Friday, June 19, 2009

Anniversary Getaway at the Sylvia Beach Hotel

This week we took our first romantic getaway since Nicholas was born, to our beloved Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport. For the uninitiated, the Sylvia Beach is a "hotel for book lovers," where every room is designed and decorated for a different author. (As two English majors, it's almost as if the hotel was made for us!) Each room is en suite, but contain no televisions or telephones. The hotel in fact contains only one telephone and no television. Instead the lobby has a book and gift shop and a scrabble table. It's not a hotel for everyone--there is no room service, meals are served family style, and the building is old and rustic. The hotel also has two hotel cats. The third floor contains a library with comfy chairs, free tea and coffee, and beautiful beach views. The Sylvia Beach Hotel (named after a book shop owner in Paris) has that undefinable quality for us, and for many others--as soon as we walk through its doors, we relax.

Mom and Dad watched the kids for us so we could get away. I knew they were having a great time because when we called to check in, they were not terribly interested in talking to us!

Fortunately Mike had recovered sufficiently from his previous weekend's bout with vertigo to go on the trip...although he had me drive all the way down to Newport. He was still feeling slightly wobbly. We stopped at the world-famous Otis Cafe for lunch--it's been written up in the New York Times and USA Today, and we've driven past it each time we've gone to Newport but we had never stopped. They have phenomenal hash browns and molasses bread! (We stopped again on our way home and bought a loaf for Mom and Dad and one for the kids, but the kids said it was too sweet--ha!)

Mike with his omelet and yummy hash browns

Me with my simple strawberry waffle with whipped cream

Mike outside of the Otis Cafe

We arrived at the Sylvia Beach in mid-afternoon, and as has been our experience, the first day of our visit was beautiful--sunny skies, no rain. When the rooms are not occupied, hotel guests and visitors are welcome to wander and explore. Three of the rooms had been changed in the three years since we had last visited, so we were especially curious about these.

We had to take a photo of the new Tolkien room for our Hobbit-obsessed Kieran:

Mike was very embarrassed because while we were in the Tolkien room looking around, the couple who had the room arrived! I teased him because although he said he would have been horrified if we had arrived to discover other people in our room--even though he loves to poke around the rooms himself! I think it's the great illusion that he is the only one to stay in a particular room!

After checking into our room, we went outside to absorb the sun, in case it was short lived!

That big teal building in the background is the hotel--we've decided that we want to paint our house that color!

A mongo jellyfish we saw on the beach!

We saw a very interesting flock of dark birds--we weren't sure what type they were, but they flew in formation and swooped down into the ocean like cormorants.

We had dinner in Nana's Irish Pub in Nye Beach, down the street from the hotel. Here is me and my Guinness head:

And Mike and his hard cider--he avoids beer because of his wheat sensitivity:

Here is the Herman Melville room, where we stayed on the first night. It's one of our favorite rooms, but right next to the library so it can be a bit noisy.

Here are some of the lovely views out of the Melville Room windows:

Here's the beautiful sunset viewed from the library deck that evening:

The next day we moved into the new Shakespeare room, and it's now become one of our favorites! The ocean view is not nearly as great as on the other side of the hotel, but the room was elaborately and lushly decorated. I've always wanted to sleep in a four-poster bed!

The bookcase was full of carefully gathered props, each with a tag indicating the Shakespeare play and act, scene, it had been in!

That afternoon we went to our favorite Canyon Way bookstore for a wander and then down to the Newport bayfront to look in some galleries. Here's Mike riding a $4K hand-carved rocking horse from New Zealand! (The gallery owner was encouraging people to ride it!)

On the bayfront:

The view out of the window of the library that afternoon--cloudy! But I still love the views...

Sitting in the library in the cloudy afternoon:
That evening we had dinner in the Tables of Content restaurant, with delectable food and entertaining company. Food is served family style and you are encouraged to play a game with the other people seated at your table. The game is "Two Truths and a Lie," in which you tell two truths and a lie about yourself, and others have to guess which is the lie after asking three questions each. If you fool everyone, you get a standing ovation.

We were seated with six other people: a mom and her daughter and her friend, and three women who had service dogs. One of them was in a wheelchair (cerebral palsy, we think), one was legally blind, and the other one had a medical condition. The service dog women were unusual--they took forever to formulate the questions (very analytical personalities!), and when questions were asked of them, they were very cagey. The medical condition woman was actually British, and when we asked her how long she'd lived in the U.S., she said "TOO LONG!" Eventually she warmed up and her humor came out. Her two truths and a lie were very intriguing--1. she blew up a car, 2. she was put in jail, and 3. she'd been to every continent in the world. #3 was her lie. At the end of the dinner she revealed that she had a traumatic brain injury because she'd been held hostage in the Middle East! Mike is skeptical about this, mostly because she was so cagey about other details of her life!

At any rate--here are my two truths and a lie:

1. I rode a camel across the Indian desert.

2. I got stuck in a traffic jam on a crowded bus during one of China's first pro-democracy uprisings.

3. I studied tea ceremony with a former geisha.

I received a standing ovation! Which do you think is my lie?

Here's the view from the restaurant during dinner:

And the next day, a few last views of Shakespeare!

I talked Mike into trying on the cape and Bottom mask! Since we'd just taken the kids to Midsummer Night's Dream, we thought Kieran would appreciate the photo.

The decorations in the bathroom--to pee or not to pee!

And next to the basin:

Breakfast that final morning was especially entertaining, because the legendary owner of the hotel, Goody Cable, was in town. After many visits to the hotel, we had NEVER met her before. She is a fascinating woman. She told us about her year of living the alphabet...and being friends with Storm Large and Marc Acito (whose first novel I had just read while staying at the hotel)...and her latest project, to collect a story from each country in the world to share with her grandsons! She enthusiastically quizzed her guests to see if they had any stories we could share. We ended up lingering at breakfast far longer than typical, because she was magnetic. In addition to the hotel, she also owns the funky, eccentric Rimsky Korsakoffee House in SE Portland.

Wednesday, again, was sunny, and here is the view from the same perch in the library:

I did a final wander around the open rooms before we left. This is the new Virginia Woolf room--I LOVE the decor and the colors!

Here is Goody at the scrabble table:

Being our anniversary on Wednesday (19 years!), we asked a woman to take our photos in front of the hotel. She was prolific--these are only a few of her shots. Apparently she lives next door to the hotel and told Mike a funny story about a priest she knows who wrote a book about a naked priest!

We finally tore ourselves away from the place, are two final views:

All in all, a delightful celebration of our 19 years of wedded bliss. We sincerely hope it will not be another 3 years before we return!


  1. I have not had the pleasure to visit such a wonderful place, sylvia, being my most beloved poet......I should wish to live forever in that hotel and never tire of her memories.

    Is the hotel hiring, I would like to have a job with a place for me and my doggie.

  2. I love all of the pictures. And to think you were there acting like real adults. Adults without children. What is that like? Having an uninterrupted meal and conversation. You two deserve it after 19 years (not in a mean way!) If you are looking for a blog post idea, I tagged you in a photo game on The Year of Living Obsessively.

  3. What a fantastic place for a much-deserved getaway. I'd love to explore all the rooms - even if it were just peeking in on the sly. And the views...breathtaking. Congrats on 19 years!

  4. i just stumbled up your post after viewing some photos of the hotel online. my boyfriend and i go here once a year for a few nights to just relax, read, nap, be alone. it's quite possibly the most amazing hotel i have ever stayed in. it's so nice to see other people enjoying it as much as we do.