With change constantly occurring around us, Justin and I often find ourselves in a perpetual state of FOMO. There’s always something shiny and new to check out in New York City, from towering new structures to pop-up exhibits. But that also means that we sometimes take the stuff that’s been around for a while for granted. Case in point: the Jefferson Market Library.
If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you know that everything there is magnified and exaggerated by a factor of 1000, and it’s easy find yourself with whiplash from taking it all in. I have somewhat mixed feelings on the “More Is More” mantra, but one thing I remember being notably impressed with was the stunning ceiling of glass flowers in the Bellagio. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first experience with Dale Chihuly’s masterful craft.
In case you missed it, I kicked off Part One of our Kyoto travel guide here. Kyoto’s a really fun place to visit, especially in the fall. Picking up where I left off, here are some of my other must-see destinations:
Arashiyama has several worthy attractions, but it’s located away from central Kyoto. It was actually easiest for us to hop on a bus, though the train might be a more convenient option for others. Since it was further out, we made sure to get an early start. We dropped by the Arashiyama train station to check out the Kimono Forest (which is accessible all the time so you’re not limited by opening hours) then we headed to the Iwatayama Monkey Park.
Travel seems to be a universal love. Exploring other locales and cultures is inarguably intoxicating. But it’s not a universal pursuit. Many people find themselves restricted by time, money and responsibilities, in any number of combinations. I started traveling while I was in college, and it often required sacrifices in time and comfort to accommodate a minuscule budget. To see as much of the world as I could, I sat through timeshare presentations and slept on trains. And my adventures in lodging have included a middle-of-the-night flooding and relocation to a different hotel (and I confess to using this term rather liberally here).
But the challenges pale in comparison to the experiences and the memories. So despite such calamities as missed connections and lost luggage, I book the next flight and carry on. Justin and I have eased up on our travel schedule recently because our 17-year-old cat, Chloe, can no longer be left unsupervised. But with our families being dispersed all over the map, we still find the need to travel, though we now take turns so that someone is home with Chloe at all times. My recent turn with the compass came in the form of a family trip to Kyoto.
I’ve always been an obsessive planner when it comes to travel, although the tools have improved vastly from my early days. My friends and I used to lug around heavy guide books and giant maps, and today all we need is a smartphone and a good data connection. (In that regard, I can’t recommend Project Fi for eligible Android users enough — my access in Japan was seamless. And no data roaming charges!) We started with Google Maps, where my brother created a personalized map, threw on all the points of interest in Kyoto then shared it with the family. I then started a Google Sheet (Google’s version of Excel), also shared it with everyone, and started plotting out our itinerary using the map as a tool to determine which landmarks were within close proximity of each other.
If you follow us on Instagram, you might have caught whiff that I’m heading on a trip to Japan. My family lives half a world away so we try to meet up somewhere we can all have a fun vacation, and this year we agreed on Kyoto. I’ll spare you the ugly details on how many WhatsApp messages it actually took for all of us to reach a consensus — we’re one of those weird families that’s not remotely alike. (Truth be told, my older brother is still wishing we were headed to a beach.)
The workaround with our diverse family usually involves large swaths of time in the schedule that are “open”. During those periods we split up and do whatever our hearts desire. I have no doubt I will spend many of my open slots dining solo: my family isn’t quite as food-obsessed as I am, and for God’s sake, I’ll be in Japan. I’ll want to eat every fifteen minutes! My parents will likely find themselves in many of the gardens Kyoto has to offer, as they have long been fans of horticulture.
Serendipitously, on a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden, the exhibition that occupied the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was NYBG’s annual Kiku exhibition. (As an aside, the Victorian-style stunner is one of our favorite buildings.)
Kiku, which means chrysanthemum in Japanese, is a flower that has been long revered in Japanese culture. Kiku has been said to embody the idea of perfection, and is also viewed as a symbol of the sun. It’s featured in the Imperial Seal and the Japanese emperor sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne. The art of growing and training the flowers is a dying tradition in Japan, so the long-standing alliance between the New York Botanical Garden and the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo has been mutually beneficial. Shinjuku Gyoen trains NYBG staff so that the craft lives on and enjoys worldwide attention.
