Exploring Hartford: A Grand Capitol Building and Home of Famous Author

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch

We spent a day in Hartford, the capital of Connecticut. It is a very old city, having been established by the English in 1635. The city has been nicknamed the “Insurance Capital of the World” as many insurance headquarters were located here. That has changed some over the years as insurance is still a major employer but some companies have gone elsewhere. It was once the home of Samuel Colt firearms, one of the most important gun companies in America. Our goal for the day in Hartford was to see the capitol building and visit the home of a famous author. Above is a photo of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. It was completed in 1886 to remember the 4,000 Hartford soldiers who fought in the Civil War as well as the 400 who died. It is considered the first permanent triumphal arch built in America.

Connecticut’s Capitol Building

The Connecticut Capitol building is the most castle like capitol I have seen in my travels. During my visit here I felt I was visiting a European country. Completed in 1878, it is perhaps the grandest capitol building I have seen during my travels. The inside seemed to have a different flavor with a Moroccan or Middle Eastern look.

Connecticut Capitol Interior

One of the more interesting artifacts in the building is a drinking fountain built to provide water for the legislators’ horses. Unfortunately, the horses were not allowed in the building to get a drink, (that would have been a kick to see), but had to wait outside until their owners filled jugs of water and brought them outside to give them.

Drinking Fountain for Horses

I joined a tour with a group of high school students from Spain. We visited much of the building with an enthusiastic docent including seeing where the Senate and House meet.

Touring inside the capitol

Hartford has the historic home of one of America’s most famous authors -Samuel Clemens also known as Mark Twain. Twain lived here with his wife and three daughters from the time it was completed in 1874 until 1891. The house was paid for from his wife’s inheritance and cost a huge sum at the time of $40,000. He wrote his most famous works here including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The story of Huck is considered his most famous. I realized that I had never read this book so I got it on my kindle after our visit. What a great read it was – I thought it was so clever and funny, especially toward the end.

The home was a delight to tour and the guide one of the best I have had in my travels. No photos are allowed inside and the home has some original Twain furnishings and artifacts. It had the latest in modern conveniences including being lit by gaslight, seven bathrooms, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, a burglar system run on batteries and a telephone in the kitchen.

Mark Twain family home

Twain is known for his many quotations. He loved Hartford and is quoted as saying: “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief. You do not know what beauty is if you have not been here.” This is high praise as Twain before moving to Hartford had done a lot of traveling in America and abroad.

Mark Twain was known for his quotes

Our camping site for the week we spent in Connecticut was located in a wooded and rural southeastern part of the state. Mark and I found the roads here to be particularly narrow and winding, not quite wide enough for our truck. Mark joked if someone left their mailbox open on the side of the road he would hit it as we passed by. Then there were the frequent signs along the roads – “Beware, hidden driveway,” “Dangerous intersection,” that kept us on our toes each time we ventured away from our campground.

Caution Dangerous Intersection

I loved the river at our campground. The flow of water varied throughout our stay. When we first got there so many big rocks were visible in the river bed that you could almost walk across to the other side. After we got a steady downpour for a day and night the rocks were all covered as the river had risen and it was roaring with water. The Quinebaug River was a beautiful place to sit and ponder nature.

Quinebaug River

Thanks for stopping in! I hope you enjoyed more of our exploring in Connecticut. In the next blog, a trip up the highest mountain in New Hampshire.

Hidden Acres Family Campground Pond

Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport Museum

Charles W. Morgan, oldest wooden whaling ship

One of Connecticut’s top attractions is a living history museum full of historic ships and exhibits in a reconstructed 19th century seafaring village. It is a wonderful place to visit with so much to see that one day isn’t enough, although we did our best to see most of it. For those that like historic vessels and all things nautical, this is the place to come. The centerpiece of the museum is the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden whaling ship built in 1841 and launched from New Bedford, Massachusetts, a town I wrote about in a recent blog. At one time there were more than 2700 whaling ships but the Morgan is now the oldest commercial ship still afloat in America.

Walking on deck of the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship

The Morgan is a very special ship and it was a delight to be able to walk around and explore her. For being so old, she has been kept in remarkable shape. During her whaling years she completed 37 voyages all over the globe in pursuit of whale blubber to make oil. Whaling was a dangerous and difficult business and many ships and their crews did not survive their journeys. Below is a photo of a docent demonstrating how a whale was speared with a special hook.

