Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cooperstown and Howe Caverns

As I was trying to decide what my next Everyday Traveler entry should be I asked Vivian, my wife, what I should write about. She suggested writing about something we had done a few years ago and fit perfectly with the theme of this blog and lets us share something about what we do at the same time.
In the summer of 2007 Vivian and I were discussing where to go for our first anniversary. After talking for a while, we decided to use our anniversaries to go somewhere fun, not that far away and inexpensive. Vivian came up with the idea of heading to central New York, to Cooperstown, to hit the Baseball Hall of Fame and, on the way back, to visit Howe Caverns. This sounded fantastic, and as we planned it out it looked better and better. We both took off work early Friday and I took Saturday off so we could enjoy the entire weekend and not feel rushed. As our anniversary is in late November we would be avoiding the majority of tourist and holiday traffic, which to us is ideal.
When we started planning we first looked at the area and discovered that Cooperstown rests at the southern tip of Otsego Lake. Because of this we researched hotels and went with the Lake View Motel (http://www.lakeviewmotelny.com/), about a third of the way down the western shore of the lake. They had great offseason rates and a choice of rooms, suites or cottages, their Web site has pictures of all rooms for each of these. They also offer some nice packages depending on what you want to do while in town. As we were only staying one night and would be arriving fairly late we decided to go with a room, which was very comfortable and had a beautiful view of the lake. Breakfast was included and there was a nice selection of hot and cold cereal, make your own waffles and fresh fruits.
Next we looked more into the area and found that there was a wine and beer trail that, depending on how long the Hall of Fame took, we realized we could hit some or all of on our way to Howe Caverns. There were also a number of other things to see in Cooperstown that we decided we would get more information on when we were there.
Next was looking into Howe Caverns. Vivian had been there years before and, for the sake of convenience, we stayed at the hotel at the Caverns themselves- again, being off season, we were able to get a good rate. As a note, the Lake View closes for the winter so check dates ahead of time; Howe Caverns are open all year. The area around Howe had several choices for dining so we weren't locked into everything there.
So now for the trip itself...we got going in the early afternoon, anticipating about a 3 1/2 hour drive to our hotel. We ran into snow on the way up so it took closer to 5 hours, including a stop for dinner- the snow was a nice addition. The Lake View was a very nice hotel with what we discovered the next morning were beautiful views of the lake. It was funny seeing the people in the room next to us with Texas plates trying to figure out how to clean off their car from the inch or snow that had arrived overnight as I quickly cleaned off the car with the snowbrush which we keep in the car year round. The hotel office had a good number of area brochures which we looked through during breakfast, enjoying the view through light snow showers, then got going.
Downtown Cooperstown was a short, pleasant drive along the lake and we found the Hall of Fame easily. Cooperstown is a charming little town right at the southern tip of the lake and the Hall of Fame was a block from the water. Since we hadn't found any online discounts we bought our tickets at the door and made it through the museum in about 2 hours; it was very quiet, not very crowded at all and we were able to take our time, enjoy and get tons of pictures. The gift shop had the expected memorabilia, then we headed back out.
Since the Hall of Fame had been so quick we decided to hit the wine and beer trail, which led from Cooperstown down towards I-88, which led to Howe Caverns. We enjoyed ourselves, trying several places, stopping wherever we thought was interested and enjoyed the drive to Howe, about an hour away from Cooperstown by the most direct route (which we avoided).
We got to Howe midafternoon and, after checking in, explored nearby Cobleskil. Because of when we arrived we decided to wait until the next morning to do the tour of the cavern itself, as that was our actual anniversary. Unfortunately the room wasn't up to the standards of the one the night before- it was one of the more uncomfortable beds we've ever slept on, especially in a hotel, and when we go again we'll stay somewhere in the area. We got a package, which is why we stayed at the caverns, but we will pay the extra next time to stay elsewhere.
The next morning after the included breakfast, which was excellent, we toured the gift shop/learning center then our turn came for the tour. The cavern was beautiful and the tour guide was great, it was a lot of fun. We got a great picture to remember the trip by deep in the caverns and we learned a good bit too. The little boat ride in the depths of the cavern was pretty cool, and it was scary how dark it was the one time the tour guide shut off all the lights.
After the tour we headed home, about a 3 hour drive. The whole trip was enjoyable, close by and inexpensive. Total drive time was about 8 hours, including all the side and back roads we took sightseeing. It was a good weekend trip, close enough that we were able to do it easily without being tired by the drives or lose a day just in traveling and we didn't break the bank doing it, so it met Everyday Traveler criteria also!!! I hope you enjoy this installment and, if you decide to go, have as good a time as we did. Until next time this has been...

