Visit The Newport Medieval Ship In Wales

When the city of Newport, Wales, was building its Riverfront Arts Centre back in 2002, there was an amazing discovery. A large medieval trading vessel was discovered in very good condition.

The ship measured about 85 feet in length and was 26 feet wide at its widest point. The timbers of the clinker-built ship survived the centuries thanks to the oxygen-poor conditions in the River Usk where it was found. This kept microbes from feeding on the ship.

Hundreds of artifacts were recovered during the excavation, including an hourglass, a shoe, a cannonball and Portuguese coins. The most important artifact was a small silver coin found wedged into a hole at the join between the stem post and the keel. This type of coin was minted in France from 1445-1456 and so the ship must date to then or later. Coins were often placed into the fabric of a ship when it was being built as a token of good luck.

While a planned museum for the ship hasn’t been built yet and restoration of the timbers isn’t finished, it’s still possible to visit the Newport Medieval Ship. There are various open days, including one on June 1 and another on June 9. The one on June 1 marks a decade since the ship was discovered. Visitors will get to see the restoration in progress and hear more about the ship and its times from local experts.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Visiting Synagogues Around The World

Places of worship have long been points of interest for travelers. Solemn and usually quite ornate, these buildings provide a window onto a community’s history and values and often give visitors a much-needed pause while pounding the sightseeing pavement. Cathedrals are typical for this kind of touring. But have you ever thought to pay a visit to a synagogue?

My fascination with exploring synagogues began on a trip to Willemstad, Curaçao, home of Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas built in 1651. Several years later, I had the opportunity to visit the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, Kerala, India. Constructed in 1568, it is the oldest “active” synagogue in India – “active” because there are fewer than 20 Jews left in Cochin, most having emigrated to Israel. Coincidentally, I learned about the Jews of Cochin from an exhibit at the 6th and I Synagogue, a historic synagogue in Washington, DC, that is now used primarily as a community center and arts space.

The Jewish diaspora is thriving in many parts of the world. Yet in places like Cochin and Mumbai, the local Jewish community is dwindling, giving impetus to visiting some synagogues before they are shuttered or left to become museums. The following are some of the synagogues I have seen or wish to explore on my travels.


Summer Travel: Seven great luxury beach getaways

The weather is warming and we’re itching to hit the sand (after a few more weeks in the gym, naturally). Summer travel stories are often full of suggestions for budget and family-friendly getaways … but what if you just want to splurge? Economy be damned. Play up the “luxe” factor at these great summer beach destinations for those seeking to see and be seen, enjoy world-class restaurants and nightlife and enjoy five-star service along the way.

The Hamptons
Long Island’s stretch of beach towns is sleepy from Labor Day to Memorial Day, but once the warm weather hits, the crowds descend. The truly wealthy helicopter in, while the rest of us will fly to Islip airport and drive or take the Long Island Railroad and Hamptons Jitney in from New York City. By day, relax on the white sand beaches, stroll the tony shops in East Hampton or South Hampton. By night, relax at a private estate rental or the posh lodging at The 1770 House or the Mill House Inn.

Martha’s Vineyard
Hie thee to the Vineyard and you just might have a famous neighbor – or four. Members of the Kennedy clan, Oprah, and even President Obama have spent vacations on this famous New England paradise. Much less flashy than The Hamptons, beach-seekers arrive via ferries from locations like New Bedford and Hyannis. A ferry boat from Manhattan operates seasonally, and select regional carriers offer flights from cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Providence and Washington. Rest your head at the island’s Relais & Chateaux property, The Charlotte Inn.

Relax in the sunshine amidst the shadows of America’s Castles – the summer homes of the country’s robber barons and wealthy elite, most of which are now museums open to the public for tours. Not sure you “know” Newport? Picture The Great Gatsby. In summer months, the harbor fills with yacht and sailboats and the well-heeled stroll the town. Fly to Providence (40) or Boston (70 miles) and enjoy the drive. Stay at Relais & Chateaux property Castle Hill inn & Resort, offering beautiful ocean views. Newly re-branded Grace hotel, Vanderbilt Grace, offers another option.

Just a short direct flight from many East Coast cities, Bermuda draws rave reviews from travelers seeking Caribbean-like beaches and a relaxed atmosphere without the long travel time. Lounge on pink sand beaches, sip a Dark n’ Stormy and frolic in the turquoise waters. By night, party in Hamilton, the island’s main city and popular cruise port. Rest your head at new Rosewood resort Tucker’s Point, Mandarin-managed Elbow Beach or intimate boutique property The Reefs. Bermuda’s closest land mass is North Carolina, meaning it enjoys a similarly temperate climate.

