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One of the main aims of our trip to USA in October was to cross the country from New York to Los Angeles by train. That takes a few days, so we split our journey up into manageable chunks. The first section of this amazing train journey was on the AMTRAK “Lake Shore Limited” from New York to Chicago, an overnight journey.

P1100786  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1100786 © JT of jtdytravels

A few memories stayed with us as we prepaared to leave New York and one of those was a very pleasant lunch at the Times Warner Centre (above). One very wet morning, we had intended to visit the Museum of Natural Science….  but a few thousand other people had the same rainy day program in mind.  So we took the much easier option to have a simple but delicious lunch in one of the quieter restaurants in New York.  Amazingly, we could actually chat without the need to shout at each other.

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P1100787  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100787 © JT of jtdytravels

After lunch, when the sun came out, we enjoyed the abstract reflections in the glass of this tall, modern building. The varied architecture of New York is one of the fascinating aspects of this city. But, after more than a week exploring the Big Apple, it was time to board our big, double decker AMTRAK train bound for Chicago.

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P1100932  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1100932 © JT of jtdytravels

For the first hour or so of the journey, the tracks run alongside the Hudson River. The trees were just on the turn and gave a hint of the autumnal colour to come.

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P1100951  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100951 © JT of jtdytravels

Being an overnight journey, we opted for a small room with beds.  And small was the operative word! To begin the journey, we each had an armchair from which to watch the world go by. As the sun set, and the whispy clouds began to turn to salmon pink, we were called to go to the dining room.  Dinner was an acceptable if not exciting repast. Conversation was pleasant with strangers we knew would never see again.  Interestingly, as Aussies, we seemed to be the ‘exotics’ on the train and we were able to add to our dinner companions’ knowledge of our country… and dispell some rather unusual myths and beliefs as well!

 

Rocking our way back to our room, we hoped that the attendant had made up our beds whilst we were away. Not so!  David did an heroic effort of working out the mechanisms for changing chairs into beds and then wrestling with sheets and blankets in such a confined space. I opted for the lower bunk, of course, giving David no option but to have to climb the ladder into the top bunk. The only place for the ladder was over the top of the ‘loo’ which was right beside my bunk. In fact, one of the best ways to meet your neighbours on the train was to have a chat out in the corridor while your partner used the ‘loo’.  The room was small but we were able to sleep as the train clickety clacked its way on towards Chicago. The only times I woke were when the train was stationary on a siding waiting for a goods train to pass us by. Goods trains have the right of way always on these tracks and, as the hours rolled by, we became ever later on our schedule.

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P1100965  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100965 © JT of jtdytravels

Next morning, we woke to a very different world; a world of quintessential American farms.

It was delightful to watch the scenery slide by…

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P1100972  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100972 © JT of jtdytravels

wide open spaces and fields of golden corn…

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P1100974 © JT of jtdytravels

and the ubiquitous red barns on each farm.

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P1100994  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100994 © JT of jtdytravels

This is dry country.  The wide arcs of watering systems were much in evidence.

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P1110014 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110014 © JT of jtdytravels

Here, most of the trees had already lost their leaves.  Winter was on the way.

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P1110016  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110016 © JT of jtdytravels

And then we came to the derelict and silent, but once very busy, steel city of Gary in the state of Indiana.  I read a fascinating report about this ghostly place written by Don Terry on July 2, 2012, in a journal “The American Prospect”.  A couple of sections from that article may decribe what has happened to Gary much better than I can:

Terry commented that this “shrinking, economically depressed hometown of Gary, Indiana—Steel City—was, once upon a time, a wonderful place to raise a family. That it had good public schools and well-maintained city parks and streets. That there were department stores, restaurants, movie theaters, nightclubs, and crowded office buildings up and down Broadway, its main thoroughfare. That a young guy could go outside, play some ball, flirt with girls, and not worry about getting killed in a drive-by shooting. That he could graduate high school, and if he didn’t want to go to college or join the military, he could just stay put and make a decent living in one of the smoke-belching steel mills that ringed the city and provided paychecks to tens of thousands of workers. That Gary used to be part of the American working and middle-class mainstream, a place folks moved to and put down roots in—not some decaying, can’t-wait-to-pull-up-stakes-and-get-the-hell-away-from-here outpost.”

