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Rhode Island & Cape Cod

Rhode-Island-4Rhode Island has been on my bucket list for a long time. Seejo has been flying to RI a few times a year for the past few years for work. I have always thought of accompanying him but for some reason the plans have never materialized. So this summer, we decided to plan an extra long weekend to Rhode Island & Cape Cod.

Rhode Island was once the summer getaway place for America’s millionaires in the late 1800s and early 1900s otherwise called the Gilded Age. It is here that they constructed their summer “cottages” and spent the summer in their waterfront homes. Calling them as cottages is definitely absurd as many of these are 50+ room castles decorated in a luxurious style and furnished with amazing artwork and surrounded by stunning landscaped gardens. These nouveau rich Americans flush with their railroad , shipping or mining fortunes vied with each other in creating the most opulent, over the top mansions – all for spending just 8 weeks in a year. This was where the Astors and the Vanderbilts and their ilk flaunted their wealth, threw over the top parties and in general lived a life of excess – not surprising that  it was called an age of conspicuous consumption!

Rhode-Island-17While at one point, Newport was full of these “summer cottages”, many of them have disappeared or are maintained as private residences.  The Newport preservation society has preserved about 14 mansions, 11 of which are open to public viewing. It was quite clear that we wouldn’t be able to view all 11 mansions. So we started off with Breaker’s – built by Cornelius Vanderbilt and widely regarded as the most opulent of them all. The public rooms on the first floor are truly a sight to behold. With ceilings lined in sliver and gold, intricate woodwork, and beautiful art – the house is quite breathtaking.  It reminded me of the  chateaus in France, from where they were no doubt inspired.  Most of these summer cottages are located along Newport’s Cliff walk with breathtaking views of Narangsett Bay. From the house, beautiful gardens and landscaped lawns can be seen that culminate at the edge of the sea.

Annika did not particularly enjoy touring the house (and we had a tough time getting her off from Mrs Vanderbilt’s bed) , so finally Seejo had to take her to the gardens where she had a great time chasing sea gulls and in general running around. To give her (and us ) a break, our next stop to visit  the Green Animals Topiary Garden.  The house in this case was indeed quite modest and filled with vintage children’s toys (toy soldiers, dolls and doll houses etc) but the true attraction was the garden. Plants were sculptured to form various animals including teddy bears, giraffes, horses and ostriches to name a few.  There were also topiaries in the shapes of chairs and some unique figures.  There were several miniature gardens lined with flower-beds and each of them had a toy such as rocking horse or a see-saw for kids in them. The flower gardens were in full bloom and were a riot of colors.

10632589_10152596050103168_7894673773214707551_nBy this time, we were all tired out (we had got up really early to catch our flights from Baltimore) and so we decided to drive to our hotel in Taunton, MA.  This was mid-way between Rhode Island and Cape Cod, which made it perfect for our Cape-Cod excursion the next morning.  We had a lazy morning start and our first stop of the day was lunch at the Mattakeese Wharf Waterfront Restaurant on Cape Cod where we enjoyed both the delicious food and the view from the marina.  We ordered the local specialties: quahogs ( bread stuffing, onions and red-pepper stuffed in a large hard-shell clam), lobster roll s and clam chowder &  swordfish ( I think) for Annika.  We enjoyed our first taste of New England food and we were ready for a long walk across the board walk in Sandwich, Cape Cod. Sandwich board walk is a 1,350-foot boardwalk across mud-flats, swaying marsh grass and a tiny creek leading to the Town Beach. Each of the boards that make up the boardwalk has been donated by people and it was kind of fun to read the personalized messages that were inscribed into the weathered boards.  For most of the walk, the board walk doesn’t have side railings, so you needed to be cautious especially while wheeling a stroller and coming across groups of excited teenagers!  It was a beautiful and refreshing walk : pleasantly windy, lovely views of the marshy landscape culminating in a wonderful view of the Cape!

Rhode-Island-25Our next stop was the Green Briar Nature Center. While the nature center is indeed beautiful with many walking trails and beautiful wildflowers, it was the jam kitchen that really was the attraction for me. The wonderful host there patiently allowed us to taste test so many different varieties of jams & jellies and chutneys  that we were at a loss to what we should purchase. Even Seejo, who normally stays far away from any kind of jam or jelly was enthusiastic about quite a few.  A new one that we tried were Beach Plum (we saw that fruit growing wild all across the bay in both Cape Cod & Rhode Island) It is a purple color fruit – almost like a large grape but with a very astringent taste.  It needed lots of sugar before it could be made into a jam but still wasn’t my favorite.  The peaches in brandy , the ginger rhubarb jam & the blackberry were our final favorites.

