Wednesday, December 21, 2016

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays!

I've stayed closer to home this year and have spent a lot of time learning to appreciate the area that nearly 25 years ago I chose to call home.  It's funny how after a couple of decades somewhere you start to whine and complain about things and all but forget what drew you to the place in the beginning.  So, it is with great sincerity that I talk about the one place that is special in my heart, and especially at Christmas.  Torrington, Connecticut; my home.

I love Christmas and so does this crazy city.  Torrington is this amazing combination of a bunch of Italian folks, their relatives and friends, a few thousand wards of the state, a bunch of people who moved here from the Caribbean and southern Asian countries, and some of us that just like the view most of the time.  We have too many bars, too many liquor stores, and too much pizza; but this town has some amazing things.

For one thing, we are home to a thriving art community.  Yarn Bomb was the project last summer that took over the entire city.  Everywhere you went there were yarn creations.  They were even at the local synagogue and the park.  There are several art galleries in town and we even have a place where you can go and spend the evening painting with friends.  We also have a musical venue called Performance Hub that has all kinds of interesting music performances and projects.  We have a kids museum as well which is a great place to hang out with your kids.

We are the home of The Warner Theater too.  This place has all kinds of entertainment throughout the year and does four musicals each year that are civic theater and frankly some great productions.  It's partner is the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts.  This is a performing arts school that does focus on dance, but there are other topics studied there too.  This conglomerate is the Northwest Corner's artistic center.  If you do happen to come to town for a visit, however, there are also many other locales around us.  There's the Infinity Theater in Norfolk, and the Thomaston Opera House in Thomaston to name a couple.  There are a lot of arts in Connecticut's Northwest Hills.

This town has some quirky businesses, some beautiful churches, and a spectacular Victorian Park.  It's scenic around here.  Now, I know, I'm the first person to say that New Englanders don't always put out the welcome mat or want to make new friends; but this time of year really brings out the best in people here.  People give constantly here during the holidays.  There are food drives, toy drives, the Salvation Army and a whole bunch of other stuff going on.  Coats for kids, warm the children, and so much more.  Torrington is a city with some problems, and we all like to help with them when we can.  We have had entire tent cities among us here.  We do have a housing and unemployment issue.  We have drug problems and all kinds of stuff.  The amazing thing is that despite all that, it's not a dangerous place to live. It's not an ugly place to live. I can still walk right down main street in the middle of the night and it doesn't make me the least bit uncomfortable.  It's an odd little city, but it's comfortable, and the pros outweigh the cons.

Torrington  has a lot of restaurants, and the majority of them sell pizza.  The second best seller is Chinese food, and then you have some others like Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Irish.  There are any number of bars to keep you drinking, and liquor stores on almost every corner if you need more.  We are a shopping hub with all the discount stores you'd hope to see.  We also have trains everywhere.  It's a thing for now.  We were home to a college baseball team that played at our beautiful baseball stadium, Fuessenich Park; but I guess they won't be here anymore.  It's a shame.  We used to go to games whenever we got a chance.  They do still have music concerts in the beautiful Coe Park in the summertime.

Torrington is home to three state parks; Burr Pond, John A. Minetto, and Sunnybrook.  They are beautiful parks and great places to visit.  We have Mohawk Ski Resort just up the road for you winter people; and Ski Sundown is not far away either.

But I bring up my lovely quirky home at Christmas for one reason and that is that we do Christmas better than most here.  One of the reasons for that is Christmas Village.  This is not something that a local mall puts up at Christmas.  This is an entire village that is only open during Christmas time yet is completely built for Christmas and so that the kids can have an amazing place to go and see Santa Clause.  There are several buildings in Christmas Village.  There's a toy workshop with elves.  There are live reindeer in the stables.  There are sleighs and toys, and hot chocolate for everyone.  I took my son here every year when he was young, and it was one of the best places I ever saw for visiting Santa.  Locally, the place is famous and it's lovely, beautiful and warm on the inside.  New England's cold will get you between the buildings, but we're hearty people and we don't care about a little cold.  It's a great place to visit, even if you don't have small children; but it's spectacular if you do have small children.

Our other Christmas hot spot is celebrating 35 years this year.  It's the Christmas House.  This is a private home, and I've heard that the owner isn't necessarily a jolly old soul, but inside and out this place is Christmas on display.  Every evening during the holiday season these folks open their home for tours and the price of admission is only a food donation.  That's right, it's for charity.  Don't discount this.  It takes these people nearly three months to set up for this event each year.  That's dedication, and it's a great activity during the holidays.

