Friday, February 19, 2010

Just Dig That Scenery Floating By, We're Now Approaching Newport, RI . . .

Catchy little title?  It's actually a line from the opening song of one my favorite movies, "High Society", which takes place in the quaint but affluent city of Newport, Rhode Island.

It is school vacation week here, and in the ever continuing plan to amuse our sons while exposing them to history and culture, we decided to take them to Newport.  The Gilded Age, the history of tennis and a little lunch - a grand plan!

The day began at The Breakers, the largest of the the Newport "summer cottages" built in the late 1800s by wealthy New Yorkers as an escape from the heat of their homes in the New York City.  Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1893, The Breakers is a 70+ room mansion built in the style of an Italian villa, teeming with marble, gold leaf and exquisite craftsmanship in every room.  The mansion is now part of the group of homes owned and operated by The Preservation Society of Newport County, who restored and renovated these homes and opened them to the public.  Whether you take a conventional or an audio tour, there is always a helpful representative from the Preservation Society around every corner in the mansions (so don't even think about trying to use your camera!).

Although my older son had visited The Breakers twice previously, I was unsure how my 8 year old react to the visit as he can get impatient quickly with things that don't interest him.  Fortunately, we took the self-guided audio tour, which he loved!  It was entertaining to watch - I could tell at which point in the audio tour he was listening to because of his actions ("look up at the ceiling" - his head was immediately flung back to view the ornate skylight above; "take a minute to closely look at the paneling in this room" - which he took quite literally, practically touching the wood with his nose to make sure he examined it thoroughly!  Too bad for the pesky Preservation Society members - the poses would have made for some great pictures!  Winter is not a good time of year to tour the grounds.  The paths were very muddy, which was unfortunate because the view from the sloping lawn to the waves breaking at the shore is spectacular!

After The Breakers, we moved on to the The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum in the downtown area of Newport.

The Hall of Fame and Museum is housed in the famed Newport Casino (the name has nothing to do with gambling - the word casino stems from the Italian word cascina, meaning little summer house).  At the museum, the history of the sport of tennis from the 12th Century through today is presented in different rooms and exhibits throughout the building.

Because it was a vacation week for several states in the area, it was also Winter Festival in Newport.  As part of the Festival, the Hall of Fame had some special activities for families and children scheduled during the week.  We learned lots of new facts about tennis while completing the scavenger hunt through the museum, but the kids loved the indoor games available to them.  They played a game of  Quick Start Tennis, a game being introduced by the United States Tennis Association to help younger kids get involved in the sport, with a smaller court area and racquets (my heart stopped a few times when my younger son swung his racquet back toward the large glass case behind him - but thankfully it survived!).  Then it was on to Wii Tennis, on the big screen!

A cold winter day - filled with history and a little indoor exercise! Newport is a beautiful place to visit - check out their website, Go Newport, for many great vacation ideas! And if you are unable to make the trip to Newport, rent the movie "High Society", starring Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby for some beautiful scenery, great talent, and memorable songs - a must see for all musical lovers!

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