Palm Beach | Florida

Posted by on June 29, 2008

The name just oozes elegance doesn’t it?  But Palm Beach has several sides, and not all so expensive.

The first rather inexpensive part was flying to Palm Beach on JetBlue from Newburgh.  What a treat! It is just one flight, at very good prices, flying from one small airport to another.  You can imagine how simple that is if you’ve been to any of the large airports or taken any two-flight trips lately.

Although we were not staying in Palm Beach, we decided to drive over for a day to reacquaint ourselves with the area, to see how it had changed over the many years since we had last been there.

We discovered there is a drive one can take to get a general idea of Palm Beach. (There is a great little tour map in the DK Eyewitness Guide to Florida.) Following this little map, we managed to get a terrific overview of this elegant town, but also got to see some of the historic parts, including the wonderfully nostalgic Green’s Pharmacy.  This drug store opened in 1937, and is still a breakfast and lunch destination for those in the know. I managed to get a free pair of sunglasses there, but that’s another story.

We approached Palm Beach by the Royal Park Bridge, since our first stop was to be The Society of The Four Arts.  This little known society, housed in several beautiful buildings that matched the picture in my mind of early Florida wealth, has art exhibitions, a concert hall that is the venue for two marvelous concert series, a speaker series, and a Friday movie series.

We first entered the main building to see the current collection entitled The Baroque World of Fernando Botero.  Botero’s lively paintings were competing that afternoon with the Friday movie series offering of The Lives of Others.  Coming up after the Botero was an exhibit of Raoul Dufy.

I was really impressed with the caliber of the Chamber Concert Series, which included the Emerson Quartet, the Tokyo String Quartet, and the Mendelssohn String Quartet. ( all at a price of $10 per ticket.)  The speaker series was of equally high caliber and range of interest, with names like Jim Lehrer, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Alexander McCall Smith, and Lord Linley on the roster.  As for the movies, I would have gone to each one had I the time, including a couple I have already seen, but would be happy to see again, for example: The Painted Veil, The Namesake, and The House of Sand – all for $3 each.

The Four Arts also has a Children’s Library that is free and open to the public, with a story hour program several days of the week.

The crowning glory of this little campus is it’s magnificent garden.  The story I heard was that some supermarket company was going to buy the fabulously located piece of property. When the members of the Four Arts heard about it, they banded together and got enough money donated to buy the property.  They have turned it in to a most welcoming garden, which is open to the public from November through April, and which is, in itself, worth a trip to Palm Beach.

This interlude really set us up for the “scenic” drive, so off we went driving north to the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum.  This is another WOW experience, which I enjoyed much more than I had expected.  Thought it would require a dreary, boring and long tour.

Wrong again. Here you get one of those little phones that are programmed to take you around and you can turn it off if you please.

And it is also here that you really discover the “Gilded Age,” of which this house is the epitome.  I came away entertained and educated and realized that keeping these historic homes is a necessary part of our heritage. It’s not such an easy job, and here again there is a concert and lecture series, as well as a marvelous tea room called The Pavilion Café. Many such homes need public attendance to keep going.

Our driving tour continued past some smaller houses that I had not imagined could exist there, plus a worthwhile view of The Breakers, and the lovely church called Bethesda-by-the-Sea.

The 4 or 5 mile drive can be commenced from any point, but it is recommended that one go in a clockwise direction, since Worth Avenue is one way, east to west.

I need hardly mention Worth Avenue, as I suppose it is famous or infamous already, but I can tell you that it is worth driving slowly along this remarkable street of exclusive shops. Unfortunately I was not allowed out of the car.

Perhaps the highlight of the day for me was the Norton Museum, which is not in Palm Beach itself, but in West Palm Beach, just over the Royal Park Bridge and a bit south on Route 1.  This is the largest museum in Florida, and has a fine art collection.  Ralph Norton, from Chicago, established the museum in 1941 with his collection of 100 paintings, and it has grown both in size and collection ever since.  The building was a pleasure to walk in to, as the heat was rising. The cool air and the warmth of the staff who greeted us was a perfect combination.  My fondness for French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists made this a valuable find.

Needless to say, having a delicious lunch in the cool museum café, “Café 1451” was also quite valuable in my hierarchy.  The various sections of the menu were named for current exhibits. Imagine ordering “Leonardo’s Warm Tuscan Steak Salad.”  I decided on The V & A East Indian Chicken Salad, with a mild curry, lemongrass & ginger dressing, together with couscous, green apple,walnuts, tiny lettuces and mango chutney.

Once I spend an hour or two in a museum, I start looking for the café, and/or the Museum shop.  Here the lovely setting and lunch set us up for a foray back out in to the warm winter sun, and on to more delights of Palm Beach.

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