There are some things in every one’s life that have a lasting charm… some threads that run through life, helping keep alight the joy of life even when things are not so good. Something that gets you excited about life itself. For me, it is trains. I love trains… I mean, all trains. Long distance trains, commuter trains, touristy trains… love them all. And never give up a chance to ride on one either.
I don’t know when I was bitten by the train bug. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I was not enchanted by the trains. When I was in third grade, we were doing a chapter on transportation. Teacher asked whether there was anyone in the class who had not travelled on a train. To my utter amazement, a number of hands went up. And I was thinking… where have you been living? Under some moss covered rocks? Lived thus far without a single train ride? The pity I felt for those kids was fathomless. Even at that age, a train ride was one of my favourite things.
As I grew up, I found out that there are kindred spirits all around the world. Known by various names such as railfans, rail buffs and train buffs, they form groups and go train spotting. Yes, it is a legitimate hobby, with many followers. Train photography, model trains, exploring historical railway tracks and trains, and collecting train memorabilia are some of the activities of these groups.
You have to admit… some of the old trains are a pleasure to see. And you never get bored watching a train go by. Whenever a car I’m travelling is stopped at a railway crossing, and there are groans from the rest of the party, I’m secretly thrilled though I have to hide my glee! 🙂
As fun it is to watch a train from the outside, it is equally interesting to watch it from the inside. I mean watching the people. Where else would you get such a golden opportunity to watch a microcosm of society, yourself unobserved? Some of the people are busy reading the newspaper or books, some are engrossed in prayers and rosaries, some keep yakking away to either their friends or on the phone… some even do their chores like opening the mail or doing their nails.
One thing interesting about New York trains – including the subways – is that you get to hear all kinds of languages. Sometimes when a conversation in a language I do not understand gets too loud for comfort, I have a trick to bring it under control. I pretend to be seriously listening and smiling or frowning at all the right moments. And the conversationalists begin to wonder… does this woman understand what we are talking? In no time, it is toned down and there is peace and quiet again.
Let me ask you a question. Imagine this scene… you get on a train, from a station in between, and you have a ways to go. All the window seats are taken. Some of the people have their bags and papers all spread around on the aisle seats and are sitting taking up most of the two seats. Others have kept their possessions neatly on their laps and the aisle seats are left free of any encroachments. Where would you opt to sit? Don’t you think that by that choice, you are rewarding bad behaviour? 😉
Whenever I go visiting a new place, I would find out if there are any interesting train rides around. Very often, there are. And I never let go a chance to ride on one of them. This is a train from St. Kitts, that went around the island and the old sugar cane farms, keeping the Caribbean always within sight on one side. It was wonderful!
One of the activities of the railfans is called ‘complete riding’, which is to try and ride the complete railway network of a city, state, or country. It would be an interesting activity to consider during the fall in NYC.
I cannot end this note without a shoutout to a fellow railfan… you all have seen him, laughed with him and at him. And said ‘Bazinga’ with him! Yes, I mean Sheldon Cooper from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ whose love for trains is as intense as mine!
And the only reason I do not have an elaborate train set running on the floor of my apartment is that I live in a matchbox!
01 Aug 2014
It was nice and sunny. The weather showed a maximum of 25 degree celsius for the day. The breeze floating about helped cool off the temperatures a bit. It was supposed to turn cloudy later in the day. With one eye open, I squinted towards the sky, still drowsy with sleep. Sprawled on the lush green grass, I was enjoying my afternoon siesta. The canopy of trees swaying gently above lulled my senses. At that point of time, the only thought that entered my mind was ‘Margarita! What would I not do for a margarita?!!’ 🙂
Sitting up, I viewed the large Grenadier Pond that had ducks and beautiful swans swimming by. It was truly a sight to behold! Behind me were people playing frisbee and badminton, walking, chatting, above all, relaxing in this serene atmosphere, far from the hustle and bustle of the city and yet so near. I was at High Park, a four hundred acres wooded area in downtown Toronto. The park gets its name from the previous owner, John George Howard, in 1873, who constructed his residence, the Colborne Lodge, there. Since the house was located on the highest point in that area, it came to be known as High Park along with the surrounding areas.