Demonstration of a spear used in whaling

We were able to explore not only the main deck but also the cabins below. There wasn’t much room down there for all the men but they made do with small bunks and living spaces. The captain had a more luxurious area, although his space was quite limited too. Below was also a larger area where the oil was stored. Here is a photo of the seamen’s bunks.

Sleeping areas below deck

It was a neat feeling to wander around this ship and think about how men lived and worked here in days past on the high seas, risking their lives on long voyages. One of these seamen, Nelson Cole Haley was aboard this ship for four years from 1849 -1853. He worked as a harpooner, responsible for first spearing the whale, one of the more dangerous jobs. He wrote a book called “Whale Hunt” about his experiences on the Morgan, a book that brought to life the fascinating life of a whaler. It was an enjoyable read after our visit to this historic ship.

Joseph Conrad sailing ship

Above is a photo of the Joseph Conrad sailing ship as seen from the deck of the Morgan. This ship was launched in 1882 in Denmark and used to train Danish sailors for merchant service. Later she served as a training ship for the U.S. until 1945 when she came to stay at Mystic Seaport as a museum ship. This was another tall ship we were able to board and tour.

Sabino Steamboat

The museum offers a chance to go for a ride on several of their boats including the Sabino pictured above. This is the oldest wooden coal fired steamboat in the U.S. in regular operation. It was built in 1908 and used to ferry passengers and cargo between Maine towns and islands. The Sabino took us on a pleasant cruise around Mystic harbor. It was a nice chance to see the Seaport Museum from the water. I also went below and watched coal being loaded into the furnace.

The Sabino is fueled by coal

The museum has businesses that were important in a seafaring town of the 19th century and offers a number of classes and demonstrations. Besides a tourist destination, the museum is a research and educational facility. A large shipyard is also on the premises and inside the huge building you can watch the old practices of building and repairing wooden ships. In another building the 60 year old Mayflower II wooden ship was being reconstructed in preparation for 2020 and the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims arrival in 1620.

Mystic Seaport Shipyard

In addition to the permanent exhibits the museum had a fascinating temporary exhibit on the Vikings with artifacts brought from Sweden on tour in the U.S. beginning at Mystic Seaport. There were 1,300 year old items of warfare such as helmets, shields and swords that had been excavated from a burial site. They were beautiful with much detail and for their age in amazing shape.

Viking helmet from Sweden
Viking shield from Sweden

Of the many nautical exhibits, my favorite was the room filled with figureheads. Figureheads are carved wooden decorations found at the bow of ships and popular during historic sailing times, especially the 1800’s. The ornamentation represented gods, spiritual beliefs and were used to protect and enhance the ship as well as symbolize what the ship stood for. The carvings are very detailed and are a classic symbol of America’s seafaring history. In the photo below are several examples although there were many more on display. The horrible lighting in the room made taking good photos difficult.

I hope you enjoyed a little of what can be found at Mystic Seaport Museum. This is just a sample of what is awaiting the visitor here. This was definitely one of the highlights of our travels and on my top ten best museum list.

Exploring Connecticut: Pez, Pizza and Yale

Standing in Front of the PEZ Candy Factory Store

The PEZ candy factory in Orange, New Jersey is fun, fun! Who can resist these colorful dispensers with the candy wafers that pop out the top. In this factory/store you will find the most PEZ memorabilia in the world. Many people are familiar with PEZ dispensers that have hundreds of different heads. In my opinion, the candy wafers are boring but the dispensers are a kick. At this location you can learn the history behind PEZ by visiting interactive game stations and following the historical timeline. We started out by playing PEZ Bingo, which encouraged us to go throughout the store looking at the large collection of Pez dispensers in the cases and trying to find the right ones in a row. When you hit a bingo you can take your card back to the counter for a free dispenser.

Playing PEZ Bingo

The history of PEZ is rather interesting. It was invented by Edward Haas in Vienna, Austria in 1927 as an adult breath mint and alternative to smoking. The name comes from the word for peppermint in German – pfefferminz, taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and Z from the last letter to form the new name. The original shape of PEZ candy was round and called “PEZ drops.” The candy quickly evolved to the familiar brick shape that is still manufactured today. The PEZ dispenser was introduced in 1949 at the Vienna Trade Fair. In 1952 operations began in New York City. The first three dimensional character head dispenser, a Halloween witch was made in 1957. Popeye became the first licensed character in 1958. There are lots of other fun facts to read about here including the one below.

