Monday, November 24, 2014

Radio City Spectacular: A Great Show in a Grand Hall

The Atrium of Radio City Music Hall
While in New York City this past weekend to celebrate our respective milestone birthdays, my mom and I attended a showing of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. We initially bought tickets for this show in honor of my grandmother who attended a performance here over 60 years ago. Her experience in 1951 left quite an impression on the young girl from McDowell, Kentucky. It is remarkable to think that a Senior trip of that magnitude was even possible for such a small rural school of that era. Thankfully, it was possible and had a lasting impact. She never lost her appreciation and regard for the Rockettes, who have made an annual televised appearance in the Macy's Day Parade ever since I can remember.

All of this was in my mind, and my mother's, as we entered Radio City Music Hall for the first time. To be honest, my expectations of the show were low. After all, I had seen their high-kicking song and dance routine a number of times on TV or so I thought. As I sat and watched the performers with their elaborate costumes and technologically enhanced staging and visual affects, I found myself moved beyond words. There were several pleasant surprises during the show including giant, floating snowflakes and a spectacular nativity complete with live camels and a burrow. All this, combined with the opulence and size of the theatre, made for a remarkable experience.

For the second time in two days, I realized the power of a live performance whether it's a comedy in an intimate theatre with compelling actors as the night before or visually stunning displays of musical talent on a grand stage with hundreds of other people in attendance. There is just something about a well-done live performance that stirs the mind and inspires the soul.

I will never forget this past weekend due in large part to this show and the fact that I was fortunate enough to share it with my mother and in a way, share it with her mother. Because of this experience, I now more fully understand my grandmother's fascination with the Rockettes. I get it now. I see how some performances can leave a lasting impression on us. Previously, I have not put much stock in attending live shows of any kind, but not anymore. Who knows, I may even go out of my way to see local performances that before now I would not have even considered. And I now look forward to taking my daughter to Radio City Music Hall one day, God willing. In that moment, four generations of women will have learned to appreciate a great performance in a grand hall.
Art Deco stage at Radio City Music Hall
The Rockettes as Reindeer
A representation of the Nutcracker story 
The Rockettes as Toy Soldiers
Christmas in the City
Drone snowflakes floating around the theater
The live nativity

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Big Apple Birthday Bash

My mother and I have birthdays three months apart, and this year we are both getting a zero. So when she stated a desire to see New York City on her birthday, I suggested we make it a joint birthday celebration and got the ball rolling.

We took our trip this past weekend and stayed three nights at the Martha Washington Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Friday, we started off with a bus tour that took us south past Ground Zero and the new One World tower and then north past Grant's tomb, St. Patricks Cathedral and Harlem. Early evening, we stopped for a light dinner and hot drink in Bryant Park which has been turned into a Winter Village for the season, complete with ice skating rink and restaurant.
One of the holiday display windows of Lord & Taylor
Afterwards, we headed to the Empire State Building and passed the Christmas displays in the windows of the Lord & Taylor Department store on the way. The view from the Empire State Building was amazing. We made it to our room by 10 p.m. which is early by Manhattan standards. Considering that we started our day at 3 a.m. and more than 1,000 miles away, who could blame us?
View of Times Square from the Empire State Bldg
Saturday, we had a leisurely breakfast at Murray Hill Diner before taking the subway to 59th. Our first stop was Tiffany & Company, before taking a ride around central park in a horse drawn carriage. The day was chilly but sunny, and the trees in the park still held their fall color.
The view from our carriage  
Trying to stay warm 
Upper West side with other carriages in foreground
For lunch, we only had to step across the street to the Food Hall of the Plaza Hotel where we found the best lobster roll on earth. We then took a tour bus to Rockefeller Center and then the subway back to the hotel to rest our feet before our scheduled Broadway show.
First NYC subway ride
After relaxing for a couple of hours, we again took the subway to Broadway and Times Square and picked up our tickets for "You Can't Take It with You" at the Longacre Theatre. There was a cozy restaurant right next door called Hurley's where we had a good, relaxing dinner, before taking our seats in the historic theater. I saw some familiar faces among the performers like Mark Linn-Baker from Perfect Strangers. My sister and I loved that show when it aired in the 1980's, and we still occasionally give reference to "the Happy Dance" when something particularly good happens in life. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Fran Kranz from Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods was one of the lead actors in the show. The participation of renowned actor James Earl Jones was very well marketed, however. I thought this comedic production was excellent. I was riveted by the acting and the elaborate rotating stage, not to mention the occasional pyrotechnic display. Without a doubt, this was the best bit of theater that I have ever had the pleasure to experience, although, I must confess, my repertoire does not include many adult performances.
The Set of "You Can't Take It with You"
Upon exiting the theater, we saw a waiting limousine and haphazardly placed aluminum barricades. Only then did it occur to me that we could get a few autographs if we were willing to wait. I was so excited at the possibility of getting to meet Fran Kranz; I felt like a giddy school girl. (He exited the building through the door just like a normal human being.) Despite being a bit star struck, I did manage to mention a few words of accolade to him on the evenings performance and that both my husband and I enjoyed his role in Dollhouse. I couldn't wait to report back about this unexpected turn of events. My hastily snapped photo and his autograph were proof enough. Silly me - being new to this celebrity stuff, I didn't even think to get my picture with him. I think Mom enjoyed seeing me so excited. We were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of the experience.

