“A small but mighty trip”……..
It’s July and that has great significance in the stellar world of A Girl, Her Hubs & a Suitcase. It’s the month this darling duo tied the knot (6 years ago). So, just like the great Wildebeests migrate every summer, so do these two. The only criteria- of course and ALWAYS, in the rules of this Girl & Her Hubs is that it must be a bargain.
The deal this year just happened to be in Rhode Island. And, as coincidence would have it-this is unchartered territory for this perilous pair. A short trip this would be but packed with nautical novelties, seafaring scenery, and a Moby Dick sized kerfuffle that will prove worth your reading time.
A quick 3 hour pleasant and uneventful flight brought us from Tampa, Florida to Providence, Rhode Island. This was followed by an equally peaceful Lyft ride to our residence for one night- The Christopher Dodge House- https://www.providence-hotel.com/. Located within walking blocks of the bustling downtown, this beautiful brick House resides on a bucolic, serene tree lined street. Inside is a charming, restored Mansion built in 1858. With no vacancies, we were grateful to have one of the 10 rooms as our place of rest and refuge for our one night only in Providence.
Welcomed by the accommodating staff with an easy check in, we dropped off our bags and took advantage of our early arrival to embrace this energetic city. Within a few blocks, we were overshadowed by the marble majesty of the Rhode Island State House- http://sos.ri.gov/divisions/Civics-And-Education/State-House-Tour/Online-Tour. Built in 1900, it is the fourth largest dome in the world. Once inside imposing cannons greet the visitor with historic scenes commemorating the Battle of Bull Run and Gettysburg. A grand rotunda, a commanding library and impressive staircase display the pride of the State. My only regret is- limited by time- we did not take advantage of a free tour.
Pestering hunger and inviting smells of New England cuisine beckoned our empty bellies. At the wise recommendation, of Dianne our attendant from check in- we were drawn to Hemenway’s https://www.hemenwaysrestaurant.com/. As the sun settled behind the buildings, the cool unseasonable breeze created a perfect combination for outdoor dining.
We faced the street, gazing at brick 19th century architecture, harmoniously side by side with modern glass structures. Buildings old and new, useful and proud adjacent to contemporary and streamlined- all cohesively appealing with purpose. We feasted on fresh, crisp salad and flavorful fish tacos for hubs. Satiated and content, we sat in a post lunch bliss, watching Friday afternoon productivity commence.
Just a quick few steps and we approached our next stop- The Rhode Island School of Design Museum (RISD)-https://risdmuseum.org/. A sleek glass and brick structure made up of 6 floors, an eclectic mish mosh of art, artifacts and displays ranging from literally all time periods. Presenting uniquely in an engaging atmosphere, important works from small artists and small productions to prolific masters all proudly represented. A tantalizing coffee shop perfumed the air while silence hovered in the halls, all creating a provocative art experience.
From there we moseyed on through the center of town, art students saturated the area, academic youth with painting paraphernalia scurried past us-their energy and enthusiasm palpable. We rested by the river on a bench as the Friday work day came to a close. As we snacked and refueled, we quietly watched the river shimmer under the bright sun. In front of us was the newest spectacle “Water Fire”, metal fire pits geometrically positioned in the water and lit at dusk for the public viewing pleasure. However, sadly this is not an every night event and we would miss this flaming extravaganza by one night. Gondolas fueled by college boys manhandling the oars, channeling their Venetian counterparts, crooning unrecognizable Italian lullabies as they submerged under the echoes of the dark bridge tunnels below and their boat patrons swooned with delight.
We crisscrossed the great downtown and made our way to the expansive mall Providence Place https://www.providenceplace.com/en.html -purely to kill time, curiosity and a bathroom opportunity. Unmotivated to shop, and overwhelmed by the many, many stores, we quickly fled after satisfying our initial intention.
By this time, our tummies were grumbling for dinner. Intrigued by Federal Hill- http://federalhillprov.com/ also a suggestion by Dianne at The Christopher Dodge House, we found our way to Providence’s impressive Little Italy. The glorious smells of pungent garlic, briny seafood and tangy sauce permeated the air. The crowd was festive and celebratory. There were numerous options, each more enticing than the next. For no other reason other than spotting a beautiful plate of deep fried mozzarella that caught our eye, did we settle upon Casserino’s- https://www.cassarinosri.com/.
