Thursday, September 10, 2009

9/10/09 Hello Blog Readers. It has taken me 2 days to get this update together because we kept leaving to go off and explore! Today is the 10th and we will be driving south along the Connecticut coast towards Bridgeport, where we will stay until the weekend.

9/8/09 Today we are writing from Connecticut, although in this blog entry our adventures have occurred in 3 states: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. This is possible because here in the Northeast the states are fairly small and close together. When we consult the maps, it looks like places are far apart; then we check the distances and are very surprised. I suppose it is because we are so accustomed to the large states in the West.
When we last wrote, we were visiting Bob & Nancy in Plympton, Massachusetts. Their friends, Ann & Jimmy Thompson, have a large piece of land and allowed us to park our RV there, not too far away from Bob & Nancy’s. Here is a picture of the impromptu RV campground:

As I mentioned before, Bob was helping us replace our front TV and we were waiting for the mounting bracket we ordered on-line to arrive. No thanks for UPS; it was delivered 2 days later than promised. So nearly every day we went out somewhere for a long walk with Nancy and explored new places. One of the most scenic walks we took was along the banks of the Cape Cod Canal. Because the Cape Cod peninsula is fairly long and has such an odd shape, it added quite a few miles to the trip that ships had to take to go around it hauling cargo between Boston and New York. In fact, the idea of a canal was first proposed by Miles Standish of the Plimouth Colony. Finally, in 1914 the 7 mile long canal was completed, and the charge to use it was $16 per schooner, a hefty fee for that time period. In 1928 the US government purchased the canal and made it wider and deeper, so by 1940 it was the widest sea-level canal in the world. Today about 20 thousand vessels go through each year and there is no charge.

One of the stops we made was to look closely at some of the cranberry bogs, of which there are many. This cleared land is now protected by law and cannot be sold for development. Unlike the commercials you see on TV, the bogs are not immersed in water, and the cranberries are not harvested that way either. They use special wooden rakes to lift up the berries gently and strip them off the plants. Only after they get most of the really good berries in this fashion, do they flood the bogs and let the others float to the top.
On one of our last days in Plympton, we had a very nice dinner at Ann & Jimmy’s house and a friend of Nancy’s named Debbie, also joined us. Here is a picture of the jovial group: from left to right: Nancy, Bob, Jimmy, Ann, Elaine, Debbie

The day that we left, Ann and Jimmy gave us a LOT of fresh veggies that their friend who runs the nearby produce stand had delivered that morning: corn, tomatoes, squash, melons. Yummy! Thanks for everything Jimmy, Ann, Bob & Nancy!!!!
Our next stop was the Elks Club at Coventry-West Greenwich, which is south of Providence, Rhode Island. The weather was just beautiful on Labor Day weekend, so the first day we drove to Newport. On the way we crossed several waterways on bridges and had wonderful views of bays that were filled with sailboats full of people out enjoying the free time and nice weather. Newport is well known as the place where the wealthy people all built their summer “cottages” to escape from the heat of New York and Washington DC during the so called “Gilded Age”: 1880-1920. There are hundreds of large homes here and about a dozen of the largest and most lavish have been acquired by the Preservation Society and are available for tours by the public. On our first trip there that Saturday, we arrived late so we just did the scenic drive and also about 5 miles of hiking on the Cliff Walk, which is a nationally recognized hiking trail that runs along the coast and behind some of the mansions. As you look at this plaque which was on the Cliff Walk, take note of the name of the chairman.

Here is a picture of the Cliff Walk itself:

After that exploration, we hurried home to eat and dress a little more warmly so we could drive into Providence for an event called Water Fire. They have these evenings several times during the summer and Bob & Nancy encouraged us to go since they had enjoyed it so much when they attended. The committee that plans these events has a lot of metal dishes set up all along a section of the river, right in the water, and they are filled with carefully stacked wood. Here is a picture of the river and the wood dishes all set up before the event began:

There were stands set up in some of the park areas to sell food and drinks. Once it got dark, music started playing from speakers that had been installed all along the riverbanks and people in boats came along and set the wood on fire in the dishes.

There were about 30 opera singers who were scattered all along the banks and periodically they would sing along with the music that was reverberating from the speakers. Volunteers stood by them to hold torches so they could be seen and also to keep people from crowding too close to them. Here is a picture of a wonderful singer who sang “Un Bel Di Vedremo” from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. It was awesome!

