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Don’t Dismiss Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey

April 28, 2015 by · Comments Off on Don’t Dismiss Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey 

My daughter-in-law Amy thought I would enjoy touring Grounds for Sculpture, a mostly outdoor park near Princeton. So, she made brunch reservations for the family during my recent visit to New Jersey. And, she was right! Amy, my son, the two grandchildren (ages 10 and 12) and I made it a memorable day.

 

Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey

Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey

As we were nearing the address, we were greeted by large outdoor sculptures in the surrounding industrial park. I was surprised by this location, but learned the park sits on the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. The larger than life, 3-D version of Grant Wood’s famed painting, American Gothic, was my favorite.

Entrance to Rats Restaurant

Entrance to Rats Restaurant

We parked at Rat’s Restaurant, inspired by Kenneth Grahame’s beloved classic, The Wind in the Willows. The eclectic eatery incorporates whimsical architecture including a variety of secluded nooks, dormers, exposed beams and slanted ceilings. You’ll also find typical indoor and outdoor dining spaces. Walls are brightly painted and covered with artistic murals, or objects’ art. The surrounding gardens make you feel like you stepped into Monet’s beloved French town of Giverny. In fact, the aptly named Monet Bridge crosses over a lily pond just a stone’s throw from the rear patio.

Diners at Rats Restaurant near the Money Bridge.

Diners at Rats Restaurant near the Money Bridge.

Country French cuisine is the specialty of the house where diners can order off the menu or indulge with the all-inclusive brunch buffet. We chose the buffet including delectable French pastries, stuffed French toast, breakfast meats, eggs to order, quiches, and salads, an array of fresh vegetables and a prime rib and lamb carving station. A sampler of desserts was brought to the table and included small-sized portions of carrot cake, cheesecake, cookies, brownies, and other sweets.

Following the meal, we headed out the back door that leads to one of the entrances. Grounds for Sculpture, located in Hamilton Township, is a 42-acre, well-tended and beautifully landscaped park plus a museum, visitor center, and a few less-pricey cafes. The mission of the park is to let the public experience sculpture in a relaxed setting rather than a formal museum. It succeeds.

Poppy Hill Sculpture

Poppy Hill Sculpture

Hundreds of people of all ages were strolling the walkways or across the grass. Kids are free to run and even climb on or into some works. Some remain hands-off. One piece is a musical sculpture that calls for spirited banging; Kyra gave a concert! Both grandkids grabbed the lifelike bronze kids linking their hands with the semi-circular work. The whole family momentarily joined the men standing in the Depression Bread Line. A super large copy of Marilyn Monroe’s famous pose with her wind-blown skirt provides provocative photo opts. Don’t forget to bring your camera and make sure to look for the hidden art behind shrubs, off in a corner, or behind a fence.

Mega Marilyn

Kids join the sculpture

Kids join the sculpture

Johnson Impressionist_

You will run into many of J. Seward Johnson’s life-size impressionist-inspired sculptures as well as his creations of everyday people. In fact, many of them are so lifelike, you think they are real: a couple pushing a stroller or a teenager napping near the pond. The artworks are castings of living people.

Back in 1984, J. Seward Johnson, philanthropist of the Johnson & Johnson family, New Jersey native and famed sculptor, envisioned a public outdoor art arena. Construction began in 1989 on the site, but none of the rare, beautiful trees or flowering shrubs existed at the time. Public tax-exempt bonds and private foundations associated with Johnson financed the landscaping and sculpture acquisitions. Today you will discover hundreds of pieces in permanent outdoor collections, seasonal exhibitions, and many educational programs.

Sunday in the Park

Sunday in the Park

By all means, if you find yourself anywhere near the Princeton area, don’t miss this unusual, carefree outdoor world of art.

 

If you go:

Tickets: $15 – adults, $12 – seniors, $10 – students, children 5 and under are free.

www.groundsforsculpture.org

Art by a pond at Grounds for Sculpture.

Art by a pond at Grounds for Sculpture.

Recalling Ashford Castle and the Falconry School

April 22, 2015 by · Comments Off on Recalling Ashford Castle and the Falconry School 

On April 17, 2015, Ashford Castle officially re-opened after a two-year, $75 million renovation. Ireland’s Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, and Beatrice Tollman, President and Founder of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection were on hand for the celebration. Tollman said, “Ashford Castle becomes the jewel of the collection and certainly one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels.”

Ashford Castle exterior 2015

Ashford Castle exterior 2015

I can only imagine how spectacular this iconic site must look. Back in March, 2006, I stayed at the 800-year-old castle during a trip to Ireland. I vividly remember driving past miles upon miles of sheep surrounded by ancient hand-crafted stone walls. Then we entered the property and crossed a bridge over the moat. Everything I imagined from childhood fairy tales stood before me with the exception of a golden coach. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Renovated Ashford Castle - Oak Hall

The lobby welcomed me (and still does as seen in the above photo) with wine and ruby colored accents and a blazing fireplace. Our guestroom had a window where my daughter envisioned herself as Rapunzel, a perfect spot to let down her hair. I admit the suite could have included more modern features, especially in the bath, but I was happy at the time. The overall ambiance was rich and royal, and I felt a bit like a princess myself.

My daughter Laura at Ashford Castle window in 2006.

My daughter Laura at Ashford Castle window in 2006.

 

Now, each of the 82 guestrooms and suites and all public areas have been artfully decorated and redesigned with a range of selected antiques, original artwork, sumptuous fabrics and bespoke carpets all complemented by the latest technologies including Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel.

