Archives for the month of: March, 2012

As April approaches I am reminded of how excited my family and I were last year at this time as we planned our first trip to New York City! Despite growing up only a few hundred miles away in Canada, I had never actually been there. Over the years I had heard so much about this famous city that I just had to visit!

We stayed for a week in a simple little hostel on 103rd Street, just a block from Central Park. On our first day we got ourselves weekly passes for the subway and bus system, so we could explore the city easily. Of course we had a list of must-see tourist attractions, like Times Square (above), the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum and Brooklyn Bridge.

Although I’m not very keen on going to the top of very tall buildings, it would have been crazy to visit New York and not go up the Empire State Building. We had to wait for a clear day, as it is so tall it sometimes gets enveloped in clouds!

Inside, the building is very beautiful, with 1930s Art Deco design in marble and brass. It was begun in 1930 and took just over a year to build, with up to 3,000 men working on it at one time. Getting to the top takes quite a while, but it’s worth it for the amazing view of the city you get from the top. In this picture we are looking north-east, and you can just see the point of the Chrysler Building, another beautiful Art Deco masterpiece.

To see another well known landmark, the Statue of Liberty, we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry which sails right past it. The ferry was free, so we got a great view as we went by. You can see by the size of the people down below just how big the statue is!

One of the things my children were very keen to try was a New York hotdog! There are lots of hotdog stands all over Manhattan, so it wasn’t hard to grant their wish. Once they tasted the first one, they wanted hotdogs every day for lunch!

We did lots and lots of walking around the city, crossing Central Park most days to catch a bus down Fifth Avenue. It’s amazing how enormous the buildings are all around you, with so many people bustling about. It was all very exciting!

One day we decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which goes from the City Hall area over to Brooklyn (south-east of Manhattan). It’s a huge suspension bridge built in Victorian times (1883 to be precise). From Brooklyn Bridge you can see some great views of the city.

We were very lucky in the timing of our visit, as some great things happened while we were in New York. First, we discovered that an opera called The Elixir of Love was on at the Lincoln Centre, and that tickets were only $12! This was an opera that we all knew quite well because my son had been in a production of it when he was younger (playing a village boy). We don’t go to a lot of operas but this one we knew and could hum along to so we had to buy tickets! It was a fantastic show, and the set was done in 1950s style with a real car that rolled on in the second act!

The other amazingly lucky thing that happened was in the middle of our trip, on a Wednesday. We were walking along Fifth Avenue, heading towards the Apple Store which is a giant glass cube. As we came to 47th Street we found there was a barricade blocking traffic and pedestrians, with police standing around. A crowd had gathered, and when I asked a policeman what was happening, he said simply, “The President.” As we stood there, a whole fleet of black security vehicles and several motorcycles zoomed past. Sure enough, a few minutes later two huge black limousines rolled by with little flags on them. In the back of the second one, I saw President Obama waving!

My son was so busy trying to take a picture of the first big limousine that he missed seeing the President in the second one. He was so upset! We weren’t sure how to console him, so we carried on walking to the Apple Store and looked at computers and iPhones for about an hour. He was still miserable as we headed back up Fifth Avenue, but when we got to 47th Street the road was still blocked. You can imagine our delight when the policeman I asked said, “The President” again! He was coming back!

This time we were ready, and when the second limousine went by we lifted my son up as high as we could over the crowds of people. (As he was eleven at the time, this was quite a feat!) But it was worth it to let him share in our amazing experience. We saw President Obama! (We found out later that he was in New York to attend an important meeting at the United Nations Headquarters.)

On our last day in New York it was sunny and hot, and we hired bikes to ride all the way around Central Park. What a fantastic way to end our amazing holiday!

If you want to see more pictures of New York, here’s a YouTube video of one of my favourite Rufus Wainwright songs, called 14th Street.

If you live in the northern half of the globe, March 20th is officially the first day of spring. After a long, cold winter, the return of blue skies and warmer temperatures is a cause for great celebration! It’s the time for snow to melt away, for migrating birds to fly home again, and for hibernating animals who have been sleeping all winter to wake up. Tiny white snowdrops and golden daffodils start to appear, and soon the trees are covered in blossom! Spring is definitely my favourite time of the year.

Many artists through the ages have tried to capture the delight and beauty of spring. During the Renaissance in Italy, the painter Sandro Botticelli created a giant work of art called Primavera (“spring” in Italian). In it he shows the goddess of spring in an orange grove surrounded by nymphs. Above her you can see a little winged boy with a bow and arrow. He is not just any naughty child – he is Cupid, and anyone who is hit by his little arrow will fall in love.

