Friday, December 5, 2008

Pacifica Undergrounding Project Completed!

The 9-year saga of our utility undergrounding project on Pacifica Drive is finally over! The last poles and wires came down on June 26, 2008.

Here are some before and after photos; note the dramatic difference!


Our neighbors held a celebratory party in our honor where we were crowned Underground Champs! Kudos and thanks to David Wong (left) and his wife Elizabeth for organizing the event. We feel fortunate in living in such a great neighborhood with wonderful neighbors!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Postcard from Wilderville, State of Jefferson

Where the heck is Wilderville, you ask? It's a tiny hamlet located about 9 miles west of Grants Pass, OR, right on Highway US 199. It is the home of Doug's sister Laurene and her husband Jim. They moved here from Ventura, CA in 2006, to escape the urban hubbub of southern California. They love the rural setting, and the great fishing opportunities afforded by the nearby Rogue River.

"State of Jefferson"

Wilderville is located in Josephine County, one of the seven counties in southern Oregon and northern California that comprise the 1941 version of the mythical "State of Jefferson." There were several attempts at creating this new state (called a republic by some), but the most serious effort was in 1941, as described below in Wikipedia (links included):

"In October 1941, the mayor of Port Orford, Oregon, Gilbert Gable, announced that the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath should join with the California counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc to form a new state, later named Jefferson.[1]

"Gable proposed creating this new state to draw attention to the condition of the state roads along the Oregon-California border, which at the time were oiled dirt roads that became impassable in rain or snow, and handicapped economic development. As local historian Jim Rock explains, "It was more publicity stunt than serious secession movement at that point. After all, under the U.S. Constitution, they had to get the approval of Congress as well as the legislatures of both states.

"Gable's act found sympathy throughout the region, who perceived their state legislatures as indifferent to their needs. Siskiyou County especially embraced the cause: the county seat Yreka became the provisional capital, where in November 1941, county representatives met and selected the name Jefferson for their state, in commemoration of Thomas Jefferson, the nation's third president.

"While inhabitants in Lassen and Shasta counties in northern California flirted with joining the secession movement, only the counties of Siskiyou, Trinity, and Del Norte actually endorsed the idea.

"A naming contest held by the Siskiyou Daily News in November 1941 considered the possibilities for the would be state: Orofino, Bonanza, Discontent, Jefferson, Del Curiskiyou, and Siscurdelmo.

"On November 27, 1941, a group of young men gained national media attention when, brandishing hunting rifles for dramatic effect, they stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99 south of Yreka, and handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the state of Jefferson was in 'patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon' and would continue to 'secede every Thursday until further notice.'

"The secession movement came to an abrupt end, though not before John C. Childs of Yreka was inaugurated as the governor of the State of Jefferson [2]. The first blow was the death of Mayor Gable on December 2, followed five days later by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7. Secessionists focused their efforts on the war effort, which crippled the movement."

A few vestiges of these efforts to establish the State of Jefferson exist today.

As described in an April, 2003, American Journalism Review article:

"The 'state' is diverse politically, with a mixture of conservatives and liberals. Many share the Westerner's common disdain of government and politics. 'Politicians and diapers need to be changed often for the same reason,' reads one bumper sticker. And many also share a desire to hang on to the landscape that draws both residents and tourists to an area that stretches from the stunning Oregon coast to ethereal Crater Lake and down to California's towering Mt. Shasta."

The region retains this identity reinforced by institutions such as Jefferson Public Radio, the headquarters of which is located at the University of Southern Oregon in Ashland, OR. Today, there are 21 FM NPR radio stations in the Jefferson Public Radio network, serving the approximate area envisioned in the 1941 version of the State of Jefferson.

Jefferson is commemorated by the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway between Yreka and O'Brien, Oregon, which runs 109 miles along State Route 96 and U.S. Forest Service Primary Route 48. Near the California - Oregon border, a turnout provides scenic views of the Klamath River valley and three informative display signs about the Republic of Jefferson.

