Monday, July 10, 2017

Touring Brooklyn

Don at entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery
Well, today is our last day in New York. We decided to make it a Brooklyn day, so after breakfast we hopped on the Subway, traveled down the length of Manhattan, under the East River, and into Brooklyn to 25th Street. We walked a couple blocks to Green-wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights. It is a National Historic Landmark. The cemetery was founded in 1838 and has always been a fashionable place to be buried. The list of famous people buried here is huge. In 1860 it rivaled Niagara Falls as a place for tourists to visit!

It is 478 acres of hills, valleys, glacial ponds, and winding paths. We only managed to traverse a small portion of it. We trudged up Battle Avenue to see the monument to the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Brooklyn, one of the first battles between the British and the Americans, was fought here. From the top of the hill you can see the Statue of Liberty, which I thought was most meaningful.
Suzanne at Monument to the Battle of Brooklyn

We continued along the meandering paths admiring the many tombstones, monuments, mausoleums, statues, and all the beautiful plants. It was all so interesting. We stopped at one of the lakes to eat lunch and watch an egret who was looking for fish (he never seemed to find one!). We stopped in the historic chapel, which was very simple with lovely stained glass.

After this we got back on the subway and went to Smith Street where we visited a new book store, Books are Magic. They had shelves of books published by the New York Times Book Review which I had never heard of.

We continued our walk along Smith to Atlantic Avenue which is one of the main shopping streets of Brooklyn. We finally ended up at the subway on Court Street and headed back to our hotel.

Our last adventure was trying to find a deli restaurant where Don could have pastrami and I could have chopped liver. I can’t believe that it was so hard to find one in New York City! We ended up taking the bus back to Ben’s Deli at 209 W. 38th St. and had a wonderful meal. I would definitely recommend this restaurant.
Can you find the egret?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The week end in New York City

Well, here it is Sunday, July 9 and we have one day left in New York. I have not felt well all week end, so our activities have been minimal!

On Saturday we met Hildie for lunch at Benares, an Indian buffet which has very good food. Then we went to see the play “Oslo” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center. This is a very dense play about negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis brokered by the Norwegians in the early 1990’s. It was very well acted and they attempted to insert humor into the tension among all of the players. It would have been better to study up on the situation before going because a lot of the dialogue was lost to me! It was nice being together, anyway!
Suzanne at Lincoln Center

On Sunday I went to mass at St. Paul the Apostle Church which is just a couple of blocks from here. I expected a good choir, but it was just a cantor. Oh, well, it felt good to be in church!

We also visited a couple of flea markets this week end. After visiting the Cooper-Hewitt, I had a new appreciation for old iron and pottery. However, I decided I didn’t want to take heavy stuff home with me, so I just bought some jewelry made out of old stuff!

We are always looking for the best pizza restaurant. We learned today that our favorite deli, Arties, had closed, so we tried the pizza at Big Nicks. So far that is the winner. We also liked Justinos Pizza, but not the pizza at Saccos.

Tonight we took in a concert at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. It was a chamber music concert with a terrific clarinetist, strings, and piano. They played Beethoven, Weber, and Schumann - all so beautiful, well worth the price of admission.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Friday, July 7, we were planning to go to a new museum, called the Met Breuer. It is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has been extended into the building where the Whitney Museum used to be. However, I wasn’t feeling too well and it was pouring down rain in the morning, so we did not go.
Sistine Chapel exhibit at the Oculus

After lunch I was feeling better and the sun came out, so we decided to salvage the rest of the day and visit the Cooper-Hewitt Museum on 5th Avenue at 91st Street. We were there years ago, but they have changing exhibits and the current one is called the Age of Jazz.

The museum is a former Carnegie Mansion which was extensively remodeled to accommodate the design collection of the Hewitt sisters and their grandfather, John Cooper. We could still see many of the lovely features of the old house, the wood paneling –ceilings and walls, stained glass windows, grand staircase, chandeliers, etc. The museum is the Design Museum of the Smithsonian.

So, all of the exhibits featured beautiful designs for all sorts of familiar and exotic objects. The Jazz Age featured items from the 20’s and 30’s. I really love the clean lines of that period – beautiful silver tea sets with square shapes, wood desks with open shelves and minimal decoration, chairs with metal arms and legs. Of course, my favorite was the jewelry and other decorative items. There were lots of jeweled, enameled, gold & silver boxes and cases. The art deco pieces were also lovely. There were paintings, book covers, clothing, piano scores, wall paper, on and on. It was really almost too much to take in. Plus there were pieces from the original Hewitt sisters collections. The wrought iron bird cages were particularly interesting, and also the models of spiral staircases.

