Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rhode Island: The Biggest Little State in the Union

Growing up in New England, I was able to visit many amazing places on a regular basis--places that I feel everyone should see (such as Boston, Martha's Vineyard, Ogunquit Maine). But if you had asked me about Rhode Island, I would have said "What? Watch Hill? Misquamicut?" (Those being the beaches I frequented in my teen years)

Of course, when I started dating someone who is originally from Rhode Island, knowing most of his family still lives there, and that he is very, very proud of his heritage...well, I knew it was only a matter of time before I got the grand tour of his homestate (much easier when said state is the smallest in the US, at only 1,214 square miles). Surprisingly, it was every bit of late August 2009 before he finally took me there! Of course I met some of his relatives, who live in a beautiful neighborhood in East Providence, but mainly he wanted to take me to Waterfire Providence, a sort of art installation involving bonfires on the Providence Rivers, as well as to do some shopping and dining on Thayer Street.

The dining came first, with the shopping hot on its heels. We ate (and drank!) at Andreas, a Greek restaurant, on Thayer. I was pleased but not amazed by this restaurant (details will come in a full-on restaurant review sometime in the future), but at least it was something different. After dinner and drinks, we walked up and down Thayer Street and shopped shopped shopped! Most of what we bought were some great vintage consignment/thrift store finds and we both had a great time. If you're a big purveyor of vintage clothes, Thayer Street is the place to go!

Steve and I, sweaty and half-drunk, experiencing Waterfire
We finally made our way to Waterfire, just as the sun was setting. We had to drive around for a while to find a parking space, and in the end...well, it was hot. I wasn't super impressed with the Waterfire itself, but the nightlife that it, err, spawned was definitely neat. There were families with children, vendors with carts of cotton candy and fake "lightsabers" and glow-in-the-dark necklaces, big band music and swing dancing a block from the river, and a few bars and restaurants here and there. Now, as for that last bit...when I say "here and there" I mean here and there. Granted, neither of us knew the city that well (or in my case, not at all), but even with our trusty iPhones it took us over 30 minutes to find the Union Station Brewery (I'd link to it, but it doesn't have its own website). As brewpubs go, this place was good, but it being so crowded that night and us being full, we didn't have a chance to do much--we just had two beers each and decided that it was time to call it a night.

My verdict on Waterfire: If you are in Providence while it's happening, go see it. If you're not...don't sweat it, you're not missing a once-in-a-lifetime experience or anything.

Taking a leisurely stroll up and down the beach...
The next day dawned sunny and warm, perfect for a day at the beach! Unfortunately, Hurricane Bill was just off the coast, and that prevented us from actually swimming, but it was still great to take a pleasant drive through Tiverton and Little Compton and end up at Elephant Rock Beach.

Now, I'm a lucky girl whose boyfriend belongs to a sort of special/important Rhode Island family ;) His wonderful grandmother packed us a picnic lunch and we went to experience a truly private beach. Steve's dad was the last Gross to be grandfathered in and allowed at Elephant Rock without having to own a house there; therefore, this was probably the only time I'll ever get to visit this beautiful beach (which is TECHNICALLY in Massachusetts, but it's right on the state line and the only way to get to it is to drive into Rhode Island).
We may not have been able to swim, but the waves were amazing!

We spent a good few hours eating our picnic lunch and walking from one end of the beach to the other. It was clean and beautiful and I can only hope that there are other beaches in Rhode Island like this--because if so, the aforementioned Watch Hill and Misquamicut absolutely do not do Rhode Island beaches justice! What was also neat is that there are ruins scattered on the beach from previous hurricanes. Even without being able to swim, we had a wonderful, relaxing day at the beach.

After Elephant Rock, there was a quick ice cream stop at Gray's in Tiverton (their grape nut ice cream is to die for!), and then about an hour and a half drive home to north-central Connecticut.

I have to say that experiencing Rhode Island with someone who has lived there was a big part of what made this a memorable overnight trip. However, I know far too many people who live only a couple hours (or less!) from this amazing little state and never experience it at all. My comment to those people is, "You don't know what you're missing!"

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