Two young 50-something females. One big adventure exploring the Americas. Have liquidated everything they own and packed a Saturn Vue with bare necessities to set out on this journey. Planting seeds at each juncture symbolizing their new growth. With an open mind and heart, ready to get a true view of this world.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Mansions of Newport

The morning is still overcast, forecasts for clearing still a day away. It's perfect for us as we are planning on touring the mansions today. My dear sister, Kathy, has a very good friend who is the curator at The Newport Preservation Society, Paul Miller. He is graciously planning on giving us a VIP tour this afternoon and we are eagerly anticipating a great time.

Prior to meeting him, we take a quick tour around. From our room, we have an incredible view of the cliff walks, the backside of the mansions we'll tour later. Setting out, we pass the cliffs and take in the breathtaking front views of these homes along Bellvue Avenue. Continuing this route flows us into Ocean Drive for even more incredible sights, the Atlantic hosting to our left all through the drive. The winds and mist keep us inside our vehicle for observation today but it's enough. Homes dotting this roadway are amazing, one can only dream of what this lifestyle provides. We meander up to a beautiful spot housing Castle Hill Inn before turning around to meet Paul. We are ready for inside beauty now!

According to direction, we find Paul at the magnificent Marble House, one of the Vanderbilt's summer homes. He is a wealth of information as we take a quick tour around. A new exhibit, The Treasures of the Gothic Room, is in the process of opening in a week and we have an insider's peek into this preparation. This is Paul's baby and watching him direct is yet another perk. How fortunate are we!! A quick glimpse at the Tea Room in the backyard overlooking the cliffs finishes this mansion and we move on.

From the Marble House, we venture to Rosecliff, a romantic "little" home, one of the last Stanford White creations and in the style of Versailles. I am particularly drawn to this place. Paul's wealth of knowledge is an amazing plus to our tour today and we try to soak in as much as possible.

The magnificent Breakers is next, a 70 room Italian Renaissance style palazzo, aptly named for the magnificent waves that break at the landscaped yard's end. As the largest of the Vanderbilt's cottages, it is truly a work of art and unbelievable to conceive what life here for a summer could mean.

Our final stop on our tour brings us to the Elms, a french inspired chauteau. Here we are allowed a rare glimpse of entry through the back side, showing the more appealing side of the architecture, and take a private tour of the servants quarters before making our way into the main house. Even the servants area is quite lovely given the grandness of the place. Life here was a world apart. As the homes were indeed seasonal, so was the hired help. Some kind of summer job!

Our incredible tour ends here but we convince Paul to join us for a cocktail. We agree on the Castle Hill Inn we had a taste of seeing from the outside earlier today. En route, we explore the other end of Ocean Drive and witness a small sailing spectacle as well as views of the Jamestown Bridge from the Fort Adams Park. The wind has continued to pick up and the waters are choppy to say the least. Absolutely stunning!

Cocktail hour at the Castle is wonderful and we enjoy getting to know Paul even better. He is a total delight and in addition to his artistic knowledge, he provides insight on what we should see and do in this beautiful area. He directs us to the Black Pearl down on the wharf for dinner and we experience an excellent meal and service. A walk after we finish is serene and lovely and the full moon over the Atlantic is the perfect ending to a magnificent day.

Everyone should see Newport this way. Thank you, thank you, Paul!!!!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spectacular Seashores

After lunch, we head down the street to the Mystic Seaport museum, quite recommended in all my research. Upon arrival, we are given a map of the 17-acre property and a very helpful man, Bob, gives excellent touring suggestions, as there is more here than we could have imagined. It becomes apparent immediately why this place received such high marks.

There are ships to board and tour, a full scale miniature of old Mystic, art exhibits, interactive 18th century shops, including printing, clocks, drugstore, metal, rope - too many to name, all incredibly informative. Not what we'd seek out, but we find ourselves completely enthralled and are pleased to discover we can return tomorrow to complete the wealth of options afforded here as the three hours we've spent has just made a dent. This is one cool place!

As our day winds down, we decide to try the Steak Loft, also highly recommended. Upon arrival, we discover a gem of a place and on Monday nights in the lounge, a jazz trio that is unbelievably good. We are able to order off the dining room menu here and share a delicious steak, have amazing service, and watch a 90-minute set of some of the best jazz you can imagine. A perfect end to this rainy but lovely day.

We check out of our place in the morning and head back to the seaport museum to finish our tour.

Most of the interpreters are volunteers who are incredibly knowledgeable and forthcoming in sharing all there is to know of this little seaport's history. You can feel their enthusiasm and pride as they openly discuss. After several more hours here, we get on the road to travel the short distance to Newport.

Again, the weather is mostly overcast, but the drive into Rhode Island as pretty as where we've been in Mystic. The Atlantic shoreline is spectacular! We find our new home sitting across from this ocean and settle in. The Newport Beach Hotel and Suites is a great find. Everyone is helpful, our room comfortable, if a bit small, but with an incredible view! On site dining is a plus due to the inclement weather and we meet several other travelers this evening, sharing information of the New England area - very helpful as we plan this section. We have a really fun evening and retire, looking forward to exploring Newport in the morning!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fish Fun

The weather has not improved this morning, so we opt for more of an indoor excursion. After a nice swim in the Hampton's indoor pool and a great little breakfast, we venture around the corner for an aquarium encounter. Part of the exhibits are outside, but the majority in, so we make our way between the two venues depending on the moody weather.

