Category Archives: Family Travel

Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

The most chilling part of Spyscape, New York’s new spy experience, is the up-to-the-minute, torn from the headlines stuff: Here, Anonymous, as seen from two sides © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you Bond or Bourne? Once you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited to, I would make a sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I found a new calling.

I was expecting a museum, even as museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape, one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes, about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex enterprise that is intelligence.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and counterintelligence today from the inside.

You don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers.  Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”

Pandora has truly been let out of her box.

There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?

I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer. I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t know what is there. I frighten easily.

As you arrive, you are given a bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.

Your entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York City,  escorted by a very professional person with a clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation (think “Mission Impossible”).

Your mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in the pantheon that is the world of espionage.

The experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence (most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.

The layout (Spyscape takes up a massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects, sometimes narration.

I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.

One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.

See what it would be like to code a message on a repiclica of the German Enigma that so confounded the Allies in World War II © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.

After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”

Another that is sure to delight is a room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)

All through, the exhibits personalize the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.

As you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered. Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US, two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have detected Hansen’s deceit?

I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).

“Gadgets of defiance” describes the devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.

I learn about Virginia Hall, an American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo  considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of the code scenario.

A spy plane camera from the Cuban Missile Crisis © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being arrested.

I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)

We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard, Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he used in James Bond. The new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.

Surveillance. It’s all around you. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another section, you go through a dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all around). This area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras  and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).

This is where you see the message blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.

Anonymous, the new face of intelligence/counterintelligence; governments no longer have a monopoly..© Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the last stations is actually the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists, profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.

We learn that Stuxnet is now open source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.

Whistleblower Edward Snowdown, at Spyscape © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And now, I am really to go into my “debrief – encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all those who don’t measure up as real spies).

But it isn’t done flippantly or tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):

“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”

My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.

At Spyscape’s Debriefing, you learn your role in espionage, based on the profile compiled. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive profile to my email and a Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to further develop your Spy Skills.”

The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent Handler: A manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and an insider view from General David Petreus.

In the real life example, I am given the bio of the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero) and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.

(This makes me think of important omissions in Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran nuclear program until Plame’s identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and subsequently made public  as retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election).

Spyscape will excite and thrill as it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better attitude.

And like skiing, it is an experience that adults and older children will relish doing together.

There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”

I think I’m being groomed. I’m definitely intrigued.

From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the experience of each one separately.

Visiting:  SPYSCAPE is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with spy-related merch.  Open Monday-Friday, 10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39; child 3-12 $32).

Spyscape, 928 8th Avenue (entrance on SE corner of 55th Street), 646-585-7012, spyscape.com

Next: Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

‘Hudson Rising’ Exhibit at New-York Historical Society Shows River Was Incubator for America’s Environmental Movement

“Hudson Rising” at the New-York Historical Society: Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, with a model of the Clearwater, led a movement to reclaim the Hudson River from industrial destruction and overdevelopment © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

This spring, the New-York Historical Society presents Hudson Rising, a unique exhibition that explores 200 years of ecological change and environmental activism along “the most interesting river in America” through artifacts, media, and celebrated Hudson River School paintings.

On view March 1 – August 4, Hudson Rising reflects on how human activity has impacted the river and, in turn, how the river environment has shaped industrial development, commerce, tourism, and environmental awareness. The exhibition also explores how experts in various fields are currently creating ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change.

Indeed, we tend to think of the environmental movement as originating with Yellowstone and the national parks, but it is fascinating to realize that the beginning of environmental activism – and the techniques – began here. Citizens rallied to oppose the construction of a Con Ed plant on Storm King Mountain; one of the new organizations, Scenic Hudson, sued; the case, in 1965 set a precedent beyond the Hudson, establishing that citizens have standing to sue on behalf of conservation, even when they do not have a direct economic interest,  that beauty and history also merit protection – the forerunner of the Environmental Protection Act. Later, a “viewshed,” modeled on the concept of a watershed, in connection with landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana, also warranted preservation.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, “Hudson Rising” begins where environmental consciousness of the Hudson River began, with the landscape artist Thomas Cole © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hudson River raised consciousness of the importance of environmental protection. the exhibit opens with paintings from Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School art movement (America’s first native-grown art movement), who worried even then about the encroachment of development. His paintings depict an idyllic landscape, but also the destruction of the forest to lumbering.

Much more than a body of water, the Hudson and its surroundings have been the home for humans and hundreds of species of fish, birds, and plants; offered an escape for city-dwellers; and witnessed battles over the uses of the river valley and its resources. For over 200 years, writers and artists have captured the river in paintings, drawings, literature, and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and measured its every parcel.

The Hudson has always encapsulated the tension between development and conservation. But it was more than about aesthetics, and the need for urbanites to be able to seek respite in the countryside: an early environmental scientist realized that logging in the Adirondacks, which was discovered to be the source of the Hudson, was jeopardizing the watershed supplying New York City.

Scientists at the same time discovered the critical link between forests and the health of rivers. They realized the Adirondack forest supported the Hudson River and aquatic animals. That begins the movement to save the Adirondacks, including the forests. Ultimately, it leads to New York State’s “Forever Wild” amendment to the state constitution, in 1894.

“This path-breaking exhibition explores ideas about the environment that developed in the context of the Hudson, examining how we became aware, as New Yorkers and as Americans, of the role that humans played in the river’s ecological degradation,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The exhibit also looks at the strategies we devised to address it. Spanning the entire industrial era, Hudson Rising presents a compelling account of how the Hudson has been an incubator for our ideas about the environment and our relationships to the natural world for two centuries-plus.”

Indeed, we learn that Theodore Roosevelt, before creating the first national park as president, innovated environmental protection as Governor of New York State, working with New Jersey, to protect the Palisades as a “park for the people” (hugely popular with immigrants who crammed into cities, the park had 2 million visitors in 1920, many who came by a free ferry); similarly Franklin Roosevelt, when he was New York State governor, created what would become the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps when he was president.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, and Jeanne Haffner, associate curator, Hudson Rising begins with a prelude featuring artist Thomas Cole’s panoramic five-part Course of Empire series (1834-36), a treasure of New-York Historical’s collection that depicts the transformation of a pristine landscape into a thriving city, then its dramatic decline, and the fall of civilization.

Thomas Cole’s painting, Catskill Mountain House © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cole railed against “human hubris” and the exploitation of nature. “The ranges of the ax are daily and increasing,” Cole said. “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?” he wrote in his “Essay on American Scenery” (1836). Cole’s poetic questioning of the social costs of what was seen in his time as progress, serves as a prelude to the exhibition narrative, which begins with the industrial age and continues into the present day. The Hudson River, we learn, was the incubator for the environmental movement.

The exhibition is organized chronologically and geographically into five sections that highlight significant places and events in the environmental history of the river: Journeys Upriver: The 1800s, The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s, The Palisades: 1890s-1950s, The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s, and A Rising Tide: Today.

The exhibit is designed to meander, like the river itself, and uses actual artifacts – there is even the smell of freshly cut wood from the Adirondacks – that bring you, as much as possible to the Hudson: bricks from Haberstraw; rocks from the Palisades; iron from Cold Spring Foundry across from West Point; wood from Catskills; hemlock (used for tanning), even a fish tank with striped bath (blue eels will be added later). “The layout is a metaphor for the river,” said Ken Nintzel, the designer.

A cherished tourist panorama of the Hudson River from 1847, that was so big, it was accordioned into a book © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are historical maps – one of the most impressive is a panorama map from 1847 that stretches the length of a wall, that tourists would use, “one of the great maps of American history”- photos, paintings, news clips that trace the battle to reclaim the Hudson from industrial pollution. A map from 1890s shows how the Hudson was “redesigned” to make it more navigable for shipping, changing the way the river ran, but in the process, did away with the shallows that hosted aquatic life and mitigated flooding. Another map documents how plentiful oysters used to be – New York city used to be the primary exporter of oysters and clams – until sewage in the Hudson killed off the oysters.

The painting by Thomas Cole of the Catskill Mountain House reminds that American tourism began here in the Hudson – today, you can hike up to where the hotel used to be and gaze out over the Hudson.

The exhibits surround you, and there are various interactive elements. 

“Hudson Rising” features a combination of paintings, artifacts, maps, photos, videos to tell the story of the development of the river and its preservation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Journeys Upriver: The 1800s starts with a steamboat journey up the Hudson River from the New York City harbor to Albany, inspired by one of the great tourist guides of Hudson River history, the Panorama of the Hudson (1847). The detailed rendering of the river landscape led steamboat and armchair travelers from New York City to the last navigable point of the river near Troy, pointing out natural wonders, Hudson Valley industries, notable individuals, and Revolutionary War sites along the way. Also on view are paintings, industrial objects, and an important Army Corps of Engineers map that shows how the Corps engineered the river to be a more navigable and predictable shipping channel. Hudson River School art on display include Robert Havell Jr.’s View of Hudson River from near Sing Sing, New York (ca. 1850) and George Henry Boughton’s Hudson River Valley from Fort Putnam, West Point (1855), both depicting tourists enjoying the landscape.

The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s examines the creation of Adirondack Park, established to save the source of the river and combat deforestation in order to protect the viability of the entire Hudson watershed. Advocates for the area included surveyor Verplanck Colvin, who mapped the area’s peaks and lakes as superintendent of the State Adirondack Survey and identified the source of the river at Lake Tear of the Clouds, and Seneca Ray Stoddard, a photographer whose images of deforestation made a case for forest conservation. On view in this section is one of Asher B. Durand’s majestic depictions of the Adirondack wilderness, Adirondack Mountains, New York (ca. 1870).

The Palisades: 1890s-1950s traces the protection of the forests and cliffs of the Palisades to maintain the health of the river and preserve a place for beauty and nature. In the late 1800s, the Palisades cliffs were being blasted to bits by road builders who prized their rock. Citizen activists, such as the New Jersey chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, fought back and helped create Palisades Park in 1909. Residents of New York and New Jersey thronged to the park, arriving by foot, ferry, train, and car, with over two million people visiting in 1920 alone, most of them from Manhattan. The exhibition features a selection of tourist brochures from that era, including one with a trio of women posed on the cliff edge, above the river.

The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s explores how activism along the river helped spark the modern American environmental movement. By the early 1960s, untreated sewage and industrial pollutants were poisoning the river. Increasing numbers of power plants were also rising along the Hudson, whose operations were killing millions of fish, and whose monumental structures were intruding upon the most treasured vistas. When Con Edison announced plans to build a plant on Storm King Mountain, citizen activists fought back and prevented its construction. By the 1980s, citizens could legally intervene to stop development that put treasured natural resources at risk. On view is an aquarium featuring striped bass and other fish native to the Hudson River, which now thrive due to activists’ efforts to save them.  Displays of artifacts, images, and media from the environmental campaigns of the era include a 1983 photograph featuring John Cronin, river patroller for the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association (now called Riverkeeper) on his first day on the job, confronting an Exxon tanker discharging polluted water into the river.

The final section, A Rising Tide: Today, discusses the process of reimagining and reclaiming the Hudson River in the 21st century, as experts in many fields explore ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change. The exhibition showcases innovative projects addressing these concerns, such as a system of “living breakwaters,” reef-like structures designed to restore diverse aquatic habitats, lessen wave impacts, and restore the shoreline, implemented by the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and landscape architecture firm SCAPE.

“We hope Hudson Rising will inspire visitors to see the river differently, and how movements like environmental activism get born,” Dr. Mirrer said.

“It’s not a new story, but this is the first exhibit that presents such a comprehensive look at the Hudson River as an incubator of the environmental movement.”

Programming

As part of New-York Historical’s What the History programs, a suite of interactive talks, history classes, art-making workshops, and social evenings for a young professional audience illuminates the environmental history of New York, the lasting impact of the Hudson River School painters on the American imagination, and how contemporary design and ideas are engaging with the threats climate change pose to the city.

Visiting families can enjoy a special guide featuring suggested exhibition highlights to view as a family, discussion questions, and gallery-based activities. During the April School Vacation Week (April 19-28), Museum’s family programs explore environmental activism, including art making using recycled materials in Museum galleries. On the weekends (April 20-21 and April 27-28) visiting families can interact with Living Historians portraying famous and unsung activists of American history.

