjoy the museum exhibits. All the participants receive the “first gift of Christmas” – an actual sleigh bell (just like in the movie). With such high expectations, I was worried the event would fall flat, but the kids came home more excited than they left. (Purchase timed tickets in advance at https://www.borail.org/events/polar-express-4/)

(B&O Railroad Museum, 901 W. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21223, 410-752-2490, www.BORail.org

Zoo Lights Returns to the Maryland Zoo

Zoo Lights returns to the Maryland Zoo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zoo Lights has returned to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore through January 1, with seasonal lights, including displays shaped like the Zoo’s animals and a full roster of special events like BRRR Fest (which includes unlimited beer and wine sampling), food truck rallies, ice sculptures, holiday choruses, crafts, Santa Saturdays, and Hanukkah readings provided by the Enoch Pratt Free Library. 

Ride the carousel at the Maryland Zoo during the Zoo Lights holiday happening © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Free rides on the popular carousel and train are included in the admission price. Proceeds directly benefit the Zoo’s animal care and conservation programs. All event information, including times, entry prices, and the event schedule is available at: Marylandzoo.org/events (1876 Mansion House Drive, Baltimore MD 21217, www.marylandzoo.org ).

Ride Vintage Train, Trolley Car in a Hidden Valley in Pennsylvania

The East Broad Top Railroad, a small narrow-gauge railroad, and the adjacent Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnace (Orbisonia), PA are celebrating the holidays in true retro style with a one-ticket/two-ride event themed “Christmas in Coal Country” through December. Enjoy a one-hour train ride aboard a selection of heated cars. The train departs from the historic Orbisonia Station and travels north, where you encounter Santa who gives every child a special gift. Trains leave at 5p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Each “Christmas in Coal Country” ticket includes a ride on a vintage trolley car through the Blacklog Narrows, decked out in holiday lights. Trolley rides depart frequently throughout the evening and can be enjoyed before or after your train ride. Tickets also include writing letters to Santa. Every passenger enjoys a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie and each child takes home a gift. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for children. If you want to ride in the caboose, the cost is $30 for adults and $25 for children. For more information visit www.eastbroadtop.com

Newport Mansions Add More Sparkle to Holidays

Sparkling Lights at The Breakers (photo by Dave Hansen for the Preservation Society of Newport County)

Holidays at the Newport Mansions, in Newport, Rhode Island, returns to The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.daily, through January 1. Beautiful seasonal decorations, including themed Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands and fresh floral arrangements, add a festive holiday décor to these spectacular Gilded Age houses.  

Once again, the 15-foot-tall poinsettia tree in the Great Hall of The Breakers – made up of 150 individual poinsettia plants – provides a wonderful holiday photo opportunity. New this year, the Music Room of The Breakers – prominently showcased in Season 1 of Julian Fellowes’ “The Gilded Age” series on HBO – will feature a vignette of mannequins dressed in elegant Gilded Age fashions.

New at this year’s “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers” visitors can stroll in a complete loop around the property, enjoying a half-mile-long path glittering with hundreds of thousands of holiday lights while music fills the air. Highlights include a dazzling 50-foot-long tunnel of light and illuminated snowmen and reindeer. Guests will also want to stop by the Van“deer”bilt selfie station, or pause to watch the tree of lights change colors above the illuminated façade of the mansion. Also new this year, five fire pits light the way and help visitors stay warm. The back terrace has warming stations and adult beverages. holiday sweets and treats including s’mores kits to cook over the fire pit, are available to purchase. The Breakers Welcome Center also has snacks and non-alcoholic beverages for purchase.

Now in its third year, “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers is open Thursdays through Sundays, 4:30-6:30 p.m. through December 23, and every evening from December 26-January 1, 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tickets are for a specific date and time and include admission to the interior tour of The Breakers.

Visit www.newportmansions.org/events/holidays-at-the-newport-mansions to learn more.

Zoo Lights at Palm Beach Zoo

Zoo Lights at the Palm Beach Zoo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zoo Lights presented by Florida Power & Light Company’s FPL SolarNow™ is illuminating Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society for the holidays on select nights through January 1, 2023 for the fourth year. New this year and to add a little extra icing to the night, “snow” will fall periodically in the Fountain Plaza. Each evening of Zoo Lights features a WILD holiday celebration including photos with Santa, decadent treats, snowfall, a DJ dance party and plenty of holiday charm. The Zoo’s Winter Wonderland Pavilion will include a special holiday visual experience, not to be missed. Zoo Lights attendees can select from two specific times for entry; 6:00 PM and 6:45 PM. Tickets are limited each evening to allow for plenty of room to move about the Zoo.

Visit www.palmbeachzoo.org/zoolights to purchase your tickets in advance.

The Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express Train Ride

The Grand Canyon Railway turns into the Polar Express for the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel’s perennially popular Polar Express onboard holiday experience brings the pages of Chris Van Allsburg’s classic children’s book to life, with chefs offering hot chocolate and cookies, and, of course, Santa Claus himself. Now in its 22nd season, The Polar Express runs on select dates through December 30, departing the Railway’s historic depot in Williams, Arizona, to the North Pole, leaving at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The train rides and visits with Santa at the North Pole last 90 minutes.  Tickets are available Sunday through Thursday for $57 (adults) and $38 (children); Friday and Saturday for $69 (adults) and $52 (children); and The Christmas Eve Limited for $95 (adults) and $64 (children). The Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel also offers the POLAR EXPRESS™ Package, which features overnight accommodations and POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride tickets for guests. Included in this package is the POLAR EXPRESS™ train excursion, a one-night stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, and breakfast and dinner at the Fred Harvey Restaurant. 

Book online at www.thetrain.com/polarexpress or call 1-888-848-3511. 

Holiday Happenings in the Wilmington/Brandywine

Yuletide at Winterthur: Through January 8, Henry du Pont’s mansion is transformed into a magical holiday spectacle, with food, music, exhibits, a gingerbread house, holiday programs and activities, and a Christmas tree display featuring decorations inspired by past First Ladies.  Reservations are recommended for the Yuletide exhibits, and it’s your last chance to see Jacqueline Kennedy and Henry Francis du Pont: From Winterthur to the White House before it closes on January 8.

Holidays at Hagley Step back in time to 1803 as you visit the du Pont ancestral home Eleutherian Mills decorated in vintage holiday charm. There is also an “All Creatures Great and Small” exhibit celebrating stories of pets, wildlife, and other animals which made their habitat at Hagley over the last 200 years, both in the historic home and outdoors. “Holidays at Hagley: All Creatures Great and Small” features Holiday Home and Garden Tours, the fifth-annual Gingerbread House Competition, Santa Days, evening Twilight Tours, and more. 

Choral singers in the Conservatory during “A Longwood Christmas” at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Longwood Christmas: Through January 8, stroll past poinsettias, pinecones, snowflakes as you tour the special holiday gardens. As the sun sets, you see thousands of dazzling lights strung across miles of trees; warm up in the four-acre Conservatory with holiday sing-alongs sung to a 10,010 pipe Aeolian organ – the largest organ ever constructed in a residential setting. You can also grab a hot chocolate and cozy up to one of the many fire pits.

Brandywine Christmas at Brandywine Museum of ArtRenowned for its collection from three generations of Wyeth family artists, during the holiday season the museum is famous for showcasing the region’s most impressive model train display, this year, celebrating its 50th anniversary. Throughout the season they display festive trees and have crafts, live musical performances, and imaginative “Critter” ornaments made by local volunteers. 

Holiday Light Express: In Wilmington, throughout the month of December you can take a 45-minute ride in 100-year old (heated) coaches and experience thousands of holiday lights of decorated homes along the route.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Candlelight Theatre’s performance of White Christmas.  Filled with laughter, romance, spectacular dance numbers and the unforgettable songs of Irving Berlin.

More information and planning tools from Visit Wilmington, www.visitwilmingtonde.com, 800-489-6664.

Washington, DC is that Shining Holiday Beacon on a Hill

Washington DC offers many delightful ways to enjoy the winter holidays in ournation’s capital, like ice skating in the shadow of the National Archives © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Destination DC (Washington.org) offers up a score of holiday happenings including the 100th annual National Christmas Tree. Highlights include:

Dazzling Light Displays

  • Season’s Greenings” returns to the U.S. Botanic Garden. Model trains run each day in the gated outdoor gardens and the Conservatory features poinsettias, holiday decor, and D.C. landmarks made from plants (through Jan. 2, 2023).
  • Explore the world’s largest light maze, Enchant at Nationals Park through Jan. 1, plus ice skating, holiday beverages, a holiday market and a chance to meet Santa Claus.
  • Environmentally friendly LED lights and dozens of glowing animal lanterns transform the National Zoo into a winter wonderland with ZooLights, through Friday, December 30, 5-9 pm
  • SPECTACULAR FACTORY at Artechouse invites visitors inside an enchanting and experiential multiverse world filled with candy canes, nutcrackers, and more.
  • Georgetown Park transforms to a holiday wonderland with multicolored lights, holiday décor and photo perfect visuals.
  • Capitol Hill lights up Sunny, its prized tree, on Nov. 26 at Eastern Market Metro Park.
  • The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, chosen from Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, glows nightly on the West Front Lawn through New Year’s Day.
  • Celebrate 100 years of American tradition with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree (on CBS on Dec. 11).
  • CityCenterDC’s  75-foot tree is decked with over 155,000 lights
  • The National Menorah is lit on the Ellipse on Dec. 18 through Hanukkah.

