|Home||Pauline||Howto Articles||Uniquely NZ||Small Firms||Search|
|Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2005
Canadian Crossing and Mediterranean Adventure
United States of America Ports
At this point there will be a change in style for a day or two as Peter takes over the log - short staccato sentences designed for briefing Ministers will be replaced by the long convoluted sentences of a scientist! We normally split the writing up of Holidays with Peter responsible for the New Zealand (and Australian) parts of the web site and Pauline covering the Cruising, Boating and other holidays. Anyway back to our next port of Boston:-
Most people know of Boston because of the Boston Tea Party but little more about the separation of America from Britain. Most of our day in Boston was spent on the "Freedom Trail" - a walk which covers most of the historic areas concerned with the times leading up to independence so a little background is in order. Boston is in fact known as the Cradle of Liberty and the Birthplace of American Independence. The freedom trail takes one past and into the gathering places of the patriots, the incubators of revolution, the buildings where resistance to the crown was born, grew and flourished until eventually the only way forwards was war and independence. (Pauline - "See what we mean"; Pete - "but I lifted that from a brochure")
The issues were much greater than taxes on tea and one has to look back to the first settlers who came to America and were largely, or completely, self governing for many years. By 1775 the residents of Massachusetts had been governing themselves for nearly a century and a half and the citizens of Boston had substantially more liberties than their counterparts in London. Strictly there was a governor, an upper house of residents he nominated and a lower house of representatives, but this had not been a huge issue until Britain started to impose taxes and restrict privileges. The real issue however was that taxation and other changes were being imposed without any matching representation from the colonies. These issues of taxation without representation are similar to those that we learned about during our visit to Australia last year.
We understood little of this until we came to Boston and started on the 'Freedom Trail'. We were docked a little out from the centre of Boston but, as usual, there were free shuttle buses which took us into the central area to Quincy market a thriving big brother of Covent Garden in the UK. We intercepted the 'Freedom Trail' at Faneuil House where we discovered that it is marked out extremely well with a red line marked on the sidewalk, in most places it consists of red bricks set into the pavement and there are prominent signs and information boards throughout its length. It runs from Boston Common weaving through the crooked and narrow streets in the centre of town and finally crossing the river to end at Bunker Hill in Charleston a total of about three miles. In practice there are many side trips and places to visit on route and we spent 5 hours and our coverage was pretty superficial in many areas and one could easily spend a full day or more.
We had intercepted the Trail about a third of the way along so we started by travelling towards Boston Common which is regarded as the centre of Boston and analogous to Hyde Park in London. At this point our information was superficial and the Freedom Trail had just seemed a good way to start but our first stop at the Old State House, now a Museum operated by the Bostonian Society hooked us and we bought a guidebook to the Trail ($6.95) and a multiple entry ticket to the main buildings ($12/$11 as they were very flexible about who qualifies as seniors in North America!) both proving excellent investments for the day. The museum combined with an initial perusal of the guide gave us the background to understand what we were seeing and learning the remainder of the day. The multiple entry ticket covered the Old State House, the Old South Meeting Hall, our next main stop, and Paul Revere's House which we visited towards the end.
We do not intend to make this even more of a history lesson than we have already done so we will let pictures speak for themselves for most of the time and just add a few snippets of information until we get to "Old Ironsides" - the USS Constitution which deserves detailed coverage. We followed the trail from The Old State House to the Old South Meeting Hall, up past Kings Chapel and the Burial grounds of many of the people involved up to the Massachusetts State House (unfortunately closed on a weekend) to Boston Common.
We walked round Boston Common, similar in scale to Hyde park and admired the Swan Boats on the Lake before looping back to a "T" station. Boston has an excellent subway system, the MBTA or just "T" with a flat $1.25 fare and we had decided to try it before we started on the Freedom Trail. We took it to the closest station to the far end of the Trail and the USS Constitution as we wanted to allow time to visit the ship.
We were still left with a walk past the Paul Revere Park and across a bridge over the river. This gave us good views of the new Bridge, part of the major changes to the road system in Boston - the I93 motorway is now carried in a huge tunnel under the city rather than an elevated highway. The cost is circa $10 billion but it has, we understand, transformed the city.