Santa Claus is the best selling dispenser of all time

Hundreds of dispensers displayed in glass cases can be seen here. They are grouped by category, for example the “Favorite Characters” that are shown below. These include characters from Peanuts, Smurfs, Sesame Street, Flintstones, Garfield and the Simpsons with the dates they were first introduced.

Favorite Characters on display

There were some dispensers that surprised us including one for every U.S. president. There are also those featuring popular movie characters.

PEZ presidential collection

The store claims to have the largest dispenser in the world, 14 feet high and motorized. As you watch, the head slowly opens up and a “candy” is dispensed before it closes again. I took the photo below looking down from the second story landing.

The largest PEZ

One of the favorite exhibits is the PEZ themed motorcycle made by the people from Orange County Choppers.

PEZ Motorcycle

Although you can’t see the candy or dispensers being made here, there are large windows that look out at the production facility where the dispensers are packaged. This was just mildly interesting as the reason to come is to see all the dispensers and learn about PEZ history. People also come to stock up on their favorites and there are plenty to choose from. Our two grandsons love PEZ so we bought some for them and they were excited to find out we had visited the factory store. In the photo below, Mark poses under a sign stating, “You aren’t famous until you have had your head on a PEZ dispenser.”

After the PEZ factory we headed to nearby New Haven, a historical city known for two things I wanted to check out, pizza and Yale University. Connecticut is known for having great pizza and the most well known is found in the Old Italy neighborhood of New Haven. There are several favorite pizza restaurants here and we decided to try Frank Pepe’s, which has been in business since 1925. Their signature pizza is white clam which we ordered as well as a pizza loaded with fresh tomatoes only available in the summer. They bake their pizzas in an old fashioned brick oven and they were as delicious as I hoped, especially the clam which was very unique. There is really nothing quite as good as a well made pizza in my humble opinion.

Frank Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven
Frank Pepe’s signature white clam pizza and fresh tomatoe pizza

I always enjoy visiting colleges and universities – there is something about walking around a center of higher learning and seeing the historical buildings, wonderful architecture and vibrant student atmosphere. Perhaps some of my interest is because I spent so many years myself in college attending classes part time working toward degrees. I had hoped during our travels to visit an Ivy League College and here was my chance in New Haven. Yale was founded in 1701, making it the third oldest university in America. Harvard is the oldest and the College of William and Mary is second. We visited William and Mary while staying in Williamsburg, Virginia and it boasts the oldest remaining building on a college campus. Yale is organized into about a dozen different campuses or colleges. I wanted to walk around the Old Campus which is the principal residence of Yale College freshmen and also contains the offices for some of the academic departments.

Yale University Old Campus

In the photo above is a statue of Nathan Hale and a view on the right of the oldest surviving building from the colonial era, Connecticut Hall built in 1750. The Old Campus buildings surround a four acre courtyard and green with a main entrance gate. It is a beautiful area with many shade trees and stone paths. The statue is of Nathan Hale, a Connecticut and Revolutionary War hero who attended Yale and lived at Connecticut Hall. He was a spy during the War who at the young age of 21 was captured and executed by the British. He is remembered for his famous saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Yale University Old Campus

Across from the Old Campus I found this grand entrance and gate leading to another campus. I will close with this photo and hope you enjoyed a look at our exploring in the New Haven area.

New Bedford – Historic Whaling Town with America’s Longest Painting

Lagoda Whale Ship Model

While staying in Rhode Island we took a day trip to the town of New Bedford in Massachusetts. During the 19th century the town was nicknamed “The Whaling City” as it was one of the most important whaling ports in the world. Today, along cobblestoned streets you can visit historic buildings operated by the National Park Service and tour the New Bedford Whaling Museum. This museum was the reason I wanted to come to the city because it was noted as being one of the best whaling museums in America.

Try Pots

The museum has a number of interesting exhibits with the “Lagoda,” an 89 foot, half scale model of a whaleship the centerpiece. During our visit, museum staff dressed up in period costumes and playing various parts, put on a play of a whaling ship getting ready to go to sea. I watched for awhile and then moved on to see what the rest of the museum had to offer. There were skeletons of whales, descriptions of whaling methods including use of small boats to catch the whales. The try pots pictured above were kept on the ship deck and used to render oil from blubber after the whale had been cut in pieces.

First Solo Trip Around the World

In one of the rooms was an exhibit of the first man to sail solo around the world. In 1895, Joshua Slocum at the age of 54 left Boston in a sloop he rebuilt called the “Spray.” He made it around the world in a little over three years coming back with artifacts from his voyage, some on display at the museum. He paid his way by giving lectures at various ports. Mr. Slocum wrote a popular book about his voyage that was published in 1900. Since I enjoy reading about sea voyages and this one was important historically, I downloaded his book on my kindle and right now in the process of reading it. So far it is quite interesting and he is a very good writer. Mr. Slocum and the Spray disappeared in 1909 while traveling to South America and were never seen again. The most surprising thing about this man of the sea? He didn’t know how to swim.


My favorite exhibit was a room filled with scrimshaw – historic carvings made on whale bone, usually teeth of sperm whales. It became a hobby of whalers and seamen who created intricate and beautiful designs. Common themes were clipper ships, whaling boats, the whale hunt and even famous people like George and Martha Washington. The scrimshaw in the photo above was done on a sperm whale tooth caught near the Galápagos Islands in the year 1817. The whale gave 100 barrels of oil for the ship. I like that the description was written on the tooth. Below are more examples of scrimshaw.


The view from the top floor deck of the museum gives a scenic view of the town of New Bedford and the harbor.

View of New Bedford From the Whaling Museum

After our museum visit we headed over to see the historic Mariners’ Home, a boarding house for whalers and fishermen which is now used for exhibits. It is next to the Seamen’s Bethel, the chapel of the whalemen. It was here that author Herman Melville attended services and later in his book “Moby Dick” referenced the chapel and the sermon given there in a pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship. (Google Orson Wells and Moby Dick to see a powerful film version of the sermon). In 1961, a boat builder constructed a replica pulpit like the one described in the book. On the walls of the chapel are the names of New Bedford whalers and fishermen who lost their lives at sea. All of the remembrance plaques as well as the bow shaped pulpit really give a feel that this was a church for whaling families. A few scenes from other films have also been made at the Bethel.

Bow Shaped Pulpit Inside the Seamen’s Bethel

Our last exhibit stop was away from the historical district in an event building. A very large room was needed for the exhibit of the longest painting in America. The 1,275 foot long “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” is one of the more unusual and amazing things I have seen during our travels. It was painted in 1848 by two men and as the title implies, shows a whaling voyage around the world that started from New Bedford. Benjamin Russell had sailed aboard a whaling ship to earn some money and decided to recreate his voyage with the help of an assistant. The Panorama detailed people and places that Benjamin encountered and was painted on cotton sheeting with a water based paint.

Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage – Leaving from New Bedford

Historically, moving panoramas like this one were mounted on spools and scrolled much like celluloid film. The painting traveled to a number of U.S. cities before it was donated to the New Bedford Whaling Museum 100 years ago. After 150 years of travel it had tears, worn spots and burns. In 2017, the museum completed a major restoration of the Panorama. Since rolling the painting would put it at risk of damage, it is displayed at its full length. Below is a photo showing the painting covering both sides of the room.

Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage

The painting shows the typical route of a whaler in the mid-19th century, with stops in the Azores, Cabo Verde, Rio de Janeiro, Chile and many ports in the Pacific. Below is a photo of the Volcano at Fogo (mountain of fire) in Cape Verde which erupted in 1847.

Grand Panorama – Volcano Erupting in Cape Verde

Since this was a whaling voyage, there are numerous scenes of whale hunts such as in the photo below.

Grand Panorama Whale Hunt

The Grand Panorama is a wondrous spectacle and I felt fortunate that I was in New Bedford at the time it was being displayed after restoration. It took a long time to walk beside the cotton sheeting and see all of the painted images and follow this voyage around the world. I doubt my photos do it justice, especially in the size of the painting. It made a big impression on me and I thought about the Panorama many times after my visit. I might have come to New Bedford for the whaling museum, but it ended up being the Panorama that was the reason to come.

