Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Backyard - The Breakers, Newport, RI

In my "about me" page I listed quite a few of my hobbies and interests. One of my favs is travel. I've been all over the US and traveled outside its borders to Canada, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. But my dwindling bank account due to being unemployed made me realize that I will have to curtail any big, extensive trips until I get back on my feet.

With that in mind, I took a long look at my own backyard. And I realized I hadn't spent much time sightseeing in my own neck of the woods. I had probably seen more of and knew more about other states and cities than I knew about my own. Anyone else out there ever think that way? Crazy isn't it?

So I made a list of nearby tourist attractions and hit the road.

First up was Newport. Oh, I've been there many times. Eaten in the fantastic seafood restaurants and shopped in the boutiques and galleries along Thames Street. Rocked out at the Newport Blues Cafe and at concerts on the waterfront. Stayed at an oceanside hotel. But there was one thing I had never done. And it involves perhaps the one thing that Newport is most famous for. The mansions...................

I decided to start at the biggest and perhaps the most well known of the summer homes of the wealthy: The Breakers.

Newport RI

This magnificent "gilded age" National Historic Landmark sits on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was built by railroad baron and industrialist, Cornelius Vanderbilt II for his family to use as a summer cottage. Just walking up the drive towards the entrance is a sight to behold. I felt a bit out of my element. Hard to comprehend that people once lived here. Ok, so they were very very wealthy people. But this 5 level, 70 room mansion appeared and felt so other-wordly to me that it was almost incomprehensible that at one time a family called it their home.
I walked around the beautifully manicured grounds of this 13 acre prime piece of real estate and admired the lush lanscaping, the flowers, the bushes. The elegant statues. The fountains. The finely detailed stone carvings on the building's facade. I eventually made my way to the backside of the home and found a beautiful view of the Atlantic. I looked up at the tall windows and tried to imagine what it must have been like to have lived here, to see this view every day? Pure heaven!
Pulling myself away from natures handiwork, I headed inside. I was handed a set of head phones and a hand-held controller so I could explore at my leisure. It was my first time taking a tour this way, but I thought it was a clever idea! By using the audio headset, the tour took about 90 minutes. The audio tour was easy to follow as I moved from room to room. There was even an option to listen to extra segments voiced by people who had actually lived in the mansion - the Vanderbilts and their staff (they were never referred to as servants).
Unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed inside the mansion. I was disappointed because I love taking pictures and recording the memories of my sightseeing. So at times, I found myself lingering in some rooms or in front of a statue or painting just trying to soak up every magnificent detail. Trying to imprint its memory on my brain.
I think the first thing that strikes visitors is the enormity of it all. The larger than life furnishings. The height of the ceilings. The enormous kitchen and massive dining room. The grand staircase. The great hall. The Vanderbilt family spared no expense in decorating their summer cottage and fine tuning every detail.
The mansion was built in the late 1890's and designed with an Italian villa in mind. And it showed. The European influence was apparent in every room and in all the furnishings which were absolutely astonishing. From the opulent furniture to the tapestries hanging on the wall. The rare woods. The extensive use of marble throughout. The beautiful paintings. The sculptures. The artfully detailed painted ceilings. Each and every room was magnificent but I think my personal favorite was the music room.
As I moved from room to room and floor to floor, I marveled at the modern amenities and fixtures like the indoor plumbing, the lighting and heating system which was not the norm for the era when the building was built. I particularly loved the creative intercom system used by the staff to communicate. 
90 minutes later, I finished my tour. But it felt incomplete. Some of the floors and rooms were off limits which only piqued my curiosity. I wanted to see more!
On my way out, I found a well appointed gift shop with a nice variety of items. I purchased a momento to remember my visit. A golden acorn ornament, a Vanderbilt family symbol which to them (along with the oak leaf) represented strength and longevity. I loved that sentiment and knew I had to bring it home with me.
I strolled down the drive and headed to my car, feeling like i was shedding the mantle of another era as I walked back into the 21st century. I wished I had more time to explore the carriage house and visit some of the other mansions in the area. But since I had purchased a 3 mansion ticket I knew I'd be coming back. I tucked the ticket away in my purse to be used on another day for another mansion. I think I may go back at Christmastime when these architectural marvels will be beautifully decked out in their best holiday finery.
Oh yes, I will definitely return to Newport.


  1. Definitely go back at Christmas time. They are decorated beautifully.

  2. Thanks for the confirmation! I can't wait to go again, but I'm thinking it'll be doubly nice if I bring a friend this time to truly enjoy the beauty.

  3. I would love to check out the Newport Mansions! It would be like taking a trip back into time and imagining how they lived in such splendor!

  4. I love your description of the place! Your words painted pictures that your camera wasn't allowed to take...


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