Friday, April 28, 2017

The Litchfield Daffodils, and the Truth About Spring

Here's the thing about spring in New England. It's the worst season to live here, and the least enjoyable time to visit. It's cold, damp, unpredictable, and hard impossible to dress for. Plus, it almost always lingers for far too long, dragging winter into summer and casting a grey pall over the landscape with its creeping fog and rain.

People will pretend that spring is wonderful, because about once every three weeks, if you're lucky enough to be outdoors between 3:30 and 4:45, it gets almost warm enough to go without a jacket. These people are delusional, or selling you something. Unless you're five, and enjoy jumping in mud puddles, spring is miserable.

However, every dark cloud that threatens to ruin your plans with a sudden downpour has a silver lining or two. In the spring in Connecticut, one of these is the Litchfield Daffodils, a.k.a. the Laurel Ridge Narcissus Plantings.

This roadside attraction comes alive every year in April and May. Since 1941, when Remy and Virginia Morosani first planted thousands of bulbs in their rocky pasture, the flowers have spread to cover fifteen acres of land. They range from bright yellow and orange to peach and delicate white, and they grow in clusters on the hillsides, in the little valleys, and on an island in the center of a pond. The overall effect is like the backdrop of a fairy tale set in that mythical New England springtime, where everything is warm and bright and new.

There is no fee to see the daffodils, and no parking lot. (Though there are rules.) This year, it seems the low-key attraction is becoming more popular than ever before, due either to increased marketing efforts or simply the undeniable Instagram appeal of this abundant display of nature.

In a month or two, the weather will be livable for human beings again and I won't be shivering and covered in mud. (I hope.) But until then, I can at least be inspired by fleeting bursts of beauty, like these fragile blooms that somehow manage to thrive in this dispiriting season.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Back On the List: the Papermill Trail

Built c. 1865, the Cooper Paper Mill manufactured straw board until 1890. The process involved turning straw from local farms into a type of paper tough enough to be made into boxes, which were used to ship Connecticut-made products far beyond our little state. What remains of the mill now can be seen near one of the trailheads of the Papermill Trail in Madison, a blue-blazed loop through woods maintained by the Madison Land Conservation Trust. Beside the Hammonasset River lie the mill's fieldstone ruins. Water rushes over an abandoned dam, and iron rods protrude from the earth, a spiky reminder that this place, so quiet on a cold spring day, was not always so still.

The Papermill Trail had been on my list of local places to visit for ages, but then, at some point, I removed it. I guess I decided for some reason that it wouldn't be all that interesting. But when I happened to be nearby recently, I figured I might as well find the trail* and check it out.

And I discovered, as I have many times before, a surprisingly lovely pocket of natural beauty hidden just off the busy roads I'd unthinkingly driven on for years. A few delicate, papery leaves clung to the bare spring trees. Soft moss spread over the boulders on the hills. The trail was a worn, narrow path that sometimes climbed up or down on tree-root stairs.

I didn't have the time to walk more than a short distance from the road on this trip, but I've added the Papermill Trail to my list again. I'll go back some day when the harsh cold of spring has passed. Next time, I'll walk the rest of the trail to see what other surprises await at the spots on the map marked "stonewall" and "pool" and "stream." (When I do, it will be on my Instagram.)

*About finding this place: like so many of Connecticut's lesser-known attractions, this one seems to have been designed to be as easy to miss as possible. The trailhead where the mill ruins are located is on Fawn Brook Circle, just off Green Hill Road. Look to your right as soon as you turn onto Fawn Brook Circle and you'll (hopefully) spot a tiny wooden sign and a minuscule arrow attached to a tree, just above the height you'd expect to find signage. The small parking area, which has none of the usual identifying features of a parking area, is located just past the tree.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Broad Brook (and Beyond)

If you're a frequent driver of Connecticut back roads, you're probably familiar with the experience of suddenly coming upon an unexpected town or village. There's always something a little bit incredible about "discovering" an entire, fully realized place that's not far from where you live but that somehow has managed to elude you for years. I felt this way when I stumbled over North Stonington Village, and when a detour led me to the center of Chester, and when I first happened to drive through Broad Brook, one of the five villages that make up the town of East Windsor. No matter how many times it happens, I always feel slightly abashed for not knowing about the place earlier. But that feeling of shame is quickly eclipsed by one of "Hey, this should be a blog post!"

