Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Fabulous Palm Beach

N26°42.655’, W080°02.881’

What to do in the fabulous Palm Beach?  WHICH Palm Beach?  Evidently there are several but as usual, the nautical charts we use tell us little.  I eventually figured it out in the end.  

We anchored our boat just past the Royal Park Bridge in Lake Worth near the three long docks jutting out from the waterfront in Downtown West Palm Beach. 

Our First Stop  We ended up about one third closer in.
The anchorage is split into two parts.  If things look tight on the West side, there is another area on the East side for boats to anchor.  Since it was an uncrowded week day, we chose a spot between the first (south) and second (middle) dock.  Because of the strong current and possible opposing winds, boats can lie in different directions.  After a half hour or so, we felt that we were too close to the other boats, so we moved a bit closer to shore where the current was less.

Royal Park Bridge
I got on the iPad to plan our day and found that all fingers point to a visit to the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. With that as our main objective we set out on the bicycles to cross the bridge to The Island of Palm Beach.

The shoreline has a very nice park area with a meandering bike/walking path.  The city is as bike friendly as it is Cruiser Friendly!  Across the road there are tall downtown buildings which provide a towering backdrop for the anchorage.  There was even a building boasting the name "Trump Plaza".  Just for fun, I checked out some of the real estate prices there... Hmmm we're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!

Although the many bridges are a nuisance when we're trying to get somewhere in the ICW, I've grown to love them.  Some are very unique and it's always a treat when we find the need to cross one on foot or bike.  Today we got the added bonus of an OPENING!

We waited patiently and enjoyed the view while three boats passed beneath the bridge, and then, just as quietly as it raised... it was lowered and up came the barriers.  We were once again free to continue on our way.  

Did I mention that Palm Beach is Bike friendly?  Well the beautiful Lake Trail is evidence of this.  It provides a wide track for walking or riding along the shores of Lake Worth.  Just over the hedge are some of the most beautiful and expensive homes in the country.  

A friend told us that there is even one home that has their hedges on moveable tracks so that when they wish to use their back yard and enjoy the view, they just press a button and the hedges part, providing them an uncluttered view of Lake Worth.  Ahhh rich people...

And here I was feeling sad for them because they needed privacy hedges so that we could enjoy the Lake Trail...  

All too soon the trail ended at the Flagler Museum.  Whitehall Mansion is built on the shores of Lake Worth.  Our boat is anchored just across the ICW from where the mansion lies.  We could have easily taken the dinghy here and it would probably have been faster.

Upon arrival to the Whitehall Mansion, I paid our entry fee while Bruce secured the bikes.  The grounds were lush and green, with tall stately trees.

The day was warm and we were VERY hot and sweaty from our bike ride.  Good ol' Henry provided us with a pleasant little spot to catch our breath before proceeding inside.
Nice touch!

We climbed the steps and presented our tickets and were told that we were just in time for a (bonus) tour!  Normally we would have had to wait until 2pm but they had an extra guide today so SCORE!  

The Entry Hall
We stepped through the doorway into the grand main haul... and we stepped back into time.  The room was huge and decorated in minute detail.  We had toured the Mansions of Newport, RI and were well aware that the wealthy of the Gilded Age spared no expense in fulfilling their whim when building these homes.  The fact that ALL THIS was to be used only about six weeks per year is just astounding!

No Simple Clock for the Flaglers...
Bruce and I fell in with the pack and listened to the presentation.  Our visit here would not have been as good had we not had a guide.  She was vey informative and brought the Mansion to life with stories of the Gilded Age and what life was like back then. 

Something as simple as a clock becomes an objet d'art when money is no object.  These homes were built before the age of Income Tax.  All of the money earned could be spent in lavish excess...

Henry Flagler was the founder of Palm Beach.  He brought his wife Mary Lily here and had Whitehall built for her as a wedding present.  

He was also the founder of Standard Oil and the builder of the Florida East Coast Railway that made Southern Florida and the Keys accessible to the world.

The Library
Comparing this mansion, built in the same era as the Mansions of Newport, it pales somewhat... until you consider that those in Newport were built with plentiful access to supplies.  Everything used to build this home had to be brought in without the infrastructure they had in the North.

There was nothing here!  Only about 2,500 people lived in Southern Florida at the time.  Henry changed all of that by building his railroad and by encouraging his peers to come here.

The Music Room

The Ballroom

The Patio

The Breakfast Room

The Dining Room

The Morning Room

The home has over 75 rooms in all, including 12 lavishly decorated guest rooms upstairs.  It was a treat to have access to so much of the mansion.  Our tour of the Newport Mansions seemed brief in comparison.  This home is open and guests are free to roam about at will.  

Top of the stairs looking across the landing upstairs.
We chatted with the Docent after the tour for a bit and then mounted the wide marble staircase to explore the rooms on the second floor.  

Each guest room was done up in a dominant color.  They all had large closets for storing their many trunks and they all had private bathrooms.
The Rose Room

The Red Room

Hall Closet 
The Peach Room

The Pink Room

The Blue Room

Typical Guest Bath

Guest Toilet
The Master Suite was done in a color that would not be my choice... almost mustard yellow.  But it was certainly a place where a person could spend some time...  The Flagler's threw propriety to the winds by having a communal marriage bed.  They shared a bedroom in an age where most couples of their social level had separate bedrooms.  It does look like they had their own dressing rooms however... and maybe a "doghouse" for Henry to go when he was in trouble...
Master Fireplace... cozy!

The Marriage Bed

His and Hers Closet

The Master Bath

Mary Lily's Dressing Table

The Walk In Closet

I guess they had a LOT of clothing!

There was a central courtyard beautifully landscaped around a central statue.  I glanced at it and didn't notice until Bruce brought my attention back to the statue.  It's hilarious!  The modest woman stands in the center while four male heads stare openmouthed at her!  I would have loved to have met the person who commissioned this statue!

 One of the upstairs rooms is used to house an exhibit featuring hundreds of pieces of handmade lace. I was fascinated by the intricacy of the work and even though we're Cruisers and have more than average amounts of free time on our hands, it's difficult to imagine putting so many hours into a piece of fluff.

Lace in the making

Hand made lace stocking
The home was sold after Henry's death and was turned into a Hotel for a short time.  There were several floors built on at the rear of the home enclosing the back patio.  The Hotel was bankrupt and was then purchased by Henry's granddaughter, who returned it to beauty and opened it up as a museum to honor her Grandfather.

Bruce would have stayed all day examining each piece of art, but I was getting hungry, so I convinced him to move on.  I'm really seeing a side to Bruce that I never knew existed.

I thought there would be places to eat along the beach so we pedaled in that direction.  We rode past homes every bit as gorgeous and manicured as the Whitehall Mansion, only a bit smaller...  It seemed as if all of the cars on the roads were Mercedes...

We zigged and zagged our way to the waterfront where suddenly we happened upon the breathtaking view of the Atlantic once again.  The beach here is just the other side of a short wall, with very nice pathways and public facilities.

What it does NOT have... are the bars and restaurants lined up along the waterfront like the other beaches we've visited.  Not one.  Just beautiful homes and condos.  So, we turned towards the one lone eating establishment on this street and were disappointed to see that there was valet parking.  One look at our bedraggled selves and we would be directed to the kitchen... So sadly (and hungrily) we continued on.

We turned towards the last of the landmarks on my list to visit... Worth Avenue.  It is marked by this impressive piece and runs from the beach all the way to the lake side.

Luckily there were very few people roaming the streets today as we zoomed along the air conditioned sidewalks, yes air-conditioned sidewalks... of this famous shopping Mecca.

The few people we saw walking these hallowed sidewalks were dressed like they had lost their runway.  No way was I about to saunter nonchalantly in the door and begin fingering the fabrics displayed there... My unwashed grubbiness was too shameful... so we passed on.

We peered down the passageways into the inner sanctum of the rich and famous and I was glad that we were once again racing against time to get back to the boat before the skies broke loose upon us.

This was our greeting as we burst upon the Lake Trail from the labyrinth of Worth Avenue.  Just across that bridge lies our boat, vulnerable in her unfamiliar anchorage... scared kitties nervously awaiting our return.

I followed Bruce up the steep incline, riding instead of walking and hoping that there would NOT be another opening.  Will we make it?

Well of course I had to stop for a quick shot from the top...  It was just stunning!  The cool breeze hit us and took our breath away as these clouds continued to roll across our world.

Over the top and back down the other side I could hardly keep up with Bruce... I don't know what he would have done if he got there before me.  Would he leave me on the dock?  Better NOT!!!

Stormclouds to the left of me...

Stormclouds to the right...

We ducked beneath the Royal Palm Bridge as we followed the bike path.  We would outrace the cool wind, then it would catch up to us again and again, warm, cool, warm, cool...

Finally we reached the dock, just as the first tiny pattering precursors of what was soon to be, practically sizzled as they hit our hot red faces.  We hastily untied the dinghy and raced across the anchorage to the boat.

Once we got settled and were peacefully watching the raindrops slide down the enclosure windows, I realized that Bruce thought we had left the boat open.  The hatches and ports were all closed, so other than the remote possibility of the boat dragging, and the fearful kitties waiting for us... it would not have been that awful had we not made it back in time.

But it was a memorable part of the adventure that is our life here in Permanent Vacation Land.  And today was definitely like a vacation.  We toured the touristy stuff and marveled at the lives of the Rich, and do you know what?  I wouldn't trade our life for theirs for a second.   We enjoyed our time in Fabulous Palm Beach but we'll just keep Cruising, thank you!

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