Sea lions are active today and interact with much vigor while the penguins are equally entertaining. A marsh trail provides glimpses of some pretty large frogs, we're talking some big boys here! Beluga whales give an animated performance, as well. All of the outside habitats are quite active despite the gloomy weather.

The inside exhibits have a wealth of options, as well. Some incredible images are experienced here. Sharks, stingrays, eels, and jelly fish are in abundance. There are several hands on stations, as well, providing a terrific opportunity to touch the rays and sharks alike. We manage to accomplish both acts. The rays are spongy, the sharks more like sand paper. These actions are very popular with the younger audience this place is particularly geared, and watching their reactions is a show in itself.

It is just what we need for the rainy morning and after a couple of hours exploring, we head to the waterfront for a delightful lunch at the S&P Oyster Company. A beautiful view of the seaport is afforded from every table and a creative menu offers many options. We are more than pleased with our choices of a tarragon lobster salad and swordfish tacos. Fun and festive drinks accompany our meals and the gloomy weather brightens indeed!

If ever a place was suited for not picture perfect weather, it's Mystic. Lucky for us, this is where we've landed!

An Afternoon with Mark Twain

The beautiful weather we've been so fortunate to have for the past week is finally giving way to gray and rain. After our big city day and this morning gloom, we take our time getting going. Doreen makes us a delicious breakfast while we pack and watch our favorite, Sunday Morning. It is just what we need.

Today we are heading to Hartsford, to get a view of the capital and take a tour of the Mark Twain home. Before getting on the road, it's time for the sunflower planting, where Celeste and Doreen find the perfect spot in a flower box overlooking the sound. A stop at "Swan Beach" finds the swans out in full force this morning. Even though the skies are dark, the beauty of the beaches still strong.

Doreen braves the interstate as the rain starts to really come down. The trip north takes about an hour and the arrival at the house tour is welcoming. We are fortunate to have a very knowledgeable guide, and the hour sojourn through the home ends too quickly. What a wealth of information we take away. As it happens, Mr. Clemens' 100th anniversary of his death was just this past week. The museum is having a special centennial celebration this year. Several galleries are inviting and a short movie provides even more insight on this brilliant man's life. It is more than a worth while excursion. If ever in the area, don't miss this one.

Upon our exit of the grounds, we tour the downtown area, virtually a ghost town on Sunday afternoon. Quite interesting to imagine how it will come alive in just a few hours as Monday dawns. This insurance capital of the world is a sight to behold with all of their businesses creating the skyline. Impressive.

Having worked up a nice little appetite, we stop in at a popular seafood place, USS Chowder Pot.
The food proves delicious as we share a bucket of steamers and a huge seafood platter of shrimp, scallops, oyster and fish. There is more than we can finish, though we give it a very hearty try. Again, a perfect rainy Sunday afternoon option this day.

Unfortunately, it's time to move on. Doreen needs to ready for her busy work week and we still need to make our drive into Mystic, where we've decided to stay for a couple of days and take a peek around the little seaport. Goodbyes are said and we drive away. What a lovely weekend we've shared!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Central Park to the Battery

Central Park is truly bustling this afternoon, the perfect park day. The carriages are very busy and picnics are found at nearly every turn. Everything Central Park should be on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We zigzag our way around the zoo and artists, playground and ball fields, traverse little bridges and meander back out through a tunnel escape into the Upper West Side area. A bit hungry, we find an adorable eatery that is just perfect, Le Pain Quotidien. Fresh baked breads fill the welcoming bakery entry. Small and family style tables dot the small restaurant area, filled with locals, always a good sign. A fellow diner heartily suggests the mediterranean sampler platter, loaded with a variety of those breads we passed and spreads of hummus, babaganoush and taboule. A huge platter, easily shared, we added one of their interesting tartines and a cup of soup. Beer and wine accompanied and we were more than happy. Our walk has caused us to work up a bit of an appetite and the indulgence is wonderful.

A taxi ride from here brings us down to the battery for the obligatory Statue of Liberty viewing. Our driver takes us by Carnegie Hall and through the financial district en route. The three of us board the Staten Island Ferry for a closer view as we sail by and subsequently encounter an amazing New York skyline on the return trip. Right out of the movies, folks! We are not alone on this journey, as you can imagine. The views afforded make it well worth the crowd. Upon our departure, we stroll along the shore for one final glimpse toward Ellis Island. Time does not allow a trip out, unfortunately. We've made the best of our time on this quick tour and catch a final taxi back to the train station. We pass under the Williamsburg Bridge we found ourselves on two days ago on the way to the Hamptons, and also the Brooklyn Bridge (we can almost see Steven and Amanda meeting halfway across!)

Back at Grand Central, we find time for a final cocktail and some oysters at The Grand Central Oyster Bar. This is the perfect end to our day here. Evening is coming in and the place is starting to fill, patrons waiting to catch trains and locals in for a bite, some on their way to the theater. We can feel the city night start to come to life. Alas, it's time for us to catch our train back to Connecticut.

Returning home, we extend our evening a bit longer sitting out by the water. It's so peaceful. Though it's a bit chilly, we toss on jackets and sip some wine, reflecting on the fun and full day. The quiet is a stark contrast to the busy city we've just left. It's amazing! This is the perfect place. The calm beauty of the sound in Connecticut on one hand and a short train away the city that never sleeps. Who could want for more?!