Thursday, March 15, 2012

120225 Newport, RI

We had the idea of going away for the weekend for the three-day weekend over President's Day. However, we unexpectedly found out that Jason's job didn't give President's Day off, so we had to axe that plan and reschedule it for the next weekend, and only two days. We had bought the Winter Paspport tickets from the Preservation Society of Newport County, who manages these Newport mansions, and the ticket allowed us to visit the Breakers, the Elms and the Marble House, just three of the many mansions in Newport.

We got to Newport, RI at about 11am and headed straight to The Elms, since we couldn't check in at our hotel until 3pm. The Elms is a large summer cottage of the coal baron Edward Berwind. It was designed by architect Horace Trumbauer, based on Château d'Asnières in France, and was built between 1899 and 1901. Today, the Elms is a National Historic Landmark, and is open to visitors.

Preservation Society of Newport County

The Elms exterior, viewed from the lawn
When we entered the Elms, we were given a headset as a guide. This headset tour was a special only for the Newport Winter Festival that weekend. On other weekends, there usually are tours given by guides. I like the idea of the headset guide as we could take our time in each room, and do not have to follow a pace set by others.

On the first floor of the Elms, there is the grand stairway, an observatory, a salon, the breakfast room, the dining room and a library. Photography was not allowed inside the building, so I'm stealing pictures from other sources, because I'm sure everyone wants to see it. On the second floor, there were seven bedrooms, and on the third floor, there were servant quarters.

We found it amazing that not only were these houses huge, they were also lavishly decorated with marble, imported artwork, intricate carvings, and electricity. Electricity may seem like nothing out of the blue for us, but back in those days, having electricity in your house meant that you were of a different standing amongst the rich and famous, where there were plenty in Newport. Also, these houses that looked to us really grand, were only summer houses, and occupied for maybe three months out of the year.


Grand Stairway of the Elms
Photograph from Fodors Travel
Dining Room of the Elms
Photograph from Cinderella 11pm
Chinese Breakfast Room at the Elms
Photograph from Karina Kentigetta
Library at the Elms
Photograph from Newport Patch

The Drawing Room of the Elms
Photograph from Salve Regina University

The interior tour of the house ended, and we got let out of the house (and back into the cold gusts of the winds) through the service entrance. The Elms has a drive-around service entrance because the family driver did not know how to back out of a driveway!

Here's me, at the drive-around service entrance.

In addition to the huge mansion, the grounds of the Elms was also sprawling. It reminded me of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Anyway, the Elms was designed with a French touch, which included sunken gardens. It also had a stable with horses that were used to draw carriages.

Walking around the grounds of the Elms

Sunken Gardens at the Elms

The "Board Game" Room

*****

After leaving the Elms, we headed out in search of lunch. A quick search for cheap food in the area brought us to Rosemary and Thyme Boulangerie and Cafe. When we first walked in, we were greeted with the smell of freshly brewed coffee, and French pastries. It was small, cosy and really friendly. The owners were a husband and wife team, and the food was hands down fantastic. We had a pizza, a sandwich, their homemade clam chowder, and their homemade French corn souffle. Actually everything was homemade. It was perfect. Cheap, delicious, homely and not a chain! :) I wish there was something like this near me.

Jas' Pizza

Emy's Mediterranean Sandwich

When we got out of the cafe, Jas told me that he could see me doing something like this - having a fun little cafe and serving happy customers. I felt exactly that when I walked in, except I just didn't want to admit that it is something I could possibly see myself doing, if I have time (and energy) after writing music.

Rosemary and Thyme Boulangerie and Cafe
383 Spring St
Newport RI 02840

*****

After lunch, we decided to see the Marble House, and leave the grand prize - the Breakers - for tomorrow. As the saying goes, we 'save(d) the best for last'. Marble House is another house built during the Gilded Age, and also run by the Preservation Society of Newport County. It was the home of William Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, an successful 19th century entrepreneur of the shipping and railroad industries. It was designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt and was given by William to his wife Alva Erskine Smith as her present for her 39th birthday.


facade of the Marble House

The interior of the Marble House was mostly made of marble, hence the name. It was made with different types of imported marbles, which gives each room in the house its distinct look. There is said to be about 500,000 cubic feet of marble in the Marble House. [Cubic feet, not square feet!!]

