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Great Getaways: Providence & Bristol

By Kaeli Conforti
November 2, 2014
Waterfire in Providence, Rhode Island
Courtesy Nick Millard/GoProvidence

Located about three hours from New York City, or about an hour south of Boston, lies Providence, Rhode Island, a city famous for it's food, tolerance, and WaterFire, a spectacle you truly have to see in order to fully understand its brilliance. A 30-minute drive from Providence, you'll find the lovely little seaside town of Bristol, a great getaway spot in its own right thanks to its quirky neighborhood shops, natural surroundings, and historic mansions you can visit. If you're looking for a great weekend getaway or a chance to explore a wonderful combination of foodie paradise, artsy city vibes, and historic seaside towns, Providence and Bristol are the perfect places to start.

Don't miss WaterFire in Providence

WaterFire. A phenomenon that's difficult to describe, but once you see it in person, makes all the sense in the world. It's basically a unique artistic event that has occurred nearly every Saturday evening from May thru November since it began in 1994, and features more than 80 floating bonfires up and down the Providence River from Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park. Once the fires are lit, follow the crowds to the riverside, watch the lights come alive, and listen to beautiful music played throughout the city as you watch the river glow. Spot people traveling up and down the river in gondolas while others tend the fires to keep them going from sunset until 12:30 a.m. Don't wait—there are only five WaterFires left in 2015: Aug. 29, Sept. 12, 26, Oct. 3, Nov. 7. 

Lend a hand at the Coggeshall Farm Museum

One of the highlights of my Providence and Bristol road trip was visiting the Coggeshall Farm Museum, a great family-friendly 48-acre living history farm located on Poppasquash Road off Route 114 in Bristol, whre you can follow along as interpreters show and tell you about life on the farm in 18th-century America. Kids can get in on the action, too, helping the farmers herd sheep at the end of the day, milk cows, and round up the chickens. For a special treat, sign up for one of their Hearth Cooking Workshops held every Sunday in November and December for a taste of a traditional 1790s Rhode Island dinner. Guests will pick heirloom vegetables from the gardens, use produce and animals raised on the farm, make recipes from the first American cookbook published in 1796, cook using traditional methods, and of course, feast on the results. Hearth Cooking Workshops are intended for ages 16 and up and start at $60 per person. Please make a reservation by the Wednesday before the Sunday workshop by calling 401-253-9062. The Coggeshall Farm Museum is open year-round Tuesday thru Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission on weekdays is $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and children ages 3-12. Admission on weekends is $7 for adults and $5 for seniors and children ages 3-12.

See the Rhode Island Statehouse

Take a free 50-minute guided tour of the Rhode Island Statehouse, available year-round Monday through Friday (except holidays). Tours are offered at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. and include trips to the Bell Room to see a replica of the Liberty Bell, the State Room to see Gilbert Stewart's portrait of George Washington, and the impressive Rotunda to see one of the largest marble domes in the world. Don't forget to bring your camera!

Tour historic mansions

In Bristol, visit the Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, an exquisite 45-room historic English manor (tickets are $12 for adults, $11 for Seniors, $10 for students and members of the military, and $4 for children ages 6-17), and Linden Place, known locally as the "crown jewel" of Bristol's historic waterfront district, and the place that once served as Gatsby's mansion in The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Be sure to visit both mansions around in December when they are all decked out for the holidays. Admission to Linden Place is $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and $5 for children ages 6-12. Children under the age of six get in free.

Visit world-class art and history museums—and a zoo—for less!

While you're in Providence, vist the RISD Museum, a terrific art museum featuring works from Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, and Georgia O'Keeffe among others. The museum is also home to vast collections of contemporary art, costumes and textiles, ancient art, Asian art, prints, drawings, photographs, paintings, sculptures, and other decorative arts. Adult tickets start at $12, seniors over the age of 62 get in for $10, college students with a valid I.D. get in for $5, and children ages 5-18 pay $3. On the third Thursday of the month from March through November, you can enter the RISD Museum for free on Gallery Night, where many of city's best-known art galleries and museums open their doors to the public. Admission to the RISD Museum is also free the last Saturday of the month and offers pay-what-you-wish admission on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Providence's Museum of Natural History & Planetarium features ongoing exhibits like Africa: Many Places, Many Faces; Circle of the Sea; Dynamic Galaxies: Our Place in the Universe; and Natural Selections: Museum's Victorian Past to the Present. The Planetarium features shows like Astronaut (narrated by Ewan McGregor), Field Trip to the Moon, and Journey to the Stars among others—check the calendar of events on their website for the show schedule and be sure to go early to buy tickets as space is limited. 35-minute shows at the Planetarium are presented on weekends at 2 p.m. and daily throughout July and August. General admission to the Planetarium is $3 per person (children under the age of 4 are not allowed in). Admission to the Museum of Natural History is $2 per person (free for children under age 4). The first Saturday of the month is always free for residents of Providence with proof of residency.