Holiday Events and Performances

  • Experience Charles Dickens’ beloved Yuletide story of transformation and redemption, “A Christmas Carol,” at Ford’s Theatre, through Dec. 31.
  • The Washington Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” through Dec. 30.
  • Bells of Bethlehem at Museum of the Bible showcases six bells from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This is the first time any of the bells is on display in the United States.

Winter activities include ice skating at Washington Harbour Ice Rink and in the shadow of the National Gallery of Art (through March 5, 2023).

More information and planning help at Destination DC,  washington.org/winter.

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling Through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter

The Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam Hotel is set in the heart of Amsterdam’s historic district, a short walk to the Jewish Quarter, and walking distance to Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam, I pick up a sheet detailing a walking tour through the Jewish Cultural Quarter which features 37 points (Rembrandthuis and the Waterlooplein flea market are included) and 12 museums, monuments and memorials. It is supposed to take about 90 minutes.

I go off to follow much of the list – which is most interesting because you go into this historic neighborhood where you almost hear the voices of the people who lived there, certainly feel their presence. It feels a bit like time travel.

Across the street from the Jewish Museum, which is housed in four former synagogues including the Great Synagogue, is one of the most beautiful and grandest synagogues of the world, the Portuguese Synagogue. Dating from 1675 (just four years after the Great Synagogue which is across the street), this Sephardic synagogue is in fact a whole religious complex with the synagogue, archives, a mortuary, and a library.

Known as The Esnoga, the Portuguese Synagogue was designed by Elias Bouman, who had also helped design the Great Synagogue of the Ashkenazim across the road. Elias Bouman later became the city’s chief architect. The colossal building dominated its surroundings then, as it still does today. When finished, it was the largest synagogue in the world. And even centuries ago, was a tourist attraction. (Mr. Visserplein 3, jck.nl/en/longread/portuguese-synagogue

Entrance to the Portuguese Synagogue, the world’s largest and most ornate synagogue and a tourist attraction since it was first built in the 17th century, still conducts religious service so was closed to visitors on Saturday © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Portuguese Synagogue is still used for religious services (it’s Saturday so I don’t get to go inside), but on most days you can buy a ticket to see inside. It is renowned for its exquisite 17th century interior.  There are also smaller buildings in the complex where there are “treasure chambers” displaying ceremonial objects of silver, gold, brocade and silk. The synagogue also hosts frequent candlelight concerts. (I experienced an extraordinary concert at the Spanish Synagogue in Prague at the start of my European odyssey.)

The Great Synagogue was destroyed in the Holocaust (it was restored and turned into a museum in 1961), but the Portuguese Synagogue was saved apparently because Hitler wanted to leave a trace of the vanished nation (I was told much the same about how Prague’s Jewish Quarter managed to survive.)

The world’s oldest functioning Jewish library, Ets Haim Livraria Montezinos, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, is also here in the Portuguese Synagogue (Mr. Visserplein 3). The library has more than 25.000 books and 560 manuscripts in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Arabic and Yiddish in its collection. Some of the manuscripts date to13th C. (An appointment is required to visit: for a guided tour phone: +31 20 531 03 80; researchers call +31 20 531 03 98).

Outside the Portuguese Synagogue is the Jonas Daniel Meijerplain, a square named for Jonas Daniel Meijer who in 1796 became the first Dutch Jew to receive a doctoral degree. He was a leader in the Jewish struggle for emancipation and equal rights (which was won in 1796). There are Stolpersteine (small memorial plaques) in front of houses that are along the square (nos. 13, 15, 19) that bear the names of Jews who lived there and were murdered by the Nazis. (I saw these Stolpersteines in Dordrecht, as well.)

In the square is the February Protest Monument commemorating the strike of the Amsterdam dock workers on February 24, 1941, to protest persecution of Jews. The strike has been followed by protest actions all over the city: in public transport, schools and in some companies. Strike actions also took place in several cities around Amsterdam and in Utrecht. Although the Nazi administration, which invaded the Netherlands in 1940, managed to suppress the strike within just a few days, killing nine of the protesters, injuring many and perpetuating several other ruthless actions, the open protest against the Nazis had the symbolic importance for all people in the Netherlands. The monument represents a striking worker called “De Dokwerker”. The sculpture is by Mari Andriessen, a sculptor who during the war refused membership of the Nazi-led artist union and hid Jewish friends at his home to save them from death.

A walking tour through Amsterdam’s Jewish District makes you look closely at structure to see their Jewish origins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walking tour takes me to what was the Ashkenazi Jewish Girls Orphanage, which from 1863-1943 was where these orphaned girls received religious education. In the Holocaust, 80 were deported to concentration camps.

The Plancius/Resistance museum, was where the Jewish choral society, Oxfening Baart Kunst (Practice Makes Perfect) was established in 1876; it has been the site of the Dutch Resistance Museum since 1999.

The De Castro Pharmacy is Amsterdam’s oldest apothecary (1832). Daniel Henriques de Castro was not only an apothecary but also an administrator of the Portuguese Synagogue and a glass engraver.

The Pinto House (Sint Antoniebreestraat 69), was built in 1603, bought by the wealthy Jewish merchant Isaac de Pinto in 1651 and rebuilt by his son David Emanuel in 1686 with the broad classical facade. Devastated in 20th C. and saved from a demolition, it is a public library today.

I go to the Walter Suskind Bridge – fairly nondescript – named for Walter Suskind (1906-1945) who was the head of Jewish staff of the Hollandsche Schauwburg and in this capacity saved hundreds of Jewish children from deportation and murder.

(Gassan Diamonds is also here in the Jewish Quarter and had an important role in the Jewish community. I book a free tour for the next morning at its website, https://www.gassan.com/en/tours/gassan-historical-tour)

A walking tour through Amsterdam’s Jewish District makes you look closely at structure to see their Jewish origins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I visit as many of the sites as I can, and finally come to the National Holocaust Memorial, which only opened in September 2021. It’s the first in the Netherlands to name all 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis during World War II.  Designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Liebeskind, the 102,000 bricks, each bearing the name of a victim, form the shape of four Hebrew letters meaning “in memory of.” 

The National Holocaust Memorial, Amsterdam, keeps alive the memory of the 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I estimate there are 32 rows of 50 bricks just named DeVries. I note some of the names: Frouwkevn Mandenburg Gosschalk, Rooje van Maagdenburg-Frank, Maas, Magtige, Maij – very Dutch, with some of these families I would bet having lived in Amsterdam for hundreds of years. The name plaques seem to go on forever.

Of the 107,000 deported to concentration camps, only 5200 Jews and 30 Santi and Roma survived.

“A warning for all generations, all over the world and in the future,” a plaque reads.

The National Holocaust Memorial, Amsterdam, keeps alive the memory of the 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to reporting of the event, the memorial was unveiled by King Willem-Alexander and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

“Last year marked the first time an official in the Netherlands publicly apologized on behalf of the government for the war-time persecution of Jews, after Rutte admitted little was done to protect them from the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.” (https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-holocaust-memorial-opens-after-years-long-legal-deadlock/a-59231217)

The National Holocaust Memorial, Amsterdam, keeps alive the memory of the 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tickets to all the Jewish Cultural Quarter exhibits may be purchased at any of the participating institutions. Adults – € 12 ; young people age 13 -17, students, Stadspas – € 6 ; children age up to 13; free admission is provided with the Amsterdam Holland Pass, iAmsterdam Pass, Museum Card, Friends of The Jewish Historical Museum, ICOM, Rembrandt Association. Tickets to the Jewish Historical Quarter are valid 1 month for a multiple access to all exhibits. Tickets to concerts at the Portuguese Synagogue: € 13.50.

You can also sign up for a walking tour with a knowledgeable, personal guide (see www.amsterdam.info/jewish/).

“Night Watch” at Rijksmuseum

By now, it is time for me to walk over to the Rijksmuseum for my timed ticket, which brings me through more of the neighborhoods that seem so far removed in time and place from what I had just experienced.

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” can be seen through glass where it is undergoing conservation at the Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The big attraction at the Rijksmuseum (I only have two hours before closing) is Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” painting (I hadn’t realized it is the size of an entire wall), and you get to see it as it is being conserved, behind a glass-enclosed studio.  A docent is there to answer questions about it.

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” can be seen through glass where it is undergoing conservation at the Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Rembrandthuis, I was told that this painting was one of the reasons that Rembrandt went bankrupt – the three benefactors who paid the most for the painting are not shown prominently, and they conveyed their discontent so that Rembrandt lost commissions. The docent disputes this and points out that was a decade between the painting and his bankruptcy.