Here and there, even along Interstate 5, there is the occasional sign on buildings referring to the State of Jefferson.

Finally, there are several Web sites devoted to Jefferson. The Jefferson, the 51st State site is quite comprehensive and provided much of the source material for the Wikipedia article.

Even now in 2008, there is talk of establishing a State of Jefferson, this time comprising 12 counties from Oregon and California. See San Francisco Chronicle article from October 2008.

The rationale for establishing Jefferson as the 51st state is the same as in 1941: many residents feel that their interests are not well served by the state capitols in Sacramento and Salem. The region is rugged and isolated, and there is much anti-tax sentiment among the residents. Proposals bandied about to pay for infrastructure and public services included imposing royalties on mining and timber interests, and collecting tolls on roads and bridges.

According to the Jefferson Public Radio Web site,

"The State of Jefferson is a natural division, geographically, topographically and emotionally. As one Jeffersonian put it: 'Jefferson is the state that never was and never will be but that has lived in men's minds for a hundred years.' "

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Highlights from 2008 Wilderville Road Trip

So far, we have made two trips from San Diego to Wilderville, and expect to make many more. We would like to share some of the highlights we visited during the 2008 trip.


San Joaquin Valley:

We decided to drive some byways instead of the freeways, to capture a bit of the small town atmosphere of the San Joaquin Valley.

First was Wasco, located at the intersection of CA-SR 43 and 46. Huell Howser of California Gold fame highlighted the 1928 Wasco High School Auditorium, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The Renaissance-style building is an architectural jewel that was lovingly restored after a 10-year effort.

Further north, outside of Erlimart was
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. This park encompasses the remnants of Allensworth, an utopian settlement financed and settled by African-Americans. It was founded in 1908 and achieved its peak of success in 1910. However, the ambitious goals of the town's founders were not sustainable, and the State of California acquired the townsite in 1974. The restoration and reconstruction efforts are on-going, and several buildings, including the Colonel's residence, are open to the public.

Fresno County Blossom Trail, heading east of US 99 between Visalia and Clovis is best seen in late February, when the almond orchards are in bloom. Although we were past peak for the orchard bloom, a special treat was the drive into Wonder Valley in the Sierra foothills. The rolling grassy hills were splashed with swaths of golden poppy, purple lupine, snow-like patches of tiny white flowers and occasional red/orange paintbrush. Western redbud trees, common in northern and central California, were at their best with their clouds of magenta blossoms.

Sierra Foothills:

Forty-Niner's Highway (CA-SR 49) is one of the most historic routes in California. There are so many interesting towns along this route that we'll select just a few to highlight.

One of our favorites is
Mariposa, gateway to Yosemite. We stayed there in January, 2008 while were attending the Chef's Holiday Yosemite event at the Ahwahnee Hotel. The Mariposa County Historical Courthouse, built in 1854, is the oldest courthouse still in use in the state of California. Another worthwhile stop is the funky Mariposa Museum and History Center.

Murphys, on CA-SR 4, located about 10 miles east of Angels Camp, is a favorite way station largely because two of Doug's childhood friends, Fred and Margo, live there. But the lively downtown is fun to experience day and night. Calaveras and Amador counties have become important wine producing areas, and many wineries have set up tasting rooms lined up along Main Street. Our preference is for some of the smaller boutique vintners, such as Stevenot and Zucca Mountain.

Sutter Creek, located at the junction of CA-SR 49 and 88, is one of the more pedestrian friendly historic towns. Unlike downtowns of some of the better known cities such as Sonora, Angels Camp and Jackson where traffic flows freely, a bypass carries through traffic around Sutter Creek's commercial district. It is a true pleasure to take a stroll through the picturesque historic neighborhoods without fear of being run over.

Sacramento Valley:

A good alternative to the I-5 Freeway is CA-SR 99 between
Chico and Red Bluff. A worthwhile stop is in the hamlet of Vina. The star attraction is the Abbey of New Clairvaux, a Cistercian-Trappist monastery. A special treat is the Winery, which is open to the public on weekends.

Redding is a favorite stop, due to the fact that our friends Terri and Jay live there. Now retired, they enjoy traveling as much as we do, and we love to swap travel stories.

Redding has embarked upon several major revitalization efforts, both in the historic downtown and on a bend of the Sacramento River. We visited the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, located on the Sacramento River. The Park offers the fine environmentally-oriented Turtle Bay Museum and extensive botanical gardens as well as Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp, an educational outdoor exhibit.

The most iconic attraction at Turtle Bay is the spectacular Sundial Bridge, designed by the famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. This pedestrian-only bridge was completed in 2004 to much acclaim and controversy (the latter over cost). It is actually a working sundial!

While in Wilderville, we did a day trip to Grants Pass, to visit the historical downtown. Grants Pass is known for its many antique shops and purveyors of vintage goods from the early and mid 20th Century. We must have visited every one of these establishments!

There really is a lot to see and do in the area, The larger towns of Medford and Ashland have their commercial and cultural attractions; the latter is best known for its Ashland Shakespeare Festival. Perhaps one of the most interesting nearby historical towns is Jacksonville, a former Gold Rush mining center and county seat brought back from near ghost town status. It is now a National Historic Landmark Community with many restored buildings dating to the 1850s.

We will highlight more area attractions in future blogs about Wilderville.


Mendocino County:

We headed south on US 101, and visited several attractions in the Ukiah area, brought to our attention, again courtesy of Huell Howser and his California Gold series.

First was the Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House, 431 S. Main, Ukiah. Grace Hudson (1865-1937) was a portraiture painter of American Indians, primarily of the Pomo Tribe. Her husband, John Hudson (1857-1936), was a physician before moving to northern California where he devoted his life to studying and collecting California Indian basketry and other artifacts. Their Native American-oriented art and artifact collections, and related research documents, form the nucleus of the Museum's holdings. We highly recommend a visit to this priceless resource.

Just outside of the small town of Talmage is the City of 10,000 Buddhas. Their Web site indicates that "this is the first large Buddhist monastic community in the United States." The 488-acre campus was formerly the Mendocino State Hospital, which the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association acquired in 1976.

The centerpiece is the Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas, completed in 1982. We were able to go in and visit its spectacular interior, but no photos could do it justice.

San José:

The major highlight attraction was the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
, 1664 Park Avenue in the heart of San José. We especially enjoyed their collection of smaller artifacts, as represented here.

Santa Barbara County:

We stretched our legs in the small town of Santa Ynez, and enjoyed a picnic on the grounds of the Old Mission Santa Inés.

This view is of the Santa Ynez River Valley, taken from the grounds of the Mission.

Our deepest thanks to all family and friends who made this trip so enjoyable:

Pasadena: Doug's cousin, Linda, whose company we always enjoy.

Murphys: Doug's childhood chum Fred, for putting up with us for two nights!

Santa Rosa: George and his friend Clara, for a wonderful winery tour, capped off by a great dinner and overnight stay!

Redding: Terri & Jay, for their gracious hospitality and tour of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park.

Wilderville: Laurene & Jim, for a comfortable stay and great conversation, as always.

Fort Bragg: Julie, Esmé and sadly, the late Carrie, for a wonderful stay on the "farmette", a shining example of sustainable living and environmental consciousness.

Santa Barbara: Paul & Joanne, for a comfortable bed, great food and conversation, and another chance to explore Santa Barbara.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pre-Cruise Day 2 in Providence

Thursday, September 18, 2008: Pre-Cruise Day 2 in Downtown Providence

It’s become a routine: Route 20 Bus to Kennedy Plaza; walk to attractions. Fortunately, the weather was gorgeous, not too hot and humid, much like we typically enjoy in southern California.

