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

The old Pennsylvania Railroad Station is also featured. It's hard to believe that such a beautiful building was demolished in 1964 - what were they thinking? 

Pennsylvania Station

Many of the historic estates north of the city are included in the depictions, including Lyndhurst, Boscobel and the Rockefeller estate, Kykuit.
Kykuit - the Rockefeller estate, Sleepy Hollow

But there are also depictions of more modest houses such as Poe Cottage in the Bronx which was the home of Edgar Allan Poe from 1846 until his death in 1849.
Poe Cottage

Some of New York's most famous recreational locations are included:

Coney Island

Yankee Stadium

Central Park

And I was pleased to see one of my favorite buildings in New York beautifully rendered - The New York Public Library.
NY Public Library

Up above our heads, model trains zipped along through the greenery and over replicas of the many bridges in the city including the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge pictured below.

Brooklyn Bridge & Manhattan Bridge
The centerpiece, however, is the Statue of Liberty and the famous towers of the New York skyline, set on the reflecting pool under the Palm Dome. Whether it is Lady Liberty herself, the art deco of the Chrysler Building or the soaring Empire State Building, just to name a few, the attention to detail is just magnificent. 

Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building

In total there are 150 landmarks included and almost half a mile of track for the trains so there is plenty to look at.

A holiday train show may sound like an attraction aimed at either model railway enthusiasts or small children but the show at the Botanical Gardens is a delight to behold for all ages and interests. And the joy on the faces of the little ones at the sight of the trains is an added bonus. 

The show runs until Monday, January 15th, 2018. Well worth a visit. 

When Mel is not out exploring she writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. Her latest novel Trust No One is now available from Amazon.  

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.

I love to dance but have somehow managed to avoid formal dance classes which means that my ability to retain instructions and keep in step are not perhaps as sharp as they could be, but hey this was meant to be a challenge, and I could so easily have missed seeing the listing, so how could I resist?

I managed to persuade my daughter to go along with me for support. If you are going to make a fool of yourself, it's always nicer to do it with someone you know. It was a gorgeous summer evening, perfect for an outdoor event, so we turned up at the amphitheater in the park in good time for the class.

First surprise - the theater was quite a lot larger than I'd imagined.

waiting for the workshop to begin

Second surprise - the class was actually going to be held on stage. I'd had visions of us dancing on a lawn somewhere out of sight of all but the odd passerby. I wasn't so sure about getting up on stage, and started having second thoughts. Wondered whether I should just watch instead, but when they announced the class would begin quite a few people in the audience got up to join in. True, most of them were kids, but there were enough tall ones to allow most of the participating adults to hide away in the back rows. And the remaining audience wasn't that big. 

One of the dancers led us through a simple routine, teaching us four steps at a time. I was doing fine until we got to the point where we had to remember simultaneous leg and arm movements. I discovered the harder I tried the more I messed it up, so eventually I just relaxed, did the best I could and had great fun! So much fun that it was only when the class ended and we were told to take a bow that I realized the audience had grown somewhat!

There were slightly more people by the time the workshop ended.

I'm not sure nimble and rhythmic would be a fair description of our attempts - certainly not of mine - but I like to think we provided the audience with a good laugh. They certainly seemed appreciative!

After that, it was time to watch the professionals at work. To say Stepping is high energy is an understatement. I highly recommend checking out this video from their website which not only gives you a feel for what's involved, but also an insight into the origins of Step and the dance company.

Stepping is based on African traditions of using footsteps, clapping and voice to create rhythms and sounds, but was actually started in the US in the early 1900's by African American college students looking to create rituals honoring their fraternities and sororities.  Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to showcase Stepping. Formed only in 1994, it began as an exchange program with the Soweto Dance Theater of Johannesburg and has grown into an international touring company, one of the top ten African American dance companies in America, and the largest African American arts organisation in its home base of Washington, DC. 

Having watched one of their shows, I can understand why. The talent of the performers is awe-inspiring. The fast paced movement and catchy rhythms sweep you up into the excitement of it all. Audience participation in the form of clapping and foot stamping are encouraged, turning the evening into an truly sensory experience. 

All in all, a wonderful evening. If you get a chance - go see them! From November 10 -26th they are performing at the New Victory Theater in New York. For other shows, check out their event calendar here. 

When Mel is not out exploring or checking out new activities for her Sixty at Sixty challenge she writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. Her latest novel Trust No One is now available from Amazon. 

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.

It certainly helped that we were fresh from a good night's sleep.

Just outside of Mousehole the coastal path joins the road, offering the first glimpse of the picturesque fishing village.

Narrow streets lined with stone cottages lead down to the pretty harbor. 

There is no shortage of cafes and gift shops in Mousehole. Luckily, it was just the right time for a mid-morning snack.  

Gift shop

From Mousehole, the path runs between the road and the sea, separated from the latter by allotment gardens. Seagulls are obviously a problem judging from the number of scarecrows in this particular plot! 

Further on, the path is a designated walking/cycling path offering wonderful sea views and a grand view of Penzance. 

The fishing port of Newlyn lies between Mousehole and Penzance. It has one of the largest fishing fleets in the UK. 
Perhaps not surprisingly, it also has a pleasant pub called the Fisherman's Arms. The patio at the front of the pub offers a relaxing spot to have a drink and admire the seaview. We couldn't resist. 