Tia Maria’s Portuguese Restaurant

So who were all the whalers that were drawn to whaling in New Bedford? They came from many different places and included Americans from New England, Basques. the British, Dutch, the Portuguese, native Hawaiians and escaped African American slaves. It seemed fitting for us to end our day eating dinner at a Portuguese Restaurant called Tia Maria’s in the historic part of the city.

I hope you enjoyed a look at the whaling history in New Bedford!

Newport’s Historical Buildings and I Become a Tunnel Rat

Besides beautiful coastal scenery Newport is blessed with lots of historic buildings and neighborhoods. One of the neighborhoods called the “Point” actually has the highest concentration of colonial homes in the nation with many built in the 1700’s. It was an interesting place to stroll around. Below is a photo of one of the oldest homes which was built in 1748 and is called the Brenton Counting House.

The Old Colony House was built in 1736 and is the fourth oldest state house still standing in the U.S. It was the meeting place for the colonial legislature. A number of events during the Revolutionary War took place here including reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the building in 1774. In modern times, Steven Spielberg filmed scenes from the movie Amistad both inside and outside the building.

Newport Old Colony House from 1736

Trinity Episcopal Church was built in 1726 and is very beautiful both inside and out. It is amazing to think that the church has been in use for almost 300 years. During our travels we have been to several churches where George Washington has attended and I have sat in his box pew. The Trinity Church also has a G. Washington pew. The friendly docent at the church encouraged me to sit in his pew and wanted to take photos for me, but my smile was too goofy looking for me to allow it on the blog. A plaque at the pew also lists other famous people who have sat here including Queen Elizabeth II and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Trinity Episcopal Church built in 1726

The church has the only center aisle, free standing triple decked pulpit left in America today. During colonial times, the three levels showed the importance of the service. The bottom level was used by the lay clerk to lead singings and verbal response from the congregation. The second tier was for reading scripture and saying prayers by the minister and the top was where the sermons were preached. Since the services could be long, there are gold tipped staffs or nodding rods above the pews that were used to prod or tap those who fell asleep. That would have been embarrassing!

Free standing Triple Decked Pulpit

Newport has another house of worship with great significance. The Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue building in the U.S. dating from 1763. There are tours inside the building and I would have liked to take one but did not have time.

Newport is proud of Fort Adams, a coastal fortification built in 1799 and named after President John Adams who was in office at the time. The Fort’s grounds have hosted the Newport Jazz Festival and the America’s Cup. The Fort has been active during most major wars including the War of 1812, the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I and World War II but never fired a shot in anger. Unlike other forts we have visited, the only way to see this fort was with a guided tour.

The tour took us through the officer’s quarters, up to the top of the walls for a view of Narragansett Bay and down into the tunnels. This is a large fort with many buildings but overall Mark and I did not find it as interesting as other coastal forts we have visited in the South. But the views were well worth the visit.

View of Narragansett Bay from Fort Adams

Exploring the tunnels was the most interesting part of the tour. There are several thousand feet of tunnel space that the troops used to listen for enemy soldiers that could be burrowing underneath the walls of the fort. The tunnels are not for the claustrophobic and I bet it would have been rough duty during the Fort’s active years.

Fort Adams Underground Tunnel

The tunnel passages are very narrow and I couldn’t walk upright through them. We carried flashlights to find our way in the pitch blackness. At the end of our journey we were given a “Fort Adams Tunnel Rat” sticker.

I am a Tunnel Rat

Below is a photo of the Bay next to the Fort. The beautiful tall ship to the left is the Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island’s official sailing school vessel. I put a close up photo of this ship in my 2018 trip highlights blog several weeks ago. When we were there, several students were working with sails and ropes out on the dock.

Mark and I visited Brenton Point State Park right along the coast and it was here that we did something we hadn’t done in many years – flew a kite. Luckily there was a mobile kite shop on site where we could get our own kite (for no small price). The winds are perfect at this park for kites, at least they were the day we visited.

When visiting a new state I like to try a few of the iconic foods there. I did some research and found out about some in Rhode Island and the list includes doughboys (a type of donut), coffee milk, clam cakes, calamari and hot weiners. While there are other iconic foods the one that seemed the most accessible was Del’s Lemonade, a frozen lemon concoction that originated in Naples in the 1840’s. I thought it was pretty refreshing. If you ever find yourself visiting Newport come to Brenton Point State Park, get yourself a Del’s Lemonade at the stand there and have fun flying a kite (save $$ by bringing your own).

