Some Wicked Awesome Things for Newcomers to Do in the Ocean State

Visiting, here for college, or starting a new job: Your “to do in RI” guide

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Whenever I tell an outsider I’m from Rhode Island, I witness either (1) a glazed-over look of confusion as they ask themselves, “Is that a state?” or (2) an enormous smile as they recall the state’s beauty and culture. Inevitably when I then ask, “Where have you been?”  the answer is always the same: Newport.
Ugh. I love Newport and all, but we are so much more than Newport. There are actually enough exciting local adventures to fill this entire magazine. But since they won’t give me the entire magazine, here’s a sampling of some typical, and not-so-typical, Rhode Island experiences you must give a try:

1.  Eat the food. Rhode Islanders take their food very seriously – so seriously, in fact, we offer culinary delights that aren’t available anywhere else in the world. Seriously, there’s not another spot on the planet where you can you eat a clamcake, drink a coffee milk, slurp down a Del’s lemonade or nosh on cold, cheeseless pizza (“pahty” pizza to natives; you can’t attend a party here without seeing those red squares on a plate). My personal local favorite is the hot wiener, also known as “NY system.”  At first glance it looks like a chili dog, but on closer inspection you realize it’s nothing of the sort.  First, the hot dog is long, thin and bright red.  You know when you come home from a long day at work and your dog’s really, really excited to see you?  Yeah, it looks like that.  Despite its lack of visual appeal, once you cover it with a delectable meat sauce, onions, mustard and celery salt, the combination is addictive. You simply can’t leave the state without eating at least three.  Note:  Do not eat these in your car. The smell will stay with you for months.

2.  Get spooked.  Have you seen The Conjuring? I haven’t, but only because movies that depict demonically possessed children give me nightmares. I do know, however, that the film is based on a family from Harrisville, RI, that claims that ghosts and demons tormented them for years.  Whether you believe the story or not, there’s no denying that Rhode Island has its share of ghosts, ghouls and vampires. The haunted streets of Providence and Newport are said to be the inspiration behind the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Those streets are now the setting for numerous guided ghost tours. If you’re interested in venturing out on your own, check out this list of haunted places: http://www.theshadowlands.net/places/rhodeisland.htm.  Next month I’m joining a caravan to Tower Hill Road in Coventry, where numerous ghost sightings have been reported. I’ll get back to you in time for Halloween. Note: Bring a change of underwear.

3.  Transport yourself to Italy.  If you’ve ever been to Italy, you most likely recall the charm of the piazza, where everyone gathers to eat, drink and enjoy the scenery. While we may not have thousand-year-old churches, we do have our version of the piazza: DePasquale Square on Federal Hill. On a warm night you can dine al fresco, enjoying the finest Italian food this side of the pond, along with some live entertainment. After dinner, grab an espresso and walk the Hill in search of freshly baked Italian cookies. Note: Get there early as it’s always packed and, once seated, no one wants to leave.

4.  Ride your bike.  Back in the day, train tracks carried trains from Providence to Bristol. Once the trains stopped running, our politicians had the good sense to turn those tracks into one amazing bike path. The East Bay Bike Path trail spans 14.5 miles, most of which is along Narragansett Bay. The view is gorgeous year-round, but in the fall it’s spectacular as you ride your bike under a canopy of yellow, red and orange leaves. You will travel from India Point Park through East Providence, then on to Barrington where you can pick up a mean set of pearls at Talbots. From there you head to Warren, where you might stop to refuel. (Great news – you can check off another item on this list if you hit Del’s lemonade and then Rod’s for a hot wiener.)  Finally, you’ll end up at Independence Park in Bristol for some scenery and shopping. Note: Don’t tire yourself, as the path is one-way and there’s no shuttle back to your car. Great idea though …