Entrance Hallway of the Marble House - marble everywhere!
The gold room is one of the most stunning rooms in the house. It is of a Louis XIV French motif. As anyone would have guessed, the French influence is very strong in these houses of the Gilded Age. I'm not sure if it was made with marble, but the gold leaf gilding of all the walls are still intact and very impressive. The stucco in the ceiling is also amazing.

Gold Room of the Marble House
Photo from Cinderella 11pm
Another favorite room of mine was the Gothic Room, decorated in the highly elaborate Gothic style. The stained-glass windows of the Gothic Room was recently restored, and was said to look like the original stained glass windows in the early 1900s.

Gothic Room of the Marble House
Photo from About.com

The Dining Room is yet another sight. Made from imported red marble (it does help when your husband's family owns the entire railway system), the marble slabs are so huge that it is hard to tell where the seams are. And yes, I would love to have a nice pinkish dining room like that too! (If I remember right, this is in the Louis XIV style.)

Dining Room of the Marble House
Photo from Niagara Novice
So we went from room to room, and of course, learnt about Alva Vanderbilt's contribution to Womens' Suffrage. Oddly enough, she educated her daughter Consuelo Vanderbilt in numerous languages, and eventually forced her to marry some English nobility for more power, which of course, didn't work out.

When we got out of the house, we headed over to the tea house by the sea, which Alva built after the death of her second husband (yup, she kept the house after the divorce with Mr Vanderbilt). In the summers, the tea house actually serves tea! 

For the opening of the tea house, there was a huge oriental-themed party and there were numerous pictures of people dressed in oriental costumes. One guest had the Hope Diamond (now in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in DC, and the second most visited "art work" in the world, after the Mona Lisa) in a picture! We all know its a party when one of your guest is wearing at 45+carat diamond on her head!


Path to the Tea House

View of Marble House from the path

Alva's Tea House
In all, Marble House was amazing. Fun fact: It was considered to be a cottage (because it wasn't very big compared to the other houses) when it first opened, although it was the most lavish. Imagine your cottage having 500,000 cubic feet of imported marble! 

*****

So, after visiting Marble House, it was about 4.15pm. We decided to finally check in at our hotel, since check in started at 3pm. We got a great deal and stayed at the Atlantic Beach Hotel and Suites for $63/night (it was about $72 with tax), and it was what they called a suite - little partitioned area with a couch, coffee table, and another small area with coffee maker, fridge and microwave. Good deal, especially with free fruits and drinks (yummy hot chocolate) in the lobby, and hot breakfast in the morning.


*****

For dinner, we headed to the Portofino Bar and Grille at Ramada Middletown Hotel. They had a lobster special that I could not resist. $10.95 for a salad, and a boiled 1 1/4lb lobster with two sides (I had rice and steamed broccoli and carrots) - how they even made money serving a 2-course lobster meal baffles me, but it was great! :) I was soooo happy. Somehow crustacean seafood has that effect on me. Just take my money! Take my money and give me some of that beautiful orange crustacean. (My mouth is watering just thinking about lobsters...)

The restaurant also had live music - just an okay multi-instrumentalist IMHO, but then, I've spent a good many years studying at music conservatories, so I'm guessing other people will think its good. Whatever it is, he got a good tip from us. Support your fellow musicians!! :)

Portofino Bar and Grille
425 East Main Road
Middletown, RI

*****

After dinner, we went to watch the Bit Players at Firehouse Theater. Since it was a Saturday night, we made reservations for tickets. The Bit Players are an improv comedy group, and does similar skits as "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and more. Better yet, it is BYOB (not that it affects either of us since we both are alcohophobes) and provides a free-flow of tea (my favorite) and hot chocolate (Jas' pick). I really enjoyed the audience interaction and the general casual atmosphere at Firehouse Theater, and will also recommend this as something fun and relaxing to do at night, especially for us alcohophobes (actually, the real word is methyphobes - people who are afraid of alcohol.) 

Firehouse Theater, where we caught the Saturday night performance of Bit Players


Sneaked a picture...


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