November in New York

Thursday 16 to Friday 24 November

It was bitter-sweet to arrive in New York and see Evan and Steph. I had brought with me a trilby that had been my dad’s. When he died it was passed onto Phil, and now we were passing it on to Evan, who has a love of hats and will surely treasure this one.

When we visited Pat and Graham in Burton Bradstock I had rescued a couple of pheasant feathers as Graham was cleaning the pheasants for our meal, and added the feathers to the trilby, just to add a more welcoming feeling to it.

We checked into one of our favourite coffee shops at Maison, across the road from Ev and Steph. Perhaps not the best coffee in town, but always an interesting place to watch the comings and goings of the Harlem scene.

We hired a car over the weekend and drove up the Hudson Valley to see the Jack-o-Lanterns.

First stop was at Sleepy Hollow, the town, not the 1999 American gothic supernatural horror film directed by Tim Burton. Of course, the headless horseman who is the protagonist on Washington Irvings book The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is represented in town. A bridge that bore his name has been replaced. The town is considered as one of the ‘most haunted places in the world’ but we saw no ghosts.

The town started as land purchased in 1664 by Adriaen van der Donck. Frederick Philipse increased the land holdings creating the Manor of Philipsburg and establishing himself as the first lord. He established a mill and a shipping depot and was responsible for the Old Dutch Church.

We toured the graveyard and peered through the windows of the Old Dutch Church, crossed the bridge and wandered the streets of this pretty town.

By now the days were short, so we whizzed up Bear Mountain to see the last daylight over New York. Bear Mountain State Park is a family destination offering walkways, nature trails and boating on Hessian Lake. Just 45 miles (72km) from New York, it is more frequently visited than Yellowstone.

Bear Mountain elevation is 1,305 feet (398m) and the highest in the region. It is topped by the Perkins Memorial Observatory, a stone tower erected in 1933-1934 as a fire lookout. It is on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,190 mile (3,524km) trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. In May we had driven through part of the Appalachian Trail over the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. It was nice to be back in the mountains.

We found our AirBnB in the little town of Beacon and then headed out for the main attraction – the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze. Set in the grounds of the van Courtland Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, it is a massive display of carved pumpkins. About 7,000 pumpkins are hand-carved in context or as part of larger installations. The are lit, some by candles placed inside them and others with artificial lighting. Most pumpkins are the real thing, however artificial carveable pumpkins made by Funkins are also used.

Of course, the Statue of Liberty was represented, as was Sleepy Hollow and Thanksgiving turkeys. There were Celtic carvings, and dinosaurs and zoos. But my favourite was the sunflowers.

November was cold in New York state, and we were dressed well, in every piece of attire we could fit on us, thermals and jeans, double layers of socks and multiple layers of tops and jackets. Topped off by hats and gloves and scarves destined for Antarctica.

On Saturday Ev and Steph had a surprise in store for us – a visit to the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor. Storm King in the Hudson Valley is described as a sculpture landscape, with 100 installations set in a 500 acre reserve.

The installations are large – leaving you feel somewhat overwhelmed. They are set in valleys, on hilltops, on flat land, in and around trees and even reform the land as in Maya Lin’s Storm King Wavefield.

Being November and cold and dull – there were no crowds to interrupt our photos, so we spent a magical couple of hours wandering around the reserve, admiring the artwork and capturing some of it digitally.

We thawed out with pancakes at nearby Newburgh, before a horrendous drive back to New York on dark, unmarked roads, with blinding rain. It is hard to believe how poorly maintained roads are in this country.

Next day was Sunday, and at my request Steph had tracked down a typical Harlem church service for us to see. This was at the Greater Refuge Temple Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As visitors we were ushered into the upper level of the church so that we would not interrupt the proceedings.

There were lectures and prayers and song, as expected. Something of a song and dance exhibition for the visitors.

It might seem disappointing to our children, but when we stop by to visit them, whether they are in Barcelona, Berlin or New York, we are not inclined to race around to the tourist sights. We will spend time with them. We will spend time using their internet access to plan our future journey. We will spend time catching up on laundry. We will even spend time sitting and chatting – just being together. We will research, and we  shop.

Thanksgiving Day was on the Thursday of our stay, and we had decided to stay in town for the experience. We found a small turkey and everything else we needed to make more food than we needed. Evan made pumpkin pie and Steph stuffed the bird. Bruce and I did as we were told, peeling potatoes, chopping vegetables, buying booze.

And when all was prepared we donned as many clothes as we could and went down to Central Park around 65th Street, to watch the very famous Macy’s parade.

Security and sensitivity to terrorism is much heightened, however I was still overwhelmed by the precautions in place.

  • There were garbage trucks blocking street entrances
  • Kevlar suited police with rifles stood at the end of each street
  • Plain clothes police stood opposite us, on the side of the parade road
  • Uniformed police marched in the parade, with eyes darting back and forth
  • Uniformed police stood every few metres along the parade route
  • Fully armoured vehicles followed the end of the parade, with police on motor cycles following

The parade was fun. Huge blow up effigies of favourite characters – Ronald McDonald, the Power Ranger, Tom Turkey. There were lots of marching bands, representing schools and communities from around the country. There were clowns handing out candy. There were floats, some of them very elaborate. And as is customary, Santa Claus made his very first appearance for the season.

It was back to Harlem, to eat, drink and be merry. To give thanks in our own small way for our wonderful family and the sense of adventure we all share.

We left New York and headed to warmer climates with plans for a big celebration very soon.