On April 16, architectural historian Barry Lewis discusses how the Victorians “greened” their homes and cities, bringing nature into city greenbelts and private home design. On May 22, Douglas Brinkley, New-York Historical’s presidential historian, explores how presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the protection of the nation’s natural treasures and established a sprawling network of state parks and scenic roadways, respectively. On June 9, author Leslie Day leads a tour along the Hudson River exploring its rich geological and human history and its diverse ecosystems.

Present Day Relevance

The exhibit is particularly timely: years of exploitation and pollution have resulted in the entire Hudson River, from the Battery to Hudson Falls, some 200 miles, designated a superfund site by EPA. Mandated clean-up by industrial polluters including General Electric, have significantly improved conditions. But the Trump Administration’s EPA is moving to issue a Certificate of Completion which would end GE’s responsibility for cleaning up the Superfund site, despite the state’s research that shows high levels of PCBs remaining in the river.

Governor Cuomo issued a statement ahead of Administrator Wheeler’s visit to New York:

“In New York, we are leading the fight to protect our environment with the most ambitious environmental agenda in the nation. Administrator Wheeler, while you are in New York, I urge you to visit the Hudson River, one of this country’s natural treasures that is also one of the most pressing Superfund sites in the country. New York has fought to restore this vital resource but the ball is now in the EPA’s court. The EPA can either do the right thing and continue to hold GE accountable for continued clean up, or they can side with big polluters and let GE off the hook for its responsibility to clean up PCBs in the river.

 “We refused to allow PCB contamination to continue to jeopardize the health and safety of our communities for generations to come. We hope and expect that the EPA will join us in ensuring the full completion of the cleanup.”

I suggested Wheeler visit “Hudson Rising”.

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical’s mission is to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), www.nyhistory.org.

See for Yourself: Hike the Hudson River School Art Trail

Walk in the footsteps of the Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford and other pioneering American landscape artists, literally walking into their paintings, and appreciating their work in an entirely new way.

New York State created the first “viewshed” – a protected view – at Frederic Church’s Olana, Hudson NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See what inspired Thomas Cole, his art and his passion to save the Hudson Valley environment, when you visit his home and art studio. Visit Frederic Edwin Church’s magnificent Olana,  walk the gorgeous trails and see the very first protected “viewshed”  (Olana State Historic Site, 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.) Hike the trails that take you up to where the Catskill Mountain House would have stood, to Sunset Rock, to Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, just as the Hudson River School painters did, often with markers that show the paintings that were created from that very same vantage point.

The view from Sunset Rock in the Catskill Preserve, one of the hikes on the Hudson River School Art Trail, the same view as Thomas Cole painted © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Hudson River School painters believed art to be an agent of moral and spiritual transformation. In large-scale canvases of dramatic vistas with atmospheric lighting, they sought to capture a sense of the divine, envisioning the pristine American landscape as a new Garden of Eden. Their work created not only an American art genre but also a deeper appreciation for the nation’s natural wonders, laying the groundwork for the environmental conservation movement and National Park System.”

Most of the stops on the trail are within 15 miles of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, in Catskill. (Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, thomascole.org)

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Come Face to Face with T Rex, The Ultimate Predator, at the American Museum of Natural History

The new exhibit T. rex: The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History brings you face to face with the most fearsome dinosaur © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have become well aware how terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex was, but who knew that T. rex hatchlings were fluffy and gangly, more like turkeys than the massive killing machines they grow to be? Or that the mega-predator had the rare ability to pulverize and digest bones and re-grow its teeth? Or that it grew at the rate of 140 lbs. a month, weighing 6 to 9 tons when fully grown and lived no more than 28 years? That it had excellent vision and sense of smell, but puny hands that probably were vestigial? T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the first major exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration, brings us face to face with  the most iconic dinosaur in the world through life-sized models—including the most scientifically accurate representation of T. rex to date–fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and the Museum’s first multiplayer virtual reality experience.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator opens Monday, March 11, 2019 and will be on view through August 9, 2020, when the exhibit will likely go on tour.

Founded in 1869, the Museum has a long and celebrated history of international exploration and research in paleontology dating back to the 1890s, with an outsized influence in a field that sits at the intersection of cutting-edge science and the popular imagination. The Museum has a particularly special relationship to T. rex: its famous paleontologist, Barnum Brown, was the first to discover T. rex – in 1902 in Montana – and the first T. rex on display anywhere was here at the museum. This makes the new blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, inspired by a legacy of scientific exploration and bringing the latest science to the public, a natural launching point for the museum’s 150th anniversary programming.

With more than 120 years of dinosaur research and discovery, the Museum continues to be a leader in this field. Its paleontology collection is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, with specimens that have led to amazing discoveries, including the identification of the first dinosaur eggs and early evidence of dinosaur feathers. A number of recent discoveries about the tyrannosaur group are highlighted in this exhibition.

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the Museum has done throughout its history and continues to do today: share the latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”

Indeed, while Barnum assembled the most complete collection of dinosaur fossils in the world for the museum, the museum has some 34 million specimens and artifacts – one of the most important collections of natural history anywhere. Its library and archives of research documents – like Barnum’s own field notes and letters which show how painstaking and difficult the expeditions were – are the most complete and extensive in the world.

”Dinosaur fossils, like other echoes of ancient life, are discoveries of the science of paleontology. But dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their importance to science—they fascinate and inspire the masses like few other animals—living or extinct—can,” said Michael Novacek, the Museum’s senior vice president and provost for science. “Chief among them is T. rex, perhaps the most famous and celebrated dinosaur that ever lived.”

Visitors to T. rex: The Ultimate Predator encounter a massive life-sized model of a T. rex with patches of feathersthe definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. The exhibition includes reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old juvenile T. rex; a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine what T. rex may have sounded like by blending sounds from other animals; a shadow theater featuring a floor projection of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to life; and a life-sized animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous environment that responds to visitors’ movements. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur, with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology and behavior of T. rex.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, who joined the Museum in 1989. Norell, who is the Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology and its chair, has led and participated in a number of scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of tyrannosaurs and other theropods—the group of dinosaurs most closely related to modern birds. His work includes the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur, Dilong paradoxus, in China in 2004. In addition to Dilong, many of the species studied by Norell and his colleagues and former students, and recent research findings, are featured in the new exhibition.

Scientists discuss the research that went into the new exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator: #1 Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost of Science and Curator, division of Paleontology; Mark Norell, chair and Macaulay Curator, Division of Paleontology and Curator of T.rex: The Ultimate Predator; Gregory Erickson, Paleobiologist, Florida State University and Jasmina Wiemann, Molecular Paleobiologist, Yale University. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day we’d be able to look at the shape of T. rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanical modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”

Humble Origins

T. rex may have been a mega-predator, but it evolved from humble origins. The full tyrannosaur family includes more than two dozen different species and spans more than 100 million years of evolution, with T. rex appearing only at the very end of that period, between 66 and 68 million years ago. Most dinosaurs in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea were not giants like T. rex, which, fully grown, weighed between 6 and 9 tons. Early species were small and fast, likely avoiding confrontations with larger dinosaurs.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the exhibit, we come face to face with life-size models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including: Proceratosaurus bradleyi, the earliest known tyrannosaur that lived about 167 million years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest on its snout; Dilong paradoxus, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis, a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and the later giants.

The exhibit features interactive elements: visitors are tasked with placing various tyrannosaur family members in the correct time period on a magnetic wall and can experiment with a praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running—T. rex could only truly run when it was young. A hands-on interactive lets visitors attach the right size tail to a T. rex torso to create a balanced posture.

Getting Big

How did T. rex get so big when its ancestors were so small? And how did a young T. rex, the size of a turkey grow to the size of a truck? The simple answer: by growing very quickly. T. rex reached full size by its early 20s—about as fast as a human does—but it put on much more weight in that time, gaining up to 140 pounds (65 kg) per month. The exhibition shows T. rex in early developmental stages, showing how the dinosaur transformed from a vulnerable hatchling with a more than 60 percent chance of succumbing to predators, accidents, disease, and failure to find food in its first year of life, to a gargantuan predator at the top of the food chain. No T. rex has been found that has been identified as being older than 28 years.

“T. rex was the ‘James Dean’ of dinosaurs; he would have been very beat up,” said Gregory Erickson, paleobiologist from Florida State University.

Much of what we see in the exhibit is the result of a new approach to studying dinosaurs – integrating other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology and chemistry, and comparative techniques to contemporary animals such as crocodiles and birds, as well as new technologies like 3D scanning.

The latest understanding also presents T. rex’s “arms” as even tinier than before, suggesting that they had no function and were vestigial in the course of evolution. Also, the “hands” have two fingers instead of three.

So far, though, the scientists have been unable to determine a dinosaur’s sex from the skeleton. “It would be nice to know the sex ratio to understand population biology, how bodies changed over their lifespan,” Erickson said. “You have to appreciate just how rare these specimens are – just 1,000 dinosaurs have been named.”

Erickson explains that though scientists know what strata to search, it has to be relatively close to the surface for paleontologists to safely extract the bones without damaging them; also, many of the sites where dinosaurs might be found are in very remote, difficult places. And it may well be true that there were relatively few of the largest dinosaurs, because of the supply of resources available.

The exhibits display T. rex at various stages of its development.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a life-size model of a four-year-old T. rex, which although not yet the “king” it would become in adulthood, would have weighed about five times more than a four-year-old boy and was as large as any other predatory dinosaur in its habitat. Fully covered in feathers for warmth and camouflage, this juvenile T. rex had relatively long arms (unlike its adult counterparts), a slim body, and bladelike teeth that could cut through flesh but were not yet capable of crushing bone.

We encounter a real fossil of a T. rex toe bone and a touchable cast of a T. rex thigh bone to gain a sense of scale for the fully grown giant, which stood about 12 to 13 feet high at the hip and was about 40 to 43 feet long. Fossil casts from a close relative to T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, illustrate that T. rex wasn’t the only tyrannosaur that looked and behaved dramatically differently throughout its life. A cast of the youngest and most complete juvenile tyrannosaur fossil found to date, a two-year-old Tarbosaurus, has a delicate skull with thin bladelike teeth it likely used to catch small vertebrates and insects, while the cast of the huge adult Tarbosaurus skull indicates that when fully grown, it used its heavy, bone-crushing teeth and jaws to eat large animals.

Biggest, Baddest Tyrannosaur

All tyrannosaurs were built to kill, but the biggest and baddest of them all was T. rex. With its huge size, sharp claws, and teeth that could bite through bone, it dominated the competition. New research shows that a T. rex could bite with about 7,800 pounds of force—equivalent to the weight of three cars – compared to 3,700 pounds of force of a modern crocodile.

We see a fossil of one of these huge, banana-shaped teeth, which relied on deep roots to withstand the immense forces during a bite, as well as a cast of a fossilized T. rex lower jaw demonstrating the constant replacement cycle of its fearsome teeth. A full-scale reproduction of the T. rex fossil skeleton on display in the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—in a different pose—is the subject of the exhibition’s “shadow theater,” in which the skeleton’s 40-foot shadow (somewhat jarringly) “comes to life” and demonstrate to visitors how the animal moved and interacted with prey and its own kind.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Scientists long suspected T. rex could bite through bone, thanks to fossils of its powerful skull and teeth. But now there’s proof in fossilized feces, or coprolites, which contain many tiny chunks of bones eroded by stomach acid. High-tech imaging tools like CT scanners, X-ray fluorescence, and microprobe analysis reveal that T. rex was one of the rare species on Earth that could pulverize and digest solid bone. In fact, some T. rex coprolites are 30-50 percent crushed bone. The exhibition features a cast of one of these telltale coprolites as well as a cast of a tail bone from a duck-bill dinosaur with an embedded T. rex tooth surrounded by new bone growth, indicating that T. rex was not just a scavenger but also attacked live prey.