See you next time!

Newport Cliff Walk and Sailing on the Aquidneck

One of the most beloved activities in Newport, Rhode Island is walking the Cliff Walk. When we travel to a new city, town or area, I make a list (mentally or written) of activities we should do. Usually there are a few that we don’t get around to and I am glad the Cliff Walk was not one of them. Since we have been traveling full time, this is the best walk/hike we have done and we enjoyed beautiful sunny, warm weather for our trek.

Newport’s Cliff Walk

The Cliff Walk was first developed by estate owners during Newport’s Gilded Age from 1880-1920. It became a National Historic Walking Trail in 1976. This unique trail combines gorgeous ocean scenery with rocky coastline on one side with views of the historic mansions that Newport is well known for on the other. Along the way are signs with points of interest. The trail goes for several miles with much of it paved, but some portions require walking over jagged rocks that can be difficult to traverse. The trail can be accessed from a few different places in the city, but we began at the main starting point.

View of First Beach from the Cliff Walk

The walk starts out above First Beach, one of the more popular beaches in Newport where people love to sunbathe and swim. The photo above shows a view from the trail of the beach area.

Breakers Mansion next to the Cliff Walk

We walked past a number of historic homes and mansions including the Breakers. I wrote about the Breakers, a Vanderbilt summer cottage last time. Above is a photo of the back of the mansion from the trail which has a commanding view of the ocean.

There are a few gates along the trail and I especially liked this one with its imposing posts and wrought iron. Because of the historic mansions along the cliff and all the improvements on the trail including stone walls, arched passageways, gates and sitting areas, I found the trail to be rather elegant. It was easy to imagine residents during the Gilded Age walking along the path in their fancy attire with umbrellas to keep the sun off. In the photo below, the white building is a sun room perched on the edge of the property looking down on the sea. I could imagine hanging out there on a comfy couch or chair with a book, cup of tea, snack and binoculars.

We walked a good amount of the trail but decided to not venture further when we came upon the portion with jagged rocks. In the photo below I am standing near our turn around spot. I don’t think pictures can show what an impressive day and walk this was.

Sitting area on Newport’s Cliff Walk

I have probably mentioned this several times in my blog, but I love boats and being on the water. While visiting Maine, I had wanted to take a cruise on a schooner but did not find the time to do it. The time was just right in Newport which is a city that is perfect for sailing. Sail boats, yachts and other water craft are quite plentiful in Narragansett Bay where Newport is located. It seems to be a very popular pastime in the city.

The Schooner Aquidneck

There are several sailing companies offering tours and I decided to go on the “Aquidneck,” which is a reproduction of a late 1800’s coasting schooner. It was named after Aquidneck Island which is the island where Newport is located. Aquidneck is an Indian name meaning “Isle of Peace.”

Sailing from the harbor aboard the Aquidneck

While aboard the schooner we were free to sit or move around. After we got out of the harbor, guests were welcome to help raise the sails with several people willing to give it a try.

Guests help to raise the sails on Aquidneck

Narangansett Bay was a beautiful place to sail and the weather was perfect as well. We were joined by many other happy sailors that day as we cruised past various landmarks and points of interest.

A beautiful sailboat on Narangansett Bay

As always, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this look at two favorite Newport activities.

Video Test 2

The dancing clip seems maybe too long. I found another and trimmed it down to about 10 seconds. I’ll give it a try. It is Beth taking an archery lesson, yes, you heard right, in Maine. Let’s see if it hits the target?

Again let me know if/how it works. Thanks. By the way it is slow motion. Wanted to capture her in all her glory.

Video Testing – It’s alive!

One of the things (I hope) we can do now is put video on the blog, so I want to give it a test. It is kind of a complex process so it might take a few tries and adjustments. This one is kind of wacky. It is a sample of flat foot dancing at a jam session in Appalachia. We haven’t done many videos so not much of a selection. This one is about the length I want to try, about 30 seconds. If it does seem to work I will leave it up. I’d appreciate it if you could give a quick feedback as to how it works for you. Plays ok? Has sound? Whatever? No comments needed on the dancing, I have my own thoughts on that.

Wish me luck.