Our principal attraction today was the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art (RISD). Even though we planned to see the opening of the new Chace Center with the Dale Chihuly glass installation after the cruise, we knew it would be crowded then (it was!), so we decided to enjoy a leisurely stroll through the multi-level exhibit halls today. For its relatively small size, its collection is truly impressive. Do peruse their Web site; it’s obvious that their Web master put in a considerable effort in constructing the Web page for depth of information and ease of navigation.

It was lunchtime, so we decided to stick with a winner, Andrea’s Greek Restaurant, just up the hill past Brown University. After another delicious round of gyros, we walked through more historic neighborhoods of College Hill to the 1865 Governor Henry Lippitt House. This magnificent Victorian mansion is an example of the Renaissance Revival style. It was a spur of the moment decision to visit here, so we had not researched opening times. Unfortunately, it was closed today (its visiting hours are limited to Fridays and advance appointments). However, we were free to wander about the grounds and glimpse inside the mansion.

We had read about the Wickenden shopping district in the Providence Journal newspaper, so we decided to walk along Hope Street toward Providence Harbor. We strolled among the Bohemian shops and boutiques along Wickenden Street. We stopped in at Friends Market, 126 Brook Street, a small European-style grocery and dry goods store specializing in Portuguese products. It was fun chatting with the Portuguese immigrant owner and his son. Some of the items looked as if they dated from the middle of the last century!

We came to Benefit Street and turned north through College Hill, to see a couple of sights before heading back to Kennedy Plaza. First was The Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street. This stately building houses an independent subscription library, founded in 1753. The librarian gave us a little guide to some of the rare items on display.
Our final stop was the First Baptist Church in America, 75 N. Main Street. This church was undergoing renovation, but we still were able to see the interior. The 1792 Waterford crystal chandelier in the sanctuary was an outstanding artifact that has been preserved to this day.

This turned out to be another outstanding day of sightseeing in Providence.

Friday, September 19, 2008, we ventured into the countryside using the RIPTA bus system. See the following link for our posting about Bristol.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pre-Cruise Day 1 in Providence

Wednesday, September 17, 2008: Pre-Cruise Day 1 in Downtown Providence

This was our first opportunity for us to try the bus system for a ride to downtown Providence. Senior citizens with a Medicare ID card can ride the bus for half fare during off-peak commuting hours (between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and again after 6:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; and all day weekends).

The Route 20 bus came right on time, and took us to the principal downtown transportation hub, Kennedy Plaza, in about 35 minutes. This route was a milk-run that took us through working class neighborhoods of Cranston. We were surprised at the extent of the Hispanic presence, both in the passenger mix, and the bodegas and tiendas that stretched along Elmwood Avenue.

Once we reached Kennedy Plaza we disembarked and started walking to the State House, located atop Smith Hill. Providence is undergoing an impressive renaissance downtown that began in the 1980s, centered on WaterPlace Park, located where the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers join to form the Providence River. The restored 1898 Union Train Station, now home to The Rhode Island Foundation, anchors WaterPlace Park on the south. As seen in the photo, WaterPlace contains braziers anchored in the water, that are used for the flaming WaterFire Festival, held at sunset Saturdays during the warmer half of the year. The bowl-like design of WaterPlace Park also serves as a huge amphitheater for outdoor concerts and other happenings.

We found residents to be most helpful when we needed directions to where we wanted to go. When we were having difficulty finding the public entrance to the State House, Ms. Elizabeth Roberts (D), Rhode Island’s Lieutenant Governor, graciously escorted us in, saying in passing: “I’m only the Lieutenant Governor”. This made our day! We walked through the 1904-era Capitol; one of the major highlights is the Gilbert Stuart portrait painting of George Washington that hangs in the State Room, next to the Governor’s Office.