I assumed James Earl Jones would be a long-shot and I was right. After waiting some time, old man winter was nipping at our toes so we decided to forego Darth Vader's autograph and console ourselves with a slice of cheesecake from Junior's. This meant a midnight return to our room, and a much later repose.

After a very full two days, both my mom and I were tuckered out come Sunday morning. We managed to stir and go get some New York Pizza for lunch. Then, we decided to limit our ambitions for the day and just go back to the room for more R&R. I did manage to get up enough energy to go explore by myself for a couple of hours in the afternoon and ended up walking the Highline - a cutting edge rails-to-trails project on the west side of Manhattan.
On the Highline
I made it back to the hotel for another respite before taking a taxi to the 7 o'clock showing of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular. After yet another memorable experience, we had a late, fast food style dinner in our room and called it a night.

Monday, we packed up our suitcases and checked out of the hotel. They were kind enough to hold our bags while we made the best of our last day. We decided to breakfast at the Murray Hill Diner once again. Then, we rode a crowded subway train to 83rd Street and walked a few blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We enjoyed several hours there while a winter front dumped rain outside. There is more than one eatery at the MET, so it makes for a perfect place of refuge on a rainy day in the city. While this was my second visit to the MET, it was nice to be there with my mom - someone who could truly share in the wonder of it all. We strolled through the Egyptian exhibit and perused the walls in the American and European galleries. Before departing, we made a point of seeing the restored Lombardi sculpture of Adam and Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire.

Tullio Lombardi's Adam
We ended our last day by taking the subway back to the hotel, collecting our bags and getting a wild taxi ride to LaGuardia during rush hour. Our 9 o'clock flight was delayed until nearly 11 due to storms in other parts of the country, but we made it back to Orlando safe and sound by 3 a.m. on my mom's actual birthday. Thus concluded our 96-hour Big Apple Birthday Bash. 

I, for one, had an awesome time, and I know for a fact that my mom checked several things off her bucket list. I'm so glad we got to have this once in a lifetime experience together. There were more than a few unforgettable moments that would not have happened with anyone else. We are both still recovering and trying to get back to normal life, but that's to be expected after a trip like this - especially one that involves New York City. There is so much to do that you go, go, go trying to see and do it all. Perhaps that is where the term "Take a bite out of the Big Apple" comes from, because who could possibly take it all in. Instead, take one big bite at a time.  I'll be savoring this trip for a while yet, but I'll eventually be ready for another piece.

Once again, Happy Birthday Mom! I so enjoyed our Big Apple Birthday Bash. We may just have to do it again sometime.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Remembering the Past: Charles Towne Landing

I always get a bit nostalgic this time of year and lately I have been thinking about our travels this time last year. We were living and traveling in our RV slowly making our way south after visiting NewfoundlandCape Breton and other points north. Aaaahhhh! Beautiful, lovely places.

Our last stop before reaching Florida and family for the holidays was Charleston, SC. We had visited several Civil War related sites on that journey so how could we not make a visit to Charleston - home to Fort Sumter and the H.L. Hunley.

During our stay, however, we discovered another fascinating historical site that pre-dated Civil War Charleston and was, in fact, the site of the first permanent european colony in South Carolina, Charles Towne Landing. It is located across the Ashley River from modern day Charleston on Albermarle Point. Bordered as it is by a river on one side and a marsh on the other, the original settlers hoped the location would lend itself to protection from any Spanish ships. Those original settlers still felt additional protections were needed though so earth works and other fortifications where quickly built as well as gardens and houses. Many of these have been recreated for modern day visitors.

Charles Towne Landing is currently owned and operated by South Carolina State Parks and includes many different components from historic gardens to mansion ruins. Archaeology is ongoing at the site as people seek to uncover the rich history of the area that includes Native American, European, and African American peoples. The park does a decent job of sharing this history via various interpretive displays and reenactments that include a museum and a replica coastal cargo ship called The Adventure. On our visit, the ship was definitely a highlight for my then 5 and 7 year old children. In this video, interpreters are showing them how to operate the pulley system that was used to load and unload heavy cargo.

Additionally, the park attempts to interpret the natural history of colonial Charles Towne with the presence of a small but impressive zoo.

I didn't take a many pictures on our visit, but here is a video of my toothless daughter being stalked by the resident cougar.

For a full description of the park and all it has to offer check out the park website.