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Where to find the real Rhode Island

Hit the road
By PHILIP EIL  |  September 26, 2012

It was the first semester of my freshman year and I had passed out in a bathroom in my friend's dorm. Boozy and disoriented, I was woken by a campus security guard with a Breathalyzer. When I blew into the machine and scored high, I was issued a "Minor in Possession of Alcohol" citation and offered a choice: I could sober up in a jail cell or at the campus hospital. I chose the latter.

The hospital. My first college field trip.

Thankfully, the trips improved from there. Over the next four years, I made a habit of getting off campus. One weekend, I drove five hours with friends to camp out on sand dunes under the stars. Another year, I spent a summer cracking open rocks (and earning science credits) at a geological field station in the mountains of Wyoming. Another year, I roamed the cathedral ruins and studied in the ancient stone libraries for a semester in a seaside, Scottish university town. By the end of college — thanks, in part, to the trips I had taken — I was no longer the guy who slept with his cheek pressed to porcelain. I had evolved.

When my roommates threw their annual St. Patrick's Day bacchanal a few weeks before graduation, I chose to take an art history field trip to a local museum instead of attending. I didn't care about the taunts I received when I got back.

You may remember field trips as those boring elementary school jaunts to see giraffes or historical re-enactors. But who says they have to be lame? Friday night's house party may seem important now. But after you graduate, it will be the drives, the hikes, the tours, the days you opened your senses and aerated your brain that you'll remember. And here in Rhode Island, there are hundreds of worthy options. Here's a guide to get you started.

The_Breakers_Newport
GINORMOUS ‘COTTAGE’ The Breakers in Newport.

Mansions

In most countries, living with a stranger in a cinder-block box is called "prison." Here, it's called a "freshman dorm." Thankfully, for such a small state, Rhode Island has an inordinate number of ginormous houses open to the public. Go bask in their bounty of square footage.

The densest concentration of these palaces — many of them called "cottages" by the robber barons who built them — can be found on NEWPORT'S BELLEVUE AVENUE. CLARENDON COURT, where the infamous Von Bulow Affair took place (ask your parents about it), was recently purchased for $13.1 million, so that one is off-limits. But there are plenty of other castles to explore: MARBLE HOUSE, ROSECLIFF, CHATEAU-SUR-MER, KINGSCOTE, HUNTER HOUSE, and ROUGH POINT, where the eccentric multi-multi-millionaire Doris Duke spent summers. After a day touring houses with names like THE ELMS and THE BREAKERS, you might consider re-naming that dorm room. How about The Stench?

Newport, alone, doesn't have a monopoly on mansions. The stunning views at Watch Hill's OCEAN HOUSE — more of a hotel than a house — are worth taking in, even if you can only afford the tea sandwiches. In Providence, the JOHN BROWN HOUSE offers a glimpse of life as an 18th-century baller, complete with a tall, plush horse-carriage parked in the garage. And Brown students, if you're interested in the story behind the Van Wickle Gates (and you like awkward moments), head to Bristol's BLITHEWOLD mansion and inquire about original homeowner Augustus Van Wickle's skeet-shooting accident.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Rhode Island, students, COLLEGE,  More more >
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