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” can be seen through glass where it is undergoing conservation at the Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By now, I have to get to my COVID19 test that I scheduled, so I get to discover more neighborhoods. As it turns out, the clinic is across the way from Amsterdam’s science museum, along the boulevard that would go to the Central Station. The process is extremely efficient (shortly after, the United States halted requiring COVID tests within 24 hours of entering the country.)

On the way back to Sofitel Legend Grand Amsterdam Hotel, I find myself walking through the Red Light District, jam-packed with people. Here you can also visit museums to Erotica, Prostitution, assorted peep shows and museums devoted to  Hash, Marijuana and Hemp . Even the public toilet is titillatingly called the “Sexy Loo.”

Here you find posters on the bridges warning of fines for peeing in the canal or taking alcohol out of the district, and as the evening grows later, more and more police presence.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is legendary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is legendary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Diamonds!

The next morning, before I have to get to the airport (and after enjoying a terrific breakfast at the Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam Hotel), I tour the Gassan Diamonds, a historic place which had great importance in the Jewish Quarter. 

Gassan Diamonds is housed in a diamond factory that was built in 1879 by the Boas brothers, and at the time was the largest diamond factory in Europe. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

Initially, Jews were not permitted into Amsterdam’s guilds, so the only occupations that were open to them were street trading (hence the giant flea market at Waterlooplein), financing, book printing and diamond cutting. In the 19th century many Jews worked in the flourishing diamond trade and industry.

Amsterdam has been famous for its diamonds since the 16th century, and after 400 years, the city is still regarded as a diamond trading center of the world. The popular brilliant-cut with 57 facets which was developed in Amsterdam is known as the “Amsterdam-cut”.

There are about a dozen diamond factories in Amsterdam left, five which offer guided tours.

Gassan Diamonds has played a pivotal role in Amsterdam’s diamond history, as well as in Jewish life in Amsterdam. The diamond factory was built in 1879 by the Boas brothers, and at the time was the largest diamond factory in Europe. It was shut down during World War II, and resurrected by Samuel Gassan, whose father actually worked there as a diamond cutter.

Samuel Gassan stayed in Switzerland until the end of the war, became a captain in the British Army. Working in the repatriation service, he helped children of diamond workers who had lost their parents and who had been held captive in Bergen-Belsen, return to the Netherlands.

In October 1945, having returned to Amsterdam, Samuel, now 35, opened his own diamond trading company, Firma Gassan, in the Diamond Exchange on the Wesperplein. He traveled all over Europe selling his diamonds. Five years later he owned his own diamond cutting factory on the Zwanenburgerstraat.

You can sign up for a free tour of Gassan Diamonds to see diamond polishers at work © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the tour, we get to see the diamond polishers at their craft, while a guide explains how they turn rough diamonds into dazzling brilliants. And Gassan has taken the “Amsterdam cut” to a new level, patenting the technique of the Gassan 121 diamond – a diamond cut with 121 facets to dazzling effect.

I am taken into a room where, even though it is Sunday morning, there are a couple of people polishing diamonds. My guide explains the three-step process: cutting (phosphorous blade, rotates 6400/min,  coated with olive oil and diamond dust because only a diamond can cut diamond; shaping and elevating sharp edges (not sparkling yet); and third, polishing with olive oil and diamond dust to make facet. Facets are what make the diamond clear and sparkling.

It takes 3 to 4 working days to prepare one diamond.

A brilliant cut has 57 facets (33 on top, 24 on bottom), which originated in Amsterdam and is known as the “Amsterdam cut.” But, she explains, Gassan (pioneered and patented) a 121-facet diamond with exponentially more refraction (no one else can sell 121 facets)

Luna, diamond polisher for three years, is able to work on half-carat diamonds as she works up to becoming a master. It takes 3-4 days to finish a diamond, but you can order one, have it set and have it within 30-60 minutes of your visit to Gassan Diamonds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luna, who I watch polishing a diamond, has had 3 years experience (it takes two years to learn basics, 10-20 years to perfect, and by the time you are ready to retire, you are a master). A half carat is the biggest diamond she has worked on, she tells me.

All the rough diamonds that come to the Antwerp bourse must have a certificate that they are not conflict diamonds. Diamonds come from all over the world and are found everywhere but Australia, Canada, India, and China, she tells me.

This 1879 building is long and narrow because it was built before electricity, so the workers were dependent upon natural light, and used steam system (you can see the pipes).

Names of Jewish diamond workers etched with diamond in glass are preserved at Gassan Diamonds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In a display case are old pieces of glass with names etched with diamond into it. “This was a Jewish neighborhood and a Jewish company,” she tells me. “A lot of Jews worked here. During World War II, most were killed, so we keep the glass with their names. Gassan’s own father was a diamond worker in the factory here. After the war, Samuel acquired the old factory.

My guide takes me into a small room to explains the different elements that go into the quality (and price) of a diamond – carats, colors, clarity, cuts and, of course, the ultimate Gassan 121- and fortunately, you can buy here at factory price (and get the 16% tax refunded at airport). ”You can choose a diamond today, choose setting and it will be ready within 30 to 60 minutes – ring, necklace, earrings.” You can also peruse the jewelry store, filled with luxury items.

Gassan also offers a VIP tour through the diamond factory and the in-house Rolex boutique which includes a glass of champagne, a goodie bag and the chance to chat with a certified Rolex watchmaker. Or you can take a seat behind the grinder yourself with the Diamond Polishing Experience, where you can apply the final facets to your own diamond! 

Gassan Diamonds, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 173-175, www.gassan.com/en/tours/gassan-historical-tour

I time it so I get back to the Sofitel Legend Grand Amsterdam hotel so I can take the tour of this fascinating place that played such an important role in Holland’s history, and still have time for one last walk through the historic district to Amsterdam’s Central Station. It’s a hop-skip-jump on the train to Schiphol Airport (2nd class ticket does just fine), all of about 15 minutes ride.

Amsterdam’s Central Station. It’s just about 15-20 minutes and very inexpensive ticket to get to Schiphol Airport on the train © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pre-purchase the I AmsterdamCity Card, which provides access to the city’s major highlights and more than 70 museums, city-wide public transport, a canal cruise and bicycle rental. You also get discounts at restaurants, attractions and concerts. https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/i-am/i-amsterdam-city-card iamsterdam.com.

Plan your visit at www.iamsterdam.com/en.

See also:

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam: Historic Hotel that Played Major Role in History

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling in the Jewish Quarter

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling Through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York Philharmonic Returns to Parks; Photo Highlights of Central Park Concert

The New York Philharmonic with Music Director Jaap van Zweden make a triumphant return to Central Park presented by Didi and Oscar Shafer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 2022 New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, made a triumphant return to Central Park on Wednesday, June 15, marking the return of the beloved series following two years of cancellations due to the pandemic. It was the second of four free outdoor concerts conducted by Music Director Jaap van Zweden – the first had taken place at Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx on June 14, followed by Cunningham Park, Queens (June 16); and Prospect Park, Brooklyn (June 17). All four outdoor performances conclude with a fireworks display.

Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic and soloist Bomsori Kim in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The stunning program includes Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with a masterful performance by Bomsori Kim as soloist, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7, and works by New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers: 14- year-old Naama Rolnick’s Keep Walking, who wrote her sensational piece at the age of 10 and who flew in from her home in Israel to enjoy hearing it played by the New York Philharmonic, and 17-year-old Alexander Rothschild Douaihy’s thrilling “A Human Rhapsody,’ which he composed at the age of 15.

New York Philharmonic’s Young Composers program played works by 14- year-old Naama Rolnick’s Keep Walking, who wrote her sensational piece at the age of 10, and 17-year-old Alexander Rothschild Douaihy’s thrilling “A Human Rhapsody,’ which he composed at the age of 15 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition, Musicians from the New York Philharmonic are perform inga Free Indoor Concert, on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at 4 p.m., at St. George Theatre in Staten Island. (Tickets are free but required.)

“Like so many New Yorkers, Didi and I missed tremendously the Concerts in the Parks these past two summers,” said Philharmonic Chairman Emeritus Oscar S. Schafer. “We love the parks, and we love this orchestra, so we’ve been eagerly awaiting their return. We look forward to seeing people come together in these beautiful parks across the boroughs to enjoy magnificent music performed by this virtuosic orchestra. It will truly mean that New York City is back!”

New York Philharmonic Chairman Emeritus Oscar S. Schafer, who has been presenting the orchestra’s free concerts in the parks series for 15 years, welcomed the audience back to Central Park: “We love the parks, and we love this orchestra, so we’ve been eagerly awaiting their return. We look forward to seeing people come together in these beautiful parks across the boroughs to enjoy magnificent music performed by this virtuosic orchestra. It will truly mean that New York City is back!” Some 15 million people have enjoyed the “priceless music for free, under the stars.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“What a joy to be returning to the Parks of New York after two years of not being able to perform for the Parks’ audiences,” said Music Director Jaap van Zweden. “Music speaks to our hearts better than any language, and the New York Philharmonic players and I cannot wait to reconnect with the thousands and thousands of people throughout the Boroughs of New York who come to the Parks to hear us.”

