Playing tourist -- 08/13/06

Since we live in an area where thousands upon thousands of vistors descend every year on their vacations, from time to time Nancy and I like to take a day and play tourist. I've put a couple of vacation days in front of and following this weekend to carve out a nice six day weekend, and on Friday we drove across the bridges to visit Newport.

Actually, we had originally had different plans. We had indended to take a river cruise on the Blackstone River that also featured a clam chowder lunch -- but when I went online to check the time I found that the Friday cruise had been cancelled. So Newport was a last-minute subsitution...

We haven't been through any of the Newport mansions in years. The fabulously wealthy late 19th century owners of these palatial homes called them their "summer cottages." Imagine spending, in today's dollars, ten or twenty or thirty million dollars on a vacation home you would use perhaps eight or ten weeks (at the most) out of the year.

This is The Elms -- the summer residence of Edward Berwind, a Pennsylvania coal-mining millionaire.

I can't show you the interior (no photography allowed -- although there are a couple of interior pictures at that link) but all I can tell you is that it is impressive and that the conservatory and the ballroom are absolutely stunning.

The house was very 1900 modern and up-to-date with electic lights and an intercom system and telephones (although the telephones were used by the staff -- it would have been considered rude to phone instead of sending a personal written note),
There were many elaborate fountains plus a lot of classical sculpture-- that is the carriage house in the background.
The house and the extensive grounds required a staff of 43.

There were acres of beautiful lawns, long rows of shrubs and hedges, sweeping views of greenery and scupture and fountains.

There was a special side driveway that was hidden beneath a canopy of vines and flowers in the summer so that guests and family wouldn't have to seen the delivery of food and such. (Twice a week the gardeners brought a truck load of fresh cut flowers from the gardens and greenhouses.)
A view from the formal gardens -- you can just see part of the mansion in the background.

I had been a bit hesitant about traffic and because this is the weekend of the Newport Jazz Festival but except for really heavy traffic in town (along Americas Cup Blvd and Thames Street and Bellevue Avenue), things were not too bad for a summer afternoon elsewhere on the island. We avoided the tourist areas for lunch and stopped instead at Pickles Deli on Aquidneck Ave (which makes some really tasty sandwiches).

History note: Newport (and Middletown and Portsmouth) are on Rhode Island. Yes, the island for which the state is partially named... Rhode Island (also sometimes called Aquidneck Island) purportedly received its name when Giovanni Verrazano sailed by in 1524 and remarked that a particular island reminded him of the Island of Rhodes. In actuality, he was probably looking at Block Island, but Roger Williams and his fellow early settlers thought he had been talking about Aquidneck Island so they named it Rhode Island. Roger Williams then went on to settle down at a site he called Providence Plantations -- the present-day City of Providence -- thus supplying the other half our name. (The full official name of our littlest state is The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.)

And then we went to Newport Vineyards for wine tasting and a vineyard tour.

The climate on the island is actually quite good for growing grapes -- the waters of Narragansett Bay help to moderate the climate and, although we can have snowy winters, they are not (especially on the island) as harsh as inland winters and although there can be summer heatwaves, they are also moderated by the bay (even the heatwave of a couple weeks ago was not as severe on the island as it was inland).
Newport Vineyards consists of three farms raising grapes plus a winery (and gift shop and restaurant). A retired military officer started it on a farm overlooking the bay. When he was ready to retire from his retirement job, he sold the business to two brothers who owned a farm (which is where the winery is now located and then they later aquired another farm which they also planted as vineyards. Not too far from Newport Vineyards, just over the town line into Portsmouth, is another small winery, Greenvale Vineyards. We'll have to visit that one someday.
There are currently, I believe, five active wineries in Rhode Island. We visited Sakonnet Vineyards three years ago... there is also one up in Cumberland and one over near Westerly. (So many wines, so little time.)

So that was our tourist day...

Yesterday consisted mostly of running errands and doing yard work. Today Nancy and I just got back from a bike ride along the bike path. There's a fund-raising cocktail party tonight at The Towers and we had been going to attend ($55/person) but then they asked us to work it as attendants. Tomorrow we plan on taking the ferry to Block Island to go bike riding.

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