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.

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