The French Riviera
Really need to get away? Try the French Riviera. Crowds descend as early as May for the Cannes Film Festival and then spend the summer flocking to the ritzy beach town of St. Tropez, where as many as 80,000 tourists visit each day. Marvel at the massive yachts docked in the harbor, sample a traditional Tarte Tropezienne, or browse the luxury goods at Louis Vuitton or Hermes. Then get out – even the three-star hotels are overrun this time of year.

Mackinac Island
Midwesterners spend summers on this grande dame of luxury island getaways. The car-free island transports visitors back to a more genteel time, where the island’s Grand Hotel is king and the pace is slower and more refined.

Los Cabos
Texans and Californians know that their home states are hot all summer long, so they often flee the confines of the United States for our friendly neighbor to the south, Mexico. Untouched by swine flu or drug wars, Los Cabos remains a paradise of the rich and famous, who come for the beaches, party life, and ultra-luxury hotels. Our favorites? Stay at Capella Pedregal, an intimate property with the country’s only private tunnel, the always-on-top Las Ventanas, a Rosewood property, celeb favorite One & Only Palmilla, or the ritzy Esperanza.

[Flickr via slgckgc]

Grace Hotels opens first U.S. property, Vanderbilt Grace, in Newport, Rhode Island

This week, Grace Hotels announced the official acquisition of their first U.S. property, The Vanderbilt Grace.

The Vanderbilt Grace, formerly known as Vanderbilt Hall, was commissioned in 1909 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and opened as hotel in 2008 after several years of restoration. The original owner died aboard the ill-fated RMS Lusitania in 1915. Before before its acquisition by Grace Hotels Vanderbilt Hall formed part of a collection of hotels and private clubs owned by British entrepreneur and philanthropist, Peter de Savary.

In recent years, the property has undergone an extensive renovation to restore the hotel to its original Beaux Arts glory. Today, the property features 33 rooms and suites, two restaurants, a cocktail bar and spa and fitness center with indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The building dates from 1909 and has a rich history: it was one of many mansions in the area owned by the Vanderbilt family.

This summer, the hotel is opening Muse by Jonathan Cartwright, a fine dining experience created by celebrated New England chef, Jonathan Cartwright. Chef Cartwright is best known as Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux at Vanderbilt Grace’s sister hotel, The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, Maine.
Guests can expect local favorites, such as New England Clam Chowder alongside classic Cartwright creations including Pan Roast New England Pheasant Breast with Mushroom and Cranberry Puree, Braised Red Cabbage and Madeira Sauce.

The boutique hotel brand, started in 2007, has properties throughout Europe but is just now branching into the states.

Hotel Review: Hyatt Regency Newport, Rhode Island

There’s a lot to love about Newport, Rhode Island. The beaches, the boats, the sunsets, the nightlife, the festivals and the quaint downtown district make Newport a New England favorite. Rhode Island’s favorite beach town is hopping in the summer months, so if you plan to take part in the adventures you’ll need to book ahead. Located just a foot-and-car bridge away from the center of town is Goat Island, home of the Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel. I hopped over the bridge for a weekend getaway to check out the Hyatt and was pleasantly surprised by the hotel’s ability to shed its chain-status and blend in with the boutique brands in Newport.

The Rooms

Thanks to the recent renovation that replaced a parking lot with green space and opened up the views to Newport Harbor, nearly all the rooms at the Hyatt are ‘waterfront’ rooms, which means no matter what your location you’re bound to have a great view. Each room is designed with a nautical theme, apparent by the white sheets, blue blankets and tan throw pillows. Each room comes with T-Mobile wireless Internet hook-up ($9.95/day), a separate work area, Portico bath products, HBO, HBO family, on-demand programming and delivery of a daily newspaper. My room 3314 was in the Captain’s Quarters of the hotel – a section of the hotel set aside from the main lobby area, and perfect for travelers like me who appreciate the sound of silence. The added bonus to these rooms are the private balconies, which provide perfect views of The Pell Bridge.

