Thursday, October 16, 2014

The One Place I Am An Expert On...Connecticut

I've written a lot of blog entries about travel around the world.  It occurred to me that sometimes we take things for granted, and I've kind of done that with where I live.  Thirty years ago, I came to Connecticut to visit friends, and fell in love with the place, to the point that I have lived here for the last 22 years.  In that time, I have been out and about, lived all over the place, and learned about everything that I want to know about this state.  So, today I will talk about the place I know best...Connecticut.

Connecticut is famous for it's foliage.  That's a given.  But, the amazing thing about Connecticut is that it's so compact.  It has it all, folks.  We have a couple of the world's largest casinos, ocean beaches, deep sea fishing, Appalachian Trail hiking, Revolutionary War time history, mountains, skiing, aquariums, zoos, planetariums, museums, world class performing arts, ivy league colleges, high end sports colleges, amazing foods, and so much more.  Here in Connecticut you can visit a tiny village and go antiquing by day and head into the city and go clubbing by night.  There's really not a place in the whole state that you can't reach in two hours or less, and there's almost anything that you can find in most of the rest of the country.  We've just shrunk it all down and made it convenient.

One of the things that we have are castles.  That's right, we've got some.  One of my favorites is the home of the one time famous William Gillette.  He was an actor back in the stage days, and he was famous world wide for several reasons.  One of those reasons was that he was a little nuts.  He built the reclusive castle that he called home on a cliff overlooking the Connecticut River in Haddam, and it was a little weird in his house.  There were huge wooden beams everywhere, and everything was a little dark, but elegant.  But that was okay, because if you wanted some air there were the amazing gardens overlooking the river and the train that you could ride around on.  That's right, the guy had his own train.  Now Gillette Castle is a state park and we all enjoy spending the day there, because in addition to the castle and tour, they tend to have live performances to watch.  The other castle that I enjoy visiting is just a turret but Castle Craig sits in a great location high above the cliff overlooking Hubbard Park in Meriden.  It's a great walk, a great view, and Hubbard Park is home to one of our best drive through light displays at Christmas time.  For those who thought that Connecticut was just a paved piece of I-95 between Boston and New York, I think that some of our parks and countryside might just surprise you.

Another thing that we have here in Connecticut is educational fun.  We have two aquariums, one in Norwalk and one in Mystic.  The one in Mystic is larger and has more stuff to see, but the one in Norwalk has more hands on stuff for the kids, an educational program that you can sign up for that does hands on work on Long Island Sound, and an IMAX movie theater.  Both cities are interesting outside the aquariums as well.  Norwalk has a beautiful downtown to wander through, and great boating.  Mystic has all of that plus the Mystic Seaport where you can spend time wandering through a period historic settlement and look at some real life old tall ships.  Mystic also has beaches, and the famous Mystic Pizza Parlor that was the centerpiece of the movie "Mystic Pizza."

Just in case you like mountains, we've got them.  Hublein Tower sits on top of Talcott Mountain in Avon, and the tower is the museum that was once a private home.  The view from the top is amazing, and the grounds are a great place to have a picnic and enjoy the view.  The best way to reach the top and the tower is to take the hike up the path.  The ridge walk is full of amazing views and it's a must see.  But that's not the only mountain worth taking a look at.  Mohawk Mountain and Mount Southington are great places to go skiing in the winter.  There is also Haystack and Ski Sundown.  You don't think about it, but you can do a lot of skiing in Connecticut.  If you don't wish to ski, you can always take a walk on the Appalachian Trail.  There are parts of the trail running through Kent and in the northwest corner by Salisbury and Canaan.

We love water in Connecticut too.  We have lakes, shoreline, and rivers, oh my.  The entire southern border of the state runs along Long Island Sound.  True, it's not the Atlantic exactly, but it sure looks like ocean when you're there, and for another half hour's ride, you can go to Rhode Island and see the actual ocean anyway.  We have beaches, marinas, harbors and all that.  Ocean Beach Park in New London has a small amusement park and a boardwalk and arcade to go along with their fabulous beach.  They have bands on the weekends and everyone has a great time.  New London and Groton are also home to the submarine base.  Groton's Submarine Museum will tell you all about the home of the country's first subs.  But there are also great beaches and shoreline all along the coast.  The cute little villages offer all the antiquing, craft shopping and seafood that you ever dreamed of.  They also most likely will have deep sea fishing available for hire.  In the northwest corner we have Satan's Kingdom.  This is a great tubing trip that goes down the Farmington River from New Hartford to Collinsville.  It's a lot of fun, but just remember that the mountain rivers are a little brisk and quite refreshing.  The lakes of the interior and the rivers are home to any number of places that you can go fly fishing, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and rafting as well.

If you like the water and love rides, Connecticut is home to Lake Compounce, the country's oldest theme park.  They have all kinds of rides and entertainment, plus a great water park along the lake.  It's over 150 year's old, but as modern as they come.  They have a haunted graveyard at Halloween and it's a whole lot of fun.  That's in Southington.  If you'd rather have a little more toned down good time for the little ones, Quassy Amusement Park is over in Middlebury with a more carnival like atmosphere, but still a good time.  In the fall all of Connecticut has fairs, but in the summer the theme parks are the way to go.  Connecticut is also covered with mini golf courses and go kart tracks.  Some of the go kart tracks run all year round inside and out with leagues and tournaments.  You will also find a lively fish and game community with clubs all over the state.  They have archery tournaments and target shoots all year round.


