A Little Bit of Venice is ninety minutes away
To us Providence was always a city we passed quickly through on our way to Green Airport, that wonderful relief from Logan and the inherent traffic mess. Oh, we had visited looking for a place to eat years ago, but the city was grim, dull and unappetizing back then.
Buddy Cianci to the rescue
At some point between election fights and fist fights, Providence's perennial mayor Buddy Cianci (who still has a couple years left in the slammer for alleged naughtiness) used the kind of political muscle it takes to turn this urban blight into its present charm and beauty.
And then good restaurants, motels and upscale shopping Meccas followed. Without approving of Buddy's methods, we must approve of the results.
All we can add is that as soon as Buddy gets out, this town should rent him to Worcester, New Bedford and Fall River to make the same magic on those cities.
Yes, the town boasts two incredibly beautiful gondolas which are sculled down the river from Spring to Fall, and every few days they literally set the rivers on fire by piling logs in sculptured baskets in the middle of the rivers and let them burn from dusk to midnight.
Your Key to Rhode Island Treasures
We visited last week because the Marriott Providence hotel was unveiling a huge new painting called Your Key to Rhode Island Treasures. This elegant tribute to the Ocean State is a collaboration with local historical agencies, museums and tourism organizations to acquaint the Marriott's guests with all the beauty which Rhode Island has to offer.
The painting is being created by renowned local artist Michael Bryce who is putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece several evening each week as shown in the photograph.
Since art imitates life, when life improves so do all the arts - even culinary ones, and Providence satisfies the palate as well as the other senses.
We sat one evening under a full moon abaft the Gondola at the Cafe Nuovo, an eclectic eatery as good or better than any in New England. You can check out the menu here, but I must enthuse about the smoked salmon which was served with crepes embedded cream cheese, onions and capers. Neat.
After dinner we strolled down the ramps to "Marco's" gondola and were sculled for nearly an hour under the seven handsome bridges while our gondolier sang love songs under a full "Hunter's Moon".
It's little wonder there have been countless wedding proposals aboard his sleek craft as well as more exciting connections - one woman swore she's never return after becoming a mother nine months after a voyage on this pint-sized "Love Boat". But even she returned the next year.
More Italian Than Naples, Italy that is
Any visitor must stroll up Federal Hill which is within walking distance of Providence Place shopping mall, that noteworthy, four story merchandile emporium.
This is Rhode Island's version of Boston's North End, and must boast several dozen Italian eateries. In fact, the chamber site lists over 100 member restaurants and there are probably twice that number in town.
We can not too strongly urge you to have lunch at Angelo's which is what restaurants used to be like fifty years ago - simple, stomach filling and inexpensive. This 80-year-old landmark is in its fourth generation.
Another evening we ate at another Federal Street bistro, the Aqua Viva. The next day we had a superb lunch on South Main Street at the Parkside Rotisserie & Bar. The food at both was outstanding.
There is much else to occupy you since this city is every bit as proud of its heritage as its nearby rival Newport.
The Rhode Island Historical Society has turned the John Brown House into a wonderfully pleasant, one hour history lesson which takes you through three centuries of this seaport's many accomplishments.
There are at least three, non-mall shopping areas within easy walking distance of the riverfront downtown. Stroll south on South Main to a left on Willams and another left up Thayer towards Brown University.
You will pass dozens of local shops which tend to get more youth-oriented as you near either Brown or the Rhode Island School of Design.
It's sort of "Cambridge-south".
Now if Buddy Cianci would only bust out of prison and move to Massachusetts......