Our next objective on our self-guided walking tour was the Benefit Street “Mile of History” in College Hill, developed during the 18th and 19th centuries. We stopped in at the Benefit Square Information Center, to pick up walking tour maps of significant buildings in College Hill. The Providence Preservation Society leads a concerted effort to restore historic buildings and neighborhoods in Providence, and also maintains a list of “most endangered properties” that deserve special attention. We strolled along Benefit Street and side streets, enjoying the ambiance of tall shade trees with the earliest touches of fall colors.

We continued our walk through the Brown University campus, famed for its Gothic Revival architecture. The public spaces were teeming with students just emerging from their classes for lunch. Our objective was Thayer Street, known for its reasonably priced restaurants and Bohemian atmosphere. Students queued up to patronize ethnic catering trucks and fast food purveyors, but when we reached Andrea’s Greek Restaurant, 268 Thayer St., we found it to be surprisingly uncrowded.
After our delicious meal of Greek salad and pita gyros sandwiches, we walked to the John Brown House Museum, 52 Power Street in time for their 1:30 p.m. guided tour. John Brown was a major Far East trader who participated in the slave trade. This Georgian mansion was built in 1788 and was donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1976. Furnishings were typical of the Colonial period. The Brown family was an early benefactor of nearby Brown University.

After this busy day, it was time to catch the bus back to the Comfort Inn. We really enjoyed this very walkable city and were looking forward to returning tomorrow!

Afternoon in Providence With The Ewens

Sunday, September 28, 2008: Afternoon Tour of Providence Neighborhoods with the Ewens

Bill and Sue came by in early afternoon, and we climbed into their Honda SUV and took off. Their itinerary took us to several neighborhoods they knew to be interesting.

First was Historic Pawtuxet Village, located in the suburbs of Warwick and Cranston at the mouth of the Pawtuxet River. The drive took us along Narragansett Parkway that crossed the Pawtuxet River, which was running high due to the recent rains. The most picturesque part of the Village was the Fon/Seaview Avenue Peninsula, lined with Victorian homes, with spectacular views on Narragansett Bay. Bill pointed out how vulnerable this spit of land was to hurricanes.

Our route next took us past Providence Piers where we had disembarked yesterday. Bill and Sue indicated major revitalization projects are proposed for Providence Point, part of Providence’s Jewelry District. The most furthest along was Dynamo House at Providence Point, the conversion of the decommissioned South Street Station powerhouse once operated by the Narragansett Electric Company. Plans call for a mixed-use project, including a future Heritage Harbor Museum, offices, a hotel and restaurant, which would occupy this 350,000-square foot cathedral-like structure. There are other projects in the Providence Point area on the drawing boards, but due to the economy, the timing of their realization was uncertain.

The next area of interest was Wickenden Street, a Bohemian neighborhood known for its quirky shops and restaurants. We then turned onto Benefit Street that took us into the heart of the College Hill Historical District.
Bill and Sue lived for a time in the Burnside House (left), one of the more unusual residential buildings on Benefit Street.

Our drive continued north onto Blackstone Boulevard, a major access road to the Swan Point Cemetery in the north end of Providence. Blackstone Boulevard was constructed in 1894 as a linear parkway, with a trolley rail line down the center. Famed landscape architects Frederick Law and John Charles Olmsted designed the center median strip. The trolley stopped operating in 1948, and the rail line was replaced with a walking path created from the trolley bed. The Blackstone Parks Conservancy is focusing its preservation efforts on restoring the linear park to its original Olmsted design. Of particular concern is the Swan Point Trolley Shelter that dated from 1905. We saw this tiny building that needed lots of TLC.

We then backtracked to Prospect Terrace Park that overlooks the Statehouse. This park features a statue of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The remains of Roger Williams are buried here.

Our next point of interest was Federal Hill, home to Providence’s vibrant Italian community. The Ewens took us down the main drag, Atwells Avenue with its restaurants, boutiques and art galleries. In recent years, the district has diversified with establishments run by other ethnic groups.

