Our family vacation was spent in Connecticut, but we spent a few days taking day trips to Rhode Island, Boston, Western Massachusetts, and Vermont. We ate at Cheers in Boston, relaxed on the beach in Newport, and drove to the peak of Mount Greylock.
by RoBoNC on December 30, 2012
We made our visit to Providence short so that we could spend the majority of our day in Newport. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful seaside towns in all of New England. Newport is about an hour drive south of Providence. As we left the mainland, we entered Narragansett Bay. The bay is New England’s largest estuary and is mostly within the state of Rhode Island. Some portions extend into Massachusetts. There are over thirty islands within Narragansett Bay. We crossed the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge that connects the mainland with Conanicut Island, Narragansett’s second largest island. Jamestown is the island’s only city. We then crossed the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, which connects Jamestown to Newport on Aquidneck Island, the bay’s largest island. The Newport Bridge is a 1600 foot long suspension bridge ranking it 70th among the longest suspension bridges in the world and the longest in New England. The bridge is also Rhode Island’s only toll road with cars paying $4 in each direction. Just like Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Newport became a summer destination for the country’s wealthiest. John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier were married in Newport and JFK used the Hammersmith Farm, Jackie’s childhood home, as his summer White House. Eisenhower also made Newport his summer residence. Wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts and Astors began to build mansions in Newport in the 1800’s. The city is now famous for the Newport Mansions, which are administered by the Preservation Society of Newport. It offers tours of eleven mansions that represents over 250 years of cultural and architectural history. The other mansions, including the Hammersmith Farm, are privately owned and therefore do not offer tours. They can still be seen on one of the many different driving tours. We spent the majority of the day walking around the waterfront downtown and doing a little shopping. The marina was filled with sailboats and yachts, and it is understandable considering that Newport is known as the sailing capital of the US. In addition to sailing, Newport was one of the founding members of the United States Golf Association and the city is also home to International Tennis Hall of Fame. We took our own self-guided walk through the city instead of using the suggested itineraries provided to us. We figured we would need more than a day to see and experience all of what Newport had to offer. We stopped at the Touro Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue still standing in North America dating back to 1763. It is an affiliated site within the National Park Service and is one of only two National Parks within Rhode Island. The synagogue still serves an active congregation of over 100 families and greets over 30,000 visitors yearly. Tours are offered of the synagogue but the times vary depending on the different months of the year. A visit to Newport would not be complete without a visit to the beach. There are a few beaches in Newport, some of which are private and others are open to the public. Easton’s Beach, located off of Memorial Drive between Newport and Middletown, is Newport’s only ocean beach. There is an outdoor skateboard park, free summer concerts, snack bar, and showers. The beach is also close to the famous Newport Cliff Walk. It is a 3.5 mile walkway that borders the shoreline. It extends from Easton’s Beach to Bailey’s Beach, an elite private beach and club. There are numerous public access points along the walk. Most of the cliff walk is paved and offers beautiful vistas along the rugged shoreline. Just as we got to the beach, a fog rolled in obscuring our beautiful view of the ocean. The entire day was sunny and beautiful and then the fog rolled in very quickly. It stayed for about thirty minutes and then it rolled back out. Locals said that it happens often and the fog rarely stays long. There is so much to do in Newport, that our brief visit was not enough. Newport is one of those cities where I could take the family on summer vacations. There is so much to do for every member of the family. I would recommend visiting Newport and we will definitely be going back many more times.
