Category Archives: Festivals and Events

New Yorkers Show Solidarity with Chinese, Asian Community at Lunar New Year Parade

NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio presents proclamation to Steven Ting, organizer of the 21st Annual Lunar New Year parade and festival, with US Senator Chuck Schumer, China’s Consul General Huang Ping, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, among other dignitaries © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Always a show of support, solidarity and respect for the Chinese and Asian community in New York City, this year’s Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown in downtown Manhattan, welcoming the Year of the Rat, took on added urgency because of the coronavirus afflicting Wuhan, China, and the recent fire that destroyed a building housing much of the collection of the Museum of Chinese in America.

People held up signs, “Stay Strong Wuhan,” but even though there have been no instances of the coronavirus in New York City, visits to Chinatown, normally at peak during the Lunar New Year celebration, have declined and business has been affected.

The parade route went just passed 70 Mulberry Street, where on the night of Thursday, January 16, a fire destroyed most of the 85,000 items stored there for the Museum of Chinese in America, housed nearby in a new building on Centre Street since 2009. The rare and cherished items preserved the rich and challenging story of the Chinese migration to the United States through such personal objects as textiles, restaurant menus, handwritten letters, tickets for ship’s passage, traditional wedding dresses (cheongsam).

The building, a former school that educated generations of immigrants, is a community center that housed a senior center, the Chen Dance Center and several community groups, in addition to storing the museum’s artifacts that were not on display.

Political and parade officials praised the New York Fire Department, which had a prominent place – bagpipers and all – in the parade.

Meanwhile, fear over the virus has kept people from Chinatown and Chinese restaurants during what should have been the busiest time of year, the Lunar New Year celebration.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Elected officials are urging the public to take normal precautions against illness, but not to let fears concerning coronavirus stop them from participating in the event. “It’s really important in this moment where everyone is understandably worried about the coronavirus, we need to be factual, we need to be scientific, and we need to be calm,” NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson said.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The annual event has not only paid tribute to the contribution the Asian community has made to the city, state and nation, but immigration as a whole.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, reading from a proclamation, said, “As a city built by immigrations, New York is the proud home to residents who hail from every corner of the map and speak a multitude of languages. This unparalleled diversity is the source of our singularity and strength and it is exemplified by our thriving population of Asian Americans that has made invaluable contributions to the cultural, civic and economic life of the five boroughs. On the occasion of the 21st Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival, hosted by Beter Chinatown U.S.A. I am pleased to recognize the indelible imprint this vital community has made on our great and global city.

“New York is fortunate to have an abundance of organizations devoted to advancing positive change. Established in 2001, Better Chinatown U.S.A. is guided by its mission to improve quality of life in Manhattan’s Chinatown and promote it as a destination of choice for our diverse residents and visitors. Its annual Lunar New Year Parade is a much anticipated event attracting thousands of spectators from far and wide for a pageant of traditional lion dances, music ensembles, and dancers in colorful folk costumes, followed by a party in Sara D. Roosevelt Park featuring Chinese food and cultural performances.”

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, one of the Grand Marshals, spoke of the resilience of the Chinese community, and how the community “contributes to the fabric of our city, our nation.”

“I’m here to say that Chinatown is open for business and we are behind you and we will remain strong,” Velazquez said. “Last night, I was here dining in a restaurant in Chinatown. I welcome everyone to come here and celebrate the culture and beauty of this community.”

China’s Consul General Huang Ping said “China is doing everything to confront the coronavirus. We have mobilized forces. We have strong leadership, resources, are working with the international community. Be strong China. Be strong Wuhan.”

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, standing with China’s Consul General Huang Ping and messages to “Stay Strong China,” at Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lt Governor Kathy Hochul, “We stand together at one family. Stay strong China. Stay strong Wuhan.”

Other dignitaries participating State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Assemblyman David Webrin.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio declared the city stands in solidarity with China and the Asian community, “no matter what is thrown at us.” New York has the largest Chinese community outside Asia “and we are proud of that.” The city made the Lunar New Year a school holiday and teaches Mandarin as early as pre-K, and is actively promoting participation in the 2020 Census.

“In China, there are so many of loved ones, faced with coronavirus and we stand together as community,” De Blasio said. “We celebrate New Year together – we are united, and we celebrate this extraordinary Chinese community the largest of any city outside of Asia.”

He also presented a Proclamation to parade organizer Steven Ting day for his continued work on the parade, proclaiming February 9 “Steven Ting Day.”

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

US Senator Charles Schumer used a bull horn as he marched in the parade to cheer for immigration. “New Yorkers are proud people, who come from all over the world. We fight those who oppose us.”

And on that score, the parade was also used to promote the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census, with one group of even handing out flyers to recruit census takers ($28/hr, flexible hours).

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The census, De Blasio stressed, will make Chinatown better represented if everyone takes part.

Here are highlights from the 21st Annual Lunar New Year Parade:

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Knicks players march in the Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The march of the Lunar New Year Parade stretches almost two miles, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Participate in the 2020 Census. Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Apply online to be a Census Taker! Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holiday Happenings Give Visitors to Philadelphia Even More to Enjoy

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Wonderful Time of the Year: New York City Sparkles with Holiday Festivities

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

From the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, New York City offers unparalleled ways to celebrate the holidays with vibrant performances, tours, lightings, special events taking place from early November into January.

“New York City’s celebratory spirit and excitement are palpable during the annual holiday season. From iconic attractions and events to hidden-gem activities in all five boroughs, there’s an endless roster of memorable programming to enjoy from November to January,” said NYC & Company president and CEO Fred Dixon. NYC & Company, New York City’s official destination marketing organization, is forecasting seven million visitors will visit the City during the 2019–2020 holiday season.

Here are some of the festive events, performances and activities across the boroughs to celebrate the holiday season in New York City.

Annual Celebrations:

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic New York City celebration of the holidays, featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, fantasy floats, clowns, performance groups, Broadway’s best musicals, celebrity appearances. Olaf from Frozen makes a return appearance in the 93rd edition of the parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, November 28, Manhattan
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic New York City celebration of the holidays, featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, fantasy floats, clowns, performance groups, Broadway’s best musicals, celebrity appearances and more. The 93rd Annual spectacle will feature new balloons including Astronaut Snoopy, Netflix’s Green Eggs and Ham, SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary, Smokey Bear and Yayoi Kusama’s Love Flies Up to the Sky. New floats include Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You!, The Brick-changer by The Lego Group, Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®, Rexy in the City by COACH® and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life. The parade begins at 9 am on 77th Street and Central Park West, snakes around Central Park South and heads down Sixth Avenue before concluding at Macy’s Herald Square at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Balloon Inflation, November 27, 1-8 pm: Head up to the American Museum of Natural History on November 27 from 1 to 8 pm to watch the balloon inflation at West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue but be prepared for long lines (entrance at 73rd and Columbus.)  

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, December 4, Midtown, Manhattan: The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center has been a tradition for more than eight decades. Lighting up Rockefeller Plaza, the tree lighting ceremony features performances and classic Christmas songs. The tree will arrive on November 9, light up on December 4 and be on view through early to mid-January.  

Rockefeller Center at Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lighting of the Largest Menorah in Brooklyn and Lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah:  Manhattan, December 22, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; Grand Army Plaza, Manhattan: Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Grand Army Plazas compete in the race for the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah. The Largest Menorah in Brooklyn has been lit since 1985, and the annual concert to kick off the holiday will be held on December 22.  

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, December 31–January 1, Times Square, Manhattan: Each year, millions of viewers watch the Times Square Ball Drop from New York City and around the globe. The Waterford Crystal Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball sparkles in Times Square for visitors to see all season, but its descent is a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime way to ring in the New Year.  

New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park, December 31–January 1,  Prospect Park, Brooklyn: The Grand Army Plaza’s iconic New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park offer an alternative to the frenzy of Times Square. This spectacular celebration includes live music, followed by a fireworks show at midnight.  

New Year’s Eve in Times Square (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sparkling Light Festivities:

Shine On at Hudson Yards, November 29-January 5. A new tradition being introduced at Manhattan’s newest neighborhood. Kicks off the day after Thanksgiving with full day of live performances featuring award-winning New York musicians, dangers and entertainers, plus Only at Hudson Yards offers. Then, every Tuesday through December 24, music and dance performances throughout Hudson Yards, and Saturdays children’s activities and family events. Immersive Light and Music Shows: the New York premiere of artist Christopher Schardt’s light sculpture Lyra, 5 pm daily at multiple locations throughout Hudson Yards. Visit Wells Fargo Lodge for hot chocolate tastings and 360-degree photo ops, plus interactive Star Stations with gift wrapping. Unlock holiday offers from SAP with shine ON LED bracelet available at Hudson Yards retailers.  

Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo, November 21–January 5, Fordham, the Bronx: Returning for the first time since 2007, the stunning light displays at the Bronx Zoo will cover several acres in a walk-through experience with wildlife-themed LED displays, custom lanterns and animated light shows.  

LuminoCity Festival, November 23-January 5, Randall’s Island Park, Manhattan: Sixteen acres of lights will illuminate themed worlds during this inaugural festival, creating an immersive journey for visitors that includes a castle, skating unicorn and enchanted forest.  

Brookfield Place Light Up Luminaries, December 3-January 4, Battery Park City, Manhattan: This spectacular light installation kicks off December 3 with an evening of free ice skating, snacks and live performances.  

Hello Panda Festival at Citi Field, December 6–January 26, Flushing, Queens: The debut of this international lantern, food and art festival will include 60 global cuisine vendors, arts experiences, live performances and a holiday market.

NYC Winter Lantern Festival, November 20–January 12, Randall Manor, Staten Island: The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is returning for a second year to Staten Island. Sponsored by Empire Outlets and venue partner Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, eight acres will be lit up by more than 50 LED installations, accompanied by live performances of traditional Chinese dance and art.  

Winter Exhibits and Cultural Events:

The Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History, November 25–January 12, Upper West Side, Manhattan: This beloved tradition includes a 13-foot tree and 1,000 origami models. The signature Origami Holiday Tree, themed “Oceans of Origami” this season, has been a part of the celebrations for more than 40 years.

New-York Historical Society, (November 1, 2019 – February 23, 2020:  A holiday favorite returns this season, reimagined to celebrate the 100th birthday of Busytown series author and illustrator Richard Scarry. Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown  showcases artwork and graphics of Scarry’s characters like Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm from publisher Random House Children’s Books alongside more than 300 objects from the Jerni Collection’s antique toy trains, stations, and accessories. Using Busytown stories and characters, dynamic displays explore the workings of the railroad, the services it provides, and the jobs required to keep people and goods moving. Fun, train-related activities for kids of all ages take place through the exhibition’s run―all free with museum admission. These include: Celebrating Richard Scarry and Busytown! (Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15; 1–3 pm); December School Vacation Week (Thursday, December 26 – Wednesday, January 1) (170 Central Park West (77th St), New York, NY 10024, www.nyhistory.org)

Holidays in New York City (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, November 23–January 12, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens: Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science invites visitors to witness the vast collection of gingerbread structures embellished with candy canes, chocolate and frosting.  

New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, November 23–January 26, Fordham, the Bronx: Conveniently accessible via the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal, head to the New York Botanical Garden to be enchanted by model trains zipping through a display of more than 175 NYC landmarks, each re-created with natural materials.  

Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting Ceremony, November 30, Belmont, the Bronx: Experience Christmas in the Bronx’s Little Italy at the Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting. The annual event features a visit from Santa, cookies and hot chocolate among the twinkling lights.  

Seaport District NYC Celebrations, Seaport District NYC, Manhattan: Festivities in this neighborhood include the Winterland Holiday Tree Lighting on December 2, Menorah Lighting on December 22, a pop-up tree farm, ice skating and a light display at Pier 17.  

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, December 7–8, Riverdale, the Bronx: Create one-of-a-kind holiday decorations by the gorgeous gardens and galleries at Wave Hill during their interactive Holiday Workshop Weekend.  

Historic Richmond Town Candlelight Tours, December 14–21, Staten Island: This Christmas season, experience the tastes and scents of centuries past at Historic Richmond Town. Step back in time while touring the unique New York City which is illuminated by candles and oil lamps.  

11th Annual Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum, December 16, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn: One of New York City’s most unique and delicious holiday tasting events, the Latke Festival is a charity event that celebrates the best and most creative potato pancakes.  

Melrose Holiday Parranda, December 21, Melrose, the Bronx: The Melrose Holiday Parranda follows in the footsteps of Puerto Rican holiday caroling with a procession based on plena music and holiday songs.
Cheer-Filled Performances:

The Rockettes are sure to perform their iconic Wooden Soldiers routine in the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, November 8–January 5, Midtown, Manhattan: The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes returns to Radio City Music Hall, dazzling audiences of all ages with incredible costumes, festive songs and synchronized high kicks.  

Four Renditions of the Holiday Classic A Christmas Carol

An unforgettable Broadway experience, Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre will run November 7-January 5 with a new, enchanting interpretation of this holiday masterpiece.  

For a unique venue, head to the 1832 Merchant’s House Museum in Greenwich Village, as an actor portraying Charles Dickens shares this memorable story November 29–January 4.  

The Players Theatre will bring Charles Dickens’ timeless tale to life in their 11th annual A Christmas Carol the Musical December 1–20 in Greenwich Village.  

A Christmas Carol at Queens Theatre transports the audience to Victorian England to experience Scrooge’s iconic journey December 6–22.  

Three Extraordinary Versions of The Nutcracker:  

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center Plaza brings the classic Christmas Eve tale to life with breathtaking music and choreography November 29–January 5.  

The Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s The Nutcracker is coming to Flushing Town Hall in Queens on December 4 with a historical puppet cast bound to entertain children and adults alike.  

The Brooklyn Nutcracker at Kings Theatre transforms familiar characters and scenes to represent the diverse traditions and vibrant culture of Brooklyn on December 14.  

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center, December 4–January 5, Midtown, Manhattan: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday season opens with premieres, new productions and repertory favorites, including the masterpiece Revelations.  

A Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular at the St. George Theatre, December 7, St. George, Staten Island: The famous theatre presents its annual Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular featuring critically-acclaimed performers such as The Vogues, The Crystals and Eddie Holman.  

Holiday Performances at the World Famous Apollo Theater, Harlem, Manhattan: The Apollo Theater, celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2019, hosts holiday events including a Harlem gospel choir performance at Coca-Cola Winter Wonderland on December 14, followed by the Amateur Night Holiday Special. Gospel legends Yolanda Adams and Donald Lawrence headline annual concert Holiday Joy: A Gospel Celebration on December 21. As a grand finale, the annual Kwanzaa Celebration on December 28 features Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and guest performances.

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

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, (1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 112th St., New York 10025, 212-316-7540,info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org), Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, 7-8:30 pm,: Founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984, the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace is a signature Cathedral event with performances by the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra led by Director of Music Kent Tritle. Harry Smith, host; special guests Paul Winter, Jamet Pittman, Jason Robert Brown, and David Briggs. General admission seats are free and open to the public on the night of the show. Reserved seats are available now. 

Holiday Shopping:

Holiday Markets abound, including Bryant Park where you can also ice skate or visit the New York Public Library’s exhibits on novelist JD Salinger and Broadway Producer Harold Prince © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Holiday markets: New York City is full of incredible holiday markets, with must-buy gifts, sweets, drinks and winter activities. This year, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park opened earlier than ever on October 31. Other popular markets include the Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Brooklyn Flea and Astoria Market.  

Iconic Holiday Windows: Awe-inspiring window displays at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s Herald Square and the new Nordstrom Women’s Store sparkle, inviting visitors to explore the magic of New York City shopping.  

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

Empire Outlets, St. George, Staten Island: New York City’s first-ever outlet destination, Empire Outlets, will ring in the holiday season with a special Black Friday sale and their first annual tree lighting ceremony. Easily accessible by the free Staten Island Ferry from Lower Manhattan, the outlets will be adorned with thousands of lights, garland wraps and a 40-foot tree.  

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, December 1-23, Flatiron District, Manhattan: 23 Days of Flatiron Cheer will include free, holiday-themed events showcasing the intersection of shopping, dining and culture in this vibrant neighborhood.

The Shops at Columbus Circle has kicked off its fourth year of Broadway Under the Stars, a five-week series of free public performances taking place this holiday season.Select cast from today’s hottest Broadway musicals will perform against the backdrop of the destination’s famous 12 massive stars. These stars, one of the largest specialty crafted exhibits of illuminated color displays in the world, are suspended from the 100-foot-high ceilings. Performances, lasting 20 minutes,  begin at 5 pm and are free to attend and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required. (Nov. 11, Waitress, Chicago, Oklahoma!andThe Lightening Thief; Nov. 18, Come From Away, Rock of Ages; Nov. 25: Dear Evan Hansen, The Illusionists, Frozen; Dec. 2: Beetlejuice, Tootsie, Mean Girls; Dec. 9: Phantom of the Opera, Wicked). Additional Broadway Under the Stars offerings include specialty cocktails from the Shops at Columbus Circle’s Restaurant and Bar Collection which includes Monday night drink specials like Center Bar’s Pomegranate Smash cocktail ($16). Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for more information and list of events and happenings.  

