With Hurricane Earl expected to drop by the neighborhood this weekend, we are busy reading some books about big weather. Here are a few of our favorites!
If you have never visited the New York Botanical Garden, I strongly encourage you to make a short, 40 minute drive into the Bronx and prepare to be amazed. Founded in 1891, the garden is a National Historic Landmark and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in the tri-state area.
This summer is an especially great time to go because the current program is The Edible Garden, which runs through October 17th. All summer long, the focus has been on growing and cooking food. Best of all – every day there is a cooking demonstration in the outdoor, state-of-the-art Conservatory Kitchen, with celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and Rick Bayless. You can view the full schedule of chefs here: http://www.nybg.org/eg/#cooking/chefs.
Spend a day exploring the immaculate grounds which span 250 acres. There are 50 expertly maintained gardens and plant collections, including the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden and the Luce Herb Garden. The café serves delicious food and my favorite – the Rose Water Iced Tea. Finally, the gift store sells everything from plants and seeds to cookbooks.
Visit the website to see what’s currently in bloom and for directions and ticketing information: http://www.nybg.org/.
And of course, for great gardening books and cookbooks right here at the Darien Library just visit the Home collection on the second floor!
Look below to see just a few of the new books you can check out:
Image courtesy of Flickr user amerune.
Fairs, no matter which kind one chooses, offer socialization and amusement for all. Growing up in North Carolina going to the County Fair was the highlight of the first part of your entire school year. Once there you would meet all your friends and go on rides that would take years off your life but who cared since you had eaten all the funnel cakes with powdered sugar you could hold and seen the biggest hog in the state.
Did you know that America's first fair was held in Trenton Township, New Jersey in 1745 for the buying and selling of livestock and other products. Livestock, cars, arts & crafts, food, games, rides and much much more, there's something to do for the entire family at the "FAIR". Have fun!!
Late summer and early fall is the peak season for fairs and festivals in the Pine Tree State. Being a native "Maniac", the promise of hot August days at the fairground made cold muddy Aprils a little more bearable. Shriek-inducing rides, brightly lit midways and evening harness racing were a part of daily life for a week or two every summer. The end of the fair signaled the end of the season, time to get ready for school and the long, long winter ahead. The following are some of my favorite fairs and festivals, each offering a little something that is uniquely Maine.
On August 14th, the 47th Annual Lobster Festival will take place in scenic Winter Harbor, located way down east on the Schoodic Peninsula overlooking Frenchman's Bay. It's a terrific day of family fun, including lobster boat races and a craft fair, ending of course with a traditional lobster dinner, fireworks and a parade. For those athletically inclined, start the day with a 5k road race following a course along one of the most scenic coastal roads in Maine. If you find you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the festival, take some time to drive the Schoodic Scenic Byway, a 29-mile drive around the peninsula that passes through charming villages and offers numerous breathtaking views of the crashing surf.
From August 21st to the 28th the Union Fairgrounds are home to the Maine Wild Blueberry Festival. Located in the mid-coast region, Union is surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful farmlands. Rest assured, if it can be done with a blueberry, you'll see it at the festival. Pancake breakfasts, pie-eating contests, competitions for the best blueberry muffins and desserts, and of course, the coronation of the Maine Wild Blueberry Queen make this the perfect late summer destination.
Music buffs won't want to miss the 71st Annual American Folk Festival held on the Bangor waterfront the last weekend in August. The banks of the Penobscot River are filled with the sounds of music from around the world, celebrating the many cultures that make up America today. Whether it's rhythm and blues, salsa and bomba y plena, or Quebecois (a Maine favorite!), there is something to please every musical taste. And speaking of taste, in addition to traditional festival fair, be sure to sample the wide variety of ethnic foods!
Saving the best for last, every year my family makes the pilgrimage to Unity for the Common Ground Fair . Put on annually the third weekend after Labor Day by the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA), it is the premier showcase for the organic lifestyle. Offering a jam-packed schedule of classes and demonstrations, there isn't a moment to spare during this three-day event. It is a celebration of sustainable living, beautiful Maine crafts and fiber arts. My personal favorite is the barn filled with rabbits on display, every color and variety you can imagine and all for sale. One thing we all agree on is that the food is incredible. Pie cones with a whole wheat crust are a perennial favorite, as are the deep-fried shitake mushrooms. Make sure you save room for a bowl of vegetarian pea soup made with love by the people at "Give Peas a Chance", you won't regret it!