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P1110022  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110022 © JT of jtdytravels

Terry quotes a young teenager who told of joining other teenage volunteers, armed with bottles of Windex, to wash windows in a senior citizens’ apartment building. They donned yellow plastic gloves and T-shirts that pleaded Bury Guns, Not People. The young lad said, “ My dad told me how he used to love to play outside. Now there aren’t a lot of kids in our area. Everybody has moved away. When you do go outside, you have to watch to see if someone is following you home. There’s nothing here for young people. No jobs. No future. I’m leaving as soon as I can.”

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P1110027  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110027 © JT of jtdytravels

Terry commented that “this is what happens when work disappears and dreams die. A once-bustling American city turns into Gary. A model of industrial might for much of the 20th century, sometimes called “the Magic City” by early boosters, Gary today is anything but. Over the past four decades, the jobs and the people have been chased away as Gary’s biggest employers had to grapple with low-cost foreign competition and responded by installing technology that enables two steelworkers to turn out as much steel as a dozen did a quarter-century ago. The five steel mills of Northwest Indiana—including the largest, the U.S. Steel mill in Gary—used to have a combined workforce of up to 100,000. They now (in 2012) employ roughly 20,000 people and are producing as much steel as ever.” The old less productive mills are now silent.

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P1110033  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110033 © JT of jtdytravels

“Like Flint, Detroit, Cleveland, and Akron, like hundreds of cities and towns across the once-industrial Midwest, Gary is emblematic of the new American poverty, the poverty that descended when the factories closed down. The city (in 2012) is half the size it was in 1970, its population reduced from 170,000 then to 80,000. Its poverty rate (in 2012) was 28 percent. A fifth of its houses, churches, school buildings, and other structures are vacant and boarded-up. The hulking steel mills still line the Lake Michigan shore in northwest Indiana, but,” comments Terry,  “they’ve been hemorrhaging workers for decades.”

There’s much thought provoking comment in this article. To read more, just Google:

Where Work Disappears and Dreams Die

We had plenty of time to take in this area as we waited for yet more goods trains to pass us by. We wondered what nearby Chicago had in store for us.  We were in for a very pleasant surprise; Chicago is one city I would recommend anyone to visit.  I would like to return one day.

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P1110035  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110035 © JT of jtdytravels

Our Chicago hotel, the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, was an older building; they call it “Classical Revival Beaux-Arts” architecture. Whatever the style name, this hotel, in times past, has hosted Presidents, Politicians, Film and Sports stars…. and now it hosted us!

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P1110265  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110265 © JT of jtdytravels

Although the rooms have been updated to include many modern amenities, there are still reminders of the grand old past in the public rooms.

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P1110269  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110269 © JT of jtdytravels

The public room ceilings are elegantly decorated.

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P1110271 © JT of jtdytravels

The beautiful old wall clock gave us the hint that it was time to get outside and see something of this city.  With advice from the friendly reception girls and a map in hand, we set off to explore.

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P1110245  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110245 © JT of jtdytravels

By contrast to our hotel, this building almost next door, is an ultra modern glass construction.  This is the Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership.  The contrast between these two buildings was the beginning of our fascination with the architecture of this city. But, our interest for the afternoon was the long park that runs the full length of our street, South Michigan.

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P1110037  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110037 © JT of jtdytravels

This park is a corridor of green between the busy street and the railway lines. Beyond the railway is another extensive park along the banks of Lake Michigan. This was a great place to explore.

I’ve added the photos of this walk in Chicago onto our flickr site:

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

The album title is US: Chicago- Afternoon walk

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P1110153  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110153 © JT of jtdytravels

After a few hours of walking and enjoying especially the Millenium Park in Chicago, we made our way back to our hotel in time to see a glorious sunset from our room.  We looked forward to a good night’s sleep in a much larger room, in a much more comfortable bed, with no clickety clacking and rocking of the train.  That would come again the next night, and the story of that part of our journey will be the topic of my next post.

