Tag Archives: Garden

The Cloisters Museum and Gardens

Every person in the city, whether a native New Yorker or a visitor, has heard of the Metropolitan Museum. And a majority would have been there too, at least once. But that is not the case with the Cloisters, located at the top of Manhattan. Though it is a branch of the Met, not many people are familiar with this unique museum.


The Cloisters Museum and Gardens is focused on the art and architecture of medieval Europe, mainly from 12th to 15th centuries.


In fact, the whole place is designed on the architectural principles of a cloister in medieval Europe, though not modelled on any particular one, instead borrowing features from many.


When you see the museum, you will realise the appropriateness of the name as cloisters were living spaces for the monks, attached to cathedrals and churches in medieval European history.


The building with its stained glass windows and column capitals truly exudes an aura of grandeur and you feel like you are stepping into a long gone age of chanting monks leading a secluded life.


Among the decorative and liturgical art collection from various parts of Europe on display are illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries.


Most renowned among them are a series of seven tapestries, ‘The Hunt for the Unicorn’, commonly known as the Unicorn Tapestries.


These tapestries tell the story of how the unicorn is captured and killed, yet alive again and happily living in captivity. Leaving aside the allegorical allusions aside, these tapestries are full of rich details. Over a hundred plants and flowers are shown in detail, each bearing a significance to the story. A trip to the Cloisters is worth just to look at this set of tapestries; they are so rich and wonderful.


The gardens at the Cloisters are unique in the sense that they are aligned with the culinary arts. There are all kinds of plants, fruit bearing trees and herbs used in the preparation and flavouring of food. Also, there are many medicinal plants as well. These are plants that played a prominent part in the daily lives of the people living then.


For example, you will see woad, weld and madder plants that were used in the dyeing of material in blue, yellow and red respectively. And remember, these are the colours used to colour the threads in the tapestries that we just spoke about.
Intriguingly, there is a section of the garden devoted to poisonous plants! Of course, these plants too had medicinal qualities in the right hands, but the medieval background reminds one of many a story of intrigue and treason where poison played a main role.
These gardens have been planned and laid out to replicate a cloistered garden in the medieval times, based on horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, and garden documents and herbals. A herbal, by the way, is a book containing descriptions of plants put together for medicinal purposes.


And the view… Did I mention that the Cloisters is located overlooking the Hudson? From the walks around the gardens, the view of the cliffs across the river is awesome!


Included in the view is the George Washington Bridge stretching across to New Jersey.


Opened on May 14, 1938, the museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. And what better occasion than this to make a visit to the Cloisters Museum and Gardens? And the summer is the ideal time to pack a picnic lunch and spend a glorious day at this museum.



11 Jul 2014

The Park in the Sky

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

A Castle Fit for a King

After procrastinating for more than two years, I finally ventured out to see Casa Loma, a historical building which is now a cultural landmark for Toronto. I have always wanted to do this since I came here as I have heard a lot about the place. So, my friends and I planned this as a fun activity on a rainy day which was also a good way for us to stay indoors yet not be bored.

Casa Loma

Our day was pretty productive and Casa Loma turned out to be way more beautiful than I anticipated. Firstly, there was ample parking and that always scores high in my list of impressive things. 🙂 Secondly, there was more to see inside the building than I had expected. My prior expectation was based on the information that Casa Loma was not really a king’s castle but somebody’s erstwhile residence, hence does not bear the ornamentation of a palace. This was proved wrong.


Built like a castle, it is a heritage structure that is more than a century old. Following Gothic-style architecture, it used be a villa owned by a prominent figure of those times, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Since we weren’t sure of who he was, we sat in on the documentary that was being screened in one of the rooms of the castle.

Sir Pellatt was a Canadian financier and soldier for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. His most significant achievement was that he brought hydro-electricity to Toronto. He commissioned architect, E. J. Lennox, who is known to have designed 70 buildings in Toronto, including the City Hall, to construct this huge mansion.


Sir Pellatt liked to throw lavish parties and entertain guests in style and looking at the palatial nature of the rooms, I wished I could have attended one of those parties. I was reminded of the book, The Great Gatsby, written around the same time, by F. Scott Fitzgerald where the author portrays the extravagant and flashy life of the rich and the famous in that era.


Casa Loma was built in three years, between 1911 and 1914, by 300 workers and incurred a total cost of 3.5 million dollars. It was strategically located, on a hill, to gain a complete aerial view of downtown Toronto. Surrounding the castle are well-tended gardens spanning five acres and fountains that make for interesting photo ops. I read that the Casa Loma gardens won the Phoenix award from the Society of American Travel Writers.


My favorite room, in the castle, is the library with its crystal chandeliers and the continuous array of wooden bookshelves lined up floor-to-ceiling, covering an entire wall. The conservatory has a mesmerizing glass dome roof adorned by stained glass paintings; so were the windows that spread across the room, making it the best-lit room in the house.



The exciting part came up when we took a walk along a long winding dark underground tunnel that led us to the garage and the horse stable. The stable, once upon a time, was home to six gorgeous stallions. Each stall had the name of the horse carved in it and looked royal. The garage displayed refurbished vintage cars, which seemed fabulous to wheelcrazy me.



Some of the rooms, on the upper floors, are converted into war museums in order to treasure the artifacts from World War I and II.


We saw some interesting signs along certain articles like the below.

Photo 5-18-2014, 15 45 52

These days, the library and the conservatory are used as wedding venues. In fact, just as we were leaving, we saw the staff getting the place ready for such a function and for a fleeting moment, we thought of lingering back and crashing the party!

27 May 2014

NYBG Train Show


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?

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