A little modern and lacking that quintessential “Little Italy” vibe, Casserino’s did offer tasty food, an appealing Providence Restaurant Week option that included a 3 course meal for the same price as an entrée. As we all know, Hubs loves a bargain and could not let this one slip on by. He enjoyed calamari, steak and ended with a dream like tiramisu. A decadent serving of buffalo mozzarella salad was consumed and enjoyed by yours truly.
We made our way back to The Christopher Dodge House– happy, full and sleepy-which was good, because we needed energy to climb the 3 flights of treacherous steps to our tiny, cozy room. Nestled in our comfy bed, 1300 miles from home-our dreams were filled with Providence captured charm and Rhode Island allure.
The next day held many surprises, excitement, reunions and drama. None of which I would trade or change for anything. In the morning, with only a few hours to “kill”, we decided what better way was there to enjoy the last hours of a community than to partake the scenery at the local cemetery. A Girl and Her Hubs have frequented many cemeteries in our travels, all for various reasons. Sometimes it is to honor Veteran’s Day as in the Stanley Military Cemetery in Hong Kong. Other times, it is an impromptu pull over on the side of the road in Germany or an eerie “must do” in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In this case- a beautiful stroll through a splendid area known for its over 200 acres of meticulously maintained gardens. Swan Point Cemetery http://swanpointcemetery.com/ is listed as one of the top 10 things to view in Providence. We took a pleasant Uber ride there that circled around a stunning neighborhood, lush with looming trees, lavish houses and even though fairly early, popular with many joggers, bikers and dogs.
The cemetery dates back to 1846 and holds many generations of families, all telling a story in the lineup of the stones, the patina of decay, first wives, second wives, all in strategic order spending an eternity in descending order. As we made our way down the sloping well maintained lawn, with colorful vibrant gardens, we summarized our own stories and sadly, the reality of mortality was as tangible as the wet dew on the grass. The sobering and somber actuality of existence hung over us as heavy as the humidity. However, this is not to depress you as you read this- it is just the opposite. This voyage- for me- puts clarity into focus and helps me appreciate the important moments in my life. We eventually found ourselves with mirrored reflections in the glassy, tranquil lake. The sun beamed off the calm water, the air was silent with only the sound of the gravel churning under our feet. In gratitude, I took in all the beauty, pocketing it for a future “open in case of emergency moment” when the solitude and gravity of this experience will be like nitroglycerine for a racing, unsteady heart.
We made our way to the end of the cemetery summoning an Uber to return momentarily to The Christopher Dodge House. We were meeting my friend Sarah D. there, who for all intense and purposes became our “Sherpa” (unintentionally) for the day. Sarah lives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was a crazy and unexpected notion, but I reached out to my old pal, from way back when- to see if a “reunion of sorts” could be arranged. Sarah, a whole 4 foot 10 inches, has the spirit of a tiger, the energy of a gazelle and the heart of a lion. She is fierce beyond measure, a stellar nurse that I would trust with my life. She additionally embodies the tenacity of a lawyer, the patience of Gandhi, and the persistence of an Olympic athlete-all these attributes were proudly demonstrated later-during our divine day we spent together.
A strangely odd and inexplicable fascination with whales and seafaring towns has always captivated me. Just a simple sighting of the Gordon’s Fisherman in the freezer section could delight me. Imagine my excitement when I learned my pal Sarah was marrying her sweetheart AJ at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, https://www.whalingmuseum.org/ located just minutes from her darling home in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
She picked us up and agreed to do it all-all that I had asked– which was a lot. More than I could commit myself to (certainly without a round of passive-aggressive complaining murmured in my best “Jersey” accent). But, that is because I do not have the spirit of a tiger, the energy of a gazelle nor the heart of a lion. I am far from fierce and may request another nurse that I would trust with my life. Let’s just be real- the tenacity of a lawyer, the patience of Gandhi, and the persistence of an Olympic athlete- Ummm- no. no and No. But, my petite Sarah D. – she drove us to her adorable home, where yours truly met her fiancé AJ, her loving lab Colt and in true Sarah D. fashion escorted us to the Whaling Museum in New Bedford https://www.whalingmuseum.org/ serving as our personal guide.
