New England: Boston, Hyde Park, and Newport

Community Highlights North America New England: Boston, Hyde Park, and Newport

Friday, December 29, 2023

The alarms on our phones went off at 04:00 this morning and we both reluctantly woke up so we could head to the airport. I had prebooked an Uber the night before to pick us up at 04:20, so we had to hurriedly pack the last of our things before heading downstairs to meet the driver. However, the car was not heading in our direction this morning – it continue to sit idly at its current location. The pickup time kept getting pushed back further and further, so it became evident that the prebooked driver was not actually going to be arriving as planned. I canceled the ride and Thinh booked a new ride and this time it was even cheaper than what I’d prebooked! The driver soon arrived and we set off for O’Hare Airport.

Our check is was smooth, as was security. I took our electronics through the TSA Pre-Check clearance, while Thinh had to go through regular security. I then stopped to get a bagel for breakfast; Thinh wasn’t hungry this early in the morning, so he didn’t eat anything. We were flying Southwest and had secured boarding spots B7 and B8, so we’d be able to easily get seats next to one another.

When we boarded, we were very lucky to get seats in the emergency exit row. The flight took off for Boston at 07:15 and we both napped during the entire flight – we were so exhausted from the short night of sleep.

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We landed in Boston at 09:45 and quickly reclaimed our checked bag before heading into the city. We were both surprised to discover that the bus from the airport to the city center was free! The bus dropped us off at South Station, located near the center of Boston. I had found a luggage storage facility close to the station using the same service that I’d used in London earlier in the month. The storage place was inside another convenience store, where they put our bag in the back storage room.

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Thinh and I first went to Starbucks, where I had to wait for a video call with one of the owners of my company. I was pushing to get a promotion at work, which had been discussed over the summer; due to the chaotic changes in my department leadership, the promotion had fallen by the wayside, but I was now pushing to get it done. The owner and I had a short call at 11:00 that went very well – he was in full agreement about getting me promoted, though it sounded like just in title only, not with a pay raise. This only partly satisfied me, but I hoped that I would be getting a raise after the start of the year when we had annual reviews.

Work done for the day, Thinh and I set out to see some of Boston. Our stop here was a bonus rather than something fully planned out. It was markedly cheaper for us to fly into Boston and take the train to Connecticut than it was to fly into any other airport in New England, so we had decided to spend the entire day in Boston before taking an evening train out of the city. Before walking around, we both wanted to get something to eat, so we stopped in at Wendy’s for a quick bite. This was Thinh’s first time to Wendy’s; even though it’s just like any other fast-food place, it was still something new for him to experience. I told him about their square burger patties, which he found odd.

Now it was time to start sightseeing throughout the city and our plan was to follow the Freedom Trail through the city. This pedestrian route takes people to all of the major sites around the city center. I explained to Thinh that most of the things to see in Boston were related to the American War of Independence, which he may not find terribly interesting.

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We started off at Boston Common, which is a large park in the center of town. There were still several Christmas decorations hanging up around the park, making it feel quite festive. The large Massachusetts State House dominated one side of the park. We spent a short time walking through the park, before heading over to the Park Street Church at one end of the park, where we started the Freedom Trail.

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Next to the Park Street Church was the Granary Burying Ground, a large cemetery from the colonial-era where Sam Adams and John Hancock are buried. Thinh enjoyed the serenity and beauty of the cemetery, and we walked around inside for a little bit so we could snap some photos. I found the grave of Sam Adams and explained who he was to Thinh.

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Next up was the King’s Chapel and King’s Burying Ground. The church was built in the mid-1700s and the cemetery is the oldest English burying ground in the city. We didn’t spend much time visiting there, just enough to have a stroll through the cemetery as we made our way along the Trail. Behind the chapel was the Boston Latin School which was founded in 1635, making it the oldest public school in America! A large statue of Benjamin Franklin is erected in front of the school, which he attended in his youth.

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The Freedom Trail route took us to the Old South Meeting House, which is where the famed Boston Tea Party began. Built in the early 1700s, the meeting house is a beautiful example of colonial architecture. It was at this place that the crowd met before setting off for the harbor to toss shipments of tea into the water in protest of British taxation. We considered going inside, but the admission fee was more than we were willing to pay (especially since we had limited time and only a passing interest in seeing the interior). I think if Thinh was more familiar with the American War for Independence, he might have found places like this more interesting (though I’m American and I only have a small interest – I much prefer European and Asia history).

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Nearby was the Old State House, which is the oldest surviving building in the city of Boston. The building served as the original seat of the colonial government and, after independence, state government. It was outside of the Old State House that, in 1770, the Boston Massacre took place in which British troops fired upon a crowd of citizens and killed five people. It was just one more event that contributed to unrest in the colonies and helped spread the desire for independence.

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Up next was Faneuil Hall which was situated in a large square with a large marketplace behind it. The square was full of people out shopping and there was a large Christmas tree on display in the center. We opted to skip going inside either the hall or the market due to how crowded the area was, but we did stop to snap some photos.

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Continuing further into the city, we reached Paul Revere’s house. The house itself is a simple wooden structure tucked away on a nondescript street. The queue to get inside was rather long and, as our time in Boston was running out, we didn’t have the time to wait. The house itself didn’t mean much to Thinh for obvious reasons, so neither of us had a problem skipping it.

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The final stop on the Freedom Trail was at the Old North Church, where the famous “One if by land, two if by sea” lanterns were placed so Paul Revere could warn the colonists when the British were coming to attack (two lanterns were hung that night). The church is a very pretty colonial-era building and the steeple towered over the surrounding area. Directly behind the church was a small park with an equestrian statue of Paul Revere.

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Thinh and I continued to walk around town for a bit. We tried to visit the nearby Copps Hill Burying Ground, but they were closing it up when we arrived. Instead, we made our way over to the harbor front and walked along the walkways there. In the distance, we could see the tower that stood on Bunker Hill, where one of the earliest battles of the American War of Independence was fought. We had considered heading out there during the afternoon, but we ran out of time.

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With our tour around Boston at an end, we made our way over to the subway so we could head back to South Station. Finding the actual entrance to the subway proved difficult as there were several transit options at the station and the signage was awful. However, once we reached the subway itself, it was quite nice.

Before reclaiming our bag from storage, we ducked into a coffee shop to have something to drink. The place was crowded, and we managed to grab the last available table. The coffee was good and I had a small sandwich as well. Thinh and I then picked up our bag and walked to South Station. We both wanted to get some snacks for our long train ride, so we stopped in at the CVS at the train station. At the entrance of CVS was an obviously drunk man who was arguing with several police officers, who were trying to escort him from the premises. The man was belligerent and I thought the police might have to resort to forcibly removing him, but he eventually stumbled out of the store and the station.

South Station was a very disappointing train station, with a small waiting area until boarding was announced for our train. The seating was limited, so we stood around to wait. Our train boarded at 18:20 and we hurriedly made our way to the train so we could get to our seats. We departed at 18:45 for the long ride to Connecticut. Thinh napped during the ride while I spent the time watching Netflix.

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The train arrived in New Haven at 21:10 and we then took an Uber to our hotel in nearby Milford, which was only a 10-minute drive away. The hotel was renovating the main lobby, so we had to go to a side entrance for check-in and use the elevator at the rear entrance in order to reach our room. The room itself was comfortable and nice. It had been a long day of travel and sightseeing – we were both exhausted and soon drifted off to sleep.


Saturday, December 30, 2023

Thinh and I were up at 07:00 this morning so we could get ready for another long day of sightseeing. We had booked a rental car for the next few days and we needed to pick it up early today. We took an Uber over to the rental car office at 08:30, but we arrived before they opened (Google Maps said they opened at 08:00, but this proved incorrect). There was a Starbucks across the street, so we went there to get something warm to drink – and I needed the caffeine for the long day of driving ahead of us. We returned to the rental car office when at 09:00 to pickup our car. We were given a Hyundai compact car and soon we were off on the road.

Our destination for the morning was the small town of Hyde Park so we could visit the home of Fraklin Delano Roosevelt. I had always wanted to visit his home and learn more about the man, who is widely considered to be among the best presidents in US history. Thinh was kind and agreed to visit Hyde Park for my sake, even though he wasn’t very familiar with FDR. The drive was a short one – about 90 minutes – and we drove through some pretty countryside in Connecticut and New York along the way.

It was slightly raining when we arrived, but not hard enough to spoil the visit. We bought our admission tickets, which included a guided tour of the house itself and admission to the presidential library. Before heading to the house for our tour, we watched a short introduction movie about FDR which I found interesting, plus it gave Thinh some background on FDR.

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FDR’s childhood home was a large mansion, and I was quite impressed with the architecture of the building. We met our tour guide outside the house, along with the rest of our small group. Before entering, the guide gave us a lot of history of the house and FDR’s life there. The home had hosted several world leaders during FDR’s time as president, including Winston Churchill during his many visits to the US during the Second World War. There were three people taking photos outside of the house in period clothing from the 1940s, though I was unable to figure out why they were dressed up.

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When we entered the house, our guide gave us several minutes to walk around and explore the main floor on our own. The main entry was large and covered in dark wood paneling, with a large statue of FDR located in one corner. The walls were decorated with items related to FDR’s hobbies, including many nautical-themed paintings. The rooms leading off of the entry were all very nice, including a dining room and a sitting room.

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My favorite room in the house was the massive study that FDR used extensively whenever he came to stay at Hyde Park. A ramp was installed along the floor that had been used to accommodate his wheelchair, but our guide informed us that the ramp would be disassembled when visitors came to the house – all part of the effort to keep FDR’s disability from public view. The study had a large desk, several areas for sitting, a fireplace, and a large Christmas tree had been setup at the far end of the room. One could easily imagine FDR hosting meetings with leaders in this room.

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When the group reassembled, the guide provided us more information about the house and described the many ways that FDR would get around using his wheelchair. While the ramp on the main floor could be removed and hidden, there was a ramp on the second floor that was permanently installed because that was where the private rooms of the family were located. FDR would use an elevator to go between floors and it was operated manually – he would pull a rope to raise and lower the elevator each time!

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The informational part of the tour then concluded and we were given time to go upstairs to view the bedrooms. There were several rooms for family and guests, including a room where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth had stayed during their visit to Hyde Park. FDR’s own bedroom was simple, yet nice. This part of the house wasn’t nearly as grand as the lower level, which made it feel more intimate and family oriented.

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We excited the house through a staircase from the second floor which took us to the back yard of the house. The views of the surrounding countryside were stunning: rolling hills and forests as far as the eye could see. The small river at the bottom of the hill could barely be seen through all of the trees. It was an idyllic location to live, very peaceful and serene. Thinh and I spent some time walking around the exterior of the house so we could properly admire the building (and to snap some photos).

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We then made the short walk over to the presidential library and museum. This was the very first presidential library that had been established – and the only one to be used by a sitting president. It first opened in 1941 at the personal direction of FDR himself because he recognized the need to properly store the vast number of documents related to his presidency. There had been such monumental changes to the country during the years of the Great Depressions and this needed to be properly documented. FDR donated all of his papers to the government and the library, allowing the public access to them.

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The facility was large and contained a detailed walkthrough of his years as president, from the Great Depression to his efforts to revive the US economy to the Second World War. Video displays, photographs, memorabilia, and other displays helped to inform and educate visitors. It was fascinating to see everything and I learned quite a bit more than I had expected. Outside of the library was a small park surrounded by hedges where FDR and Eleanor were buried. The graves were simple yet dignified.

With out visit to Hyde Park at an end, we decided to get something to eat for lunch before heading out. There were a few restaurants nearby and we ended up going to a Chinese restaurant located in a strip mall. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t have any indoor seating, so we had to eat our food in the car. The food was good and I felt revived – this was the first meal we’d eaten all day!

Our day was only half over though – we still had a full evening ahead of us in New York City. We hit the road for the two-hour drive to the city, which we spent listening to music. Thinh acted as the navigator and was excellent at guiding me along the way. He played music using Apple Music, and I even introduced him to La Marseillaise – the greatest national anthem in the world! He sneakily videoed me singing along to it, but that video shall never see the light of day!

When we arrived in the city, traffic became quite congested and we missed our exit. We exited the highway somewhere in the Harlem area of town and it was a bit stressful to find our way back onto the highway, but we eventually managed it. We had prebooked a parking spot at a garage in midtown Manhattan and it didn’t take us too long to reach it (though we had to circle the block to actually find the garage entrance).

We were finally in NYC and I was very excited to take Thinh around the city. It was around 17:30 by time we had parked, so we didn’t have a long time to spend in the city this evening and we would be back to properly tour the city in a few days. Tonight was about seeing the Christmas decorations around the city though. The streets were packed with tourists and it was stressful to navigate our way around, but I managed to push our way through so we could see everything.

Since we had parked in midtown, we first walked over to Radio City Music Hall, which had a nice holiday light display atop the marquee. Thinh seemed amazed with the city and was taking a lot of pictures. I took him to various spots where he could get good views and photos of everything. We then walked over to Rockefeller Center and the route there was overrun with tourists. Somehow, we managed to push our way through until we reached the main square where the famous Christmas tree stood.

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Thinh was shocked and amazed when he first saw the tree – it was the largest one we had seen during the trip. I loved seeing him so happy as he admired the tree and we spent several minutes walking around the plaza to take photos. Barricades blocked off a large area, but we managed to navigate our way around the tree with relative ease (though it was stressful!). Thinh was enthralled with the Christmas display and I was so happy to share it with him.

Opposite Rockefeller Center was the huge Saks Fifth Avenue department store, which puts on an annual Christmas light and sound show outside their store. The entire front of the building was decorated with a massive display that was light up and, at certain times, the music would play along to a timed light show. This year’s display was a huge circle with various symbols places around the circle: stars, butterflies, shamrocks, flowers, etc. There was a smaller inner circle that had the zodiac signs around it as well.

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We didn’t have to wait too long before the show began and Thinh let out an audible gasp of amazement when it began. I filmed the show so Thinh could focus on just watching everything. The show wasn’t very long, but it was nevertheless impressive. I have seen several displays over the years and, while this wasn’t the most impressive one I’d seen, it was enjoyable.

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Now it was time to head out to Brooklyn for the main reason we’d come to the city today: to tour the Christmas displays in the Dyker Heights neighborhood. We took the subway out to Brooklyn, which took roughly 45 minutes. It was Thinh’s first time on the NYC subway system as well! Thankfully we didn’t have to change trains to reach Brooklyn.

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Once off the subway, we made the short walk over to Dyker Heights. The houses in this area are all very grand and it was quickly evident that the people living there were wealthy. Several blocks of houses were all elaborately decorated with Christmas light displays, some more impressive than others. Lights covered every possible surface of some houses, while others had light-up figures making themed displays. Thinh wasn’t the only one blown away by the grandeur of the festive spirit in the neighborhood – I was equally loving the experience! I told him that we would have to come back another year with my mother because she would absolutely love the neighborhood.

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We spent about an hour wandering around the streets. There were quite a few visitors gazing at the houses, as well as dozens upon dozens of cars slowly driving around. Some houses had small stalls set up to sell hot drinks and light snacks, and there were a few food trucks dotted around the area as well. Thinh and I contemplated buying some hot cocoa, but the prices were outrageous, so we skipped it.

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When we’d had enough of gazing at the Christmas lights, we headed back towards the subway. We decided to take a different line back to Manhattan and the walk to the subway took a while, but it allowed us to see more of Brooklyn. Once back on the train, we went directly back to midtown so we could get the car and head back to Connecticut.

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As we were leaving, I suggested to Thinh that we could drive through Time Square, which we had not yet visited. He eagerly agreed and so I took the longer route out of the city. Unfortunately, traffic in midtown was particularly horrendous by this point and it took us ages to drive just a couple of blocks. However, this also gave Thinh the opportunity to see everything out of the car windows. Time Square was brightly light up and I could tell that he was impressed.

It took us nearly 40 minutes to get through midtown Manhattan and back onto the highway out of the city. Again, Thinh acted as navigator and helped to guide me around. It was quite late by this time and I was exhausted after a long day of driving and sightseeing. Thinh helped keep me awake and energized during the drive by feeding me Andes Mints that we’d brought along with us from Chicago (they’d been stuck in our stockings at Christmas). Every few miles, he unwrap one and give it to me – it helped quite a bit!

It was around midnight by the time we arrived back at the hotel and we were both exhausted. Sadly, neither of us could fall asleep right away once we were in our room. We ended up staying up late into the evening, watching TV and things on our phones. I knew that tomorrow would be another long day for both of us, but we’d make the most of it. We finally drifted to sleep in the middle of the night, alarms set so we could get up early to head back to New York City.


Sunday, December 31, 2023

New Year’s Eve! Our original plan for today was to head into Manhattan early and wait in Time Square for the ball drop at midnight. To have a chance at getting a good spot from which to see the ball, you need to get to Time Square early in the morning so you can get in when the streets are closed off. I had done New Year’s Eve in Time Square back in 2013 and vowed to never do it again, but I thought it would be a fun experience for Thinh, which is why I had suggested it in the first place.

However, since we’d had such a short night of sleep, we woke up and decided to skip it today. If we did spend the evening in New York, we wouldn’t be back to our hotel until 03:00, if we were lucky, and that would just be too long a day for us. Instead, we booked a hotel for next year’s NYE just two blocks from Time Square. That would reduce the amount of time we’d spend traveling to and from Time Square, and make it vastly easier/quicker to get back after the ball drops.

Now that we had the entire day free, we decided to still head into the city to spend some time sightseeing. We drove to the nearby town of Stamford, where we were able to park the car for free in a parking garage at the train station. The train into the city took just over an hour and soon we were pulling into Grand Central Station.

Upon exiting the train, I took Thinh into the main hall of Grand Central, which still had its holiday decorations hanging up. Thinh was very impressed with the grandeur of the terminal, and we spent several minutes walking around so he could take photos. The place was packed with people coming and going to various places. We then went outside to admire the exterior of the building as well. I also pointed out the Chrysler Building to Thinh, which was located a couple blocks away from Grand Central. The Chrysler Building is one of my favorite in the city.

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We hadn’t eaten anything yet today, so I suggested that we get some proper New York bagels for a late brunch. Thinh had first tried bagels back in Hanoi, but it was nowhere near as good as one from New York. The bagel shop was a short walk from Grand Central and was just a tiny place. I ordered a salt bagel with veggie cream cheese, while Thinh ordered a bagel with peanut butter. This redeemed bagels in his eyes: they were delicious!

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We were only a few blocks away from 34th Street, so I led us down there as we continued our walk through the city. When we turned onto 34th Street, I told Thinh to look up and he gasped when he had his first view of the Empire State Building. Even though it was several blocks away, it still dominated the view from the street. We already had plans to visit the observation deck in a couple days, so we just spent time walking down 34th Street so he could see the building.

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Macy’s department store was our next destination, which is located just across from the Empire State Building. I was eager for Thinh to see the shop because of their impressive holiday window displays. The exterior of the building still had the Christmas lights up, including a huge figure of the Macy’s reindeer Tiptoe. Each of the large window displays along the front of the store had a different holiday-themed display. Despite the crowd of people gazing at the windows, we were able to see each one in turn. They were very impressive and this was just one more Christmas thing for Thinh to enjoy.

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Thinh and I continued to walk south through Manhattan and reached Madison Square Park, which was surrounded be several nice buildings. The famous Flatiron Building stood at the southern edge of the park and was the primary reason we had walked there. Unfortunately, the building was undergoing renovations and was thus covered by scaffolding, so we were unable to see much of the building. The walk through the city was still nice though and was well worth it as it gave Thinh the chance to see more of the city. The main walking part now concluded, we hopped onto the subway nearby and headed to the southern tip of the island for our final sights of the day.

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The final sight I wanted to show Thinh today was the World Trade Center. We already had plans to visit the top of One World Trade Center, so today was focused on visiting the memorial site for the 9/11 attacks. When we reached the massive plaza, I explained to Thinh where the twin towers once stood and what had been done with the site since the 2001 terrorist attacks. We visited both of the memorial fountains at the footprints of the former buildings, which I think are a beautiful way to memorialize the thousands who died that day.

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It was getting dark by the time we finished at the World Trade Center, but I had one final surprise to show Thinh. I took him to nearby Battery Park and over to the waterfront where, in the distance, we could see the State of Liberty illuminated in the darkened sky. Thinh was very excited when he recognized the statue. The statue itself was tiny out on Liberty Island, but it was still easily discernable. We then made our way back towards the subway and ended up walking by Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. To my surprise, there was an amazing Christmas tree erected in front of the building, while the building itself was illuminated in red and green lights! I had never been by this area during the holidays before, so this was a very pleasant surprise!

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Before heading back to the train, we walked to a nearby pizza place where Thinh had his first slices of proper New York-style pizza. We each ordered two slices of cheese pizza and a soda, which was insanely cheap, and walked across the street to a place where we could eat. I showed Thinh the only acceptable way to eat New York pizza, folding it in half, which he initially thought was ridiculous, but he soon came around.

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It was now time to head back to Connecticut, so we took the subway back to Grand Central and hopped on the train to Stamford. Before driving back to the hotel, we stopped off at a nearby Target to get some snacks and sparkling cider to enjoy during the evening. We were lucky to arrive when we did – we had just 15 minutes before the store closed!

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Back at the hotel, we spend the rest of the evening relaxing and watching TV. We somehow stumbled across an art auction network that proved to be remarkably fascinating. The host conducting the auctions was ridiculous and spent most of the time showing other artwork selling on various websites for more money, I guess in an attempt to show what a good deal his auctions were, but it all seemed silly. Thinh and I laughed quite a bit as we watched the auction, mesmerized by the stupid things the host would say throughout the show.

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Closer to midnight, we turned on the New Year’s Eve show at Time Square. I experienced a bit of FOMO watching it, wishing we could have been there, but I was ultimately glad that we skipped it this year. Our plan for the next New Year was much better than the last-minute planning we had done for this year. At midnight, we watched the ball drop, toasted with our sparkling cider, and shared a kiss. It was a wonderful way to right in the new year.


Monday, January 1, 2024

Thinh and I set our alarms for 08:00 this morning as we had a full day ahead of us, full of long drives and sightseeing. We showered and got ready to leave, heading out of the hotel by 08:30 to start the drive to Rhode Island.

The drive was pleasant and quiet as there was not much traffic on the road so early during the holiday. As we neared the Rhode Island state line, I offered to try and stop at the “Welcome to Rhode Island” sign so Thinh could take some photos. We got off the highway and drove along a smaller road, but there was no signage to indicate when we had crossed the state line. It was disappointing, but there was nothing to be done about it. We returned to the highway and drove by the large welcome sign as we entered Rhode Island (Thinh’s eighth new state of the trip!).

Our destination for today was the seaside town of Newport, where the grandiose mansions from the gilded age had been built (many of them once owned by the wealthiest families in America, including many robber-barons). I had last visited Newport when I was a child in the 1990s and I was eager to revisit the various houses in town. I had suggested this visit to Thinh primarily because the houses would be decked out in Christmas décor as well. The drive through town was a bit strange, going through various local streets and neighborhoods, but we eventually found the first mansion.

First up was The Breakers, the grandest and more stunning of the Newport mansions. The mansion was built in the mid-1890s for Cornelius Vanderbilt III and was used as a summer residence. The entire building was made using masonry and steel – with no wooden pieces – as Vanderbilt wanted to minimize the risk of the house ever burning down.

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We had prebooked our tickets, which allowed us to visit three of the houses in town. Thinh was visibly impressed by the opulence of the mansion. Inside, the great hall was lavishly decorated for the holidays. A massive Christmas tree of poinsettias stood against the far wall, while various lights and other decorations adored the surrounding areas. All of this just added to the magnificence of the room, which resembled an indoor courtyard that was open to the second floor. The walls and ceiling were covered with intricate carvings, all of which showed off the wealth of the Vanderbilt family.

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We began our self-guided tour around the house on the first floor, walking through to the dining room. If ever a room was meant for lavish entertaining, this was truly it: a huge room with crystal chandeliers, sumptuous red curtains and carpeting, and a ceiling covered with carvings and stunning paintings. One could easily imagine a large party dining there quite regularly.

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Up next was the billiard room which had a stately game table situated in the center of the room. Above this hung a chandelier designed that hung low over the table. The marble covering the walls and fireplace exuded masculinity. The fireplace was full of holiday displays and it seemed as though the men would be entering at any moment to take up a game of billiards.

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We then reentered the great hall and were able to get a better view of the grand staircase that led to the second floor, as well as the impressive Christmas decorations. It truly exuded wealth and power! Poinsettias of various colors lined the grand staircase, and were tucked away on tables and corners to make the room feel even more festive.

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The morning room was just off the great hall and had a very intimate feeling to the room. A blue Christmas tree stood at the far end of the room, which was otherwise decorated in neutral cream color. The fireplace was, for me, the most impressive part of the room. It was decorated with gold carvings and marble, with a gold-framed portrait hanging above the mantle.

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The grand salon, or music room, was our next stop. Various instruments were stationed at the far side of the room, which was dominated by a grand piano. The chandeliers in this room were possibly the grandest in the entire house. Everything in the room was rich and luxurious – I was in awe of the place. This room had been used as a ballroom in the HBO TV show “The Gilded Age” and I recognized it from scenes in the first season.

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The final room on the main floor was the library. This was another room that oozed with masculinity: wood paneling on the walls, imposing furniture, and a marble fireplace that dominated the entire room. It still had a cozy feeling though. Of the rooms that we had visited thus far, this was the one in which I could see myself relaxing.

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Thinh and I then headed up the back stairs to the second floor of the house, which is where the private rooms of the Vanderbilt family were located. The view looking down on the great hall from the second floor was impressive – I could not stop gawking at each and every turn! Everywhere we looked, we both noticed something new and splendid.

The family bedrooms and their adjoining private rooms where less lavish than those on the ground floor, which just emphasized how much the main rooms were used to impress visitors more than anything. Each room was uniquely decorated for the holidays as well. The best part of the second floor was the long outdoor balcony/walkway along the rear of the house, which offered spectacular views of both the grounds and the sea in the distance. At the top of the grand staircase, we could also admire a gigantic mural.

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We then descended to the staff rooms, walking through the kitchens, before heading outside to stroll through the grounds. All throughout the grounds of the house were various Christmas decorations which would be illuminated at night and I wished that we could stay to see them in the evening. Thinh thoroughly enjoyed the visited to the Brakers, which made me happy. I wasn’t sure if sightseeing like this would particularly interest him (everyone has their own interests and things they like to do when traveling).

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I drove us over to our next house located just a couple blocks away: Marble House. Alva Vanderbilt had built the house in the late 1880s and used it as their summer cottage. This was among the very first grand homes that the families of New York society built in Newport, which helped to transform the town into the summer playground of the rich and powerful.

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The great hall of Marble House was decorated with marble and the grant staircase, with its intricate railing, dominated the entire room. A gold chandelier hung in the center of the room, illuminating the gold-leaf covered carvings along the walls and ceiling. A massive wreath was hung over the staircase, and a Christmas tree stood at the foot of the stairs. As with the Breakers, poinsettias were used everywhere as well.

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The dining room of Marble House made me think of a European banquet hall, with a long dining table running the entire length of the room. A portrait of Louis XIV was hung over the fireplace at the far end of the room. The adjoining library was small and intimate, with a more feminine air to it than the library at the Breakers.

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The most impressive room in the mansion was the salon, which had been decorated in a Gothic theme, complete with a enormous stone fireplace. Stained glass windows covered one side of the room. In the center stood a large Christmas tree and quiet holiday music was playing in the background. The entire room made one think of a Gothic cathedral in Europe, more than anything else.

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Thinh and I continued our walk through the house and marveled at each new room we entered. The large ballroom was lavish and richly decorated, with curtains that matched the sofa fabric. The chandeliers had the most detailed carvings of any we had seen, with cherubs at the base and intertwined leafing going up to the top of the fixtures. The fireplace was truly imposing, with two massive statues on either side of the hearth and a large clock in the center of the mantle.

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As with the Breakers, the second floor was more simple because these were the private rooms of the family. Everything was still very lavish, but the decorations were fewer and more subdued. The Christmas decorations continued to impress us as well.

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The third and final house of our visit was Rosecliff. This more modest (by comparison) mansion had been built in the late 1890s by socialite Theresa Fair Oelrichs. She had wanted to have a stately home similar to the other grand dames of the age, from which to entertain society. Rosecliff itself had been modeled after the Grand Trianon at the Palace of Versailles. With Rosecliff, she became one of the dominant personalities in New York and Newport society.

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Rosecliff was a bit disappointing after the grandiosity of both the Breakers and Marble House. The interior was very simple, with none of the gilt decorations of the other mansions. The main floor was sparsely furnished. The grand ballroom was enormous and would still have been a grand room for parties, but it couldn’t compare to the other houses. Even the main staircase was just ‘meh’ after what we had already seen earlier in the day. The second floor of the house had been converted into a museum gallery, with an exhibition about China on display. It wasn’t terribly interesting to either Thinh or me, so we decided to leave.

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Before leaving Newport, I wanted to try and get a glimpse of the mansion known as Seaview Terrace. This house was not open to the public, unfortunately, so we couldn’t enter the grounds. Instead, we had to drive down a small lane and park next to the fencing to get a look at the house. Thankfully, the fence was simple chain-link and us an easy view of the house.

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I knew of Seaview Terrace because of the 1960s TV show Dark Shadows: the show had used exterior shots of the house as the stand-in for the fictional house of Collinwood. Every episode of the show opened with a view of the house – the same view that Thinh and I now had through the fence! It was exhilarating to see the house because I have loved the TV show ever since I was a child. My mom had first introduced it to me when the Sci-Fi network began airing reruns of it when I was in high school. Since then, I had watched the entire series (all 1,225 episodes) twice over! I knew this meant nothing to Thinh since he’s yet to see the show (dare I show him an episode – and risk scaring him away?!), but he was very sweet and enjoying seeing how giddy I was over the house.

With our sightseeing done for the day, we stopped at a nearby Burger King to get a quick dinner before driving back to Milford, Connecticut. The Burger King had dozens of the paper crowns for kids all over the restaurant and I made Thinh wear one for fun. He was puzzled by this, but I got enjoyment out of it.

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We then drove the two hours back to Milford and spend the rest of the evening at the hotel relaxing. It had been a very busy and eventful day of touring around Newport. Now our escapades through New England were winding down and we would be heading to New York City for a week.

This featured blog entry was written by Glichez from the blog USA 2023-2024: Thinh and Will.
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By Glichez

Posted Sun, Jul 07, 2024 | USA | Comments