Month: December 2014

Ring in the New Year with Salute to Vienna

Six hours before the clock strikes midnight to ring in the new year, New Brunswick is making a salute to Vienna, Austria.

“Salute to Vienna,” a jovial blend of holiday music produced by Attila Glatz Concert Productions, is coming to the State Theatre at 6 p.m. for the ninth time, one of the production’s 23 North American destinations.

Featuring a cast of 75 musicians and European singers and dancers decked out in colorful Viennese costumes, the 20th anniversary performance is fashioned after Vienna’s internationally renowned “Neujahrskonzert” show, a Viennese New Year’s tradition that began in 1939.

Stephanie Wright, marketing and communications manager for Attila Glatz Concert Productions, said that she believes the show maintains its popularity because of its nostalgic appeal, harkening back to a time when life was simpler.

Plus, she said that enjoying “Salute to Vienna” does not require prior knowledge of classical music, ballet or operetta, though it combines the glamour of ballroom dancing, elaborate costumes and funny, anecdotal interludes by the conductor, which balance more ‘serious’ arts.

The “Salute to Vienna” has been produced at the State Theatre for the last nine years.

The “Salute to Vienna” has been produced at the State Theatre for the last nine years.

Each year, about 1,000 people flock to the State Theatre on New Year’s Eve for the “Salute to Vienna.” Kelly Blithe, director of communications at the State Theatre, said that after its successful year in 2005, it was continually brought back and has become an annual favorite.

“It’s a lighthearted, festive show that has a little bit of everything — live music, dancing, amazing vocalists, beautiful costumes — and it’s great way to end the year,” Blithe said.

Besides being performed at the State Theatre, the “Salute to Vienna” is also making its way to Los Angeles; New York; Austin, Texas; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, among other North American locales over a five-day period. Annually, it pulls in 50,000 audience members, many of them repeat visitors, as the show has been produced for 20 years.

The production of the “Salute to Vienna” features a cast of 75 musicians and European singers and dancers decked out in colorful Viennese costumes.

The production of the “Salute to Vienna” features a cast of 75 musicians and European singers and dancers decked out in colorful Viennese costumes.

With such wide-scale production, it comes as no surprise that the “Salute to Vienna” is the largest live concert series of its kind in North America. It is the only genuine re-creation of the original production, “Neujahrskonzert,” which has been performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for 75 years and is televised annually to 1.3 billion people in 73 countries.

“With ‘Salute to Vienna,’ the European community in North America has an authentic version of their homegrown tradition in their backyards and their passion for these concerts is infectious,” Wright said.

The 2-hour, 20-minute blend of holiday music includes well-known Johann Strauss waltzes, polkas and famous operetta excerpts from “Die Fledermaus” and “The Merry Widow.” At the State Theatre production, the Strauss Symphony of America, the Philly POPS and dancers from Kiev-Aniko Ballet of Ukraine and International Champion Ballroom Dancers will perform alongside conductor András Deák of Budapest.

“To keep it a surprise, the program is not announced until the day of the show, so the program standout could be a particular waltz or vocal performance, just about anything, but I know that the Blue Danube Waltz is always a favorite,” Blithe said.

The 2-hour, 20-minute blend of holiday music in the “Salute to Vienna” includes well-known Strauss waltzes, polkas and famous operetta excerpts.

The 2-hour, 20-minute blend of holiday music in the “Salute to Vienna” includes well-known Strauss waltzes, polkas and famous operetta excerpts.

The music may now differ every year to match the changing singers, dancers, conductor and program in every city on its New Year’s Eve showing, but its inception was one of tradition. To celebrate Strauss, a waltz legend, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performed his popular “Blue Danube” on Dec. 31, 1921, in Vienna City Park at the inauguration of the composer’s memorial. The performance, which became a regular in the Orchestra’s repertoire, was named Neujahrskonzert, meaning New Year’s Concert in German.

“Like other holiday traditions, such as the Nutcracker or the Messiah, the content is no mystery, but audiences do not attend to be inspired by plot or surprised. They attend because of how these events make them feel,” Wright said.

Wright said the production has evolved by incorporating ballet and ballroom dancers into the mix of performance but has maintained very strong ties to the original Neujahrskonzert in Vienna, a purposeful decision.

“This show gets better and better with age,” Blithe said. “It is always a fresh program each year and we see it to be that way for many years to come.”

For tickets, which range $47 to $107, visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/salute_to_vienna.

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 12/23/14

The Realities of Work Travel

There’s work travel and then there’s work travel.

When we think of travel, we generally think of an undeniable, animalistic excitement – that which stinks of newness and possibility. For me, it’s that feeling that keeps me getting on plane after plane, punching in my credit card number several times a year.

However, travel isn’t like that for everyone. Some of us don’t get to get home because travel has forced us into a whole new one.

My friend was employed by a large sales company near our hometown following graduation, a great company at that with awesome pay and killer benefits. When she earned a promotion, she was informed that following a few months of training, she would be assigned a territory and she would have two weeks to move.

Upon moving to her new city, she was given a phone, an iPad, a laptop, a car, gas money, grocery money and a hotel to stay in for a few weeks until she was able to find a place to live. After a few weeks, she settled into a cushy luxury apartment in the city where she received her assignment. She has a walk-in closet and very impressive adult furniture. Not too shabby, right?

To me, her life is dreamlike. To be sent to a new, exciting city where one has no lingering ghosts. To make an enviable salary and live in a beautiful apartment. To buy your own groceries and make as much noise as you want and come and go as you please.

To someone who lives in a boring town without the means yet to move out, this is truly otherworldly.

Being as loudmouthed as I am, I eagerly conveyed my excitement to my friend. She couldn’t wholeheartedly agree.

“It’s kind of exciting at first,” she says. I listen to where she goes with this and I start to think. My friend can’t just pop over to a new, cool restaurant because she has no one to go with. There are not yet bars to frequent, friends to see or parties to go to because my friend doesn’t know one soul in the city. 

Any semblance of a life that she once knew is now gone, replaced by possibility, yes, but nothing solid in sight. In the long run, I’m sure it’s great. But when you’re bored on another Saturday night at home, now apt with possibility does this really feel?

This is true work travel.

And it also didn’t really occur to me when I was busy dreaming of what it would be like to go somewhere cool and nowhere near anyplace that I had ever been.

Travel is exciting. It’s fun and new and cool. But when you can’t go home, because you have been relocated in your travels, the novelty can wear off before a comfortable sense of familiarity can seep in.

IMG_8041

New Jerseyans debunk study abroad myths

“We just can’t afford it,” Darlene says, citing her daughter, Erin’s, fervent interest in studying abroad.

This feels like the end of the argument, much to Erin’s disappointment. Darlene knew that her daughter would have fun, make friends and visit remarkable places, as all parents want for their children. However, the sensible factors prevailed — if it wasn’t the finances, it was the danger in being abroad, the absence of lasting benefits or the lack of academic vigor, that led to her decision.

Clearly, there are some misconceptions brewing, because none of these things are true. With semester-abroad application deadlines coming up at the end of December and into early 2015, this is worrisome.

As one of the .7 percent of New Jersey students to study abroad in 2012, I found that the ideas parents nurse concerning study abroad tend to be distorted, not to their own oversight but instead to the widely accepted notions on the international programs.

For families struggling to meet rising tuition deadlines each year, the idea of spending thousands of dollars for their child to meander across Europe for a few weeks seems unfathomable.

However, most colleges allow students to transfer their financial aid packages, scholarships and merit awards to an approved study-abroad program, including Rutgers University, possibly making living costs comparable to if the student stayed at their home college for the semester, especially if housing costs are included in the international program or the program is hosted in a less-developed country.

Through my program at Monmouth University to Florence, Italy, I paid $300 in fees on top of my normal tuition to study abroad. Robyn Asaro, assistant director of Study Abroad at Monmouth, said that she recommends that students looking to travel frequently on the weekends should bring an additional $4,000 to $6,000 for a semester program. But that’s only for students who want to spend their semester that way — it’s not a necessity.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Students also can take advantage of their college’s specific scholarships, such as these offered for Rutgers University students, as well as these national study abroad scholarships that can be utilized by all students.