Touring Newport’s Summer Cottages

Front view of Marble House

Newport has narrated trolley tours and I took an informative one that drove us all over this very beautiful town and area. There was so much to see including the harbor, St. Mary’s Church where John and Jackie Kennedy were married in 1953, the farm where they had their wedding reception, Touro Synagogue (oldest Jewish synagogue in North America, 1763), the yacht club, beaches, parks, Fort Adams, historic homes and many mansions. We visited two of the most famous mansions, summer “cottages” of two wealthy Vanderbilt families. These homes were only used a few months out of the year, a chance to get away to the seaside and relax from busy New York City. In spite of not being used much, they were designed to be just as large and lavish as their homes in New York City. In our travels I have seen a number of fancy homes, but these were the most extravagant yet.

Marble House Grand Stairway

Marble House, completed in 1892, was our first stop and the creation of Alva Vanderbilt. Alva spent much of her time elevating herself as a high society matron and wanted to have the most impressive homes and expensive parties. She was constantly trying to outdo other wealthy families in New York and planned Marble House to be the fanciest summer “cottage” in Newport. As the name implies, the walls and floors are covered with marble. The mansion cost about $11 million to build and furnish, of which $7 million was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. The house is truly a statement of what the gilded age was all about with no expense spared. Some months ago I read an intriguing book on the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age. It was not unusual for them to spend several hundred thousand dollars on one fancy party and that was back in the late 1800’s. While partying huge sums of money away in their mansions on 5th Avenue, other New York City residents were living not that many blocks away poverty stricken in tenement buildings.

Marble House Dining Room

The dining room in Marble House features pink marble on the walls and gilt bronze decoration. Alva got her inspiration for the mansion from a chateau on the grounds of the French Palace of Versailles. The mansion was a gift to Alva for her 39th birthday from her husband William.

Marble House Gothic Room

There are 50 rooms in Marble House, so this is by no means a moderate sized summer cottage. It took awhile to walk through and “gawk” at all the rooms. The gothic room pictured above was designed for Alva’s collection of medieval artifacts.

Marble House Gold Room

It wasn’t all marble on the walls though. In the Gold Room or Gilded Ballroom are 22 karat-gold wall panels, probably the fanciest room in the house.

Seaside view from the back of Marble House

Stepping outside to the back of the house brings the view above. Marble House like many of the Newport mansions is located along the cliffs above the ocean with a remarkable vista.

Entrance Gate to the Breakers

After visiting Marble House we stopped at the Breakers, built by Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt in 1895. Cornelius was the grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt who built up the family fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad. Cornelius later became Chairman and President of the New York Central. This home has 70 rooms and was built in Italian Renaissance style, inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin.

The Breakers

Although Marble House was for awhile the premier house in Newport, once the Breakers was built it became the largest and most grand home. It cost less to build though at $7 million. Once again, it is amazing that so much time and money was spent on a residence that was only used for a summer cottage.

Central Hall in Breakers Mansion
Breakers Mansion

Breakers has five floors and 62,482 square feet of living space. Below are photos of the beautiful music room and dining room in the mansion.

Music Room in Breakers Mansion
Breakers Mansion Dining Room

A large glass wall on the Eastern side of the Breakers looks out at the Loggia (covered corridor), back lawn and the sea. The mansion gets its name from the waves that continually crash against the cliffs below the house.

Breakers Loggia

It was quite a visit to a much different time touring these amazing summer cottages. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as well. Stay tuned for my next blog post on more Newport adventures.

Exploring Rhode Island and Camping with Headstones

Map of the Rhode Island area we explored while staying in Middletown and visiting Newport

Since I still haven’t written about our summer in New England, I wanted to return to those states and post about some of our discoveries there. I figure this will be a good time since we are continuing to hang out in California for awhile longer and will not be doing much sightseeing. I thought I would start with Rhode Island, the smallest state in America and one that definitely made an impression on me. It was easy to decide which city and area to focus on in Rhode Island as Newport sounded the most intriguing with its seaside location and lots of history. There were few RV parks available near Newport, but there was one in Middletown just a few miles north. Reviewers were not that complimentary of the park, describing it as camping in an empty field with no amenities. We were coming a few days before Labor Day weekend and luckily they had a spot for us. I wasn’t expecting much and just hoped we could make do for the week we were staying.

A tiny Rhode Island Historical Cemetery next to our RV site

After checking in we were shown to our site where RVs were in fact, crammed together in a small field with no amenities. But our spot had a little something extra as it was right next to a teeny tiny cemetery with a sign of protection from the Rhode Island Historical Society. We did our best to pull in without driving over the burial plots. I couldn’t help but wonder, where was the fence around this little cemetery and why so little protection? After getting our trailer in I checked out the most prominent headstone which listed an Edward Tewes from 1776. Camping right next to a burial ground was a first for us, but next to a headstone that was well over 200 years old was something rather different indeed. Always curious, I tried to dig up a little about Edward online. What was his former occupation? Could he have died fighting in the Revolutionary War? Is this his date of birth rather than date of death? I had questions, but unfortunately came up with no answers about our neighbor. In the days ahead as I passed close by Edward’s tombstone to get into our truck, “good morning Edward,” or “good day Edward” became my mantra.

Edward Tewes, 1776

During our first day while Mark got the trailer hooked up I wandered down the street away from the RV park and found more history. This is one of the things I love about traveling and coming to a new place. You never know what you will find and I found something interesting at the end of the street. At a little park was the Boyd’s Wind Gristmill from 1810 which in addition to being beautiful and old had other historical significance. Still in operational order, it was moved to this park from another location in the state. A large mill stone located here was used during 1840-1844 with grain from almost every farm on Rhode Island passing over its surface. Rhode Island is surely a small state, but it is hard to imagine one mill stone and windmill doing the job for every farm.

Boyd’s Wind Gristmill built in 1810

Besides the windmill, a historic school house is also located at the park. Walking along the street I saw a number of historic homes with plaques. They had dates from the later 1700’s and into the early 1800’s, like the beautiful wood shingled home below. Instead of fences that are normally seen in a neighborhood, here it was old stone walls up and down the street. There is nothing like a good old fashioned stone wall to take you back a few years. Our neighboring burial plot and my walk around the neighborhood set the stage for all the history we would be seeing in Newport in the coming days. I also realized that this RV Park was actually not a bad find and we didn’t need any amenities this week any way.

Our first night in Middletown we found a pizza place that was supposed to be pretty good called “Carmella’s.” After ordering I was looking at the chalkboard sign on the back wall advertising all the good things in their pizza. My eye was drawn to the “Stanislaus Plum Tomatoes” used in their homemade sauce. I wondered, could these tomatoes be from the same Stanislaus County in California where we lived for many years before taking up RVing? It seemed likely since many tomatoes are processed in that county. In fact I have driven by those processing plants from time to time and seen the trucks loaded with fresh picked tomatoes. Upon inquiring, we found out that yes, we were right. What a small world – here we were at the opposite end of the U.S. eating pizza with tomatoes from our former California home.

Here at Carmella’s we ate good pizza with tomatoes grown in our former California county.

In Middletown we made another great find – the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge right next to the Bay. It had a nice system of trails with beautiful coastal views and little paths down to the water. In addition, there was the hope of seeing waterfowl, deer and other wildlife. A beach near the wildlife refuge was called Second Beach and was very popular with locals and visitors. The cost to park in the lot by the beach seemed a little outrageous at $15.00 per car on weekdays and $25.00 on weekends. It didn’t take long to discover that people love the beaches in the Newport area. Our friendly neighbors at the RV park kept their trailer here throughout the summer, coming frequently for the past 40 years from their home in Connecticut. When I asked about the beaches in Connecticut they said they weren’t worth going to, the best beaches were in Middletown and Newport. They went to Second Beach every day while we were there.

Mark walking the path by the Bay at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge

We came to Sachuest several times to walk the trails and watch the sunsets. One sunset was particularly gorgeous as golden light burst from a hole in the parting clouds.

Another lovely sunset from Sachuest looking out on the Bay toward Middletown.

We had almost perfect weather during our week in Rhode Island. There was not a single drop of rain during our stay, a rarity in the Eastern U.S. and something I always hoped to see! The temperatures were also that ideal summer warmth. I soon realized that a week in Middletown and Newport, Rhode Island was not going to be long enough. I will close with a scenic coastal view from one of Newport’s lighthouses.

Castle Hill Lighthouse, an active light in Newport, Rhode Island

Thanks for checking in! In my next blog more exploring in Newport.