Providence is also home to one of the oldest zoos in the country, Roger Williams Park Zoo, located within the park's beautiful 40-acre property. Adult tickets are $14.95, seniors ages 62 and up pay $12.95, while children ages 3-12 get in for $9.95.

Get back to nature

Even in the midst of the city, you can find solace at Roger Williams Park, a 435-acre greenspace built in the 1890s that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For great panoramic views of the city below, check out the view from Prospect Terrace Park on Congdon Street in Providence's College Hill neighborhood. In Bristol, spend the day exploring Colt State Park, a 464-acre hidden gem located along Narragansett Bay with four miles of bike trails, ten playfields, more than 400 picnic tables, a historical museum, and an open-air Chapel By The Sea. Don't miss the Park's annual 4th of July celebration, a tradition since 1785 that makes it older than the U.S. Constitution. Nearby, Bristol's East Bay Bike Path is a beautiful way to explore the area's natural surroundings, connecting eight parks on during its 13.8-mile course from India Point Park in Providence to Colt State Park and Independence Park in Bristol.

Explore the local shops

Check out the Arcade Providence, the oldest shopping mall in the country—originally built in 1828 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976—now serving as a center for retail and micro-loft real estate because of its ideal downtown location. You'll find local boutique shops like Flaunt Boutique and Goddess Closet, Alex Anthony Curl & Blowout Bar, Livi's Pockets, and New Harvest Coffee & Spirits. Bargain hunters will also want to check out the shops along Thayer Street and Wickenden Street. In Bristol, stop by Harbor Bath & Body, Sue Casa, and Revival Boutique, for natural bath and body products, home accessories, and antiques.

Unleash your inner foodie

Providence has always been known for its food scene, even more now with more restaurants using locally sourced products and fusing them with international influences. Treat youself to dinner at Loie Fuller's on Westminster Street for delicious entrees like pan seared sea scallops with summer succotash and a tomato vinaigrette and grilled chicken thighs with Israeli cous cous and dill yogurt sauce. Visit Chez Pascal on Hope Street for a great mix of French-inspired European flavors made with locally sourced New England ingredients—don't miss the Wurst Kitchen, open Monday thru Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Bristol has a pretty varied food scene, too, with its star being Redlefsen's Rotisserie & Grill, a local favorite since 1989 that specializes in German food, German and Belgian beer, and incorporates fresh New England fish into its seafood dishes. The inside of the restaurant is brilliantly decorated to resemble a traditional German Biergarten and every year for Oktoberfest (generally the last Wednesday and Thursday in September and every Wednesday and Thursday thru the end of October), the restaurant features performances by Bavarian dancers and beer hall accordion players. Don't miss it. Bristol's Casual Inn on Franklin Street offers a quiet, laid back atmosphere and offers New England classics like lobster rolls, New England clam chowder, clam boils, and baked stuffed shrimp. If you're up for a fun chat with the friendly bartender and owner, do yourself a favor and sit at the bar—I had a wonderful evening here chatting with the locals as we watched TV at the bar until they closed. Don't miss Newport & Bristol's Restaurant Week 2015 from Nov. 6-15 for a chance to sample area restaurants' specialties for less.

Stay in the Providence city center—or a lovely B&B in Bristol

Hampton Inn & Suites Providence Downtown is in the center of all the action in Providence, and within walking distance of WaterFire, Providence Arcade, and shopping along Thayer and Wickenden Streets (everything else mentioned here is just a short drive away). Enjoy complimentary perks like WiFi in every room, access to the fitness center, hot breakfast daily, and a free shuttle service to local transportation hubs. Rooms start at $189 a night in August. If you're looking for accommodations with a romantic touch, stay at the Bristol House Bed & Breakfast on Aaron Avenue. Innkeeper Kathleen Seguin is super-friendly and loves living her lifelong dream of owning and B&B. Spend some time relaxing in this gorgeous Cape Cod style B&B located a half-mile walk from Narragansett Bay and the East Bay Bike Path (mentioned above). You're only a half-mile from all the shops and attractions in Bristol and a 25-minute drive from Newport and Providence, and within an hour's drive of Boston and Cape Cod's beaches. My favorite part was the included gourmet breakfast, which includes local seasonal products and is made daily by Kathleen, who attended the Culinary Institute of America and the Apicius School in Florence, Italy. Rooms start at $169 a night in August. Check the website for seasonal packages and specials that include accommodations and tickets to annual holiday events.