We debated over spending time in one of the little towns that make up Cape Cod but instead decided to drive to the tip atRhode-Island-26Provincetown that evening.  While we knew that Provincetown was one of the top vacation destinations for the LGBT community, knowing and seeing it are clearly two different things.  Provincetown is a small town with the main street or Commercial street lined with a wonderful variety of shops. There were designer shops, artist’s shops,  boutique clothing stores, antique stores and more.  Commercial street was festooned in rainbow colored flags and was indeed filled with vacationing LGBT folks.  While in no way did we feel awkward or uncomfortable , we were clearly one of the few hetero couples pushing a baby stroller with a baby in it ( I did see a couple pushing a baby stroller with a dog, though!)  There is a distinct Portuguese influence at work here – at one point there were several Portuguese sailors settled here. We had dessert at the Portuguese bakery[scrumptious malassadas – deep fried yeasty dough covered in sugar]  followed by dinner at the much touted LobsterPot [lobster tacos, clam strips and orzo].  That was the end of day 2 – we were left with a long drive back to Taunton that night!

Marthas-Vineyard-3The next day, we had planned on seeing some of the other towns on Cape Cod such as Eastham or Chatham but on a whim decided to take the ferry across to Martha’s Vineyard. Taking the ferry is actually not very simple as we thought it would be because you cannot park near the dock.  There are several parking spots in about a 10 mile radius and then there are shuttles that take you to the ferry dock. There are ferries every 1.5 hours going to one of two locations at MV.  Between parking, shuttle, getting the tickets and queuing up for the ferry, we were just in time for the noon ferry to take us to Oaks Bluff on MV.  Our return trip was even worse—we had an hour plus wait before we could get the shuttle to take us to the parking lot!  Anyway the 45 minute ferry ride actually was quite pleasant – we found some seats near the dining area. By the time Annika ate her lunch, we were ready to dock at Oak’s Bluffs.

Marthas-Vineyard-17Right opposite the ferry dock was a lovely little park. Families had pitched their tents and were having picnics and games. We decided to take a break before exploring MV and relax there as well. This also gave Annika a chance to run about after being cooped up in a car, a bus and a ferry respectively.  Oaks bluff is very easy to navigate by foot. Just behind the park was an area full of restaurants, gift shops , candy shops and souvenir shops. We had lunch at a little restaurant called Slice of Life. We had clam chowder again – we were on a mission to see how chowders differ from restaurant to restaurant and oh they do! We also had their specialty pizza & zucchini fritters which both Annika and I enjoyed!

The main attraction at Oak’s Bluff are the gingerbread houses. We walked up and down the main street and glimpsed a couple ofMarthas-Vineyard-16 them. I was quite disappointed that there were only a couple of these houses and they didn’t look all that spectacular and was about to mark the whole thing off as a giant tourist trap.  But then we had some more time to spare and so we decided to take one of the by-lanes that led off from this main street.  And suddenly, it was like stepping into a magic kingdom or a fairly tale world. We were surrounded by these cute houses that seemed straight out of  a story book.  Originally created by folks who attended the annual Methodist camp meetings in the 1800s, these ginger bread houses are painted in bright multi-colored paints (pink, purple, lavender, green)  with white lacy looking trims and decked with flowers and  quaint porch furniture.  Some of them looked like where Barbie or Cinderella would live in!   To think we would have missed it if we wouldn’t have wandered about a little! These houses are located in a circular path surrounding a small park (Trinity Park) and a museum that documents these houses and the Methodist history. Each and every house had some special feature. We were at a loss to figure out which one was our favorite of the lot!

Our next stop was Edgartown and we took the bus to get there. On the way was the famous spot where Jaws was filmed and our bus driver kindly pointed that out to us. But other than that Edgartown was quite a disappointment. All of the attractions were closed, so all we could do was walk around the town to the marina for a while. We did manage to shop at some local stores.  By this time it was time to head back to the ferry back to Cape Cod. One interesting thing that we noticed about our ferry trip was that we were one of the very few people who did not own a dog. Almost everyone on the ferry came with their doggy companions. It was amazing to see the number of dogs that visited MV that day!

Rhode-Island-30We were set to return back the next day but we got to spend a few hours in Newport again. We got to see one more mansion –Elm house was the residence of the Berwinds—who made a mint in coal industry. The ground floor has a large ballroom and depending on the guests, the adjoining drawing room and dining room could also be added to make it a huge room with views of the beautiful gardens in the front.  What I really liked was an enormous weeping beech tree on the grounds at the back. The canopy of the tree created a dome and you could sort of go inside the dome which was fun!  Another New port must see was the cliff walk—it is a rugged walk along the rocky shoreline of the Narangsett bay with the sea on one side and theRhode-Island-33mansions on the other side. We peeked at the grounds of the mansions we missed and enjoyed the sight of the waves hitting the cliffs.  We didn’t complete the entire walk – it was not easy managing a baby stroller on the pathway but it was well worth the discomfort to get to see some breathtaking views.  Our last stop for the day before returning home was the Flo’s Clam Shack. It was the home of everything fried and yummy. Clams, Scallops, fish, shrimp oysters – all fried to a golden brown perfection. There was a long wait but it was well worth it! You can sit at a table with beautiful views and eat yummy (and inexpensive) sea-food extravaganza!

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