We learn about the fierceness of two other top predators in the tyrannosaur subfamily, which lived side by side in Asia about 70 million years ago: Alioramus and Tarbosaurus. Bulky Tarbosaurus and nimble Alioramus likely specialized in different prey, much like lions and leopards do today.

Keen Senses of Sight, Smell

We know T. rex from fossils—but what was it like in the flesh? The exhibition’s massive life-size adult T. rex model is based on the most up-to-date findings and represents the most scientifically accurate representation of this pop culture icon to date. New research on this powerful hunter’s senses show that keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for this predator’s prey to avoid detection.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Brain casts indicate that T. rex had excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges—some of the largest eyes of any land animal—faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.

How can you tell the shape of an extinct animal’s brain? Soft tissues such as brains rarely fossilize. But fossilized skulls often contain a space where the brain used to be, revealing its precise shape. Scientists use these fossilized brain cases to make a model, or endocast, of the missing brain. They also use CT scanning to make a 3D printout of the brain. The exhibition includes a fossilized partial brain case of a T. rex as well as the endocast scientists created from it for study.

By comparing the areas of the brain that are responsible for scent, vision, and hearing in tyrannosaurs’ closest living relatives, birds and crocodilians, researchers have determined that the T. rex brain had similar regions. For instance, T. rex had an unusually large olfactory region for a dinosaur, indicating it had a very good sense of smell. Also like their alligator and crocodile cousins, tyrannosaurs would likely have had highly sensitive faces. Visitors can inspect the series of tiny holes on a fossilized skull of Daspletosaurus torosus, a tyrannosaur that lived between 77 and 74 million years ago. The holes are nearly identical in number and location to those on an alligator, which have jaws so sensitive to touch that they can gently pick up an egg or tiny hatchling without harming it. Fossils of T. rex show similar rough, pitted surfaces, suggesting it also had similar sense organs.

Technology has allowed scientists to uncover a great deal about the inner workings of these gigantic predators, but a number of mysteries remain. For one, what did a T. rex sound like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a “roar mixer” enables visitors to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar that accompanies an animated T. rex

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And what about its outward appearance? Feathers are very delicate and are rarely preserved, and they haven’t been found yet on T. rex. But many other dinosaur fossils, including those from other tyrannosaurs and their relatives, preserved feathers, suggesting that T. rex had at least some feathers. Many scientists think that T. rex hatchlings were probably covered in fuzz like a duckling—but adults were mostly covered in scales, likely with patches of display feathers concentrated on attention-getting areas such as the head and tail. Nobody knows what color T. rex was, and it is often depicted as drab, like a crocodile. But reptiles come in every color of the rainbow, so T. rex could have been brightly colored. Exhibition visitors get to choose from a wide palette of colors, stripes, and spots to imagine what T. rex may have looked like in an engaging interactive experience

Despite the high level of scientific research that has gone into T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the notes that accompany the displays are designed to be accessible especially for young people who will be enthralled.

At the end of the exhibition, there is a 32-foot long animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. The huge dinosaur seems to react to visitors, leaving you wondering, “Did that T. rex see me?”

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Engaging with T. rex in Virtual Reality

The Museum’s science visualization group renders the latest scientific discoveries in paleontology and other fields through the visualization of big data. Using digital technologies, scientists today observe, measure, and reproduce hidden dimensions of the natural world. From the edges of the observable universe to the evolution of life on Earth, researchers are developing a radically new understanding of nature that the Museum strives to communicate to visitors in highly authentic, intuitive, and novel ways. One of these is virtual reality: an experiential tool that uses objects, models, photos, video footage, and other types of physical evidence of life history to engage and excite visitors.

As part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T. rex: Skeleton Crew, its first interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and up within the exhibition.

“Virtual reality is a magical realm in which our perceptions of time and space are suspended,” said Vivian Trakinski, the Museum’s director of science visualization. “In virtual reality, nothing is too small, too big, too fast, too slow, too distant, or too long ago to be appreciated. We hope this technology will let our visitors experience the most fantastic and inaccessible realms of nature.”

“Through VR, visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, director of HTC VIVE Arts. “This remarkably engaging VR project harnesses the power of premium VR, bringing visitors closer to the anatomy, scale, and majesty of T. rex like never before.”

The facilitated experience “transports” as many as three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.

A home version of T. rex: Skeleton Crew will launch on VIVEPORT, HTC VIVE’s global platform and app store, for VIVE owners in summer 2019.

Visitors need to purchase a timed ticket to see the exhibit. You can book online, https://ticketing.amnh.org/#/tickets.

150 Years of Scientific Inquiry

Be amazed – this cast of Titanosaurus skeleton (the actual bones would be way to heavy to display) – is 150 feet long, extending out of the Orientation Room. Makes you think: how did dinosaurs of such size reproduce?How many of them could have lived at any one time, given the amount of resources they would need? © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.

A rare tour of the AMNH’s proboscidean laboratory, where scientists research mammals including mammoths and mastodons that would have lived 1-2 million years ago. The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists and sponsor about 100 expeditions a year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as on specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. The museum is the launchpad for some 100 expeditions a year. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and also to grant the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

Visits to the museum have grown to 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on six continents. The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe.


Fantastic prehistoric creatures roamed New York City! On a shelf in the Proboscidean lab, mastodon jaw bone uncovered from Inwood! In March 1925, the AMNH was notified that mastodon remains were exposed during a construction excavation. They were buried in a peat bog, 21 ft. below the sidewalk level at NW corner of Seaman Ave., and Dyckman St. Several of the teeth were stolen while on display at the construction site, but two molars were recovered after a plea for their return. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New Orleans: ‘It’s Not All About The Jazz,’ Guest at Destination Wedding in NOLA Discovers

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin

Photos by Laurie Millman and Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most festive traditions of a New Orleans destination wedding is the Second Line parade. Here the newly married couple leads the line through the Bywater district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laurie spent years staying away from New Orleans, Louisiana, with the excuse that she didn’t enjoy jazz enough to go there. Recently, though, we found ourselves in the Mississippi River delta city to attend a family destination wedding. After five days in New Orleans (affectionately known by its acronym — NOLA), we can now say that this is one of the most exciting and interesting cities we’ve visited. It is certainly a destination to return to, perhaps at Mardi Gras time!

We stayed in the old, quaint French Quarter at The W New Orleans (316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200, https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msywh-w-new-orleans-french-quarter/) — a Marriott property with rooms that surround a serene, outdoor garden, fountain, and pool. The modern style of our hotel room contrasted with our balcony view of the colorful, historic buildings built during the city’s French and Spanish periods, with distinctive French Quarter pastel colors and balconies decorated with rod-iron scrollwork.

Prior to travelling to New Orleans, it was recommended to us to forego a rental car as long as we planned to stay primarily in or around the French Quarter and the other New Orleans neighborhoods. We found that Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis were never more than 5 minutes away, and usually inexpensive – and then we didn’t have to deal with the nightmare of parking. 

For sightseeing around the city, we recommend using the red, double-decker bus marked, “24-hour Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour.”  This bus follows a loop around New Orleans, going through the colorful neighborhoods. With a day pass, passengers may stay on the bus the entire time and learn about the NOLA neighborhoods from the bus guides, and get off and back on at various stops along the route to spend more time exploring. (https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/new-orleans-bus-tours)

Walking tours abound in the French Quarter with guides retelling stories about events, pirates, voodoo queens, and hauntings. Our private walk around the historic Quarter was fun and interesting: we stopped to read the plaques describing the French and Spanish history, visited little boutiques and galleries, checked out themed bars and restaurants, checked out a few unique museums, and strolled through the beautifully groomed parks.

NOLA Electric Streetcar Trolley Stop © Laurie Millman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For an historic mode of transportation, NOLA offers an electric streetcar trolley system. The St. Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. All four of the NOLA lines either run along or intersect with Canal Street in the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. A standard, one-way fare on a streetcar is very reasonable at only $1.25 per person.  However, a word of warning: the trolley system was not the quickest form of travel, and we had to wait at least 15 minutes before a trolley arrived to pick us up.

Band entertains on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA knows how to party — 24×7 — both inside and outside the many bars and restaurants. We saw visitors out and about at all hours carrying alcohol between bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. Live music abounds in venues, on street corners, and in the parks, throughout the day and night. We noticed colorful beads from past Mardi Gras celebrations layered like tinsel on the trees lining the city streets. We listened to the sounds of the city as we enjoyed breakfast and afternoon snack on the balcony of our French Quarter room.

Second Line brass bands marched down our street and through the French Quarter throughout the day and evening – one of the most popular traditions during a New Orleans wedding (we soon experienced this first hand) – a common occurrence and one of the many reasons New Orleans is one of the most popular venues for destination weddings.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a wedding, the Second Line signifies the start of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom.  A Brass band leads the bridal party and the guests from the ceremony to the reception venue or it may take place at the reception itself. The first line is usually a brass band and the ones being honored, the newlyweds.  The newly married couple leads the second line holding decorated umbrellas or parasols. The guests who join in the celebration make up the second line, forming a line behind the band and the newly married couple, as they all dance and stroll through the streets to lively music waving handkerchiefs.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon enough, instead of watching a Second Line brass band from our balcony, we were parading in ourselves, as the newly married couple we came to New Orleans to celebrate led their wedding guests on a New Orleans musical journey around the artsy Bywater neighborhood near the French Quarter.

French Quarter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is legendary for its barhopping and music. Only about a mile from Bourbon Street and our hotel, we also found a real gem of bars, restaurants, and local artists selling their art late at night on Frenchman Street. We came back to this street often for the diverse live music and food, as well as to purchase gifts for the family from the artists. We enjoyed sharing small plates and meaty gumbo at the Three Muses Restaurant (517 Frenchmen St., (504) 252-4801), while listening to a jazz pianist playing some of our favorite Scott Joplin Ragtime jazz songs.

Musicians in the Spotted Cat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We dropped in to the Spotted Cat, a small bar with a live band playing traditional Dixie jazz, then went across the street to Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen St, (504) 229-4236), for drinks and to listen to our favorite Caribbean sounds being expertly played and sung by a  large reggae and funk band. We came back another night for Cajun and American food at The Maison (508 Frenchman), where we listened to two different local jazz bands — the stage in the back of the restaurant had a band playing and people dancing when we first walked in but by the time we were into our dinner; a second band had set up and played from the small stage at the front of the restaurant.

Maison on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the music for which NOLA is known, the major attraction is its food – NOLA has some of the most unique local foods in the US, from traditional Louisiana Po-Boy sandwiches (usually roast beef or fried seafood, often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab), meat or shrimp gumbo (like a thick soup), and beignets (donut pastry with powdered sugar). Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter is a popular open-air coffee shop that serves only beignets along with non-alcoholic drinks (800 Decatur St, in front of Jackson Square, 504-581-2914). Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar offers traditional seafood po-boy sandwiches, fried and boiled seafood, gumbo, raw oysters, char-grilled oysters, blackened seafood (3203 Williams Boulevard, (504) 443-6454). Cafe Degas is located a few blocks from the house where Edgar Degas lived while in NOLA. The restaurant offers French bistro food (mussels, in-season soft shell crab,frites, escargot, French onion soup) in a setting where a large pecan tree grows through the dining room, giving the feeling of an open-air patio (3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635).

Cafe Du Monde server line with trays of beignets and drinks © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA is more than alcohol and music and food – it is a city with plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages. Go online or speak with your hotel’s concierge for suggestions, and to make reservations on tours and at restaurants. Also check with visitor centers around town for discounts through “Day Passes.”

The scene at Café Negril © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our attraction recommendations are:

Take a walking or bus tour to the historic and purportedly haunted locations in the French Quarter and local cemeteries. We joined an evening bus tour to four city cemeteries to look for evidence of hauntings, while learning about NOLA history from our resident guide.  Although we did not experience a “haunting,” we viewed a Christian cemetery from the gates to look at the iconic NOLA “houses” for the dead, and walked around a Jewish cemetery to see if we “felt” anything, while our guide explained how this lower-than sea level town interns their dead when they can’t be buried six feet down. We also walked around the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Park (5056 Canal St.): six blank, black mausoleums were designed for the unnamed and unclaimed victims. They border the paths representing a hurricane’s spiral path, and lead to a central, vertical rock which depicts the eye of the storm.