5.  Witness the magic of fire on the river.  I attended one of the first Waterfire events. I went with a friend who’d been told he’d see an “artistic display of fire on water.” He took one look at the river and said, “That’s it? They look like a bunch of hibachis.” I sort of agreed with him, but I couldn’t deny that something special was happening. The sky was dark, lit only by those sweet hibachis. The intoxicating smell of campfire filled the air. Speakers blared music that set a somber, yet sensual, mood. The whole experience felt quite spiritual. I was hooked. The event has grown exponentially, and now it’s a world-class festival with live music, dancing and tons of great food; they even sell beer and wine. Admittedly it’s slightly less spiritual, but definitely worth an annual pilgrimage. Fall is my favorite time for Waterfire because of the cozy factor; there’s nothing better than a warm fire on a cool night. Note: Wear padded shoes.  It’s dark, crowded and everyone’s distracted, meaning your feet will get trampled.

6.  Attend a feast.  It’s not what you’re thinking. A feast in Rhode Island is an outdoor extravaganza, known elsewhere as a festival. To simply call this a festival, however, would be misleading. Typically held on the grounds of a church, the feast is a religious celebration with either an Italian or Portuguese theme. The highlight of the feast is typically the food:  sausage and pepper sandwiches, dough boys, candy apples and the like. Once you fill your belly with greasy food, you can hop on some unsafe carnival rides or try winning a stuffed animal at a game that’s surely rigged. There’s something for everyone, but the best activity – bar none – is the people watching. Check out this website for a list of upcoming feasts:  http://www.pagesintime.com/ri/feasts.html. Note: Bring cash and wear gold.

horse7.  Ride an historic wooden horse. Rhode Island boasts many carousels; there’s even a dandy one in the middle of the Warwick Mall food court. My favorite is in Riverside:  The Crescent Park Carousel. When I was a kid, Crescent Park was a full-blown amusement park. All that remains today, however, is the carousel. This is no ordinary carousel, but rather a small piece of history, as it was built more than 100 years ago by the founder of carousels himself – Charles Looff.  Looff hand-carved each horse, all of which still carry riders today as they go round and round to the tune of organ music. The park itself also has a lot to offer from car shows to movies and concerts. If you’re hungry, nearby Blount Clam Shack makes wonderful chowder and clamcakes.  Note:  Eat your chowder and clamcakes after you ride the carousel.

8.  Hit a winery.  It may not look like the wine trail in Sonoma, but believe it or not, Rhode Island is home to several wineries. Most of these wineries are small family-run businesses where the owners are proud to give you a tour and share some samples of their latest vintage – for a small fee, of course. There are just enough wineries to fill an entire day of tasting. Start north at the Diamond Hill Vineyards in Cumberland, then head east and hit Sakonnet, Greenvale and Newport.  From there, go south to Langworthy Farm in Westerly, then west to Leyden Farms and Nickle Creek. If at the end of the day you can’t handle one more fermented grape, switch to hard alcohol and head over to the Sons of Liberty for some whiskey tasting. It’s always 5 pm in the Ocean State! Note: Designate a driver or hire a limo.

9.  Buy milk and bread. There will be a storm; not just any storm, but the mother of all storms – a Nor’Easter of epic proportions, or so the forecasters will predict. But whether we’re the victim of Super Storm Sandy or dusted with a mere inch of snow, the mantra will be the same:  must buy milk and bread … must buy milk and bread. Despite the fact that most of us have enough food in our homes to get us through the first several months of a zombie apocalypse, we can’t resist. It’s what we do. So if you really want to ingratiate yourself into the culture here, the second you hear the word “storm,” run to the nearest Cumberland Farms and stock up. Note:  Get there early – the stores will run out of supplies.

10.  Okay, fine … go to freaking Newport. I hate to admit it, but no time in Rhode Island would be complete without a trip over the bridge. There’s no denying Newport’s fabulousness and there’s too much of it to cover on this list, so instead I’ll direct you to this month’s article:  “The Summer Never Dies in Newport.” Note:  I prefer Narragansett to Newport. Just sayin’. 

 

 

 

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