Now, if you need more educational things to do, there's the science center in Hartford.  This new age building houses hands on science exhibits and a 3D IMAX theater.  If that's not enough for you, there's the Gengras Planetarium and Science Center in West Hartford, and a dozen children's museums around the state for the little ones.  On the art museum front there are art museums all over the state including Hartford and New Britain.  The Mark Twain House and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Homestead in Hartford are just two of the famous homes that you can tour throughout the state.  Connecticut is the Constitution State and our history goes back hundreds of years.  Hartford is also the home of the Hartford Courant, the country's longest running newspaper.  We were also the first colony to have our own constitution or at least a set of independent laws.  Also on the list of historical places in the state are the Nathan Hale House in Coventry, The Newgate Prison in East Granby, The Essex and Naugatuck train rides in Essex and Thomaston, and the Indian Institute in Washington.  If all of that educational fun isn't enough for you, you can take a visit to the Yale Campus or eat at the home of the very first hamburger, Louie's Lunch Box both in New Haven.  If you want to take it outside you can visit the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport or the drive through zoo at Action Wildlife in Goshen.

If you like the arts, you've definitely come to the right place.  The Bushnell in Hartford is a historic and famous theater.  They have concerts, play, and all kinds of performances there.  But they aren't alone.  We have theater all over the state.  There are theaters at both of the huge casinos.  There are theaters of great note in Hartford, New Haven, Goodspeed, Torrington, Thomaston, Waterbury, and so many more.  Here in Connecticut we have professional theater, local theater, community theater, and several schools for the performing arts.  There are many towns that have an old theater that is part of the community, and is still going strong.  If you like other forms of art there are numerous art galleries around state.

Then there are the casinos.  Foxwoods is the father of the Indian Casino.  They started as a bingo hall the rest is history.  At one point, it was the biggest casino in the world.  Then along came Mohegan Sun to give them a run for their money.  Foxwoods is bigger, but it's more like Vegas.  If you want something unique, I recommend Mohegan.  If you happen to live across Long Island Sound, a few years ago the casinos provided a high speed ferry for travel back and forth.  It's a great ride.  You can also see great shows, go to the museums, eat at great restaurants and so much more at these resorts.  At Foxwoods you can also attend the Schimitzun once a year in the summer.

Do you like to hike?  Well, here in Connecticut we went a little wild.  We have a ton of state parks.  Two of my favorites are Enders in Granby, and Kent Falls in Kent.  They both have amazing waterfalls to see.  But they aren't the only places to go hiking and they aren't the only places to see waterfalls.  You can also see waterfalls at Devil's Hopyard, Campbell Falls, and others.  We have hiking along the shore at Rocky Neck and Hammonasset State Parks and more.  We have countless river walks like the one that goes through Collinsville.  We have all kinds of railroad paths like the one in Granby.  They are amazing and they go all over the state.  You will never run out of places to hike and bike in Connecticut.  We even have a river walk right in the middle of Hartford.

We have so much to do in the state of Connecticut that we're almost never bored.  In the fall we have foliage to look at and a whole bunch of events to go with it, like the Connecticut Renaissance Faire in Norwich.  This is a great place to get your geek on.  You can dress up like olden times and watch a jousting exhibition or any number of other great shows.  If you come out on Columbus Day you can even participate in a Dr. Who costume contest.  In the fall there is also the Hartford Marathon, also on Columbus Day Weekend.  But there are many things to do in the fall.  There's the haunted things.  There are haunted hayrides, haunted houses, haunted graveyards and so much more.  There are great farms where you can go apple picking, pumpking picking or wandering through a corn maze.  In Stonington, you can go to a real cider mill to see how the enticing brew is made.  There's so much to do in the fall that we all get a little tired from trying to do it all.

But at the end of the day, we have some amazing sunsets to watch.  I can't describe everything that there is to see and do in Connecticut.  It's taken me twenty two years to see as much as I have.  I still haven't driven all the scenic drives in the state, but I hope to have done that one day.  It's on my bucket list.  One thing that I can say is that we have a terrible tourism board that doesn't know how to market this place.  If everyone knew that in one tiny state you could do all the things that you have to go to separate parts of the country to do in most other areas, the place would be full.  The beauty is amazing here.  The activities are first rate.  I didn't even discuss the food and concerts which tend to be amazing.  I didn't even mention that we have a Christmas Village in Torrington where the kids can not only see Santa but his elves at work and his reindeer.  I didn't mention the dinner cruises on the Connecticut River.  I didn't even mention the great Air Museum at Bradley International Airport.  I didn't even mention everything that goes on at the University of Connecticut.  I didn't even mention the race tracks in Stafford Springs and Lime Rock.  I didn't mention the wineries or the breweries.  I didn't mention the hot air balloon rides or the professional golf courses.  I didn't mention the jazz festivals or the Celtic festivals or the summer festivals or the trapeze school, or the summer camps or the flea markets.  I didn't mention the Dinosaur Park in Montville with real live track fossils.  There's a whole lot to do.  There's a whole lot of things to see.  You should save on gas and come to Connecticut and do a whole lot of amazing things in a small space.  You'll be glad you did.  It will change your view of Connecticut.

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