In the center of the French Quarter is a little museum which preserves New Orleans’ unique history and culture of the practice of Voodoo.  The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open seven days a week and most holidays, from 10AM to 6PM. General Admission is $7.00/person; $5.50/Seniors, Military, College Students with ID; $4.50/High School Student;  $3.50 Kids under 12. (724 Dumaine St., www.voodoomuseum.com, (504) 680-0128).

The National WWII Museum is a complex of buildings with immersive, interactive, multimedia displays to help you learn about the WWII campaigns. Visitors first start out by obtaining a “dog tag” (think “card key”) and you “board” a simile of a train to be assigned a digital WWII service person. You can then learn about the individual’s experiences, and collect digital WWII artifacts at stations posted throughout the museum campus. The Museum is open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.) General admission is $28/adult, $24/Seniors (65+); $18/Military (w/ID), college student with ID), child (K-12).  (945 Magazine St,, https://www.nationalww2museum.org 

Experience gourmet bug food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
At the Aquarium, see Greta the Great White Shark sculpture from plastics reclaimed from oceans
© Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Audubon Nature Institute has three facilities which offer visitors special NOLA experiences:

The Aquarium of the Americas (https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium; open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm) is a two-story building located along the waterfront, and accessible by public transportation, including the trolley car lines. We love visiting aquariums across the country, as each one showcases local fish, mammals, and birds. This is true for the NOLA aquarium, where the main floor leads you through indigenous marine creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as jellyfish and the Mayan reef. On the second floor, you can visit the Mississippi River Gallery and an albino alligator. Also check out the penguins, sea otters, sharks, and marine animals from the Amazon rainforest.

While walking around upstairs, take a break for some pizza at Papa John’s or a bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Don’t forget to walk around the ice cream bar to check out the large collection of colorful parakeets.   Look for the large, fanciful sculptures which are scattered around the Aquarium and are made from reclaimed plastics from the oceans and seas. Without having to fly to the Maya Riviera in Mexico, you can treat yourself and others to a snorkeling experience in the Maya Reef exhibit, as well as schedule an up-close visit with the penguins and the sweet sea otters

To save $3 per Aquarium admission, go to the Audobon web site:  $25.95/Adult; $17.95/Child (2-12); $20.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax and $1 transaction fee per ticket).  You need to book the marine encounters in advance of your visit, either online or contact the Aquarium directly.

We walked into the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm), expecting to be in and out in an hour — three hours later, we walked out with amazing new experiences. This facility is a living museum, with many examples of live insects and a wonderful butterfly room with a koi pond. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the facility’s entomologists, who walked with us and described each live insect in the long hallway cases and rooms. The entomologists rotate throughout the facility, always ready with a smile and a story to help you learn about the bugs.

A giant mealworm becomes food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The same entomologists take turns in the ‘Bug Appétit’ Kitchen, six days a week. They prepare many of their own recipes to allow visitors to sample food made with edible insect ingredients. On the day we visited, we sampled roasted whole crickets with barbeque and other flavorings, chocolate “chirp” cookies with organic cricket flour, and crackers coated with garlic spread, humus, and cheese spread — all contained ground, roasted crickets or mealworms. Surprisingly, these delicacies all tasted quite good and turned out to be the highlight of our visit. As Mack, the head of Bug Appétit noted, “This is the wave of the future.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been promoting the increased consumption of insect protein around the world since 2003 — farming of edible insects produce low greenhouse emissions, and offer a sustainable and inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids essential for humans.

The Insectarium price includes an animated, 4-D movie about superstar bugs and their outstanding achievements. “Awards Night,” is fun for all ages, with celebrity voices by Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, and Brad Garrett. The “Flea Market” gift shop has unique items to take home: Laurie purchased amber earrings and keychains with baby scorpions and other bugs as gifts for herself and the family!

To save $3 per Insectarium admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee per ticket).The Audubon Zoo offers an animal-themed water splash park for all ages with three different splash zones and  one area specifically for toddlers and younger kids. Grab an inner tube for a lazy ride along Gator Run, slide down a huge alligator water slide, run through spider monkey soakers and water-spitting snakes. Check the web site to confirm when the water park is open.

To save $3 per Zoo admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee).

If you plan to visit all three Audubon centers, the best value is to purchase the “Audubon Experience” ticket, which offers a savings of up to $30.90 per person: $44.95/Adult (plus sales tax); $34.95/Child (2-12) (plus sales tax); $37.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax).

The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans was the location for the wedding which brought us to this part of the country (the bride, an artist who had done a couple of residencies in New Orleans, had a personal connection to the Music Box, and the groom had an American Roots band). The “Village” is a unique, outdoor, artist-created sculpture garden of life-sized, interactive musical houses. Each “house” is whimsically designed with different types of materials and equipment. The overarching purpose is to allow visitors of all ages to explore many different ways to make sounds and music. It is a magical, enchanted garden that turns anyone into a kid absolutely enthralled with making music. Check the Village’s web site for events while you are in town, so you, too, can experience this magical outdoor venue. (4557 N Rampart St., https://musicboxvillage.com)

New Orleans turned 300 during 2019.

Here are more highlights of a visit to New Orleans:

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans. New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Horsedrawn carriage passes by the Oldest Tavern in US, reputed to have been built between 1722 and 1732, in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Voodoo shop in the French Quarter © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
The French-style wrought iron that decorates buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
French Quarter, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Beads strewn from Mardi Gras past, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Walk over the Rusty Rainbow Bridge to Crescent Park Trail from the Bywater, along the water, to the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance which is why it is so perfect for a destination wedding © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New Orleans & Company, the visitor bureau, has an excellent website to help plan your visit, including sample itineraries: 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, 800-672-6124, www.neworleans.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Family Winter Holiday Places, Where Life-Long Memories are Made

Horse-drawn sleigh ride across a field at the Mountain Top Inn& Resort in the Vermont countryside is like a Currier & Ives painting come to life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed  by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com866.384.1944)

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s, is set on a private 70-acre island on Lake George © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)

Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character!  The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).

We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).

A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.  

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.

Park City’s historic Main Street. The Hyatt Centric provides a free shuttle into the town each evening © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)

The intoxicating view at Park City Mountain, Utah, which after being combined with The Canyons, is now the biggest ski area in the US © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its  own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).

Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter).  It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.

The Bobsled Experience: Lake Placid is the only area in the Northeast where you can experience bobsled, luge and skeleton. You get to “slide” with a professional driver and pusher © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)

Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com);  Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is an intimate ocean retreat, luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent, situated on seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools,  it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).

One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if  Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.”  Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool).  (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the  Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).

Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)

More Holiday Travel Ideas

Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.

Visit Harry Potter at Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit  ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).

Taking a trail ride at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, reservations@pineridgeduderanch.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.

Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

An urban resort stay:Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide kept frozen at 9 degrees © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have so many fond memories of Christmases past, spent in charming, festive places that capture the magic and spirit of the season, and most importantly, bring our family together with experiences we share.

My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun. Has great decorations, has a festive feel, and most important, doesn’t shut down and close up for the holidays. 

Christmas in the Capital

Washington DC certainly fits this bill – you can spend all your time just on the National Mall, visiting iconic museums like the National Air & Space Museum (a major favorite for families, great café also)), the relatively new Museum of the American Indian, the even newer Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Archives, and just across the avenue is the gorgeous National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice skating rink and charming café (also skating at The Wharf, Georgetown, and Capitol Riverfront). Go further afield to the Spy Museum and if the weather permits, the National Zoo (easy access by Metro).

Ice skating on the Sculpture Garden rink across from the National Archives. Washington DC is one of the best destinations for family travel over the Christmas holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best way to take in the Capital city’s holiday lights is with these free offerings: Tour America’s historic train stations in miniature at Seasons Greenings: All Aboard! at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (thru Jan. 2); Smithsonian National Zoo dazzles with more than 500,000 LED lights, snowless tubing and more at ZooLights, 5-9 pm thru Jan.1, (closed Dec. 24, 25, 31); take in National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse is attended by 56 decorated state and territory trees and Santa’s Workshop and enjoy nightly musical performances thru Dec. 31.

Also memorable: George Washington’s Mount Vernon celebrates the season with Colonial dancing, chocolate-making and caroling, Nov. 23-Dec. 31; candlelit tours run Nov. 23, 24, 30; Dec. 1, 7, 8, 16.There are Holiday in the Park thrills at Six Flags America with lights, rides and s’mores: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-23, 26-31. Among the holiday performances underway: National Symphony Orchestra’s Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 20-23); at Warner Theatre, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker recasts the classic in the Lincoln White House (Nov. 29-Dec. 28); and Richly Dressed, A Christmas Carol (Nov. 15-Dec. 30) at Ford’s Theatre.

Find inspiration for memorable getaways on Destination DC’s holiday landing page on washington.org, and its Instagram and Facebook channels, including festive hotel packages, menus, holiday lights, ice skating rinks, gift markets, can’t-miss exhibitions and events across the city’s welcoming neighborhoods. Help with planning is available from a DC travel expert weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm, 800-422-8644.

To really get into the spirit, stay at the elegant and historic Willard InterContinental  (it’s a stone’s throw from the White House and was where Abraham Lincoln stayed before his inauguration) which transforms into a holiday-inspired wonderland, a beloved tradition that both locals and visitors have come to anticipate each year, with its display of yuletide trimmings, musical fanfare and epicurean delights thru January 1. The centerpiece is the treasured Christmas tree, boasting decades of sentiment on each carefully curated branch. The Willard is the only hotel in Washington  to feature the White House Ornament Collection, an initiative founded by the White House Historical Association in 1981: each ornament honors a different U.S. President or special White House event. This year honors Harry S. Truman, 33rd president, and the three significant changes made during his administration – one to the Presidential Seal and two to the White House itself. Another iconic facet of the hotel’s décor is their picturesque gingerbread display in the lobby that pays tribute to an iconic landmark in and around D.C.  This year’s display pays homage to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and with a magnificent replica that will include all terminals, lighted runways, a control tower and even parts of the Washington Metro.  

Turn your visit into a complete resort stay at the Gaylord National Resort which has its Christmas on the Potomac festival that is not to be missed (whether or not you stay), that includes ICE! where you walk through a winter wonderland carved from over 2 million pounds of ice, this year telling the holiday tale of A Charlie Brown Christmas www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com. (https://www.marriott.com/gaylord-hotels/gaylord-national-harbor-christmas-on-the-potomac.mi)

Christmas in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. There’s a palpable elation throughout the City-by-the Sea during Christmas in Newport, a month-long celebration toasting simple traditions of the holiday season. For nearly 50 years, this event has made for an extraordinary holiday respite in a quaint New England coastal town. White lights illuminate homes, shops, restaurants and the bustling wharves in a ritual meant to represent candlelight from days gone by, when families would wait for their loved ones to return home from their seafaring adventures. Holiday events are tailored to entertain every age, including tree lightings, Polar Express train rides, historical tours, shopping strolls, concerts and dances like the Newport Nutcracker, Island Moving Company’s rendition of the classic holiday ballet, Victorian-era Christmas festivities, culinary fêtes, arts and cultural celebrations and more. (Where else but Newport can you gaze at a 16-foot working gingerbread lighthouse?) (See discovernewport.org, 800-326-6030, for trip planning help.)

The Great Hall of The Breakers, decked out for the holidays, part of Christmas at the Newport Mansions and festivities that take over the City-by-the-Sea, Newport, RI.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House with newly imagined holiday decor thru Jan. 1. The three houses offer a total of 25 large decorated Christmas trees, plus additional smaller potted trees and topiaries. Windows in each mansion are lit with individual white candles. New this year, professional event designers will create contemporary holiday tablescapes in the dining rooms at Marble House and The Elms, and in the Breakfast Room of The Breakers, to provide inspiration and ideas to visitors for ways they can decorate their own holiday tables.

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambiance of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age: at The Breakers are Saturdays, December 1, 8, 22 and 29, 6-8 p.m; On December 15, guests can visit both The Elms and Marble House for the price of one, 6-9 p.m. ($35 in advance, $45 day-of the event. Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 free. More information and tickets are available online or call (401) 847-1000.