The New York Philharmonic with Music Director Jaap van Zweden make a triumphant return to Central Park presented by Didi and Oscar Shafer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We are so excited to welcome back the New York Philharmonic for the iconic Concerts in the Parks series!” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “This series brings together people from all backgrounds to enjoy world class music for free, in some of our most picturesque parks — this is summer in New York at its best!”

The New York Philharmonic’s free parks concerts have become an iconic New York summer experience since they began in 1965, transforming parks throughout the New York area into a patchwork of picnickers, and providing music lovers with an opportunity to enjoy “priceless music absolutely free, under the stars”. More than 15 million listeners have been delighted by the performances since their inception. All programs are subject to change.

Picnicking in the park is a tradition for enjoying the New York Philharmonic’s concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The New York Philharmonic concerts in the parks presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer conclude with a fireworks display © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more photo highlights from the Central Park performance:

The New York Philharmonic with Music Director Jaap van Zweden make a triumphant return to Central Park presented by Didi and Oscar Shafer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The New York Philharmonic with Music Director Jaap van Zweden make a triumphant return to Central Park presented by Didi and Oscar Shafer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic and soloist Bomsori Kim in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic 1 in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic and soloist Bomsori Kim in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Soloist Bomsori Kim gives a masterful performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic 1 in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Soloist Bomsori Kim gives a masterful performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic 1 in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Soloist Bomsori Kim gives a masterful performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic and soloist Bomsori Kim in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic in its free concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The New York Philharmonic with Music Director Jaap van Zweden make a triumphant return to Central Park presented by Didi and Oscar Shafer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

A Stone’s Throw From Daytona Beach, Finding ‘Florida as it Used to Be’

Snack Jack’s along A1A just north of Ormond Beach, retains the vibe of “Florida as it used to be.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

To be candid, I would not have traveled to Florida except for a special occasion presenting an opportunity to visit with family I haven’t seen in quite some time. Luckily, this is a mere week before Omnicron hit with such fury or is even a thing, but I still don’t feel Florida particularly appealing for a long list of reasons.

My destination is the immensely popular Daytona Beach area. So even though Omnicron has yet to hit and though I am triple vaxxed, because of Florida’s contempt for preventive public health measures, I remain extremely vigilant in using a mask, staying outdoors as much as possible and avoiding crowds – even the wedding I attend is a small, intimate affair held outside.

Fortunately, the Ormond Beach area, a mere few miles north of Daytona Beach, and north along the famed Highway A1A, where, my cousin – a native Floridian – takes me, is the fabled “Real Florida,” and provides the perfect setting.

Lotus Inn, a delightful boutique hotel on Ormond Beach, with its pool stunningly lit at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stay in a delightful boutique hotel, the Lotus Inn, refurbished with chic touches (stunning pool, fire pit, landscaping), right on the beach, so that each morning, I can grab a cup of coffee from the lounge and walk out onto the beach before the sun rises, when the colors begin to burst in the sky.

I do this each of the four mornings of my visit, and each day, the experience is very different and dramatic in its own way – the colors most vibrant on the first day, a tad less so on the second but the experience enhanced when I discover Jeffrey Dunne, who has come out every morning to photograph the sunrise for something like 10 years, posting them and drawing his own following, as well as taking photos for visitors. There are other regulars I get to meet as well, which includes a flock of seabirds who are drawn to this one spot because of a woman who comes each day with crackers (sharing with visitors who delight in the experience). The colors are different on the third day, but now I focus on the activity – the regulars who come, like the group of swimmers in their wetsuits, who come no matter the season. My fourth morning, there isn’t a sunrise at all, but I get to see the beach in its moody blue-grey colors.

Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jeffrey Dunne, who has come out every morning to photograph the sunrise on Ormond Beach, while his friend feeds the sea birds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even though you can see Daytona Beach from Ormond Beach, the atmosphere here is completely different. Here there are mostly low-rise, low-density hotels like mine, the Lotus Inn.

My first night in Ormond Beach, I drive my rental car the four miles down A1A to Daytona Beach and walk the charming boardwalk, really enjoying discovering the 1930s-era Bandstand, coming upon the boardwalk games, and then the long pier itself, alight in neon announcing Joe’s at the end, with a stunning view back at the shoreline. I also get a glimpse of the heart pounding, adrenaline pumping thrill rides at Screamer’s Park.

The Bandshell on Daytona Beach boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Eat at Joe’s on the Daytona Beach pier © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Daytona Beach boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Daytona Beach boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Now of course, Daytona Beach is famous for auto racing and the Daytona 500 – that began on the beach (cars are still allowed in specific lanes, and plenty of people bike on the flat, hard sand, which became the International Speedway. I would venture that most who come are car people, and touring the speedway and visiting the Racing Hall of Fame are musts. The Daytona International Speedway has just undergone a $400 million “reimagining” and transformed into a state-of-the-art motorsports facility. You can even get behind the wheel of an actual race car with NASCAR Racing Experience and take laps around the world famous 2.5-mile Speedway. (“Speedway Tours” run multiple times  each day; tour tickets are sold on a first come first serve basis, and include the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, https://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/tours/).

Daytona International Speedway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stop by for a look at the gi-normous stadium, how it is banked at a 30-degree angle so the cars don’t just fly off at the turns, but spend my time discovering what my cousin, Ray Weiss, a former journalist, calls “Florida as it used to be.”

Ray drives me up the famous A1A, to Ormond by the Sea up to Flagler Beach, which cannot be more un-touristy. Here, he stresses, you can still park your car alongside the two-lane road (they call it a highway), on a patch of sand bordered with sea grass, and walk right onto the beach – such a contrast to Daytona Beach, which seems to be competing to have as many high rises and parking meters as Miami Beach. (My cousin describes Daytona Beach perfectly: “a bit of an Atlantic City feel with a redneck flair.”)

“Florida as it used to be,” along A1A between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This stretch between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach, though, is exactly as he has described it and what he cherishes – there are the colorful, weatherworn, funky beach places, miles of undeveloped open beach (vacant of people) and thousands of acres of pristine land called the Loop – woods, water and marshland. “It’s like stepping back in time to what the rest of Florida once looked like when the Seminoles were here,” he says. He should know because my first memory as a child was visiting his family in old Miami and seeing Seminole Indians wrestling alligators.

Driving The Loop © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Driving The Loop © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“Florida as it used to be,” along A1A between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“Florida as it used to be,” along A1A between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Flagler Beach is a Florida town that is seems stuck in the 1950s. No high-rises here, only modest houses on the beach. (My thoughts alternate between thinking that the property they sit on would be $1-2 million in Long Island, and thinking that sea level rise caused by the climate change Florida’s governor denies makes them worthless.)  Ray points out several old style restaurants, stopping at Snack Jack’s right on the beach – his favorite and I can see why.

Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Flagler Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back in Ormond Beach, we stop to visit The Casements, John D. Rockefeller’s 1890s winter home, so beautifully set on the river.

The Casements, John D. Rockefeller’s 1890s winter home, Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On my own, I also discover some of the attractions that make actually living here wonderful – starting with the Museum of Arts and Science (MOAS).

When I arrive, I ask the receptionist what is special, what should I definitely look out for. She replies, “Well, we have the biggest collection of Coca Cola bottles, and a skeleton of a giant sloth.”

Root Family Museum of what is probably the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, at the Museum of Arts and Science, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Root Family Museum of what is probably the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, at the Museum of Arts and Science, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking into the Coca-Cola collection, you can’t help but let out an actual “Wow,” It turns out that the guy who invented and manufactured that classic glass Coke bottle in Indiana, Chapman J. Root (he got 5c royalty on every bottle sold), also had interests in Coca-Cola bottling plants in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois and Florida, and when he retired, his grandson Chapman S. Root took over the company and moved it, in 1951, to Daytona Beach. Over a 50-year period, Chapman S. Root and his wife Susan Root Fieblman, collected some 100,000 objects that make up the $5 million Root Family Museum collection – probably the largest of Coca-Cola memorabilia – housed within MOAS. We see not only a timeline of all the bottles and bottling equipment, but the delivery trucks, the different vending machines, all with the trademark Coca Cola red color. It is pure Americana – both for the Coca-Cola cultural iconography and the story of an entrepreneur and innovator making good. (See: For Coke Fans, Collection is ‘The Real Thing’, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2001-10-14-0110120609-story.html)

The Giant Sloth at MOAS, discovered just 2 ½ miles away © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then I walk into the “Natural Florida” exhibit and there it is. When you think of “sloth” you might think of Sid in the “Ice Age” movies. Now imagine The Hulk but probably three or four times the size. The skeleton of the Eremotherium – the largest sloth to have ever existed – that we see assembled in its fearsome pose was collected just 2 ½ miles away. It would have weighed up to five tons and stood 15 feet tall – only the Wooly Mammoth was larger in the Western Hemisphere. Phenomenal.