For more vacation ideas, please visit GoProvidence.com and ExploreBristolRI.com.

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Inspiration

Sights And Sounds Of The Peruvian Amazon

Peru. To the north, miles of sandy beaches, incredible surfing, and remnants of ancient cultures blown raw by the harsh breath of the sandy coastal wind; to the south, the legacy of the powerful Inca in ruins so well preserved you could imagine long-gone people working in the distance; to the east, the unforgiving cold of the mountains and views that make your breath catch in your throat. And further to the east, just a little further, green, sultry, lush jungle, most of which is a no-man's land, as mysterious and inaccessible as the underwater city of Atlantis. Peru is a country of incredible variety, and Peru's Amazon is so different than the rest of the country, it doesn't even seem related. The massive forest covers 60 percent of Peru and has communities deep inside living in voluntary isolation that have never been in contact with the rest of the world. The Amazon is often called the lungs of the world. Western Amazonia is thought to be the most biologically diverse region on the earth, with thousands of species sharing the leafy world. Things are bigger, brighter, more vivid here. The giant Amazon water lily is one such bigger, brighter, more vivid thing, with leaves that grow up to seven feet across and huge flowers that bloom at night. Pink river dolphins haunt the waters of the Amazon river, finding their way into flooded parts of forest and even lakes. The three-toed sloth is hard to spot, preferring to relax in the tops of trees. It moves very slowly, climbing leisurely, limb over limb, up and down trunks. The fastest it ever moves is when it falls asleep in the tree, lets go, and plunges to the ground, waking up with an impressive headache! Red and green macaws shriek in the trees, as eagles and kingfishers swoop across the river in search of prey in an out of the water, giant blue butterflies the size of your face flutter past, and sharp-toothed piranhas swim menacingly back and forth. But, the stars of the jungle have to be the monkeys. The tiny, kitten-on-a-YouTube-video level of cute squirrel monkeys have closely set round black eyes and a prehensile tail that acts as a fifth limb. They live in large groups, sometimes up to a hundred of them together, and feature a black muzzle and white mask across their faces. My favorites are the Red Howler Monkeys. These large-ish orange creatures, with leathery muzzles and large round inquisitive eyes peering out of their thick, luscious fur are absolutely beautiful, but the real surprise comes with the noises that come out of that leathery muzzle. A loud, deep, throaty call that seems incongruous on this beast greets the dawn, shouts at a passing airplane or boat, and complains about a rainstorm. The Amazon is certainly a different, more magical world than the one most of us live in. Luckily for us, it's a lot more accessible to tourists than it once was and tour companies and eco-lodges abound. Typical jumping off points to the Peruvian Amazon are Puerto Maldonado in the south and Iquitos in the north. Go and fall in love with the lungs of the world. This article was written by Hannah Vickers, who has lived in Lima, Peru, for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week. You can read more of her work on her blog. She wrote this article on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge in the Peruvian Amazon, the perfect place for encountering nature in Peru.