So, welcome to my town.  Most of the year we're just a bunch of overworked cranky people, but Christmas brings out the best in most of the people here.  We love to celebrate, decorate, and donate.  Driving around town is almost as entertaining during the holidays as watching the Nutcracker at the Warner Theater.  So, if you've done all the rest, try coming to my town for Christmas.  We'll show you some good old fashioned Norman Rockwell style fun.  We go sledding, we put on the Nutcracker, we have a Christmas Village, we have a Christmas House, and we have an extremely festively decorated town.  So, come see me in my town and join in on a great time at Christmas.  Merry Christmas and Enjoy!*1A-15773435165:tikwd-17101188630:neo:mte:dec:qshotels%20torrington%20ct&utm_campaign=CT%3A%20Connecticut&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=bing&utm_term=LvVRjwvsoLUnD3vnbc9*1A

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Latest from Foxwoods!

It seems to get bigger every year, and I don't always get to visit; but this year my husband and I opted for a little getaway to visit Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, CT on the Mashentucket Pequot Indian Reservation.  Connecticut is ground zero when it comes to what we all call Indian Casinos.  Foxwoods was the first.  It was the groundbreaker.  And it is one of the biggest casino complexes in the world.  Being one of my local casinos along with the Mohegan Sun Casino Complex, I visit once in a great while just to see what's changed.

Let me explain Foxwoods.  This is one of those places that you do not visit looking for good deals.  You do not visit in order to win at gambling.  You don't go for the cheap seafood buffets.  This is one of those places where you go to spend money and enjoy time with friends and loved ones.  There are tons of stores, restaurants, shows, bars, and casinos.  It's like a mini Vegas in there.  You will walk a lot, you will enjoy the view most of the time.  Being someone who has been there a few times before, I tried out a new restaurant by Guy Fieri.  I liked the decor.  The staff was friendly.  The food was only average and in some cases below average.  It was also pretty expensive for what you got.  The staff, while friendly, did not get my order right, and in a way that seemed impossible to do. I ordered a salad.  It was interesting, but in the future, I will probably go to the buffet or the Hard Rock Cafe or the Noodle Bar.  It really wasn't worth it, and I should have known better, because I've been bitten by the celebrity chef thing before.

We did see some interesting things, however.  They have a machine that you can buy a cupcake from.  Never seen that.  Didn't try it because I'm dieting and well, it seemed a little odd.  If you want cake there is a cake company at Foxwoods where you can just buy a beautiful cake.  Saw a great wine cellar coming up from the steak house on the lower level.  It provides a great show for a bottle of wine.  We also saw many other things, like the new Tanger Outlet Mall.  There are a lot of great shops in there and it makes a great walk through from the Fox Tower Hotel to the casino complex.  We liked that we could walk inside out of the cold instead of having to take the shuttle around.  It gave me the option to leave my coat in my hotel room which is a great option.

This is an ever growing complex that becomes quite confusing.  Be very careful to follow the signs, or you will get lost.  But, that being said, it's a great place to spend time in the winter, because it's inside.  You never have to go outside.  In Connecticut it gets bloody cold and this is a great way to get away in the winter.  The holidays are great too.  The complex is festive and the deals at the mall are good.  There are holiday shows and holidays decorations.  You can even go ice skating between 9 am and 10 pm.  We stayed at the new Fox Tower, because they were having a great midweek deal.  We lived like royalty or a high roller for little money.  It was great.

Let's talk about Fox Tower for just a moment.  They are relatively new on the Foxwoods hotel scene.  We got a good deal which is the only time I tend to go out gambling at Foxwoods.  When we got there, we found an extremely luxurious, fabulously convenient hotel.  They asked me if I would like a view, and when I told them yes, I got a room on the 24th floor.  The view was magnificent.  The beds were luxurious and comfortable and the bathroom made me feel like a star with it's modern shower and it's phone in the toilet.  It was all very reasonable and comfortable and the staff was great.  We went to the casino complex and got sick of it fairly early, so we came back to gamble at our hotel's casino.  We had a much better time than in the main complex, and closed the bar there that night.  We had a great time, and we agreed that if we go back again, we will spend a significant amount of our time in our hotel again.  It was a really good time.  One more point I would like to make about this hotel is that they have many restaurants as well, so you don't have to get lost over at the main complex if you don't want to.  And my final praise for this hotel; I could figure out how to use the television remote.  That doesn't happen to me at hotels often.

Now, I have to say that with all the new stuff that is always being built at Foxwoods, make sure you don't miss the old stuff.  Don't forget to visit the older part of the complex.  They have interesting stores over there and man made waterfalls to look at.  They have the theater district and some great clubs, like the Scorpion Bar.  Check the website before you go bar hopping at Foxwoods too.  Some bars have happy hours and some don't.  You can find some great deals if you plan ahead.  Some bars have multiple happy hours during the night.  Also, check for the shows.  They have them in several spots on several days.  There are some good deals if you aren't looking to see only the biggest shows.  You have to stop and check out the Crystal Indian.  This is an artistic display that was a very big deal when it was first erected.  This amazing sculpture changes color and has a thunder and lightening display with it.  It's overshadowed these days, but it's still beautiful.