Jennie and David

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All Photography Copyright ©  JT and DY  of  jtdytravels

More of our travel stories and photos are on

www.dymusings.com

and

www/flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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The third section of the delightful Conservatory Garden in the northern section of Central Park, Manhattan, was inspired by English gardens. Here you will find a beautiful selection of trees and herbaceous borders surrounding a central, secret, water lily pool.

P1100841  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100841 © JT of jtdytravels

Walking towards the “Secret Garden”

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P1100842  ©  JT  ofd  jtdytravels

P1100842 © JT ofd jtdytravels

Concentric bands of paths give a maze like structure to this garden.

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P1100854  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100854 © JT of jtdytravels

Greens predominate with a clever use of shape and texture.

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P1100846  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100846 © JT of jtdytravels

Feathery textures are also used to good effect.

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P1100847  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100847 © JT of jtdytravels

The water lily pond in the centre of the garden.

This pond was dedicated in 1936 to the memory of Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose story of the “Secret Garden” has captured the hearts of so many, young and old. The story was originaly published in 1910 in serial format but was published as a book in 1911. It has become a classic of English children’s literature and over the years has been adapted to film and TV.

This garden, like the book upon which it is based, explores the healing power of gardens, and indeed, of all living things. There is also a powerful message here that being in a quiet place amongst living things can help to bring calm to the mind, to transform negative thoughts into positive thoughts, helping both psychological and physical well being. This is a garden that gives a much needed sense of tranquility in an otherwise very busy city.

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P1100850  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100850 © JT of jtdytravels

Mary and Dickon; sculpture by Bessie Potter Vonnoh

The sculpture represents Mary and Dickon, the central characters of the book, who find healing of both mind and body in the secret garden they discover, a garden that had been locked away from everyone for many years. Mary holds a bowl of water for two little robins. It was a robin that lead Mary to find the secret garden. The robin had turned up some soil and it was there that Mary found the key to the garden. No key is required to enter this secret garden, just the desire to spend some time in the peace and quiet of a tranquil, beautiful space in a very big city.

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P1100855  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100855 © JT of jtdytravels

Simple flowers add just a touch of colour to this garden.

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P1100852  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100852 © JT of jtdytravels

A closer look at some of the feathery grasses.

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P1080871  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080871 © DY of jtdytravels

We could have stayed much longer but rain clouds threatened.

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P1100862  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100862 © JT of jtdytravels

The northern end of Central Park.

We had to tear ourselves away from the beautiful and peaceful Conservatory Garden and head back towards the city before the rain came down. This part of Central Park is itself very attractive with undulating lawns, large rock faces and many trees, some of them not very old.

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P1080879  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080879 © DY of jtdytravels

Fifth Avenue near the Met Art Gallery.

With the rain cloud becoming ever more threatening, we came out of the park onto the famous Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue and made our way to the fabulous Metropilitan Museum of Art.

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P1100880 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100880 © JT of jtdytravels

New York Metropilitan Museum of Art

There we had lunch in the member’s lounge before spending the rest of the day being entranced by a wonderful exhibition called “Assyria” which transported us as far back as 11th century BC. You could spend many happy rainy afternoons exploring this art gallery with its changing exhibitions adding constant new attractions to the many, many permanent exhibitions.

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P1100893  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100893 © JT of jtdytravels

Sun shining on one of the fountains at The Met.

By the time we emerged from The Met, the rain had passed and rays of sunshine were sparkling on one of the fountains in front of The Met. We made our way back to our friend’s apartment ready to relax our tired feet after what had been a truly enjoyable day in Manhattan.

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P1080807  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080807 © DY of jtdytravels

View down the East River, New York.

And put our feet up we did as we watched barges move slowly down the East River towards Brooklyn in the late afternoon light. T’was a delightful way to unwind, again away from the chaos and hustle and bustle of New York. With a view like this to enjoy every day, I understand why our friends like to live in New York. We thank them for their wonderful hospitality… and the view.

Jennie and David

All Phot0graphs ©  Copyright JT and DY of jtdytravels

other photos and stories of our journeys can be found on

www.dymusings.com

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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After leaving the green lawns and formal hedges of the Italianate garden in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden, it comes as something of a shock to walk into the next section of the garden and see a riot of colourful flowers.