My best friend speaks Spanish fluently and as a result, I sometimes get to accompany her on vacations that I might not be able to take otherwise. A few years ago, we traveled through Central America over the course of two weeks. It was, by far, the most exciting trip I’ve ever been on, mostly because of the off-the-beaten track nature of our travels.
It will be hard to boil down my trip into a few highlights, but I’ll do my best. All photos are my own. If you would like to take a similar trip, I've listed destinations by the order in which we visited them. We flew into San Jose, Costa Rica and flew out of Panama City, Panama.
There are two things to do in Costa Rica: go into the cloud forest, and go to the beach. We got to do both. Additionally, there is a massive ecotourism industry in Costa Rica, and while we weren’t technically on an eco vacation, we did take part in many outdoor activities. San Jose is a fun, vibrant city, but the real joy of Costa Rica is being in nature.
San Jose is the capitol city of Costa Rica, located smack-dab in the middle of the country, and it's worth spending at least a couple of days there exploring the little streets and dining on local cuisine. Try some blackberry juice. The architecture of San Jose is lovely and depending on the time of year, you will see beautiful gardens all over the place. Notable attractions include the National Theater [website in Spanish], the downtown area (full of cafes and shops), the Gold Museum, and the Botanical Gardens, operated by the University of Costa Rica.
Monteverde is a HUGE cloud forest that straddles the Continental Divide, which is pretty cool when you think about it. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise. While we were there, a bunch of tourists were freaking out because they’d just spotted a quetzal, a super rare bird. You will also see monkeys galore. Take one of the many available hikes and take in the gorgeous views. There are some pretty crazy plants in there, too. Many locales in Costa Rica offer zip lines, which we didn’t do but looked awesome. Other activities include canopy tours where you traverse a cable through the treetops using climbing equipment, Jeep tours, and exploring via the forest's vast system of hanging bridges and walkways. A canopy tour costs around $40 and a double room in a Monteverde hotel costs from $30-$180 a night, depending on the accommodations.
From Monteverde, you can travel by boat to La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. As you travel across the Arenal Lake, you will see the Arenal Volcano looming in the distance, perhaps smoking. At night, you will see flames reaching into the sky. You can hike up the volcano to the observatory lodge (at your own risk, and bring water because it's HOT). You can also book a tour of the volcano if you'd prefer a guide. La Fortuna is a town growing in popularity and full of little hotels, which start at around $70/night. You will find numerous travel agencies for booking hikes, horseback rides, trips to waterfalls, whitewater rafting, you name it.
One of the coolest things - other than hiking up an active volcano - to do in La Fortuna is to visit the hot springs. There are several resorts in the town where you can purchase a day ticket to the springs (we went to Baldi). Most have swim-up bars, but the best part is that, at least at Baldi, the pools are often spread out from one another and secluded, so you can often have a pool all to yourself.
We next traveled south to Dominical, a little tiny fishing town on the central Pacific coast (we stayed over a night in San Jose in between). You can rent a cottage right above the beach or stay in one of many hotels in the town. While there, it's not much money to hire someone to take you on a horseback ride through the jungle to one of many magnificent waterfalls. The beaches are stunning and warm, but beware of rip tides. The best thing to do in Dominical by my reckoning is to lie in a hammock, listen to the monkeys, and have a tropical drink. A rental cabin in Dominical costs from $525/week and a hotel can run you about $75/night. A horseback ride can probably be secured through your hotel or any travel agency (they're everywhere in Costa Rica) and usually includes a meal. Also, while I'm not a surfer, everyone says the surfing is amazing there.
From Dominical we traveled south into Panama. It's worth noting that Wikitravel says, rightfully in my opinion, that Paso Canoas, where we crossed, "is one of the busiest (if not the busiest) and disorganized border crossings in Central America. It is very easy to accidentally drive across the border without realizing it." (!!) Crossing the border is doable but takes some homework. All the information you need about crossing the border can be found here.