A fantastic collection of African tribal masks, on view at MOAS © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Warehouse at MOAS, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The rest of the museum has some fabulous, unexpected and eclectic collections: African tribal artifacts including incredible masks, Chinese art, and the American decorative arts collection of Anderson Child Bouchelle (a fifth generation Floridian, his father was Florida’s first cardiologist, brought to the state by Henry Flagler). I especially love “The Warehouse” where you can peek at treasures that otherwise would be stored away. (352 South Nova Road, Daytona Beach, Florida 32114, 386-255-0285, www.moas.org/visit/index)

Walk the nature trail outside MOAS © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before leaving, I follow the Nature Trail that starts just outside the museum that takes you on a boardwalk into the jungle (note the sign that warns of such creatures as snakes and alligators).

Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next day, after my ritual beach walk to revel in the daily miracle of the sunrise, I go off to two other signature attractions, both very close together at the southern tip of the barrier island.

Marine Science Center, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marine Science Center, Daytona Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The modest but intimate Marine Science Center, is mainly an aquarium but also is where you can see its medical facilities where sea turtles are being restored to health (you can even watch operations through a glass) and a sanctuary for rescued birds. The small area is packed with fun things to look at, interact with and learn about Volusia County’s rich marine life – like how they are re-growing (not just restoring) coral so crucial to the survival of ecosystems. This is a delight for families with children (100 Lighthouse Drive, Ponce Inlet, Fl 32127, 386-304-5545, www.marinesciencecenter.com)

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Walk up the 203 steps to the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nearby, The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, constructed in 1887, is a treasure. At 175 feet tall, the lighthouse is the highest in Florida and second highest in the country. You can walk up all 203 steps winding around and around, and step out for a 360-degree view. Most interesting are the other structures and buildings – all original – that you can visit and the exhibits that show the life and times of the lighthouse keepers, and wonderful videos showing the history. In the modern Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit Building, you can see a world-class Fresnel lens collection. There is also an exhibit of Cuban Rafts that carried refugees trying to make their way to freedom on these fragile homemade boats and rafts. There is really a lot to see and explore, including nature trails and you can walk out to a very long break-water. (4931 S. Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet, FL 32127, 386-761-1821, ponceinlet.org)

Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit Building at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse has a world-class Fresnel lens collection. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more historic sites, you can trace the footsteps of educator and civil rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune on a tour of her former home, and visit the historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark (where in 1946, a year before he broke the major league racial color barrier in Brooklyn, Robinson broke the color barrier with the Montreal Expos, the triple A minor league affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, after being rejected from other Florida cities, Ray relates).

Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next day, I visit the extraordinary Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, which is on the same campus as MOAS. This is the most astonishing find of all. Since 1997, the Browns made it their mission to collect art representing Florida. After being a traveling exhibit for some time, what is the largest collection of Florida art is now housed in this stunning, brand new two-level structure. The museum features a rotating collection of 2,600 Florida-themed oil and watercolor paintings. The Museum’s grand central gallery and mezzanine showcase the collection’s signature pieces, while six smaller galleries feature beautiful changing exhibitions with Florida themes. Most impressive are the way the paintings are selected, framed, how they are hung together, and the absolutely fascinating notes that accompany each and every one – not only a biography of the artist, but the context for the painting, something of history, and then really fascinating notes that are like a painting tutorial. (https://www.moas.org/explore/cici-and-hyatt-brown-museum-of-art/index)

Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jeffrey Dunne, who has come out every morning to photograph the sunrise on Ormond Beach, while his friend feeds the sea birds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jeffrey Dunne delights in taking photos for beachgoers on Ormond Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While not my focus on this trip, I would be remiss not to include some of the immensely popular and new attractions in Daytona Beach:

Speedway Indoor Karting (SIK), which opened in late 2020, offers state-of-the-art electric powered karts and gives guests of all ages and skill levels a full racing experience on a 16- turn road course featuring multiple elevation changes and a slick tri-oval.

Daytona Lagoon Premier Waterpark and Family Entertainment Center, just north of the pier area and steps from the beach, added a wave maker Treasure Lagoon Wave Pool, arcade games, and two water slides: Kraken’s Revenge, a 54-foot-high, four-lane mat racer slide; and Shaka Halfpipe, a thrilling inner-tube experience that shoots riders backwards over a 50-foot drop. These new features, along with mini golf, go-karts, the MEGA arcade, and Sky Maze indoor ropes course make this a favorite year-round family spot.

More my speed: a new Riverfront Esplanade. The park that runs the length of historic downtown Daytona Beach is being transformed. When complete in 2022, the Riverfront Esplanade will extend a mile along the Halifax River and include a promenade along the water’s edge, running and walking trails, and landscaping designed to encourage relaxation and reflection including water features, shade trees and raised botanical gardens.

Interactive maps for themed trails are available on DaytonaBeach.com including the new Cars, Craft and Culture trail, Share The Heritage Trail, Monuments & Statues Trail, an Iconic Trail and a Motorsports Trail to add to its popular Hiking & Biking Trails and the Ale Trail.

For more information, Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau,126 E. Orange Avenue, Daytona Beach, FL 32114, 386-255-0415, DaytonaBeach.com.

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© 2022 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 [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Old Westbury Gardens’ New ‘Shimmering Solstice’ is a Magical Experience on Long Island’s Gold Coast

Old Westbury Gardens, the stunning Gilded Age mansion and formal gardens of John S. Phipps and his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, which was opened to the public in 1959 by their daughter, Peggie, has debuted “Shimmering Solstice,” a walk-through light experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The timing of Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” debut could not be more perfect, as people craving holiday cheer in winter’s darkness are looking for outdoor experiences to share. Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever light show walk, presented by Catholic Health, opened November 20 and runs through January 9, 2022.

Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever “Shimmering Solstice” is enchanting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Words like “magical” and “enchanting” are in oversupply during the holiday season, but are most apt in this case. Indeed, the effect is to feel a little like Alice discovering Wonderland, a dreamscape of beauty – there are even giant dandelions of light.

Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever “Shimmering Solstice” is enchanting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The walk-through, immersive experience was developed out of a desire to creatively adapt the land and gardens around Westbury House into a visitor location that can be enjoyed during the fall and winter holiday season and that would remain consistent with the mission of Old Westbury Gardens, on the famed Gold Coast of Long Island, New York.

Lightswitch has created giant dandelions of light for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” which make you feel like Alice discovering Wonderland © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, the historic site – the stunning Gilded Age mansion and formal gardens of John S. Phipps and his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, which was opened to the public in 1959 by their daughter, Peggie – has been looking to offer just such a winter experience for 10 years. Over that time, the technology has advanced – LED lights, computer-synchronization – to create the experience they wanted: one that enhances and celebrates the gardens and architecture, giving visitors a new way to appreciate them.

“Planted” lights change colors in the Rose Garden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This is a celebration of our space,” said Maura McGoldrick-Brush, Director of Horticulture at Old Westbury Gardens. “Instead of flowers, the gardens will be blooming with light. This is truly an enchanting combination of the beauty of the gardens and the magic of the season.”

A labyrinth of lights at Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Westbury Gardens worked with Lightswitch, a collective of internationally recognized lighting, media, and visual designers to create a show that would celebrate and cherish the Gardens’ history and environment during the fall and winter seasons. 

Lightswitch’s assignment for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Shimmering Solstice” is a completely custom-built show that has been specifically designed to highlight the features of Old Westbury Gardens. Lightswitch’s assignment was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect. It took a year and a half to plan “Shimmering Solstice.”

Interactive features include “Simon” where you can push buttons to manipulate the colors of “Shimmering Solstice” at Old Westbury Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The formal Rose Garden and Walled Garden bloom with beautiful light and twinkle in lively rhythmic patterns, beautiful paths lead you through to the South Lawn and Allée.  Giant dandelions line the edge of the pond and a  Christmas tree made entirely of lit globes decorates the front of Westbury House.

Lightswitch’s assignment for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are interactive features as well, such as a “Simon” set up where you push buttons to alter the color patterns, a labyrinth and a maze of lights, and immersive features, where you walk amid the lights, even a “Ghost Walk”.

Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever “Shimmering Solstice” is enchanting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The grand finale is a sound and light show celebrating the seasons and holidays, in which the mansion itself is the canvas with musical accompaniment including Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and classical holiday music.

A field of lights like tall grass leading to Westbury House, the Phipps mansion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is beautifully spaced and there are paths geared for strollers and wheelchairs. In all, you walk about a mile and visit at your own pace (typically 60-75 minutes to really enjoy).

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We are excited to offer this brand-new experience for our visitors to enjoy,” said Nancy Costopulos, President and CEO of Old Westbury Gardens. “This walk-through lightshow has been designed specifically for Old Westbury Gardens and offers a one-of-a-kind experience that we intend to become a new annual holiday tradition. We are also thrilled to have Catholic Health as our presenting sponsor for this inaugural event. Their commitment to the communities they serve mirrors our own, and we welcome their support as we bring this spectacular event to Long Island.”

A selection of hot foods, hot and cold beverages and snacks is available in a tent.

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the first season, but there are already plans to expand in future years, said Paul Hunchak, Director of Visitor Services, Programs and Services. “We were looking for things to do in this season. We always wanted outdoor light show.”

