As the end of Winter nears, I’ve been doing my best to land on a location for my newest Neighborhood Walk. To put it mildly, Winter in Rhode Island can be quite inhospitable and is often wrought with bitterly cold, snowy, or rainy days. Who in their right mind goes for “Neighborhood Walks” when there’s 6 inches of slushy snow on the ground? This Rhode Islander does, that’s who.
For my money there is no better place than Newport, the “City by the Sea”. I know it’s more interesting during the warmer months, but that’s also when the rest of the planet seems to converge on the area to soak up the sun and breath the salty sea air. I consider myself an equal opportunity explorer so I’m happy to walk the streets in the less-traveled months; it’s these months that allow for better conversations with locals and a clearer understanding of what makes a city tick. As far as Newport goes, there is no more well-traveled location than “Upper Thames”, just across from Bannister and Bowen’s Wharves. It’s really the epicenter of all tourist-driven activity for the city during the summer months, and it’s perfect to dive into this time of year, to avoid the crowds.
We arrived with big appetites and had already decided that Franklin Spa would be our destination for breakfast. In many ways I’d consider it a hidden gem, even though it’s super easy to find at the corner of Franklin and Spring streets. Nothing fancy, eclectic, or overly artistic about this place, just a very good breakfast at affordable prices. I’m a big critic of breakfast potatoes, or home fries as we typically call them, and I really enjoyed the tender-yet-crispy texture of the Franklin Spa offering. One of the highlights of Melissa’s meal was the fruit bowl that was made up of freshly cut strawberries, bananas, and large whole blueberries - fresh fruit is usually hard to find in your standard breakfast restaurant.
With full bellies, we headed down Franklin Street toward perhaps the one of the most innovative shops in all of Newport, Green Envy Eco-Boutique. Owned by Rachel Lessne and opened in 2008 in a different Newport location, Green Envy has built a solid reputation as THE place for eco-friendly, and fair-trade apparel, candles, jewelry, skin and hair care products, along with the many creative wares of local artists. Rachel holds all of her vendors to very high standards and they must all meet her eco-friendly, fair-trade definitions. We never miss a chance to pop in for a visit and to chat up Rachel, who I’d say is hands down the nicest person in all of Newport.
After getting our fill of Green Envy’s soy candles and organic cotton shirts, we headed to Thames to explore the rest of the peacefully quiet streets. Bannister’s Wharf, on any normal summer day, is jam packed with people from around the globe in town on their mega-yachts or spending their days “summering in a cottage”, but today we had it all to ourselves; the same can be said for Bowen’s Wharf next door. Both wharves are chock-full of fancy shops and restaurants that see the lion’s share of their business when the floodgates open and the out-of-towners come pouring in.
Looking for some more action, we headed back over to the cobblestone road of Thames Street and it’s plentiful retail shops. One such shop that is very popular this time of year with St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner is Ireland Calls, the local stop for all things Irish that carries everything from tiny nick-knacks on up to authentic Irish Wool knit cable sweaters. I picked up a small pin with our family name and a version of our crest emblazoned on it. Kathleen, the owner, was inviting and warm as she shared a few stories about her time in Ireland during St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sure her shop, which is located in historic Brick Market, will be overflowing with happy Irish eyes in just a few days.
Although Newport is best experienced during the months when everything is open and lively, I don’t mind getting out there during the low season to take time to dig in and meet the people that make this magical “City by the Sea” so enjoyable.