After this fascinating tour, enhanced by Bill and Sues’ wonderful background information, it was time to head back to our hotel. Another great day!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wrap Up of Our Cruise Experience

We were impressed with American Cruise Lines, and based on our experience, we would recommend it highly, especially to a “mature” clientele.

We have already praised the excellent food and attentive service of the staff. As noted previously, the American Spirit offered the ambiance of a small floating resort, without the noisy distraction of an on-board casino or disco.

Sandy Balla, the guest lecturer, was a real asset. She was extremely knowledgeable about New England history and architecture, and was an excellent communicator. We learned a great deal from her.

Also noteworthy was the good judgment exhibited by the Captain and crew. They had to respond to some severe weather challenges posed by Hurricane Kyle, by putting into Newport Harbor for an extra day for safety, and eliminating Block Island from the itinerary. Kudos also to the American Cruise Lines representative who hailed a taxi when our complimentary shuttle van failed to show. It’s paying attention to small details such as this that make American Cruise Lines special.

Day 8: Providence, RI

Saturday, September 27, 2008: Return to Providence; Afternoon at RISD Gala Opening

Saturday morning was transition day when our cruise ended and the next one began. Normally, the
American Spirit would have brought us back to Providence Piers in early morning, with the next group waiting to embark. However, the captain considered the passage up Narragansett Bay too risky given the stormy conditions, so American Cruise Lines arranged to have us return by bus. They also provided bus transportation to Newport for the next group waiting to board the American Spirit.

Serendipity stuck when Sandy Balla introduced us to Bill and Sue Ewen. Bill is a professional photographer and an expert in Northeastern U.S. history. They live in Providence and are familiar with some of its most picturesque neighborhoods. We had an interesting chat and told them about our blog. They expressed an interest and thought they could help us become more familiar with
Providence. They asked us if we had any plans for Sunday afternoon; they offered us to take us around on a drive, provided the weather was not too extreme. Since that day was open, we took them up on their offer!

We reached Providence Piers about 9:00 a.m. and disembarked under a large tent. American Cruise Lines had called our complimentary hotel shuttle that was to take us and another couple to the Comfort Inn. Here a glitch developed: the van never showed after 45 minutes! The American Cruise Lines representative made a great executive decision: he hailed one of the waiting taxis and prepaid our fare in full! We thanked him profusely and returned to our hotel.

There were still food left from the Comfort Inn's continental breakfast buffet, so we made lunch before taking the RIPTA bus downtown for our major afternoon event: Grand opening of the
Chace Center at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum of Art.

It was not raining, but still looked threatening, so we dressed in full raingear, including galoshes.

We joined the crowds at the gala opening of The Chace Center, a brand new wing of the RISD Museum. Admission was free, but we had to obtain timed passes under a tent shelter across the street, and walk over to the exhibit.

Dale Chihuly is considered one of the premiere contemporary glass sculptors, known for his large-scale installations, such as the ceiling piece seen here. Chihuly graduated from RISD in 1968 with a Masters in Fine Arts degree, and established a glass department at RISD in 1969. He now calls Seattle and Tacoma, WA home.

We wandered among the installations and saw several documentary films about his collaborative approach to glass sculpture. See Biography, for more information.

After visiting this gem of a museum, we walked back to Kennedy Plaza, to catch a bus back to our hotel.

While we waiting, the skies opened up and a torrential downpour engulfed us. We seemed to be the only ones with rain protection! We were fortunate to be able to catch the Route 14 bus, an express run between downtown Providence and T. R. Green Airport without much of a wait. It was only drizzling when we reached the hotel and it stopped raining by dinnertime.

We made Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant our nightly "pub" for its tasty comfort food and beer on tap. This place was convenient, being only five minutes away by foot from the Comfort Inn. Bertucci’s is a family-oriented restaurant chain concentrated in the Northeast. Although we usually seek out an independent eatery in preference to a chain restaurant, we found its comfort food, consisting of pasta and minestrone, tasty and filling. They had Samuel Adams and other New England brews on tap for reasonable prices.