P1100821  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100821 © JT of jtdytravels

Overview of the French Garden

This French influenced garden is oval in shape. A clipped hedge protects the outer border of colourful flowers while the apron of the fountain pool is surrounded by a partierre style garden of green and red. Beyond are the trees of the main park with a path leading away from this small contained garden to the wide acres of Central Park and the waters of Harlem Mere.

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P1100836  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100836 © JT of jtdytravels

The plants of the partiere are left unclipped with a shaggy, soft appearance.

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P1100822  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100822 © JT of jtdytravels

The floral border was a mass of Korean Chrysanthemums.

Korean Mums ( Dendranthema) are very hardy and grow in a loose and graceful mounds.  Their dark-green foliage stays fresh all season. According to garden officianados in the North Eastern Sates of US, these Mums suffer no bug or disease problems worth mentioning and the 3-inch daisy-like blossoms don’t have the aroma that other Mums seem to exude. (Apparently, some people don’t like the smell of conventional Mums.)  All in all, a good plant to grow in this part of the world. I wonder how they’d grow here in Canberra, in Australia. We might try!

I love daisy-like flowers and photographing these blooms was a delight.

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P1100826  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100826 © JT of jtdytravels

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P1100827 © JT of jtdytravels

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P1100831 © JT of jtdytravels

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P1100833 © JT of jtdytravels

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P1100830 © JT of jtdytravels

Notes from the New York Botanic Garden tell us that “Korean Mums were first hybridized (bred) in Connecticut in the 1930s by a nurseryman named Alex Cummings. He was working on hybridizing cold-hardy varieties that would flourish in New England temperatures. He came across a tall plant, a wild species he mistakenly identified as Chrysanthemum coreanum. Breeding from that plant resulted eventually in these lavish Korean Mums.

The original species was native to Korea, so the popular name of “Korean Mum” is correct. Their spectacular, daisy-like flowers come in a wide range of colors, from pale yellow and dusty pink to burnt-orange and fiery red. They certainly make a vibrant show in the autumn months in the Conservatory Garden. ( If you come here in the Spring time, you can enjoy a lavish display of colourful tulips.)

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P1080850  © DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080850 © DY of jtdytravels

After inspecting and photographing this wonderful display, we took time out to just sit on one of the benches with our New York friend and enjoy the beauty of one of her favourite quiet places.

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P1100835  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100835 © JT of jtdytravels

The fountain in the middle of the pond is a bronze copy of the joyful “Three Maidens Fountain” by German Sculptor, Walter Schott. Here in this garden, it’s also known as the Untermyer Fountain in memory of a well known civic leader, Samual Untermyer. The sculture once graced his estate in Yonkers, New York and was given to the city as a gift by his children after his death in 1940.

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P1080834  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080834 © DY of jtdytravels

The fountain exudes the joy of life and really lifts your spirits as you watch, half expecting the maidens to begin to laugh as they dance. Their dresses cling to their bodies as if perpetually wet from the spray of the fountain!

Beyond the fountain there are borders of perennial plants and a rose covered archway.

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P1080832  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080832 © DY of jtdytravels

Another view of the garden through some perennial plants.

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P1100818  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100818 © JT of jtdytravels

The perennials add even more bright colour to the garden.

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P1100818 - Version 2  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100818 – Version 2 © JT of jtdytravels

A closer look! Stunningly beautiful.

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P1100820  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100820 © JT of jtdytravels

Sunshine yellow against dark foliage is an interesting combination.

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P1100837 © JT of jtdytravels

This French section of the Conservatory Garden is indeed a very pleasant and quiet place to spend time away from the chaos of the city. But we had not yet finished our exploration of this secret part of Central Park. We still had the third section of the garden to explore, the English Garden, and we’ll visit there in my next posting.

Jennie and David

All photography copyright ©  Jennie Thomas and David Young

of

jtdytravels

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Not being a fan of chaotic big cities, but being in New York to visit family and friends, we set ourselves the task of finding the quieter places, places to escape. And one of those places is a small six acre section of that great, green space, Central Park.

