Only 48 miles long and 37 miles wide, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the Union; yet it's second in the nation for population density. Rhode Island, the "Ocean State," has 400 miles of coastline -- and a history of making waves, beginning with its founder, Roger Williams, the radical outcast and "Indian lover"who was unceremoniously expelled from Massachusetts. Rhode Island is reported to be the first to declare independence against Great Britain, yet it's the last of the original colonies to join the new union, earning it the nickname at that time of "Rogue Island." Or perhaps the nickname comes from the illicit activity on Block Island. In the 18th century it was a favorite hangout for smugglers, thieves, and pirates. Whether the rumors of ghosts and buried treasures are true or not the fun for the happy tourist is in the hunt.
RHODE ISLAND TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 556-2484
STATE HOUSE, Providence (401) 277-2357
Open year round, Mon. - Fri., 8:30-4:30. Closed Holidays.
This marble Capitol is a vision of pure white. Built in 1904, modeled after the nation's Capitol, it is constructed of white Georgia marble and is capped by one of the largest marble domes in the world, the first unsupported dome built in the United States. On top of the dome is a quarter-ton bronze-based and gold leaf statue of "Independent Man." The statue is a symbol of the independent spirit of founder Roger Williams.
BLITHEWOLD MANSION AND GARDENS, Bristol (401) 253-2707
The mansion was closed but we were allowed to walk the grounds, which took about an hour and a half. Amazingly the rose garden was still in bloom. Never smelled a rose as sweet as the roses adorning the entrance to this Rose Garden. Thickly sweet, like the aroma in a candy store. Farther along we saw exotic plants and trees we never knew could survive in New England. The family who lived here at the turn of the century were excellent collectors. From what we read of them, they seemed to really enjoy and savor what life has to offer. And since they were so rich, life offered them much.
Tip: Blithewold hosts an annual Christmas party in December, a Valentine's Day Concert and a Spring Flower Show in February, and Concerts by the Sea from June-September. Of course we missed these, but judging from the photos of past events, these specials look like wonderful departures from the humdrum of everyday life.
We spent our honeymoon in Newport five years ago so we know it well. The mansions are great to tour and to fantasize about being a Vanderbilt or some other wealth-laden person from the Gilded Age. The restaurants are plentiful and awfully good. The B&Bs here really know hospitality. And of course, the shops down by the water are fun to browse with shelves full of unusual gifts.
Tip: Many of the mansions are open during the Christmas season and decorated in the holiday spirit.
Check it out . . . The 3-mile Cliff Walk is great fun. It hugs the ocean as it winds its way up and down the side of the hill. On a misty, rainy day it feels like you're walking through a Gothic novel.
JAMESTOWN, Conanicut Island
Eat and shop in Newport but relax in Jamestown. Just over the bridge this small one-mile island is a break away from the congestion of Newport and a place that emits a feeling of what Rhode Island might have been like perhaps 200 years ago.
This was not one of our planned destinations. We got lost, came around a bend and over a little bridge when this sweet old town made us come to a complete stop. The quiet cove, the church bells, the white pillared town hall, the unusual shops, the old-fashioned buildings beckoned us to take a detour and stay here awhile in this charming old fishing village. A wonderful place to spend the afternoon. The people in this town are more than friendly, they're downright chipper. Also, we discovered that Wickford is the ancestral home of author John Updike.
Tip: Wickford Arts Festival, held the weekend following Independence Day, attracts hundreds of artists from around the country and thousands of visitors.
Check it out . . . For unique and fun shops, you just can't beat "Different Drummer." Poke around and see if you can meet the proprietress. She's as interesting as her wares.