Because the building above really deserves to be in a blog post, don't you think? The former Ertel/Geissler Barber Shop, it used to be located on Main Street in Broad Brook until 1967, when it was moved to the grounds of the East Windsor Historical Society in Scantic.

The Historical Society's main museum is housed in this building, once the East Windsor Academy or Scantic Academy. (There's more about it on my Instagram account devoted to historic Connecticut schoolhouses.)

And then there's the wee East Windsor District Probate Court building, moved here from Warehouse Point. It was also apparently a doctor's office at one time. Like the barber shop, it was transported to its current location on the back of a truck.

The Historical Society grounds are also home to this barn, a reconstituted tobacco shed turned farm tool museum. The Grange sign once hung on the Academy building, when it was used as a Grange Hall.

In Broad Brook itself, the roadside curiosities continue. This is the Broad Brook Garage, an old gas station (front building) and auto repair shop (rear building.)

There's also the Broad Brook Library, built in 1919. The library's Facebook page describes the building as "unassuming" and says, "It is easy to pass the Broad Brook Library without even noticing it." I disagree; in fact, I distinctly remember that the first time I drove down Main Street in Broad Brook, I thought the library looked particularly adorable.

And of course there's the village's best-known attraction, the 1892 Opera House. The history of this building reads like a whirlwind tour of the history of business in Connecticut. It was built by the Broad Brook Woolen Company and the first floor was used as their showroom and shipping department until the 1920s, when it was occupied by an ice cream parlor, newsstand, shoe store, and post office. In the 1970s, it housed an insurance company. Meanwhile, the second floor was used for "operettas, stage plays, graduation exercises, minstrels, military balls, dances, card parties, basketball games, town meetings, election voting, and meetings for civil defense during World War II." In 2003, it became a theatre that is now used by the Opera House Players.

Across Depot Street from the Opera House, water from the Broad Brook Mill Pond tumbles over a dam and continues under Main Street. On the other side, it reappears as (you guessed it) Broad Brook, which eventually joins the Scantic River, which then empties into the Connecticut River, which bisects the state, passing other unexpected villages as it flows along.

Friday, February 10, 2017

6 Ideas For Solo Female Travelers In Connecticut

Yes, I'm breaking my Top Fives format with a list of six activities, but it's for a good reason. Back in July, CT Visit, the website of the Connecticut Office of Tourism, published an article called Connecticut for Single Female Travelers. It listed six things for lady tourists to do in the Nutmeg State. As a woman who usually travels alone, and a person who likes to imagine she knows Connecticut fairly well, this article made me laugh. Or it would have, if it wasn't formatted as a slideshow. Has anyone ever felt anything but aggravation when forced to click through a slideshow?

First of all, I hope they meant "solo" rather than "single." I am not sure what relationship status has to do with making plans for a trip, unless someone at CT Visit thinks women are traveling to Connecticut to find single, eligible men. (If so, out-of-state ladies, please don't waste your time.) Secondly, most of the suggestions they offered were more "worst nightmare" than "travel dream" fodder. I'm sure all the businesses and organizations listed in the article provide quality experiences for their clients and visitors, and that the tourism office had a good reason to promote them at that time. However, all but one of their suggestions were among the last things I'd want to do as a tourist, and as a solo traveler especially.

So I decided to create my own little list of Connecticut activities which, while acknowledging that solo travelers, female travelers, and solo female travelers can absolutely do anything that men or couples or families or groups of friends can do, would realistically appeal to women traveling alone.

The Quiet Corner (Low-Key Girly)

Unsurprisingly, CT Visit includes a retreat center (they offer labyrinth walks and "spiritual companioning") among its picks for solo ladies. I totally get it - it's the "you deserve time to yourself, treat yo' self girl, but not in a spa, that's materialistic, you are deeper than that" thing. But the whole concept sounds more like a punishment than a vacation.

If you prefer to spend your relaxing, girly alone time in an environment that does not require  politely avoiding interfaith groups attending yoga classes at a quasi-religious conference center, I suggest a weekend in the Quiet Corner. Wander around small towns like Putnam, Woodstock, Pomfret, and Killingly, where serene public parks and walking trails offer solitude amid natural beauty, and country roads meandering through rolling hills all seem to lead to adorable tearooms and rambling antique stores.