The USS Constitution is a must to visit if you have the slightest interest in ships or military history - she is over two hundred years old and is still on the military list now and many still see her as representing the heart and spirit of the US Navy. She floats on the same hull and timbers that supported her against the Barbary Corsairs and in battle against the British navy. She was never defeated in 33 actions and was never holed. The nickname "Old Ironsides" comes from an initial battle against a British frigate where it was observed that even at a point blank range the British cannon balls were only denting the hull and falling into the water and a British Seaman was heard to cry "She must have sides of Iron".
In the early days only a very few ships could be afforded and it was determined they must be the best. She was designed to be a frigate which could outfight any ship of her own size and class and outrun any ship of the line which could threaten her. The hull design was novel calling on the lines of French Frigates, the Strength of British Frigates and novel and unique strengthening by diagonal bracing and thick planks running the length of the ship forming an upper keel with everything 'hooked and joggled' into each other like a jigsaw. This combined with extra thick vertical planking of an American oak called ironwood sheathed either side by lighter oak gave incredible strength and resistance to penetration by shot. The masts and spars were also thicker than average and on many occasions withstood cannon balls going right through them without failing. She took on and defeated the best the British could send, and at a time when there was little good news her exploits provided the faith for the war to continue.
We were fortunate and arrived at a time when we could get on board and at least see above decks - to go below involves guided tours and at most times prohibitively long waits. She has been threatened many times and survived many cuts to be restored many times - she was finally restored to sailing condition in 1997 after 200 years. Much of the hull is original and she has been returned to her original condition as far as possible. Masts, spars and rigging are obviously new but they were always replaceable items and often were even during battle.
There is also an associated Museum where we spent as much time as we could - both the ship and museum are free. Outside is the original dry dock, Dock One, where the Constitution was serviced.
There is also a counterpart from the Second World War, the destroyer the USS Cassin Young that saw service in the Pacific and was twice hit by Kamikazes. We were short of time and chose the Museum before walking past Bunker Hill and back across the river to continue the "Freedom Trail".
The Freedom Trail then took us past more burial grounds to the Old North Church which we looked round and up to the Paul Revere House, the last of the sites on our multiple entry ticket. The Paul Revere House was small and busy but increased our knowledge of his role which was far beyond his famous ride to warn the troupes at Concorde and Lexington of the British Plans.
Once we had completed the main walk we took a mile walk down to the waterfront museum of the Boston Tea Party. We knew there had been a fire in 2001 and we were disappointed to find the replica ship was still missing and the wharf area deserted. The actual site of the Boston Tea Party was now well inland due to reclamation, and that area was a construction site.
We returned a different route to the Quincy market past the Customs house - an interesting building which originally had a glass dome on the top which was replaced by a high tower.
We looked round the Quincy Market briefly before deciding that 5 hours walking without even a stop for an ice-cream was enough, and took the shuttle bus back just in time to catch the last 5 minutes of a very different 'Tea Ceremony' in the Queens Room.
Once more we were at anchor so we had decided to take one of the excursions so we were not held up for hours waiting for a tender - unfortunately it turned out to be very bad value as it was not what we had expected. It promised a cliff path walk along a rocky coastline which the tour office warned was only for the fittest then followed by a visit to one of the Vanderbilt Mansions from the Gilded Age of American history. The walk turned out to be at most half a mile on a flat path. At one point we could walk down the 40 Steps but most of the party, including the guide, did not manage it. So rather than a healthy walk on a rugged coastline we spent nearly an hour covering half a mile.
The mansion house, known as The Breakers, was more interesting and was one of the most grand and luxurious of the summer cottages built in the 1890s in what was known as the Gilded Age. Newport had by that time grown from a maritime port to be the Queen of American Resorts because of its charm, favourable climate and proximity to New York. The rich and influential vied for social position and many like the Vanderbilts, Astors and Oelrichs built summer cottages here. A member of the New York's "Four Hundred" (the city's most exclusive social circle) wrote of the Newport of that time "so much prestige was attached to spending July and August at the most exclusive resort that to have neglected to do so would have exposed a definite gap in one's social armour. .. Newport was the Holy of Holies, the Playground of the great ones of earth from which all intruders were ruthlessly excluded." Their summer cottages cost many millions of dollars and the best were sited along the cliffs in extensive grounds.