 

Laura in the Falconry Class.

Laura in the Falconry Class.

The hotel’s grounds were also splendid with secret gardens, stone turrets and fountains. The most vivid memory of my stay was the wonderful hands-on educational Falconry Class. Ashford’s School of Falconry is the oldest and most established in Ireland. I can still feel the joy of having a bird to return to my gloved hand , a moment in time I will never forget. I hope you will read my story about that experience here: Gone Hawking.

 

I hope someday to return to Ashford Castle but for now these old photos will have to do.

 

2006 Ashford Castle at Dawn

Crossing the moat at Ashford Castle

Crossing the moat at Ashford Castle

Debi during the Falconry Class.

Debi during the Falconry Class.

 

Ashford Castle in 2006

Ashford Castle in 2006

ABOUT ASHFORD CASTLE:

Ashford Castle is set on 350 acres in County Mayo, on the shores of Lough Corrib and the River Cong, with a spectacular backdrop of woodlands, lake, river, and mountains. A member of Leading Hotels of the World, it features 82 guestrooms and is renowned for a range of country sports including an equestrian centre, fly fishing, an exclusive nine-hole golf course and Ireland’s first school of falconry. Several dining rooms and bars, along with a gracious afternoon tea service are among the amenities.

For more information, please visit www.ashfordcastle.com.

 

 

National Park Week: A Visit to Yosemite

April 17, 2015 by · Comments Off on National Park Week: A Visit to Yosemite 

The week of April 18- 26, 2015 is National Park Week. Entrance fees to all the 400 national parks are waived during opening weekend Week, Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19! That’s a good deal so be sure to visit one.

One of the best senior travel bargains anywhere is a low-cost lifetime national park pass that admits seniors free of charge to most U.S. national parks, forests, refuges, monuments and recreation areas. U. S citizens or permanent residents who are at least 62 years old can purchase a Senior Pass for a one-time processing fee of $10. This Senior Pass to national parks and lands offers benefits to you and your traveling companions.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Nat Park

After a lifetime of wishing to see Yosemite National Park in California, I finally got there back in December. I drove in so early, the entrance gates were not even manned. (I own a Senior Pass.) I then stopped in the Mariposa Grove, the southernmost area, to see a preserve of giant sequoia trees. This area becomes quite distant once you make it down into Yosemite Valley and the center of the park. Talk about feeling small and humble…these behemoths are magnificent megatrees, a species whose trucks soar skyward nearly 300 feet and boast a base circumference over 90 feet. Their branches don’t begin to sprout until high overhead and seem undersized by comparison. The grove makes a grand statement and you find yourself wanting to stop. As I took it all in, I listened to the forest and it surely has much to say.

Bachelor and the Three Graces

Bachelor and the Three Graces

 

Stroll along and pass the Bachelor and the Three Graces whose roots are all intertwined before reaching the Grizzly Giant, a tree that’s probably 2,000โ€“2700 years old. It’s one of the largest in the world. A sign shows a photo of President Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and others in front of the tree in 1903.

A little further on, you come to the California Tunnel Tree- cut in 1895 to allow stagecoaches to pass through and as a marketing scheme to attract visitors. No vehicles are allowed today, but it is fun to walk through the opening in the tree.

California Tunnel Tree

California Tunnel Tree

I returned to my car and drove further into the Park gaining elevation on a very windy stretch until I passed Glacier Point Road, and saw a “sneak peek” of El Capitan. The road continues through the long Wawona Tunnel and my excitement grew. I parked after I exited and found myself standing at the famous Tunnel View vista: the spot where the first Euro-Americans “discovered” the valley, and one of the most photographed places in the world. Woo-hoo! Ahead, I could see the entire valley, the sheer rock wall of El Capitan and the renowned Half Dome. I’ve found when I actually come to a place that I’ve seen photos of for years, I’m rarely disappointed. There is something special about being there and this is one of my real joys in travel. I pinched myself and marveled at the view.

Tunnel Vista View

Tunnel Vista View

Afterward, I continued driving down into Yosemite Valley and spent the next two days trying to capture waterfalls rainbows, and reflections. I managed to catch a rainbow in the upper section of the falls one morning. That evening, I hiked a trail to the bottom of the two-tiered Yosemite Falls and as I was returning and nearing the meadow, the top quarter of Half Dome was ablaze in what is called Alpenglow: an optical phenomenon that occurs when is sun is just below the horizon and reflects light upward. It’s surreal and gorgeous.

Rainbow at Yosemite

Rainbow at Yosemite

Alpenglow at Yosemite

Alpenglow at Yosemite

Unlike Yellowstone, wildlife is not the main attraction in this National Park. Visit Yosemite to stand in awe of nature. Its beauty inspires contemplation of your place in the universe, similar to peering into the Grand Canyon. You’ll also feel the presence of so many who have previous trod the sacred grounds.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

If possible try to book lodging within Yosemite Valley as the drive in and out takes over an hour on difficult terrain – especially difficult for those prone to motion sickness. The granddaddy of National Park resorts, the Ahwahnee Lodge is a jaw-dropping luxury, if you can afford. I couldn’t but made a reservation and enjoyed dinner there.

Early December was an ideal time to visit as snow had not yet fallen, but the summer crowds were gone. I suspect early November might be even better to catch some of the lingering fall foliage.

I flew in and out of Fresno, California which requires a drive of two hours – one to Oakhurst and one more within the Park. Two days and nights is not enough to keep a photographer happy but certainly allowed me time to appreciate the splendor of this historic National Park.

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