Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Few Things to See and Eat Along Coastal Connecticut

Connecticut is a beautiful part of New England with plenty of natural beauty complimented by rich history.  We had less than a week and lots to see, and eat, so we planned our days carefully.  The trip through the Constitution State was going to run the gamut of small obscure museums to maritime history to food.   

Our first planned stop was to the charming town of Mystic.  Mystic is that idyllic coastal town that embraces its maritime roots and history then throw in some art galleries, delicious restaurants, and quaint boutiques.  A town of just over 4,000 people, Mystic swells in the summer when visitors arrive.  Two of the biggest attractions are Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Aquarium (both of which we have been to before and did not visit on this trip but are worth a brief mention. Click here for a link to a previous post). Mystic Seaport is a waterfront facility that is a re-creation of a 19th century coastal village.  The streets are lined with more than 30 authentic 1800’s trade shops and businesses that were brought to the site from towns throughout New England.  Docked along the harbor are wooded sailing ships (including the slave ship “The Amistad”) which are available for touring and short cruises.  Mystic Seaport is quite large and you could easily spend a full day there.  The Mystic Aquarium is another popular attraction with wonderful indoor and outdoor exhibits and boasts having the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibit in the U.S.

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We enjoyed strolling around Mystic’s small cute downtown where antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants hang next to the Mystic River flanked with boats and framed by the drawbridge.  I would be lying if I led you to believe we only paid Mystic a visit just to see the sights and soak in its charm.  Nope, we came to eat.  Before leaving New England we were determined to have lobster one more time and there are plenty of quaint waterfront restaurants serving up this taste of the sea.  But what we really wanted to eat was pizza.  Five years ago we ate at Mystic Pizza and the taste has lingered in our minds all that time.  Consistently ranked as one of the best pizza joints in the country, Mystic Pizza left an indelible mark on us and we could not pass up the chance to have it again.  

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Sitting on the Thames River just north of New London and a short drive from Mystic is the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum and Library.  When we visited the museum and base it was abuzz because Michelle Obama was there to commission a new ship.  The facility is home to the USS Nautilus.  The ship was commissioned in 1954 as the world’s first nuclear powered vessel and became the first vessel to pass the north pole.  Retired from service in 1980, the Nautilus is now on exhibit for all generations to marvel at.  Our visit started with a great film that tells the story of the development of submarines from the early crude and dangerous to the invention of nuclear power and sophisticated weaponry.  The film is about 45 minutes but very interesting and well worth the time. 

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After exploring the museum’s many artifacts and exhibits we headed outside to tour the Nautilus now permanently moored at base.  There is an audio wand that interprets various stations and rooms throughout the ship and makes for a more enjoyable visit than reading placards.  After being in the tiny cramped space of the ship, the motorhome felt quite large and spacious. 

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Next up on our Connecticut trip were two stops that focused on food.  There is no way we could pass up the chance to eat at a hamburger joint that is often credited for having invented the hamburger.  (There is some dispute about who actually invented the hamburger but Louis’ no doubt is the oldest continuously operating hamburger restaurant in the 20161029_121107country).  Louis’ Lunch, established in 1895, makes a simple burger with freshly ground meat stuffed between toasted white bread (after all the hamburger “bun” wasn’t invented yet).  It started when a man dashed into Louis Lassens lunchonette and asked for a quick bite to take on the run.  Louis sandwiched a broiled beef patty between two pieces of bread and the man was off.  Today, the restaurant is still owned and operated by Louis’ great grandson Jeff.

The restaurant is tiny but considering it started as a lunch wagon, it is quite spacious today.  If you don’t get there early or just before closing you will wait in a line that is out the door but worth it.  The upright flame broilers look like something out of an antique shop but do the trick.  Round meat balls are pressed between two grates and seasoned simply with salt and pepper (which goes to show you simple is sometimes the best).  The meat laden grate is oriented upright and placed in the broiler. 

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Ordering is quite simple and the menu small.  Hamburgers are cooked medium-rare.  You can choose cheese, onion, and tomato but no ketchup or mustard (they would detract from the taste of the perfectly seasoned juicy meat).  Bread continuously rolls off the radiant gas toaster like no toaster I have ever seen before.  Meat is constantly being flame broiled in the upright grill that is the trademark of Louis’ Lunch.  The history and delicious hamburger found at Louis’ Lunch are prime reasons this establishment made it into the Hamburger America book and a must eat for us.

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PEZ candy has been around since 1927.  The distinguished rectangular shape and iconic dispensers made it a popular candy treat for children and collectors item for adult enthusiasts.  When we saw that PEZ had a visitor center in Connecticut we put it on our list to see.  Entering the building you are greeted by a wall of nearly 800 PEZ 20161029_143046dispensers and a waft of sweet candy smell.  Entrance to the museum and store cost $5 but a $2 credit is awarded to ticket holders so you can purchase some sweetness to take with you or add to your dispenser collection like that new Obama dispenser you always wanted (they really do have a Presidential collection).

You may think this is an all-American candy just like a Hershey chocolate bar but there is more to that story.  PEZ candy was invented in Vienna, Austria as an alternative to smoking.  That’s right…what we know as a candy was invented as a breath mint to kick the smoking habit (and was round in shape).  The name PEZ comes from a German word for peppermint, “pfefferminz” taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and Z from the last letter.  PEZ came to the United States in 1952 and has been a staple of American pop culture. 

The PEZ visitor center is the largest, most comprehensive collection of PEZ memorabilia on public display in the world!  As you wander through the main floor visitors are treated to many vintage items that represent collectibles including those from Austria, Mexico, Russia, and more.   Also represented are dispensers of various groups like sports, superheros, animals, Disney characters and many more.  While you can not walk through the factory where the candy is made, there is a brief film explaining the process and portions are visible through glass walls.  It seems everyone’s favorite area is the area where you can shop for new dispensers and pack a bucket full of candy to take home. 

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We have always loved coastal Connecticut and vow to spend more time there so I’m not sure why we just don’t budget more time.  Maybe because we know we can always come back!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

RV Park Review–Bourne Scenic Park (Bourne, Massachusetts)

Website:    Bourne Scenic Park
Location:   Bourne, Massachusetts
Date:         October 2016
Price:        $48/night


This campground is on the banks of the Cape Cod Canal and owned and operated by the Bourne Recreational Authority.  The park has a “state park” kind of feel but with amenities you would find at a private park.  There is a wide diversity of activities including fishing, hiking, scheduled activities, a recreation hall with video games and jukebox, and store (outfitted with groceries, ice cream, beverages, and other miscellaneous items).  The park is quite large with 465 sites, some of which have views of the canal. 

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Site description:

There are 465 RV sites to choose from that are either water, electric (30/50 amp), cable or no hook-up tent sites.  There are also lodges (with water, electric, cable) and rustic cabins.  Of those 465 sites, 50% of them can be reserved for the entire season (April 1st – October 30th).   No sites with sewer however, grey water dump stations are randomly placed thoughout the campground and can be accessed with a garden hose (pictured below). 

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Some roads were paved while others were gravel/sand.  Sites and patios were grass, sand, or gravel.  There are six pull thrus and the rest are back-ins.  The one thing we did notice was that the site layout in some areas is not traditional meaning they are not all in the same direction and configuration.  Some sites run parallel while the next one runs perpendicular. 

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Leveling was not an issue for us in our site (C-25) but the majority of sites would be a problem for a motorhome to get level without the aid of blocks.  In fact some sites were ridiculously unlevel and took a scary amount of blocks.

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We choose a pull-thru because of our length.  Utilities were well-placed and all worked well.  The cable hook-up yielded 99 channels.  Campsites have a picnic table and fire pit.  There was no wifi but our Verizon phone picked up a strong signal.

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This park is not totally big rig-friendly for a 45’ rig.  The office staff gave us a choice of 8-9 sites that would work for us and there were probably more that would fit 40’ rigs.  The main roads were easy to navigate with our rig and tow car; however, some of the side roads would be difficult because of the trees.  The pull-thrus are a good option if they are available.

Amenities:

There are two pools, hiking/biking trails, playground, basketball courts, camp store/restaurant, pavilion, and picnic area.  Restrooms and showers are spread throughout the park and were clean.  There is a dump station located close to the park exit. 

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The park has live music on Saturday nights and various other activities like sack races and scavenger hunts.

Surrounding area:

Bourne Scenic Park is conveniently located near many of Cape Cod’s attractions including beaches, golf courses, historic landmarks, restaurants and shopping.  The park is approximately one hour from Boston, Providence and a 30 minute ride to the ferry terminal taking you to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket.  Closer to the park is downtown Bourne and Buzzards Bay which are just five minutes away and have groceries, fuel, restaurants, shopping, etc. 

What we liked:
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We liked that this park had a paved hiking/biking path and was big enough for a good walk.  It was in a great location for exploring the Cape and the towns of Sandwich, Hyannis, Buzzards Bay and more. 

The people in the office were super nice and helpful finding us a site.  They gave us a map with all available sites for our size and let us drive around to decide.  Our site was nice with a large patio and while we were there just before the park closed for the season it was very quiet. 
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What we didn’t like:

We were there in the off season and enjoyed that very few people were in the park but we got the feel this place could be really busy in the summer.  Sewer would have been nice but since we were only there for two nights it was not an issue.  The park is a little pricey at $48/night but you are on the Cape so they can command that. 

Spirit’s two cents:

The big plus for us was the paved trail that ran the length of the canal that you could easily access from the campground.  There were a couple of hiking trails thru the woods that we found which served well for a dog walk.  There is no off-leash dog park but the park is big enough for a long dog walk.




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

RV Park Review–Normandy Farms (Foxboro, Massachusetts)

Website:   Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort
Location:  Foxboro, Massachusetts
Date:        October 2016
Price:        $55/night (This included a discount of $10 off the first night for first-time campers)


We planned a brief stop in the Boston area with the intent of seeing the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.  Both of us have been to Boston many times in the past and were just in the area to see the library.

Normandy Farms appealed to us for various reasons.  One reason was the fact that they have dog walkers that will come to your RV and take care of your precious pooch while you are away.  Not knowing how long we would be away from the RV that service was a great option.  As it turned out, we did not need to use this service but for some it would be a great perk if you were going to be gone all day.  And with Boston traffic, we can see how that could happen.

When you enter Normandy Farms it is more like checking into a hotel than RV park complete with a concierge and express check-in.  The park is gated and a code is needed to enter and leave giving you a sense of security.  Driving in you quickly realize how huge this park is with some 400 RV sites, tent sites, yurts, lean-to’s, safari tents, and cabins.  (Click on the picture to enlarge.)

Site description:

There are plenty of RV sites to choose from the “premium” full hook-up (50 amp) to basic with just water and electric and many others in between.  Both back-in and pull thrus are available as are sites with shade and full sun.  Premium sites have paved patios while other sites are gravel.  Roads are paved and plenty wide enough for big RV’s to navigate.

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Cable yielded nearly 100 channels.  Wifi worked well at our site and other places throughout the park.  All sites come with a fire pit and picnic table. 

We chose a paved full hook-up pull thru with paved patio (Site E1).  Our site was easy to navigate in and out of and was definitely big rig-friendly with ample space for our 45’ motor home and tow car.  All utilities were well-placed and functioned properly.  The site was level.  At the time we were there in October the campground was not very busy but we imagine that things get a little crazy when the park is full. 

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Amenities:

There is a really long list of amenities for this campground….four pools (include an indoor heated one), fitness room (with elliptical, treadmills, bikes, machine and free weights), creative arts center, camp store, 20,000 square-foot activities building (with adult only lounge, pool table, arcade, games, wide-screen televisions, sauna, Jacuzzi), restaurant, huge off-leash dog park (you can reserve individual day kennels), BMX bike park, horse shoe pits, baseball diamond, volleyball, fishing pond, shuffleboard, disk golf, and playground, and probably a few more things I missed. 

During the busy summer months there is a long list of activities ranging from yoga to kids games.

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Surrounding area:

Normandy Farms is approximately 35 miles from Boston.  If you don’t want to drive to the city, you can park at the nearby train or subway station and ride into the city. 

You are just five miles from Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots) and Patriot Place (a hub for shopping and dining).  About a mile from the campground is Foxboro State Park where you will find 20+ miles of hiking trails.  Also within a five mile radius are plenty of restaurants, shopping, hardware store, grocery store, and more. 

What we liked:

Definitely having a nice long site with a large paved patio and full hook-ups is a super plus. The dog park was the best of any campground (more about that below).  The fitness center was great which had functioning equipment and a large television to help pass the time while working out.   

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The adult lounge (pictured below) was a great idea and a nice place for people to get together and watch television or hang out.  With everything this campground has to offer this is the kind of destination park where you could be busy all day and never want to leave.

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What we didn’t like:

It is hard to come up with anything we didn’t like.  If anything, it would be the price (but that is hard to say because you really get a lot if you take advantage of all the amenities). 

Spirit’s two cents:

Four paws up from Spirit.  First, the campground is so big it is easy to get in a good dog walk.  Second, the dog park is huge.  No tiny KOA dog park here.  This park is by far the largest we have ever found in a campground and larger than many public dog parks.  Plus, there is a dog washing station, water fountains (for dog and human), agility-type obstacles for them to play on, dog kennels, and a bin with balls and frisbees.  If you are looking for hiking trails, a state park is one mile away. 

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