We visited Providence for just for a short period of time for there was more to Rhode Island that I wanted to see. There were only two main reasons why I wanted to visit the city. The first reason was because I wanted to see the State Capitol. I was trying to not only visit all fifty states, but their state capitols as well. The State Capitol is located in downtown right off of I-95. The Capitol building is pretty impressive looking, although, there is nothing totally unique about it. Perhaps it is the 327,000 cubic feet of white Georgia marble that makes it stand out. We walked up the steps leading to the rear of the Capitol. Located south of the Capitol is Providence Place, Rhode Island’s largest shopping mall and one of the largest in New England. It is a 1.4 million square foot shopping center comprising three floors and connected to the Westin Hotel by a skywalk. There are over 160 stores and several street side restaurants. The shopping center can be easily seen from the rear steps of the Capitol. Since the completion of the mall, it has blocked most of the view of the Capitol from the Interstate. The dome of the Capitol is the fourth largest self-supporting marble dome in the world, after St. Peter’s Basilica, the Minnesota State Capitol, and the Taj Mahal. On the top of the dome, there is a 500 lb gold covered bronze statue of the Independent Man. It is supposed to represent freedom and independence. We walked into the Capitol and it was just as impressive inside as it was outside. The interior is carved out of marble. Throughout the rotunda there are battle flags, statues, and guns representing the state’s military past. In the center of the rotunda under the marble dome, is a brass replica of the state seal. We exited out of the front entrance of the Capitol located on Smith Street. About a ten minute walk east of the Capitol is the Roger Williams National Memorial, which was my other reason for visiting the city. One of two national parks in Rhode Island, this memorial commemorates the life of Roger Williams, who was banished from Massachusetts because of his religious beliefs. He moved to Rhode Island where he encouraged people to worship however they wanted without interference from the state. The memorial consist of a 4.5 acre urban park at the foot of College Hill. It is surrounded by North Main, Canal, and Smith streets, and Park Row. The memorial is the 20th smallest park within the National Park Service. The memorial is located on a section of the original settlement of Providence settled by Roger Williams in 1636. There is a visitor center that is open seven days a week that tells the story of Roger Williams through exhibits and a short film. There is no fee to visit the site. The landscaped park offers a great opportunity to learn about the life of Roger Williams and view the fresh water spring and common area of the first European settlement in Providence.
As we left Providence and headed down to Newport for the day, it was nearing lunch time. I was craving seafood and what better place to get it than in Rhode Island. We began consulting with our smart phones and tried to pick a place that sounded as far from fine dining as possible. When I came across Flo’s Clam Shack, it sounded like just the place for us. Located in Middletown, between Portsmouth and Newport, it sits on Rhode Island’s largest island, Aquidneck Island in the middle of Narragansett Bay. We parked in back as there is little parking on the street. After walking up the long ramp resembling a pier, we got in line to place our order at the window. The hardest part was deciding on what to order. There were so many choices. The only thing I knew for certain was that I was not about to leave without a lobster roll. Although Maine claims to have the best and for good reason, Rhode Island has also built a reputation for its lobsters. A meal would not be complete without a bowl of New England clam chowder. But as I gaze up at the menu board, I am presented with three different choices. I can have the typical New England white creamed based chowder or the Rhode Island Red. I always assumed that the red version of the popular soup originated in New York, hence the name "Manhattan Style." It was until I visited Rhode Island that I learned that Portuguese immigrants began to add tomatoes instead of milk giving it is red color. New Englanders who didn’t like this new version of clam chowder began to call it "Manhattan style" since calling someone a New Yorker is an insult. But once again, Rhode Island put another spin on clam chowder by serving a clear broth version. It is not as popular as the other two, but it is still served at most places in Rhode Island, especially Block Island. Being faced with the hard decision as to which one to pick, I decided to order all three. Then something else on the menu caught my eye, Flo’s Fiery Stuffed Quahogs. The only description was that it was Flo’s ancient Portuguese recipe. Since I didn’t want to feel like a tourist, I ordered one without asking what it was. After we placed our order, we were given a rock with a number on it while we waited for our food. I love a restaurant with a sense a humor. I could tell that this restaurant had a comedic feel to it once I looked at the menu board. Under the combo platters was Meal #8 consisting of a bottle of Moet Champagne and two gourmet hot dogs for $50. Obviously, when I think of champagne, I think of hot dogs. (Hint the sarcasm.) The food not only looked great, but it tasted fabulous. The famous fried clams were lightly battered and they just melted in your mouth. The Quahogs I finally learned was a large stuffed clam. It is an alternative name for clams, used widely in Rhode Island. After pulling the clam apart, it had a distinct spicy flavor, so good that it made me want to order another one. After sampling the three different chowders, the cream based New England style still trumps the other two. After I ate my appetizers, I was ready to eat my main course, the lobster roll. It was served in a hot dog bun and was piled high with thick chunks of lobster. The lobster was fresh and tender. Maine may claim to have the best and if that is true, then I have reason to go if for none other than to compare the two. Besides their famous clamcakes, Quahogs, and lobster rolls, they also serve oysters, shrimp, scallops, and calamari or if you want it all, try the Flo’s Fisherman Platter. All of their food is served fresh and based on weather conditions or the fishing season, some of their items may not be available. If you are in the Newport area and looking for a place to eat, definitely don’t pass this place up. The lobster roll and the Quahogs are reason enough to stop by.