The Shops at Columbus is particularly festive during the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shop at Your Hotel: Several hotels are home to retail pop-ups this holiday season, partnering with iconic stores to make shopping easier than ever for visitors. ​

Grand Hyatt New York is partnering with Macy’s Herald Square for a pop-up located behind the check-in desk, featuring New York City-themed gifts, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade apparel and novel gift items November 25–January 1.  

Loews Regency New York Hotel and Bloomingdale’s are teaming up to bring a curated selection of holiday gifts to the lobby lounge November 29-December 24, including on-site monogramming of leather gifts by ROYCE New York.

Conrad New York Midtown is launching the first FAO Schwarz Holiday Suite, filled with shoppable toys, stuffed animals and gifts that will be restocked for visitors who book a stay in the suite November 18–January 5. Additionally, all guests during this time period will be able to order gifts on demand to their suite or home address.

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

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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

Before the Macys Thanksgiving Parade Comes the Macy’s Balloon Inflation

The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is actually two events, which begins the day before with the Macy’s Balloon Inflation, from 1 to 8 pm when you can watch the volunteers as they literally breathe life into the iconic giants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is actually two events, which begins the day before with the Macy’s Balloon Inflation, from 1 to 8 pm when you can watch the volunteers as they literally breathe life into the iconic giants.

This has become wildly popular, with thousands and thousands of people arriving for a peek as hundreds of volunteers work to inflate the balloons. They start off flat, laid out in precise order on the streets around the American Museum of Natural History.

But the event is so popular, the entrance is at 73rd and Columbus (be prepared for intense security; can’t bring backpacks and very long lines), following a route up Central Park West, to 77th Street,  Columbus Avenue and back down 81st streets to the exit.

The best time to watch is around 5 pm when you will see the balloons in various stages of completion. (Insider tip: if you visit the Museum of Natural History early in the day, when you leave, you are right in the middle of the action.

This is really an insider’s look and it is really thrilling.

Since 1927, when the Parade’s character balloons first joined the revelry, the inflatables have become a signature element featuring some of the world’s most beloved characters. Over time, the inflatables have morphed from air-filled characters carried on sticks to high-flying giants, balloonheads and even hybrid inflatables with vehicles inside (balloonicles) or tandem tricycles (trycaloons).

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

The Peanuts balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation event, NYC (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 In 2005, the Macy’s Parade began to feature what would become a collection of high-flying artwork created in collaboration with renowned contemporary artists. The special series, entitled Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery, has featured some of the art world’s finest creators. This year, for the eighth edition of the series, the world’s most renowned female contemporary artist will take her iconic art to new heights as Yayoi Kusama joins the Macy’s Parade with her Love Flies Up to the Sky balloon. The design was developed by the artist from face motifs that appear in her “My Eternal Soul” series of paintings–a body of work that she began in 2009. Vibrant and animated, the paintings embody Kusama’s innovative exploration of form and revolve around a tension between abstraction and figuration. The artist’s signature dots–which recur throughout her practice—are also featured prominently in the Macy’s Parade balloon design. Previous balloons in the Macy’s Parade Blue Sky Gallery series have included works from famed artists Tom Otterness, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Tim Burton, KAWS, and FriendsWithYou™.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation event, NYC (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

93rd Edition of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Then, the 93rd edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade kicks off at 9 am on Thursday, November 28  when the time honored phrase Let’s Have a Parade™ rings from the starting line. With more than 8,000 volunteers dressed as clowns, guiding the flight of larger-than-life character balloons, transporting some 2.5 million spectators who line New York City’s streets and 50 million more watching on television to new worlds.

Olaf flies in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The iconic holiday event ushers in the season with its signature giant character balloons, floats of fantasy, the nation’s finest marching bands, whimsical groups, musical performances, and the one-and-only Santa Claus With special performances and appearances by Natasha Bedingfield, Black Eyed Peas, Chicago, Ciara, Josh Dela Cruz, Celine Dion, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Debbie Gibson, former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire & Janet Kavandi, Chris Janson, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk, the cast & Muppets of Sesame Street, NCT 127, Ozuna, Billy Porter, Kelly Rowland, That Girl Lay Lay, TLC, Tenille Townes, and Chris Young

Here are more fun facts about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade:

OVERVIEW:

3.5 million people line the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route in New York city (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

• Years of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – 93 (est. 1924) o Note: The Parade was canceled in 1942, 1943 and 1944 due to World War II.

• Parade Route Spectators – 3.5 Million

• Parade Route Length – 2.5 miles (77th & Central Park West south to 34th Street-Herald Square)

• Participants – 8,000+ including Macy’s colleagues and their friends & families, celebrities, recording artists, athletes, Broadway performers, marching bands, clowns, dancers, cheerleaders and other performance groups

BALLOONS:

• Giant character helium balloons – 16

• 40 novelty, heritage, specialty balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons

• New balloons – Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide, Green Eggs and Ham by Netflix, SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon, Smokey Bear by USDA Forest Service, and Love Flies Up to the Sky by Yayoi Kusama

• Height of tallest balloon – 62 feet (Diary of A Wimpy Kid®)

• Length of longest balloon – 77 feet (Power Rangers Mighty Morphin Red Ranger)

• Width of widest balloon – 39 feet (Jett by Super Wings™)

• Balloon handlers – more than 1,600 (90 handlers on average per giant balloon)

More than 1600 volunteers are on hand to handle the giant balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

FLOATS:

• Floats – 26, comprised of hundreds of different set pieces and other structural elements

• New floats – Blue’s Clues & You! by Nickelodeon, The Brick-Changer by The LEGO Group, Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®, Rexy in the City by COACH®, and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life

• Length and height of largest float – 60 feet long and 3.5 stories tall (Santa’s Sleigh)

• Float escorts – 400

THE BROADCAST:

• Television Viewers – More than 50 Million, one of the country’s most viewed televised events

• Hours of Live Television – 3 (9am-noon, in all time zones), 3 rebroadcast (2pm-5pm, in all time zones)

• Years on NBC, official national broadcast partner – 66 (since 1952)

• NBC TODAY Show anchors as host of the Parade: o 2019 marks Hoda Kotb’s 2nd year hosting o 2019 marks Savannah Guthrie’s 8th year (since 2012)

•  2019 marks Al Roker’s 25th year (since 1995)

Al Roker marks his 25th year in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

ENTERTAINMENT, PERSONALITIES & PERFORMERS:

• Marching Bands – 11 bands spanning approximately 2,793 members in total

• Performance Groups – 10 groups including 600 cheerleaders and 600 dancers from all over the country

• Radio City Rockettes® – An annual favorite, they first performed in the 1957 Parade

• Broadway musicals – 4, the long-standing relationship with Broadway shows to showcase performances nationally, dating back to 1977

• Choral Singers (Macy’s own) – 100

• Clowns – 1,000

• Clown Stilt Walker Units – 22

• Santa Claus – the ONE and ONLY in his famed Parade finale appearance o Santa Claus has closed the Macy’s Parade every year with the exception of 1933, the only year in which he led the official Parade march

There are 1000 clowns in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BEHIND-THE-SCENES MAGIC BY THE MACY’S PARADE STUDIO TEAM:

• Hours of labor from the Parade Studio team of approximately 27 painters, carpenters, animators, sculptors, welders, scenic/costume designers, electricians and engineers – 50,000+

• Square Footage of the Parade Studio’s Moonachie, NJ headquarters – 72,000

• Length of Tubular Steel – nearly ½ mile for creation of the Macy’s Singing Tree, and the most steel ever sourced for a Macy’s Parade float

• Pounds of Glitter – 300

• Costumes – 4,200

• Make-Up Artists for Clowns – 90

• Banner Carriers – 95

The Singing Tree at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.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

Ben Vereen Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award in Kickoff to 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, honors Actor, Entertainer Ben Vereen with Lifetime Achievement Award at opening of 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Actor, entertainer Ben Vereen, honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, at the opening of its 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival, Nov. 4, 2019, brings a spiritual message to the arts which explains why he has been such a strong advocate for arts education, mentor and humanitarian.

“If you would ask, ‘Why is life so important to you?’ I would say, ‘In the beginning God created.’ It’s not ‘in the beginning God manufactured’. We are living, walking, talking art pieces of the One who created us. Our job is not just performing arts, but one aspect of life itself. Life is an art piece for everybody to see. We’re supposed to care for each other, love each other, show the wonders of creation – this building, these seats – didn’t just come here, they came from thought. A thought and we bring forth that which is manifested. 

“Arts have saved people throughout the centuries. Art has calmed people from war. Art is here to embrace our lives. We are healed through the arts.”

Vereen tells the audience which included the young people from Uniondale High School who performed in their nationally acclaimed choir, Rhythm of the Knight, “Go play in hospitals. When someone would come to do art, music, singing, the vibration in building is higher. It’s important we support – we call it the arts- what it really is is ‘Let’s support life,’” he said to applause.

“The arts. Change the name to life – arts of life, the teaching part of life, the engineering part of life is all art.

If we give our children arts from the beginning, they will be better at school.”

And what do you tell a young person about pursuing a career in arts? Dilla asked. “Know thyself, study you, who you are, you are that art you would bring forth. Be conscious of who you are. It’s okay to take baby steps, eventually you will get you there. Don’t take rejection as a ‘no’ to your life – your life isn’t over, just a steppingstone to your higher self. Keep stepping up.

“We need you. Your form of art may not be on stage, it may be going to government. Your art might not be an interviewer like Frank Dilella, it might be to head a country and make the world a better place for everybody. Know thyself and to thine own self be true.”

Vereen offered insights into his life in a conversation with Frank DiLella, Emmy Award winning host of On Stage on Spectrum News NY1.

Lifetime Achievement honoree Ben Vereen with Gold Coast Arts Center and Film Festival Founder & Executive Regina Gil, and Frank Dilella, host of Stage on Spectrum News © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Vereen was honored for his epic performances that have been woven into the fabric of the nation’s artistic legacy – first coming to worldwide attention as Chicken George in the ground-breaking television series, Roots for which he won an Emmy nomination in 1977. He won a Tony Award as well as the Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in A Musical in 1973 for Pippin; and starred in Jesus Christ Superstar, Fosse, Hair, Jelly’s Last Jam, Chicago, I’m Not Rappaport and Wicked; and films including Sweet Charity and All that Jazz

Vereen’s recent projects include the TV series Bull and Magnum PI, FOX’s Star, produced by Lee Daniels, Sneaky Pete with Bryan Cranston, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Time Out of Mind with Richard Gere, and Top Five with Chris Rock. He is currently working on his new Broadway musical, Reflections, written by Joe Calarco, to be directed by Tony nominee Josh Bergasse with music by Stephen Schwartz.

Vereen is heralded for promoting the talents and careers of young people – through education and access to the arts – wherever he gives concerts he holds master classes and in past concerts has provided the opportunity for a talented newcomer to make their debut on stage with him – and for his humanitarian work for which he has received numerous awards including Israel’s Cultural and Humanitarian Award, three NAACP Image Awards, Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award and a Victory Award.

In 2016, he signed with Americans for the Arts, the largest advocacy group of Arts in America and has spoken before Congress defending funding for the National endowment for the Arts.

Ben Vereen spoke of his career and his calling in a conversation with Frank Dilella:

Asked about how he got started in show business, a boy of modest means from Brooklyn, he said, “This career chose me.

“This career was handed to me. In my community in Brooklyn going to the High School of Performing Arts was like being a prodigal son. It is hard to say when I chose this, because it chose me. I would never have left Brooklyn except for performing arts school – –known as the Fame School.

Apparently he got into trouble, because he was placed in a so-called “three-digit school”.

“I was placed in class with Mr. Hill, the director of theater. I was with guys named Killer, Shank Diablo. Mr. Hill said he wanted me to do King and I. I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music – they had an all-African American company – 100 musicians – and did King and I. That was it – that was the bug.

Vereen attended the High School of Performing Arts from the age of 14 – where he studied dancing with stellar choreographers Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

He was 18 years old when he made his New York stage debut off-off-Broadway in The Prodigal Son at the Greenwich Mews Theater. The following year he was in Las Vegas performing in Bob Fosse’s production of Sweet Charity

He describes the audition for Sweet Charity.”Every dancer was on stage to audition – Bob Fosse was the coolest, he moved so smooth. He did the combination, smoked cigarettes, the ashes wouldn’t fall. He made the cut of dancers. Then it was time to sing. I had never seen a Broadway show.” He had nothing prepared but mimicked another and got the part anyway, going on to tour with the production from 1967-68.

He made his Broadway debut in original production of Hair. “It was a groundbreaking show, it made history.”

A real breakthrough was meeting Sammy Davis Jr. He reflected how important an influence Sammy Davis Jr. was to him. “Sammy was the first African American that I watched on tv. My father loved tv. One night Sammy was on the Ed Sullivan show.

Sammy saw Vereen at an audition. “I had attitude – Sammy Davis Jr saw it. He invited me to have dinner and hired me for Golden Boy. That’s where it began. I followed him, wanted to be like him, dress like him, the coolest cat. He loved everybody. People don’t give Sammy enough credit – he wasn’t just a song and dance man, but a great humanitarian. He died penniless because gave all his money to everybody.”

Davis took him on tour of Golden Boy to London when he was 25. That’s when he discovered he was adopted by James and Pauline Vereen, when he applied for a passport.

Vereen went on to be cast opposite Sammy Davis Jr. in the film version of Sweet Charity, and then as Davis’ understudy in Golden Boy in England.

His life changed – and nearly ended – on one fateful day in 1992 when he had three accidents the same day that put him in an ICU for 42 days when doctors thought he might never walk again.

“I don’t remember being hit by a car. The interesting thing about the spirit which inhabits this body, it decides to take a break, ‘but I’ll be back’. All I remember – Pamela [Cooper, his manager] told me this – I was driving and hit a tree, which damaged an artery in my brain. I was walking home, got a stroke, and was hit by an SUV. Amazingly, it was somebody I knew – David Foster, who I had met in Canada, a famous songwriter who wrote for Whitney Huston, Celine Dion, who had said, “We should get together.’  He could have left me and I wouldn’t be sitting here today but he stayed; he called 911, cradled me, waited for paramedics. They flew me to the hospital ICU. They told me I had a broken my left leg, suffered a stroke on right side, took out my spleen, I had an apparatus attached to my head, and a trach. The last thing I remember was getting into my car.”

“[In my mind I am thinking] what happened, why am I here? I can’t talk. All these things are going through your mind – this can’t be happening, I have show on Saturday.

“They told me it will be at least three years if you’ll ever walk again. At that point, I had just met a wonderful woman, Rev. Doctor Johnnie Coleman in Chicago [known as the “First Lady of the New Thought Christian Community]  who taught metaphysics and would say,  ‘Whenever you have something negative coming at you, learn this mantra, Cancel. That’s only man’s perception. Cancel.”

Meanwhile, he reflected, people crowded the hospital lobby praying for him. “There were letters, boxes of letters come in. Looking at boxes, thinking were bills, but they were from you [the fans].”

“[The doctors were saying] ‘We think you should think about another occupation.’ So when they sent in an occupational therapist, I thought they were to get me a new occupation instead of teaching me fine motor skills. Cancel, Cancel – I couldn’t talk.

“I said to myself if I can’t walk again, Lord, whatever you want me to do I’ll do… I had to show up – I couldn’t just lay there and ask God to heal me. I got to show up.”

“The thing about prayer, how it works – the doctor instinctively knew where to cut- spirit is always working in our favor. Steven Hawkins became my hero – if you can do that with Steven Hawkins, here I am.”

At the rehabilitation center in Kessler, NJ, he recalls, “There was a young man who had been shot named Michael Jackson, an orderly called Juice because he delivered the juice but his real name was Glen Miller, a therapist named Jerry Lewis.

“You don’t have the luxury of a negative thought. But I did what no one thought I could do, get back on Broadway.”

He was told there would be a part for him in Jelly’s Last Jam if he could be ready.

The therapists from Kessler went to show, and said, “We can do this, and a few months later, I walked on stage in Jelly’s Last Jam.

“Hear what that story is really about: the inner spirit is stronger than our physical human understanding of who we are. The idea, called surrender, take me as I am, I will go.”

Asked what he considers the highlight of his career, he reflects back to Roots.

“I heard about a show, Roots. Every African American in the world wanted to be a part of that. I go back to the same agent who said Pippin won’t make it and told him ABC was brave enough to put on show, Roots and I wanted to be a part. ‘Be real,’ he said. ‘They’re looking for actors. You’re song and dance man. So I went to Chicago –I was introducing Sister Sledge – then went to Savannah,Georgia. I did a character Bert Williams – African Americans in show business had to wear blackface and Williams made it art form. I did a tribute to him. [Roots’ producer] Stan Margulies knocked on my door and said he loved the show. ‘We’re shooting Roots for ABC, I want you to be my Chicken George.’ I fired my agent and off to Hollywood I went.”

