New Zealand with Kids: Milford Sound, Glaciers, and theTranzAlpine Railway

IMG_7629We visited New Zealand with our kids last year, where we spent time on both the North and South Islands.  Our scenic drive through Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound included views of glaciers and wildlife.  We took a boat tour of Milford Sound, which I highly recommend.  We arrived at the boat tour center, and then booked a tour with Southern Discoveries, which just happened to have the next tour going out at a convenient time for us.  There are several different boat tour companies, and it was a simple enough process to book our tour when we arrived, though it might be best to reserve in advance on more crowded days.

IMG_7661We were extremely fortunate to catch a rare sunny day in Milford Sound, which is one of the wettest places in the world.  The views of the glacier-created sound and surrounding mountains were truly breathtaking.  We saw abundant waterfalls, fur seals sunning themselves on rocks, and wide-winged albatross skirting across the water.  The underwater observatory gave us an interesting peek below the surface as well.

After leaving Milford Sound, we continued onto another Holiday Park near the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.  We hiked up to get a closer view of the IMG_8050Fox Glacier, and we took a night walk at a nearby path to see glow worms.

We ended our trip to New Zealand by taking the TranzAlpine Railway from Greymouth back to Christchurch.  I recommend booking tickets in advance if you choose to do this.  We waited until the last minute and weren’t able to depart on our preferred date.  If the weather were more sunny, I imagine the views along the TranzAlpine route would definitely be worth seeing.  Unfortunately, we caught it on a rainy day with poor visibility, but our kids enjoyed the train ride nonetheless.

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IMG_0742Traveling halfway around the world to see a play may seem a bit extreme, but there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to see David Bowie’s play Lazarus.  My brother was able to secure two tickets to this sold-out performance, and he took me as his guest for a Christmas gift.  People were desperately trying to get their hands on tickets, even before Bowie’s death, and of course they were even more in demand this past week.

IMG_0741When we arrived at the small New York Theatre Workshop, we found people lined up outside in the freezing cold, hoping for no-shows so that they might get seats.  There were flowers, candles, and mementos left as a make-shift memorial to David Bowie in front of the theatre.  I can hardly describe the emotions I was experiencing by the time the doors opened and we settled into our third-row center seats.

One of Bowie’s final works of genius before he passed away, Lazarus is a musical inspired by the Walter Tevis novel and the David Bowie movie, The Man who Fell to Earth.  It was set as a sequel that took place many years after The Man who Fell to Earth.

The show itself left me breathless.  It was a brilliantly original story that incorporated live music featuring a range of songs spanning Bowie’s long career.  A large screen in the center of the stage was used for special effects and visual aspects to complement every scene.  The band was set up slightly behind the screen yet still visible on either side, while the actors were front and center practically within reach of our seats.

The main role of Thomas Newton was played by Michael C. Hall, who also starred in the TV show Dexter. He portrayed Newton consistently well and sang to powerful effect.  In addition to Hall, there were two other actors who absolutely stood out from the rest of the cast.  Michael Esper, who played Valentine, had such stage presence that it practically caused a gravitational pull towards him.  He absolutely owned his darkly dramatic character.  Sophia Anne Caruso played a young girl’s spirit with an air of innocence and the voice of an angel.

The show has ended in New York, but it will be going on to London for a short time.  I hope it’s filmed at some point, both to preserve it as well as to open it up to a wider audience.IMG_0766

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David Bowie: Dead but Forever Legendary

IMG_4171I was so sad to learn of the death of David Bowie today.  After losing his 18 month battle with cancer, he passed away two days after his 69th birthday surrounded by family, according to his Facebook page.

For those of you who know me or who read this blog, I’m sure you haven’t missed the fact that I’m a huge David Bowie fan.  I’ve been passionate about his music and inspired by his artistry since I was a child.  I had the pleasure of viewing the “David Bowie Is…” exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art about a year ago.

I’m flying to New York to see his play Lazarus next weekend.  It was almost impossible to get seats, but my brother surprised me with tickets as a Christmas gift. (The picture above is my brother at the “David Bowie Is…” art exhibit.)  Lazarus is a musical sequel to Bowie’s film, The Man Who Fell to Earth and to the Walter Tevis novel upon which the movie was based. Needless to say, seeing Lazarus next week will have an entirely new bittersweet poignancy, knowing it is one of the last of Bowie’s creations.

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New Year, More Books

IMG_0691I got so many wonderful books for Christmas.  It’s such delicious torture seeing them all on the shelf, demanding to be read next.  I’ve been keeping a running list of books I’ve read the last few years, a collection of old friends.

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The New Contemporary Art exhibit at the Art Institute

IMG_0655While I was in Illinois over the holidays, I took a day to go downtown on my own to see The New Contemporary art exhibit at the Art Institute Chicago.  It snowed as I drove into the city, but it made the iconic stone lions in front of the museum all the more festive with their fresh pine wreaths around their necks.

On my way up from the Grant Park parking structure, I chatted with a woman who had also driven into the city on her own to visit the Art Institute.  She was there to see the David Adjaye architecture exhibit before it closed.  As we approached the front of the museum, we noticed the long line waiting to get inside from the cold.  My new acquaintance kindly ushered me in past the line and treated me as a guest on her museum membership.

IMG_0574Once inside, I beelined for the new Modern Art wing and then took my time exploring the Art Institute’s largest gift to date, estimated at over $400 million and featuring a wide range of contemporary artists including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein.  If you’re in the Chicago Area, it’s a must-see collection.  After seeing the exhibit, I continued on to the David Adjaye exhibit, where I learned much about his contribution to architecture across the world.

I allowed time for the Greek art, the Marc Chagall stained glass windows, and the Asia sculpture collection.  I saw the ancient stone sculptures from Cambodia and Thailand with new appreciation, having recently visited both countries and spent time exploring the historic temples.  I ended my day with all my favorite European art displays, which included Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and the massive A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.Georges Seurat painting

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2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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New Zealand with Kids: Queenstown

IMG_7493We continued our South Island adventures through Otago with the requisite adrenalin thrills.  The Queenstown area is jam-packed with options for daredevils, both young and old.  While we didn’t do bungee jumping on this trip (much to my 12-year-old daughter’s chagrin), taking a ride on the Shotover Jet boat at Arthur’s Point was a thrill my kids will talk about for years to come.

IMG_7543We took the Skyline Gondola up to the peak in Queenstown, which afforded sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and what is reported to be the purest fresh water lake in the world.  While at the peak, we raced the luge around the track, walked up and down the walking paths, and took plenty of pictures.

IMG_7587After spending a couple of days in Queenstown, we continued on our way through Southland and into Te Anau.  To enhance the gorgeous splendor of New Zealand, it seemed as if rainbows appeared daily throughout our drive.  With its varied terrain and largely unspoiled natural beauty, New Zealand is, without a doubt, the most stunningly scenic place I’ve ever been.


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