This sea shanty of a town hit every requirement on my check list for my maritime mania. As you enter the capacious museum, an enormous life size carcass of a whale occupies the whole space. Adjacent to this, is an equally impressive display of a whale heart. The high ceilings and opposing models create eerie shadows and a calming lighting effect.
Sarah D. and her fiancé AJ as I mentioned earlier are getting married here and are now VIP members. They acted as our museum docents, integrating whale facts, the ins and outs of knot making, and pointing out their favorite items as we roamed from room to room. The museum does a fantastic job of incorporating beautiful and important art, objects and information all throughout the museum. It is done in a seamless rather organic fashion and eventually takes you through the hardships of the whaling industry.
There is a massive whaling ship situated in one of the rooms and a very corny rendition of Moby Dick was presented, songs and all in a 30 minute amateur production that may need a bit of a work. Hubs was enthralled by it, but disturbed by a “chatty Kathy” in the third row that eventually caused him to move on. The museum has a great gift shop, good for children and I highly recommend this. You do not have to be a “whaling enthusiast” such as myself to truly enjoy all this darling museum has to offer.
Leaving there, Sarah D. acted once again as a tour guide, explaining the charming village that the museum is situated in. Flanked by stone old houses complete with Captain’s Walk terraces and skylights, Gastropubs and mom and pop owned stores- we took it all in. The whaling industry incidentally brought many Portuguese into this area, where generations, including my adorable Sarah reside. Fiercely proud of her heritage, she explained the connection with this region, whaling and New Bedford. Voicing Hub’s love of all things Portuguese including custard tarts (Pastéis de Nata). She snuck away to Tia Maria’s European Café http://www.tiamariaseuropeancafe.com/ a quaint, Portuguese café and bakery caddy corner to the museum to deliver 3 custard tarts for Hub’s. This act alone nestled a special place in the Hubs heart for my Sarah D.
AJ at this point had left for a more exciting soccer game, so we had Sarah all to ourselves. We dined at The Black Whale Seafood and Raw Bar https://www.theblackwhale.com/ directly across the street from the Whaling Museum on the bustling harbor thriving with activity. The restaurant was popular and crowded. Hubs dined on thick and cream clam chowder (Chowdah) and raw oysters. A mouthwatering Asian salad and a spicy Virgin Mary fulfilled me in every way. We caught up and chatted, laughter and love flowed as if 6 years had never passed. In full disclosure, Sarah was my intern when she was in her final practicum of her nursing degree. As I gazed at my dear friend, in my salad afterglow, I thought how proud I was of her accomplishments and realized the grasshopper has surpassed the master.
After lunch, we walked along the pier. Shark week was in full affect. We indulged in some sugar free homemade ice cream from Acushnet Creamery http://acushnetcreamery.com/. With an impressive line wrapped around the tiny establishment, Sarah explained to me that this ice cream is handmade and her favorite. The sugar free maple cup of loveliness single handedly has changed my view on life and mankind. If ever in this neck of the woods, I beg of you to partake in this life changing experience. As we licked our sweet delights, we listened to a gentleman on a bullhorn, in horror as he explained reproduction to children perhaps as it pertains to whales. However, this was more than a PG ice cream licking conversation. We quickly scattered off as this discussion and inappropriateness to the large gathering crowd was ruining our ice cream buzz.
After a full day of festivities, food, and fabulousness- it was time for our efficient Sherpa to get us to our next destination- Newport Rhode Island https://www.discovernewport.org/. As we drove the 45 minutes from New Bedford, Massachusetts to Newport Rhode Island, I grew sad our time was ending. My friend, intern, fellow nurse who had saved me countless times and frankly taught me way more than I taught her- was about to save me one final time.