About 100 years later, another Italian artist, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, created strange portraits of people whose heads seemed to be made of vegetables or flowers! His version of Primavera is a woman with roses for ears, a leafy green dress and all sorts of wild flowers for hair.

In the 1890s a Czech artist called Alfons Mucha became very successful in Paris painting beautiful women in flowing gowns for theatrical posters, book illustrations and advertisements in magazines and newspapers. His style was very distinctive and it soon became known as Art Nouveau (“new art”). Mucha’s version of spring (Le Printemps) is typical of his most famous work.

This curvy, elongated style was adopted by other artists across Europe, including the famous Glasgow couple Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald. They designed beautiful interiors using similar elongated female forms in their decorative panels. A good example of this is Margaret Macdonald’s piece, The May Queen, which also has a spring theme!

But it was not only artists whose work was inspired by the coming of spring. Antonio Vivaldi, an Italian composer who lived over 300 years ago, wrote a beautiful piece of music (now very famous) called The Four Seasons. In the section called Spring he recreated the sound of wild thunderstorms and gently melting snow. If you want to listen to Vivaldi’s amazing musical Spring, click HERE.

Perhaps as you listen you will be inspired to create your own spring work of art!


When my children were still very young, our whole family went for a big adventure in Australia! We left behind a cold, grey February in the UK and arrived in Sydney where it was – raining! But not for long. February is summertime in Australia, so we soon found it was sunny and hot almost every day.

We were staying for a few months, so we had lots of time to see everything and visit as many cities as we could. Australia is a very big country, so we didn’t manage to do it all. We were lucky to be staying in Sydney, which is full of famous landmarks like the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.


The Sydney Opera House has become a symbol of Australia because it was completely unique and surprising when it was completed in 1973. Now there are lots of buildings that imitate its design, but nothing really compares to the original! The architect, Jorn Utzon from Denmark, intended the Opera House to look like a ship with billowing sails on the water. The roof structure also looks quite like seashells piled together.

It isn’t just for opera, either – you can also see theatre, concerts and shows for kids. Here’s a link to what’s on for kids at the moment, just in case you happen to live in Australia or are planning a visit!


Across the harbour from the Opera House is Taronga Zoo, which stretches up a big hill. Not only are there lots of interesting animals to see, including all the special ones like kangaroos and koalas that you only find in Australia, but from the top of the hill you get a fantastic view of Sydney as well!

We loved exploring all the beaches around Sydney, including Manly, Balmoral, Bronte, Bondi and Clovelly Beaches. This picture is of Clovelly Beach where we used to go quite often. My husband liked to snorkel there because it had enormous fish called “grouper” that didn’t mind a person swimming around amongst them. I must admit I never tried this! The very idea of swimming with giant fish as big as me was terrifying! But I am a deep sea wimp, that’s for sure.


We also visited Melbourne, and were very impressed by the Royal Botanic Gardens. It was like a lush, green paradise where all the trees were enormous and very exotic! You can see in the picture below how beautiful it is. Melbourne was a surprise for us, though. We set off in a car and drove for four hours, and when we arrived we couldn’t believe how much colder it was! Coming from the warmth of Sydney it was quite a shock, and we were not prepared. We had to rush to a shop and buy socks, jumpers and coats as we hadn’t brought any warm clothes with us!


We also visited the Blue Mountains which are about two hours inland from Sydney. Because Sydney is on the coast and the mountains are higher up, the air is cooler there and you get amazing rainstorms and sometimes even rainbows. We were lucky when we got to the Three Sisters, a striking set of bare rocks rising out of the forest-covered hills. Just as we got the camera out, a rainbow appeared!


Australia is so big that to get to some places you really have to fly. We were very excited to get on a famous Quantas airplane with its kangaroo design on the tail. Here you can see me with the children getting on a plane for the very centre of Australia where the earth is red and it’s dry desert for hundreds of miles…


The place we were going is called the “Outback” and it is where you can find an amazing red mountain rising out of the flat landscape. The name given to this rock by the Aboriginal people of Australia is Uluru. Near it you can also find smaller red rock mountains grouped together which are called Kata Tjuta. This means “many heads” and you can see from the picture below why the Aborigines gave them that name. These mountains have been formed by millions of years of wind and rain wearing them down. They are much harder rock than the surrounding land, so they have emerged as the softer material around them is worn away.


We had heard about Uluru and knew it was considered to be a sacred place by the Aborigines. These are people who have lived in Australia for thousands of years, far longer than anyone else. They are experts in survival in this very harsh desert environment. To see Uluru at its best, you must wait until late in the day when it is lit up by the setting sun.


Australia is a fantastic place to visit! We hope to go back again some day, as there’s still lots we haven’t managed to see.