Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Outside Providence

Michelle's parents were in town this past weekend (our first visitors in Rhode Island). Unfortunately, it was pouring rain the entire time, so we weren't able to do a lot of the things that we had planned. We wound up spending most of our time in the car and indoors in Providence. I like to write about travel, and while we didn't travel away from home this weekend, we've only lived here for a little more than a month so in some ways, visiting Providence was sort of like a vacation.

We kicked off the weekend on Friday night with dinner at Andino's on Federal Hill, Providence's Italian neighborhood. I hadn't been to Federal Hill since we moved here and the only place I had been to on Federal Hill was an Indian restaurant, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Andino's turned out to be a pretty old-school Italian restaurant (what some might call a red-checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurant). Maybe I'm being a little bit too harsh, but my experience wasn't the greatest. We had a 7pm reservation and were running a little bit late, so I dropped Michelle and her parents off at the restaurant and went to find parking. When I made it to the restaurant, the first thing the hostess said to me was "it's at least a 45 minute wait." No greeting or even an inquiry as to whether or not I already had a reservation. The service was disappointing the entire evening and the atmosphere was a bit lacking as well. The food wasn't bad, but I'm pretty sure you can do a lot better somewhere else on Federal Hill.

The rain managed to let up for a little while on Saturday. We headed back to Providence and took a stroll around the Brown University campus. We've driven past different parts of the Brown campus several times since moving here, but this was the first time we have explored it on foot. We broke for lunch on Thayer Street, then went downtown and took a stroll through the Waterplace Park and the Riverwalk. We pretty much had downtown Providence to ourselves, which was somewhat disappointing, but not too surprising given the weather. I'm not sure how lively downtown Providence is on a typical Saturday afternoon when the weather is decent. It sounds like they have a lot of festivals downtown during the summer, so it sounds like it could be a happening place.

After the park, we headed over to the RISD Museum. The museum definitely lives up to its reputation. It's not a huge museum, but the breadth and quality of the artwork on display is quite impressive for a museum of its size. Unfortunately, a number of exhibits were closed. Of course, we'll have plenty of chances to go back and visit when they re-open for a very reasonable $8 cover charge or during their monthly free exhibitions.

I though that the RISD Museum provided excellent background information and context for most of the items they had on display. I always try to maintain a balance between observing art and reading about it when I visit a museum. It's tempting to just read the descriptions and give the artwork a cursory glance when you're at a museum that provides you with a lot of good information, but it's a chance I'm willing to take. I had one of my worst art appreciation experiences ever at the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum in Boston, which deliberately eschews any information or context about the art on display. I think the best approach is to really key in on the pieces that captivates your interest and read about or just buzz by the stuff that you aren't really into.

We had tentatively planned to go to Newport on Sunday, but the weather was even worse than it had been on Saturday, so we decided to stick around Providence again. We did a driving tour of downtown and the east side, which probably wasn't much of a tour, seeing as we don't know our way around town all that well. We then headed over to the Providence Place Mall, one of the jewels of Providence's rejuvenated downtown. Putting a big mall in the center of a city may seem kind of strange or even grotesque, but I kind of like the idea. Providence is too small to support a blocks-long retail district downtown, so it's either a mall or nothing. They got a lot of things right with the Providence Place Mall, including a row of shops and restaurants accessible at street level and an architectural style that fits into the downtown landscape about as well as a mall could hope to. That being said, the parking situation was completely insane. Once we entered the parking garage from the street, it took at least five minutes to get to the take a ticket machine. Getting out took at least 20 minutes. It didn't appear that any of the ticket booths were out-of-service, so I'm guessing that it's that bad on most rainy weekends.

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