Back en route we passed a splendid memorial to the local fishermen who lost their lives at sea. The Newlyn Fisherman Statue was created by a local sculptor Tom Leaper and depicts a fisherman casting his line as he arrives back in port.
Newlyn Fisherman Statue

The weather in Cornwall is changeable, to say the least. Within minutes of leaving Newlyn, the beautiful blue skies had disappeared and rain looked imminent. 

Add caption

Fortunately, the rain did hold off as we walked alongside the pebble beach and by the time we arrived at our accommodation, the YHA hostel, the blue skies had reappeared!

YHA Penzance

We were a little early to check in to our room, but the communal areas of the hostel were open. As there were very few people around we decided it was a good chance to make use of the laundry room as by this point we were running out of clean clothes. After all, there's only so much a small backpack will hold!
My bag on the right, and no, my daughter wasn't carrying half my stuff!

We had booked two nights in Penzance, so with plenty of time to look around the town later and our walk over (plus we now had clean clothes), it seemed the appropriate time to go out and celebrate. The Turks Head Pub, the oldest pub in Penzance, with its gorgeous outdoor patio and scrumptious food (best fish pie I've ever tasted) proved to be the perfect place.

All in all, the walk was a fabulous experience. The scenery was amazing, all our accommodation was wonderful and everyone we met was so friendly. In addition, the sense of satisfaction of achieving a challenge - I'd never walked for five consecutive days over such terrain before - was immense. If you like to walk and are up for a challenge, I'd highly recommend it.  And if you'd prefer something even more challenging, remember, the South West Coastal Path is 630 miles, that's approximately seven weeks of walking!

When Mel is not out exploring she writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. Her latest novel Trust No One is now available from Amazon.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Walking the South West Coastal Path - Day 5 - Sennen to Lamorna Cove, Cornwall, UK

Day 5 was our longest walk, 13 miles from Sennen to Lamorna Cove. Almost as soon as we left Sennen we could see our first landmark  - Land's End - in the distance. 

Land's End is the westernmost point of Cornwall. I'd been there before many years ago and remembered that there was a First and Last Refreshment House and a hotel, but to my surprise, I discovered there is now also a theme park! Apparently, until 1982 Land's End was owned by a Cornish family but since then has been sold several times and between 1987 and 1991 the then-owner added two new buildings and the park. I can't say I think it was a positive development. I find it hard to understand why people can't just enjoy the natural beauty of such a place without needing to have added attractions.

The First and Last Refreshment House was built in the 19th Century and still serves snacks and souvenirs

Heading away from Land's End, the scenery became more dramatic with rugged cliffs and rocky outcrops.

Enys Dodnan and the Armed Knight Rock
At this point, the path was relatively flat, following the cliff top with no obvious access to the caves below except by boat. This area was famous for smugglers so they must have found a way to get up with their loot!

This unusual rock formation is apparently a popular place for rock-climbing. We stopped to watch two climbers make their way down. It's not an activity that appeals to me!

But I do like eating cream teas, so the Porthgwarra Cove Cafe was a welcome sight. 

After fortifying ourselves for the rest of the walk we continued on the path to St. Levan's well, a pre-Christian holy well perched on the cliff top. The water is considered to have healing properties and is still used by the church for baptisms. 

Our next stop was the Minack Theater, an open-air theater built into the side of the cliffs offering not only a full program of drama and music but also amazing views.

Minack Theater

There was a play in progress while we were there but we were allowed onto a viewing platform and were able to look down on the auditorium and stroll in the theater's sub-tropical garden.

From the theater, steep steps lead down to Porthcurno Beach. The steps are part of the Coastal Path which meant that, after a quick spot of sunbathing on the beach, the next stretch of the path was all uphill.

It was a relief to get back onto the moors.

We weren't the only ones on the moors.

But it wasn't long before we were faced with yet another descent. This time into the small fishing village of Penberth Cove . Even before we got down into the village we could clearly see our next uphill climb.

Looking down on Penberth Cove

Stepping stones connect the path to the village

As we continued on towards Lamorna, the path became more varied. It took us across rocky beaches, twisted and turned through knee-high foliage, up and down rocky scrambles and along grassy walkways.

It's four miles from Penberth Cove to Lamorna and those four miles were probably the hardest miles of the trip. They weren't the most strenuous, but we'd already walked for hours and it was hard to judge how fast we were walking given the uneven terrain. Three times we approached a headland thinking Lamorna must surely be in sight - only to find yet another uninhabited stretch leading to the next headland!

Finally, we were rewarded with the view we had been looking for: Lamorna Cove.

A welcome sight for weary walkers

Though it turned out our walk wasn't quite over - our hotel, the Lamorna Cove Hotel, was up a steep hill from the cove!

A welcome sight - the Lamorna Cove Hotel

Originally a chapel, the building was converted to a hotel almost a hundred years ago and now offers self-catering apartments. The apartment was more than we needed for an overnight stay, but it was the only place with rooms available. It even included a full kitchen but as we had no food supplies we had to adjourn to the local pub, The Lamorna Wink, for dinner.

The Lamorna Wink

It proved to be the perfect end to a wonderful day. 

When Mel is not out exploring she writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. Her latest novel Trust No One is now available from Amazon.