Friday, March 16, 2018

Sixty at Sixty - Rick Steves' Book Tour - Travel as a Political Act

Back in 2007 my daughter and I took a six-week trip to Europe to celebrate her 16th birthday and my 50th. We planned the whole trip ourselves with the help of a guidebook I'd found called "Europe Through the Backdoor" by Rick Steves. The book was a gem, all we needed to plan a fabulous experience, involving rail and boat travel through nine countries, accommodation in seventeen cities and towns, and sights galore, including the 'must-sees" and lesser known ones we might not otherwise have considered.

I haven't traveled in Europe since but if I was going to I'd look to the Rick Steves' travel guides to help me make the most of the trip. So when I heard that there was an opportunity to hear Rick Steves talk about his book "Travel as a Political Act" at Barnes & Noble in New York City last week, I jumped at the chance.

I was a little surprised to see that the seating for the 7 pm event would open at 5 pm, priority given to those who had just bought the book. I turned up at 6 to find quite a few people already there, but I didn't want to sit for an hour so I browsed in the store for half an hour. Turned out to be a big mistake! By 6.30 the place was standing room only and, by the start of the event, even that was a little crowded. Whoever planned the event seriously underestimated the number of people who would turn up. Fortunately, it was a superb talk.

Steves believes "we can learn more about our own country by observing other countries - and by challenging ourselves (and our neighbors) to be broad-minded when it comes to international matters," and that "thoughtful travel comes with powerful lessons." He pointed out that it is often those who do not have passports and have never left the region of their birth who are most fearful when it comes to dealing with cultures different from their own.

I'm a firm believer in the old saying 'travel broadens the mind,' but I can't help wondering whether most of the audience were like-minded, so Steves was speaking to those who already believed in purposeful travel and therefore not reaching the people who might be inspired by his book. 

Obviously, not everyone can afford to travel, but even a lot of those who can do it with certain expectations that their experience will not be too different from what they already know. They stay in five-star chain hotels that look similar the world over, complain that they can't get their favorite food or drink, or only want to see the sights (or get the tan) that will impress the folks back home, and then return home with little to no awareness of the place they've just visited. While tourism of that nature can be great for the local economy it does little to broaden perspectives and break down barriers between cultures.

If you get a chance to listen to Rick Steves talk, I'd highly recommend it. But make sure to get there early!

I haven't finished reading the book yet, but what I have read just makes me want to do more traveling!

When Mel is not out exploring she writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sixty at Sixty - Discovering Downton Abbey

When Downton Abbey first aired on television I watched an episode or two of the first season, but I wasn't enamored enough to follow it through to the end. Despite all the positive reviews that subsequent seasons garnered I never thought to give the show a second try despite having bought the first season on DVD for my husband one Christmas.

During a bout of flu at the end of January, I was desperate for something easy to watch to take my mind off how miserable I felt and, in my search, came across the DVD. It was just what I needed. The magnificent location and sets, the costumes, the shenanigans both upstairs and downstairs, they had me hooked from the first episode. So much so, that in a matter of weeks I worked my way through all six seasons. And then felt sad when I'd finished them all!

But, as luck would have it, I had one more chance to enjoy the show. New York is currently host to the Downton Abbey Exhibition. Originally planned to run from November to January, the exhibition has been so popular that it has been extended until April. Set over three floors of a midtown building, visitors have a chance to see the original sets, many of the costumes, and to learn more about life in the big houses for both those upstairs and downstairs. 

The show starts with a video - Mr. Carson welcoming you to the house, albeit with some reluctance. He's obviously not a fan of letting the public into the house. He warns that he's keeping an eye on the silver and, after appearing to look us over, wonders disdainfully, "What on earth are you wearing?"

The first display is the kitchen. This set was created at Ealing Studios because the kitchen in Highclere Castle, the setting for the fictional  Downton Abbey, was no longer as it would have been back in the early 1900's.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sixty at Sixty - Holiday Train Show, NY Botanical Gardens

Since 1992 the NY Botanical Gardens has been host to the Holiday Train Show, an event which is now considered one of the highlights of NY's holiday events. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory becomes a magical world of large-scale model trains running through a landscape dotted with miniature iconic NY buildings and bridges, made wholly from natural materials.

It's an event which I've meant to go to for years, yet somehow always managed to miss, but in keeping with my Sixty at Sixty challenge I decided this was the year to finally go and see what it was all about.

The intricate attention to detail on the models was mind-blowing. It just shows what can be done with nature's scraps. It's hard to believe that all the structures are made from pieces of bark, leaves, pine cones, seeds, etc.

Maybe not surprisingly, the first model is of the conservatory itself.

The Enid A Haupt Conservatory

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sixty at Sixty - Step Afrika!

Just after I decided to do my Sixty-at Sixty challenge I saw a listing in the New York Times for a performance of Step Afrika! at Marcus Garvey Park  in the city.  At the time I had never heard of the dance company,  which according to the blurb, "presents its innovative merging of traditional African dance and step in which the performers - dazzlingly nimble and rhythmic - make music with their bodies."  It seemed worth checking out, especially given that one hour before the performance they were giving a technique class appropriate for all ages and levels.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Walking the South West Coastal Path - Day 6 - Lamorna Cove to Penzance

After our long and strenuous walk to Lamorna Cove the previous day, it was somewhat of a relief to know we only had 6 miles left on our walk, much of it on the flat.

But first, we had one more headland to tackle, involving rocky paths and some scrambling.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sixty at Sixty - Walking in the City - The Tribute in Light, NY

I don't often get to walk in the city in the evening. The length of the commute from Westchester County makes it difficult to find companions willing to venture into the city for the evening, and safety issues rule out solo adventures, so when I heard about a Shorewalkers' walk in Brooklyn on September 11th to take in the sights of the Tribute in Light it seemed an ideal opportunity.