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Published: April 24th 2022
Prospect Terrace Park, Providence
After a really wonderful three days on Cape Cod, whilst I felt ready to leave, I was also a little sad to be leaving and I missed it after I left - I'm not quite sure why, but perhaps it was because if its tranquil nature, and different pace to the rest of the places I visited on my journey. Nevertheless, a Peter Pan bus was ready and waiting to pick me up at the Hyannis Transportation Centre, and take me off westwards on my next adventure for this trip - two nights in the tiny and compact state of Rhode Island, America's smallest state, and nicknamed the "Funsize State" - cute!
The bus travelled through some interesting looking places, namely New Bedford and Fall River, two sizeable settlements on the south coast of Massachusetts and both famous for being important whaling centres in the 19th century. They both looked in a sorry state of disrepair from the bus though, with a noticeable number of homeless types - I was actually really quite surprised at the amount of homeless people there were in various places of my journey, mainly the larger settlements, and I didn't really expect
this in America. I also don't remember seeing or noticing this so much on previous trips.
Shortly after crossing the state border into Rhode Island, literally around ten minutes after, we arrived in downtown Providence, my destination for the next two nights. The state of Rhode Island traces its beginnings back to the early 17th century, when in 1636 Roger Williams founded the city of Providence. Williams was a religious outcast from Boston, and was sent packing after being ostracised for his views that all people should have freedom of conscience. This sounds definitely like my kind of guy, particularly after having experienced these last two years of diktats sent from above. The state is comparatively tiny, and at a mere 1,214 square miles is about the same size as the Spanish island of Mallorca. Nevertheless, despite its small size, it has a surprisingly long coastline of 400 miles, being sited on a large estuary of the Providence River and the wide expanse of the Narragansett Bay - thus it is also called "The Ocean State" due to its maritime connections.
Peter Pan deposited me in Providence's very central Kennedy Plaza, which also serves as the city's transport
hub, which I crossed on my way to a bus stop to await a bus which would take me on to my Air BnB accommodation during my time there. The bus took me east of downtown, over the Providence River and through the leafy campus of Brown University, more on that below, to a beautiful leafy area with huge, substantial mansions centred around the grand and famous Blackstone Boulevard. I was staying in an "in-law suite" in the basement of a huge seven-bedroomed mansion on this very boulevard, owned by a lovely couple, MJ from Brazil, and her very talkative and friendly husband, Chip - what an amazing name! They were very welcoming, and the basement flat was comfortable and cosy. After downing my backpacks and a short rest, I headed out to explore the lovely city of Providence - beautiful and handsome, busy yet quiet, with a metropolitan yet relaxed feel - I really liked the city actually!
My walk first took me through the bohemian area around Thayer Street and then onto nearby Brown University, another Ivy League Institution and one of three, out of the seven, that I visited on this trip. The vibe was friendly
and relaxed, and didn't feel quite so haughty as Harvard did. The sun was peaking out through the clouds, and there was a warm, spring-like feel to the day - this was very welcome after the icy conditions back in Boston. Leaving the campus behind, I headed up to nearby Prospect Terrace Park for amazing views over downtown Providence below - Brown University and its surrounds are located on a majestic hill to the east of the downtown area, with accompanying commanding views over the skyscrapers below. The park also housed a very well-sited statue of the city's afore-mentioned founder, Roger Williams, proudly gazing out over the city below and admiring his domain. I then walked along nearby Benefit Street, famous for being home to numerous stately 18th century mansions, before heading down the hill to the Providence River for a lovely riverside walk into the downtown area. The city was very walkable, with a fair number of skyscrapers making it feel big city-like, but also manageable and friendly. In town, I headed up one of the two main thoroughfares of Westminster Street, and then back down the other, Washington Street, back to Kennedy Plaza where I started out earlier,
The Blackstone Boulevard Mansion
My Air BnB accommodation in Providence (just in the basement though...!)
and the beautiful Providence City Hall at its head. I then headed out northwards over the Providence River again, past the stark concrete structure of the Amtrak station building, and onto the iconic and imposing Rhode Island State House, a cross between the Capitol Hill building in Washington DC, and St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, Rome. After admiring the 360 degree all-round views from up there, I headed back into town again, via the busy Providence Place Mall shopping centre, stopping by its wonderful food court for a lovely Chinese meal for dinner. I remembered whilst there that a shopping centre's Food Court is very much a solo traveller's best friend for eating in, with no awkwardness in asking for a table for one in a nice restaurant, and being able to very comfortably read a book while everyone around you is chatting and having a good time. The Food Court also had a number of solo people like myself, and was a great place to people watch while eating. From here, I headed back again to Kennedy Plaza, for a bus again back to Blackstone Boulevard and the mansion Air BnB, for my first night of only
two in America's Funsize State - it was very much a fun walk, and a great first day there!
