How do you spell “Victor”?

How do you spell “Julia”?

I did not know what I expected before visiting Rhode Island but learning a new language was certainly not what I planned for.  But here we were, at the gift shop of the Sailing Museum in Newport, unexpectedly immersed in the fun of learning the nautical alphabet.  Armed with this new knowledge, we spilled into the streets and ran around the wharf, decoding the messages written in nautical flag codes on restaurants and gift shops.

Before visiting Rhode Island, we did not know much about the state.  The smallest state in the nation?  Sure. Newport hosting a world-famous jazz festival? Yes, we heard of that, too.  What else? Rhode Island is a little bit like New Mexico, one of those underrated states that flies under the radar and does not immediately conjure up an image of a travel destination. But after having visited it, we can confirm Rhode Island packs a lot, especially for its size.

But logistics first.  Rhode Island is not a cheap place to visit.  Although we wanted to stay in Newport, the cheapest rooms we were able to find were starting at $300-$400 per night.  And to be clear, we were not trying to book one of Vanderbilts' mansions.  Even a modest motel outside of Newport was listed at $200 per night.  We ended up renting an Airbnb somewhere between Newport and Providence.  No ocean view from the room, but at least we did not have to shell out a mini-fortune for the 3-night stay.  Although we had to drive each day 40 minutes to the coast, we did not mind these drives as they allowed us to explore historical villages along the way and do the quintessential New England experiences, such as eating at Jiggers, a 1950s wagon diner.

But we tried to spend as much time as we could on the coast.  While Rhode Island is only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, its shoreline is a staggering 400 miles (!!!).  The state’s nickname Ocean State is not given for nothing, with the Atlantic Ocean and the coastline being Rhode Island’s main attractions.

On our first day in Newport, we embarked on a three-hour Cliff Walk, a beautiful hiking path on the edge of the cliffs along the coast. As we were trudging along the picturesque hiking path, we had the vast ocean on the one side, and blooming rosehip bushes on the other.  The walk reminded us of a little bit of our not-so-sober walk a year before in Kinsale, Ireland, where the same mighty Atlantic Ocean was bordered by rosehip and blackberry bushes.  So, when later that day we saw a road sign in town proclaiming that Newport is a sister city of Kinsale, no one was surprised.


In addition to hiking the Cliff Walk, we also drove along the Ocean Drive, exploring peaceful coastal villages, communities, and state parks offering various maritime attractions.  For example, at the Fort Adams State Park, we strolled around the historic fort and admired majestic three-mast ships moored in the bay.  At Beavertail State Park near Jamestown, we stopped by the old lighthouse and watched the local fishermen artfully swinging their fishing rods trying to catch fish, while ignoring the ferocious Atlantic Ocean waves.

The best part of the day was always around dusk when we would stop to watch the sunset.  We usually were surrounded by other people who would make it to the shore to see the daily spectacle of the sunset over the Atlantic. When we visited, we did not see a lot of foreign visitors.  Most cars had the license plates of Rhode Island and the neighboring New England states.  But our Airbnb hosts swore that the state also attracts a lot of foreign tourists, mostly sailing enthusiasts who come to Rhode Island from all over the world, including Australia and New Zealand.

Having easy access to the ocean, it is not surprising that Rhode Island is a seafood paradise.  Whether slurping delicious oysters, sampling creamy crabcakes, or getting a cup of warm, tasty clam chowder, seafood is freshest and in plenty here.  Although we tried some other state’s specialties, such as johnnycakes and frozen lemonade, our seafood dinners were the meals we were most excited about.  Our favorite seafood restaurant? Scales and Shales in Newport!


Yet, Rhode Island is not only about the ocean.  In Newport, the other key attraction is …mansions, mansions, and more mansions!!!  Running parallel to the Cliff Walk is Bellevue Avenue, one of the most architecturally extravagant streets in the United States.  Back in the day, Newport was a playground for rich New Yorkers constructing lavish summer cottages and mansions along the Atlantic coast. The Vanderbilts, the Astors, and the Morgans.  The impressive wealth of America’s Gilded Age is on full display in Newport.  The styles range from Renaissance Revival and Classical Revival to Beaux-Arts and Victorian.  With only three days in Newport, we had to choose which mansions to visit.  We bought a “trio” ticket from the Historical Society and went for the “big three” - the Breakers, the Marble House, and the Elms.  The opulence and magnificence of each mansion were beyond our expectations and imagination.  Shuffling between elegant rooms, decorated with marble and golden leaf, and filled with fine paintings and sumptuous furniture, at times, it was easy to forget that we were still in the U.S. and not somewhere in France or Italy.  Each mansion had an excellent audio guide, allowing us to learn about the movers and shakers of the nineteenth century who did count pennies and were going all-in building such grand summer homes. It came as no surprise that some of the scenes from the HBO “Gilded Age” series were filmed in some of these Newport mansions.


Trying to see everything Rhode Island offers in three days was not possible.  In addition to exploring the Atlantic coast, visiting Newport mansions, and eating an inordinate amount of seafood, we also managed to squeeze a visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, located at the place of the first US Open tennis tournament.  However, taking a day trip to Block Island, exploring the Victorian architecture of Providence, and eating more seafood would have to wait until the next time.


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