And the Winner Is… the New York Botanical Garden
January 15, 2015


It was with a slight twinge of dread that we checked our son Riley’s school planner on the first day of Winter Recess. Even the briefest of three-day weekends can include a slate of homework that we need to plan around in order to give him the time he needs. With two weeks off, we figured there would be at least one major report or essay due but much to our delight, he had only a single piece of paper for us to review. It listed museums, zoos, and other places around the city where he could go for extra credit in science. No agenda behind any one place, just go and enjoy!  
Between holidays, visitors, and jaunts out of town, we had only one unfettered day—Tuesday, December 30—to devote to the li
st. That morning we turned it over to the children—Riley, age 11, and his sister Halina, who’s 9—and asked them to deliver a unanimous decision on where we’d be going. The response was almost instantaneous and, indeed, united: the New York Botanical Garden. We had visited only once previously, in summer 2011, and neither child had a firm memory of the experience so to them, it was someplace new to explore. 
The Lure of the Locomotive

The twenty-third annual Holiday Train Show was listed among the attractions at NYBG, and it is perhaps the one that drew them the most. You cannot live in New York City and not know that NYBG puts this show on every year, but somehow, we couldn’t begin to guess what it was actually all about. It was among the myriad “must dos” around the city—especially during the holidays—that we simply had never done! The website strongly recommended buying tickets in advance ($28 for adults, and $16 for children) and by mid-morning, most of the tickets for that day were already sold out. We got into the 2:30 pm entry and, armed with printouts and lunch, headed over to the B/D line (you can also take the 2/5 coming from the East Side). 
We arrived with about two hours to fill before our entry time and so at Halina’s behest, we went to rediscover the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden. Like Riley, we were skeptical that this space would “work” for them now that they’re older, but at the first sight of rocks on the right, they were off and climbing. Little children took to the packed-dirt paths that wind around the boulders, but big kids leapt from perch to perch and teetered across the tops of ridges. 
From there we followed as many paths (the muddier the better!) as we could find through Beth’s Maze, into Habitat Hub, and across marshland areas. They also thrilled to the larger-than-life installation butterfly, caterpillar, spider, and other creatures—though the climbable trains were too diminutive to capture their interest. We ventured inside the nature center to learn a few things about pine cones and conifers in general at the various craft and exploration stations they had set up.
The Moment We Were Waiting For…
We emerged wanting to walk the Mitsubishi Wild Wetland Trail that encircles the park, but much to our surprise, it was already time to head over to Haupt Conservatory to see the train show. Despite the tickets, we still had to wait a half hour to enter the show but fortunately, the exhibit was enthralling and worth it. It consists of over 150 iconic or emblematic replicas of New York City buildings, streetscapes, and bridges, all made from bark, leaves, twigs, nut shells, and other natural materials. 

We found the train aspect totally ancillary: while yes, the miniature locomotives coursing around the tracks drew your eye to a new spot, the show is all about the ingenious structures. Plaques throughout identify the scenes you are looking at, but it instantly became a competition among the children to guess what bridge or building we saw on the horizon. We were impressed to realize how many they knew! 
After about an hour in the train show, we still weren’t quite ready to leave so we took a spin through the tropical greenhouse on the other side of the conservatory. There we learned all about the medicinal uses of roots, leaves, and berries throughout time.
We enjoyed our visit so much that we rolled our admission into a family membership for $125. In less than one additional visit, we will have more than earned it back financially and, we are sure, spiritually. If in the dead of winter NYBG can be so inspiring and reinvigorating, the same must hold true in all the other seasons. 
The Holiday Train Show closes on Monday, January 19, so if you don't yet have plans for the long Martin Luther King weekend, make them now! 




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