P1100863  ©  JT of jtdytravels

P1100863 © JT of jtdytravels

Many people know the beauty and the facilities of Central Park but few know that there is a ‘secret garden’ very close to this north-eastern section of the park.

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Google Map of Conservatory Garden, NY

Google Map of Conservatory Garden, NY

To get there, we travelled north along Park Avenue by bus from 59th Street to 106th Street. ( We could have taken the subway # 6 to 103rd Street Station.) It was then but a short walk west to to the gates of the Conservatory Garden in 5th Avenue opposite 105th Street. This area is the border between Manhattan and Harlam, and Harlam, as many of our age will remember, did not always have the best of reputations for safety. So much has changed in New York and safety is one thing I noticed had really changed. The city still has an edge to it but we felt as safe as we do at home in Australia.

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P1080818  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080818 © DY of jtdytravels

David and me in front of the Vanderbilt Gate.

The main entry to the Conservatory Garden is through a magnificent wrought iron gate, the Vanderbilt Gate. This gate was designed by an American architect, George B Post and made in France. It was used for many years at the entrance to the estate of Cornelius Vanderbilt ll whose home stood at the corner of 5th Avenue and 58th Street.

We were about to step into a garden that not so long ago was an area avoided by most, a derelict area of filth, of drugs and of crime, a place where no one in their right mind would enter. But that was then. This is now. And the transormation is the result of the vision of one woman and the hard work of many volunteers who followed her vision.

The Conservatory Garden is named for the original conservatory glasshouses that were used by the Central Park to grow on plants for the park. They fell into disrepair when the cost of maintaining the glasshouses became too great and they were finally demolished in 1937. In their place a new garden was developed by Betty Sprout and Gilmore Clarke and it was maintained until the 1960s when it too became unmanageable. It stayed unloved and unkempt for twenty years.

This area became a very dangerous place to be, neglected, fullof garbage, the haunt of drug addicta and dealers; a place with a very high cime rate.  That was until a landscape gardener named Lyndon B Miller was approached by a friend to see if she thought the garden could be restored. What a sight met her eyes… but thankfully she saw the potential. But restoring a garden costs money and takes time. Photographs of French and English gardens were shown to possible sponsors and volunteers from the New York Garden Club came to the fore to help. This garden is a tesatment to the value of a garden in the social life of a city. Crime has disappeared and it’s now a place of peace and relaxation.

In 1983, a Women’s Committee was founded to make sure that Central Park and the Conservatory Garden remain in good condition for the people of New York and their visitors. They raise funds through Charity events, through the sale of plaques on the park benches ( there are some 9,000 benches in Central Park!), through the adoption of trees, and through donations to help buy the many tulips and other flowers that adorn the Conservatory Garden.

New Yorkers, and visitors like us, have much for which to thank these women. Certainly many of the 1,000 plus members probably live in close proximity to the park… for aprtment dwellers, it’s somewhat akin to having your own garden. But these women raise many millions of dollars to help keep the park and its facitlities in good order. I’m sure those who founded this park and the Conservatory Garden would be thrilled to see their vision still alive and vibrant today.

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P1080820  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080820 © DY of jtdytravels

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This garden is a designated QUIET Zone… something very rare in new York! It’s for those who want to quietly enjoy a stroll in beautiful surroundings where there are no bicycles or horse drawn carriages or runners to dodge, let alone people out for a brisk walk with their dogs. In this secret garden you will share peace and space with other like minded folk who seek to sit quietly, to read or just to stroll in the beautiful Conservancy Garden. Let’s go inside and enjoy its beauty.

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Aerial View of the Conservancy Gardens in Spring

Aerial View of the Conservancy Gardens in Spring

The photo above comes from the Park’s website and shows the layout of the Conservatory Garden.There are three sections, each one reminiscent of one of the great classical gardens of England, Italy and France. On the left is the gentle English Garden; in the centre a classic Italianate Garden bordered by the pink and white of crab apples in the spring time. Beyond the lawn and the fountain is a raised area backed by an extraordinary, semi circular wisteria arch, a pleasant pace to sit and read in the heat of summer, I would imagine. On the right is the more formal French styled garden which has plantings of tulips in the spring and Chrysanthemums in the autumn.