The thought of a child traveling internationally unsupervised can lead to severe parental anxiety. But Americans are 20 times more likely to die from a violent crime in the United States than are citizens of other developed countries in their nations, according to a 2013 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Throughout Asaro’s 14-year career in study abroad, she said that the extent of dangerous outcomes has been “a very minor injuries.” To prepare students for their time abroad, Monmouth coordinates four mandated safety meetings and works closely with affiliated international institutes to coordinate any issues.

Kyle O’Grady of Edison, who studied abroad in Florence as a Marketing and Finance major in 2013, said that she never felt unsafe abroad.

“Our group looked out for each other and it was a built-in support system,” she said. “Our study-abroad coordinator also kept in touch with us, and we also had an outlet at our Florence university to stay in contact.”

Kyle

In my experience, students who keep safe during their international studies utilize common sense, such as sticking to well-lit streets, traveling with at least one other person and keeping a low profile — no extreme safety precautions required.

It’s no surprise that 46 percent of all New Jersey post-graduates under 25 were unemployed or underemployed in 2012, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Parents may be surprised to know that time abroad may help their child not become a statistic.

Global Human Resources News conducted a study in which 73 percent of human resources executives cited study abroad as an important factor when evaluating job candidates for junior positions.

O’Grady said that she often finds herself talking about her study abroad experience on interviews, which, in one case, provided a connection with her interviewer that later landed her an offer. The venture also has also helped her develop an idea of her future career.

“Whereas before I felt a little lost, it definitely gave me direction on what I want to build my life around,” she said. “I want to work with a travel company or find a job in a new city.”

Plus, according to a 2012 Rutgers University report, 95 percent of study-abroad students found a job within one year of graduation, compared to 49 percent of the general population of graduates.

Megan Holt of Bridgewater, who studied abroad in Aix en Provence, France, as an International Business major in 2012, thinks that her study-abroad experience was the key to her current job with a French luxury brand that she landed within two months of graduation.

“Being able to tell my interviewer about my experience living with a French family helped assure them that I was accustomed to the culture,” she said. “Because I was applying to work for a French company, they valued my language skills and the fact that I was able to adapt and form relationships despite cultural barriers.”

Megan

Parents often worry that they could end up contributing to an expensive semester devoted to partying. However, being immersed in a new culture is the best way to learn a language and pursue other academic endeavors, plus most international schools offer exclusive classes.

Holt said, “I lived in a small French village where very few people spoke English. My French teacher herself spoke only a few words of English and taught entirely in French. I was essentially forced to learn the language.”

During my semester abroad, I took three hours of an Italian language course four days a week — not a possibility at my home school for reasons of time, availability or pure interest. I also met many art or fashion students receiving an unmatched experience, as Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and has been named one of the 50 fashion capitals of the world.

Undoubtedly, studying internationally is a large undertaking. But hopefully, with the dissolution of these myths, more than 1 percent of American students will be able to enjoy what could be the most rewarding experience of their lives.

Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Forgotten Child

I am returning from Chattanooga today. No, not Nashville, because believe it or not, Nashville is not the only city in Tennessee. It’s Chattanooga. This fact is lost on many of the people that I inform of my travels.

Chattanooga doesn’t have a great reputation. One of the smaller Tennessee cities, it’s still ranked as the fourth most dangerous statewide city in 2013, in a state already named as the most dangerous one in the nation. Plus, when compared to its bright and sparkly sister, Nashville, it’s music scene nor tourism measures up.

Even though the hilly, quiet city is no international destination, it does have some character that distinguishes it from its famous neighbors such as Knoxville, Atlanta and Nashville. Chattanooga, reminiscent of the Meatpacking District of Manhattan with its lines of historical and refurbished warehouses, is marked by a rather exciting railway and mining history.

My friend who recently relocated to the city, the reason for my visit, took me to Lookout Mountain, a scenic city attraction and the epitome of the railway and mining reputation of Chattanooga. Made up within the mountain is the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls and Rock City.

Rock City's formidable peak.

Rock City’s formidable peak.

Rock City, the premier park that brings brings visitors up the 1700 feet above sea level that is Lookout Mountain, is decorated with various festive displays within its interesting rock formations and pretty peaks. The self-guided tour is easy and family friendly with some cheap thrills along the way, including one zookept albino deer, displays within the Fairyland Caverns and a spot where visitors can see seven states from its lookout point.

At the peak of Rock City, seven states are visible.

At the peak of Rock City, seven states are visible.