Once you get into Panama, you will see banana plantations stretching in all directions, including the ones owned by Chiquita. We traveled straight to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago of seven islands off the northwestern (i.e. the Carribbean) coast. To get to Bocas, we took a bus to the town of Changuinola and then traveled by boat from the docks there. We spent most of our time in Bastimentos (described below), but traveled back into Bocas Town via water taxi a couple of times for dinner and nightlife. The restaurants we visited were all extremely low-key, serving local cuisine only - which includes Panama brand beer. Other local foods include beans, plantains, bananas, rice, and so much fresh seafood you can hardly stand it. Additionally, all of the restaurants and bars open out on to the water and can be visited directly by water taxi.
We elected to stay for several days and nights in Bastimentos, one of the Bocas del Toro islands. Bastimentos is very, very small; it's basically made up of one street along the water and another set back from the water, which is where our hotel was located. The structures along the water are on stilts; some are restaurants or bars, others are homes. Nothing - nothing - is air conditioned. The beaches are all walkable and all gorgeous, but again, beware of rip tides. From Bastimentos, you can hire water taxis to travel to other islands, to Bocas Town, or on snorkeling trips. The one we took ferried us to three different snorkeling locations. We also taxied to a remote beach, where our only companion was the owner of a beachside bar and grill, which happily was open and serving grilled seafood.
Leaving Bastimentos may have been one of the greatest trials of my life. But it was worth it - we traveled from Bocas to the Panama Canal, a sight I honestly thought I'd never see. In addition to the canal itself, you can view the Panama Canal murals in the administration building, which also offers rooftop views.
From there, it is a simple journey to Panama City, a cosmopolitan metropolis. In Panama City, you can go dancing, visit fabulous restaurants, and spend time in the city's many museums. The shopping is great, too - many, many malls are easy to navigate and full of souvenirs both tacky and sophisticated. My favorite adventure, by far, was taking a guided tour around the old city, Casa Viejo, which highlighted church squares and plazas, outdoor markets, and the Presidential Palace.
All in all, my travels through Costa Rica and Panama are perhaps one of the best things I've ever done. Yes, I almost got pulled out to sea (another story for another time), and I did get some nasty sunburns, but all in all, these two countries are absolutely fabulous to visit. You will experience cities both small and large; wonderful outdoor activities; warm people; stunning vistas; relaxing, quiet beaches, and delicious food. If you have any questions at all about visiting either of these places, click the links above or check out some of our guidebooks on Costa Rica or Panama. Best of luck with your travels!
New Jersey has long been the subject of many jokes. The state has been referred to as the "armpit of New York"..."the land of big hair"...the place where people ask "What's your exit?" before asking "What's your name?"... And certainly, with the influx of reality-television series featuring (unfairly) stereotypical New Jersey behavior, some might say "the situation" has not quite improved.
But New Jersey is my homestate, and I love it! So I'm hoping to dispel the myths and show how this tiny state can be a huge "anytime" escape. Located just hours from 4 major metropolitan areas, the Garden State has so much to offer! It is home to over 100 miles of coastline, world-class sporting events, culture and entertainment, and one of the most competitive universities in the country. Famous New Jerseyans include Jon Stewart, Susan Sarandon, and Jack Nicholson. And the boardgame that pretty much defines Americana - Monopoly - is modeled after the famous streets of Atlantic City!
Here are just a few of my favorite homestate destinations:
The Liberty Science Center
The perfect place to take the entire family, this center proves that science is actually fun! With exhibits that feature high-tech, interactive opportunities and an endless amount of learning, visitors can explore every aspect of science, including space, wildlife, energy, health, weather, and even architecture. Personally, I would stay away from the room full of bugs, but if you were to ask my 3-year old nephew, he would say that can be a highlight of your trip. The IMAX theater features films that transport viewers through larger-than-life eco-systems and visitors can assist in live science demonstrations every day!
Six Flags Great Adventure
Home to the highest and fastest roller coaster in the world, this famous amusement park provides something for everyone. With 12 roller-coasters, a water park, safari, daily musicals and other shows, a boardwalk with games, and tons of family and child-friendly rides, this is definitely an all-day entertainment destination. If you arrive in the morning when the park first opens, you'll be able to avoid the lines that build for many of the most popular attractions. Plus, a five-minute drive down the street will lead you to the Jackson Premium Outlets - and remember, New Jersey does not charge a sales tax on clothing purchases!