We had reserved a room from a popular travel website that we have used loyally for over 20 years. The booking was rather odd and left very little information other than dates and cost. As we approached the private residence, I grew leery that something felt off. I knocked on the door, numerous times until eventually a gentleman entered from a back gate. I announced my arrival which gathered an odd and muffled “hmmmph”…..He informed us that the room was rented out for the weekend and was not vacant. I showed him my reservation which caused even more confusion.
As Sarah sat with her engine idling, prepared to end this exhausting day for her- she went into savior mode. She methodically broke down our dilemma and calmly inquired what we wanted to do. I, clearly not a methodical rational woman, went into full on panic mode. No hotel, in the heart of a busy season with as I was learning few vacancies in the city. Sarah called the popular website for me, demanding in her sweet way resolution and accommodations. And, just as I had many years ago, tossed the work cell phone at her, whispering “Be Me”- she channeled her inner best “yours truly” and challenged the alternate options being offered. The proprietor- who really was the innocent victim in this mix up stayed with us, out on the curb, mosquitos nibbling at our vulnerable ankles, trying to help in every possible way.
For hours, we debated the popular website’s “handlers”, escalating it up to the highest authority. As Sarah was placed on hold, over and over, her persistence eventually paid off. While we were on perpetual hold, off in the distance, as if a mirage-a princess wrapped in blue toile and blond flowing locks sauntered by. She serenaded us in a sing song voice stating she had just been at a 4 year old’s birthday party. As I was in mid profanity, boiling with anger over our circumstances, I couldn’t help but break out into hysterical laughter at the juxtaposition of events. This added great levity to the moment and also helped to shine a bit of clarity to the resolvable situation.
Eventually, Sarah was able to secure us a room less than what we had paid, made it an even swap and even managed to finagle a substantial voucher for our troubles. We parted ways with our new buddy- the proprietor, bonded by unique circumstances. Sarah drove us to our new residence-The Belleview Inn http://innsonbellevue.com/the-bellevue-house. A beautiful guesthouse located in the heart of Newport. A miraculous cancelation had occurred simultaneous to our incessant beckoning of solution. Sarah walked us to the room, helped with check in, ensured we were pleased with the outcome and then we hugged and parted ways. Separated by distance perhaps, but united in friendship forever.
We quickly got settled and made our way through town to get a lay of the land. The sun was setting, the air was cool and the energy level was high. The crowd was a diverse variety including rowdy bachelorette parties festive and feisty and oblivious to their sopranic volume of their voices, millennials freshly groomed and out for the hunt, first date couples awkward and nervously eyeing each other and of course the upper crust, upper class, comparing boats, cars and salaries. We walked down the descending streets, hand in hand taking it all in- fitting in virtually none of those categories.
As we headed towards the popular cliff walk www.cliffwalk.com/ -it seemed we were not alone in this desire. 3.5 miles of a narrow path that hugs the Northeast coast and turbulent Atlantic Ocean. Ivy spilling out onto the path, with bees circulating for nectar, one has to stay alert for people, dogs, strollers, selfie takers, and most importantly the cliff. Dramatic signs posted all along the edge display animated warnings of someone falling off the high embankment. I myself witnessed many climbing down jagged rocks for that perfect photograph opportunity. Hunger and approaching darkness became distractors so we made our way back to the center of town for dinner.
Upon suggestion of my little pal Sarah- we dined at Benjamin’s Restaurant and Raw Bar www.benjaminsrawbar.com/. Located on the thriving Thames Street, it is apparently the place to be and be seen. Downstairs is a feverish bar with free flowing alcohol and a frenzy of activity. Upstairs is the restaurant, a tad bit quieter, but still crowded and thriving.
After a little wait, we were seated directly next to a captain hat, veil wearing Bachelorette reveling in her last days of single life. Her 10 equally annoying “mates” randomly shouted out slurred lyrics to unrecognizable songs, toasting, clanking wine glasses with forks, screaming “kiss, kiss”. Even when the food came, they continued on, providing amusement to the unfortunate around them.
The Hubs was excited to get his seafood fix and chose a sleek looking seabass. Mozzarella and tomato salad for this girl- my meal options, I know do little to excite you but when I omit them, my fan base rebukes. So, I apologize but even on vacation, I try to eat sensibly all in an effort to maintain my girlish figure….