The highlight of Rock City is the Fairyland Caverns, a small cave system in which someone very meticulously created elaborate displays of creepy gnomes doing storybook deeds or playing in the rocks. In the darkness of the caves and lit by fluorescent lights, it’s a strange walkthrough, especially accompanied by the upbeat Christmas music.

Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.

Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.

Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.

Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.

Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.

Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.

Near the end of this twist of displays is Mother Goose Village, a circle of storybook scenes including Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella and the Three Little Pigs, all very brightly decorated and also accentuated by the festive music. It’s both impressive and daunting, like the beginning of a bad horror movie.

The other, and more standout element, of Lookout Mountain is Ruby Falls, the tallest underground waterfall in the world settled interestingly in Tennessee rather than in Mexico, Nepal or Canada.

Ruby Falls is the tallest underground waterfall on earth, hidden deep within the rock-formation ridden caverns which can be reached in a guided tour. Guides point out cutesy formations such as “Steak and Eggs,” “Fish” and “Western Sunset.”After about a 30-minute walk, the cave opens up Indiana-Jones style into a large, formidable opening where Ruby Falls is very extravagantly lit up in changing fluorescent colors.

Ruby Falls is the world's tallest underground waterfall.

Ruby Falls is the world’s tallest underground waterfall.

I asked our tour guide about the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a much-talked-about city attraction that hasn’t been making much sense to me. The tour guide disregards with a wave of her hand. “Eh. It’s like a hotel or something.” Not surprisingly, the Choo-Choo doesn’t impress her.

My tour guide was right. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is a former train station and now-hotel which was dubbed with the name after the catchy 1940’s song. That’s pretty much it.

I didn’t take a ride on the Incline Railway, or “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” but apparently it is the world’s steepest passenger railway and, in operating since 1895, is a National Historic Site. The blonde teenage girl working at Rock City who I asked about it said she had been there on a third-grade trip and it was “super boring.”

I think we can all agree that Chattanooga is no Nashville. It doesn’t have a lot of fancy bells and whistles or wandering country celebrities. However, holding the tallest underground waterfall in the world the ability to see seven states at once isn’t something to scoff at either.

Finding Old Florida

Being an avid reader and not a fan of winter, I’ve been diving through novels by Susanna Daniel, a relatively new author with new books on the market who writes stories depicting Miami life in an old classic Florida, before condominium developments overrode the shores and pastel cottages stuffed the neighborhoods. Her books are impossible not to get enveloped in when listening to stories of Stiltsville, a vacation “town” on the ocean off of Miami where stilt houses sit in a small community and Florideans quite literally live the dream by always scuba diving, snorkeling, grilling and fishing.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

I took advantage of Jersey’s full-fledged winter and bought a plane ticket to Clearwater, Florida, anxious to find the Old Florida that I had read about so many times before.

My memories of Florida don’t fit this description. After my great-grandmother passed when I was a kid, my mother inherited a house in Fort Pierce, Florida, a small eastern shore town riddled with toothless neighbors on gray streets. My memories of there consist of 12-hour car rides stuffed next to my sister and her dirty clothes and wading through a murky bay on the days that the rain couldn’t break the dreary heat. These days, I don’t get on a plane to head to the beach and I opt to drive an hour or two to my favorite Jersey Shore beaches instead.

However, I’m not some kid stuck in my mother’s truck anymore, and instead, I am equipped with a paycheck. So, I took advantage of Jersey’s full-fledged winter and bought a plane ticket to see my paternal grandmother who resides in Clearwater, Florida, anxious to find the Old Florida that I had read about so many times before.

My grandmother first took me to St. Petersburg, which has an old-Hollywood glitz feel probably derived from the presence of The Vinoy, a National Historic Place and working hotel built in 1925. Filled with pastel colors, brilliant chandeliers and the memories of celebrities, the place overlooks the marina and the nearby ocean. St. Petersburg is also home to The Pier, a popular tourist attraction that during my visit, was the site of many locals hanging out on the boards with their eyes closed, listening to gulls and pelicans alongside the sailboats.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

The Vinoy is a working hotel built in 1925.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

The Pier is a famed St. Petersburg destination.  

