We were very thrilled to spend Veterans Day weekend in Providence, Rhode Island. I don’t remember what originally compelled us to want to visit Providence – perhaps the fact that whenever we ride Amtrak to Boston, we go through it, and once upon a time I had some friends who lived there. In any case, there is a Hilton “curio” hotel there, the Providence Biltmore, and months ago we reserved a room there. And it turned out to be an awesome weekend. Providence, a small walk-able city, for its size really packs in lots to do.
After arriving on Friday on the morning North East Regional train from New York City, we walked to the Biltmore hotel (about 10 minutes away), left our luggage (too early to check in), and walked to the Providence Arcade.
The Arcade is billed as the nation’s first indoor shopping mall, having been built in 1828. Nowadays, only the bottom floor is a shopping mall – the upper levels have been turned into apartments. We took a look around Carmen & Ginger, a crafts store, and ate some lunch at Livi’s Pockets (I had a chicken and falafel wrap, which was good but packed a bit loosely, making it messy – I got tahini sauce everywhere).
From there, we walked south on Westminster Street, passing some of the wonderful old buildings in Downcity, which is Providentians call their downtown area. For example, we saw the Union Trust Building with its incredible lobby and famous sculpture by Daniel Chester French, who also designed the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial (there is also a very attractive restaurant called the Dorrance which occupies the street-level corner of the building, which we unfortunately did not have the chance to visit for dinner).
We continued down the street, doing some excellent shopping at Craftland and Homestyle, two wonderful stores. I can’t tell what we bought, since most of it was Christmas gifts and some of those being gifted might be reading! We did a great job though, and came away with lots of goodies!
By now our room was ready, and so we checked in and dropped off our shopping bags, and figured out our next move. Therese had come up with the idea of going to see a movie, and so we headed to Providence Place, Providence’s big modern indoor shopping mall, to visit their Cinemas 16 Theater. Once again, this was within easy walking distance of our hotel, which we loved, since it was a cold and windy day. We watched Arrival, a fascinating science fiction movie about the Earth being visited by aliens, with a good cast headlined by Amy Adams.
After our movie, Therese noticed a store called Torrid in the mall that had lots of great clothes for her. While she tried some things on, I explored, and when she was done (she found some nice t-shirts and other things, a real find this store was), we walked from there to Ken’s Ramen, where we ate an awesome ramen dinner. Therese, who has been to Japan, remarked that the style of this restaurant reminded her a lot of Japan – the efficiency and organization, I guess. The food was really really good, and fairly inexpensive for such a filling dinner. We were quite satisfied with our day, and surprised at pooped we were when we got back to our hotel room.
We slept in Saturday morning and got a late start – Therese went and got her nails done at a salon in Providence Place while I showered and made plans for the day. Our first stop was the John Brown House (to get there, we took a taxi – while I had heard that taxis are not a reliable way to get around Providence, that was not our experience, as there was a queue not far from our hotel which made finding a taxi very easy).
An audio guide comes free with your ticket to the Brown house, and that’s all you need to explore in an informed manner. I will say that with some entries, they don’t explain exactly where the thing is that they are describing. But you can go back once you have located the item. And there are enough intriguing items in each room that they could add many more entries; but as it is, there is enough to keep you busy for 90 minutes to two hours.
Since we had started late, when we finished at the Brown House, it was more like early dinner time than late lunch time. So we gave in to it, and after exploring some shops catty-cornered to the Brown House on South Main Street (we spent the most time in Touched by Green, where the proprietor was very friendly), we walked west to Hemenway’s, a restaurant I had originally planned for Sunday lunch.
Since we had given in to the fact that this was going to be our dinner, rather than a hasty late lunch, we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. Our server, Nancy, was great in giving advice about accommodating my allergy, and giving us great insights into the menu in general. We both ordered the same thing, what Nancy called “lazy man’s lobster” where the meat is removed from the claws and stuffed into the body of the lobster with scallops and shrimps and bread crumbs and then the whole thing is roasted in the oven. My bread crumbs were probably a little more basic, because they usually toss them with butter and seasonings, but whatever they conjured for me worked very well. The side I ordered, roasted cauliflower, also had bread crumbs and seasonings, once again more simply prepared for my case to avoid the butter.
Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the oysters we ate as our starter before the lobsters. They were local – I did not make note of the name – nicely sized, just a bit briny and with lots of liquor, easily some of the best oysters I have ever had. The wine Nancy recommended we drink to go with our oysters and lobster, a Ferrari-Carano “Fume Blanc” Sauvignon Blanc, was great too – a light minerally/citrussy white wine.
That was it for us on Saturday – we walked back to our hotel through the quiet downtown, oops, sorry – Downcity, and had a relaxing evening in our hotel room. Just what the doctor ordered.
After breakfast on Sunday, we got a bit of an earlier start, walking back to the east side of Providence to visit the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD, or to the locals, “Rizdee”) Art Museum. While part of the museum is under renovation, there was still plenty to see – a great Impressionist exhibit, intriguing Japanese (and Japanese-style) prints, a collection of ceramics, and students works.
For our lunch, we found a cafe nearby (XO Cafe) which was right at the end of its brunch service. Some eggs and chicken sausages later, we wandered down Benefit Street, taking in some of the historic old buildings, like the First Baptist Church.
I will warn you that as you walk west from the river, the streets go steeply upward. We walked parallel to the river for the most part to avoid getting out of breath. It was a more leisurely experience we were after. At the end of our jaunt, before heading back once more to our hotel, we stopped in at the Providence Athenaeum, a historic private library that is quite beautiful.
Once inside, we found a nice comfy couch and Therese selected a book and read for a while. Me? I snoozed a bit. You see, my sinuses were giving me trouble that day, and I had taken Benadryl, which usually works for me, but on this occasion, it mainly made me very drowsy. Embarrassing, but luckily, I managed to enjoy the day (and the weekend) in spite of my nose problems.
And what a fantastic weekend we had! For such a compact city, there is lots to do in Providence – we hardly scratched the surface during our weekend. The people we ran into were all very friendly, and we ate lots of great food. We will have to find an occasion to go back – next time, maybe during the spring or summer when it hopefully won’t be so cold.