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The event is organized to be COVID19-safe – tickets must be purchased in advance online and they space admissions.

The grand finale to Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” is a sound-and-light show using the mansion as a canvas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tickets for Shimmering Soltice must be purchased online in advance; priced by peak and off peak, from $29.95-32.95/adult, $16.95-17.95/child. Senior Discounts on Off-Peak Mondays (ages 62+) $24.95; an Any time/Any Day Experience is $75. (closed Dec. 24-25, Jan. 4); Entry times are every 15 minutes, from 5:30-9:30 pm. (last entry is at 9:30 pm – great for a date!). Purchase at https://shimmeringsolstice.com/.

Lightswitch’s assignment for Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Westbury Gardens, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the former home of John S. Phipps, his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps and their four children. Completed in 1906 by the English artist and designer, George A. Crawley, the magnificent Charles II-style mansion is nestled amid 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes. Westbury House is furnished with fine English antiques and decorative arts from the more than 50 years of the family’s residence.

John S. Phipps was the son of Henry Phipps, Jr., an American entrepreneur and a partner with Andrew Carnegie (a childhood friend of Henry’s) in the Carnegie Steel Company. Henry was also a successful real estate investor (he invested heavily in Cape Cod and Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; his mansion in Lake Success has become the Great Neck Public Schools administration building and the grounds the South schools campus). After selling his stock in Carnegie Steel, Henry devoted time and money to philanthropic works.

After her parents, Margarita and John S. Phipps, passed away, their daughter Peggie inherited the Old Westbury estate and, in 1959, formed a nonprofit charity to open the grounds to the public to honor the memory of her mother and share the beauty of the 216 acres of gardens, fields and woodlands.

Visitors today experience the grounds and gardens, which remain largely untouched from the Phipps era, with many English-style perennials and biennials preserved. There are rare plant species—including foxgloves, delphiniums – not usually found in public gardens. These plants have been well-maintained for decades by the dedicated horticulture staff, which grow many of the herbaceous plant material right on-site in the private greenhouse, preserving the original vision of John S. Phipps’ and George Crawley.

You can take virtual tours of the mansion (www.oldwestburygardens.org/tourthehouse) and the gardens (www.oldwestburygardens.org/tourthegardens).

Old Westbury Gardens, 71 Old Westbury Road, Old Westbury, NY, 11568, oldwestburygardens.org.

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© 2021 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 [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Looking Good at 95, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Returns to NYC to Usher in the Holiday Season

The 2021 holiday season is heralded in by Santa riding his sleigh to wind up the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, bringing cheer and joy to the crowds that lined the 2.5 mile parade route from Central Park West to Herald Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is looking pretty good for 95. The joyful spectacle returned to the streets of New York City this Thanksgiving after 2020’s hiatus to usher in the start of the holiday season with its signature mix of giant character helium balloons, fantastic floats, stirring marching bands, jubilant performance groups, whimsical clowns, music stars. The climax, of course, is Santa Claus, whose jubilant ride in his stocked sleigh brings such joy to adults and children alike, it’s like watching a wave flow through the hundreds of thousands who turned out to line the 2.5 mile parade route from 77th Street and Central Park West, to Central Park South, and down Avenue of the Americas to and 34th Street and the final turn to end at Macy’s Herald Square.

As is tradition, the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was lead by the Thanksgiving turkey © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“For more than nine decades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has served to bring joy to millions, who gather with friends and family to experience this one-of-a-kind holiday celebration along the streets of New York City and in homes nationwide,” said Will Coss, Executive Producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “For our 95th celebration, Macy’s has created a spectacle to remember featuring a dazzling array of high-flying balloons, animated floats and incredible performers. We can’t wait to help New York City and the nation kick-off the holiday season with the return of this cherished tradition.”

Back after last year’s hiatus, crowds lined the 2.5 mile the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 95th annual Macy’s Parade featured 15 giant character balloons, 28 floats, 36 novelty and heritage inflatables, more than 800 clowns, 10 marching bands and 9 performance groups, a host of musical stars, and, of course, the one-and-only Santa Claus.

Ada TwistScientist by Netflix was one of the giant inflatables in its debut flight at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To safely produce the annual Thanksgiving Day event, Macy’s once again partnered closely with the City and State of New York to create a production plan that would ensure health and safety practices aligned with CDC guidelines, as well as current local and state government protocols.

Stars on Parade

Jon Batiste at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Macy’s Parade is always the holiday’s biggest stage for entertainment and this year was no different. Joining the festivities were aespa, Jimmie Allen, Jon Batiste, Blue’s Clues & You! host Josh Dela Cruz and the former hosts of Blue’s Clues Steve Burns and Donovan Patton, Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Jordan Fisher, Foreigner, the cast of Peacock’s Girls5eva (Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, Busy Philipps), Andy Grammer, Mickey Guyton, Chris Lane, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street®, Nelly, Kim Petras, Kelly Rowland, Rob Thomas, Carrie Underwood, Tai Verdes, Zoe Wees, and Tauren Wells.

Jimmie Allen at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Inflatable Icons

Since 1927 the world’s most popular characters have been transformed into high-flying art in the sky. Inspired by marionettes, the Parade’s balloons first debuted as upside down puppets filled with air and carried on sticks, before taking flight with the addition of helium. Over time the inflatables morphed to encompass balloonheads, hybrid inflatables with vehicles inside (balloonicles) and tandem tricycles (trycaloons).

A Funko Pop! inspired Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda in pop culture) from the Star Wars seriesmakes his debut at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New giants joining the line-up this year include Ada TwistScientist by Netflix; a Funko Pop! inspired Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda in pop culture) from the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian,” Ronald McDonald® by McDonald’s® and Pikachu & Eevee by The Pokémon International Company.

Pikachu & Eevee have their first flight the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Making return appearances to the skies above New York City are giant balloon favorites including Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide; The Boss Baby by DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures; Diary of A Wimpy Kid® by Abrams Books; Sinclair’s DINO® by Sinclair Oil Corporation; Goku by Toei Animations, Inc.; Chase from PAW Patrol® by Nickelodeon; Pillsbury Doughboy by PillsburyRed Titan from “Ryan’s World” by Sunlight Entertainment and pocket.watch; Papa Smurf from The Smurfs by Nickelodeon; Sonic the Hedgehog by SEGA; and SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon.

Astronaut Snoopy takes flight at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The inflatable lineup also includes Sinclair’s Baby DINOs and the Go Bowling balloonicles; Smokey Bear by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service; and Macy’s very own special reindeer Tiptoe and Toni the Bandleader Bear.

Red Titan at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Floats of Fantasy

From its inception, the Parade’s floats have transported spectators to magical worlds. These initial whimsical creations focused on nursery rhyme stories. Today the floats are multi-level animated wonders that dazzle with their artistry. Conceived and crafted by the incredible artisans of Macy’s Parade Studio – a design and production facility that includes carpenters, engineers, electricians, painters, animators, balloon technicians, sculptors, metal fabricators, scenic and costume designers – this year’s line-up of floats showcased the best of theatrical design.

The 1-2-3 Sesame Street® by Sesame Workshop float carries the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While they are built for entertainment, they are also a showcase of creative design, engineering, and skillful construction. To spectators they seem to float down the route, even though many are three stories tall and several lanes of traffic wide stages. However, if you dig a little deeper, the magic is revealed as each of these amazing floats are built to collapse to no more than 12 ½-feet tall and 8-feet wide to travel safely from the New Jersey home of the Parade Studio to the Manhattan starting line via the Lincoln Tunnel for the annual celebration.

The cast of Girlsseva ride the Peacock float at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year six new floats will debut including Birds of a Feather Stream Together by Peacock® (cast of Peacock’s Girls5eva); Celebration Gator by Louisiana Office of Tourism (Jon Batiste); Colossal Wave of Wonder by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions (Nelly); Gravy Pirates by HEINZ; Magic Meets the Sea by Disney Cruise Line (Jordan Fisher and special guests); and Tiptoe’s North Pole.

Zoe Wees is aboard The Brick-changer by The LEGO Group at the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The returning float roster and its scheduled performers 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 2020 Camille Schrier); Big Turkey Spectacular by Jennie-O (Tai Verdes); Blue’s Clues & You! by Nickelodeon (Josh Dela Cruz, Steve Burns and Donovan Patton); The Brick-changer by The LEGO Group (Zoe Wees); Christmas in Town Square by Lifetime® (Kelly Rowland); Deck the Halls by Balsam Hill® (Kristin Chenoweth); Elf Pets® by The Lumistella Company; Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® (Andy Grammer); Fantasy Chocolate Factory by Kinder (Darren Criss); Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant® (Jimmie Allen); Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel (Rob Thomas); Her Future is STEM-Sational by Olay (aespa); Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (Tauren Wells); Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree (Macy’s Choir); Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism (Chris Lane); Rexy in the City by COACH® (Kim Petras); Santa Express and Starflakes by Universal Orlando Resort; Santa’s Sleigh (Santa Claus); Tom TurkeyToy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life (Foreigner) and Winning Winter Together by MassMutual and NHL® (Mickey Guyton).