An interesting feature was the special pen that they gave us. We could use it to quickly download the descriptions of any items we particularly liked. They put it up on their Web site after we returned the pens and we can look at the items on our own computer. This is another place I would highly recommend visiting.

Looking for new activities

We always like to find new things to do in New York. However, on Wednesday, the day after the 4th we repeated a couple activities. We met Hildie in the  afternoon and spent a couple of hours walking
Hildie and Suzanne on the High Line
in the High Line Park. We did this a couple of years ago, but it has really changed – I’m not sure for the better. All of the plantings have matured, but somehow they did not seem as beautiful as before. The meatpacking neighborhood has become very “in” and consequently many of the lovely old buildings have been torn down and an architectural variety of high rises are being built. I’m sure it will quickly become an expensive and highly desirable place to live! Because of all the building there were many scaffolds all along the park which obstructed views and detracted from the art work. After our walk we had dinner and saw a musical, “War Paint,” starring Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole.

Don on the One Step Bridge
The next day, we did find something new to do. We had never been to Snug Harbor on Staten Island so decided to do that. We took the free Staten Island ferry to the island and then the bus for a short ride to the gates of Snug Harbor, Old Sailors Home. It was built in the 1800’s as a home for old and weary sailors. After many permutations it is now owned by the city and called the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. It is truly a beautiful spot. The buildings are old and in need of renovation, but the gardens are gorgeous. We especially enjoyed the Chinese Scholars Garden. It is a replica of one built in China and we had fun pointing out the features we had learned about in our trip to China; the moon gate, one-step bridge, tile patterns on the floors, meandering stream, tea house, windows framing views of plants,strange shaped rocks, tiled roofs with interesting water spouts, a seemingly endless variety of patterns. I would definitely recommend this as a spot to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Going to the movies in NYC

Our hotel is in a rather spectacular location for the activities that we like to do – close to Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle and Central Park, Carnegie Hall, and Hell’s Kitchen. So, on Monday, July 3 we headed over to Lincoln Center to see what was going on. We approached it from the back (10th Avenue) and actually entered through a part we had never walked on before. We saw there was an Asian Film Festival in one of the new film theaters, the Francesca Beale Theater. So we bought tickets for the 6:30 show. We had time to do some shopping and eat before we were back for the movie, Okja. It was a delightful Korean film with an ecological message involving a super pig, a 10 year old Korean girl, and an evil corporation run by Tilda Swinton and her twin sister! I hope it has some commercial success.

Tuesday was the Fourth of July, so we figured we had to find some non tourist things to do. We bought a one week subway pass (the world’s best bargain for $16, senior rate.) We actually ended up doing a lot of walking. We visited Grand Army Plaza at 5th Avenue and Central Park. The statue of General Sherman has been newly gilded and the Pulitzer Fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel was running – two beautiful, old monuments. We also looked at the temporary outdoor art installation consisting of several concrete chairs, sofas, and free standing windows emulating the sitting room of a torn down 5th Avenue mansion.
Don sitting in "The Living Room"

Suzanne admires Morpho's Nest in the CadmiumHouse

We then walked to Park Avenue to see an installation of painted concrete slabs in the median. That left us rather cold! But the better thing was when we decided to see the movie “Wonder Woman” at a nearby theater. Paying $17 each for tickets to sit in a lounge chair and watch a big screen film did rather set us back on our heels! By the time we got back to our hotel we decided the best thing would be to watch the fireworks on TV and that WAS the best!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

2017 trip to Washington DC and New York City

Samantha & Suzanne relax on her deck
 I can’t believe that we have been gone for over a week! This is our third year to spend a week in Washington DC attending the DAR Continental Congress and then spending the following week or so in Manhattan. I have procrastinated writing this blog because I wasn’t sure I had much new to say!

We left Santa Monica on Saturday, June 24 and flew direct to Washington. Samantha S was kind enough to offer her newly purchased house as our staging ground for the week in DC.  Even though she had to go to work, she was the perfect hostess. We had our own room and bath and the full use of the kitchen. Her parents, friends from LA, were also visiting so we did lots together.