The possibilities are endless. In Putnam, have some coffee and cake at Victoria Station Cafe (pictured above), then get lost in an antique store or three downtown, then take walk along the River Mills Heritage Trail, before getting dinner at 85 Main. In Woodstock, have tea at Mrs. Bridge's Pantry and browse Scranton's Shops next door, then head to Roseland Park or Roseland Cottage. In Pomfret, shop at Martha's Herbary, eat at the Vanilla Bean Cafe, and drive through the pristine town center. Check out my Windham County tag for more ideas, or just meander - you'll find something wonderful, I promise. 

Route 7 (Road Trip)

For more adventurous travelers, CT Visit suggests a "sports and adventure center" where "singles are welcome to come try" the scavenger hunts and climb trees. I don't know about you, but if I wanted to do uncomfortable sporty bonding exercises, I wouldn't go on vacation - I'd just give up freelancing and start looking for a creativity-stifling job at a major corporation that forces its employees to have "fun" together on the weekends.

Here's an adventure that doesn't feel like a cross between that well-paid job everyone secretly dreams of quitting and sixth grade gym class. Get in your car and explore a well-traveled but ever-changing part of the state along the popular, yet mostly unspoiled, Route 7. Stretching from bustling Fairfield County to the scenic Litchfield Hills (and into Massachusetts and beyond, if you choose to extend the trip), this road will let you control your own fun while guiding you right to charming small towns, upscale independent shops, acclaimed restaurants, and natural splendor.

Start in South Norwalk, a.k.a SoNo, where a classy gentrification effort hasn't quite erased the character of the neighborhood. Then drive north, stopping at Orem's Diner for classic diner food in Wilton, or Tusk and Cup for a pretty cappuccino in Ridgefield. Keep going north to New Milford, a small town with a big town green and an adorable selection of independent shops like the Bank Street Book Nook. Stop for a photo op at the gorgeous Lovers Leap State Park before continuing north. The town of Kent is popular with weekending New Yorkers, lunching bikers, and Appalachian trail hikers just passing through. It's also got some stunning state parks of its own, like Kent Falls and Macedonia Brook. After that, Route 7 gets much calmer as you drive towards the Berkshires. Look out for the West Cornwall Covered Bridge, the quiet streets of Falls Village, and the hidden gems of the Canaans, like Beckley Furnace. Or just stop wherever you feel like it. If it's autumn, you'll see why this area's foliage is often called the best in the state, but it's worth seeing in any other season as well.

Connecticut State Parks (A Solo - But Not Lonely - Hike)

One persistent myth about solo travel is that people travel alone not for the freedom that exploring on one's own provides, but to seek out groups of strangers. This is presumably why CT Visit put an organization that arranges group hikes and post-hike drinks on their "single women" list. Now, as a way to find new friends or hiking partners where you live, I think this type of meet-up sounds great. For tourists, however, it sounds like whatever noise a very large question mark would make if it could talk. Why would someone seek out a meetup group designed for locals in a place they don't live? Why would someone travel some distance to participate once in an activity hosted by an "alliance" that requires a membership? And why, if someone wanted to do a non-local hike so difficult it's best done in a group, would they come to Connecticut to do it? I mean, don't get me wrong, I think Connecticut's outdoor offerings are some of the prettiest anywhere. But I've only traveled to do a group hike in places where hikers get armed guards and are advised on how to avoid scorpions curling up in their shoes while they sleep.

To me, the perfect way to hike as a lone traveler is, firstly, alone; secondly, in a place where you have room to appreciate your surroundings, but that's not so isolated that if you trip and sprain your ankle, it will be days before anyone finds you; and thirdly, on a route that can be easily done without a map - i.e. a clearly navigable straight line or loop, preferably one that leads to a concrete visual reward (not a networking happy hour) at the end.

Two that fit that bill in our state are Sleeping Giant in Hamden, a moderately steep climb to a castle where you can rest for a while before descending, and Bluff Point in Groton, an easy walk to a stunning water view with historic sites and little beaches scattered along the way. But there are many other options: look at CT DEEP's website, or my State Parks tag, and pick one that sounds good to you.

Hartford (It Has ART In It)

For the artistically-inclined traveler, CT Visit includes Weir Farm National Historic Site, the former home of painter Julian Alden Weir. Weir Farm is lovely. If you live nearby or are passing through, I highly recommend stopping there. I just don't like the idea of it as a getaway for a solo traveler. (Unless, I suppose, said traveler is obsessed with Weir. I have made far nerdier pilgrimages.) Located in a rural corner of a commuter suburb, Weir Farm is not particularly convenient to hotels, restaurants, or other activities. The NPS-managed site also has understandably strict guidelines about parking and use of art supplies, and tour hours and sizes are limited.