The Everyday Traveler

Monday, August 17, 2009

Southeastern Connecticut

So for my first Everyday location I've picked home, southeastern Connecticut. With the popularity of "Staycations" nowadays writing about somewhere close to home seems to make sense. I don't plan on talking about any kind of a budget or anything, just things that can make a great day or weekend trip and won't break the bank for your average person. Any prices for admission or anything else are current as of August 2009.

So where to start? This really depends on your tastes and what you're looking for. want touristy nautical? Mystic Village and Seaport. Want small town seaside New England? Niantic and Stonington. Want to learn about naval history? Groton Subase. Want casinos? Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. Want a good, quiet spot to explore and relax? Pretty much anywhere aside from the casinos.

Let's start with Mystic. There are two distinct sections, Olde Mistick Village and the downtown area by the drawbridge. Coming off I95 at exit 90 we first come to Olde Mistick Village. This is definitely a tourist section with an olde worlde feel to it- a number of shops in a quaint little village, a couple of hotels, a few good places for a solid meal and Mystic Aquarium. If you're looking for food there's a brand-new (summer 2009) diner called the Equinox (www.equinoxdiner.com) as soon as you get off the exit. We've been there a few times already- great mixed selection, pretty much something for everyone, decent service, good sized but not frightening huge portions and good prices. Across from the Equinox is the Steak Loft. Awesome salad bar, good food but during tourist season packed and tourist prices year round. My wife loves going here and we're there a couple times a year. Live bands are common on the weekends. Buried in the village is Go Fish, which we've never been to but have heard good things about. There are a couple smaller places tucked in the village too- not bad, for the most part, about what you'd expect to find anywhere.

The Village has a good number of shops, ranging from tourist trap to country store to eclectic stores for your stoner or Asian culture enthusiast. It's an interesting mix that for whatever reason works really well. Some of our favorite stores include the General Store- tons of good foodstuffs, tourist items and fun...Raining Cats and Dogs- just plain unhealthy for the animal lover...a newer store that's great that does sports memorabilia...and the Grey Goose, an epicurian delight that's my last resort for stocking stuffers since my wife already owns most of what Pampered Chef has to offer. The Yankee Silversmith is fun too- tourist prices but some beautiful work. Take the time to explore anything that even remotely catches your eye, it will be worth it.

Just past the Village is the Mystic Aquarium (www.mysticaquarium.org). This is a GREAT place to spend the day with the kids, especially the unexpected rainy day- lots to do, great shows and very educational at the same time. It's not cheap, a family of 4's going to run around $85 for admission so if you plan on going more than once a year the family membership at $169 pays for itself on the second trip. There are a number of other membership deals, check the Web site and there are usually AAA and/or military discounts. The Aquarium underwent a major rework a few years ago, too, so it's better than ever.

Coming out of the Village and taking a left onto Route 27 starts you on the route to the downtown area. This is a nice, scenic drive along the river which can get backed up like crazy on a nice day. About halfway down is Mystic Seaport (www.mysticseaport.org), a reconstructed 19th century village. Definitely hit this on a sunny day, rain will wipe it right out. Again, not real cheap, around $80 admission for a family of 4 but check online for discounts and, of course, AAA. There are exhibitions of life 150+ years ago, people in period garb, a great bookstore for the lovers of nautical lore and it's generally a good visit. During the holidays are special lamplight tours (fun, we did this a few years ago) and the whole thing being right on the water makes it comfortable even on a hot day. I am going to plug a good friend of mine here, Elinor DeWire, who writes books on lighthouses and, last time I was there, had a book or three here. Check her out at www.elinordewire.com, she's got some great stuff.

Continuing down Rte 27 leads you into downtown Mystic itself. Best advice- find a place to park (free for the most part) and start walking. The drawbridge, with its counterweights each the size of a Volkswagen Bug, is beautiful and impressive to see in place or when in motion. There are a lot of great shops and restaraunts along here, and fans of the movie Mystic Pizza will recognize various spots. Personal favorites are 41 North/Dylan's Pub, Margarita's and the bookstore- not big but very close and comfortable. S&P Oyster company is great and right on the water but big-time tourist pricing.

