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Travel & Holiday

Chilling out in Rhode Island

The state in the New England region is home to the famous Brown University and excellent restaurants
The Sunday Times - June 19, 2011
By: Huang Huifen
| More
Chilling out in Rhode Island To relax, get out of the city and spend a day on the beach at Newport where you can enjoy fantastic ocean views. -- PHOTOS: COURTESY OF CHERYN-ANN CHEW

It may be one of the oldest cities in the United States, but Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is bursting with youthful energy and creativity - thanks to its huge student population.

Home to more than five universities - including renowned Ivy League ones such as Brown University, and other colleges such as Providence College, The University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design and Rhode Island College - Providence has the vibe of an overgrown college town.

On week nights, hordes of students throng the bars along College Hill, the student district encompassing Brown University and the school of design.

The rich, artistic atmosphere is what Brown undergraduate Cheryn-ann Chew likes about her current base in the smallest state in the United States. She is majoring in applied mathematics-economics and international relations.

'It isn't your typical bustling metropolis. There's something very inspiring about its peace and tranquillity,' says Ms Chew, who lives in a student dormitory in College Hill.

Take a walk downtown and you will be greeted by rows of art galleries, studios, performance centres and art installation spaces.


Tell us one little-known fact about the city.

Rhode Island was the scene of the infamous Gaspee Affair, a catalyst of the American Revolution. In 1772, a group of Rhode Islanders attacked British revenue ship HMS Gaspee as an act of rebellion against unpopular tax laws.

The patriots plotted their attack from a tavern in Providence. Today, a plaque from the tavern sits at College Hill, where Brown University is located.

Every June, Gaspee Day ( ) is celebrated with a street parade. People come dressed in period costumes to re-enact the revolutionary war and burn a ship effigy. It takes place in Warwick, a city that is a 20-minute drive from Providence.

The best time to visit is...

In autumn, from late September to early October, because New England is famous for its beautiful fall foliage. The trees shed their leaves, painting the city in amber. The weather also becomes cooler, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 20 deg C.

You should never visit...

In winter, from November to February, because it is rainy, snowy and slushy. Temperatures plunge below freezing point on some days.

What is one item you must take along?

An umbrella, a poncho or a waterproof jacket. New England is known for its wet weather.


The best way to explore the city is...

By bus ( ) . Providence is a small city so there is no subway system. A bus ride costs US$2 (S$2.47). Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence is the transport hub for all the buses going around Providence, as well as interstate transport lines such as Greyhound and Peter Pan bus lines.

Which places in the city excite you?

The downtown arts scene, where there are numerous art galleries, studios and performing centres dedicated to experimental and cutting-edge art.

Art lovers can participate in the monthly Gallery Night ( ) event. Participants can join free walking, bus or bike tours to 21 galleries, museums and art spots. Find out more about the city's thriving art scene and individual artists' works. Gallery Night is on every third Thursday of the month, from March until November.

The Big Nazo Lab (25 Fulton Street, tel: +401-831-9652, ) is a fun art studio to check out. It is the home and creative studio of Big Nazo, a group of visual artists, puppet performers and masked musicians who perform as grotesque, larger- than-life creatures. The studio is open whenever the international group is in town, so check its calendar on the website. Visitors will get to see the artists at work and view some of the interesting costumes.


Your favourite breakfast is...

Buttermilk pancakes at Brickway on Wickenden (234 Wickenden St, tel: +401-751-2477, ). The pancakes (US$5.95) are fluffy and drizzled with maple syrup.

The decor at Brickway is retro-inspired. Whirling ceiling fans, mismatched furniture and colourful walls give it a very relaxed vibe.

The place is very popular with locals, so go before the peak period which starts at 11am. They do not take reservations and the wait for a table can be as long as 40 minutes when they get busy.

The coolest place to chill out is...

Pastiche Fine Desserts & Cafe (92 Spruce St, Federal Hill, tel: +401-861-5190, , closed on Mondays), a popular patisserie known for its wide array of mouth-watering tarts and cakes, from lemon custard tarts to cheese cakes (about US$6 a slice).

The cakes are so popular that people actually drive three to four hours from other parts of New England, such as Maine and Connecticut, for them. I love hanging out with my friends at Pastiche because the 40-seat, European-style cafe is very cosy and quaint.

Don't leave the place without trying...

The famed New England seafood from McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants (11 Dorrance Street, tel: +401-351-4500, The restaurant offers more than 30 kinds of fresh seafood from around the world, such as scallop, trout, swordfish and Alaska halibut. Menus are changed daily to include the day's catch. Be sure to try the Rhode Island Quahogs clams (price unavailable), Maine lobsters (at US$24.9 a pound, for 11/2 or 2 pounds), and clam chowder (US$4.90 a cup) for the true New England seafood experience.

Seafood parade by the sea


What is a big no-no in your city?

Being environmentally unfriendly such as driving cars that are not energy-efficient and littering. The locals, especially Brown students, are very eco-conscious, perhaps due to the college's long-standing history of its environmental cause.

Do not leave the city without seeing...

The dazzling fire art installations in the Providence river. The WaterFire ( ) is an art installation by artist Barnaby Evans comprising 100 braziers in the river that are lit to create a mass bonfire. The event takes place on selected evenings throughout the year. The next one is on July 2.

To get close to the fire display, take a gondola ride through the blazing river. Reserve a gondola ride through La Gondola (tel: +508-984-8264, ). A boat ride on WaterFire evenings costs US$40 a person. Otherwise, stroll along or sit by the river to admire the spectacular view.

Also, visit Brown University. The Ivy League school, known for its liberal arts education, conducts free one-hour tours around its campus. Founded in 1764 as the College of Rhode Island, it is the seventh-oldest college in the country.

In 1804, it was renamed after prominent Providence businessman Nicholas Brown, an alumnus who made a US$5,000 donation.

Go to for more information.


What is worth buying in your city and where is the best place to get it?

Designer art, home decor items, furniture, clothes and jewellery at the renowned Rhode Island School of Design's Museum of Art store (20 North Main Street, tel: +401-277-4949, ).

All the items are designed by the school's alumni and faculty members, and profits go to the school. Works by established names - such as artist-designer Kim DeMarco, who has designed for clients such as The New Yorker magazine, The New York Times and Kate Spade - can be found and range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.


Are there things to see or do outside the city?

Drive for an hour to the seaside town of Newport, where you get beautiful ocean views, amazing seafood, and tour the historical mansions which once served as summer cottages for the wealthiest in the country. The Preservation Society of Newport County ( offers tours to its 11 properties. Tickets for entry into one property start from US$14.50 for an adult.

Seafood lovers can indulge in tasty dishes such as lobster fra diavolo and grilled swordfish from Scales & Shells (527 Thames Street, tel: +401-846-3474, ), a popular restaurant rated best seafood restaurant for many years by Newport Life, a lifestyle magazine dedicated to the county. A meal for two there can cost about US$120. They do not take reservations, so go early.




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