In being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gold Coast Arts Center, Ben Vereen is in good company. Previous honorees and special guests of the Gold Coast International Film Festival include film industry VIPs Francis Ford Coppola, Hugh Grant, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Baz Luhrmann, Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino, Ed Burns, Bruce Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Diamond Phillips, Morgan Spurlock, Eli Wallach, Gabriel Byrne, Jacques Pepin, Bill Plympton, Phil Donahue, Phylicia Rashaad, Joan Allen, Jay McInerney and Michael Cuesta, as well as composer Morton Gould, artists James Rosenquist, Oleg Cassini, Edwina SandysandBob Gruencomedian Susie Essman, Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara, Melissa Errico andSavion Glover, and 4-time Oscar winner for production and costume design Catherine Martin. 

Ben Vereen with another Gold Coast Arts Center Lifetime Achievement honoree, artist Edwina Sandys, who is Winston Churchill’s granddaughter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 9th annual Gold Coast International Film Festival taking place From November 4-13, 2019, presents more than 80 feature-length and short films in venues throughout North Hempstead, Long Island and an opportunity to

This year’s highlights include The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce; which will be the Festival’s Closing Night Spotlight Film. Other films of note this year include Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the winner of the Best Screenplay at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and Clemency, starring Alfre Woodard, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The Festival will also be screening By the Grace of God, the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival.

“Films are a unique art form, bringing together drama, dance, music, art in 90 minutes. It’s one of the most accessible and affordable art forms. You come together with 200 others, smile, laugh, cry, think, learn, and sometimes be moved to action. How often do you get to hear from artists and creators how and why they made the film?” reflected Caroline Sorokoff, the festival director.

Among the narrative films that will provoke thought and action, “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” from executive producer Anthony Bourdain, co-sponsored by Island Harvest, the first film in a new Gold Coast series spotlighting social issues of concern to Long Island.

Uniondale High School’s Show Choir, Rhythm of the Knight, performs as Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, honors Actor, Entertainer Ben Vereen with Lifetime Achievement Award at opening of 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gold Coast Arts Center is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting the arts through education, exhibition, performance, and outreach. Located on the North Shore of Long Island, it has brought the arts to tens of thousands of people from toddlers, tweens, teens to totterers throughout the region for 25 years. Among the Center’s offerings are its School for the Arts, which holds year-round classes in visual and performing arts for students of all ages and abilities; a free public art gallery; concerts and lectures; film screenings and discussions; the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival; and initiatives that focus on senior citizens and underserved communities. These initiatives include artist residencies, after-school programs, school assemblies, teacher-training workshops, and parent-child workshops. The Gold Coast Arts Center is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education program, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. More information can be found at www.goldcoastarts.org.

Gold Coast Arts Center President Jon Kaiman and Founder and Executive Director Regina Gil (center) with North Hempstead town Councilwoman Viviana L. Russell, North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. The Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, honored Actor, Entertainer Ben Vereen with Lifetime Achievement Award at opening of 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For information about upcoming films in the Festival’s year-round film screening program plus the latest news on the 2019 Festival visit www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org 516-829-2570.

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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

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 7: 30 Hours in Athens

Celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Athens is a relatively easy Par 2 on the Global Scavenger Hunt, now midway through the 23-day around-the-world mystery tour. We have just 30 hours here, but our visit will largely be shaped by the celebration of the Greek Orthodox Easter (we seem to be hitting all the destinations on a religious holiday). We arrive on the Greek Orthodox Good Friday and one of the challenges is to experience the distinctive celebration. It’s hard to miss. Every church has a similar ritual. I walk down from the Grand Hyatt Hotel where we have arrived in the midday, to the Plaka, stopping to reflect on Hadrian’s Arch before I take the narrow street that leads me to the 11th century Byzantine church, where devotees are coming.

A glimpse of the Acropolis from the rooftop of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hadrian’s Arch, Athens© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is particularly interesting, since so far on the Global Scavenger Hunt we have been immersed in Buddhist culture, then Islamic. Athens is Christian, but it is also the birthplace of democracy and Western Civilization, as it is known, and the entranceway to Europe.

Temple of Zeus, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I feel very at ease, very comfortable here – partly because this is my third time in Athens and I have spent a relatively lot of time here, but also because it is, well, European, modern, hip, artful – even with its ongoing economic and political problems (though it seems to me the economy has much improved since my last visit).

Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As I am waiting and watching, another of our GSH teams, Transformed Travel Goddesses (aptly named in Athens), comes up the street and we watch together. It turns out to be quite a long wait. I had been told that at 7 pm, the priest comes out and the faithful ring the church. The service is underway at 7 pm that we can hear from outside; the crowds really thicken but it isn’t until 9 pm that the priest comes out, leading a procession. People light candles and follow the procession of the cross and funerary flowers through the streets.

Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We join the crowd as they wind their way through the narrow streets below the Acropolis, and when we turn to a different direction, we meet the procession again. All the streets are flooded with similar processions – candles moving like ripples of water through the narrow streets. People jam the outdoor restaurants as well. We visit another small Byzantine church where the frescoes are absolutely stunning.

Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, Plaka, Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Procession through Plaka, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next day, I immerse myself in Athens (some of the scavenges lead teams out to the Peloponnese and the Theater of Epidaurus which I visited on a boat/bike tour some years ago, and to accomplish them in the brief timeframe, rent a car).I just want to soak in Athens. I have a list of four major places to visit, starting with the Acropolis, then the historic Agora, the flea market at Monasteraki (originally the Jewish quarter), and the National Archeological Museum.

Theater of Dionysos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Tourists at the Acropolis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Acropolis, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk from the Grand Hyatt to the Acropolis. I don’t have the luxury this time of organizing my visit for the end of the day when the sunlight is golden and the crowds are less, so fold myself into the crush of people, satisfied that so many appreciate history and heritage.

Tower of the Winds, also called Horologium or Greek Horologion (“Timepiece”), in the Roman Forum of Athens was erected about 100–50 BC by Andronicus of Cyrrhus for measuring time. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can see the historic Agora from the Acropolis that commands Athens’ hilltop, and I walk down the stone promenade.

The historic Agora is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites and museums anywhere and tremendously exciting to “discover” as you walk through the paths lined with colonnades, statues, and come upon the ruins. Here you see the ruins of what is in essence the “downtown” and Main Street of ancient Athens. The Agora was the political center for Athens, and because it was a gathering place, also became a commercial center. Courts were held (though capital crimes were tried outside its boundary, so the blood on a murderers’ hands not pollute the public space).

Arrayed are the important institutions including what might be called the first “parliament,” the Bouleuterion, where those participating in the Assembly of the Five Hundred sat. I actually find it more intriguing and interesting to explore than the Acropolis. Here in this one site, is the essence of the Greek Republic that birthed democracy.

Walk down the boulevard lined with statues of Giants (in Greek tradition, Titans were first, then the Giants, then the Olympian gods), to a headless torso of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who respected and admired Athenian culture and enhanced it with his Library and other institutions, but threw Christians to the lions (and wasn’t so great for Jews, either).

The homage Athenians paid to him is indicated by the decoration on his breastplate depicting the goddess Athena standing on a wolf suckling the twins, Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. But the headless statue was contemptuously thrown into the sewage ditch by early Christians (who also defiled the Parthenon and most of the statues denoting devotion to paganism), and only discovered in the sewer when they excavated. The Hadrian Statue stands near the Bouleuterion, or Council House, where the 500 representatives of the 10 tribes met, would have been – in essence, the first House of Parliament.

Temple of Hephaistos in the Agora © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Above, on a hillside, is the beautiful Temple of Hephaistos (5th C BC) but just to the side is believed to have been a synagogue, serving a Jewish community that had existed in Athens at least since 3rd C BC and possibly as early as 6th C BC. This is based on finding etched marble – in essence, a sign for the synagogue, which comes from the Greek words “synagein,” which means “to bring together” and the same root word as “agora” which means “a place of assembly.” (I learned this on my previous trip, during a Context walking tour, which then led me to The Jewish Museum of Greece, where you learn about Europe’s oldest Jewish settlement, 39 Nikis St., 105 57 Athens, Greece, info@jewishmuseum.gr, www.jewishmuseum.gr).

You should allocate at least an hour  or two at the Ancient Agora in order to have time to visit a superb museum, housed in the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, a 2nd C BC building that was restored in1952-56 by the American School of Classical Studies to exhibit the artifacts collected at the site.