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House open daily for tours, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, through Jan. 1. Rosecliff will also be open in December, with a new exhibition, Bill Cunningham: Facades, featuring photographs by the late New York Times photographer. A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to up to 4 houses can be purchased for $30 for adults, $10 for children 6-17. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free. Individual house tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online or at each property. (Program information at newportmansions.org.)

A chanteuse entertains at The Vanderbilt, a Grace hotel, that was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of marvelous hotels and inns to accommodate. We loved our holiday stay at The Vanderbilt, a historic boutique hotel a short walk (and what a rooftop view) to Newport’s delightful waterfront, which makes you feel like a Vanderbilt. In fact, it was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania. The 1909 mansion has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning luxury hotel in Rhode Island. The Vanderbilt offers 33 rooms and luxury suites, a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a signature restaurant, The Vanderbilt Grill. A Grace Hotel, it is now part of the Auberge Resort Collection (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt/).

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. A highlight of any visit to Manchester is a tour Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s estate, festooned in Victorian finery, just as it might have been when they stayed for the holidays so many years ago. Take the self-guided tour; throughout December, talented musicians play Mary Lincoln’s Steinway and the vintage Aeolian organ (www.hildene.org). (Trip planning help at visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. Besides outlet shopping and historic sites such as  Hildene, the Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing at Stratton, Bromley and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, cross-country skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

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

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, the hub for nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Valley Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities –Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day), “Yuletide at Winterthur” Museum, Gardens and Library with its sensational holiday performances; the fascinating Hagley Museum and DuPont Mansion; the Brandywine River Museum of Art with its unparalleled collection of  Wyeth family art and nearby historic towns of Old New Castle and Odessa (http://thebrandywine.com/attractions/index.html). See schedule at https://www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday/

Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special; that Christmas Eve we walked across the street to participate in the evening church services. (www.hoteldupont.com)

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) through Jan. 1.Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1,; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. There are historic district trolley tours (many themed, like Ghosts of Christmas Past), house tours, Lamplighter Christmas Tours which are self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns and private homes, specially decorated for the holidays. Here, the perfect place to stay is in one of the historic inns (www.capemay.com/stay). For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Go back even further in time at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, fill out the visit with Busch Gardens Williamsburg and other attractions including the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, where you will experience  Christmastide in Virginia. (Dec. 20-31), offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions including daily appearances by the Lord of Misrule at Jamestown Settlement and period musical entertainment at both museums. At Busch Gardens, enjoy Christmas Town (select dates through January 5) offers one of the largest light displays in North America with more than 10 million lights. New this year, Busch Gardens Railway turns into the Christmas Town Express, with caroling, 2 million lights, holiday-themed vignets along the 1.5 mile route around the theme park; plus 25 rides are open including InvadR and Verbolten roller coasters. (Planning help at www.visitwilliamsburg.com). Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords the unparalleled opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with a glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com). St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers  scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland through Jan. 6; watch special Santa dive presentations at Mavis’s Rescue Hideaway (CMA holiday fun). The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation) through Dec. 30.Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!  (through Dec. 31). (www.visitstpeteclearwater.com)

Trade pine trees for palm trees for the winter holidays at Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”), on St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

San Francisco has so many amazing attractions and charms (I can’t get enough of the trolley cars or the trolley museum), but really gets decked out for the holidays when the entire city becomes a Gallery of Light Art.  Now in its sixth year, “Illuminate SF Festival of Light” celebrates 37 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations located throughout San Francisco. Located in 17 different neighborhoods, the works, by 30 local and world-renowned light artists, are accessible by public transport and many are free for all to view, thru New Year’s Day. The works come to life at dusk throughout the city with a luminescence that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class museums performing arts and restaurants. The light art can be found in neighborhoods in the Embarcadero along the waterfront, in North Beach, Civic Center, Central Market, the Inner Sunset, South of Market (SoMa), Potrero, Mission Bay, Bayview, Golden Gate Park, Hayes Valley, South Beach, the Castro, the Mission District and even flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). (The San Francisco Travel Association offers a guide to all of the installations and artists at www.illuminatesf.com; plan your visit at www.sftravel.com.)

One of the light art installations that decorate San Francisco for the holidays, “Photosynthesis Love for all Seasons” by Ralsy Sabater.

Combine city and country with a stay at The Tenaya Lodge at the doorstep to Yosemite National Park.  Families are delighted by the festive décor and special holiday activities, including gingerbread house and ornament decoraiting workshops, live lobby music, a  Christmas Eve reading with Mrs. Claus, and Dinner with Santa. The resort has its own ice skating rink, sleds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, showshoes.  And this holiday season, the resort is helping California wildfire victims by donating $25 toward  CalFund’s Wildfire Relief Fund on stays booked with this offer where you also save 15% on holiday stays, Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, two-night minimum stay, promo: HOLIDAYS (www.tenayalodge.com).

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

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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Holidays in New York, Most Magical Time of the Year

 

The most stupendous float of all at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade carries Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer ushering in Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The winter holiday season may well be New York City’s most magical time of the year and gets underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

“The holiday season in New York City is a spectacle unlike any other,” said NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon “It is a time when the vibrant energy that makes up the very fabric of our city is magnified through the joy of dozens of multicultural celebrations among New Yorkers and global visitors who make the five boroughs a centerpiece of their annual festivities.”

Highlights include landmark events and first-time New York–style holiday celebrations of a nearly endless variety for travelers to enjoy this winter. Visitors delight in historic and new shopping destinations, world-famous department store window displays (Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue), unrivaled outdoor ice-skating rinks and more scattered all throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The five-borough-wide season wraps up in a fashion as dazzling as ever with various New Year’s Eve celebrations.

As always, three iconic events bookend the introduction and conclusion of the holiday season in New York City:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 22 at 9 am. A staple of the holiday season since 1924, the 92nd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 12 marching bands (macys.com/parade).

But the event has a pre-quel, The Great Balloon Inflation, that takes place the night before, when the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with tens of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.

Tens of thousands come out the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to watch the Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Manhattan, November 28, 2018: A lineup of live performers rivaled by few events all year will help light up New York City’s biggest and brightest home for Santa’s Christmas eve delivery again. The more than seven-story tree will spread holiday cheer to the millions of visitors it welcomes until the lights dim on January 7 (rockefellercenter.com).

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Manhattan, December 31, 2018–January 1,2019: In 1904, the former New York Times owner convinced the City to rename Longacre Square in honor of the world-famous publication. In addition to the name change and the opening of NYC’s first subway line, that year marked the inaugural Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, and the “Crossroads of the World” has been the historic backdrop of the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration ever since. Approximately 1 million visitors are expected to gather to watch the ball drop in person again this year. This is something that should be on every bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime (timessquarenyc.org).

Angels light the way to the most famous holiday tree, at Rockefeller Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light show that is projected onto Saks building) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman. Separately, I will take in Bloomingdale’s (a “Grinch” theme this year, connecting with the new movie), and Barney’s downtown on Broadway.

Meanwhile, there are more than a dozen celebratory events to delight this holiday season in NYC.

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, Manhattan, December 1–23, 2018: The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership welcomes visitors this December to enjoy contests, performances, free neighborhood walking tours, giveaways from local businesses and an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza. Other unparalleled offerings can be found in the historic 103-block neighborhood stretching from 23rd to 28th Street, bordered by Third and Sixth Avenues (flatirondistrict.nyc).

A Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour, Brooklyn, December 1–30, 2018: Every holiday season, more than 100,000 visitors descend on Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood to view the most extravagant Christmas displays in the New York City area. This tour, operated by born and raised Brooklynites, stops by the most over-the-top exhibits of the season while telling patrons the story of how “Dyker Lights” came to be nearly 40 years ago (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

Enchanted by the holiday windows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another popular tour is the holiday edition of The Ride, “a 21st century sleigh ride” aboard patented $1.5 million travelling high-tech theaters with floor-to-ceiling gigantic glass windows featuring side-facing VIP seating making the streets of New York the stage. Original seasonal music, videos and hilarious hosts support the dazzling Holiday performances along the 4.2 mile journey through Midtown Manhattan (http://experiencetheride.com, 212-221-0853).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Holiday Engagement at New York City Center, Manhattan, November 28–December 30, 2018: City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season will feature a wide range of performances including new productions, annual favorites, live music and Alvin Ailey’s feature performance Revelations. A special show on December 11 celebrates City Center’s opening performance in 1943 (alvinailey.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue becomes a canvas for a holiday lightshow © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History’s Holiday Season, Manhattan, November 20, 2018–January 7, 2019: The museum’s cultural celebrations begin with the decoration of the Origami Holiday Tree—complete with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local artists—and continue through the New Year. On December 29, the AMNH will host its 40th annual Kwanzaa celebration. The festival of African-American heritage celebrates the seven core principles of Kwanzaa while exploring the rich history behind its traditions. Family-friendly activities, musical performances and an international marketplace are also included (amnh.org).

Apollo Theater Presents “Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night,” Manhattan, December 29, 2018: The legendary Harlem theater is celebrating Kwanzaa with visitors for the 12th consecutive year with a night of music and dance that honors the principles of Kwanzaa—family, community and culture (apollotheater.org).

Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker, Brooklyn, December 14, 2018: The hip-hop and ballet infused replication of the holiday classic, reimagined in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, is hosted by the iconic Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, for the first time this year (brooklynballet.org).

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, December 13–30, 2018: Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is sure to cause audiences hearts to grow at least three sizes when they watch the story of the true meaning of Christmas come to life in this limited engagement at the world’s most famous arena (msg.com/hulu-theater-at-msg).

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, Queens, November 10, 2018–January 21, 2019: Since 2013, the edible village at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, has set the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gingerbread houses and structures with each new installment. The record is sure to be challenged again this year (nysci.org).

Grand Army Plaza, Largest Menorah Lighting, Brooklyn, December 2–10, 2018: With the help of local synagogues, the Grand Army Plaza, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted the nightly lighting of the 32-foot menorah since 1984. Visitors are invited to celebrate the holiday with concerts and gifts for children through each day of the Jewish Festival of Lights (largestmenorah.com).

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, The Bronx, December 8–9, 2018: At this holiday craft fair, in addition to creating the usual wreaths and treasure boxes, families are invited to work on the feature project: the hamsa, or hamesh, the multicultural symbol of an open hand. Guests explore the spiritual side of the holidays as they make the palm-shaped amulets (wavehill.org).

New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, The Bronx, November 17, 2018–January 21, 2019: The annual exhibition of classical model trains moving through a hand crafted display of New York City’s built environment is back for the 27th year. More than 175 miniature iconic city structures such as Yankee Stadium, The Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty are replicated entirely out of plant parts and will coincide with other holiday celebrations such as a cappella performances, Bar Car Nights and more at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 23–December 30 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society Presents “Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, Manhattan, through January 27: Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures, including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library, the New-York Historical Society, and other museums, as well as never before seen material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives. The New York exhibition, showcasing a selection of objects not featured in the London presentation that are on view to the public for the very first time, is sponsored by Audible. There are also a slew of special events and family programming in conjunction with this not-to-be-missed exhibit, which vanishes, poof, after January 27, 2019. The tickets are timed; you can order online. Also visit The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, created for children  8-13, which presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org)

New York Philharmonic Presents “Home Alone in Concert, ” Manhattan, December 20–21,2018: The acclaimed New York Philharmonic will perform John Williams’ score live to the classic Christmas film Home Alone, for a 2018–19 holiday season special event—booby traps and lovable bandits not included (nyphil.org).

A carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal Holiday Train Show, Manhattan, November 15, 2018–February 3, 2019: A staple of Grand Central Terminal during the holiday season since 2001, the train show features a 34-foot-long track where vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel through a miniature New York City and countryside scene all the way to the North Pole (grandcentralterminal.com).

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, Manhattan, November 9, 2018–January 1, 2019: Everyone’s favorite high kickers dance their way from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and champion the holiday spirit of New York City with their extravagant costumes and breathtaking state-of-the-art production (rockettes.com).