In 2003, Lynn and I — as well as our motley crew of cats, Felix and Chloe — up and moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Scottsdale, Arizona on a whim. This radical decision was predicated upon a number of factors: we were incredibly weary of the long winters; we could no longer envision a future filled with opportunities in our professional lives; and there was a discernable feeling that we were in a rut, living out lives that seemed alarmingly predictable and comfortable given our relatively youthful ages. A malaise had set in, as well as a soul-crushing ennui. Something had to change. And so something did: we moved.
The next nine years of our lives were spent in Arizona. Unexpectedly, the change of scenery revealed more about what we’d left behind than what we’d discovered at our destination. In particular, we found a new appreciation for the finite change in seasons we’d previously taken for granted. Sure, there’s a “cooler” period in Arizona, but a mild drop in temperature a change of seasons does not make. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder.
Even when you love this city as much as we do, there comes a point in the summer when it becomes unbearable. It’s as though the skyscrapers bend, crowding around you, imposing their crushing weight of glass, steel, stone and concrete. The streets are open blast furnaces filled with throngs of sweaty human kindling. The claustrophobic subway stations become pressure cookers filled with the suffocating, putrid stew of slowly tenderizing bodies. Even your daily commute isn’t immune. The trains travel slower, the buses less frequently, and foot traffic runs at an even more uncivilized, frenetic pace than usual. Soon, your emotional armor, so methodically constructed and maintained, goes from disheveled to distressed to nonexistent. That thick, calloused skin — the pride of all New Yorkers — is peeled right off, unceremoniously, like a discarded rind, mercilessly exposing the raw, tender nerves just beneath. Under such dire circumstances, there’s only one solution: you must leave. Even if just for a night, a day, a few hours.
Though some abscond to holidays in distant foreign lands, and still others opt for remaining in the general vicinity by way of The Shore, there is an option that constitutes a much lower hanging fruit: Governors Island, a landmark oasis a mere 800 yards off the coast of Lower Manhattan.
“Could I get a knife and fork?”
“There were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils at Medieval Times. Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?”
“There were no utensils but there was Pepsi?”
– Cable Guy, 1996
Everyone’s a fan of Arthurian legend, whether you fell in love with The Sword in the Stone as a child, or with Monty Python and the Holy Grail as an adult. Your favorite Arthur might be Sean Connery, while your favorite Guinevere might be Ava Gardner. You might’ve liked Steinbeck’s traditional retelling, or Mark Twain’s humorous alternative history version. There’s just something about the warrior king, the code of chivalry, the mysticism, drama and romance of the time that intoxicates. And it’s those same magical elements you’ll find at The Cloisters. (No dinner and jousting though, sorry.)
It was a lovely spring day in Central Park when my girlfriend remarked that she’d only begun noticing strollers around New York City after she’d had her baby and found herself pushing one as well. I looked around and realized that families had decided to take advantage of the all-too-rare perfect weather just like we had, and had come out to the park in droves. I marveled at the little kids running around, envious that they get to grow up with Central Park as their playground.
New York City gets a bad rap for being a concrete jungle, and New Yorkers get pretty defensive when celebrities pick up their kids and move away. But few are aware that there are more than 30,000 acres of public park land that is maintained by the city for the benefit of the residents, not including additional parks under federal and state jurisdiction or those that are privately owned. To put it in context, Central Park only ranks fifth on the list of largest parks maintained by the city, and there are over 1,700 spaces — including playgrounds and recreational facilities — to be enjoyed.
There are few people who can travel to Japan and not be charmed by it. I can remember my first trip there with uncharacteristic precision, but like so many others, I flirted with its culture and food long before I set foot on a plane. There is something so intoxicating about how truly unique it is, so it’s no surprise that Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri is one of its busiest weekends of the year.
Sakura Matsuri, which literally translates into Cherry Blossom Festival, is an annual celebration that ushers in spring with the synchronous blooming of multiple cherry blossom trees. Cherry blossoms are deeply symbolic in Japanese culture, where hanami is the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming sakura tree. At BBG, they commemorate this time of year with a weekend dedicated to honoring traditional and contemporary Japanese culture. Its traditional roots are illustrated with activities such as taiko drumming and martial arts performances, while its more contemporary influences can be found in cosplay- and anime-themed activities.
I hope you’ll indulge me as I take you on a short picture tour — I believe it will capture the spirit of the event better than any description I could cobble together. Let’s begin with the stars of the show: