Friday, September 13, 2019

Old Ironsides, Boston, and the Cradle of Democracry

September 13, 2019—Boston. Birthplace of the nation, and home of the traffic jam.

Yesterday, the Destroyer and Leader Association (the group that organized this reunion; Jim’s ship was a DL—destroyer and leader) took us to Boston, which is theoretically about an hour from here. I say theoretically because traffic was bad—even worse than Jacksonville’s at 5 p.m. Traffic was compounded because it was a rainy, overcast day and quite chilly (although to us Floridians, the cooler air didn’t feel too bad).

Our first stop was the USS Constitution, a three-masted sailing vessel, is the world’s oldest commissioned sailing vessel still afloat. Named the Constitution by President George Washington, it is more familiarly known to us today as Old Ironsides. Launched in 1794, it is still manned by a crew of 60 U.S. Naval personnel. It is berthed at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, and is a stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail.
The USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides. This sailing ship is open, free to the public to tour, even though it is still a commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy.

Masts on the Constitution

Jim, looking at cannon on the Constitution.
The 60 crew members of the Constitution would sleep in hammocks below decks.
The ship's galley lies just beyond the last row of hammocks.

Rows of cannon are below decks.

Old Ironsides resides in the old Charlestown shipyard. The only drydock remaining (for exhibition purposes) is this one, which was built in 1833. The Constitution was the first ship drydocked  here. 

After a ceremony by the DL Association to commemorate shipmates who had died during the past year, we boarded Old Ironsides. In addition to touring the topside, we were able to go below decks, to the level containing the cannon, as well as the lowest level, containing the mess hall and sleeping quarters of the crew. Their hammocks hang from rafters; I can imagine their being rocked asleep by the motion of the waves hitting the boat.
The DL Association held a ceremony in front of the USS Constitution, honoring deceased shipmates.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed enough time to visit the museum. Our next stop was Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall.

Faneuil Hall, we discovered, was built in 1743 as a British meeting place and market. It was the site of many speeches by patriots, including Sam Adams, and it was where the Boston Tea Party was organized. The upstairs of Faneuil Hall, also known as the cradle of democracy, is the actual town hall. It is still used for special political events and performances. We found the meeting place quite by accident: Our tour group stopped at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market for lunch and shopping. After enjoying a bowl of overpriced clam chowder (everything is expensive in Boston), we wandered around and found the meeting hall. A national parks ranger gave an interesting 15-minute talk on the history of Faneuil Hall.

The downstairs of Faneuil Hall was always a dedicated marketplace. Quincy Market, across the street, opened in 1824. Today, both marketplaces are active, although not in the way they were more than a hundred years ago. Quincy Market, the larger of the two markets, has a huge food court, with restaurants catering to every taste—from sushi to barbecue, with many devoted to seafood, of course. We opted to try some clam chowder. It was delicious.

In addition to the food court, Quincy Market is home to many kiosks and apparel stores that sell everything from toys to tee shirts, all focused on the tourist trade and priced to match. ($19.99 for a tee shirt, anyone?)

Incidentally, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are just a stone’s throw away from the Boston Commons (park), where Cheers is located. The television program was never filmed inside the bar, however—only the cars passing on the street were Boston-authentic.

The day was not quite done: After lunch, we reboarded our buses and meandered on a guided tour of Boston. Although we did not stop (except once, in front of the baseball stadium), we caught glimpses of historic places, such as the old South Church, the state capital, Beacon Street. We even saw where Tom Brady used to live. (Who cares?) 

We finally headed back to Warwick, in (you guessed it) heavy traffic. Rush hour seems to start about 3 p.m. in Boston.

This afternoon we drove up to Providence, about 10 miles away, the state capital. Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it is home to at least a half dozen colleges and universities, including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. We did not have a lot of time, so we merely drove around the riverfront area, to see homes dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Very nice, and I am certain, very expensive.

Everything is expensive here. To compare, this week at home, Walgreen’s advertised “buy 2 Coca Cola 12-packs at $4.99, get one free.” Here Walgreen’s has the same offer—except the 12-pack is $5.99, a dollar more! Ah, well.

Tomorrow we head home. Instead of driving straight down I95, which takes us through New York City with all its traffic and significantly high tolls, Jim has plotted a course that may involve a few more miles but should be better on the driving nerves as well as the wallet.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Wednesday, September 11, 2019


September 11, 2019—We are in Warwick, R.I., at Jim’s naval ship reunion. Today the group went on two tours.
Jim is enjoying his reunion with shipmates. He served on the U.S.S. Norfolk from 1957-1960.
The first tour was to the War College. I guess I vaguely knew there was such a thing as a war college, but I had never really thought about military leaders actually studying war techniques. We didn’t go into classrooms or meet any students. Our tour was a stop at the War College Museum.

Because we had almost 50 people in our group, it was split into two parts, each headed by a volunteer docent who was going to guide us through the small, two-storied museum. (If we were on our own, we could go through the museum in its entirety in 45 minutes. Instead, we were there for two hours. And in our case, it was two hours of very boring lecture.)
The white building in this photo is the War College Museum. The photo is taken on the bus as it was leaving Newport.

Our docent, an extremely knowledgeable history buff, seemed intent on lecturing us on the entire history of the United States in a dull monotone. People (especially the women in the group) began drifting off. I tried to listen (Jim did better than I), but standing for such a long time was very trying and very tiring. I finally had to find someplace to sit down.

After some time, Jim and I decided to go off on our own. As we were browsing the exhibits, we ran into the other group, led by a docent who was also knowledgeable but who focused on telling the pertinent history as it related to the War College, in an engaging manner. We stuck with him until the tour was over and we went to lunch.
After lunch, the group was taken on a tour of the mansions of Newport, the summer haven of the rich and famous, both “then” and “now.” Most of the tour was by bus; the only stop we made—for about an hour and a half—was at The Breakers, the summer home of the Vanderbilts. Wow! The amount of money that was spent on that summer “cottage.”
Front of The Breakers, the Vanderbilt "cottage" in Newport, R.I. This house has 70 opulently decorated rooms, including 25 bedrooms.
Backside of the mansion. The outdoor patio overlooks the ocean.
The outdoor area of the Vanderbilt mansion, overlooking the ocean. 

Think Downton Abby—the Breakers is the American version of that mansion. In 1893, Cornelius Vanderbilt II commissioned the building of this 70-room summer home, which was inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. No expense was spared: For example, one room’s wallpaper was ingrained with platinum, another with gold. The house was a case of conspicuous consumption. The intention was to create an American palace. Literally.
Jim and I have toured other mansions, most comparably the Biltmore, in Asheville, N.C. I think the Vanderbilt mansion was bigger and perhaps more ornate, but the tour we had at the Biltmore was more comprehensive, since we were able to see the servants’ quarters as well as the opulent living quarters of the main part of the house.
We might have been able to see or at least learn more, but we were not allowed enough time for the tour. Oh, well. We had a good time anyway.
Although visitors were allowed to take photos, my hands were full, holding the self-guided tour electronics, so I didn’t bother taking out my cell camera. I did take a few photos of the outside of the mansion, which fronts the ocean, with its breaking waves.
Tomorrow the group tour is to Boston.
Until later,
Your Reluctant RoVer,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Rhode Island--a very long drive from Florida

September 10, 2019—Warwick, Rhode Island, is a long way from Jacksonville, Florida—1,205 miles, to be exact, according to our odometer. After leaving Jacksonville early Sunday morning, we drove the first leg of our journey—576 miles to Colerain, N.C., where Jim’s cousin lives. After an excellent dinner and a very pleasant evening catching up on family news, we left Monday morning on the second leg of our trip. After 12 hours of driving, we arrived within a 100 miles of Warwick.

It was an interesting journey, especially as we drove around New York. (I should quickly mention that we are driving our car—not our truck with truck camper.)

We planned our route so that we would not go through New York. Trusting “Garmina” (our GPS system), we followed her orders as she spoke them. As we approached the city, she directed us toward a bridge, where we had to pay a hefty toll. The view allowed us to see the new World Trade Center in the distance, as well as the Empire State Building (or was it the Chrysler Building?). After the bridge, however, Garmina somehow took us into Jersey City, through the Bronx, and eventually back onto I95, then onto some parkway that finally led us into Connecticut. We couldn’t understand why she was being some circuitous, especially since she had us exit I95, which would have been a more direct route. I guess the moral is, “don’t trust the GPS; trust your instincts—and a map—instead.” Of course, we weren’t exactly in a position to pull out the Atlas to challenge Garmina. There wasn’t anywhere to pull off the road.

It was a long day of driving that included a couple close calls by idiot drivers. We finally stopped somewhere in Connecticut, about 100 miles shy of our final destination, Warwick, R.I., the site of Jim’s naval ship reunion—the reason for our trip.

The good thing about our route was that it took us to areas of the country I had never seen before, such as the peninsula shared by Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. We were driving through this area around lunch time, and stopped at a local seafood restaurant. The fried oysters were delicious!
A view of Mystic, Ct. 

We arrived in Warwick by early afternoon today. After getting settled, we decided to drive around town and find the local tourist office, which was located in the city courthouse building. There was no sign anywhere directing the public to the office! After asking someone, we were told to go upstairs (no elevator that we could find), where we found a sign of the tourist-office door that said “employees only” and “knock before entering”—not very tourist-friendly. We scoured the brochures rack and found only two we thought were relative to Warwick. One turned out to be about Rhode Island, in general. Would you believe that it teased the reader with beautiful photographs of places to see and listed things to do—but did not tell where these things were located?

The second brochure was merely a list of some restaurants in Warwick. I guess this city doesn’t have much to offer. Perhaps Providence has more; we’ll find out Friday when we have time to ourselves.
This evening we went to a hospitality mixer for the reunion goers. Tomorrow we will tour, as a group, the Newport Naval Base War College Museum, the city of Newport, and the Breakers Mansion. It should be a fun day.
Warwick City Hall, where the local tourist office is hidden on the second floor.
Before I close, I want to add that this vacation is a shortened version of the one we had originally planned. We wanted to spend several days in Washington, D.C., and another couple days in Delaware. However, we had to cancel those plans when Hurricane Dorian blew into town. Well, almost into town. Fortunately, Dorian was a non-event. We will have to "do" D.C. some other time.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer