New Yorkers are always amazed by the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, one of the NYBG’s most popular exhibitions. This year it runs from November 21, 2015 through January 18, 2016. There is always something going on during this holiday exhibition, which makes the wintertime bearable and keeps the snowbirds circling until the end of January when they head South before the bitter February cold sets in.
I didn’t think NYBG could top itself, but this year the Holiday Train Show is even more magnificent than in the past. With the creative wiles of Paul Busse’s team at Applied Imagination, the exhibition is always a fount of beautiful, original displays that include gorgeous miniature replicas of turn-of-the-20th-century Hudson River Valley houses, Manhattan mansions and New York City landmarks like Grand Central Station, Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. There are about 150 replicas in all in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Clambering by waterfalls and flowing streams, trundling over trestles and bridges, tripping past ponds in front of and behind the fabulous mansions and divine Manhattan historic sites, the trains happily tool along.
And what trains! There are more than 25 large-scale model railway trains and trolleys, from American steam engines and streetcars from the late 1800s, to modern freight and high-speed passenger trains. Some of these measure more than two feet long and weigh upwards of 10 pounds. Thomas the Tank Engine (TM) and other trains that kids love play peek-a-boo in the shade of the garden’s greenery so that kids cry out when they spy Thomas chugging into the sunlight.
There is so much detail in the delicate orchids, trees, shrubs and other plantings that it is overwhelming. It is as if the creators’ ingenious artistry can’t be contained and spills out in an avalanche of beauty as the trains fly along adding their glory to our sensory overload.
The organizers at the NYBG wisely recognized viewers’ desire for a 360-degree view, and determined that this year, the overflow audience would be given additional space to ring out the Train Show’s majesty. They expanded the display by 3,000 square feet into a separate area, before one enters the conservatory. And there is a nod to visitors who always wanted to know in reality how such an endeavor is conceived and put together, from the ground-up construction of replicas and assemblage of train tracks to how engineers keep the smooth operation of trains careening along tracks past streams, lawns, row houses, and over the Brooklyn Bridge.
In the entrance to the exhibit, visitors will see a “behind-the-scenes” sneak peek that answers these questions and the principal question, “What fuels Applied Imagination’s ingenuity?” The film reveals how Busse’s team painstakingly creates the replicas with all-natural materials: bark, twigs, stems, fruits, flower petals, seeds, pine cones and much more, from the foundations of the structures to the final applications of resin which shimmers in the glow of the lights from the mansion replicas.
The film also reminds us that using natural materials is a connection between us and the natural environment, a perfect meld with the NYBG’s floral plantings and greenery that landscape the miniatures. The film is important because through it, one understands and appreciates the process of craft. The team’s technique requires not only creativity but dexterity, the will to perfection, and the desire to delight adults and children.
After the film, engineers will guide you to the breathtaking new 3,000-square-foot exhibition room which offers 360-degree views of these structures: the original Pennsylvania Station, Macy’s, NYBG’s stunning Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and others. Here you have the opportunity to see those G-scale locomotives in action circling the buildings, and your enthusiasm will most probably keep you there a long while appreciating the intricate plant materials used to create and surround the replicas.
The room offers great photography opportunities, which are, of course, present throughout the rest of the exhibit and in the heart of the Haupt Conservatory, overhead and below and everywhere your eyes and camera lens travel.
Last but not least, engineers will guide you to the show’s finale. This is not a spoiler! You will just have to attend the NYBG Holiday Train Show to see what the Applied Imagination team and the NYBG have created. I promise, you will not be disappointed. However, I have a suggestion to make. If you go in the daytime, you will have an amazing experience. But in the evening it is like a magical mystery tour through a surreal world, and you will be able to experience the fullness of the finale in another dimension.
This year I recognized more than ever the love and happiness evident in every window pane, every spire, every roof, every portico, every orchid, fern, bonsai tree, waterfall and stream. And these replicas and the selection of plantings landscaped around the Coney Island section, the Manhattan section, the Hudson River Valley section and others are merely the backdrop for the adorable trains zipping along a half-mile of track.
The Holiday Train Show is a must see! To properly see it in its many iterations, you need to visit a few times. There are many events that the kids will love: Evergreen Express in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, the Holiday Tree Lighting, Holiday Film Screenings, a Winter Harmonies Concert Series (with a family concert each day at 2 pm), the Holiday Landmark Tour and Winter Wonderland Tree Tour. And in January, it’s All Aboard with Thomas & Friends (TM).
For adults there will be the former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins giving a special reading of his work on December 12th at 2 pm. There is the “Poetry for Every Season: Holiday Poetry Walk,” the Holliday A Cappella, the Light Up the Night Performances (Cirque de Light’s ambient shows), and an ice sculpting demonstration.
Once again, the adult favorite, Bar Car Nights (November 21, December 4, 5, 18, 19, January 2, 8, 9, 15, 16), will be featuring a complimentary drink, ice sculpture carvings, fire performances, and delicious treats at the Bavarian-themed Frosty’s Schnapps Haus (offering spiked hot beverages and roasted chestnuts). And there is live music at the Pine Tree Café where live cabaret and jazz sets will be performed (7:15, 8:15, 9 pm). Myriam Phiro‘s French Quartet, Love, Charley and The Lovesome will be on hand to entertain you. Check the NYBG website for details.
There are three snacking and dining venues in addition to Frosty’s Schnapps Haus. The usual Pine Tree Café and Hudson Garden Grill (full-service dining featuring New American cuisine) and the family-friendly Gingerbread Café, so named because of the large, intricately decorated gingerbread house on display in the treats section. The Gingerbread Café, developed in partnership with MasterCard, offers a varied menu that includes two gourmet food trucks (tacos and burgers and fries), hot dog and pretzel stands, a selection of sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts. With the purchase of $10.00 or more, MasterCard cardholders will receive a complimentary “Sweet Treat.”
To keep up with events during the Holiday Train Show, which begins this Saturday, November 21, visit the NYBG website, to order your tickets online. You’ll be glad you did.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1580933335][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B009K4E59O][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000GL1EEE]