Instead, I advise getting a lot more artsy bang for your buck by visiting Connecticut's capital city, which happens to be packed with diverse expressions of artistic talent, museums, and galleries. You can even take the train there, and walk or bike or bus around town, eliminating the need for a car and avoiding that I'm-trapped-in-the-suburbs-and-there's-not-even-a-Dunkin-Donuts-here feeling.

There's too much art in Hartford to list it all here, so take this paragraph as initial inspiration. Right in downtown Hartford, you can find the oldest continuously-operating public art museum in the country, the Wadsworth Atheneum, which is large enough that you can lose yourself in exhibits ranging from Hudson River School to modern art, but not so large that you will seriously get lost. Also downtown, you'll find the ArtWalk in the Hartford Public Library, and smaller galleries like EBK Gallery, Clare Gallery, and the Pumphouse Gallery in Bushnell Park. In the Parkville neighborhood, where fewer tourists venture, check out Real Art Ways and the Dirt Salon. Time your visit to coincide with Open Studio Hartford and you'll find even more. (For additional art venues and happenings, and a broader list including theatre, dance, music, and film options, look at, and And then there's the public art, like in Heaven Skate Park, that you'll spot if you walk around. And Hartford is a surprisingly good place to just walk around. (River walk, poetry walk, long walk...I could go on.)

Stonington Borough (Nautical Escape)

For travelers who want to experience Connecticut's nautical side, CT Visit suggests a school in Stonington that provides sailing, paddle-boarding, and kayaking lessons and excursions as well as youth classes, scout programs, and team building. Most adult classes require at least two participants (the school advises signing up with friends.) Personally, just the thought of scheduling a trip around a two-day lesson that might not happen if no one else signed up - or if New England's notoriously fickle weather didn't cooperate - fills me with dread.

But the thought of travelers discovering Stonington and all it has to offer fills me with happiness, because Stonington is one of Connecticut's - nay, New England's - prettiest and most underrated coastal destinations. Solo women travelers should definitely consider Stonington, because it's a beautiful town (technically, a borough within a town) that's comfortable and easy to explore alone. But instead of limiting yourself to a class at a sailing school geared towards local families and groups, go for the full New England coastal village experience.

Stay at the Inn at Stonington and you can walk to the sweet Old Lighthouse Museum; the no-frills town docks (home to Connecticut's only remaining commercial fishing fleet); the tempting shops and restaurants and perfectly preserved historic homes on Water Street and Main Street; the humble DuBois Beach; the peaceful Dodge Paddock; and the amazing view from Stonington Point. Also nearby are Saltwater Farm Vineyard, the Captain Palmer House, the super cool Velvet Mill, and more shopping. To get out on the water, take one of those classes CT Visit likes, or look into charter boats out of nearby New London and Mystic Seaport.

Connecticut Women's Heritage Trail (Enrich Your Mind)

If you want to come to Connecticut and learn some new things in an interesting and historic location, CT Visit suggests taking a cooking class at a historic barn that also houses a museum and art gallery. The place looks pretty cool; it's even associated with the Smithsonian. But as a solo vacation destination, it leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, there are only a handful of classes each month, possibly because the venue can be rented out for weddings and other events. For another, the classes may be a little less individual-friendly than CT Visit assumes. This month, for instance, classes on the calendar include "Romantic Dinner for 2," "True Love Valentines," and "Kids Cook for Presidents Day."

Rather than learning something in a class you could take almost anywhere, I suggest expanding your knowledge in a way you can only do in Connecticut, with an added strong-single-woman (or strong-solo-woman, if you prefer) twist. The Connecticut Women's Heritage Trail is unique to the state, it's made up of a variety of interesting and historic locations, and visiting one or many of its associated sites lets you absorb information and inspiration without having to stick to someone else's schedule.

The trail consists of fourteen sites, each of which recalls the contributions of women throughout Connecticut's history. From the Old State House, in the center of downtown Hartford, to the Hill-Stead Museum, in pastoral Farmington; from the Windham Textile and History Museum, in eclectic Willimantic, to the Florence Griswold Museum, in picture-perfect Old Lyme, these attractions are spread out around the state. They recall different periods in history and offer various types of exhibits. Based on your interests and itinerary, you might want to go to one, or all.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Nutmeg Poisoning

It's been a while since my last installment of Nutmeg Poisoning. Here's a little sample of what people have been saying about Connecticut (and some additional Connecticut-y finds) from the past few months.