Our time was spent going to the National Archives I and II and the Colonial Dames and the DAR Libraries to do genealogy research. We attended several evening activities in Continental Hall, I sang in the DAR chorus, and we went to the Schools Luncheon on Friday. All in all it was a successful trip.
Suzanne at Madonna of the Trails statue in Bethesda MD

On Sunday, July 2, Don and I moved on to New York City via the train from Union Station to Penn Station. From there we found our way to our hotel, the Fairfield Inn on 58th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue. We have a compact room on the 13th floor with a view of the office building across the way! We had dinner at a Greek restaurant around the corner and readied ourselves for a week and a half of activities in the City. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Impressions of Amsterdam

     I wrote a few impressions about Amsterdam before we left, so I will send these now.

     In addition to the cold & wind (which I was unprepared for), I had trouble dealing with the drug culture. Our hostess in Enkuizen had told us that she was a social worker and spent most of her time dealing with drug addicts – not marijuana but hard drugs. So, I really wonder what the cause and effect is. I can’t say everyone does it because there are tons of people in the street doing everyday activities, but there seem to be “coffee houses” (places to use marijuana) on every block, plus other stores selling products related to various drugs. I just do not find that very interesting or pleasant to walk past.
     However, I do love the canals.
Many of the canals have houseboats docked along both sides. People started living in them in the 60’s when housing was scarce and now they have become a fixture and quite expensive. The city provides all the utilities for them. They actually don’t look that comfortable, but I think it would be a fun place to live.

     I also love the architecture.

There are older (the east side) and newer (west side) versions of the four or five story town houses (row houses) built from when the city was in its golden period in the 1600’s, Many of them have statues or some kind of sign depicting the original owner. They are quite narrow because originally people were taxed on the width of the house. They also may have been taxed on the number of windows, so many have shutters which can be closed to hide the windows. Because the interior stairs were quite narrow and steep, almost all have some kind of pulley mechanism at the top to raise items up to the top floors. This was often because merchandise was stored in the attic if the owner was a merchant. Now it is used to get furniture up to the top floors! So, some homes were built leaning forward a little to facilitate this activity. Others may be leaning to one side. That is because all the original homes were built on wooden pilings pounded through the mud and sand to harder ground. Most of the time the pilings have stood up, but some have deteriorated. The tops of the homes are mostly false fronts of many shapes and decorations. This hides the steep roofs of the buildings.
     Historically Amsterdam has been a place of refuge for many people and accepting of all cultures and life styles. That leads to a great diversity in restaurants, shops, and the look of people walking in the streets. We noticed a lot of young men dressed in black, and a lot of tall people! I guess people watching was one of our pass times as we did have to rest a lot.
    We came home on Tuesday, April 25. Other than the airline losing our luggage, it was an uneventful trip! And it is always nice to be home after a wonderful vacation.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Touring Amsterdam

     On Thursday, April 20 we said good-bye to the River Voyager and dragged our suitcases to our new hotel, the Bank Hotel. We had a beautiful 5th floor room with a lovely view of the city roof line.
We were there until Saturday, April 22 when we again dragged our suitcases almost due east to our last hotel, the Crown Hotel which is right next to one of the smaller canals.
     So, we have spent the last three days getting to know the city and trying to take in some of the more popular sights. However, this has been somewhat difficult because the city is very crowded now with people celebrating spring and getting ready for the King’s Day celebration next Thursday. In addition we seem to be spending most of our walking time dodging bicycles! This is really a bicycle culture-there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. You not only have to watch for people riding bikes, but you need to walk around all the ones parked on the sidewalks or where ever their owners drop them. We saw a 3 story bike parking garage next to the train station which was totally filled with bikes!

The Central Station

Places we have visited while in Amsterdam:
1. We first went to the Central Railroad Station to scope out the train system. You can take the train to almost any city and it is quite easy and fast. This is a large Neo-Gothic building built by the same architect as the Rijksmuseum. It was built in the late 1800’s and has two towers, one with a clock, the other with a weather vane.

2. Then we walked along Damrac to see the canals, all of the restaurants and shops along that street, the Stock Exchange Building, and ended up at Dam Square. Here we saw the National Monument, built to honor WWII veterans, and an amusement park which obscured all the other magnificent buildings!
3. We found the Amsterdam Museum, but decided not to visit it. We did look at the interesting paintings in the gallery at the entrance and we had breakfast in the cafeteria.
4. We visited the Begijnhof. I found the Catholic Chapel very moving with all the paintings and relics of St. Ursula.
Suzanne at the Begijnhof
5. We saw the Amstelkring Museum which gave us an idea of what the inside of a town house looked like. In the attic of this building we found the “hidden church” – a beautiful Catholic church built for worship when Catholics could not openly worship in a church. What a fascinating story.
The Hidden Church
6, We toured Rembrandt’s House which is the home that he lived and worked in for almost 20 years. It is located in the Jewish Quarter of town, so we also walked around there for awhile.

