Rhode Island Part II: Exeter

When we moved from Worden Pond to Wawaloam, it was the shortest distance we have yet to travel between campgrounds. We were parked at our new spot less than an hour after checking out of the first place. It only took a bit to determine the logistics of our new location; we had a sewer connection (yeah), but only 30 amps of power. I would have to run the generator to do laundry, and hopefully the management wouldn’t say anything about that. There was no free wifi, but our ATT hotspot worked -which means we did have a good internet connection. The trees blocked our DirecTV signal, but we got a couple of over-air channels. All in all, we were great.

The park was quiet and peaceful. We had no neighbors around us anywhere, and it pretty much remained that way during our entire stay. The boundaries of the campground encompassed 100 acres, so we had plenty of space to take the dogs on long walks each day. They had a swimming pool and water slide, but they were closed for the season. As we explored the property we also found a putt-putt course, a basketball court, a children’s playground, and a small cemetery. Yes, a cemetery IN the campground. There was a small square plot of land directly in the middle of several campsites that was an historic cemetery. There were about 20 gravestones in a couple of lines which were set off by a tiny rock wall enclosure. The headstones were so worn with age and weather, it was almost impossible to read the engravings. I immediately wondered if the campers who stayed in the spots adjacent to that piece of land ever had any encounters with ancient spirits. I also wandered if those souls might cross the street and visit us anytime during our stay. Hopefully they were all friendly and fun-loving spirits.

The first couple of days were low-key at Wawaloam. We enjoyed the nice weather outdoors in the hammock or by the campfire. We took turns using the car to run errands. Mike went out to buy 15 gallons of hydraulic fluid for the Monaco’s engine. I went into downtown Warwick for some window shopping and to bring home fresh shrimp and stuffies from the fish market in the town harbor. We both went in search of haircuts. By the third day, the weather was still glorious and it was time to see more of our surroundings. This time we got in the car together with the dogs and drove over Narragansett Bay to Newport.

We crossed the iconic Newport suspension bridge and took the first exit to the right. We were immediately in the middle of an ancient seaport village with narrow streets and an elaborate architectural tapestry. I was excited about spending our day in America’s First Resort after seeing only 2 blocks from the passenger- side window. Mike drove us through the center of town with me ‘oohing and aahhing’ as we passed every building and intersection. The Newport Historical Society says “[The city’s] history is remarkable in many ways, but perhaps the most unique aspect is that so much of its history is still visible on the landscape in an unparalleled concentration of preserved architecture”. Our first stop was on the waterfront overlooking Newport Harbor from Morton Park. We weren’t exactly sure what our agenda held, so we figured we would let the dogs stretch their legs on some nice grass with a view as a safe beginning. After everyone was content, we got back in the car to find the famous Ocean Drive.

This scenic drive, also known as “10-Mile Drive”, encompasses most of the southern coastline of Aquidneck Island (where Newport is located). As we drove along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, we rounded corners to find enormous mansions perched on cliffs overlooking waves crashing into the rocky shoreline below. I’m sure Robin Leach filmed a few episodes from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous near here. More ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ from the passenger seat. We could tell 10-miles had passed when we ended up back in what seemed like the middle of town. But this wasn’t just any town. The neighborhood we were in was Bellevue and it was a National Historic District flanked with mansions built by affluent summer vacationers around the turn of the 20th century. These were once the summer homes for families like the Vanderbilts and Astors. In my opinion, the most special part about this historic district is that so many of the homes are now open to the public for tours. It was obvious that Newport’s economy enjoys good profits from the tourism industry. The streets were thick with tour buses and open-air trolleys. The sidewalks were crowded with tourists; immediately identifiable by the cameras around their necks, hats on their heads, and tennis shoes on their feet. I overheard more foreign languages being spoken than I did regular English. I began to hope that the foreigners understood that the America of the Gilded Age was a far cry from the current America of 2013, in a plethora of ways.