The Breakers is arguably the pinnacle of the design trends and architecture of the gilded age. It is largest and said to be the perfectly realised product of the era - a renaissance revival structure built without limitations of scale or expense by Architect Richard Morris Hunt for Cornellius Vanderbilt II. It was inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Cornellius Vanderbilt II was in fact already in an unassailable social position as patriarch of the countries wealthiest family and was less interested in social competition than his neighbours, but even so he had a position of supremacy to uphold so no expense was spared. His summer cottage ran to 70 rooms and took 3000 people nearly three years to complete. Many of the interiors were prefabricated by craftsman in Europe and shipped to be installed in the building which had a steel reinforced masonry structure along with many other precautions against fire. The end result is much more tasteful than one might expect and the reception rooms rival the German palaces of Mad King Ludwig although the bedrooms were somewhat austere in contrast. It is well worth a visit as we suspect are the other buildings of that era looked after by the Preservation Society of Newport County which include the Breakers, Marble House, The Elms and Rosecliff. They are much closer to town than we realised and on the trolley route to Bellevue Avenue - a day pass to all of them costs much less than our 3 hour 'tour' to one of them.
Newport, once home to the Americas Cup, now seems lacking in purpose and was perhaps less interesting than we had expected and the natives were certainly less friendly and helpful than we had come to expect on the trip so far with the exception of the church where we were welcomed and shown round. We eventually found an Internet Cafe to check on Pauline's OU work and our email and walked the old streets taking a few pictures before joining the queue for a tender to return to the ship.
We are not really city people but the approach to New York as the sun rises is something one should not miss so we set an alarm for 0530. In fact Pete went up to get a coffee in the Pavilion a bit before that and Pauline joined him for his second mug a little later. Normally the coffee in the pavilion is from a self service machine but they had proper coffee laid on. The run into New York takes one under the double-decker Verranano-Narrows bridge and then past the Statue of Liberty, Stratten Island, the site of Ground Zero and along Manhattan with the New York skyline in the background. It was too polluted and hazy to get really good pictures and the day became a scorcher with temperatures into the 90s.
We did not really want to do the shops so when we saw we were mooring almost next to the Aircraft Carrier Intrepid which has been turned into the floating Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum the plan for the day became clear, especially as Concord G-BOAD had been added to the collection and was alongside on a floating pontoon. We thought it would make a fascinating contrast to see over an aircraft carrier which saw 30 years service in the Second World War, Vietnam and was a recovery vessel in the early days of the Space programme and it was all only five minutes walk away!
The Intrepid, or "Fighting I" as she was known, was commissioned towards the end of WWII and saw service in the Pacific where she survived hits by a torpedo and 4 Japanese Kamikaze aircraft. She had a series of major modernisations and was hardly recognisable by the end of her active life in 1974. The most obvious changes included an angled flight deck, an increase in beam from 93 to 101 feet and a new bow shape. These took her into the jet age and there are carriers of her type (Essex class) still on the Navy List. There was a lot of fascinating film on board to watch of operations at various points in her life and one could visit most of the command and control centres as well as the bridge area and obviously the hanger and flight decks. There was a considerable collection of aircraft in the hanger as well as on the flight deck, many of which were examples of the aircraft which served on her. Other aircraft included an early Blackbird, (the fastest aircraft ever at mach 3.6) as well as the Concord still on the pontoon alongside but accessible to walk through. We spent hours and still had not done justice to all the exhibits and film.
The departure was slightly delayed as, according to the captain's announcement, extra caviar had to be loaded. This meant our departure was close to sunset which added an extra glow to the scene - even the heat and haze had abated a little. To us, the most memorable part of New York is leaving - the passage down the Hudson late in the afternoon especially without a cloud in the sky to break the golden glow from a sun low above the horizon as one passes all the famous sites and on out past the Statue of Liberty. This time however it seemed a little empty without the World Trade Centre Twin Towers. We did not realize how much they had dominated the skyline. Even so the view back was stunning with New York glowing in the evening sun and fading in layers into the distance. (Even Pauline liked that prose - Pete)
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Layout revised: 18th July, 2015