One of the best parts of the hotel caters to families: on the same floor as the indoor pool (the perfect place for kids on a rainy day) and the fitness center are rooms big enough to be called suites, but priced as regular hotel rooms due to foot traffic they acquire. I wouldn’t recommend these rooms for a couple wanting some alone-time or a solo traveler needing some privacy, but for a family of four needing a great value and options to cure mid-afternoon boredom, these rooms are a great fit.

The Bathrooms

The bathrooms are a decent size and rooms are a tub/shower combo. Each bathroom features Portico bath products and free toothpaste (a fun bonus from the hotel). As part of the hotel’s eco-friendly initiatives, room service will only supply fresh towels if you ask.

%Gallery-92815%Restaurants & Room Service

The hotel has four different dining options for guests: The Windward Restaurant, Pineapples on the Bay, Five33 Lounge and The Galley – a Coffee Bar. Windward Restaurant is the hotel’s main dining option, offering seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant hosts a buffet breakfast, complete with omelet station, as well as lunch and dinner options that range from specialty pastas to seafood favorites. Tip: try the clam chowder. It’s packed with clams, onions and potatoes and served with grilled bread that’s great for dipping. A New England favorite!

Pineapples on the Bay is the hotel’s poolside dining and bar option. It wasn’t open on my visit, but I did get a look at the gigantic s’mores pit that is opening at Pineapples Memorial Day weekend, just in time for the summer season. The hotel’s bar, Five33, was recently redone and adds a classic twist on typical bar flare. The dark wood bar and tables are offset by muted red and gold chairs, and a steel-encased fireplace separates the bar from the rest of the hotel. You can order appetizers, dinners and desserts here, and if you’re lucky, you might even be treated to a little live music, thanks to the grand piano that graces the bar area.

The Galley – a Coffee Shop – serves Starbucks coffee and hotel-made pastries for guests on the go. The venti coffee and fresh-baked croissant was a perfect wake-up call before my morning walk to the hotel’s on-site lighthouse (keep reading).

Room service is available and the hotel makes every effort to deliver within 30 minutes of your call (that’s what they tell you when you order).

The Spa

Stillwater Spa is one of Rhode Island’s award-winning spas and offers a suite of options for guests. There were a few weddings happening the weekend I was there, which meant plenty of up-dos and last-minute makeup touches, but the spa was big enough that it didn’t seem chaotic. On a summer day, the spa’s private deck would be open for guests to lounge and order lunch and cocktails for groups. During the off-season, the spa’s relaxation room plays host to parties and individuals just before their treatments.

The spa prices are comparable to any high-end spa. Manicures and pedicures range from $40-$65; massages range from $75-$300; hair and makeup is based on private consultation but start at $18 for a basic haircut.

The Pool/Outdoors Area

In the summertime, this place is hopping. While the hotel’s indoor pool is a great option for rainy days, the outdoor saltwater pool is a great way to spend a summer day. Located directly outside from the spa and adjacent to Pineapples, the outdoor pool also features great water views. In a few weeks, the outdoor s’mores pit will be complete, which means a lot of late-night sugar snacks.

The Hyatt books a lot of weddings, which means a lot of party space is made available for guests. During my stay at the Hyatt, there were two weddings and one Army Ball. One of the more unique aspects of the hotel was the clambake section, available for private parties adjacent to the hotel’s outdoor wooden-tent space. Note to travelers: If you’re booking this area be advised that the backdrop is the water, and on the water are boats (oftentimes cruise ships). While the staff at the Hyatt do everything they can to make your wedding wonderful, they cannot move the cruise boats from the water in an effort to keep the boats out of your pictures (as requested by one blushing bride).

Additional Amenities

While the Hyatt hasn’t bought into the free WiFi pledge we’re pushing, there is a business center with free Internet for those guests not wanting to pay the $9.95/day charge.

If you’re driving, you can valet the car for $15.00/day or self park for $10/day. Both options come with 24-hour in-and-out privileges.

No worries if you don’t want to drive – the hotel has a free shuttle van that drops guests off in town, and picks back up, every 30 minutes. It’s a great way to familiarize with yourself with the boutiques, restaurants and bars in downtown Newport without the hassle of finding parking.

The Bottom Line

Newport, Rhode Island is full of things to do and see any time of year. If you want something in the middle of town that’s within walking distance to the boutiques and restaurants, try a B&B (and prepare to pay for it during the high season). If you want something a little more private, a stay at the Hyatt is a good choice. It’s a big enough hotel that caters to just about every traveler’s taste, but tucked away so you’ll avoid the raucous Newport evening crowd.