That night I slept ok, although it was a bit broken in the early morning. Being in the basement of an old mansion, the place was rickety, the pipes were noisy, and everything around just seemed to creak once in a while. It was much more noticeable at night than in the daytime, and by early morning it had quite simply become a cacophony of different sounds from all over the place, the loudest of which even my earplugs could not block out. For the second night I requested the use of a fan, hoping that the white noise would block out the loudest of this orchestra of noise.
Despite not the best of sleeps, I still awoke refreshed the next morning, and for my full day in Rhode Island, I explored the state's other major urban settlement of Newport, around 30 miles to the south with commanding views over Narragansett Bay. I took a bus again from Kennedy Plaza, which just over an hour later dropped me off at this lovely little town sited on Aquidneck Island, one
of the many islands filling the bay. I must admit, it was a bit of a shock to the system arriving in Newport. After so far being the sole tourist on many occasion, Newport was heaving. I am not sure if this was because it was a Saturday, a lovely sunny and fairly warm day, the first weekend day of April which is when the tourist season around there seems to begin, whether Rhode Island is just different to Massachusetts, or a combination of all of these things. Whatever the reason, Newport was very much filled with American families having fun.
After brunch in a local pub, and buying a few takeaway items to enjoy later, I headed to my main destination for the day - the beautiful Cliff Walk, Newport's star attraction. This is a very scenic and picturesque 3.5 mile walk hugging the rugged coastline to the east of town, heading southwards to the very tip of Aquidneck Island. Not only is this a beautiful walking path, it also runs between the dramatic seashore and cliffs, and some extremely swanky and swish late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century mansions built by the super wealthy of New York as summer
retreats. This cliff top walk and the summer mansions are what make Newport famous, and I was definitely in town to see all of this. It was amazing to contemplate just how rich some people have been, and still are.
The path started out really busy, but very much tapered off towards the end as it changed from a flat, paved walkway to a rough track clambering over rocks and shingle. It seems many people were in it just for a brief weekend stroll, while I was certainly aiming for the full-whack. I often find that the busier a place is with tourists, the less friendly the people are, and the more anti-other-people they become in terms of hogging pavements and things. The atmosphere became very much more relaxed towards the end though, and I was able to meet and talk with a few people later on, which I very much appreciated.
Some of the mansions are open to the public, namely The Breakers, The Marble House, and Rough Point. I was initially hoping to visit all three, but realising that the walk took longer than I expected, and was also a tad more tiring, I ended up
choosing to visit just The Breakers, said to be the grand dame of them all, the most magnificent of Newport's grandiose mansions, which is certainly saying something. What a house! It was stunning and opulent, and it was just quite inconceivable how much wealth one person and family can simply have, yet this was just their summer retreat for goodness' sake! It was built in 1895 by the famous Vanderbilt family, after Cornelius Vanderbilt made his fortune in the shipping and railroad industries during the American "Gilded Age" of the late 19th century. This was a time of rapid economic growth in the country which made many people extremely wealthy, and was fuelled by large-scale immigration from Europe to supply the labour. The Breakers was certainly testament to the opulence of the wealthy at the time, and I can only imagine the great disparities in lifestyles between the fortunates and the less-so during this period. It was the home of the Vanderbilt family during the summer, and for the rest of the year they would return to their, most likely equally-opulent, home back in New York, taking their army of servants and staff body with them. I enjoyed my visit
to the house very much, and after contemplating its grandeur both inside and out, I was also eager to continue with my cliff top walk again - the house is about halfway along the route.
As mentioned, as the trail became less populated, it also became more rugged, even non-existent in places, the paved way being replaced by a scramble or two over boulders and rocks. I very much enjoyed this last part of the walk, and wished I had a bit more time to pause in more places and appreciate the breath-taking sea vistas and views all around, but I was in a fair hurry towards the end to catch a bus heading back to Newport. I initially thought about walking back again, but by the time I completed the trail, I was certainly ready for a sit down! The bus back to Newport came on time, with a quick toilet break at the Marriott Hotel back in town, before another bus took me back to Providence, and my final bus from Kennedy Plaza took me back to my own magnificent mansion of an Air BnB, albeit back in the creaky basement again!
It was certainly a
cosy place to stay, and my second night was much more peaceful than the first. The fan very much created the white noise needed to block out the loudest of sounds, and I also figured out that the heating system had a lot to do with the noise. Thus, adding another blanket to the bed and switching the heating off also ensured the peace that I needed. The cacophony of noise was indeed abated for my second night - wahoo!
And this brings me to the end of a wonderful, very cute stay, in wonderful, very cute Rhode Island. I found the people there very friendly, and the city of Providence was very much my kind of place - busy and bustling, but also friendly and manageable - perfect! The next day I was to take the train heading further westwards into the state of Connecticut and my next destination on this trip, but more on that of course in my next one.
In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and all the best!
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