Clearwater, however, has less of the Old Florida air circulating but instead is glamorous in its own way – it is littered with skyscraping hotels, so many that it’s difficult to see the water from any part of the city. However, Clearwater’s Old Florida does exist in its tiny side neighborhoods which still house bright colors, elaborate seaside decor and sandy front yards near the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is home of Winter, the tailless dolphin from the movie Dolphin Tale. The Aquarium isn’t so much an aquarium as it is a rehabilitation center, where animals are frequently returned to the wild and the other inhabitants nurse lifetime injuries, among then Nicholas, a dolphin who was burned by the sun when he had been beached.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the home of Winter from Dolphin Tale.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Nicholas is a lifetime resident of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium following his sunburn. 

Photography Jenna Intersimone

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium functions as a marine hospital.

Fort Myers was our next stop, the site of the Edison & Ford winter estate, a beautiful yard and grounds where the families entertained many prestigious guests and Edison housed his laboratory. Not far from Fort Myers is Sanibel, an island off the coast of Florida which boasts the best beaches next to its sister island, Captiva.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Fort Myers is the site of the Edison & Ford winter estate.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Thomas Edison hosted his lab at his winter estate.

Although Florida cannot be the laid-back non-destination that it once enjoyed before travel became commonplace, remnants of Old Florida do exist within state lines, even inside of big cities like St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Fort Myers and Sanibel.

Lucy the Elephant

“Are we going to a store?”

“No.”

“A bar? Restaurant?”

“No.”

“Is it outside? Do I need my jacket?”

“No.”

Although I’m a seasoned shore traveler, I truly had no idea where Ed was taking us as a stopping point on our way to Atlantic City. I was offered no clues to our destination besides a lined piece of paper with a meaningless address that was only titled “Middle Stop.”

Upon pulling up to a giant elephant parked facing the Margate beach, however, the dots connected to various Weird NJ pieces I had stumbled across in magazines. We were visiting Lucy the Elephant, a six-story gimmick of a tourist attraction that has been overlooking the Atlantic since 1881.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Lucy the Elephant was constructed with 90 tons of tin and wood by James Lafferty, who figured that a 65-foot tall elephant would be the perfect way to bring in tourists and sell some real estate. He got so excited about his idea that he also constructed two more elephants – the Elephantine Colossus of Coney Island and the Light of Asia of Cape May, neither of which survive today. Unfortunately, Lucy wasn’t enough to bring in buyers and Lafferty sold her after only six years.

She then went on to serve as a restaurant, business office, cottage and even a bar (shut down by prohibition). However, even throughout all of her various occupations, it wasn’t enough to keep the elephant in business – she fell into disrepair and due to a new buyer interested in the land under her feet, she was scheduled for demolition in 1969 to make way for a condo complex.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Josephine Harron spotted the demolition signs outside of Lucy one day when she was at the beach and said to herself, “Someone should do something about that.”

She did.

Harron formed the Save Lucy Committee, which was given a mere 30 days to raise enough money to move Lucy or pay for her demolition. Volunteers fund-raised by going door-to-door, selling baked goods and enlisting local groups.

As you have probably guessed, the Save Lucy Committee miraculously raised the funds and she was moved 100 yards southwest and completely refurbished with the help of the only interested architect in the northeast area. The Committee’s efforts paid off in more ways than one – Lucy the Elephant was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

After paying $8 and hiking up the winding staircase inside Lucy, we emerged in the same area which Lafferty originally showcased his real estate parcels. Now, the cozy den houses whimsical paintings such as Lucy in Blue or The Gin Drinkers, fantastical paintings all featuring the celebrated Lucy the Elephant. We checked out the ocean through Lucy’s eyes and then further hiked up the staircase to Lucy’s summit, an Asian howdah carriage which is a replica of the original.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

New Jersey is stuffed with oddball roadside attractions which seem to emerge in particular frequency at the Jersey Shore. At first glance, these curious sights seem not only peculiar, but pointless. And maybe they are – except for the fact that they house various degrees of history that can only be contained inside a cartoon, colorful elephant.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Photography Jenna Intersimone

 

LUCY THE ELEPHANT

Where: 9200 Atlantic Ave in Margate City, New Jersey

Contact: 609-823-6473 or lucytheelephant.org

Cost: $8 ages 13+, $4 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and under

Tours occur every half an hour during open hours, which vary by season