St. Thomas Church which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 4, 6). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 13). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style. (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org).

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is also a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service.

Cathedral of St John the Divine offers inspiring concerts throughout the holiday season, with a Concert for Peace on New Year’s Eve © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I personally love to close out the holiday season on New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which presents the most magnificent annual Concert for Peace, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music in a most magnificent setting. Indeed, the cathedral offers a rich calendar of concerts throughout the holiday season, as well as tours of this architectural jewel. Check the website for details.(The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org)

Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), The Swedish Cottage is an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is “Yet, Set, Snow!”, an original story and production from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, with performances through the season until Feb. 24, 2019. (Purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre)

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places. Of course, there is skating right below the magnificent Christmas tree at the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com). There is also skating and The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (230 Vesey St., 860-209-3459, gpice.com).

Skating at Bryant Park where there is also a holiday market © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

For a festive place to shop: The Shops at Columbus Circle, a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that free priceless view of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). But there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances begin Monday, Nov. 12 and take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10. Shows begin at 5 pm and last approximately 20 minutes.  (Free and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required.)

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars: from Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., to the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se). The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows,  visitors can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

(Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.)

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

A Mother-Daughter Spa Retreat in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains

The Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort nestles into Italy’s Tyrolean Alps (Photo by Geri Bain)

By Geri Bain

“Those snow-capped mountains are Austria,” says our guide as my 23-year daughter Jenny and I pose beside our e-bikes. The effort-boosting electric bikes had make it possible for a non-marathoner to pedal up amazingly steep slopes to Alpe di Siusi (a.k.a. Seiser Alm), a 2,000-meter high alpine meadow. This is just one of many guided hiking and e-biking options offered for varying fitness levels at no charge to Adler Dolomiti Spa and Sport Resort guests. In winter, these include ski and snowshoe safaris. Alpine skiers can tap into Dolomiti Superski, among the world’s biggest interconnected ski areas. Here, a single ski pass provides access to 14 kilometers of interconnecting trails and lifts, including Saslong, host to two annual FIS World Cup ski races.

About a 1.5 hour’s drive from Innsbruck and roughly three hours from either Munich or Venice, the resort is set in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. Part of the Tyrolean Alps, the region feels as much Austrian as Italian, and for good reason. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. German and Italian are two of the official languages in the region. The third is Ladin, whose roots go back to days when this land was part of the Roman Empire; it is still spoken in a number of formerly-isolated valleys.

E-bikes make it possible to pedal up the steep Alpine slopes of the Dolomites (Photo by Geri Bain)

This a region of wild beauty, with 18 peaks over 3,000 meters and expansive high meadows. Nestled along its deep river valleys are small villages with flower-box adorned chalets and ancient churches. No wonder this region was named a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2009. It offers nature at its most accessible thanks to a system of interconnecting lifts and bus routes, with free tickets provided by local hotels, and well-laid out, sign-posted routes for hiking, e-biking, skiing and other outdoor activities.

The Dialogue Walk is punctuated by contemplative quotes (Photo by Geri Bain)

In addition to the resort’s guided expeditions, we go off on several of our own hikes—armed with maps and directions from the hotel staff. One day we take the “Dialogue Walk” up the mountain behind our resort. The walk features quotes from Mother Teresa, a Cherokee, and others, carved into paving stones and rocks along the way, designed to prompt meditation (and for us, the first step is to translate them into English).

Another day, we follow the Val Gardena Railway trail, which has tri-lingual explanations of the region’s history. It runs the length of the valley, past small towns, pastures and pretty pocket playgrounds, and through steep stretches of forest. Our steepest climb is up the pilgrimage trail to St. Jacob’s Church, which surprises us with gaily painted story boards along the way and rewards us with awesome views.

Woodcarvings of all styles and sizes are sold in picturesque souvenir shops (Photo by Geri Bain)

Our home base, the Alder Dolomiti Spa Hotel & Resort, is in the center of the picturesque, pedestrian-only center of Ortisei, a picturesque village in the Val Gardena (Garden Valley). Here, the region’s three cultures are evident. The Alpine art of woodcarving is displayed in traditional and modern forms in shops, adorning homes and churches and in the Museum Gherdeina, which showcases Ladin culture. Restaurants, both at the resort and around town, feature local cheeses, German-style sausages and regional varieties of mushrooms in creative Italian pasta dishes.

The Adler Dolomit Spa & Sport Resort (photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

The Adler Dolomiti has been a family-run property since its opening in 1810, when the area first became known as a center for mountaineering and skiing. It has its own tiny museum with artifacts from the early days of the hotel and the region. We chose to stay here based on a stay at its sister property in Tuscany (Hotel Adler Thermae),where we had enjoyed its combination of complimentary guided outings, thermal pools, themed saunas and farm-to-table dining, and it is a great choice here as well. While each resort’s architecture, activities and cuisine reflect its region, the basic style of stay is similar.

Adler Dolomiti is ideally situated to provide stunning mountain views from every angle (Photo by Geri Bain)

At the Dolomites resort, cozy fireplaces and lodge-style decor combine with excellent free Wi-Fi and huge window walls to create a welcome blend of the traditional and modern. Our standard room feels like a suite, with a separate seating area and patio and spacious modern bathroom. The half-board plan we are on includes a daily expansive daily breakfast buffet and multi-course dinner as well as a teatime buffet and guided excursions including equipment. There’s even a complimentary kid’s program. During our stay, we set out after breakfast each day either on one of the hotel’s tours or one of their suggested self-guided hikes for which they provide maps, suggestions on places to eat, and a packed picnic lunch, if desired. Each day we return to a welcoming teatime spread of cheeses, meats, breads and other goodies.

The Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort’s pools, hot tubs and saunas are a world unto themselves (Photo by Geri Bain)

Before dinner each day, we make sure to allow time to enjoy the resort’s Water & Wellness World,” a park-like expanse of relaxation rooms, hot tubs, and indoor and outdoor hot tubs and pools with tucked away waterfalls and massaging jets and themed saunas and steam baths, each infused with distinctive scents such as organic hay, floral blossoms and lavender and lime—all available at no charge. We are surprised to learn while bathing suits are worn in pools and hot tubs, for health reasons, in the saunas, towels, but no swimsuits are permitted, and except in for a women-only spa area, all are co-ed.

The underground salt grotto offers a tranquil retreat. (Photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

We especially love the outdoor hot tub, where we enjoy meeting fellow guests as we take in the mountain views, and find the underground salt pool and grotto magical, and worth the nominal entry fee. There are also free yoga, Pilates and other classes and a fitness center with cardio and strength training equipment at the gym; with more time, we might sample them, but we do carve out time to indulge in several of the spa’s excellent and reasonably priced massages, wraps, facials and other treatments, many featuring local ingredients.

Bounteous buffets offer diverse choices at every meal (Photo by Geri Bain)

Local ingredients also take center stage in the dining room. We love the expansive buffets, always complemented by waiter-service menus. The diverse cultures and local bounty are reflected in everything from fresh-baked dark and light breads to apple strudel. Each evening brings a new set of delectable surprises, with the chance to try regional dishes such as venison with lingonberries, spaetzli, dumplings with a local smoked ham called speck, and creative pasta dishes.

The resort shares facilities with an adjoining, 30-room adults-only sister property, Adler Balance, a medical/holistic health center focused on preventive medicine and anti-aging. There’s also a small sister lodge tucked into the Alpe di Suissa, for those looking for a total escape into nature.

Relaxation is the order of the day at Adler Dolomiti (Photo courtesy of Adler Dolomiti)

With all its pools, saunas and other facilities and its landscaped gardens, we are surprised to learn that Adler Dolomiti only has 130 rooms. Perhaps that’s why it never feels crowded and the service is personal. It’s also nice that fellow guests quickly begin to look familiar. We are told that the resort caters to families with children’s programs and some family-friendly accommodations, yet we are here during a school holiday and only see about a dozen kids.

E-biking up the Alpe di Suissa was one of the many activities travel writer Geri Bain and daughter Jenny enjoyed during their stay at Adler Dolomiti.

Speaking with fellow guests, we meet people from as far away as Australia, along with England, the U.S. and France. Understandably, most come from Italy and Germany, and we speak with a number of couples and families who come here several times a year. We agree that if this were within driving distance of our home, we would too! 

Daily breakfast, multi-course dinner, teatime buffet, spa juices and snacks, and guided excursions on foot and e-bikes (and in winter, on skis and snowshoes) were all included in our half-board plan. And for families, a kid’s program is also included in the rates. For more information, visit www.adler-dolomiti.com/en.   

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

A Potpourri of Summer Family Vacation Choices to Get You Outside, Together

Nothing builds brotherly bonds like roasting marshmallows over a campfire during a moonlight kayak trip at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Midcoast, Maine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman, Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s officially the start of the summer family vacation season! It is widely known that getting out and experiencing things first hand is the best way to cultivate learning. The experiences also engage children, forge bonds and provide lifelong memories. Here are “get out there and do it” summer family vacation ideas.

Looking for adventure, for discovery, for immersion in culture, heritage or the natural world? Many of the most respected ecotourism operators offer special itineraries tailored for families:

Smithsonian Family Journeys by Perillo’s Learning Journeys has created a series of multi-generational itineraries, including Discover Japan (meet students of anime), Iceland Explorer, Exploring London and Paris (take a scavenger hunt through the Louvre), and Discover Ireland (learn to speak Gaelic). (Visit https://www.learningjourneys.com/family-journeys/smithsonian, 855-215-8691; Perillo’s Learning Journeys, www.learningjourneys.com, 888-884-8259; www.SmithsonianJourneys.org).

Wild Women Expeditions’ globe-spanning roster of women-only itineraries also beckons adventurous mothers to join their daughters on journeys into the wilderness that can re-cement relationships. One adventure just for moms and girls ages 10 to 16 is on horseback in Iceland. The other for moms and daughters ages 8 to 13 is closer to home in canoes on a lake in Canada. (888-993-1222, info@wildwomenexpeditions.comhttps://wildwomenexpeditions.com/).

Wild Planet Adventures has family-focused departures in Costa Rica, Africa, Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Laos, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Thailand and Zambia (800-990-4376, www.wildplanetadventures.com, email trips@wildplanetadventures.com.

Other adventure operators that offer family-focused trips:

Thomson Family Adventures, Watertown, MA, familyadventures.com, 800-262-6255

Backroads, Berkeley, CA, backroads.com, 800-462-2848
Austin Adventures, Billings, austinadventures.com, 800-575-1540
Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic
, New York, NY, 800-EXPEDITION, expeditions.com

Wildland Adventures, Seattle, WA, wildland.com, 800-345-4453

Kids-Friendly Walking Tours: Perhaps you are exploring roots or your heritage in a foreign country. Context Travel, which specializes in walking tours, has designed programs specifically for families with interactive experiences: a private tennis lesson on Henry VIII’s court in London; turn the whole family into samurais for the day in Kyoto; sweet immersion into French food in Paris; go underground to the forgotten streets and houses buried under Rome. Family walks also are available in cities across Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. Context also can create a custom family tour in the 37 cities where it offers programs across the globe. Contact info@contexttravel.com, 800.691.6036, www.contexttravel.com.

Danube Bike Trail is one of the best bike tours to take with kids © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike Tours: Biketours.com which specializes in Europe has recommended itineraries for families; I can personally recommend the Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, which I did with my sons – one of the best trips of my life. You can do it as a self-guided tour – it is very easy to follow, and that gives you more control over your schedule, as well as excellent value. BikeTours.com also offers an itinerary specially tailored for families with children (1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37377 ,877-462-2423, 423-756-8907, info@biketours.com, biketours.com).

We’ve also recommended outstanding biketours close at home that do good while giving everybody a great time: Parks & Trails NY, which offers the annual 8-day 400-mile Cycle the Erie ride, which is a camping and biking adventure that draws families with tiny tots in tow, as well as self-pedalers as young as 10 years old. A major highlight is camping out at Fort Stanwix, Rome NY, an 18th century living-history experience. (Parks & Trails New York at 518-434-1583 or visit www.ptny.org).