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P1100809  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100809 © JT of jtdytravels

The Italian Garden

The first garden to greet you after you enter the gate is the expansive lawn of the Italianate Garden. This is a favourite place for weddings and for wedding photo shoots. We were there on a week day, so it was all very peaceful. Beyond the lawn is the cool arbour od wisteria. It must be a magic sight, and fragrance, in late spring. We were there in October and the crab apple trees were just beginning to change colour.

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P1080852  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080852 © DY of jtdytravels

From the fountain, looking back across the lawn to part of Mount Sinai Hospital.

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P1080853 © DY of jtdytravels

Close up of the fountain.

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P1080856 © DY of jtdytravels

Autumnal leaves on a small pool.

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P1080858  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080858 © DY of jtdytravels

Portrait of autumn leaf on water.

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P1100810  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100810 © JT of jtdytravels

Beside the Italian garden is a quiet avenue of trees, a favourite place for those who just want to sit and read in a shady place, seemingly far from the chaos of the city. And yet, 5th Avenue is really only meters away!

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P1080832  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1080832 © DY of jtdytravels.

The French Garden

To the right of the Italian Garden is a garden with a French influence. It’s a small sunken garden filled with flowers. The unexpected sight of so many flowers and such a riot of colour in Central Park, or any where in Manhattan, comes as a bit of a surprise… a very pleasant surprise. This photo is a just a taste of what’s to come in my next post… so stay tuned!

Jennie and David

Photography copyright ©  Jennie Thomas and David Young

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David and I have recently returned from a trip to USA and in the coming days I hope to take you, by means of armchair travel, to some of the special places we found and enjoyed.  One of the main purposes of this journey was to visit friends and family, some of whom live in the ‘wilds’ of that great metropolis, New York.

New York is all that I had heard about it; it has a life force of its own; it pulsates; it’s busy, chaotic, brash, noisy, clogged with traffic, and it both excites the senses and saps your energy. But there are places where you can escape the hectic hustle and bustle, places where you can find a little peace and tranquility and let yourself recompose before re-entering the hubbub of busy Manhattan; before you dive down steps into the noise and smell and heat of, what must be said, is a very efficient subway; or weave your way between the throngs of people hurrying in  the streets, hurrying it seems without a moment to waste; or trying to make yourself heard by the person right beside you in one of the hundreds of good but extremely noisy restaurants and cafés. Why, oh why, must the sound level be raised so loud in a place where people want to enjoy good food and a chat?  But that’s New York.

P1100785 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100785 © JT of jtdytravels

 Sunday morning in the Soho area of lower Manhattan.

But there are a few places to escape. One is on the rooftop terrace of one of the many skyscaper buildings. There you are somewhat removed from the chaos as you look down on an expansive view of the metropolitan landscape.  Some of these rooftops are open to the public; some are not. Our vantage point was the deck of a private office area on the top floor of the old AT&T building in Lower Manhattan, in the Soho area.

P1080813 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1080813 © JT of jtdytravels

Looking north from Soho towards the Empire State Building

When you look down from this eiri above the city what you see is a mass of buildings, the proverbial concrete jungle,  interspersed by a grid of roads streaming north and south (the Avenues), and east and west (the Streets). The skyscapers seem to be getting ever higher as space on this island becomes scarcer.

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P1080817  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1080817 © JT of jtdytravels

Another view from the roof terrace of the AT&T Building

 And the other thing that is obvious is that there is little room for gardens in this mega city. There are a few roof top terraces as in the left bottom corner of the photo… but they are few and far between. How, one wonders, does this city breathe? Is there anywhere to truly escape the city and find trees and grass and green? The answer is yes.

Perhaps the best known place for green and ‘escape’ is Central Park.  It’s much further north, well beyond the skyscrapers that surround the Empire State Building. To get there we had to venture north to 59th Street… the subway is best as the roads become like parking lots and it takes a lot of time to get anywhere. And the subways are cheap and efficient.