It's no surprise that this picturesque college town is filled with local and worldly charms that attract visitors near and far. After all, it's halfway between New York City and Philadelphia and just steps from one of the nation's top schools. Some of my favorite stops in town? For music fans: The Princeton Record Exchange, an independent music store, is a treasure chest of over 150,000 used CDs, DVDs, LPs, and video games for sale. For a night out on the town: one of the country's leading theaters, McCarter Theater offers over 200 performances a year, including drama, dance, music, and special performances; then visit Triumph Brewing Company, New Jersey's largest brewpub, with its architecturally stunning interior and a two-story glass-enclosed brewhouse. Lastly, a visit to Princeton is not complete without stopping at Halo Pub for some of its to-die-for homemade ice cream (definitely order a pint).
Monmouth Park Racetrack
A visit to the famous Jersey Shore cannot be complete without a stop at Monmouth Park Racetrack. Whether you cheer on your favorites from the grandstands or simply admire the horses during their parades around the paddocks, you will certainly feel as though you've travelled back in time as you spend the afternoon partaking in this traditional American pasttime. Open between the months of May and September, every Sunday is Family Fun Day, when children can take pony rides and have their faces painted. Monmouth Park is also home to the Haskell Invitational race, during which some of the best racing horses in the country, including Triple Crown contestants, vie for a $1 million prize.
Hoboken Cove Boathouse
One of the best ways to take in the spectacular views of the New York City skyline, this non-profit public boathouse offers kayaking and small non-motorized boat access to the Hudson River during the summer months. There are specific days (usually Saturdays and Sundays) where you can kayak for free - and all of the equipment - boats, oars, and lifejackets - are included.
It's the birthplace of college football, and if you're looking for a big-time sporting event experience without the big-time prices, Rutgers Stadium at Rutgers University is the place to be. Here, you can join in on the chaos and excitement as thousands of fans tailgate and then cheer on their NCAA Division 1 Scarlet Knights, a football team that has truly shined in recent years. The best part? Since the seats don't cost an arm and a leg, you will still have enough cash left over to try a Fat Cat sandwich at the famous grease trucks on College Avenue!
Photos courtesy of flickr users redjar; tenioman; dougtone;
jwannie; linda dougherty, and dinesh cyanam.
Below you will find my favorite spots that I make sure to visit every time I go to Martha's Vineyard. Whether you're planning your first trip to the island, or your old station wagon is covered with 20+ years of Lucy Vincent Beach passes, I'm sure you will enjoy them!
Disclaimer: My list is fairly "up-Island" focused, because that is the area I know best. So for you veteran Vineyarders, please comment and add your recommendations as well!
The Outermost Inn & Restaurant
Located on the western shore of Aquinnah, this acclaimend inn and restaurant features possibly the best view on the island. Ideal for special occassions and private parties overlooking the magnificent Gay Head Cliffs. For reservations and more information, visit their website here: http://www.outermostinn.com.
The Home Port Restaurant
This is one of the most popular restaurants on the island, located in the authentic fishing village of Menemsha. Every night of the week, visitors and locals gather for takeout on the porch to watch the sunset. Tables are first come, first serve, so get there early to stake out your spot. Reservations are also accepted in the indoor dining section of the restaurant. The menu includes freshly-caught island classics like whole boiled lobster and Menemsha swordfish. For a full menu and directions visit their website: http://www.homeportmv.com/index.php.
Beach Plum Inn
The Beach Plum restaurant was ranked as Best Restaurant in Martha's Vineyard, and in the Top Six in New England by Food and Wine. Guests at this small inn will enjoy amazing cooked-to-order breakfasts every morning on the beautiful patio overlooking Menemsha harbor. The inn has rooms in the main house, as well as private cottages which are ideal for a longer stay. Best of all, the inn also provides transportation to and from beautiful Lucy Vincent beach, which is only accessible to those staying in Chilmark. Visit the Beach Plum website here: http://www.beachpluminn.com/theinn.htm.
Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs
No trip to the Vineyard is complete without visiting the historic town of Oak Bluffs. In addition to the beautiful victorian houses, Oak Bluffs is home to the famous Flying Horses Carousel, a National Historic Landmark and the nation's oldest operating platform carousel, according to the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust. Children as well as adults will enjoy riding the carousel and trying to catch the brass rings, which will win you a free ride. After the carousel, head accross the street for some Mad Martha's ice cream! This homemade, island ice cream "chain" is also located in Vineyard Haven and Edgartown.
Moshup Beach in Aquinnah
Moshup Beach is one of the best public beaches on the island. Set agains Gay Head's beautiful cliffs, you will see hundreds of rock sculptures that visitors have built for everyone to enjoy. After the beach, head up the road for a casual lunch or dinner at the Aquinnah Restaurant. For a listing of all beaches in Martha's Vineyard visit here: http://www.mvol.com/beaches
Shopping in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven
If you find yourself with a rainy day, or just need a break from the beach, head to Edgartown or Vineyard Haven for shopping! Both are beautiful towns with a variety of stores where you can pick up island-made jewlery, chocolate, pottery and your Black Dog shirt. My favorite is Midnight Farm in Vineyard Haven, an Anthropologie-esq home and clothes store owned by Carly Simon.
Before you get on the ferry, check one of our books in the Places section of the library!
Photo's courtesy of Flickr users Jeffer 72, KariemAli, Juleann on mv, room714, Timothy Valentine, texturejunky, and Chris Devers.
When asked to name my favorite day-trips in Connecticut, I knew my task would be an easy--and pleasant--one. Here are a few that came rapidly to mind, with online links to sites that will provide visitor information, including hours of operation, prices, and directions.
A natural for kids going through their dinosaur phase, and for parents who have never outgrown theirs, Dinosaur State Park is fun for the whole family. Walking among authentic dinosaur tracks made millions of years ago in our own backyard is only half the fun. The other half is making plaster casts of these ancient footprints using materials available on-site or nearby. Our 4th grader's show-and-tell souvenir is still intact (in the attic) a decade or more later.
Looking for an old-fashioned New England town to show your visiting in-laws? They don't get much more typical (or charming) than this compact village, just off Exit 69 of I-95. Water views of the Connecticut River, a grassy park with a gazebo, an inn with a restaurant that attracts visitors from all over the state on holidays (our favorite over the years has been Mother's Day), and boutique shopping are among the lures of this visitor magnet.
Nineteenth-century actor William Gillette gained fame and fortune during the Gilded Age through his memorable and melodramatic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. He used a considerable part of that fortune to build the house now known as Gillette's Castle. When we first visited this spot, it was partially closed for renovations. These have now been completed, and the Castle and its grounds overlooking the Connecticut River (a few miles upstream from Essex) are now open to all comers, making a repeat visit a new addition to our family's to-do list. Tours of the grand mansion are available.
Connecticut's version of Coney Island, located smack in the middle of the state, off I-84 between Waterbury and Hartford, is smaller and homier, which has made it a godsend for parents wanting a good spot for an outing. More than once have I boarded a bus as a chaperone for a day of sun, water rides, and lots of noise. The nation's oldest, continuously operating amusement park, Lake Compounce is a cheaper and nearer alternative to Six Flags.
One of the most celebrated towns in Connecticut--and not just because it was the setting for the Julia Roberts' breakthrough film Mystic Pizza. Besides the Aquarium and the historic ships, Mystic also offers less pricey alternatives to visitors, including a charming village with shops, superb seafood eateries, ice-cream parlors, and, yes, a pizzeria with a famous name. My favorite moment in Mystic was not the windy day we spent inspecting the tall ships, but an early evening in which we watched--from the second floor of a harbor restaurant--the drawbridge open and close for returning boats as the sun was setting and we were enjoying a New England fish dinner.
If none of these is quite your cup of tea, no worries. Connecticut is rich in history and full of places of interest to singles, families, and seniors, too. Before you embark on your next day-trip, check out our catalog. We have a wonderful selection of local travel guides to help you plan your getaway. Here are my top picks:
Once you've whet your appetite browsing through our travel guides, go online and check out these web sites for the latest information on events, prices, and special offers:
Bonus link: The Connecticut Supreme Court, State Capitol and the Museum of Connecticut History have planned two days of programming this summer for families interested in a day-trip with their kids. Click here for details!
See you @ the Library (when you get back)!