Three generations of the Parsegian family bike the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Similarly Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (202-974-5150, Railstotrails.orgTrailLink.com) sponsors an annual Sojourn supported biketour that showcases bikeways that have been converted from old rail lines; their  annual ride is organized by Wilderness Voyageurs, which offers Ride the GAP trips with bed-and-breakfast accommodations (they portage luggage from inn to inn), as well as a full catalog of guided bike tours that includes Colorado; Missouri’s Katy Trail; Idaho’s Hiawatha & Coeur D’Alene; South Dakota’s Mickelson & the Badlands; the Erie Canal, Finger Lakes, and Adirondacks in New York; Shenandoah and the Civil War; Gettysburg & the Civil War; Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay; Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP & C&O; Pennsylvania’s Amish Country; Kentucky’s Bike & Bourbon; Georgia’s Gold Coast; and a biking trip in Cuba. (855-550-7705, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com)

Camping: Camping has really changed over time, frequently offering a range of experiences from rustic adventures to resort-style all in the same venue. Kampgrounds of America, with 485 locations in North America, makes it easy to find camping resorts by destination, amenities and programming (www.KOA.com). We have a personal favorite: the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA is a true camping resort, set along a creek (tubing, fishing) and close by the Erie Canal (cruises, biking), and most unique of all, a chance to mine for Herkimer diamonds! The Herkimer KOA offers unbelievably delightful themed cabins (would you believe a cabin with its own planetarium?), fabulous activities. Choose a cabin, cottage or RV or tent site. (Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, E-mail: hdmkoa@ntcnet.comwww.herkimerdiamond.com; mining info at 315-717-0175,diamonds@ntcnet.com.)

Family gathers around a fire pit at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, a camping resort with themed cabins and a quarry where you can mine for diamond-like quartz © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most intriguing in my book is the full-service Lion Country Safari’s award winning KOA campground located adjacent to a 320 acre drive through wild animal preserve and theme park, yet secluded enough for a restful campout (though you are apt to hear the lions roaring), offering RV sites, tent sites and rustic cabins (http://www.lioncountrysafari.com/koa/, 561-793-1084).

Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, opened for its second season with a roster of curated new experiences, custom designed glamping accommodations and engaging programming, Kids Camp and entertainment for every level and style of camper – from RVers and traditional tent campers to glampers. (277 Mills Road, Kennebunkport, Maine 04046, 207-967-2483, www.sandypinescamping.com)

Point Sebago is a resort spanning 775-acres on the shore of Sebago Lake in Casco, Maine. It has its roots as a campground, but while there are still 100 RV, travel trailer and tent sites available, it is a well-equipped resort affording small two-bedroom cabins, with a mile of sandy beach, an 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course that is hailed as one of the finest in Maine. There is a full activities program for kids and families – like a summer camp – with camp counselors, mini-golf, arts and crafts, kayaking, canoe races, boat rentals, fishing, swimming, sand volleyball, shuffleboard, golf, tennis, basketball, games, happy hours with entertainment and free hors d’oeuvres, nightly entertainment for families and adults, dancing, shows, and s’mores by the campfire, free wireless internet access. Also, great bass and landlocked salmon fishing. The resort is next to Maine State Park at Sebago Park where there are hiking trails. (Point Sebago, 261 Point Sebago Road, Route 302, Casco, ME 04015, 800-530-1555, 207-655-3821,info@pointsebago.com. 

Stay in a Dude Ranch – One of the best family experiences is on a dude ranch. New York State actually has several of them, such as Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, Hudson Valley, (845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com), which has been delighting generations of families with its all-inclusive fun (meals, entertainment, activities and riding). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (the new owners of the venerable Pinegrove Ranch), 30 Cherrytown Rd, Kerhonkson, NY 12446-2148, 866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com, reservations @pineridgeduderanch.com). Ridin’ Hy, an absolutely delightful guest ranch in the Adirondack State Park, near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com. 

Further afield, check out the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association members (www.coloradoranch.com, 866-942-3472), like the luxurious C Lazy U Ranch which since 1919 has provided highest level of personalized service, professional horsemanship programs, first-class amenities, enriching children’s programs, gourmet meals and upscale accommodations; or the Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch, which opened in 1912 and considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado, is also ideally located just southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park and nestled in a peaceful valley along the Colorado River.

Resorts with a Twist 

Sebasco Harbor Resort, Mid-Coast, Maine: This resort (“Pure Maine”) manages to be a delightful cross between a fine resort and a camp, with plenty of opportunity be outdoors, while still enjoying such refinements as golf on a superb course, full-service waterfront Fairwinds Spa, plus marvelous activities like kayaking (do the moonlight kayak trip, it is beyond fabulous), boating.. Actually, you can imagine Sebasco being the kind of “camp” that the Gilded Age moguls would have for one of their holiday homes. Nestled among whispering pines on the rugged coast Sebasco is tucked away on 550 acres with breathtaking views and a wealth of activities the entire family can enjoy. We stayed in the converted Lighthouse for the most magical experience. Check out special deals. (Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Rd., Sebasco Estates, ME, 04565, 877-389-1161, info@sebasco.comwww.sebasco.com).

Moonlight kayak trip at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Midcoast, Maine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among our favorite grand, historic resorts for families for facilities, activities programs, destination, sense of heritage and “place,” and overall ahhh experience:

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vermont on 700 acres of Lake Champlain shoreline is about the best family-friendly luxury resort you can imagine with golf, hiking, biking, kayaking, cruises on Lake Champlain, fishing, watersports, tennis, outdoor pool children’s activities program (4800 Basin Harbor Road Vergennes, VT 05491 info@basinharbor.com, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com).

Basin Harbor Club, a grand, luxurious resort on Lake Champlain, Vermont, is a spectacular venue for families to come together © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, tucked in a Courier & Ives landscape in Chittenden, Vermont, near Killington, has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It offers just about every outdoors activity you can imagine, even an equestrian center, private lakeside beach, children’s adventure camp, tennis, disc golf, clay-bird shooting, and hiking, biking, golf nearby. (195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com)

A real novelty in historic hotels (and a fantastic city to visit) is the Choo Choo Train Hotel in Chattanooga, TN, where you actually stay in a historic train car (motel rooms also available), and the station is the restaurant and lobby (1400 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, 423-266-5000, 800-Track29, choochoo.com)

You can stay in one of the historic train cars at Chattanooga’s famous Choo Choo Train Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other resort favorites: 

Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, Lenox, Massachusetts

Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing, Lake George, New York

Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, New York

The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania (added benefit: proximity to Hershey theme park).

Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pennsylvania

More at Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org, 800-678-8946. 

Cruising is always a great choice for families – a way to see lots of different places with minimal hassle. Best itineraries (and cruiselines that have best family programs) are to Alaska, the Galapagos (really a favorite for grandparents to take their grandkids).

For those who want a floating resort with rock walls, ropes course, ziplines, glitzy Broadway and Las Vegas-style entertainment and great supervised children’s activity programs, the most acclaimed lines are Royal Caribbean (Anthem, Symphony, Harmony, Allure, Oasis of the Seas); Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian Escape, Breakaway, Getaway, Epic); Carnival Cruise Line (Carnival Vista, Breeze, Dream, Magic); Disney Cruise Line (Disney Dream, Fantasy, Magic) and Princess Cruises. (See more at www.cruisecritic.com).

But here is a novel choice: Maine Windjammer Cruises – these are historic sailing vessels repurposed for passengers, that ply the waters around Rockland and Camden, Maine in the Penobscot Bay. The experience is more rustic (part of the fun!), where passengers can help raise and lower sails, even steer, help serve and gather the plates for meals served in the galley or on deck. You can even choose to sleep out under the stars instead of in the cabin, which is outfitted more like you would expect of summer camp, with bunk beds and shared bathroom facilities (hot showers are available). All the cruises typically include a lobster bake on a secluded beach.

Share in the thrill of the Great Schooner Race aboard one of the historic sailing ships in the Maine Windjammer fleet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of the cruises have special-interest themes, and some are very dramatic, that include a Schooner Gam, where all the historic schooners gather in one place and tie up and passengers can go and visit; there is also an annual Schooner Race which is tremendous fun. Visit the Maine Windjammer Association for a list and description of age-appropriate sailings (usually 10 years old). In the past, we have sailed on the Victory Chimes (the largest in the fleet), the American Eagle and the Isaac H Evans (www.sailmainecoast.com/ 800-807-9463).

Rent a Mid-Lakes Navigation Lockmaster canalboat and explore the Erie Canal to see how America came to be © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another novel experience is renting a canalboat on the Erie Canal, tying up where whimsy takes you and exploring the canaltowns on foot and by bike on the tow-path that has been turned into a bikeway. It’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in history, and terrific fun to go through the locks, and have the bridges lift just for you. Mid-Lakes Navigation, Skaneateles, has these specially designed Lockmaster canalboats that are easy to maneuver, very comfortable, and oh so charming. (800-545-4318, info@midlakesnav.com, midlakesnav.com).

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Cycle the Erie, Day 2-3: A Sequence of Charming Canaltowns, Pastoral Landscapes, Punctuated by City Birthed by ‘Mother of Cities’


A remarkable near 90-degree turn on the concrete bridge out of Medina on the Erie Canalway. A new form of mortar had to be devised to build this part of the Erie Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 2: Medina to Fairport, 53 Miles 

Immediately upon leaving Medina on Day 2 of Parks & Trails NY’s 19th annual 8-day, 400-mile Cycle the Erie biketour, which transverses New York State from Buffalo to Albany, we reach one of the highlights of the Erie Canalway: you ride over a concrete embankment that goes over a waterfall which turns at a hard angle. You marvel at the construction as much as the view – the quaint Industrial-era town on one side, the dramatic forest and falls on the other. I stop at one of the many historic markers that are along the trail to learn about the special mortar they had to devise to accomplish this engineering feat.

Riding out of Medina on Day 2 of the Cycle the Erie 8-day, 400-mile biketour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just a little further is another remarkable feature of the Erie Canalway, the multi-use trail built mainly upon the original towpath that makes biking so pleasant: the culvert. We leave our bikes on the trail and climb down an embankment to where this tunnel has been cut under the canal. Here you can really appreciate just how shallow the Erie Canal is  – really just a bathtub. This is the only place on the 353-mile long canal where a road is built under the canal – and is quite a dramatic scene.

The culvert just outside of Medina is the only place where cars travel under the Erie Canal; it shows just how shallow the canal is © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking through the culvert under the Erie Canal, just outside of Medina © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

This is also one of the more scenic parts of the trail, at least to an urban Downstater like me: here we see sprawling farmland. I later learn that the Erie Canal does not just play a role in transportation (now more recreational than commercial), but in irrigation and flood control.

Some of New York State’s prettiest pastoral scenery is on this stretch of the Erie Canalway. The Erie Canal doesn’t just provide a water transportation artery, but serves the purpose of irrigation and flood control © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

We come into Albion, one of the charming canaltowns we travel through, so rich in history, where you see in the stunning architecture, and the opulence  that the canal and the Industrial Revolution created – civic buildings, churches, banks.

Because I had been here before, I knew to ride a short distance up Main Street from the canal where there are churches and a Town Hall on four corners.

One of the churches, Pullman Memorial, has drop-dead magnificent Tiffany stained glass windows. I meet Bill Lattin, a church volunteer, and here is one time that my tardiness in leaving our campsite is rewarded: he wasn’t informed (as usual) that the 750 Cycle the Erie riders (a record) were coming through this morning, so no one was at the church to open it up for visits, but as he was coming in to town, he saw us and opened the church just in time for my visit.

Bill Lattin gives Cycle the Erie riders a tour of Pullman Memorial Church in Albion, which is decorated with Tiffany windows and gilded organ pipes © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear

George M. Pullman (1831-1897), who made his fortune manufacturing the luxurious railroad sleeper cars, was born in Albion. He had long before moved away but remained close to people in his hometown and one of his friends, Charles A. Danolds, in 1890, convinced him to donate $67,000 to build the church.