Developed as a natural park, it offers recreational facilities to Torontonians. Situated on a hilly terrain with steep inclines and valleys, there are also paved walking trails and tracks for those on a leisurely spree. For me, the walking tours are a major attraction of the park, organized on Sundays. The Colborne Lodge and the High Park Zoo are other things one could check out. So are the well-kept gardens that are embellishments to the raw wilderness around.
The High Park Zoo is a stretch of road with sections, enclosed by wired fences, providing habitats for many interesting animals like llamas, bisons, barbary sheeps, mouflon sheeps, reindeers, yaks, etc. The signboards hung outside the fences are humorously documented with information on the animals.
Ready for some nourishment, I glanced at my friends enquiringly. They were also up for a bite. We slowly started walking towards the parking lot. On the way, the High Park train, an open carriage for people wanting to tour the park on wheels, passed us. I mused over how much of the wonderment of the park they were able to take in as I felt that it was done best on foot. A break at the food trucks helped us hold our hunger for the time being and satisfied our childish cravings for popsicles, hotdogs, and cone ice creams.
I have heard that the blooming cherry blossoms in the spring are a spectacle worth seeing at High Park. In fact, the nature centre has a cherry blossom watch which tracks the date of peak bloom so people can plan their trip accordingly. Guess I need to get those pictures next!
24 Jun 2014
How often does one get a chance to be part of history? That too, the history of such magnificent city as New York? Such was the good fortune of the people around when the Highline opened on June 9, 2009.
What is Highline? It is a beautiful, beautiful park that was built and nurtured on the abandoned old tracks of the 6th Avenue El!
A bit of flashback… the Els, or elevated railroads, in New York were built to avoid the frequent accidents that used to happen with the freight trains running on the ground in the city. It was sooo bad that horse-riding men were employed to gallop ahead of running trains, waving red flags, to keep pedestrians off the tracks! Hence was conceived the idea of train tracks off the ground and running above the city streets.
On June 5, 1878, the 6th Ave El started operations. It covered a distance of 13 miles with stations at Rector St, Cortlandt St, and Park Place on Church Street; Chambers St, Franklin St, Grand St, Bleecker St on West Broadway; 8th, 14th, 23rd, 28th, 33rd, 42nd, 50th and 58th Streets on Sixth Avenue. The line also connected directly to factories and warehouses, enabling freight trains to deliver meat and produce – raw as well as processed – inside the buildings. And what is great, is that the traffic on the El did not affect the ground traffic at all!
However, by the 1930s, the decline of the El had started. The entire structure had weakened beyond hope of repairs. After being operational for 60 years, it was decided that the 6th Avenue El will be torn down. And on Dec 4, 1938, the operations on the line came to an end. And parts of the line were dismantled.
Fast forward to 1980s… plans are being made for the demolition of the remaining parts of the El. Local residents headed by environmentalists and activists challenge the plans in court. In 1999, a neighbourhood group, ‘Friends of the High line’ is formed to find alternate usage for the space offered by the now defunct railroad tracks.
Gradually support for the group increases and in 2002 a City Council resolution is passed advocating the reuse of the tracks.
In 2004, funding from the city is acquired for the development of the tracks. A design is selected through competition and the Highline Park comes into being, with the first section extending from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street open to the public on June 9, 2009!
‘Enchanting’ is an apt word to describe the Highline. The rail tracks are kept intact and flowers, shrubs and trees of all kinds are planted along the sides and between the tracks. And they change according to the seasons, adding variety to the overall sense of greenness that the park has.
The rail tracks that used to go into the meat packing factories and other manufacturing facilities can still be seen, though the entrances to the buildings are blocked up.
You can enjoy coffee, snacks and ice cream in one of these red brick factories, converted to a small marketplace. Also, you will find commemorative t-shirts, pens and very interesting books in the marketplace.
And the Highline has become a venue for art shows and exhibitions. The other day when we visited, a sculpture show was going on, attracting quite a few fans.
In fact, the whole area surrounding the Highline has developed an aura of artiness as evident from the street paintings and art objects.
Looks like even the neighbouring buildings are inspired to contribute to the effort!
And the views! Boy oh boy! It’s wonderful to look along the streets from the height of the Highline Park.
And some of the best views of the Hudson are from the Highline.