There was also a stage set up on a closed off street where they had a jazz performer, and another stage set up in Market Square where they had a professional band and a variety of singers. If we had been able to stay there late, we could have attended a 2 hour opera performance but it didn’t start until 10PM. There were lots of people who were just there with friends along the riverbank, eating and drinking and enjoying the fires in the river and the music. If you are ever in the area when this is going on (google “Water Fire” to find out dates and details), we highly recommend it. It was also a warm evening, which helped up the enjoyment factor.
Sunday we relocated to the Foxwoods Casino parking lot in Connecticut. My gosh, this place is HUMONGOUS!!!! Here is a picture of just the roof part which we can see from our parking lot.

Daily we walk over to the nearest casino (.4 miles), then walk through all the casinos and restaurants (which are hooked together) to the MGM Grand, on the end. The round trip walk is about 2.5 miles! There are 6 casinos, about 7,000 slots, 100 poker tables, a 5,000 seat bingo hall, 24 restaurants, theaters, hotels, etc. We have been to lots of casinos in Las Vegas, Reno, Indian casinos all over the US, and even some foreign ones in South America and Europe and this one definitely out does them all. The whole idea of being here was to park free while exploring Mystic, CT.
The day that we enjoyed the most was Labor Day, when we drove back to Newport, RI to explore some of the mansions that I mentioned earlier. They offer a variety of passes, but we got the one for $31 which allows you to visit 5 of the 12 mansions. Three of them had audio headphone tours which allows visitors to move through the rooms at their own pace and obtain a lot of information or just a little; they were excellent. The Breakers was a 90 room “cottage” built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, finished in 1895, which we especially wanted to see because we intend to see one of his other homes, Biltmore, when we visit Asheville, NC later on this trip. It was spectacular and really reminded us of some of the palaces we have seen in Europe, especially Versailles. It cost $13 million and was finished in only 2 years. Here is a picture of it:

Next we visited The Marbles, which was the estate of Vanderbilt’s brother and sister-in-law, Alva Vanderbilt. It had been built in 1892, before The Breakers and it was much smaller, although it cost $11 million because the main building material was marble, and it was heavily decorated with gold gilt. In fact, the time that all these places were built was called The Gilded Age, because of the expense and use of all the gold gilt. Alva Vanderbilt was one of the main organizers of the Women’s Suffrage movement. There was a Chinese tea house built in the back on the lawn, overlooking the cliffs, and I took the following picture of some of the mansions and their extensive grounds right on the sea from the tea house:

The front had a fountain with three heads spouting water and here we are near it:

The next three mansions we toured were The Elms, Rosecliff, and Chateau Ser Mer.

All 5 of the mansions were so different from each other, and all were opulent, interesting, and incredible. One of the amazing things is realizing that a lot of the furniture, especially in The Elms, has been brought over from Europe and is from the 1700’s. The Preservation Society has been able to purchase some of these places for a fraction of their value, some have been donated, and a lot of the furniture and artifacts have been donated. In a few cases, the Preservation Society stepped in right before the wrecking ball was scheduled to demolish the house so the property could be sold. The Gilded Age ended for a variety of reasons, but the main reason was income taxes, property taxes and inheritance taxes. Also, it took a huge staff of workers and servants to maintain them, and that was expensive. Another factor was that these were mostly second or third homes for these families, and they only used them for about 8-12 weeks in the summer. In my opinion, these houses are now being used in the best way possible: as a history and architecture lesson for anyone interested enough to purchase a ticket.
Mystic Seaport is a place I have looked forward to seeing ever since 1998 when we were last on the East coast and we left town without seeing it. Although we enjoyed the exhibits at Mystic Seaport, we did not think it was worth the hefty entry fee. It is a maritime museum laid out in the form of a seaside village right on the river in Mystic, CT. There are many buildings, some of them authentic stores and homes and some recreations. There is quite a variety of exhibits. One that we enjoyed was about figure heads from ships:

The best one was about Capt. Comer, who took his ship to Hudson’s Bay in far northern Canada and spent 2 winters there in the early 1900’s with his ship stuck in the ice so his men could catch whales in summer and trade for furs in the winter. He was great friends with the Inuit, and he documented many things about their culture which no one else had ever done. Another good exhibit was about all the things ships have brought to our land, including goods, immigrants, and especially fish. There is a model of a lighthouse with several good videos about lighthouses shown in it. The biggest display was on the total refurbishing of one of the last wooden whaling ships, named the Charles Morgan. There were several other ships we could go on and explore as well.

Next on our agenda, once the expected rain is over, will be to do some exploring in New York.

1 comment:

Jerry and Nancy said...

Great! Enjoyed the mansions, but mostly, I want to go to Water Fire.
Keep it coming.