Shanties were set up to house the stonecutters who managed to complete the building in less than a year’s time and the church was dedicated January 1895. Pullman’s daughter bequeathed $5,000 to maintain the exquisite stainless glass window of Jesus which was created in the Tiffany Studios in New York (look closely to see the Tiffany signature etched in a corner) – an early example of Art Nouveau. There is also a 1,248-pipe organ with pipes of gold leaf decorated by Tiffany Studios. Lattin tells me that there are only 30 people left in the congregation (Albion has a population of 5,000). (10 East Park St., Albion, NY `14411, 585-589-7181, PullmanMemorial.org).

The Tiffany stained glass windows at Pullman Memorial Church in Albion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

At Mile 21, we come to a small town of Holley, settled in 1812 and established on the original Erie Canal. Originally, this was an enormous and complicated loop that was straightened out when the canal, already hugely successful in its first several years, was expanded, putting the town a few blocks from the repositioned canal. The restored railroad depot (circa 1907) is now a museum. Holley was the center of a community of Italian immigrants who were brought over to work in Medina’s sandstone quarry (the sign says, “affectionately called, Podunk”).

As we ride into Brockport, where one of the State University of New York campuses is located as well as a prison, we are greeted with water, lemonade, and free stamped postcards. Brockport has a charming Main Street. Brockport, it turns out, was where Cyrus McCormick contracted a factory to manufacture his reapers (there is a marker near the dock), seeing that the reapers could be shipped on the canal to the Midwest where he was getting orders from the large farms.

Farm workers in the fields © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

We ride passed Adams Basin and Spencerport (recommended for our lunch stop), where a unique lift bridge carries Main Street over the canal.

The part of the ride that goes into Rochester is some of the toughest – a series of up-and-down hills and dales, twists and turns, but from the perches we can see how the canal was sheer-cut into high rock faces.

The Erie Canal crosses with the Genessee River at Rochester © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear

We ride over a bridge from which we can have a dramatic view of where the Erie Canal crosses the Oswego River. (I’ve done this by canalboat, a floating RV, which you can rent through Mid-Lakes Navigation, Skaneateles. So much fun to go through the canal locks, under the lift bridges, tying up where whimsy takes you. 800-545-4318, info@midlakesnav.com, midlakesnav.com.)

Our rest stop is here at Rochester (mile 45.8) is at a beautiful park along the Genesee Valley Waterway Center, where the organizers have arranged for us to go swimming, canoeing and kayaking, as well as for escorted bike rides to High Falls – a phenomenal sight – in downtown Rochester. REI has sponsored the stop, as well as bike repair.

Rochester, one of the cities birthed by the Erie Canal. Parks & Trails NY arranges for the Cycle the Erie riders to take an optional ride downtown © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

The Erie Canal, known as “The Mother of Cities,” turned tiny Rochesterville into an American “boom town” and today, is the third largest city in New York State, the brochure says. The canal first went through the center of the city, across an 800-foot aqueduct over the Genesee River – a major engineering achievement at the time. A second, sturdier version, built in 1842 to replace the original aqueduct, can be seen at the base of the Broad Street ridge. Eventually, as Rochester was built up and the canal interfered with traffic, the canal was rerouted to bypass the city.

But as we leave Rochester, we see how the Erie Canal is still the “mother of communities” – along much of the trail, we see new housing developments that come right up to the Canalway.

A few of the 750 Cycle the Erie riders on the Erie Canalway © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear

We now ride along the Great Embankment, yet another engineering marvel. At the evening lecture, we had learned that they actually had to move a creek and flood a town in order to straighten out the canal, but this required engineering that had not yet been invented.

“You can get a lot done when you don’t have to file environmental impact statements. They moved the canal, redirected the creek, to create the Great Embankment.”

They put in floors of concrete and the re-done canal opened in May, 1912. But just a few months later,, in September, there was a break at Bushnell’s Basin and it collapsed.

They managed to keep navigation flowing by creating 70-foot high stilts to support a wooden trough while they rebuilt the Great Embankment from the bottom up (quite literally a concrete bathtub). There is a photo from May 1918 of the men standing in it when it reopened.

New housing development along the Erie Canalway, at Spencerport © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear

This day’s route has us riding through a sequence of charming canaltowns – Spencerport, Brockport, Pittsford (one of my favorites), and finally, our destination for the night, Fairport (my favorite) – which are experiencing the most marvelous renaissance because of the repurposed Erie Canal: no longer a polluted cesspool of stinky commercial boats, foul water and even fouler boatmen, but pastoral scenes of non-intrusive recreational boats. Indeed, there are charming residential communities – among them, at Buffalo, Rochester, Pittsford and Fairport – that are sprouting up right along the canal. Some like in Rochester are a planned community of single-homes built around a recreation center, and others, like in Spencerport and Fairport, are townhomes that seem ideal for empty-nesters (or people escaping summer heat in Florida).

Pittsford and Fairport are the best examples of this renaissance. In Pittsford (where I tied up one summer in the canalboat to overnight), you can see what was a grain silo repurposed as an office tower, and other structures turned into charming restaurants and boutiques.

The lift bridges are themselves an attraction – Fairport’s lift bridge, which celebrated its centennial in 2014 is a particular attraction because it has no right angles.

The unusual lift bridge across the Erie Canal in Fairport has no right angles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Our campsite tonight is at the Minerva DeLand School in Fairport, and they have arranged for shuttle buses to take us back into Fairport to enjoy the lovely restaurants and shops. But I don’t want to miss the talk by Andy Beers, director of the Empire State Trail about the Erie CanalwayTrail and New York State’s plans to build a new Empire State Trail – for a total of 750 miles of dedicated biking and walking trails. The plan is to complete the Erie Canalway from Buffalo to Albany (long the goal of Parks & Trails NY and this annual Cycle the Erie ride), and also to link and build new trails that will extend from the tip of New York City (the Hudson River trail) north to the Canadian border, making the longest state ‘shared use’ trail in the nation.

Day 3: Fairport to Waterloo/Seneca Falls, 62 Miles

This is my second time doing the Cycle the Erie ride, and I am attuned to the things I did not get to do the first time. So, leaving Fairport to start Day 3’s ride, I am alert to stopping off the trail (crossing over the canal) to visit Macedon, where you follow a nature trail to the end and come to a point where you can see where all three canals – the original 1825 canal, the expanded canal, and the Modern Barge canal – converge together.

At the end of the nature trail in Macedon, you can see where three incarnation so f the Erie Canal come together © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Our rest stop is in Palmyra, a 19th century village which predates the Erie Canal (that’s why it isn’t called Palmyraport), which has 200 buildings on the Historic Register in one square mile, and where Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion (you can visit his farmhouse). I take time to ride through Palmyra, which I had visited more extensively on a prior trip, by Mid Lakes Navigation canalboat (like an RV on the water) to enjoy its architecture. (www.palmyrany.com, 315-597-4849).

Palmyra has 200 historic buildings on the Historic Register in one square mile, and was where Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear

There is an unexpected treat at Newark, where the community has set up a welcome table for us at the canal park. You walk down to the canalside walkway (excellent rest facilities) and there are the most magnificent murals painted on the base of the bridge that tell the story of life for canalers on the Erie Canal with reflections on the Civil War era, some of which can only be fully appreciated if you come by boat.

Section of one of the murals that decorate the base of a bridge in Newark. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Peppermint Museum 

On my first Cycle the Erie ride, because I was in a hurry to get ahead of the rain (it didn’t work), I missed the Peppermint Museum in Lyons, where a clever food scientist (not sure that is what he was known as), H.G. Hotchkiss, revolutionized the use of peppermint oil, so I was intent to visit this time. Once again, this is a tiny site that you might miss except if you were looking for it, and it proves fascinating in ways you never expected.

Warehouse at the Hotchkiss Peppermint Museum in Lyons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

The Erie Canal is what brought Hiram Hotchkiss to Lyons in 1841. Indeed, there was an oversupply of peppermint oil, an herb that was grown extensively in fields around Lyons. But because of the Erie Canal, Hotchkiss had the idea to export the peppermint oil to Europe. Europe already had its own peppermint oil and his product was at first met with skepticism. But Hotchkiss perfected the process and his product won medals. The long success of H.G. Hotchkiss Company in peppermint and other essential oils made Lyons, New York, the Peppermint Capital of the world for many years. Indeed, at one time, Hotchkiss was responsible for half the annual production of peppermint oil in the United States. Canallers would say they could tell when they were approaching the village by the smell.

H.G. Hotchkiss’ laboratory, in Lyons. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Until Hotchkiss, peppermint oil was used for medicinal purposes and to make tea. But Hotchkiss expanded its use – Beech-Nut (which has a factory in Canajoharie, another town where we will stay) first started using peppermint in candy and gum.

Hotchkiss, who was brilliant at branding and packaging in gorgeous blue glass bottles manufactured at the Clyde Glassworks (another town we visit) became a millionaire. He had a 42-room home a few blocks up the hill, which a couple from New York City purchased.

We get to visit Hotchkiss’ laboratory and warehouse; the parlor offers an exhibit honoring suffragettes. Indeed, we learn that Lissat Hotchkiss Parshall (1840-1913),one of Hotchkiss’ seven daughters, was a suffragette and Anne Hotchkiss (1914-2010),was the company’s fourth president (1963-1984), and one of the first women to become president of a company. This is most fitting because we will wind up this day in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of Women’s Rights.

Suffrage Tea Party: Lissat Hotchkiss Parshall was a suffragette and Anne Hotchkiss was one of the first women to head a company © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Gradually, though, Lyons farmers started planting apples and switched to dairy production; and the peppermint factory closed in 1990. The town just about forgot about its peppermint past and locals didn’t know what the building was until the Lyons Heritage Society reopened it as a museum.

(The Peppermint Museum, an absolute jewel, is open by appointment only; you can arrange a tour by calling Patty Alena at the Lyons Heritage Society, 315-946-4596; 95 Water Street, Lyons, NY 14489,  www.lyonsheritagesociety.com).

Cycle the Erie riders get a tour of the Peppermint Museum in Lyons © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear

I ride up to the Lyons town square and get some feel of the community before continuing on the trail.

Amish Farmers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

We have our afternoon rest stop in Clyde  (the townspeople have gone all out on the Village Green with music and ice cream for us) and then go off the Canalway trail onto country roads through Amish Country (who knew there was an Amish country in New York State?), some of the prettiest farmland anywhere. On my last visit, it started pouring immediately as we left  Clyde, and I was unable to capture these exquisite scenes that evoke Currier & Ives, in photos. This time, I am lucky because it is sunny and some of the farmers are out. I pass the barn where last time we took shelter from lightening.

Cycling the country roads toward Seneca Falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Our 51-mile ride ends Day 3 of our 8-day, 400-mile Cycle the Erie biketour at another stunning school campus, Mynderse Academy in Seneca Falls.

Because I want to have as much time as possible in Seneca Falls, where the Women’s Rights National Park and other sites are staying open until 8 pm for us, I drop my things in the school gymnasium for “indoor camping,” (the school even has a TV where we get to watch the All-Stars baseball game at night) and rush out to the school bus which is shuttling us into town. Tonight is one of the two during our eight-day trip where we are on our own for dinner, but I occupy my time touring the attractions dedicated to Women’s Suffrage (New York State is making a big deal of the centennial of the 19th Amendment that is coming in 2020) and exploring Seneca Falls.

The 20th Annual Cycle the Erie Canal ride is scheduled July 8 – 15, 2018 (www.ptny.org/canaltour). In the meantime, you can cycle the trail on your own – detailed info and interactive map is at the ptny.org site (www.ptny.org/bikecanal), including suggested lodgings. For more information on Cycle the Erie Canal, contact Parks & Trails New York at 518-434-1583 or visit www.ptny.org.

Information is also available from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-7000, www.eriecanalway.org.

More information about traveling on the Erie Canal is available from New York State Canal Corporation, www.canals.ny.gov.

Next:  Seneca Falls Hails its Role in Birthing Women’s Rights

See also:

Cycle the Erie: 400 Miles & 400 Years of History Flow By on Canalway Bike Tour Across New York State

Cycle the Erie, Day 1: In Lockport, See Erie Canal Engineering Marvel, ‘Flight of Five’, Cruise Thru Double Locks, and Go Underground to Fathom Rise of Industrial Revolution

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