7. We walked around the Red Light District – but it was too early for the prostitutes to be out, so all we saw were the red curtains that they stood behind later in the evening.

8. We managed to get a spot in the Van Gogh Museum and found it most beautiful, but very crowded.

We are leaving tomorrow, April 25, so I will have to send my last post from home. We have not had good Internet in this hotel!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amsterdam The Netherlands

     We have finally reached Amsterdam. We have six days to explore this eclectic Dutch city. Our ship docked at the port early on Wednesday, April 19. We had an early morning cruise of the canals which was really very beautiful and interesting. I was totally disoriented, but enjoyed seeing all the different buildings and learning some history of the city.
     This area has always had access to the sea and been a center for trade and commerce.  In the 1200’s there was a fishing village on the Amstel River. The fishermen built a dam on this river and that gave the name to the future city – Amstel-damme. The Amstel flows into the Ij (pronounced Eye) River (now created into the Ijsselmeer), which in turn entered the Zuiderzee, an inlet from the North Sea. So, this gave Amsterdam ready access to shipping from all over the world. Its history is fraught with many ups and downs, periods of vast wealth and stagnation. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was founded here and that was the golden age (1600 – 1650) when many of the beautiful gabled town houses were built along the canals. In 1795 Napoleon conquered Holland and set up his brother as ruler. The Netherlands gained their independence in 1813.
     The Dutch seem to love to create dikes and canals, and this city is a beautiful example of how that was done. They made the Amstel into a canal and the dike became Damrak, a busy wide street that goes from the Central Railroad Station (built over where the Amstel enters the Ij) to Dam Square (the site of the original dam) and further south. Concentric canals were created encircling south of the railroad station and crossing Damrak. There are 4 major ones that do this. Then there are many smaller canals going between these. It is all very confusing, but beautiful.
     After our canal cruise we were given a quick tour of the Rijksmuseum before returning to the ship for our last day on board. The people of Holland are getting ready to celebrate Kings Day next week, plus it is spring break for many students, so the city is extremely crowded. We could hardly see the paintings at the museum which was very disappointing. But we will carry on!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Enkuizen The Netherlands

     We had another long overnight sail via canal to the Ijsselmeer. This is a lake formed when a branch of the North Sea called the Zuiderzee was closed in by a dam. They did this because Amsterdam was getting flooded. When the water became stable and fresh they started making polders which made the lake smaller. Finally the people said that was enough! Now they have a smaller lake but more land to farm. The Dutch are pretty amazing!
     The town we sailed to is called Enkhuizen. Again we were not there to visit the town, but to learn more about tulip growing. In the morning we had a lecture on the history of the tulip. It first appeared in the wild in the Far East and Caucasus Mountains in the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1540 the Turkish sultan developed a strong interest in the plant. It started to appear as a decoration on ceramics, embroidered on clothing, and even in the shape of the Sultan’s turban. The plant came to the attention of a Dutch horticulturist who started to study them for their medicinal value. He brought them to Holland and they were stolen and ended up being propagated in Harlem. For some reason speculation in bulbs was started and fortunes were spent on acquiring them. The bubble lasted from 1634 to 1637 before the whole thing burst and fortunes were lost.  
     However, the tulip is still big business in Holland. We visited a bulb growing farm and learned all about the propagation of the tulip. The bulbs are planted in the fall and the flowers come up in April. When they bloom they are beheaded so that all the energy will go back into the bulb. Then the bulbs are dug up and processed and sent to another grower who raises them in a green house for their flowers. So, it is basically a two year cycle. Baby bulbs from the first growth can be used to continue the cycle. Everything was mechanized, computerized, and very methodical. The main pleasure for us was to see the beauty of the fields with their colorful, straight rows of flowers.
Don and Suzanne at the bulb growing farm
     In the afternoon we visited a typical Dutch family – who it turned out was just like us and probably had spent more time traveling in the US than we have! People all over the world are the same – she was a social worker, her husband owned a roofing company, there were 2 teen age daughters, they lived in a 2 story modern duplex on one of the canals and they grew some of their own food.