When, like a mole, you emerge from the subway at 59th you will find the gateway to the massive Central Park. It is a huge park, covering many blocks in the midst of this busy city, from 59th Street north to 110th Street, a distance of 4 kms (2.5 miles).  It is, indeed, the most important escape valve of this heavily populated island city. It’s the place where New Yorkers and tourists alike gravitate especially on weekends to try to ‘get away from it all’ and to enjoy some of the many attractions and activities available in the park.

Map of Central Park; NY showing many of the attractions in the park.

Map of Central Park; NY showing many of the attractions in the park.

Official Central Park map of attractions (see the web for details)

We went one lovely, sunny, autumn afternoon in October…. and wished we hadn’t… for it seemed like the whole of the population of New York was there.  Perhaps not all! Some, I know, were at a “Pickle Festival” and others no doubt found other less well known New York retreats, but we were certainly not alone in Central Park that day! Hundreds upon hundreds, no, thousands of people descended on the park that Sunday afternoon.

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P1100793 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100793 © JT of jtdytravels

Boating on ‘The Lake’

They came to walk, run, cycle, skate board, roller skate, ride in horse drawn carriages, ride in people powered pedicabs, boat on the lake, visit the zoo, play a game of baseball, walk in a natural woodland or the wildlife sanctuary, watch theatre, listen to bands and buskers, walk the dog, ride a horse, find a rock or grassy knoll to sit or lie on and generally unwind in the park. It was not, however, a peaceful retreat from the chaotic, busy city. It was just different. But it was anything but peaceful! So my advice is, if you are not into chaos and want to truly escape the city, go to Central Park mid week!

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P1100795 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100795 © JT of jtdytravels

“The Lake”, one of several expanses of water in the park.

During the working week, you may enjoy a little more peace, a little less chaos. It’s then that, to me, Central Park comes into its own as one of the great parks of the world. This park was designed by two visionary men of the 1800s,  Frederick Law Olmsted and Englishman, Calvert Vaux. The population of NY had nearly quadrupeled between 1821 and 1855 and these two landscape architects won a competiton to provide the city with a green escape. They built a park that, for them, translated their democratic ideals into trees and green spaces. They wanted a park that would give respite to rich and poor alike, to New Yorkers, no matter their educational status, no matter their origins, no matter their class; a park that would provide a respite from the industrial pollution of the time; a place to relax and recuperate from the hard physical labour of the time.  The park was opened first in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) of city owned land and completed in 1873.  It has gone through several revisions and restorations since and now covers 843 acres (341ha). It still provides the city with the green space it needs to survive. It is indeed the city’s “green lung”, a term first used by Olmsted.

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P1100870  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100870 © JT of jtdytravels

The San Remo Apartments rise above the trees.

The park was built on land that was once shanty towns. It is said that some 1,600 poor people were evicted and their villages razed to make way for the park. Whilst the park was being constructed, sheep grazed on the lower end meadows and did so from the 1860s to 1934. Now the streets that run alongside the park are lined with wonderful museums like The Met and The American Museum of Natural History, as well as the homes and apartments of the rich and famous.  This is a very expensive area of Manhattan… but the park is free and open to the public to enjoy. And, for most of the time whilst you are in the park, the city, whilst it can still be distantly heard, is not seen.

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P1100862 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100862 © JT of jtdytravels

Rocky outcrops in the northern end of the park.

Because the natural land here was not very fertile, the building of the park required taking way extensive amounts of material and replacing it with topsoil brought over the river from New Jersey.  It is claimed that, by 1873, more than four million trees, shrubs and plants representing 1,500 species had been brought in and planted to beautify Central Park. I have read that there are currently 25,000 trees and that these include 1,700 American elms, thankfully protected by their isolation here in the park from the devastating Dutch elm disease.

Planting and maintenance is of course an ongoing process and the efforts of the ground staff is well rewarded in this very special park for all New Yorkers and their visitors to enjoy. The park staff deserve a very special thank you.

Central Park is a green space. It is not a flower garden. But in my next entry, I will introduce you to a little known corner of Central Park where peace and quiet and the beauty of flowers can be enjoyed in abundance.

Jennie and David

Photography © Jennie Thomas

of jtdytravels

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