Tai Verdes rides the Big Turkey Spectacular by Jennie-O float in the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, Geoffrey, the beloved mascot of Toys”R”Us, made a special appearance down the route.

The Beat and the Pageantry

Virginia’s Hampton University “The Marching Force” at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The nation’s best marching bands brought the beat to the holiday revelry. Joining the line-up were The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders (Austin, TX), Brownsburg High School (Brownsburg, IN), Centerville High School (Centerville, OH), Hampton University (Hampton, VA), Lincoln-Way High School (Frankfort, IL), Macy’s Great American Marching Band (United States), NYPD Marching Band (New York, NY), Trabuco Hills High School (Mission Viejo, CA), Union High School (Tulsa, Oklahoma), and University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL).

The Great American Marching Band at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Taking entertainment to the next level were the Parade’s beloved performance groups who bring joy to spectators along the route and viewers watching from home. The 95th Parade featured the dazzling dancers of Ballet Hispánico’s School of Dance, the harmonious voices of the Broadway Education Alliance Youth Choir, the fancy footwork of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios, the special tributaries of Indigenous Direction, the out of the world skills of J.U.M.P. (Jumpers United for Macy’s Parade), the razzle dazzle of the St. John’s Dance Team, the energetic Spirit of America Cheer and Spirit of America Dance Stars, and the moving voices of the Young People’s Chorus of NYC.

J.U.M.P. (Jumpers United for Macy’s Parade) showed off their skills as they marched © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more photo highlights:

Blue’s Clues & You! host Josh Dela Cruz and the former hosts of Blue’s Clues Steve Burns and Donovan Patton © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Spirit of America Cheer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier aboard the Big City Cheer by Spirit of America Productions float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Foreigner on the Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Boss Baby by DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures balloon with handlers in matching outfits © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Union High School marching band, Tulsa OK ©  Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chase from PAW Patrol® by Nickelodeon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Some 800 clowns bring smiles to the crowds along the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Kim Petras atop Rexy in the City by COACH® at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Goku makes a return appearance at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
aespa rides the Her Future is STEM-Sational by Olay float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The First Order from Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jordan Fisher on the Magic Meets the Sea by Disney Cruise Line float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Nelly rides the Colossal Wave of Wonder by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Distinctly New York clowns bring smiles to the crowd at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chris Lane on the Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Andy Grammer on the Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Tauren Wells works the crowd on the Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Papa Smurf from The Smurfs by Nickelodeon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rob Thomas on the  Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of the classic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, Pillsbury Doughboy by Pillsbury © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Centerville High School, Ohio © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Centerville High School, Ohio Jazz Band © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Broadway Education Alliance Youth Choir on the Balsam Hill float © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
At last, the one and only Santa Claus comes to town, ending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ushering in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Santa Claus riding his sleigh ends the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ushering in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Young and old alike show sheer joy at the sight of Santa Claus coming to town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Young and old alike show sheer joy at the sight of Santa Claus coming to town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Young and old alike show sheer joy at the sight of Santa Claus coming to town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Santa Claus riding his sleigh ends the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2021 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 [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Wine & Art: The Perfect Pairing in Sonoma, California

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wine and art are a perfect pairing, we discovered touring Sonoma, California, famous for its vineyards and wine-tasting experiences.

Think about it: wine-making is the absolute synthesis of nature, science and art, the vineyards are themselves these bucolic pastoral settings that inspire art. Indeed, there’s a calming aesthetic  to the neat, symmetrical  rows, the pleasing colors, the sense of renewal.

Art is almost as ubiquitous as wine in Sonoma, art galleries like the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, have their own wine-tasting; vineyards have art, like the Donum Estate vineyard with a substantial sculpture garden, as well as special art, music and cultural events, like Gundlach Bundschu Winery which organizes pop-up outdoor art shows (concerts and weddings also when COVID restrictions are lifted), and Imagery which has its own art gallery of commissioned works for its labels.

Artist Laini Nemett at opening of “Between Walls” at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Sonoma wineries – along with restaurants, art galleries, shops, and the whole visitor ecosystem – have made accommodations to continue to welcome guests to wine tastings while maintaining health protocols. Visits are by advance reservations to limit capacity, served outside (heaters are ubiquitous now); the art galleries and shops are well ventilated, and at this writing require masks inside and social distancing.

Sonoma County has a remarkable range of terroir and microclimates – from the Pacific coastline, the redwood forests, fertile valleys and mountains – that has produced one of the most diverse winegrape-growing regions in the world, and also one of the most picturesque.

We experienced wineries and vineyards almost daily – visiting several for tastings, to be sure, but also as the scenic backdrop to biking. They are not only so exquisitely scenic – bucolic, pastoral landscapes with color and pattern of the rows rippling with the rolling hills – but offer interesting, even dramatic histories. And just as their wines are distinct, so is the tasting experience and ambiance.

On one of my bike excursions, I came upon Buena Vista Winery, which has an entertaining way of presenting history and its own back story with a claim to being California’s oldest commercial winery, in fact, the birthplace of the state’s modern wine industry:

Buena Vista Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The founder of Buena Vista Winery, Count Agoston Haraszthy, came from Hungary initially in pursuit of gold but in 1857, decided instead to build a stone winery on the property. He introduced cuttings from Europe’s best vineyards to California and basically proved that California could produce wine. You can sign up for the “Be the Count Experience,” wine blending as the Count might have done it, or taste a flight while touring the Wine Tool Museum. “If you run into the Count himself, don’t be surprised; it’s all a part of the experience.”

Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476, 800-926-1266, [email protected], www.buenavistawinery.com

Imagery Estate Winery boasts “we’ve been exploring the intersection of art & wine for over 30 years.” They are extremely proud of inviting major artists to design their wine labels and even have an art gallery of the original paintings. We thoroughly enjoyed our 45-minute alfresco tasting of five small production wines at Imagery, a winery that prides itself on “crafting rare wines from uncommon varietals and character-rich vineyards, Imagery Estate Winery was forged from a thirst for experimentation.” They spotlight interesting, non-traditional varietals like Lagrein and Tempranillo, “creating expressive wines that broaden the palate.”

Imagery Estate Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagery Estate Winery infuses art throughout the winery, from specially commissioned artwork from notable contemporary artists, to its art gallery where the original artwork is displayed.

Imagery Estate Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reservations are required, and the tasting room is currently open for outdoor seated tastings and outdoor picnic tables. No outside food is allowed yet, but there is an option to order a Charcuterie box with the reservation. Imagery was planning to reopen its picnic experiences in May. At this writing, the winery was anticipating some lifting of restrictions (so call).

Imagery, 14335 Hwy 12, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 877-550-4278, 707-935-3000, www.imagerywinery.com, Open for outdoor seated tastings, limited to groups of 6, by appointment only Thursday-Monday

Benziger Family Winery, the sister winery to Imagery, for more than 25 years, has farmed the ranch on Sonoma Mountain using Certified Biodynamics, an organic and sustainable farming method. The result is a portfolio of memorable wines which visitors can explore through a seated tasting or other tours. Set just above the small town of Glen Ellen, the winery occupies one of the most beautiful locales in Sonoma Valley. The ranch is home to numerous species of plants, animals and insects, with gardens and an insectary that play an important part in their Biodynamic farming techniques.

Benziger is currently offering a 1.5-hour  Private Tribute Estate Tour & Tasting. providing an in-depth look at the Biodynamically farmed Sonoma Mountain Estate, complemented by wine tastings along the way (limited to private group of up to 6 guests).

Benziger plans to begin opening reservations for indoor tastings later this month, and plans to launch its picnic experiences in May.

Benziger has yet to re-start its two-hour ”Biodynamic Tram Tour, one of the most distinctive winery experiences in Sonoma Valley. Introduced in 1994, more than one million guests have taken the tour which highlights sustainable green-farming practices. “The true goal of the tour program was to create an experience for guests that went beyond the tasting room.  We wanted to immerse them in the natural environment of the land and help them understand the complexity of the Sonoma Mountain property and how it made our wines exceptional. This remains our number one goal… As our winemaking process evolved into Biodynamics with the release of our Estate grown Biodynamic wine, Tribute, in 2001, our tour evolved as well to what it looks like today.

“With the introduction of our caves, the tour was fine-tuned to give a full educational overview of the grape growing process, winery production facilities including barreling and cellaring to wine tasting. Visitors were now able to follow the full process of a working winery from the vineyard to the bottle. Further, at one of just a handful of Biodynamic vineyards in North America… ‘Farming for Flavors,’ our Certified Sustainability program, is still one of the most comprehensive sustainability programs in the country.” (Learn more about Benziger’s green farming practices here.)