Despite its challenges, we were pleased how the day went, and were looking forward to our farewell tour of Providence with the Ewens!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day 7: Extra Day in Newport

Friday, September 26, 2008: Hurricane Kyle Barges In; Safe Harbor in Newport

3:00 am: The first spatters of wind-driven rain splashed against our porthole, announcing the arrival of the northeaster that had been threatening for days.

6:30 am: We woke up to the weather news on our TV. The upper-level cutoff low, enhanced by Category 1 Hurricane Kyle, had settled into southern New England. Kyle was forecast to continue north on a path 100 miles east of Nantucket, heading for landfall in Maine tomorrow. It was clear that we were in for a significant wind and rain event that would last well into the weekend.

By breakfast time, heavy squalls rolled in, with little letup. A few brave souls took the American Cruises Lines excursion to Astor’s Beechwood Mansion, and a few others took taxis into town to see some sights. We decided to hunker down for the day, play lots of bridge and read magazines in the Chesapeake Lounge.

It was frustrating that the inclement weather precluded us from enjoying the gift of an extra day in Newport. But everyone agreed the captain made the right decision to stay safely in Newport Harbor given the circumstances. Indeed, we felt little swell in our sheltered safe-harbor, while 10-foot waves were reported out at sea.

At nightfall, Sandy Balla announced that due to the storm, the
American Spirit would remain docked in Newport Saturday, and American Cruise Lines arranged to have buses take us to Providence.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Day 6: Newport, RI

Thursday, September 25, 2008: Day in Newport

It was a “red sky in morning, sailor take warning” sunrise as the Hurricane Kyle-influenced storm edged ever closer. However, the weather forecast for today was for fair and dry skies, and it turned out to be a decent day for sightseeing.
Here is Sandy Balla, our intrepid leader, contemplating before a flock of seagulls lined up along our dock.

The American Spirit docked across Newport Harbor from the central business district, adjacent to Fort Adams State Park. This limited our options when we wanted to access the famed mansions, colloquially known as the “Summer Cottages”, and other attractions in Newport. American Cruise Lines offered two excursions this day: a morning trolley bus tour to see The Breakers, perhaps the best known and most ostentatious of the mansions; and an afternoon hike along Cliff Walk, accessed by private van.

We decided to pass on The Breakers excursion, but participated in the Cliff Walk, since it was only $10 each for transportation.

We tried using public transportation to reach The Breakers. This proved challenging, because post Labor Day, the RIPTA bus system curtails bus service between downtown and Fort Adams. The only cheap, time consuming option available to us was a combined water taxi/bus trip to the Mansions. The water taxi ($5 per person round trip) operated on call; fortunately, we were able to catch a ride to Bannister’s Wharf without too much delay. We walked past the Marriott Hotel to the bus terminal, where we boarded the RIPTA trolley to The Breakers.

The Preservation Society of Newport County manages 11 of the major historic properties in Newport. They offer a variety of packages for visiting one to five mansions, depending on price. Due to time constraints, we bought a day pass that allowed us to see The Breakers plus one other mansion, for $23 apiece.

The Breakers did not disappoint! It was as we remembered it during our last visit in 1975. The views from the terrace were spectacular!

Following The Breakers, we began walking to the Chateau-sur-Mer. We found that we might have been better off with one of the trolley tours, now that we realized how far apart the properties were. Just to compound matters, when we arrived at Chateau-sur-Mer, there was a half-hour wait for the next guided tour! The gatekeeper recommended that we continue on to The Elms, about 15 minutes away on foot. There would be no wait for a guided tour, and digital audio guides would be available.

On the way to The Elms, we passed Vernon Court, home to the National Museum of American Illustration. This French-style chateau, built in 1898, became the home to the Museum in 1998.

We were glad we continued on to The Elms. This was another magnificent mansion and the gardens were gorgeous. Check out this Web site for pictures and more information.