Things to look out for have to come with things not to miss.  Vue 24 and the Stargazer Casino.  Very expensive restaurant and players casino.  If you aren't in that league then don't waste your time on that elevator.  Make sure that you know when the Mashentucket Pequot Museum is open.  They do close for the season in the winter, so plan accordingly.  Penny slots are not necessarily penny slots.  Many of them require a minimum bet of 30 cents.  Make sure that if you are ordering free drinks that they are really free.  You may be surprised that if you order something complicated it will come with a bill.  Check the schedule and prices on restaurants.  It's not only the buffet that changes pricing with the time of day.  Be careful about that.  Know where the elevators are if you walk through the outlet mall.  When an escalator broke down, they blocked it off and we all had to look for the out of the way elevator to get back to our hotel.  Make sure you do your shopping during the day.  While you can walk through the entire complex all the time, the stores all close by 9 pm.  This is not Vegas.  Many restaurants close relatively early too.  Another thing to look out for is supplies.  I always like to keep water and stuff in my room.  There is nothing around Foxwoods, so locate the convenience stores within the complex so you can get snacks and drinks for your room.  Take advantage of whatever deals they are giving out with the Foxwoods Rewards Card that you will be using to gamble.  They give out coupons and vouchers when they issue them.  There are some really good deals.  You will only get the offers when you apply for the card, so take advantage of it.

Foxwoods is an amazing complex with a lot to see and do.  It's just a hop skip on the ferry from Long Island and only a few miles from Mystic.  There are lots of ways to visit the casino.  You can stay on the grounds.  You can take a bus trip from several locations all over the state and as far away as Boston and New York.  You can stay in Mystic and take a shuttle to either of the Indian Casinos.  Or, you can drive down for the day.  There's a lot to do.  If you choose to visit in the summer, they also have the Schimitzun, the world's biggest pow wow.  They have rodeos, and native demonstrations.  They have native art and gourmet burgers.  There's no end to the ways that you can be entertained at Foxwoods.  Just  make sure you do your homework and plan your stay.  If you do that, you will have a great time.  It's just one more way to enjoy the holidays.  You can even do your Christmas shopping at the mall.  Enjoy!*Kvdeg6W9VIYg-8874532150:tikwd-17273461488:neo:mte:dec:qsnorwich%20ct&utm_campaign=CT%3A%20Connecticut&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=bing&utm_term=NeCqVK85J*Kvdeg6W9VIYg

Monday, December 12, 2016

Tips for the Holidays in New York City!

That's right.  I went to New York City during the holiday season and I went to Rockefeller Center and looked at the tree.  You kind of have to don't you?  I mean, what is the holiday in New York without it?  I certainly hope that we never have to find out.  I hope that long after I die, you can still go to New York at the holidays and see the tree and go ice skating underneath it.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  But, on my trip there last week, I did that and so much more.

Now, if you go to see the tree, you have to turn around and head toward Saks Fifth Avenue.  The angels trumpeting in Rockefeller Plaza set the tone for a great holiday adventure, and the windows at Saks don't disappoint.  The displays are festive and artistic.  It's like modern art outside the Met.  There is a walkway/viewing platform set up for visitors to walk by the windows.  I hate to say it, but see the outside.  Once you go inside there are a few more decorations to see, but basically it's just annoying sales people trying to make a fortune off of you.  For my sanity as well as my money stay outside on this one.

Now, 50th Street is Holiday central.  The International Building houses the Rainbow Room which is one of the most romantic locales in the city.  Many a marriage proposal has happened there and the view of the city is impeccable.  Radio City Music Hall is in full swing with the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.  It is one of the most famous continuing shows in the world.  They have several shows a day and they do it until January 2.  Also there is the Top of the Rock observation deck and the NBC studio tour.  There are a lot of things besides the tree to keep you occupied this time of year.

What else did I see on this visit to New York?  Well, right across the street from all those other things on 50th Street is St. Patrick's Cathedral.  I love to look at old churches and cathedrals with the Gothic architecture and the stained glass.  I love the ornament, the art, the structure and the amazing things that they've built.  St. Patrick's does not disappoint.  The ceilings are vaulted, the archways are tall and ornate.  The windows are amazing stained glass panels with biblical scenes.  There are many chapels throughout the cathedral as well as a gorgeous nativity.  One of the things that struck me most was the fabulous and enormous pipe organ over the front entrance.  This was a feat of ingenuity that I believe is truly admirable.  At any rate, you don't have to be religious to go in or to appreciate this cathedral.  So, make your kids put away their media and look up to see this amazing place.  You can visit most days for a donation and it's once again, amazing art that's not in the museum.