-From Bloomberg, is Stamford a boomtown?

-From Vogue, is Litchfield County the new Catskills?

-This hideous house in Avon went viral for a minute.

-This plan for a ritzy gas station in Greenwich went slightly viral for less than a minute.

-Here is drone footage of Groton.

-Here is drone footage of Stonington.

-Here's U.S. News's road trip to visit Connecticut College in New London.

-On Nature's "Rhinoceros," we learn that every year in the rain-forests of Southeast Asia, "an area the size of Connecticut disappears."

-In National Geographic, we learn about a new "Connecticut-size ocean park."

-From the New York Tines, we learn that Umbria is "smaller than Connecticut."

-From Slate's podcast The Gist, we learn that Gambia is "less than the size of Connecticut."

-Speaking of podcasts WNPR is starting a new thing called Connecticurious - listen to Where We Live to find out more.

-Finally, you may have noticed I'm posting less regularly here lately. This will probably be the case for a while; I have a lot of things going on and hopefully some of them will be interesting enough to share eventually. But for more mostly-Connecticut content from me, you can always follow me on Instagram!


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

We're Everywhere, Part 7

Over the years, I've posted about Connecticut's small rural synagogues. (Hebron; Lisbon; Ellington; Columbia.) In many cases, these modest buildings are the only visible legacy of the Jewish farming communities that thrived here from the late 1800s through the mid-20th century. Until now, the shuls I've written about were all located in the eastern half of the state.

Adath Israel Synagogue on Huntington Road in Newtown, above, is the only known example of a rural synagogue in western Connecticut. It was built in 1919 on a farm owned by Israel Nezvesky. An article on Connecticut's rural synagogues in Connecticut Explored (also published in the book A Life of the Land: Connecticut's Jewish Farmers), states that so many Jewish farmers once lived in this neighborhood that the area was known as "Little Palestine."

This little shul was used by the local Jewish community until 2007, when a new, larger synagogue was constructed nearby.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Bluff Point State Park

On January 1, 2016, a day that feels like last week and also a lifetime ago, I went on a First Day Hike in Massachusetts. This year, Connecticut had some scheduled First Day Hikes that sounded tempting, but I chose to take the concept of the New Year's Day walk and leave the group tour aspect, and instead go on my own hike at a local spot I hadn't been to in years: Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve in Groton.

Somehow, Bluff Point has escaped this blog until now. But it's a hike (ok, fine, more like a walk) that I'm very fond of. This roughly 3.6-mile loop through what DEEP calls "the last remaining significant piece of undeveloped land along the Connecticut coastline" is a chance to surround yourself with what I think of as three distinct environments. The first is classic Connecticut shoreline, with salt marshes and shell-strewn sand and water that changes colors like a mood ring. The second is an almost desert-like world where trees twist into stunted shapes and leaves stay brown underfoot even when winter has turned other landscapes grey. And the third is an old New England forest, where the rectangular foundation of the farmhouse John Winthrop Jr. (yes, that John Winthrop Jr.) built in 1648 still lurks below ground level, and stone walls run for miles like the complex gates of lost cities, and large boulders stand alone in little clearings, as if the woods wanted to give them space.

At the bluff that forms this protected peninsula's southern tip, the inland forest trail and the flatter coastal road converge. Here, several small, rocky paths branch off from the main route and lead you to a spectacular view. Standing above the Sound, if you face the right direction and ignore the other humans and dogs gathered on the rocks, you can imagine for a moment that you've reached the end of the world. And I guess if the end of the world is as beautiful as Bluff Point, I feel a little bit less afraid about its arrival.

Friday, December 16, 2016

East Haddam in Winter


It's not quite winter yet, technically, but Connecticut is absolutely covered in wreaths and ribbons and lights. One of the prettiest places to see some very tasteful seasonal decorations - and honestly, just one of the prettiest places year round - is East Haddam. I wrote a little about the town in my post on Connecticut's best bridges (the swing bridge over the Connecticut River here is one of the state's most iconic) but I've never gotten around to giving it a post of its own. (Though I have mentioned some of its attractions, like Devil's Hopyard.) So here is beautiful downtown East Haddam, looking perfect as usual, on a frigid December day.













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