With the help of our trusty GPS and Judy’s skilful driving, mostly, me only driving the last part of the journey, we arrived into Newport around 3pm. Although the girls knew where we were going to be staying and they had seen photos, as we drove into through the magnificent tall gold and black iron wrought gates, up the crunchy drive way, to the house which could be a small Chateau situated in the French countryside, there was a stunned silence in the car! It was grander and more beautiful than they could have imagined. Thank you Michael for having such great, and generous, friends. We were greeted by three enormous poodles who were not best pleased to see us arrive! It took them a while to accept us, Caspar gently biting Cheryl’s leg, just so she knew who was the boss! We met Rita, the housekeeper, who showed us to our rooms, one each! After all, there were 22 bedrooms so plenty to choose from! Mine was the beautiful big room I had stayed in with Michael two years previously. It overlooked the garden, with an enormous bed, bright with the deep red damask bedcover, numerous cushions and red curtains, as well as two red sofas, it became our party room! Since the day was getting away with us I suggested walking along the nearby Cliff walk, to see the sunset and the “cottages” along the way. There was a bitter wind but the sunset over the ocean and stunning photos taken by Judy made it worth suffering. We refreshed ourselves, swept down the grand staircase, I can only imagine how glamorous one would feel swishing down there in a ball gown, Gone With The Wind-style! We repaired to the enormous formal sitting room, difficult to choose where to settle ourselves in amongst all the different groups of chairs and sofas, to drink our champagne before we headed out to dinner, Cheryl jumping for joy at our staying in such a grand house. Imagine staying in Downtown Abbey, but without all the servants, that’s how it feels! We went to The Moorings, as recommended by the witty woman in the visitors centre. Cheryl had the best meal of her holiday which made up for some of the less than interesting meals she had had along the way, that salt allergy makes for so me complications at times! All having enjoyed our meals, we nonetheless lusted after the scallops on the next table when they arrived!
Next morning, we were in the kitchen by 8.30. You enter the kitchen through the butlers pantry which is bigger than my kitchen and my kitchen is bigger than most! The kitchen houses 2 kitchen tables, one off to the side with seating for 14 and a smaller higher table just in front of the biggest range I have seen in a home, with 12 gas burners and several ovens, like an Aga on steroids! Not that much smaller than the range in the kitchen at the Breakers as it turned out. There is also a normal-sized electric cooker in the panty, what for I am not sure! Add to that 2 enormous fridges in the kitchen and one in the pantry! I suppose with 7 children, all grown up now, there was a need for such a kitchen and pantry. A quick breakfast and then we drove the Scenic Ocean drive, admiring the big houses, picking out which ones we would choose for ourselves! When sitting in Pearl Beach, planning our trip so long ago, we decided that at this point of the trip we would need some indulgence! The Spa at the Marriott was the perfect answer, the rooms fragrant, the softest fluffiest white gowns, warm massage tables, we were scrubbed and massaged into a blissful state! Absolutely relaxed we decided that it was too hard to walk around the “cottages” for which Newport is famed so we went for lunch instead. Another great restaurant, Diego’s, Mexican food, colourful, flavourful and presented with flair and fun by our waiter, Jake. We didn’t extend our indulgence to their famous marguerites however!
After lunch a short walk to see the sights of Newport became a long walk as we wandered through the streets so rich In history. We saw the oldest tennis court in the USA, which has become the International Tennis Court of Fame, the first library in the USA, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, founded in 1747, and the first Jewish synagogue, Jews, Quakers and Catholics living and worshipping peacefully side by side. We finished our day back at the Moorings again as we couldn’t get those luscious, big scallops we had seen the previous night out of our minds! They didn’t disappoint! Drinks in my room after dinner, lounging on the bed and the sofas, reliving our holiday as it was Cheryl’s last night, she was heading back to New York and Barbados on the way home.
Our last day together, tinged with the sadness that comes from having had such a good time and knowing that it is about to end, but no matter, we are already thinking about our next girls trip and thinking we can’t wait for another “0” birthday, we should organise them every five years instead! There are too many “cottages” to visit, we picked two, the Breakers and the Marble House. The Breakers is the 70 room Italian Renaissance-style Palazzo commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt ll, it was built to impress, showing off his vast wealth. Most impressive to us was the fact that it was built in under two years, despite all the marble being imported, the statues commissioned, the furniture especially made. Every detail considered, electricity was unreliable at the time so the lamps the output were made such that should the pesky electricity fail, gas lighting would come on, there would be no interruptions in the glorious 12 course dinner parties nor to reading in the library! Our favourite room was the billiards room, with the enormous wrought iron lights over the lamp and lamps around the room made by Tiffany, the mosaic ceiling with the turtle hidden by the feet of the goddess Venus, dolphins swimming all around. And to think, this was simply their summer home for six weeks where vast parties where held, the time spent swimming, yachting, dining and dancing. The wives in charge of the social calendar, having to change up to 7 times each day, depending upon their various activities! It must have been quite exhausting! And as to living amongst all the glittering, opulent, overwhelming decoration, unbearable to our more minimal modern taste.
The Marble House was no less grand, though built on a smaller scale with bedrooms only for the family, the reception rooms once again built to impress, inspired by Versailles. The Grand Salon all gold, glittering in the evening sun on the night of the opening ball, a house warming party as we would know it, according to Alva Vanderbilt, for whom the house was built on the understanding that her husband would give it to her outright! Her 39th birthday present, at a cost of $11million! That would have been $260,000,000 in 2009, so now? Alva Vanderbilt designed it as her “temple to the arts”. The commentary said it was homely despite the opulent style, certainly the bedrooms were much more simple, but the house homely, I’m not sure about that!
It was interesting to go around the houses and to see another world, long gone. The time of the Great Gatsby, the Gilded Age, as it was named by Mark Twain in a book he wrote with Charles Dudley Warner. A book in which the phrase conspicuous consumption was coined, satirising greed and political corruption.
Two “cottages” were a long morning of sightseeing. Off to Diego’s for lunch again to try another thing from one of the most interesting menus we had seen all trip. Jake laughed when he saw us walk in again! We had another fabulous meal, taste sensations, big enough to need only a snack later in the day. And then it really was all over as we drove Cheryl to the nearest station, saw her onto the train, went back to the house, packed, ate cheese and biscuits for dinner, finished our wine and set off for JFK in the morning. A quick goodbye in the shuttle station and I was on my way to Paris from terminal 8 whilst Judy and Helen headed to terminal 7 and Sydney! Goodbye girls, we had such a good time, so many fantastic memories, so much fun and laughter! Let’s do it all again soon. And don’t forget “let go of the reins!”.