Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Travel Articles: Gellert Thermal Baths, Budapest, Hungary


After enduring a 24-hour-plus journey from San Francisco to Budapest, I checked into my hotel, then quickly hopped into a cab to reach the famous Gellert thermal baths before they closed.
     Once there, I was overwhelmed by the size and beauty of this art nouveau gem.  Japanese tourists waiting in line were as confused as I, studying the "menu" of options but presciently requesting a safe for their valuables.  Before my husband was siphoned off to the men's side, we agreed to meet later in the outdoor pools, and the adventure was on.
     An unfriendly attendant   more . . .

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image ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

outside pool at Gellert Baths in Budapest, Hungary

Monday, March 23, 2015

Things to Do: Harlem Gospel Tour, NYC


I took this tour many years ago.  It might have a changed a bit since then, but the overall experience is the same.
Harlem Gospel Tour  690 8th Ave., NYC 10019, (800) 660-2166, (212) 391-0900.  A new day is dawning in Harlem.  The place is hot.  Especially with Europeans.  However, most out-of-towners don’t get there on the famous A train.  Instead, thousands of tourists--mostly Europeans--head uptown each week on various organized tours.  Because I am interested in attending a Gospel church service, I choose the “Harlem on Sunday” tour. 
    The chaos of boarding behind us, our bus heads up the West Side into the high street numbers beyond 110th Street, where Harlem officially begins.  The border is obvious--the green stops and the graffiti starts.  Though this is the English-speaking tour, everyone except me and my companion are foreigners.  They hail from Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland (home of the original Haarlem), and Japan.  Our charming guide, Mahalia, a young Haitian woman with a dry sense of humor, fills us in on Harlem’s history, telling us that until the 1830s it was a little village buried deep in the north country of Manhattan.  Then, speculation turned it from an extension of Central Park into a concrete jungle.
    In Harlem Heights we get off the bus to view Alexander Hamilton’s meticulously kept house and run into some notorious local color--an African-American panhandler who is not happy that our tour guide has brought us into the ‘hood and hurls expletives her way.  He is obviously on something, but she handles it well.  With our attention drawn to his ill behavior, we almost miss the reality beneath this clichĂ©--the many other peaceful neighborhood people, most decked out in their Sunday best. 
    We get back on the bus and travel through the attractive, well-maintained neighborhoods of Sugar Hill and Morningside Heights, passing the beautiful gothic City College campus, which is second only to U.C. Berkeley in number of faculty members who are Nobel Prize winners.


Paradise Baptist Church in Harlem on Harlem Gospel Tour in NYC
    Our destination among the approximately 400 churches in Harlem is the Paradise Baptist Church, a small church with lots of heart.  We file into the modest assembly hall furnished with movie-theatre-style folding seats spattered with dried paint.  A bulletin board tells about the church’s progress in paying off its mortgage, and I assume hosting groups like ours helps toward that goal.  Most of the women are dressed in white, which is traditional for church officials and ushers on certain Sundays when they are being honored, and the men are spiffily dressed in black suits.  After a rousing song, everyone in the congregation circulates to greet the other worshipers, including us.  The hugs and handshakes are so sincerely warm that I feel they are truly glad we are here.  The only awkwardness seems to be with the French, who naturally want to do a second air-kiss on the cheek. 
    There is more singing, and we sway to the rhythm, making offerings in the basket passed around as the choir--some of whom have positively angelic faces--sings “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”  This is followed by a long, drawn-out rendition of “I’ll Be All Right” that just about brings down the roof.  Several teens in our group jump up to the beat only to be pulled back down by their parents.  Anyone who was dozing is awake now.  A member of the congregation is overcome and collapses.  One of those women in white, this one with a nurse’s cap, comes to her aid along with other members of the congregation.  (Two nurses are always in attendance at these emotional services.)  Due to time restraints, we are ushered out before the sermon starts, as sermons can go on for several hours here.


Apollo Theatre in Harlem on Harlem Gospel Tour in NYC
    After stops to stroll through a leafy neighborhood, walk along wide 125th Street in front of the world-famous Apollo Theatre (which is open selling t-shirts and other souvenirs from the lobby), and make a pit stop in an ever-reliable McDonald’s, we return to mid-town. 

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers
 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Things to Do: Circle Line boat tour, NYC


Circle Line  (212) 563-3200.  Tours depart from Pier 83 on West 42nd St. Reservations not needed.  The absolutely best way to see Manhattan’s famous skyline must surely be by boat.  The well-established Circle Line has been doing this for more than 60 years, and has it down pat.  From the tour options, I chose the 2½-hour full circle cruise.  While your tired tootsies get a break, the boat completely circles the entire island of Manhattan--past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, around the southern end past Battery Park and Wall Street, under the Brooklyn Bridge, past Roosevelt Island and Gracie Mansion, past Harlem on one side and Yankee Stadium on the other (where we witnessed the aftermath of an automobile accident and a resulting traffic jam that makes me very thankful I am on a car-less vacation), around the amazingly park-like northern end of the island, where a small bridge opens up especially for our boat, then down past Grant’s tomb and back to the dock.  For the best views and picture-taking opportunities, sit on the port side--the left side as you face forward heading south. 
    Among the tidbits culled from the oration is that NYC was the country’s first capital and that in those early days George Washington hung out on Wall Street.  We also learn the “only thing” free in NYC is the original Staten Island Ferry; it once cost a nickel, but collecting the fare was so hard that the officials threw in the towel and made it free.

lower Manhattan skyline from Circle Line boat


Statue of Liberty from Circle Line boat

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sights to See: Lower East Side Tenement Museum, NYC


Lower East Side Tenement Museum  103 Orchard St./Broome St., (877) 975-3786.  Tours daily 10am-5:30pm; reservations advised.  $25, 65+ & students $20; suitable for age 8+.  Once there were 23 factories just on this block, which was also the most densely populated block in the city.  Now a National Historic Landmark, the tenement building that houses the museum was, between 1863 and 1935, home to 7,000 people from more than 20 countries.  First it was Germans, who were replaced by Europeans and Jews, then Italians, then Chinese.  Then, in 1935, they were all evicted because the landlord didn’t want to comply with new fire code laws.  Typical tenement design was five floors, four apartments on each floor, and store front property on the bottom floor.  Before your tour you can view a 30-minute film on immigration, the Lower East Side, and the museum. 


exterior of Lower East Side Tenement Museum in NYC


Baldizzi kitchen at Lower East Side Tenement Museum in NYC


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images courtesy of museum 


Monday, March 16, 2015

Sights to See: The Jewish Museum, NYC


The Jewish Museum  1109 Fifth Ave./E. 92nd St., (212) 423-3200.  Thur-F 11am-5:45pm, Thur to 8pm, closed W.  $15, 65+ $12, students 19+ $7.50, Sat free.  Housed inside an exquisite 1908 French Renaissance mansion, this small museum holds the largest collection of Judaica in the U.S.  A new cafe, Russ & Daughters at the Jewish Museum, will open in summer of 2015.


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images courtesy of museum 


exterior of The Jewish Museum in NYC


Nicole Eisenman’s “Seder," in Masterpieces & Curiosities show at The Jewsish Museum in NYC
Nicole Eisenman’s “Seder," in Masterpieces & Curiosities show