We left Bennington, Vermont and headed toward Hartford, Connecticut. Our route took us through the western part of Massachusetts whose landscape is dominated by the Taconic Mountains. The Taconic Mountains start in northwest Connecticut and extend through western Berkshire County in Massachusetts. The mountains border the adjacent counties in New York and it follows the state borders of New York and Vermont. In Massachusetts, the Taconic Mountains are commonly grouped with the Berkshires Mountains which it borders to its east. In Vermont, the Taconic Mountains are commonly grouped with the Green Mountains. The Taconic Mountains are its own separate mountain range located within the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. It is understandable that the Taconic Mountains are confused with the Berkshires since they are located in Berkshire County. Berkshire County has become a very popular tourist destination. It also has become very well known for its emphasis on arts and culture. In North Adams, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is the largest contemporary art museum in the United States. It also has become a very popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. There are plenty of hiking trails, camp sites, water sports, and skiing opportunities which make this area popular all year round. The Taconic Mountains is also home to Massachusetts highest point, Mount Greylock, which rises 3, 489 feet. The park is open year round from sunrise to dusk for day use recreation. There is a road for automobiles that will take visitors to the summit; however, it is only open from late May until November 1. At the base of the mountain is the Mount Greylock Visitor Center and Park Headquarters. There is a small gift shop inside and they have maps of the area and the summit. Mount Greylock is also known for its fall foliage. The mountains sit in a transition zone from central hardwoods from the south dominated by oaks to northern hardwoods such as sugar maples. This transition and the changes in elevation and temperatures create a stunning variety of colors. From the top of the summit, views from up to 60 to 90 miles distant can be seen. However, on our particular visit, a storm was approaching and the fog that was in the area gave us about a 100 feet visibility. We still headed up to the summit. At the top of the summit sits the Veterans War Memorial Tower. It was built in 1930 and rises 93 feet into the air. The top of the monument is fixed with a lighted beacon to honor the state’s deceased from World War 1 and subsequent conflicts. It has a nighttime visible range of 70 miles. Also located at the summit is Bascom Lodge built in the 1930’s. It is a rustic and stone lodge built for overnight accommodations for hikers to the summit. It also equipped with a dining room and an enclosed wraparound porch providing breathtaking views of the mountains. It is only open seasonally and reservations are required. Although we didn’t get to experience the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, our drive to the summit was still enjoyable and we got to visit another state’s highest point.
Our brief stop in Vermont was in Bennington, the state’s third largest town. Although I had wanted to see much more of the state, we didn’t have that much time. So I intended to make the most of our short visit to the state. Bennington is home to the Bennington Battle Monument, the state’s tallest structure in the state. The monument is a stone obelisk that rises 306 feet. The monument commemorates the Battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War. The battle occurred on August 17, 1777 when a group of over 1400 men defeated two detachments of General Burgoyne’s British army who were trying to capture a store of weapons and food that was located on where the monument now stands. Although the monument is in Vermont, the battle actually occurred ten miles away in New York. The Bennington Battlefield, a national historic landmark, is entirely within the state of New York. Visitors may take an elevator to the observation level. There is a stairway consisting of 417 steps, but it was closed to the public in the 1970’s. The observation deck is at 200 feet and offers panoramic views of Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts. Because of the weather, the views were not as spectacular as it could have been, but it was still worth the visit. After we left the monument, it was time to get some lunch before heading toward our final destination, Hartford, Connecticut. After consulting some travel apps, we came across the Blue Benn Diner. Residents had told us that it is a local favorite. From the outside, it truly looked like a real diner. It was a stainless steel fabricated building that resembled a train car. According to their menu, the diner was built in the late 1940’s in New Jersey by The Paterson Vehicle Company. In 1948, the pieces were shipped to Bennington where they were assembled at its present spot. The owners believe in serving great food at an affordable price. They also take great pride in being called a "Diner." According to the back of their menu, a diner is strictly an American contrivance by design and by definition. Diner is a short word for dining car. That is why diners usually look like abandoned railroad cars or trolleys. Diners are not meant to be plush or socially stuffy. They are simply an eatery where you can enjoy piping hot home cooked food at a fair price and served in a hurry without fanfare or garnish. There is not meant to be a lot of room to roam around. That is the way they were designed so that the community would come together and you could enjoy a meal while chatting with the person behind you. We grabbed a few stools at the counter and browsed the dry erase board with that day’s meals. There was also some printed menu items hanging from behind the counter that I could only assume might be their everyday items. The menu board and the interior of the diner was nothing fancy but that is what added to its appeal. The Blue Benn Diner truly embodies the spirit of what a diner is supposed to be.
Making your way in the world todayTakes everything you gotTaking a break from all your worriesSure would help a lotWouldn’t you like to get awaySometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see,our troubles are all the sameYou wanna be where everybody knows Your name. You wanna go where people know, people are all the same, You wanna go where everybody knowsyour name.Perhaps one of the most famous theme songs in television history, Cheers became a household name when it first debut on September 30, 1982. The show was so popular during its eleven seasons that TV Guide ranked it 18th out 50 of the best television shows of all time. The inspiration for the show came from the Bull and Finch pub located in Boston, Massachusetts. The beginning credits of the show features the Bull and Finch exterior. The pub is still located there and because of the success of the show, the Bull and Finch was renamed Cheers in 2002. Cheers is located at 84 Beacon Street in the famous Beacon Hill neighborhood. Beacon Hill is one of the most desirable and expensive neighborhoods in Boston. It is easily recognizable for its row houses, narrow gas-lit streets, and brick sidewalks. The Massachusetts State Capitol building sits at the top of Beacon Hill less than a half –mile away from the Cheers bar. Directly across from Cheers is Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States dating back to 1634. Boston Common is connected to the Boston Public Garden, another city park. It is a great place to walk around, admire the numerous statues, and when you are finished, hop on the subway at the Park Street station, the second oldest subway station in the United States. The show only used shots of the exterior for its show. The interior of the bar looks nothing like the show. I was sort of disappointed because I assumed the entire bar would look just like it was in the show. Although the interior was not what I expected it, they did a good job of making you feel that you are a part of the show. The interior is artfully decorated with Cheers logos and it does have that pub feel. The menu is nothing to get too excited about. It is pretty much like any other pub. I would consider the prices to be a little expensive, but that is probably due to the location more than anything. Hamburgers are $11 to $17 and basic sandwiches such as turkey and a grilled cheese will set you back about $11. Because of the success of the show, a second Cheers bar opened up in 2001 in Faneuil Hall. It is only about a mile away from the original. What separates this one from the original is that it was built to look exactly like the bar from the show. So for those who want to sit on Norm’s corner bar seat or you just want to go somewhere where everyone knows your name, then this is your bar.
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