Benziger Family Winery, 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 707-935-3000; benziger.com. Open Thursday-Monday by appointment only.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gundlach Bundschu makes a claim to being the oldest family-owned winery in California: for six generations and more than 160 years, since 1858, the Bundschu family has farmed the Rhinefarm estate vineyard at the crossroads of the Sonoma Valley, Carneros and Napa Valley (www.gunbun.com/history/). Gundlach Bundschu offers a delightful, bucolic setting.   The winery has been offering pop up art shows and when restrictions are lifted will return to presenting concerts and weddings.  We enjoyed music with a DJ during our wine tasting.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gundlach offers tours aboard a six-wheeled Pinzgauer – an Austrian-made military vehicle – to get WAY off the beaten path on a Sonoma vineyard tour. Sip five estate selected wines at stops along the way, stop for an impromptu picnic in the vines, learn about modern grape farming techniques and soak up the views of the vinneyard on this off-road adventure. A minimum group size of 6, maximum group of 10 people is required to book. $85 per person + 18% gratuity.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another option: a walking tour through the vineyards, guided by a wine educator to learn about their Green Business Practices, Fish Friendly Farming and other sustainable vineyard practices. Sample five estate wines sourced from the 320-acre property. (No children under 12 years old or pets on the tour0. This private group experience requires a minimum group size of 6 guests, maximum of 10, and is available seven days a week. $65/person + 18% gratuity.

Open daily 11am-4:30 pm; must book reservation in advance; groups limited to six; dogs actually welcome

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, 2000 Denmark Street, Sonoma, CA 95476707.938.5277, [email protected], www.gunbun.com

Donum Estate: Wine merges with art at Donum Estate, renowned for its open-air sculpture collection featuring over 40 works by world-renowned artists. The Discover ($95) and Explore ($150) experiences are by appointment only and include tours of open-air art sculpture collection. 

Donum Estate is renowned for its outdoor sculpture collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Donum Estate, 24500 Ramal Road, Sonoma, 707-732-2200, thedonumestate.com.

We didn’t have the opportunity to do a wine tasting at Hanzell, which commands one of the most stunning views of the hillsides and mountains, but happened to be there at sunset. We plan to return. Hanzell Vineyards was founded by Ambassador James D. Zellerbach in 1953 with a vision to create wines that could compete on the world stage.  Named after his wife Hana, Hanzell sits at the southern toe of the Mayacamas mountain range overlooking the south-western end of Sonoma Valley and San Pablo Bay.  After extensive time spent in Burgundy, Zellerbach returned inspired and educated by the region’s wines and grapes—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  He planted these two varieties at a time when there were less than a few hundred acres of each planted in North America. 

Hanzell Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Since 1975, Hanzell has been solely owned by the de Brye family, who is dedicated to the preservation of tradition with a progressive and holistic approach to ensure the sustainability for generations to come. The Hanzell Tasting experience takes place overlooking its historic “Ambassador’s 1953” vineyard block on one of its new outdoor platforms. During the 60-minute visit ($45/pp), you get to taste three current release wines while learning about the Hanzell story, our progressive integrated farming practices and winemaking philosophies. Tastings by appointment only; limited to six people. 

Hanzell, 18596 Lomita Avenue, Sonoma, CA 95476, visit www.cellarpass.com to make your reservation or call 707-996-3860.

People have the idea that wine tasting is an expensive activity, but many of the wineries in Sonoma County offer either free wine tasting or waive the tasting fee with a wine purchase.

Here’s the insider’s tip: it is often better value (cheaper) to join the wine club and enjoy a free wine tasting, rather than pay for the wine tasting, which provides additional privileges including discounted prices; they typically ship the bottles you choose.

Also, Sonoma County Tourism sells one- and three-day tasting pass (on mobile) that you can redeem at the wineries you choose to visit. For more information about what is open, arrangements to visit and lodging, and purchasing the tasting pass visit Sonoma County Tourism, https://www.sonomacounty.com/destinations/wine-regions

Art Experiences Abound

On the other side of the equation, art galleries pair with wine. Indeed, it was art, not wine, that brought us to Sonoma.

Our trip was timed for a special event: the opening of Laini Nemett’s art exhibit, “Between Walls” at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, near Sonoma (paulmahdergallery.com).

Wine-tasting room at the Paul Mahder Gallery amid sculpture (and what is claimed to be the largest moss wall in America) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Healdsburg is a wonderfully vibrant town, culturally rich with some 25 art galleries and a food-and-wine haven with marvelous restaurants and 30 wine-tasting rooms. Healdsburg has become a haven for foodies, drawn to restaurants leading Sonoma County’s farm-to-table movement. Many are along the streets lining the Healdsburg Plaza, including artisan bakeries, local wine bars, and restaurants with locally-sourced ingredients from the surrounding gardens and farms. We loved our lunch at Bargas, and our dinner at the H2Hotel restaurant, with gorgeous outdoor seating areas, set around a lovely village square.

Healdsburg, California, a wine-food-art haven © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Healdsburg, which like Sonoma, depends on tourism, has taken public health precautions very seriously:  signs say you will be fined if you don’t wear a mask, and there are sanitizing stations at the crosswalks. Restaurants are organized for take-out and outdoor dining (space heaters available), menus are either disposable, online, or can be wiped off to minimize transactions; the retail stores have sanitizing stations, require masks, limit capacity and kept their doors open for added ventilation. The same for the art galleries like Paul Mahder Gallery, which is unusually large, well ventilated, and, as an added treat, has a wine-tasting experience, the wine bottles decorated with Paul’s paintings.

Artist Kevin Kearney in his studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a special experience to meet the artist at a gallery opening who gives personal insights into the work and creative process, but visiting an artist in his studio adds another dimension – seeing works-in progress on their easels, an entire career on display, and the opportunity to discuss the nuances and background of the works in such a personal setting.

In fact, Sonoma County has, since 1985, offered an Art Trails self-guided tour that gives visitors opportunities to learn first-hand from the artists what inspires their art, how it is made and where it is made. Juried professional artists invite you to explore Sonoma County, engage with artists in their own studios and collect beautiful art.  Art Trails is held in the fall. (https://sonomacountyarttrails.org/)

During our visit to Sonoma, we had that experience with Kevin Kearney, who epitomizes the marriage of art and wine (he used to own a vineyard)

Detail in painting by artist Kevin Kearney © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kearney is a master of exquisite, mind-blowing fine realistic detail reminiscent of the Dutch masters, but with a quirky sense of surrealism and modern sensibility, often playing on ancient myths and images. He tells us that it took 100 hours just to paint the carpet in one of his works.

Artist Kevin Kearney in his studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In Kevin Kearney’s work, there are everyday chairs from which the viewer sees the world realistically. And there are magical thrones from which the viewer imagines haunting creatures on patterned carpets floating through cerulean skies above cerulean seas. His red walls and surreal ceruleans look tranquil enough, but beware, any minute, a tsunami could erupt,” writes Barry Nemett, in the catalog for Kearney’s 2019 exhibit, “Red Walls, Surreal Ceruleans, and a Tsunami,” at the Ice House Gallery, Petaluma.

Hearing the stories behind the symbols and the imagery from the artist directly transports you into the canvas and the artist’s mind.

Artist Kevin Kearney studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can request to visit the studio/gallery of artist Kevin Kearney who has his own vineyard and wine collection (https://www.kevinkearney.org/, https://www.kevinkearney.org/contact/)

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During our visit, we rented bikes to ride on a gorgeous recreational trail that connected to back-country roads flanked by vineyards, riding into neighboring Napa county.  When biking, it is fun to happen upon – discover, if you will – historic sites like the Depot Park Museum and General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s Home, which you come upon along the trail (Wine Country Cyclery, 262 W Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-996-6800; Sonoma Valley Bike Tours & Rentals, 254 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-996-2453)

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We did wine-tastings at several vineyards and visited art galleries and shops; went hiking on the Kortum Trail along the Pacific Coast (what an amazing contrast to our hiking holiday in Death Valley National Park!), dined outdoors at restaurants (loved Salt & Stone, Kenwood, www.saltstonekenwood.com, 707-833-6326), played tennis on community courts, went to the farmer’s market – each and every place, from the hiking trails to the vineyards, to the restaurants, galleries and shops – all followed stringent health protocols. 

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many Sonoma County wine and food experiences are still available but certain activities have been temporarily restricted or were unavailable. Sonoma County Tourism has a See What’s Open website, and encourages everyone to follow public health authorities’ recommendations and to review the Safe Travels Promise.

“Sonoma County is an ideal destination to reset and recover post-pandemic,” said Birgitt Vaughan, Director of Global Media Relations. A lot of this is attributed to the nature immersion that happens when you’re in Sonoma County. Sonoma County Tourism shifted years ago to a Destination Stewardship organization, instituting a Travel Kindly pledge and partnership with Kind Traveler. Part of your lodging cost go toward supporting local charities.

“Sonoma County Tourism just began a partnership with our Regional Parks and Leave No Trace to help ensure visitors who enjoy the region’s parks and other natural resource areas do so responsibly and sustainably.” Check out how Life Opens Up in Sonoma County (https://www.sonomacounty.com/life-opens-up) and view Sonoma County Tourism’s 2021 Spring/Summer Inspiration Guide.

Sonoma County Tourism can help plan your getaway (request a Sonoma County visitors guide and map).

Sonoma County Tourism, 800-576-6662, [email protected], www.sonomacounty.com.

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© 2021 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 [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures