Friday, August 31, 2012

Connecticut Science Center

 For kids of all ages

Making Science Fun
250 Columbus Blvd.

The view from the rooftop garden

Right in the heart of downtown Hartford, overlooking the Connecticut River sits a tower of glass housing hands on fun, education and adventure.  I have been a few times now and I have to say, I have mixed reviews.  From the hands on educational part of things they got it going on.  Tons of stuff for kids of all ages to touch and learn about, the exhibits are well maintained and there is plenty different things so the lines are never too long to try thing out.  Starting from the top of the building, they have a small but pretty rooftop garden.  Level 6 is all about nature, and I like the fact that they have live animals and talk about nature in our area of CT including our vast rivers.  A great 4-D movie tells you all about global warming that doesn’t make you feel bad about being a consumer.  This is also where WFSB (Ch. 3 Harford) lets you do your own weather reporting right from the green screen.  FUN!!  You can video yourself and have your video e-mailed home to you!  You can also make magazine covers and a few other fun things and review them later when you get home.

Level 5 lets you smash a dummy head with a mallet, okay you get to see how helmets protect your head at impact, but it is cool to smash the head anyways.  They have a great exhibit about the local company Stanley Tools in the invention area.  Not to be missed is the exploring space area, with the cool loungers that let you watch short films about the universe.

This time I went to see their special exhibit on Level 4 – Dinosaurs invaded Hartford this summer and it was pretty awesome!  Starting with the one that was outside across the street, the animatronic dino was amazing.  Converting their traveling exhibit gallery into a prehistoric home for over a dozen dinos was pretty cool, well painted backdrops with skeletons, stationary and moving dinosaurs for you to view.  I think it was a very well done exhibit! 

Don’t miss the music area for the Forces in Motion room on this level also, you get to race boats, make paper flyers, shoot hoops and race magnetic trains, a great hands on area.

So here is where my mixed review comes in, there is nothing on level 2 or 3 that is open to the public, on top of that the entire center of the building is wide open, all seems like a strange use of space to me.  I have been too many science centers around the country and I think that there is so much more they could do if they used the space better.  One of the highlights though is the glass front wall of the building, from every floor you get a floor to ceiling wall of glass where you can enjoy watching the river, the weather and the traffic go by.

Steve and Keith watching stuff
about the universe...

So let’s talk price, regular admission is $19 for adults, $14 for kids.  Plus parking can run from $10 to $19, depending on how long you stay.  That is an expensive day for a family.  I got tickets as a gift (thanks Steve!!) so that was helpful, but it is a pricey day.

Add on if you hit the gift shop or the café AND… they have 3D movies that are an extra charge as well.  $7/$6, for a 40 minute movie.  Though we did not go to one this time, they are usually a great show, well made movie with comfy seats, but again – for a family of four you could be looking at a ticket price of over $100 for the day.  Now there are membership packages that will help with the pricing and worth checking out if you want to go a few times a year.

This is great place to go, and a must to check out at some point if you have kids who like science.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Create a central charging station

Did you know??

Ever leave a charging cord behind?

When we took that road trip down south this summer, we had three cell phones, a tablet with detachable keyboard, a plug in cooler (for meds), and cameras with rechargable batteies.  This is about normal for a family on vacation.

In this day of traveling with electronics it can be easy to leave things behind when vacating a hotel room.  Bring a power strip with you.  Make a central station to recharge all your devices.  This way you wont forget the Ipad charger in the outlet behind the bed.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Across the Pond

A memory...
My first trip to the British Isles
April 2001

In 2001, I was 27 years old and had never left North America.  I had only seen a bit of this great country, I had never been on a cruise and had never been on an airplane that held more than three people.  But I applied for a passport, recruited a travel buddy and planned my first amazing vacation.  I don’t remember why we picked the itinerary that we chose but we sure did pack a lot into those ten days, from castles and beef-eaters to famous cities and museums, B&B’s and European transportation. 

We spent a few days in London, a day trip to Paris, a stay in Wales and wrapped up in Ireland.  There are so many things I can (and along the way, WILL) tell you about in regards to this trip, but today I want to tell you about my first days in a foreign city – London, England.  I had wanted to go there for as long as I can remember and I was so excited to get there, despite my fear of flying and nervousness of being so far from home.

While researching for this vacation I found this thing called the London City Pass, brand new at the time, it could only be bought on line.  But the promise of being able to see over 55 attractions and avoiding the lines to these top attractions gave us a great jumping point to map out our days in the city of double-decker buses. 

We stayed in our first B&B, a small room with two beds.  There was little heat and even less space in the charming room and a bathroom with limited hot water, but I remember the stay fondly as it was my first European B&B stay.  The British food stood up to is reputation, lets just leave it at that. We wanted to hit all of the iconic things, double-decker buses, London taxi cabs and all the famous stops.

We started at the Tower of London; I am always amazed by a bustling city with a sprawling castle in the middle.  It was Easter weekend and the line wrapped around one wall of the castle and down the sidewalk.  But our London City Pass told us to go to the “Will Call” window.  We walked past all the folks waiting in a misting rain, we showed our pass and were immediately ushered to the front of the line.  The $70 US we spent on the pass was worth every penny.  We got to see Yeoman Wardens, the White Tower, the Crown Jewels, Medieval palace and the ravens while the line outside continued to grow. 

Yoeman at the Tower of London,
Not to be confused with

Backed up to the Thames River and that two level London Bridge, the city was meeting all of my expectations.  That famous subway system, The Tube, so efficient and clean with that mind numbing chant you heard every time the doors opened, “Mind the Gap” – something I think of every time I exit a subway or train to this day.  We visited a few different churches along the way including Westminster Abbey.

There was afternoon tea at the British Museum, we had tea after we saw the Rosetta Stone, ancient mummies, Greek statues missing their heads and so much more.  London is truly a city full of history that has met the modern era.  You will find palaces next to offices and West End theatre mixed with shopping and dining.  (We loved to watch The Witches of Eastwick on stage!  We got last minute tickets and had seats "in the stalls")  We even shopped at Harrod’s.  Friendly people, cobblestone alleyways, looking right instead of left to cross the street, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare and reminders of Jack the Ripper (a sign to watch for criminals while in White Chapel).

Some of the headless Greek figures.
We actually found of display of just heads...
I don't know if they fit these bodies.

It is hard to believe we saw and experienced as much as we did in only 4 days of being there.  Some people think that London is too rainy to be a vacation destination, but for me it was a great starter city to fuel my love of exploration.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2 tips for dining in at the bar

Did you know??

Dining alone in a Bar?

1.)  Get friendly with the bartender.  He or she will help you make good menu choices, and make you feel welcome in their bar.  Also, they might save you from bad conversation with strangers.

2.)  Bring a book to dinner.  Looking to strike up conversation, it is a great way to invite people to talk to you.  Want to end an unwanted conversation, you can always say you want to get back to your reading.

.... I used to work in a hotel bar, both of these tricks were used by men and women who were staying at our hotel. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fine dinning in a relaxed space

A Restaurant Review

39 Jerome Ave., Bloomfield CT

Bloomfield has a new restaurant shaking up the culinary selections in this community.  Right around the corner from Wintonbury Mall you will find Republic, a Gastropub that is part of the Mill Restaurant Group, "Great Beer, Better Food" is their motto.  After renovations they opened up in the past few months and my hair dresser next door has been raving during my last few visits, so I had to bring my office-mate for her birthday this week!

Seating options are plentiful here in this industrial feeling building.  You can choose from patio, bar, kitchen-side, upstairs or front windows.  The open kitchen allows you to watch the chefs as they create their tasty menu items.  High exposed piping and a tin ceiling add to the brick wall decor.  We chose a high top table in the bar right next to the 10 seat farm-house table.

But really, its all about the food, so let me tell you about the menu. The lunch and dinner menus are similar, though portions and price vary.  From small bites, including a Buffalo Mozzarella platter (country bread, fresh mozzarella, pesto and an olive tapinade - it was very good - $8), as well as onion soup, chicken wings, meat plate, and even stake tartar. 

There are wonderful looking salads and flat breads (cooked in an open hearth brick oven), a large selection of gourmet burgers, bigger bites such as salmon, Coq au Van, lasagna, chicken and pork.  Lunch features an "Express Lunch Box Menu": Choose from either Cesar Salad or Truffle Onion Soup then....Chicken Salad Sandwich or Truffle Mac 'N Cheese or Fish & Chips then....Banana Bread Pudding or Fruit and Sorbet.  ($14 for the 3 courses) 

The Truffle Mac n Cheese, delivered on a cutting board.
The Ceaser Salad w. anchovie (yuck), but the
fruit was SO fresh and the limb sorbet was tart and sweet.
 She and I opted for the lunch box, which once ordered came out all at once served on a cutting board.  We both had the Cesar salad that came topped with an anchovie (skin on) Hhhmmm???, she enjoyed the fish and chips platter, beer battered with ale from the local Hooker brewery.  I LOVED the Truffle Mac n Cheese.  Just a hint of an earthy taste to it, with a great crumbly topping, served in a skillet dish.  The fruit and sorbet were great and she loved the bread pudding.  The portion was huge, even brought home some mac n cheese.

On their menu is a burger called "The Heart Attack".  I point this out special and I will give it to you as it is worded... "21 day aged domestic kobe beef, foie gras, black truffles, brioche bread & a demi-glace dipping sauce" I would guess it comes with fries and slaw as their other burgers do.  Why do I point this out?  Well, it is priced at $42.  Want to see more of then menu?  Check out Republic's web page.

They feature many local and seasonal beers, they had a good size wine list and featured an aray of whiskeys, written on the wall.  The service was fine, though it felt like things took a while.  It is mentioned on the menu that you can ask for "quicker meal" recommendations.

For the neighborhood this place is great, a little pricey, but cute as heck.  I hope it does better than the past business that have tried that spot. I will definalty be going back, I want to try the wings, a burger, maybe the lasagna... a bunch of good choices I would like to try out.

Hope you get a chance to check this place out - I am guessing they get a good post work crowd and I hear they are batting around the idea of live music.

Her fish n chips were served in this cute
basket with tartar sauce, a side of slaw
and a personal size catsup bottle.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Go on vacation when ever you'd like!

Did you know??

Recreate that taste you fell in love with...

Wanna go really local?
try and get your hands
on a Parish cookbook.

Did you fall in love with the tapas in Italy, or the BBQ in Texas?  Then pick up a local cookbook while you are there and recreate those great vacation tastes for years to come.  "Remember that great avacado pizza we had in California last year?  Well that's what were are having for dinner tonight!!"

Friday, August 10, 2012

The great American past time

All American Fun
These Cat's Rock!!
The New Britain Rock Cats

Rocky the Mascot loves to
mingle and take pics with the crowd.
What makes for a perfect Friday night in small town USA?  How about a ball game, the National Anthem, ballpark food and a nail biting 9th inning?  That’s just what I got when I spent the evening at a minor league game right in New Britain.  It was a hot night, but that doesn’t stop this Double-A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins from bring in 6,000 fans and even local celebrities. 

So what kind of things can you expect from a minor league game these days?  Game tickets are perfectly priced between $6 and $20, parking is only $4.  Parked infort of the stadium was the bus from“Best Friends” giving away treats for your puppy; the Stanley Tools booth had free tape measures.  After collecting my goodies, I stumbled upon Emily Audibert, Miss CT 2012 and her court who were at the stadium for a meet and greet appearance.  Inside we found a local cause passing out information and a local business passing out coupons for freebees.  All of this and I hadn't even gotten to my $10 seats yet.

St. James Church of Rocky Hill belts out
the National Anthem!

As in every baseball event, the game opens with the National Anthem, sung by a local person or group.  This time it with the St. James Catholic Church choir, those 17 voices made everyone proud to be American.  This was also special to me as I used to attend this church and I knew some of the folks from the choir.   Aahhh, that first crack of the bat.... And one of the things that makes the Rock Cats game a great family event is the between-inning games that they play.  Getting kids from stands to participate in short competitions and giving out prizes makes the change over fun for all to watch. From running around the in field, to sac races and more.

Food is always a part of the ball game experience, hotdogs, chicken tenders, fries, ice cream, pretzels, peanuts and fried dough are readily available, but at the Rooftop Bar and Grill also offers chicken sandwiches, burger and sausage and peppers.  A cherry sno-cone defiantly helped beat the heat.  Though that Bud seller walking around looked pretty tempting as well.

Proud of their 5-4 win over Altoona

By the bottom of the 9th the score was 2-4, Altoona.  It was up to the Rock Cats to shake things up.  After two players were walked onto base, #20 in fielder, Colabello, homers it with a fly ball to right field, three more runs gives the Rock Cats the victory!  The crowd went wild for sure.  But wait, the night was not over yet, a quick intermission dance routine by a local dance school brought us into the final ten minute show.  One Friday a month you can enjoy a great display of fireworks right outside the boards.  A great way to end a fun night.

An amazing fireworks display!!

Wondering if you can go bigger then just a seat and a hot dog, check out their web site  for suite rentals, fundraising events, giveaway’s and much more. 

Many of us locals are often at a loss of great, affordable things to do in CT, but for a few bucks a person, you can definatly have a great time at this New Britain staple.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dessert... Yummy

On a budget

How to host an Ice Cream Bar
How am I going to impress 20 people for less than $30?

So what does a food and travel blogger write about when she hasn't been anywhere new lately and has nothing to review?  Well, she talks about something a little closer to home.  Let me tell you about the Ice Cream extravaganza I got to share at my family reunion this past week.

After too much good food, fun, laughing and catching up with aunts, uncles, 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins, waterskiing and dodging thunderstorms it was time for my annual ice cream bar presented on a budget!  
Well, the planning starts early.  Almost everything I put on the buffet-of-yumminess can be bought early, when there are sales and with coupons.  First things first, I am a Turkey Hill Ice Cream lover.  There is no substitute for me.  And thanks to the economy, a half gallon is no longer really a half gallon. (1.89 liters is now 1.50)  Anyways, earlier this year I wrote Turkey Hill a “fan” letter and they sent me a bunch of coupons, adding those coupons to Big Y’s Buy One Get Two sale, I got six containers of ice cream for $0.89 each!

But we all know that the ice cream is just an medium for carrying toppings… so it was sales and coupons at Target, Stop and Shop and even CVS to get mini Rolos, Recess Peanutbutter cups, York Bites, (3 for $8 + my 5% prescription reward coupon at Target) nut toppings, Smuckers strawberry, caramel and hot fudge, sprinkles, maraschino cherries, whipped cream in a can and  Magic Shell.  4th of July sales got me the bowls and sugar cones I would need.  Homemade brownies made with Ghirardelli mix was a great base for brownie sundaes. 

Not on sale were the Thin Mint Girl scout cookies that I had stored in my freezer as well as the bananas.  So with it all laid out and ready to go, my family dove in head first and didn’t stop till the whipped cream was gone!  I hope today’s blog will inspire you to bring your ice cream sundaes to a new level.