It was time to park the car again, the dogs were bored with sight-seeing from the window and wanted to experience the place first-hand (or first-paw, I should say). We found a parking meter near Easton’s Beach, and made our way to the Cliff Walk. I knew Mike and I would be looking for an outdoor patio in the near future, so we needed to walk the dogs and wear them out. Life was much easier for us at a restaurant or bar if Piper and Cessna were tired upon arrival. This means they would chill out under our table and everyone around us would be tricked into thinking they were actually well-mannered canines.

The Cliff Walk is a 3.5 –mile path along Newport’s Eastern Shoreline. The views from this designated National Recreation Trail were fabulous in any direction. One side featured a view of the Atlantic Ocean down below a steep and jagged New England shoreline. When we turned our heads we got the chance to marvel at the lawns and gardens of Newport’s monstrous ocean-front mansions. We made a brisk walk down to The Breakers, the famous 13-acre estate built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II between 1893 and 1895.  This summer home is a 70-room mansion sprawled over 65,000 square feet. The original construction cost totaled $12million; in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation, the number would come in at approximately $337 million! Wow.

The path of the Cliff Walk was interrupted at this point due to damage from Super Storm Sandy. We were getting thirstier with every step we took, so we reversed course and returned to the Honda. If we wasted too much more time sight-seeing, we would be late for happy hour.

We were lucky to find another metered space back in town next to the Post Office. After we parked, we set out on foot again to explore the harbor area. We love to sit and watch all the activity of boats coming and going, so we were hoping to find a place with a view where we could relax for a bit. This is how we found ourselves in Bannister’s Wharf. When we saw the sign that said DOG BAR, we figured we had stumbled onto our happy hour spot. We found a table on the sidewalk where we could watch boats and people while the dogs bellied up to the water bowl. It turns out we were patronizing the Clarke Cook House Restaurant. We were sitting in the Candy Store section – I guess as a reference to a previous use of this historic commercial property.  I could have lingered there for hours. The main dining room had an entire wall missing. On the far side of the bar was a window of wide-open air from floor to sky.  A very romantic view showcased a real-life vision of the harbor in the forefront and Narragansett Bay in the distance.

We enjoyed a couple of drinks at the Candy Store, and then continued our tour of Newport along the famous Thames Street. This is the main strip through downtown. The sidewalks are lined with shops, boutiques, restaurants, small inns, and any other sort of business you can imagine. It was immediately obvious that all the action takes place along this commercial corridor. Our final destination along Thames was another dog-friendly bar called Obrien’s. We stopped in there for another drink before deciding to call it a day and drive back to camp. Our day in Newport had been a great success. Even though we had only allowed ourselves time to see a glimpse of the numerous local attractions, I had seen enough to want to come back for a longer stay in the future.

We had driven along- side Narragansett Bay when we stayed in our first Rhode Island Campground. From this location we had driven over the Bay on our way to Newport. Now I was ready to get out in the bay, and see this region from a different perspective. There was a brochure at the main gate that I had picked up when we checked in. It advertised a 90-minute tour of 10 local lighthouses, 10 islands in the bay and Newport Harbor aboard a high speed catamaran. We booked our reservations online and spent a Sunday afternoon cruising the waters of the bay. It was cloudy and windy, but there was an indoor cabin so the weather was no factor. We could get out onto the deck to snap pictures when we wanted to, and then relax inside at our small table with our Bloody Marys in between photo opportunities. A local historian narrated the cruise, sharing stories and folklore about some of the highlights we saw along the way.  We passed all sizes of sailboats as we made our way toward the beginning of the bay where it emptied into Rhode Island Sound. As we skirted the Atlantic Ocean we could see a sailing regatta at full speed off in the distance to our south. The J24 North American Championship was being held that weekend in Newport. We came around Jamestown Harbor and wandered into and through Newport Harbor. We even saw the ship they used to film the movie Pirates of the Caribbean! By the time we returned to our terminal at Quonset Point, we had seen over 60-miles of coastline. Our sightseeing cruise had been a great experience.