After dinner, we made our way back to the room, passing over the top weddings, audible clanking of wine glasses and jazzy renditions of wedding band singers hitting pitchy high notes as they echoed in the evening air. Slumber came easy that evening as we had traversed 2 states, cursed out a travel website department and dined like kings. I’d say a complete day for any travel goddess.
The next day we arose with bright sun peeking through the blinds creating mysterious shadow figures in our cozy room. We ate breakfast provided to us from the Inn. Hubs was impressed by the speedy like pancake flipping abilities of our host. From there we Ubered to the famous Vanderbilt Mansion- The Breakers www.newportmansions.org/explore/the-breakers. This impressive mansion built in 1895 was the summer cottage for the Vanderbilt family. The tour is $24 a person and takes one on a step by step audio guided tour of the estate. Details and interesting tidbits streamline the tour as one seamlessly flows from one room to the next. We spent several hours there in a zombie like trance roaming in an automated state as the headphones directed us like the walking dead. The fanciness was rather restrained and the facts provided were a nice touch that made the 2 hours spent there fly by.
Afterwards, we made our way rather easily back to the Cliff Walk to make the 3 mile walk back to town. The trail was busy and the pedestrian path moved along with no congestion. The day started to warm up, with a substantial rise in humidity as the day progressed. We did some mild window shopping, an unmemorable ice cream in an equally unmemorable strip mall, in a rather homey old fashioned ice cream pallor.
We continued to walk around, towards the pier and eventually landed waterside in a comfy Adirondack chair. We listened to an energetic catchy live band until big pellets of rain began to drop. By this time it was late afternoon and fatigue was setting in as well. We made our way back to the room for some much needed rest.
When evening came, upon the excellent recommendation again of my pal Sarah we dined at the Clarke Cooke Restaurant https://www.clarkecooke.com/. As luck would have it, an outdoor table opened up immediately. As we sat at the table, the queue began to pile up 10 couples deep. We faced the storefronts as people began to gather checking out the numerous meal choices. We people watched and leisurely enjoyed the luxury of sitting there with virtually nothing slated for the next few hours. We did a recap of all our favorite events for this trip, knowing that soon it was coming to a close.
I had a crispy and flavorful Caesar salad and heavenly truffle mushrooms. Hubs had a pasta seafood dish that had him twirling, spinning and slurping in pleasure. The couple next to us, barked and fought, complaining to the waiter of a delay in their stuffed lobster. As the staff bent over backwards to appease this jerk, he belligerently yelled at the growing queue “this place sucks, go somewhere else.” I felt like jumping over to his table, saying –if a delay in your stuffed lobster is your biggest crisis of the night, you are doing pretty darn good-yet another moment of the trip that put my many blessings into perspective.
We walked back leisurely, stopping at a Ben & Jerry’s and partaking in one final, yet sadly disappointing sugar free ice cream, not quite living up to my Acushnet Creamery experience back in Massachusetts. One final sleep was had before our peaceful journey in the morning via Uber back to Providence airport.
Rhode Island was an unexpected jewel, a hidden pearl in a sea of oysters. Having lived half my life on the North East coast, I never ventured north of New York City. Rhode Island certainly was overlooked by me. The old history, state pride and mixing of longstanding and new world in Providence captivated my mind and spirit.
Sidestepping into Massachusetts for the day with a spontaneous visit to my friend from long ago warmed my heart and reminded me that sometimes you can impact someone’s life in the most unforeseen ways. Reuniting with Sarah was not only one of the highlights of my trip, but changed the trajectory of some very potentially problematic issues. She was able to advocate for me in many ways that I could not do for myself. That is a real example of the true sense of “giving back”.
Newport was a salty seaside sensation; the beautiful ocean, the magnificent cliffs and the opulent mansions all compiled in a beautiful summer kaleidoscope. Living in Florida year round, the allure of summer is many times lost. That nostalgic feeling of no rules, bare feet, honey suckle and sunburned shoulders will now be forever linked to the small but mighty town called Newport in the fierce but enchanted state of Rhode Island.
Join us next time when A Girl and Her Hubs explore Paris and Normandy in September 2018.