Inspiration

Visiting Chiang Mai’s Flower Festival

In the hills of northern Thailand, lush jungle, farms, and fruit trees rolled past the train window. As we neared Chiang Mai a fellow passenger cautioned me that the Flower Festival would fill every room in town. I hadn't made a reservation. It was a chore, but eventually I found a room. My hotel was pricey, but right on Kotchasarin Road, on the eastern side of the Moat Road that encloses the old city, a 700-year-old defensive rampart and canal built against the encroaching Burmese. Chiang Mai, the center of the Lanna Kingdom, was founded more than 800 years ago—the Lanna fell to the Burmese in 1558 but the dynasty and culture remained strong. Ties to Bangkok weakened the Burmese hold and the Lanna eventually merged with the Thai Kingdom. Thailand's fifth largest city is also called The Rose of the North. Chiang Mai proper has almost 200,000 people, while more than a million people live in the surrounding area. It is the gateway to the hill country and a major launching point for jungle trekking, elephant riding, white water rafting, and visits to the neighboring hill tribe villages. The economy of the area has always relied on agriculture. The temperate tropical climate is especially conducive to flowering blossoms. For centuries the people of Chiang Mai celebrated the fertile cycle of life and the arrival of the growing season with floral tributes to Buddha and offerings to Vishnu, Shiva, Genesh, and other Hindu deities. These are the ancient origins of the annual Flower Festival, which since 1976 has been staged on the first weekend of February. Serendipitously my hotel was located along the parade route. The day-long affair featured floats presented by businesses, schools and organizations in the district. The floats were elaborately and beautifully constructed, like giant moving sculptures made of yellow and white chrysanthemums, lilies, pink, white, and red orchids, and a rainbow of roses. Some depicted elephants, dragons, lions, and other creatures; others were floral architectural re-creations of temples and palaces. There was even a giant floral Buddha. The floats were a visual and an olfactory feast, as millions of blooms projected their aromatic essence along the parade route. Some carried contestants in the Flower Festival beauty pageant. Lovely potential Flower Queens smiled demurely, bowing and waving to the crowd. There were exotically garbed processions of men, women, and children from different hill tribes, like the Akha women glistening with silver from the top of their square hats down to their colourful beaded leggings. Marching bands in satin uniforms paraded with practiced discipline. Musician ranged from young school children, to high school kids and adults. The variety of music included classical symphonies; movie theme songs from Star Wars; and an orchestral version of the pop song Gangnam Style. The happiness was contagious. I watched from my hotel patio, but after a pretty girl in a silk gown handed me a rose, I joined the parade, dancing alongside a group of flower bedecked ladies while snapping pictures of their float, a massive sailing ship composed of orchids. I invested 60 baht ($2) with a smiling vendeuse for a bamboo parcel of sparrows to release for good luck, and shared in their joy at being free. The floats and the marching bands were at their best when they filed past the judge's stand near the Governor's house where officials declared the winners. The parade ended at the moat-side Suan Buak Haad garden park where the winning floats were put on display with their ribbons and trophies. Also displayed were prize floral specimens from local horticulturalists. There were food stalls and vendors offering botanical advice, flower seeds, and gardening tools. The flower festival is the pride of Chiang Mai, signaling the end of the cool season, the start of the growing cycle, and the peak of blossoming. For me it signalled the beginning of a great visit to the lush and sensual northern hills of Thailand. Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season he travels the world looking for a story. He wrote this article for Tucan Travel, specialists in tours to Thailand and all over Southeast Asia.

Inspiration

Last-Minute Foliage Getaways for Under $150!

Connecticut Stay: Arts & Crafts A-Frame Lake House, Ashford (vacation rental) Cost: From $140/night Cool property feature: A spiral staircase corkscrews up to a loft with skylights; downstairs, you'll find a wood-burning stove and a yoga/meditation space. Must-see spot to leaf peep: Natchaug State Forest—take Route 44 for maximum beauty. Ctvisit.com outlines more driving tours farther south. Maine Stay: Owls Head Village Post Office, Owls Head (vacation rental) Cost: From $140/night Cool property feature: Yes, it's an actual converted post office! Sweeping views and the ocean are visible from the cupola up top. Must-see spot to leaf peep: Motor from Rockland to Augusta up Route 17 to soak up the scenery. Maine's dedicated foliage site, mainefoliage.com, can help you plan scenic hikes and drives. Michigan Stay: Quaint Cottage on Lake Independence, Marquette (vacation rental) Cost: From $125/night Cool property feature: Right next to the lake, this cozy home has a boat dock, four-season porch, and a fireplace, plus lake views from several rooms. Must-see spot to leaf peep: Driving M-28 to County Road 550, right along Lake Superior's shore, is a good bet for a beautiful fall show. For more color tours, plus ATV trails, michigan.org has you covered. Missouri Stay: Chateau on the Lake, Branson Cost: From $139/night Cool property feature: Mountain-view rooms showcase the area's peaks, and lakefront rooms overlook Table Rock Lake; miles of trails on property offer a chance to see deer and wild turkeys along with the leaves. Must-see spot to leaf peep: The Ozark Mountains. Get insider info on bike trails and driving tours (both back roads and main highways) at ozarkmtns.com. New Hampshire Stay: Cabernet Inn, North Conway Cost: From $97/night via booking.com Cool property feature: This 1872 cottage serves a free made-to-order "full country breakfast": Maple walnut stuffed French toast and greek omelets are specialties. Must-see spot to leaf peep: White Mountain National Forest. New Hampshire's Foliage Tracker will help you follow the action. New York Stay: Rustic Lakefront Camp on Quiet Lane, Lake George (vacation rental) Cost: From $79/night Cool property feature: You want charm? You got it with this whimsical A-frame, equipped with a gas fireplace and screened-in porch with loungers for gazing at the lake. Two kayaks with paddles serve as nature's entertainment—the property has no TV, phone, or internet. Must-see spot to leaf peep: Adirondack Park. Read the scoop at lakegeorge.com. North Carolina Stay: Asheville Cottage, Asheville (vacation rental) Cost: From $145/night Cool property feature: A picture window with a spectacular view of Mount Mitchell, a shade garden with gazebo, a private creek, and a barbecue area take full advantage of the great outdoors. Must-see spot to leaf peep: Pisgah National Forest—take Route 276, south of Asheville, for eye-popping color. Find more recommendations at exploreasheville.com. Tennessee Stay: Gatlinburg Cabin, Gatlinburg (vacation rental) Cost: From $125/night Cool property feature: A rustic covered deck with sweeping mountain views includes a porch swing, rocking chair, and hot tub. Must-see spot to leaf peep: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Get all the details at gatlinburg.com.