Leaving Mystic and heading north on Route 1, the scenic route to Stonington, on the left is a little place called the Cove Fish Market. This is a must stop for the fried seafood lover- clam fritters roughly the size of baseballs where the person taking your order shouts, "Drop 3" of however many you order, all fresh seafood from water you can see from the outdoor tables, tons of food, good prices, comletely relaxed atmosphere- how can you beat it???

Stonington Village is great for a relaxed afternoon for adults but there isn't a lot here for kids or teens. Some great shops, in particular Anguilla Gallery, small places to grab a bite, and a walk out to the Point is almost required. The drive in is beautiful also- big, beautiful houses partially hidden on large pieces of land, tantalizing glimpses of the water and marinas and traffic overall isn't bad.

Heading back south on I95 for a quick, free look at submariner history hit the Nautilus Memorial on Route 12, right outside the Subase. This has the world's first nuclear sub as a permanent exhibit and some pretty interesting sub lore. It's closed on Tuesdays last I saw.

New London is an old whaling town but, unfortunately, hasn't really done much of anything with it. There are areas of town to avoid like the plague and the two biggest attractions are Ocean Beach and the ferry terminal, where you can hop across to Long Island or Block Island (www.blockisland.com). The ferry ride on the new high speed ferry is about an hour, no cars allowed since there really aren't any on the island- makes sense since there are all of two paved roads on the island. Rent mopeds when you get there for a fun way to zip around and explore as much as possible. If you plan on staying overnight make reservations ahead of time, especially during the summer- the few rooms book FAST and good luck trying to get something last-second. It's a fun day trip; if you're going to stay for more than a day I'd do it midweek. This only runs from New London May through September, year-round service is available from Point Judith, RI, in Narragansett- Rhode Island will be covered another day.

Just a little further down I95 is Niantic- a great little seaside town with a nice beach and beautiful view of Millstone, our local nuclear plant and the reason we have low taxes where we live. Great seafood abounds, and there are some great shops too. Without shame I will plug my brother-in-law's shop, Thames Imports, and the Book Barn- $1 paperbacks, it's incredibly addictive!!! Sunset Ribs under the bridge is fantastic and fun to watch people pull their boats up and stop for a meal.

The last big things I'll mention are the casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. I've seen both literally from the ground up- when I was in high school Foxwoods was just a bingo hall and Mohegan Sun bought a friend's house to build their casino. I won't say a lot about them, the best way I can describe the differences are if you're looking for Vegas, go to Foxwoods...if you want to relax a little more go to Mohegan.

These are the major things in this area. Exploring will bring you to places like Stonington Vineyards, Holmbergs Orchards, Clyde's Cider Mill, Avery Point and a ton of other hidden gems that would take far too long to list here. Looking around a little, off the beaten path, can reveal a treasure trove of hidden gems that I know I'll find more of as time goes on. I hope you enjoyed the first of my Everyday Travels. Where will I head next? Not sure yet but I may start working my way out from home- southern Rhode Island? Northern New England? Or will we jump to Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Hawai'i? Find out on the next installment of the Everyday Traveler...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why this blog?

Since I'm fairly new to blogging but am enjoying the outlet I've been doing some thinking and trying to find a way where I can share my love of travel. I am an admitted addict to the Travel Channel; taking trips all over the place without leaving the comfort of my living room or basement is fantastic and right in my budget...which brings up another reason for this blog.

As much as I love watching the Travel Channel, learning about and seeing all the places it seems like many of the shows are depicting visits that, quite frankly, the average person can't afford. Yes I'd love to visit Europe but, short of hitting Powerball, I won't be staying at these 5-star resorts and spas. The same with different parts of the US- when I go to visit them I'm not looking for the ultimate in luxury or killer treatment, I want to explore and experience each place as a normal person.

So what I plan to do here is this- take my travels, as very much an everyday person, share them and hopefully open people up to realizing that you don't have to spend a fortune to see some of the best America has to offer. I will share my one series of overseas travel but, as it was in 1987, it will probably be short and fairly vague. Some of these places I haven't been to in over 20 years, so if any information I present is out of date I do apologize and I will indicate in each post how long it's been since I've been there. I will be doing research to update information as I can but I will be the first to admit that there will be holes, gaps and errors, just like there are on a regular trip. So please join me as I travel down Memory Lane to explore as much as possible as The Everyday Traveler!