Just a few blocks south of Rockefeller Center and all the touristy holiday stuff that goes with it is a lesser known spot called Bryant Park.  If you're a tourist, you may not find this one.  If you're a local, you know all about it.  It too has a skating rink.  It too has a big Christmas Tree.  It has food and a bar and hundreds of shops where you can find truly unique gifts for that hard to buy for person on your Christmas list.  This park sits right next to a large branch of the New York City Public Library and is surrounded by historic landmark buildings.  There are many reasons to come to Bryant Park.  The skating tends to be free.  There's a carousel to ride on.  This is the only place that I've ever been where I could buy jewelry made from money, a clock made out of a miniature toy toilet, art, woolens, leather, and borscht.  They have it all in a Winter Village that runs from the end of October until the end of the season every year.

I visited Times Square like I normally do.  Learned a couple of things this time.  For one, the Starbucks at the north end of the Square is an inconvenient dump.  Caffe Bene just up the street at Broadway and 49th Street is much better.  The menu makes sense, unlike the sizes and stuff at Starbucks.  Also, the coffee is better and the atmosphere is better.  The view is crazy good too.  I noticed the fact that M&M World is right across the street from Hershey World.  This is good news for chocoholics like me.  I went to both while I was in the neighborhood and found a lot of great buys.  If you love Kit Kats, however, there are no tshirts for you at Hershey World.  You can get your picture or that of a loved one on a Hershey bar for a great stocking stuffer.

This trip was my first to the neighborhood that everyone has heard of on travel shows, but no one knows where it is.  Hell's Kitchen is that neighborhood just west of Times Square.  The major run of restaurants there is on both 8th and 9th avenues from around 50th Street and then north.  There are all kinds of restaurants there.  If you want to eat reasonably, and don't want to make the trek to one of the neighborhoods, then forget Chinatown when it's not convenient with the rest of your day; just eat in Hell's Kitchen.  There are a lot of off Broadway shows over there which means that it is still associated with the theater district and some of it is still part of that.  Hell's Kitchen is the place to get dinner either before or after your show.

We were just getting lunch before our big adventure.  We went to Chef Pho & Peking Roast Duck on 8th Avenue for our lunch.  If you think that the only good Asian food comes from Chinatown, you are so wrong.  This place was casual and fabulous.  I would gladly eat there again.  I would also be happy to try out the Italian, Irish, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, and many other styles of fare in Hell's Kitchen.  It's a great place to eat.

So, I didn't go to New York for the holidays.  I enjoyed the holidays while I was there, but we actually went to a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  This is something that I had always wanted to do.  There are several shows in New York that tape before a live studio audience and they give away free tickets so that people can come and be in the audience.  There's everything from Live with Kelly to SNL on that list, but being long time Colbert fans; we decided to go and see this.  We picked the day that the Vice President, Joe Biden was going to be there, so our experience was a little different.  I have to say that between the SUV's, the helicopters, the security, and some really weird trips to the bathroom; I met a lot of really nice Secret Service guys.  Over all, I was really glad that I went to the taping.  We had a great time, I learned a lot about live TV, and it made my trip special.  Would I do it again?  I'm already planning it.  The trip to see the inside of the Ed Sullivan Theater was worth the trip alone.

So, as I always say, go to New York City.  It is one of the greatest cities in the world.  There is non stop activity there.  I go a few times a year and I never have the same experience twice.  I always learn about something new.  I always meet people there.  It's actually way more friendly than it gets credit for.  A lady and I enjoyed our coffee together while we saw a cab getting a ticket outside the window.  I'd never seen that and neither had she, but there it was and we both made a memory.  It's all about the experience.  Life is all about the experience, and there is no better place to experience life than in New York City at Christmas.  Enjoy!;label=yahoogemini-district--o1Ava9U6W9wIGcOSuze3SQ;sid=487e3f1c2e5dc484725f760444e33b01;dest_id=981;dest_type=district;from_district=1;keep_landing=1;redirected=1;source=district&utm_campaign=NY-New-York-State-NY-New-York---Theater-District---D-981&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=yahoo-gemini&utm_term=theater-district-nyc-e&!e.ZzZz.4850000016588.0.12783309369.flight%20to%20nyc.flights_to_nyc&semcid=US.MULTILOB.BING.SEARCH.FLIGHT&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=USA%3AENG%3A@%3ADL%3AAMER%3AUSA%3AE%3AX%3A%3A&utm_term=flights%20to%20nyc&utm_content=USA%3AENG%3A@%3ADT%3AAMER%3AUSA%3ANY%3ANew_York%3A178293%3ANew_York%3A178293%3AE%3AX%3A%3A