Inspiration

Why Every Nature Lover Should Pay A Visit To Paracas, Peru

Pelicans march solemnly up and down the beaches, always on the lookout for a dead fish abandoned by a passing fisherman, while seagulls wheel overhead. This small beach town is just a few hours south of Peru's capital city of Lima, but it seems worlds away from the busy, highly populated capital that seldom sleeps. Paracas is a popular destination for national and international tourists. It's the perfect weekend getaway from Lima, an ideal place to break up a long bus journey between Lima and popular southern destinations like Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno. Paracas, in the Province of Pasco, 260 km south of the capital, is easily accessible by long-distance bus or car. Visit the 'Peruvian Galápagos' You'll find Paracas National Park and Wildlife Reserve as well as the sealife rich Ballestas Islands nearby. The Islands lie just off the coast and can be easily visited by a short boat ride from the mainland. It's easy to see why these islands are called 'the Peruvian Galápagos.' The Ballestas Islands are home to many species of birds and marine life. Sea lions lounge on the rocky islands, flirting with the tourists who pass by on the boats, flashing their cameras, while enough species of birds to make a twitcher squeal in delight circle in the sky above. You can spot birds like the guanay guano bird, the blue-footed booby, and the tendril, among others. There are also Humboldt Penguins hanging around, as well as two varieties of seals on these rock formations which cover around 0.12 square kilometers. A boat ride to the islands from the seaside resort of Paracas takes around two hours and sea lions will often get friendly with the tourists, coming close to the boats. The boat passes an unusual geoglyph on its way to the islands, not unlike the lines visible at nearby Nasca. The 'candelabra' is from the Paracas culture and its purpose and meaning remain a mystery. It's visible from the boat ride to the islands and is thought to have been a beacon to people out at sea, but this is just one of the theories. The sea lions' haunting cries, echoing around the islands, just add to the sense of mystery. Adventure Sports in Paracas If you're more into adventure chasing than bird watching, there are plenty of more adrenaline-filled activities available. Enjoy sand boarding or zooming up and down steep sand dunes on a dune buggy? Nearby oasis and holiday resort Huacachina has some excellent options for both of these activities, but Paracas also has some impressive dunes to test your courage. Not keen on the idea of getting sand in your eyes? Have a go at hang-gliding. If you're looking for a good adrenaline buzz, this is the right sport for you. Soar high above the dunes and ocean either solo (if you've had training!) or attached to an experienced glider. Another popular sport in the area is diving... And with such a bio-diverse area, you will have plenty to see! Other guided tours include the Julio C. Tello Museum, the reserve's visitor center and, further afield, tours to nearby Pisco (where the famous Peruvian liquor, Pisco, is made), Huacachina, and Ica. Paracas used to be a small, unassuming fishing town, but the popularity of its bio-diverse Ballestas Islands and natural reserve have made it a popular destination for people interested in Peru's history, adventure sports, and wildlife. Staying, eating, and drinking in Paracas Recently built hotels, restaurants, and bars line the seafront—there's something for everyone's budget. Cheaper options are, of course, further away from the sea, but it's worth paying a little extra to wake up to the view of the Pacific Ocean stretching away from you each morning. If you want to stay at one of the top-end resorts, you need to reserve your room earlier rather than later. There is a variety of food on offer, but I'd highly recommend that you try a dish with fresh fish or seafood. Ceviche—raw fish marinated in spicy ají and lime juice, traditionally served with a raw red onion salad and a cold slice of 'yuca,' is typical in the region, as is hearty fish and seafood soup, 'Parihuela.' Paracas is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year and if you're looking to make more of a trip of it, you can easily tag on the fascinating Nasca lines and a visit to the calm oasis resort, Huacachina. Whether as part of a bigger trip or on your own, you're sure to have a pretty special time here. This article was written by Hannah Vickers, who has lived in Lima, Peru, for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week. You can read more of her work on her blog. She wrote this article on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge in the Peruvian Amazon, the perfect place for encountering nature in Peru.

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