Museum of the Agora © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Museum of the Agora © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Late Geometric pyxis and lid with handle in the form of three terracotta horses, 725-700 BC, Agora © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Museum of the Agora © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Artifacts on display show how citizens (a minimum of 6000 were necessary) could vote to “ostracize” a politician accused of corruption. You also see the lottery system used to pick jurors (they paid 1/3 drachma to buy a strip in which to write their names, and if selected, would receive a drachma pay), and the devices used to record their verdict. There is an intriguing collection of small cups that were used by prisoners sentenced to death to take hemlock, considered a more merciful end; one of these cups could well have been used by Socrates, who was sentenced to death for teaching the heresy of denying 12 gods at a time when paganism was the official religion (he supported the idea of a single spirit, which makes me think he might have been influenced by the Jewish community that was already established in Athens).

Lottery machine, Museum of the Agora © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Combination tickets are available that provide access to the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Ancient Angora and several other important sites.)

National Archaeological Museum

Monasteraki, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk through the flea market at Monasteraki, which, interestingly like the market next to the synagogue in Yangon, Myanmar, was originally Athens’ Jewish Quarter, and through neighborhoods and shopping districts to reach the National Archaeological Museum. The museum (which closes early at 4 pm because of Easter Saturday, forcing me to rush through) has the most magnificent collection of gold from Mycenae; statues, bronzes. I also come upon a special exhibit examining the concept of “Beauty.”

Mask of Agamemnon, National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You see the Golden Mask of King Agamemnon, excavated by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae in 1876 (which I learned from my last visit’s tour with a docent is actually centuries older than Agamemnon’s reign, but they keep the name for “marketing” purposes), and spectacular gold ornaments and funeral objects that suggest a belief in an afterlife.

Jockey, National Archaeological Museum, Athens, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are two of only five full-scale bronzes left in the world: one, a national symbol of a standing god (Zeus or Poseidon, it isn’t clear because the tool he would have held, a lightning bolt or a trident, has been lost) was saved because the boat sank that was carrying it to Rome to be melted down for weapons, and was found in 1926 by fisherman; the other is a magnificent bronze statue, 1000 years old, of an African boy on a racing horse made during the time of Alexander the Great, when the expansion of Greek’s empire brought exotic themes into the art, that was saved by being shipwrecked – it is so graceful, so elegant, so charged with energy, it looks like it could run away.

There is also a vase with the first sentence (or rather, the oldest known sentence) written in Greek language: “Now I belong to the man who is the best dancer.” (I think to myself, what pressure on a person to write the first sentence to go down in history! Or, for that matter, the inventor of the “space” between words, which had not existed in Greek.).

An examination of “Beauty” at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
An examination of “Beauty” at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
An examination of “Beauty” at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stay in the museum until they literally kick me out, fascinated to read the descriptions, which I find enlightening and surprisingly current, with lessons for today in the interplay between trade, migration, innovation, science and social and political movements:

“In the 6th C BC, the Greeks dominated the Mediterranean and the Black Sea….The impressive dispersion of the Greeks and the founding of new Greek colonies and trading posts were the result of long processes of migration…

“The nature of the economy underwent a radical change as a result of the growth of trade. A new class of citizens emerged who were conscious of liberty and its potential and now demanded the right to play an active role in the running of public affairs. The 6th C BC saw the consolidation, after major social upheavals and political changes, of the distinct personality of the Greek city-state. Intense social disturbances set most of the cities on the road to democratic constitutions, making an important stop along the way at the institution of the tyranny.

“The liberty that was characteristic of the Greek way of life and which governed their thinking finds eloquent expression in their artistic creations…Works of art and artists moved freely along the trade routes. The wealth and power of the city-states were expressed in the erection of monumental, lavishly adorned temples and impressive public welfare works.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
National Archaeological Museum, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Greeks turned their attention to the natural world and to phenomena that gave rise to philosophical speculation, formulative ideas such as those of matter, the atom, force, space and time, and laying the foundations of science. Flourishing Ionia was the region in which philosophy and science first evolved. By the end of the century, the thriving Greek cities of Southern Italy and Sicily, known as Magna Graecia, were sharing in these astounding intellectual achievements. At the same time, the first prose works were written, taking the form of local histories or geographies containing an abundance of mythological elements and continuing the brilliant tradition of 7th century poetry.”

(Because of the Easter holiday, and our limited time, and the fact that I have visited twice before, I miss an otherwise not-to-be-missed Athens attraction, the New Acropolis Museum.)

The walk through Athens is fabulous, taking me through neighborhoods, and I get to see Athens’ gallery of street art, with its political and social tinge. Indeed, taking photos of at least five street art murals is one of the scavenges (you have to explain where you found them, 25 points).

Street art, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street Art, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street art, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street art, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street art, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street art, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street art, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking back through the Plaka, I bump into Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster of our 23-day Global Scavenger Hunt, Pamela and their son Luka – it turns out to be a team challenge to photograph them (whichever team sends in the photo first wins the points).

It’s been a challenge to “see” Athens in just 30-hours, let alone venture out to the Peloponnese. But our quick visits, one country, one culture, after the next, paints the rarest of pictures of our common humanity in our mind’s eye. We are becoming global citizens.

Chalmers helps us along with the design of his scavenges, and in each location, he provides language sampler (for Athens, he offers “I am sorry”, “what is your name,” “Can you speak more slowly,” as well as icebreakers to start conversations with a local, and questions to ponder.

Rooftop pool, Grand Hyatt, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk back to the hotel to meet several of us who are sharing a van to get back to the airport. Our deadline and meeting place is 8:30 pm at the airport.

Onward to Marrakech, Morocco.

Excellent visitor planning tools of Athens are at www.thisisathens.org. Also, the Athens Visitor Bureau offers a wonderful program that matches visitors with a local Athenian volunteer who goes beyond the traditional guidebook sights to take you to local neighborhoods, http://myathens.thisisathens.org/

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.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

Long Islanders Delight in Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Moon Fest at Cradle of Aviation

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, Hosts Apollo 11 Lunar Landing 50th Anniversary Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The climax of Cradle of Aviation Museum’s family friendly Apollo 11 50th anniversary Moon Fest was the countdown to the landing of a scale model of the Eagle lunar module timed with a video of the actual landing.

Littlest astronaut with big dreams. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, Hosts Apollo 11 Lunar Landing 50th Anniversary Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Eagle has landed. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, Hosts Apollo 11 Lunar Landing 50th Anniversary Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But there was so much more during the day. Some 2500 people turned out to take part in events and activities.

They delighted in meeting three Space Shuttle astronauts, who gave talks and signed autographed photos: Bill Shepherd (a former Babylon resident, who was in the first crew and literally turned on the lights in the International Space Station and lived in space for140 days) & Charlie Camarda (of Ozone Park, an American engineer and a NASA astronaut who flew his first mission into space on board the Space Shuttle mission STS-114 and served as Senior Advisor for Engineering Development at NASA Langley Research Center) and Bob Cenker, a payload specialist and crew member on the seventh flight of Space Shuttle Columbia.

Astronaut Bill Shepherd, of Babylon, who was in the first crew and literally turned on the lights in the International Space Station and lived in space for140 days, gives a talk in Cradle of Aviation’s Red Planet Café © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Charlie Camarda, of Ozone Park, an American engineer and a NASA astronaut who flew his first mission into space on board the Space Shuttle mission STS-114 and served as Senior Advisor for Engineering Development at NASA Langley Research Center, signs autographs during the Apollo 11 Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bob Cenker, a payload specialist and crew member on the seventh flight of Space Shuttle Columbia, on hand for an Astronaut Encounter during Cradle of Aviation’s Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the docents and guides are many former Grumman workers who helped build the machines and communications that put astronauts on the moon and the International Space Station, as well as space enthusiasts, like Matt Arnold, who, after giving a guided tour of the Space exhibit, shows us the model of the International Space Station that he built for the museum. Richard Kalen, of Hicksville, who had helped assemble the wings on the Shuttle, explained what went wrong to cause the Challenger and Columbia tragedies.

Matt Arnold shows off the model of the International Space Station he made for Cradle of Aviation Museum Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Richard Kalen, of Hicksville, who had helped assemble the wings on the Shuttle, explained what went wrong to cause the Challenger and Columbia tragedies © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ernest Finamore, a Grumman tool and dye worker, made the parts for the lunar module, and Alan Contessa at the Cradle of Aviation Apollo 50th Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Patricia M. Campagnola points to her name among the Grumman workers on a plaque at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Shuttle Astronaut Charlie Camarda with Grumman employees and family at the 60s celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the Lunar Landing, at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There were moon buggy races, where kids got to traverse a “lunar obstacle course” driving electric lunar rovers; launched water-bottle rockets they built and decorated; looked through solar telescopes; saw student-built robotics demonstrations from the First Lego League; posed for photos with the superhero characters from the not-for-profit NY Avengers Cosplayers.