Looking for an exotic venue for your next event or occasion? Come to the Highline! And if you are in a mood to help out with the park, you can always volunteer. All in all, the Highline Park is making history in the neighbourhood!
06 Jun 2014
Last time I was in Bangalore, construction was going on all over the city for the Metro transit system, named Namma Metro meaning Our Metro. As you probably know, Bangalore is the tech hub of the country, with a population surge already way beyond its infrastructure can support. And extended traffic snarls during the peak hours are as predictable as the sunrise every morning.
All this digging in the middle of the roads added considerably to my commute times. It was easy for me to not get irritated by this as it was a matter of only three weeks, after which I would be going back to my PATH trains… And I had a grand new Metro system to look forward to on my next visit… 🙂
Hence I was a bit amused by the venting of the cab driver one day on my way to work. We were stopped at a traffic signal and had to inch forward missing at least two greens. ‘Madam, who are they building all this for? Can the ordinary people afford the fares of the Metro? Never. All it has done is fill the pockets of the politicians… they all get rich, a white elephant Metro will sit there, and god alone knows whether it will even be completed!’ And I had to wonder whether his frustration had anything to do with the possible competition his trade would face from an efficiently run, on time Metro!
The first stretch of the Metro – from M.G. Road to Baiyyappanahalli – was inaugurated in October 2011. This visit, I took a ride on the Metro on that same stretch. First impression… Wow!
The stations are expansive, spic and span, and maybe because I entered around 10.30 am, deserted. The personnel in charge of the strict security screening of all passengers are extremely courteous. Energy saving escalators, helpful signs… above all, everything spotlessly dust free; it is a bit hard to believe you are still in Bangalore! 😉
The train compartments are of international standards and not at all crowded, especially at the non-peak hour that I travelled. Now I do have to check out the crowds during the peak hours, of course!
To my delight, the trains run on elevated rails, not underground. And provide a wonderful view of whatever can be called the down town on the M.G. Road – Baiyyappanahalli route.
Two things to do next… check out the longer Malleswaram-Peenya stretch and check out the downtown stretch during peak hours. Another day…
21 Feb 2014
I was so afraid I was going to miss the NYBG holiday train show this year. For starters, I was travelling for almost the whole of December. And, once I got back, the polar vortex also arrived, bringing ice and snow and sleet with it… Still, despite all odds, I made it in the nick of time… went and saw it on the last day of the show! 🙂
As my people already know, I am a great fan of trains. Small trains, big trains, unusual trains… all of them. Even the PATH trains. But at the NYBG show, I found the trains sort of meh… What really got me was the landscaping.
Combining historical and geographical interest, the show features 140 iconic New York buildings, many of them from dates past. The models are made to scale using all natural plant parts. It is almost like a miniature tour of the city!
This year’s show features 21 model trains and covers 6,000 square feet of area with 1,200 feet of track laid out. The trains in the show are G-gauge and represent American trains from the late 1800 steam engines to today’s high speed passenger trains.
A new introduction this year are trains made of plant parts, looking like they are straight out of some fairy tale. Hoping there will be many more of them next year!
Among the buildings recreated are the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Public Library, the Guggenheim, City Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, the original Pennsylvania Station, Met Museum and many many more.
The train show debuted at the NYBG in 1992. The designer behind the wonderful miniature landscapes is Paul Busse, assisted by a team of 20+ artists and engineers of the Applied Imagination team. More examples of their fascinating work can be seen at www.appliedimagination.biz.
Plans for the buildings are made with the help of photographs and architectural drawings. Then a shell is made with foam board. Twigs, bark, moss, leaves, flowers, acorns, pine cones, seed pods… anything that comes from nature is used to mimic the architecture. The finished product is coated with a thin layer of resin to protect it from dust and moisture.
Each structure involves hundreds of hours of painstaking work, with every intricate detail recreated through the imaginative use of materials. The minute details, executed so meticulously, truly gives meaning to that oft repeated word ‘awesome’!
I was left with the definite impression that the original structure would have been way better if it was constructed with natural plant parts! 🙂
Notice the pistachio shells and corn husk?
The holiday train show is held at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden.
From the ‘Am I seeing things?’ department
Was Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home in Tarrytown, featured twice in the show? I believe so (in fact, I have documentary evidence!) but realised that only when I was looking through the pictures taken! 🙂
15 Jan 2014