Newport is Rhode Island´s most famous city, known for its Gilded Age mansions. I went to Newport to attend the wedding of my friends Adam and Anna.
April 29, 2022: The Most Epic Game of Mario Kart
I took the train up to Rhode Island from Penn Station in New York City. The ride took about 3 hours. As Newport is on an island, there is no train service. So instead, I got off in North Kingstown, Rhode Island at the very rural Amtrak station.
Getting an Uber to Newport was a difficult task. It took nearly 30 minutes. Taxis were even worse – I was given an estimated a 60–90-minute wait.
The drive to Newport took 30 minutes.
I was dropped off at Bois Doré, a 23-bedroom mansion built in 1927. Adam´s parents bought the mansion 20 years ago and have lived there with Adam and his 6 siblings. Unfortunately, they have sold it and are moving out of the house in a couple weeks, thus making this wedding the last hurrah.
Since the house is so big, most of the wedding guests are staying in the house. I was given a small bedroom on the 3rd floor – most likely in the servant´s quarters. After dropping off my clothes, I headed to the ballroom for the rehearsal dinner.
After the dinner ended, Adam and his siblings set up an epic game of Mario Kart with 3 interconnected TVs and 12 controllers.
April 30, 2022: The Cliff Walk and the Wedding
Today was the wedding day, but I still had plenty of time to sightsee.
My first stop was the Cliff Walk. The Cliff Walk is a 3.5-mile pathway that wedges in between the famed mansions and the ocean. The material of the Cliff Walk varies. In the more popular northern section, it is a paved path, but in the south it becomes a rugged rocky scramble. It took me a bit over an hour to walk the length of the Cliff Walk to the end at Reject´s Beach.
I then walked 10 minutes over to my friend Evan´s house. Evan´s wife Lucy grew up in Newport and they recently bought a house close to her family. Since Lucy now works in Providence, they mainly use the home on weekends.
Lucy and Evan took me to a nearby beach where we caught a glimpse of an island inhabited by an 80-year-old lady. The lady mainly lives in New York City, but on weekends she personally flies her helicopter to the island for some peace and quiet. Talk about supervillain vibes!
Evan then took me to a traditional Rhode Island lunch at Flo´s Clam Shack in Middletown. We feasted on stuffies (stuffed quahog clams), clam cakes (fried clams in a round doughball) and fried whole clams (not just the strips). I had no idea that you could eat clams in so many different ways!
Evan then dropped me back at Bois Doré so I could get ready for the wedding.
The wedding was held at the esteemed St. Mary´s Church. It is the church where Senator John F Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on September 12, 1953. And now on April 30, 2022 it would become the spot of Anna and Adam´s wedding! The interior of the church is wooden and quite beautiful.
After the traditional Catholic ceremony, there was a 90-minute gap before the party. So, naturally I wanted to do some sightseeing. A few blocks away from St. Mary´s is the International Tennis Hall of Fame, located at the Newport Casino athletics complex. Built in the unique Shingle style architecture, the Newport Casino is one of the US´s first tennis clubs. It gained fame for establishing the US Open on its grass courts. The club would host the prestigious tournament all the way until 1914.
The Tennis Hall of Fame occupies the second floor of the club. It tells the history of the game from its medieval European origins to its introduction to the US via Bermuda all the way up until today. And I truly mean today- the museum had Rafa Nadal´s famous purple outfit from his Australian Open victory just a 3 months before.
As the Newport Casino founded the US Open, it is only natural that they house the perpetual trophies. All the trophies (men/women´s singles, men´s/women´s doubles, mixed doubles and a 6th trophy for a category I can´t remember are displayed in a single glass case.
The final and arguably most important part of the hall of fame is the Hall itself. Hall of famers are individuals who have contributed to the game of tennis. They include mostly players, but also coaches, referees, journalists and other supporters of the game. A committee of tennis historians, sportswriters and influential figures vote on induction. 75% of the group needs to vote in favor for induction. As of 2022, there are 262 inductees from 27 countries.
Before leaving for the wedding party, I had to visit the court for court tennis , the predecessor to modern tennis. The Newport Casino contains the only one in the US.
I then walked 30 minutes to reach the New York Yacht Club, the venue for the wedding party. It might surprise you that Newport has a lower GDP per capita than the Rhode Island average. How can that be, given all the mansions? Well, it turns out that all the money is from out of towners. The New York Yacht Club, the nicest yacht club in town, is a prime example. It was founded for New Yorkers who have a second home here in Newport.
The party was very fun and after we were shuttled into the colonial-era waterfront for an afterparty until late. The town center was packed!
May 1, 2022: The Big Sights
In the morning a farewell brunch was held. I then left to go sightseeing.
My first stop was the Touro Synagogue. Touro is the oldest synagogue in the United States. It was founded in the 1600´s by Sephardic merchants, slave traders and whalers who were pushed out from Recife, Brazil when it changed hands from Dutch back to Portuguese.
They came to Rhode Island because the colony was founded on the practice of freedom of religion, unlike nearby Massachusetts. It took the congregation about 100 years to grow large enough and raise enough money to actually built the synagogue, which dates to 1763.
In 1790, a newly elected President George Washington visited the synagogue and read a letter expressing his support of the congregation and of the exercise of freedom of religion in the United States. That letter is read annually by the congregation.
For a 70-year stint in the 1800´s the synagogue was abandoned as the Jewish community had moved on to other cities. During this period, the deed was transferred to a congregation in New York City. While the original congregation eventually returned, the deed stayed with the NYC group. Their ownership was confirmed in a famous 2019 Supreme Court decision.
Ownership issues aside, the synagogue is beautiful and is a treasure of not only the town of Newport but of the entire American Jewish community.
Saving the best for last, I finally walked over to tour a Newport mansion. The only one open on this day was the biggest one of them all: The Breakers.
The Breakers was built from 1893-1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt as his summer “cottage”. Measuring 62,000 sf or 5,800 square meters, it is more of an Italian renaissance revivalist palace than house. Vanderbilt put his all into building The Breakers and it shows, the rooms are as ornate as anything in Europe. The walls are reportedly made with platinum.
The public self-guided tour visits the first two floors. As is typical of residential buildings from this time period, the grandest rooms are on the first floor including the spectacular baroque dining room.
The second floor contains the main bedrooms, which are also stunning.
The upper floors are not open to the public. Until 2018, Vanderbilt heirs actually continued to live in an apartment on the third floor.
With that, I said farewell to Bois Doré and headed to the train station to get back to New York.
Newport is a solid well-rounded destination. The mansions are the highlight and live up to the hype. The Breakers is the single most impressive home I have seen in the United States. But there is a lot more too! The Synagogue and Tennis Hall of Fame are both big attractions. So is the historic waterfront downtown which has the oldest restaurant in the US. The nightlife in Newport was surprisingly good too.
In short, there is a reason Newport is Rhode Island´s top destination and I would recommend it to anybody traveling in New England.
It would also be remiss not to mention how much fun I had at the wedding. Adam has become one of my good friends in New York and to see him get married was a dream. Playing Mario Kart in the fancy ballroom late at night is a memory that will stick with me for years.