There were also screenings of the Apollo 11 First Steps Edition documentary in Cradle’s immerse Dome Theater and a virtual reality experience where you explore the inside and outside of the Apollo 11 with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality and HoloLens technology.

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, Hosts Apollo 11 Lunar Landing 50th Anniversary Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, Hosts Apollo 11 Lunar Landing 50th Anniversary Moon Fest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at 4 pm, they crammed into the atrium to watch a video of the actual Apollo 11 landing, as a scale model of the Lunar Module descended in concert with the actual events.

Countdown at Cradle of Aviation Museum to when a model of the Eagle lunar module descends to the lunar surface © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The celebration continued into the evening with a dinner menu matching the same beef-and-salmon menu served to the astronauts at the White House and dancing to the music of the 1960s.

Party like it’s 1969. Just Sixties performs at Cradle of Aviation Museum’s evening celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cradle of Aviation Museum, home of the Lunar Module, is currently exhibiting the largest collection of Lunar Modules, Lunar Module parts, artifacts, photos, and documentation in the world. 

There is still time to visit the Apollo Space Exhibit. Here are 11 “must sees”:

11. Living in Space Exhibit showcasing food & waste management for Apollo

The Living in Space exhibit at Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

10. Pop Culture Exhibit showing space toys and memorabilia from 1969

9. Gemini Capsule Replica that you can sit in; as seen in First Steps movie

8. A real Moon Rock! 

A real moon rock is on view at Cradle of Aviation Museum© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

7. Mission to Moon Exhibit includes an item from each mission that has been to the moon and back.

6. Tom Stafford’s Spacesuit as worn by Stafford while training for the Apollo 10 mission in 1968/69.

Tom Stafford’s spacesuit on view at Cradle of Aviation Museum© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

5. Neil Armstrong’s Bioharness from Apollo 11

4. Rockwell Command Module w/ Parachute which was the control center for the Apollo spacecraft and provided the living and working quarters for astronauts. 

LEM simulator. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, celebrates 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

3. Grumman Lunar Module Simulator that all Apollo Astronauts trained on, originally at Kennedy Space Center. 

2. Grumman Lunar Module Clean Room Display  featuring the LTA-1, the first fully functional LM, as it appeared while under construction at Grumman.

Go inside a Grumman clean-room where a lunar module is being assembled © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

1. Grumman Lunar Module LM-13 – the crowned jewel of the museum. The LM-13 was intended for the Apollo 19 mission to Copernicus Crater in 1973, which was ultimately cancelled. It is one of three Lunar Modules left on earth. The other two are at Kennedy Space Center and Smithsonian’s Air & Space. It is presented in a re-created lunar surface scene with a mannequin wearing an actual Apollo spacesuit. 

The real thing: the actual lunar module built by Grumman, Bethpage, for Apollo 19, a moon mission which was scrapped, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island. It is one of only three LEMs on earth (three are still on the moon; the other two are at the National Air & Space Museum in DC and at Kennedy Space Center in Florida), but the only one on earth intended to go to the moon. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center is home to over 75 planes and spacecraft representing over 100 years of aviation history and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater.  Currently, the museum is celebrating  “Countdown to Apollo at 50” sponsored by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation, showcasing Long Island and Grumman’s significant role in the Apollo program. The Museum was recently recognized and listed on New York State’s National Register of Historic Places as a significant part of American history. The museum is located on Museum Row, Charles Lindbergh Blvd., in East Garden City. For more information call (516) 572-4111 or visit www.cradleofaviation.org.  

See also:

Long Island’s World-Class Cradle of Aviation Museum Hosts Special Events for 50th Anniversary of Moon Landing

Apollo Astronauts Look Back During Gala at Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum Marking 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing

Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum Counting Down to Apollo at 50 Moon Fest

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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

Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum Counting Down to Apollo at 50 Moon Fest

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who donned a replica space suit, and NASA astronaut Babylon resident Bill Shepherd were on hand at the Cradle of Aviation Museum to officially begin the countdown to the 50th Anniversary celebration of the first lunar landing, on July 20, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who donned a replica space suit, and NASA astronaut Babylon resident Bill Shepherd were on hand at the Cradle of Aviation Museum to officially begin the countdown to the 50th Anniversary celebration of the first lunar landing, July 20, 1969. They were joined by Grumman Engineer Ross Brocco, Museum President Andy Parton and Museum Curator Josh Stoff.

“We will shine a light on one of the greatest human and technological achievements in history,” Parton said.

The events that start at 9:30 am reach a climax with a Community Countdown at 4:17 pm to collectively watch, re-experience, and honor as a community, the historic “The Eagle has Landed” Lunar Module landing on the moon. A model of the Lunar Module will descend from the ceiling, precisely on time.

Astronaut Shepherd, who was in the first crew on the International Space Station (“We turned on the lights”) and lived in space for 140 days, sees the importance of Cradle of Aviation Museum, with its active STEM education programs and the ability for people, young and old, to interact with exhibits – like climb into a Gemini capsule, land a Space Shuttle, and in the current exhibit, enter a space habitation on Mars, and the largest collection of Apollo artifacts in the world, including an actual lunar module which was built by Grumman in Bethpage for Apollo 19, a moon mission that was scrubbed.

Astronaut Shepherd, who was in the first crew on the International Space Station (“We turned on the lights”) and lived in space for 140 days, sees the importance of Cradle of Aviation Museum, with its active STEM education programs and the ability for people, young and old, to interact with exhibits. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The lunar landing was one of humankind’s epic achievements,” said Shepherd, who will be on hand during the day to interact with museum goers. “Beyond Apollo, it ignited a process that is still going on. NASA is on course to go back to the moon, a steppingstone to planetary expedition to Mars. Children today may take part.”

It’s critically vital, he said, for children to have the opportunity to be exposed to “first-hand” science, as opposed to watching documentaries on television. “Education is turning to project-based and experiential learning, versus textbooks. Here, kids get to see for themselves. The tangible makes learning enjoyable.”

Curran pointed to the Cradle of Aviation as one of the best museums – even attractions – on Long Island. “It is such an asset in the heart of our county..

On July 20, in addition to the Apollo events, there will be former Grumman engineers and employees who helped build the lunar module and the equipment that made the space program possible, among them Ross Bracco, a structural engineer at Grumman who is now a volunteer at Cradle of Aviation Museum. Shepherd will lead two “episodes” allowing kids to design their own lunar lander.

Ross Bracco, a structural engineer at Grumman during the Apollo program, is now a volunteer at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shepherd noted that the moon, itself, remains a mystery – how it was created more than 4 billion years ago – was it knocked off from earth or form separately? “We don’t know but maybe some kids here will research.” He said the moon has been static for 4 billion years, unlike the earth which is “dynamic” and changing, so is a time piece that can shed light on what the solar system was like 4 billion years ago. “We are learning about the moon’s relationship to the earth.”

And you can even get a whiff of what the moon smells like in one of the exhibit.

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, celebrates 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Saturday, July 20, 2019, thousands of people will be joining together at the Cradle of Aviation Museum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission. The Cradle of Aviation, home of the Lunar Module, is celebrating all day and night with two festive events to give the community an opportunity to learn, reflect, remember, & jointly celebrate, all the wonder, achievement, and pride that is Apollo.

There will be events throughout the day:

  • COMMUNITY COUNTDOWN TO LUNAR LANDING –  Join in a Community Countdown at 4:17 pm to collectively watch, re-experience, and honor as a community, the historic “The Eagle has Landed” Lunar Module landing on the moon.
  • ASTRONAUT ENCOUNTERS with Space Shuttle Astronauts Bill Shepherd (Babylon) & Charlie Camarda (Ozone Park), both from Long Island, and Bob Cenker.
  • MOON BUGGY RACES – Traverse a lunar obstacle course driving an electric lunar rover. (kids)
  • VIRTUAL REALITY – Explore the inside and outside of the Apollo 11 up close and personal with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality and the Microsoft HoloLens technology.
  • APOLLO 11 FIRST STEPS in IMAX – Experience  a free showing of the new highly-acclaimed documentary, Apollo 11 First Steps Edition in our immersive Dome Theater.  Playing hourly.
  • SOLAR TELESCOPES- Explore the sun with a special purpose solar telescope.
  • LAUNCH ROCKETS – Build, decorate, then launch a water bottle rocket.
  • ROBOTICS DEMONSTRATIONS – View and interact with student-built robotics from  the First Lego League.  
  • VISITS FROM THE UNIVERSE – The not-for profit, NY Avengers Cosplayers are assembling at the Cradle to celebrate the American heroes who contributed to the successful lunar landing.  

Museum opens at 9:30am. Family activities are 12:00 – 4:00pm. Countdown begins at 4:00pm. 

Then, from 7-11 pm, is the Apollo at Countdown Celebration, a lively dinner and champagne toast with music and dancing, as the community comes together to watch and re-experience the unforgettable first steps on the moon at 10:56 pm with a special moon landing viewing and countdown. 

Space Shuttle Astronauts Bill Shepherd (Babylon) & Charlie Camarda (Ozone Park), both from Long Island, and Bob Cenker, will be in attendance. 

Tickets to either event can be purchased at www.cradleofaviation.org/apollo or by calling Reservations 516-572-4066 (M-F) 10:00am-4:00pm) Grumman Retirees and Museum Members, may call Reservations for discounted tickets. Proceeds to Benefit Museum Education and Preservation Programs.

Cradle of Aviation

But the reason there is such a world-class space and aviation museum here on Charles Lindbergh Avenue, named for the famous aviator, is that this is indeed the cradle of aviation – it is located on what was Mitchel Air Force Base Field, which, together with nearby Roosevelt Field and other airfields on the Hempstead Plains, was the site of many historic flights , most significantly, where Lindbergh set off for his historic transatlantic solo flight to Paris and it was on Long Island that so much of the aviation industry and innovations happened. In fact, so many seminal flights occurred in the area, that by the mid-1920s the cluster of airfields was already dubbed the “Cradle of Aviation”, the origin of the museum’s name.

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, Long Island, has one of only three actual lunar modules on display. Built by Grumman, in Bethpage, Long Island, the other three were left on the moon ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The events and exhibits also pay homage to Grumman engineers who designed and built the lunar exploration module (LEM), and there is an actual LEM on exhibit – the only actual LEM of the three modules on exhibit (the three that went to the moon remained there). This one was built by Grumman for Apollo 19 but that mission was scrubbed.

You can also see mock-ups of Grumman engineers in a “clean room” building a LEM.

Cradle of Aviation museum has the largest collection of Apollo artifacts anywhere – the space exhibits are phenomenal and include simulators and a real moon rock.

See inside a real Lunar Module simulator at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And so it was fitting at one of the Apollo 50th events held in recent weeks, the Gold Coast International Film Festival screening of “First Man,” as part of its Science on Screen series, three former Grumman engineers who worked on Apollo project related their experience.

Three former Grumman employees – Howard Frauenberger, Richard Dunne, Mike Lisa – reflect on their work on the space program at a Gold Coast International Film Festival screening of “First Man” about Neil Armstrong. Richard Dunne had met Armstrong. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Howard Frauenberger, who was a co-op engineering intern running technical tests on the Lunar Excursion Module landing gear and in the Cold Flow area for final ascent & descent stage system tests before delivery to NASA, reflected,  “Had we never had the Apollo1 tragedy, where three astronauts were lost, the likelihood of doing a successful lunar landing was low…The  post-fire evaluation of the design of command module found so many things inadequately or improperly or stupidly designed- not the least was the hatch which opened in instead of out so that in a pressurized environment, it couldn’t open. NASA’s oversight over all the contractors doubled or tripled. So the prevailing theory is that if that fire hadn’t happened, design defects could have caused a situation where Apollo 11 couldn’t land.”

Richard Dunne, who was the chief spokesman for the Grumman Corporation, which  designed  and  built the Apollo  Lunar Module: “The fire forced a redesign of everything in the command module and lunar module.” He also reflected on how close it was that the United States might not have won the space race at all “Two weeks before Apollo 11 launched, the Russians attempted moon shot, but it exploded. The way the United States knew about it was because our spy satellites detected it.”

Mike Lisa, who worked as an engineer on the Lunar Excursion Module in 1963 until the program ended and spent 36 years at Northrop Grumman, said, “The most important thing was to bring the astronauts back healthy. A device called a tumbler would grab the LEM on both sides and flip it around – tumble and turn – to shake anything that might have been loose inside. On this particular day, I was working in a semi-clean room – we wore white jackets and different hats to show what we working on – and tumbling, there was a clink and a nut fell on the floor. The NASA inspector was there and shut the room down for a whole week, but we all had to be on station, 24/7, waiting for permission to reopen.”

Go inside a Grumman clean-room where a lunar module is being assembled © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Inspiring Future Generations Through Learning

Cradle of Aviation Museum originally opened with just a handful of aircraft in the un-restored hangars in 1980. A major renovation and expansion program in the late 1990s allowed the museum to re-open in a state-of-the-art facility in 2002. Additional expansion plans are currently under development. The museum is an educational center preserving Long Island’s contribution to aerospace, science and technology by inspiring future generations through learning.

Feel what it is like to sit inside a Gemini capsule, at Cradle of Aviation Museum© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center today is home to over 75 planes and spacecraft representing over 100 years of aviation history and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater.  The museum has been celebrating  “Countdown to Apollo at 50” sponsored by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation, through much of the year, showcasing Long Island and Grumman’s significant role in the Apollo program. The Museum was recently recognized and listed on New York State’s National Register of Historic Places as a significant part of American history. The museum is located on Museum Row, Charles Lindbergh Blvd., in East Garden City.  For more information call (516) 572-4111 or visit www.cradleofaviation.org.  

See also:

Long Island’s World-Class Cradle of Aviation Museum Hosts Special Events for 50th Anniversary of Moon Landing

Apollo Astronauts Look Back During Gala at Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum Marking 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing

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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

Roaring 20s Returns With Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island

Jazz Age Lawn Party regulars Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn dance to the 1920s music of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, at the event on Governors Island. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra are hosting its 14th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island this summer – as Arenella notes, just one year shy of 100 years since the Roaring 20’s got underway. His homage to the Jazz Age era brings out the best of New York, with ladies donning their flappers dresses, feathers, sequins and pearls, and the fellows their straw hats, suspenders, bow ties and white linen suits. And each year, it seems, there are more and more kids.

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Michael Arenella, an aficionado of the Jazz Age, has compiled a song book. He transcribes by hand the music from period recordings, and introduces them with quaint tidbits.

“For Michael, the Jazz Age never really ended, it just fell asleep.”

Looking every bit Gatsby-esque in a 1920s Rolls Royce, Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He really gets into character, and everyone thoroughly enjoys the trip back in time, even looking every bit Gatsby-esque when he marches his orchestra out among the picnickers and into a vintage Rolls Royce on display.

Roddy Caravella gives a lesson in dancing the Charleston at the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year features a return of his popular entertainers: Robert Ross as Emcee; Roddy Caravella and the incomparable Canarsie Wobblers putting on different dance routines; the Gelber & Manning Band; Peter Mintun on the piano; Queen Esther and her jazz trio; Gretchen Fenston; Julie Reiner.

Charleston Dance contest at the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
9 1/2 year old Aidan Hazirovic is congratulated by Roddy Caravella after being declared the winner of the Charleston dance contest at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The event typically starts off with a dance lesson instructed by Roddy Caravella – on the Saturday, it was the Charleston, and in the afternoon a Charleston contest which was won by by 9 ½-year old Aidan Hazirovic.

The romantic mood really takes over on the dance floor as Max Singer surprised his sweetheart, Bryanna Doe, with a proposal of marriage.

She said Yes! Max Singer surprises Bryanna Doe with his proposal of marriage on the dance floor during the Jazz Age Lawn Party, which seems to bring out the romance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you missed out on this rollicking good time, you have another chance: Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra bring another Jazz Age Lawn Party to Governors Island on August 24 & 25, noon to 6 pm. Purchase tickets in advance www.jazzagelawnparty.com.

A dance routine by the Carnarsie Wobblers at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pianist extraordinaire Peter Mintun entertains at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Queen Esther and her jazz trio entertain at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Canarsie Wobblers entertain at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Andrew Hall’s Newark Yacht Club Band perform on the Aperol Spritz stage at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Canarsie Wobblers do one of their dance routines at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more special moments:

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jazz Age Lawn Party regulars Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn dance to the 1920s music of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing the Charleston at the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing to Andrew Hall’s Newark Yacht Club Band at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing to Queen Esther and her jazz trio at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.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