There was a RIPTA bus stop next to The Elms, so after some wait, we caught a trolley to the bus terminal and headed back to Bannister Wharf, to catch the water taxi back to the ship. The water taxi captain did not adhere to a schedule; he decided to leave at 1:15, which got us back to the ship in time for a quick bite of lunch. But it worked out OK; we still made it to the waiting van for the 2:00 departure to Cliff Walk.

Cliff Walk extends 3.5 miles between Memorial Boulevard and Ledge Point. We walked over the segment between Salve Regina University and Vanderbilt’s Tea
House at Marble House. Much of the path was well maintained, but toward the south, we had to traverse rip-rap with care. But the views of the mansions and seacoast were well worth the effort.

As the afternoon wore on, the sky began to darken, winds picked up from the northeast, and waves from Rhode Island Sound crashed into the rocks below.

On the way back, we had a good view of Astor's Beechwood Mansion, an independently owned and operated historic property. (See last photo).

When we returned to the ship, we learned that the captain made some major decisions in view of the approaching storm. First, we had to drop Friday’s visit to Block Island; the seas and wind were going to be too high for safe passage. Second, we were to stay safely ensconced in Newport Harbor Friday and Saturday nights. There was also the possibility that the ship would have to wait out stormy conditions in Newport Saturday when we were scheduled to return to Providence.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Day 5: Bristol, RI

Friday, September 19, 2008: Pre-Cruise Independent Visit to Bristol, Day Trip from Providence

The American Cruise Lines brochure indicated that Day 5 would be in Fall River, MA, with only a quick stop in
Bristol. The Blithewold Mansion and Gardens was not listed as one of the attractions on the schedule, so we decided to use one of our free days in Providence to take a RIPTA bus ride to Bristol. The bus system worked well, and the driver dropped us off right in front of Blithewold, about 11:00 a.m.

Blithewold is an outstanding place to visit and we would recommend it highly. We spent two hours seeing the 45-room mansion and the extensive gardens.

Docents invited us to eat our picnic lunch on the verandah overlooking sparkling Narragansett Bay

We hiked along a well-worn 1.5-mile footpath back to town. It was enjoyable walking among the old storefronts before coming to another museum well worth seeing, Linden Place. This 1810 mansion was featured in the film
The Great Gatsby, and Ethel Barrymore Colt lived there for a time.

Bristol calls itself the most patriotic city in America, and has the most consecutive Independence Day parades, dating to 1785. We had time to stroll some residential streets, accented with fall colors, before catching the bus back to Providence.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008: Morning in Bristol, Cruise to Newport in Afternoon

American Spirit arrived in Bristol on another brilliant morning, perfect for sightseeing. American Cruise Lines had arranged an excursion to the Blithewold Mansion and Gardens. Since we were there just recently, we skipped the excursion. Our earlier visit turned out to be a blessing, because we barely had two hours at Bristol today, and the charming town, with a strong historic preservation ethic, was conducive to a leisurely stroll.

The Herreshoff Marine Museum-America’s Cup Hall of Fame was located right opposite our wharf, so it was an easy matter to walk to it. The Museum is located in a former fine yacht manufactory that operated from 1863-1945. The America’s Cup Hall of Fame chronicles the 150-year history of the America’s Cup regatta held in venues around the world.

After lunch, the American Spirit began the cruise to
Newport along scenic Narragansett Bay.

By arrival time in Newport, the late afternoon sun was casting a golden glow over the shoreline.

Sandy Balla was passing along some weather bulletins: Hurricane Kyle moisture was enhancing a nearby upper level cut-off low-pressure weather system, increasing the chance for heavy rain and wind in southern New England. The captain began to hint
that Block Island may have to be dropped from the itinerary, due to high seas and wind, since the
American Spirit lacks stabilizers. However, the weather was expected to be fine tomorrow and Newport's fabulous "summer cottages" awaited us!