A lot of my friends like to travel, either to find the hidden gems of Connecticut or to pay a visit to another city or country. I like to get out and about as well, but more often than not I’ll arrive at the weekend with no real plans on what to do. When this happens, I tend to emerge at the other end relaxed but with nothing to show for it but a cleaner apartment, a couple of bookmarks moved up in my latest reading, and perhaps a bank account slightly depleted by a local restaurant or two.
This past weekend was more of an exception. On the Saturday, I went up to Norwich to see a friend perform in a play. The next day, I joined a couple of other friends to head into Providence.
The Saturday trip was the first time I’ve been into downtown Norwich. I wasn’t sure what to expect, given that I’ve heard quite a few unkind comments about the city. People have said it’s a dead town with not a lot going for it.
I arrived a little early, so I ended up taking a quick stroll down Main Street and back. And indeed, there were a depressingly large number of empty stores; most of the ones that remained were closed for the evening. There were hardly any cars parked on the street.
Yet the city also boasted an impressive range of architecture, and some people were out enjoying the evening at a couple of friendly-looking pubs. There was also a sense of community at the play, as the person introducing the performance explained that a concentrated effort by numerous different people and groups had saved the church from demolition.
It was also my first trip to Providence, with the spires of the city suddenly coming into view at a certain turn on I-95. After a stop at the mall to see Prometheus, my friends and I headed off to Thayer Street in the neighborhood of Brown University. The road is a mecca of restaurants, bookstores, and other small businesses. The place even has a Wikipedia entry.
But even though this section of town boasted some attractive locales, it obviously had its own issues as well. Although there was a nice mix of shops to stop into, Thayer Street was mostly dominated by restaurants; one meal and a stop or two later and you’d pretty much seen what there was to see. And among the milling crowds and street musicians was a homeless man curled up in a doorway.
At the end of the weekend, I had to wonder how New London would appear to first-time visitors. We’ve got our fair share of dead spaces downtown, but the ones that are filled are routinely recommended as excellent places to check out. There are beautiful waterfront places, historical sites, and art galleries to check out. And, an amenity that struck me as amazing when I moved from a rural area, things are open on Sunday.
New London almost seems to be halfway between Norwich and Providence when it comes to the downtown scene. Bank Street is much more vibrant than Norwich’s main drag, but it falls short of Thayer Street or other pedestrian-stuffed destinations.
Bank Street and downtown promoters are no doubt trying to make this a reality. It could happen, but it will probably take some time. Until then, I guess I’ll have to remember that if I can’t find a parking space, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means a lot of other people want to see New London, too.