Friday, April 27, 2012

A day in CT for only $10

Day Trip

For those of us that live here in CT, we are always caught saying two things… “There’s nothing to do in CT” and “Everything is too expensive here.”  Yup, I have to admit, a little digging was required to find a cheap, entertaining and interesting day, but Edith did it!  For only $10 today we got to meet local celebrities, have a culinary experience and saw our state from a new perspective.

Kara Sundland, Edith, Scot Haney and Me after the show.

We met at the WFSB studio in Rocky Hill to grab a seat in the audience of Better CT, a local talk show featuring “Scot and Kara”. The studio holds about 20 audience members, so you are really right up in the action at all times.  They start promptly at 10am and run the show basically in order.  They open with chit-chat (today we learned that Scot and his partner of 20 years split up, YouTube has a frog sitting like a person on a bench and Beyonce is People’s most beautiful woman of the year.) went into a cooking segment, met with a local fundraising group, interviewed a celebrity, spoke with activists and showed us some eco friendly products.  Something for everyone. 

The camera men and relations folks really make you feel part of the show and give you life saving tips…. Do not eat anything Scot offers from the “Recipe of the Week” as Scot licks his fingers...alot.  It was interesting to watch an interview Russell Hantz (Of Survivor fame), as Russell was on an audio feed from the West Coast and only Scot could hear what he was saying.  We got to watch him have a one sided conversation – then we had to go home and view the show at 3pm to see what was said from California.  A great time and the tickets are FREE, just sign up in advance.

From Rocky Hill we went over to the Lincoln Culinary Institute on Sigourney St. in Hartford, where the students prepare a daily buffet lunch.  In this second floor dining room today’s menu included chicken legs with lo-mein noodles, garlic mashed potatoes, white fish, a cob salad and pasta.  They also had pizza, wraps and a dessert table.  As this is in a busy part of the city with free parking, it is no wonder that locals come in for a quick $10 lunch.

I loved the chicken and mashed potatoes and the cheese tortellini with carbanara sauce was rich and tasty.  The cob salad was perfectly presented and yummy but the desserts stole the show.  I tried the orange dream cake and the bit of the chocolate cake with raspberry. 

We were on the hunt to stay close to the culinary school but to find something free and interesting.  Edith found us the Museum of Connecticut History in the State library.   The walls of the main hall are lined with paintings of every CT “governor” from 1600’s to today.  There are great exhibits about the Charter Oak Tree, Martin Luther Kings’ visit to CT, coins and things invented right here in our great state, (the Frisbee and the Electrolux vacuum for starters) as well as an impressive display of Colt Firearms.  You can spend about an hour here and also can arrange for guided tours.

The CT state library also houses our State Supreme Court where you can watch cases in action and also trek down to the basement for a spin through your CT genealogy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Comic Books, Movies and Zombies!


Boston Comic Con
& the Attack of the Atomic Zombies

The Offical Movie Poster

Take six friends, add in strangers dressed as superheroes, toss in a standing room only crowd of indi-film lovers and you end up with a fantastic weekend!

Last fall I had the privilege of  getting involved with Butterfleye Films on their first independent film, Attack of the Atomic Zombies, a black n white, all improvised love-letter to the great sci-fi monster films of the ‘50’s and 60’s.  This past weekend AotAZ was the one and only independent film shown at the Boston Comic Convention. 

This was my first ever “Comi-con” and it was quite the experience, though I was there to help draw an audience to screen our movie, help sell DVD’s and spread the word about this awesome film company – I was also there for the adventure of going to a con.  If you have never been to a Comi-con, it is a place for sellers and buys of comic books and all things related to get together in one place, artist to meet their fans, and also a chance for hard core comic book fans to dress up as their favorite character and show off their costumes. 

Jason & Mr. T go at it in the lobby

I got to see a dozen Batman’s, Wonder Womans’ and super heroes I did not know.  But also I got to see guys dressed up as Kiss, The Ghost Busters and various Star wars / trek characters.  These folks get into it for sure.  I didn't even know that the A-Team had a comic book, or Jason from Friday the 13th.

Two Face and Joker
in front of the
Stay Puft Marshmallow Man

On Saturday our movie ran at 3:30, we had three of our lead actors there promoting the event with us as well as the director!!  By 3:20 it was a full house and by show time, folks were finding places to sit on the floor.  All the flyers we passed out and chatting we did paid off.  Tony, our films creator and director introduced the movie to the first crowd of strangers to ever see it.  Tony, Brian (our guy who can build ANYTHING ) and myself stood in the back of the room like expect parents as the crowd began to laugh in all the right places.  They cheered for the good guys, booed the evil scientist and melted for the love interests. 

And as if Saturday’s crowed didn’t enjoy the film enough… Sunday’s crowed was even better!  Standing room only again with true b-movie enthusiasts that really “got” what we were trying to get across.  Folks bought copies of the movies to take home and we even sold some to folks who couldn’t stay for the film but really wanted to see it.  All in all, it was a huge success!

Some of the Cast and Crew...
Andrew: Dr. Harry Housen,  Steve:  Sheriff Ed Wood,
Allyson: Gale Arden,
Tony: Director  Brian:  Special Effects and more

I really enjoyed seeing all the dressed up fans, watching the artist work and most importantly spending time with my friends.  We had great conversations, shared some good meals, stayed up WAY too late while we laughed… a lot.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Count down: 2 months to go...

Planning my Summer Road Trip

So this summer I will be taking a road trip.  A two week drive from TX to CT.  2000 plus miles of America, most of which I have never seen.  This trip will bring me to NINE new states and will bring my US state count to 36!!  So we (my two good friends and I) will be flying to San Antonio then renting a mini-van and seeing some sites throughout the great Southern states.  Now, a one way air ticket and one way car rentals are very pricey, so I have to find a way of cutting costs on this trip.  That involves a lot of time on the computer looking up cheep, free and interesting thing to see and do.
Sometimes I just Google “Cheap and Free in….” or “Top 10 free things in…”  I get lots of great tips and ideas.  Museums are often free one or two afternoons a week.  Parts of places may also be free, such as a historical home might charge for a tour but their grounds are free.
One of my favorite websites for a road trip is “Roadside America”.  Ever wonder how to find the world’s largest ball of twine or a shrine to Jon Bon Jovi… this is the site that has it all.  You can even put in your location and it will tell you what is near you – you may not even know that you are only 5 miles from a haunted cemetery or a backyard orphanage of exotic animals!!

As I work on pulling this trip together I will share with you some great finds and tips on how to pull a road trip adventure like this together.  I will be going to:  TX, LA, MS, AR, TN, AL, TN, KY and WV.  If you have any suggestions of things I might be able to fit into this adventure, I’d love for you to share with me!!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tips of the Trade

Here are a few things I can't travel without...
 Eagle Creek makes these packing cubes, they are like 15" x 8" or so - you fold up your clothes, put them in, then toss the cube in your suitcase or duffel bag.  The one of the left is for shirts, it even comes with a folding board (for OCD folks like me), fold up 5-10 shirts, wrap the flaps and toss it in.

I always bring a power strip, though some hotels are getting better about making outlets accessible, not all of them have. 

With all the gizmo's and gadgets we need to stay hooked in to the rest of the world, this is a can't live with out.  This one comes with a USB plug as well for your unusual gadgets.

And a few other things...
  • Pack a night light for the hotel bathroom, at 3am you wont get lost.
  • Use your phone to take a pic of you parking spot in the airport lot (use landmarks)
  • Create a "HOME" bag, a Zip-lock bag with:  House and Car keys, cab money, and anything else you might need as you work your way home, so you don't have to go through you luggage.
  • Leave nothing to chance, keep photo copies of your passport, reservations and credit card info (including phone numbers, in case you need to call your CC company.)
  • Only pack what you need, does your hotel have a blow dryer?  Then keep yours at home.  Use those amenities that the hotel provides, why pack shampoo if you can get it for free and not risk the leak.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hotel Review

11 51st St. New York City

The Jewel Facing Rockefeller is clean, efficient and in the perfect location.  Half a block from St. Patrick’s, Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall.  An easy cab ride or by subway, close enough to the excitement of NYC, but not stuck in the middle of it.

The rate on price-matching sites was the same as booking direct, check in was easy with their self-check in, though an attentive staff helped me from the moment I walked in the door.  Room 601 on the front of the building, right next to the purified water station.  (A nice perk as water in the city can be as much as $3 a bottle.) 

The room reminds me of a cruise ship room – built long and narrow but efficient.  I was pleased with the spotless bathroom with amenities and a blow-dryer.  A place to put my suitcase and a wardrobe to hang my clothes.  A comfortable sitting chair with a swing out work surface and a generous work desk with a good task light and easily accessible outlet as well as a work chair I was trying to figure out how to steal it was so comfortable.  I had requested a mini-fridge and a microwave which were already in my room, right under the flat screen TV that swiveled for easy viewing.  The comfortable queen size bed had plenty of soft CLEAN bedding and pillows.  The nightstand had iPod docking station / Alarm clock, plenty of outlets and USB chargers; this is also where the thermostat is located. 

The frosted glass window in the bathroom door worked well as a night light, kept the bathroom light on without it blinding me overnight.

The view from the 6th floor isn’t too exciting, straight ahead is an office building (with people who work late, if you are a people watcher.)  But you can see into the courtyard to Rockefeller Center, and looking left and right you can see the steeples of St. Pats and the light of Radio City.

The dining arrangement with the neighboring “Club Quarters” is nice.  A 20% discount on food and a free drink voucher.  Their “all season outdoor” dining was nice. Food was fine, but there are many great casual restaurants in the area including Bill’s Burgers, Johnny Utah’s and Simply Fresh. 

I would say that the price is right for NYC, the room is the right size for one or two people and the staff is great.  I came into my room at 11:30 one night and staff was cleaning the water station and fire extinguisher.  When I had a problem closing my window at 1am, polite staff quickly took care of the problem. 

I was able to store my luggage at no charge for the day as I spent the day around town.  Cab’s do not often drive by this way, so you might be better off trying to hail one on 5th or 6th Ave.  Upper floors have rooms with a balcony that would overlook Rockefeller, might be worth the extra price.  All in all, I would stay there again for sure as well as recommending it to others. 

This is the night stand - everything you need right next to the bed and a lower shelf for your favorite best seller.

This is the room, long and narrow.  You can't see the bathroom, it is to my left.  Skinny but efficent.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

NYC Day 2

Quintessential NYC

            Food, food, food – why is it everywhere I go it’s about the food.  But it is those food experiences that are making this trip fun.  After a mediocre dinner last night – I got it right today.  On my way to my first day of conference I found a little place in Time Square called Café Bene.  A bit of pre-made pastries, juices and a coffee bar – but what brought me in was the smell of the waffles.  Café Bene has a waffle menu that makes your mouth water.  I had mine with strawberries and cream cheese served in a cute to-go dish.

            I know I had mentioned that I was hoping to meet some great folks in class, and I did – my small group of four is a smart bunch of ladies – so we found a little ‘fast-casual’ place that did pasta dishes to order for lunch.  Pax wholesome foods had great variety and service.  I had lunch with two of my classmates, who were locals, so at the end of the day they scattered home, leaving me to trek it alone.

            What is more New York City then a Broadway show and a slice of pizza?  After class I wandered around the neighborhood some more, bought a super cute coat and then located my theatre.  Then it was off to find a slice of pizza.  On the corner of 40th and 7th was Labeleca, catering to the theatre goers, this idyllic little shop serves great thin crust pizza, fold it in half and enjoy!  Great taste and NY atmosphere. 

            My first Broadway show was wonderful.  The Nederlander Theatre on 41st is a quaint old theatre house with lots of hardwood and not a bad seat in the place.  I splurged on a seat in the orchestra.   No curtain was dropped, the amazing set for Newsie’s was out in the open.  During the buzz and anticipation for the show to began, I was shocked when I saw comedian (and Celebrity Apprentice star) Lisa Lampanelli strolling up the aisle and visiting with fans.  Lending itself to that NY experience.  A celebrity in an unexpected yet normal place.

            The lights went down, the music began and the Disney production unfolded before me.  The singing and dancing were even better then the movie (the movie spawned the stage show.)  They included a few new songs, needed to fill the show and carry the changes in the script.  It was fantastic.  I have loved Newsie’s since my friend Ally told me about years ago – and to have it come to life in front of me was amazing.

            So, I have only full night left here…. What will I do with my evening, what food will I find?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

NYC Day 1

St. Pat’s to my left, Radio City Music Hall to my right

          From my really nice room on the sixth floor of “the Jewel Facing Rockefeller Center” I can see the top of the Cathedral, the entrance into Rockefeller Center and the red lights of Radio City.  This gem of a boutique hotel on 51st was a great choice.  The room is narrow but long.  It has a fantastic bathroom, a work desk for blogging, a task chair I am trying to figure out how to fit in my suitcase, a comfy queen bed and tons of easily accessible outlets - which is good, cause I brought lots of gadgets that need charging.
            The train from Hartford was pretty empty but I am guessing it won’t be that way on the way home Friday.  By the time I got checked in and unpacked I was pretty hungry, but I wanted to check out St. Patrick’s Cathedral real quick.  The gothic architecture rises up out of the concrete city and the large wooden doors welcome all who come through.  The glow of the candles in front of the small inlets of religious statues lends to the scale of this massive church.

            I was so close getting to dinner when I saw GODIVA, just a block from my hotel.  A little shopping trip AND THEN, I was off to dinner.  I have to say, with a million choices in such a tight area, it’s too bad when you make a bad choice.  Dinner was fine, but not great.  Oh well, more tries to get it right this week.  So I strolled through Rockefeller Center, saw the skaters – crazy to see people ice skating at night in a city when it is 60 degrees out.   Very cool.  Then it was off to the Pig N Whistle… a little Irish Pub on 47th where my friend Dave Barkow often plays tunes.  As he is there this week, I am sure this will be my end of the night hang out.  Walking back to my hotel through Time Square was great - some guy sold me a gerber daisy, tons of people were taking pics and local musicians were making a living on the side of the road.

            So, a busy night to start my adventure in NYC.  Tomorrow I attend the first day of the conference that brought me here and I will see my first Broadway musical.