The fall season officially started during the time we were parked at Wawaloam, and the weather could not have cooperated more appropriately. The temperatures were crisp and cool with lows in the 40’s and highs in the 70’s; the wind was breezy and brisk. The leaves of the trees around us were changing to hues of copper, gold, and bronze right in front of our eyes. The perfectly clear blue skies made a perfect backdrop for the bright colors of the foliage as we looked up through the trees to their tops. This was the type of weather where outdoor activities become mandatory. Mike decided to take advantage of the flawless climate and play some golf. Exeter Country Club was just down the road from our camp, and they had a sign that said “public welcome”. He called and booked a twilight tee time for 2pm. We went to the store earlier in the day to stock up on groceries and get ingredients for chili. (A pot of chili is another mandatory requirement when welcoming autumn).  I dropped him at the golf course after the store, and then went home to brown the meat, put the chili in the crockpot, and walk the dogs. Once dinner was simmering and the dogs were satisfied, I drove back to the golf course and rode along in the cart for the last nine holes.

On our last full day we drove back over Narragansett Bay to Middleton for lunch. We like to log onto the website for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and see if any of the featured restaurants are located near our various locations. In this instance, we were about a 30- minute drive from Anthony’s Seafood. Their specialty was Kung Pao Calamari, and we were eager to see what the fuss was about. The place actually turned out to be half restaurant and half fish market. I was so bummed I had not brought a small cooler with us in the car. If I had been properly equipped I would have ordered lunch, and then cleared their coolers of packaged lobster bisque, Baked Seafood Nantucket, Rhode Island “stuffies”, and many more delectable treats. As it was, we ordered the famous calamari, some Portuguese fish stew and an order of fish tacos. Everything was fresh and hot. The order of calamari was crispy and spicy.  The stew was packed with flavor, and Mike’s tacos even came with yummy battered French fries. We ate all we could and packed up the remains in a to-go box.  After we stuffed ourselves, we stopped for a few errands as we drove back to the Monaco. When we were back at camp, we did a little bit of preparation for our upcoming travel day, and then we burned the last of our firewood in a big campfire.

As we prepared to leave The Ocean State we recalled many fond memories of our brief stay in Rhode Island’s South County. The landscape was so charming and varied. Vistas of rolling hillsides and local farmlands, to majestic shorelines and quaint marinas abounded in every direction. The little state that ranks 50th in all the states for land area  made a much larger impression with its multiple beaches, natural beauty, historic architecture, and scrumptious local food from the ocean and garden alike.  We didn’t make it to Providence, and we hadn’t seen the northern sections of the state’s boundaries, but we were enamored regardless of what we had missed.

 

Our spot at Wawaloam. #42

Our spot at Wawaloam. #42

A side view of the famous Breakers Mansion.

A side view of the famous Breakers Mansion.

These tiny cemeteries are all over Rhode Island (and all of New England). This one was between the 9th and 10th holes on the Exeter Country Club Golf Course. There was another one like this across from our campsite at Wawaloam.

These tiny cemeteries are all over Rhode Island (and all of New England). This one was between the 9th and 10th holes on the Exeter Country Club Golf Course. There was another one like this across from our campsite at Wawaloam.

We were looking for a spot to sit with the dogs when we spotted this fun set-up.

We were looking for a spot to sit with the dogs when we spotted this fun set-up.

Such a cool restaurant at one of Newport's many harbors. There was no wall facing the water, so it was truly an indoor/outdoor space.

Such a cool restaurant at one of Newport’s many harbors. There was no wall facing the water, so it was truly an indoor/outdoor space.

Narragansett Bay

Narragansett Bay

We parked next to this wonderful beach in Newport in order to take the dogs on a stroll along the famous Cliff Walk.

We parked next to this wonderful beach in Newport in order to take the dogs on a stroll along the famous Cliff Walk.

One of the vistas from Ocean Drive in Newport.

One of the vistas from Ocean Drive in Newport.

A view of Newport Harbor

A view of Newport Harbor

 

 

 

 

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