#NInjaVerdict: Connecticut, USA | The Holiday Ninja
The NInja Verdict

ninja-wheel #NInjaVerdict: Connecticut, USA

Did you know that there was a daily direct flight from Dublin to Connecticut in the USA???

Given its proximity and location on the Eastern Seaboard of the Unites States, surely this would be the perfect base and destination for exploring the area?! But what exactly can Connecticut itself offer the holiday-maker and their families? It was time for the NInja to explore this ……

We travelled with Aer Lingus on their daily flight from Dublin to Bradley International Airport, Hartford, CT. Our plane for this journey was the new Airbus A321neo aircraft, which is Aer Lingus’s most sustainable aircraft to date. Crossing the Atlantic in the A321neo gets you there with up to 20% less CO2 emissions and fuel burn, with a whopping 50% reduction in noise footprint compared with previous generation aircraft that would have flown this route. As you would expect for a Transatlantic flight, back of seat TVs with a great selection of movies, TV shows, music and games kept us entertained for the relatively short flight time of 5.5-6h (only a couple hours more than a flight to the Canary Islands!). The food was spot on as well with a pasta salad, Korean BBQ chicken dish, wheaten bread, and a yummy dessert to keep us going! Soft drinks were included however alcoholic drinks came with an additional charge so come prepared if you fancy a tipple! Prior to landing, a light snack and drink was also served so we were well fed and watered upon our arrival in Hartford. Prices start from EUR239 each way so check out AER LINGUS for more detail.

Once we collected our hire car from Alamo (which is only a short walk from the terminal) we were on the road to the small New England town of Simsbury, roughly 25min outside of Hartford. The drive from the airport to Simsbury is through tree-lined highways and roads, with large forests surrounding. It reminded me of those American movies where the 80s station wagon winds its way through the national parks (think the Great Outdoors – classic film!). The houses and buildings along the way are typically New England-esque and as we turned into our accommodation for the next two days, the Simsbury Inn was small town New England personified. Set back from the road, alongside a state park, the hotel was quintessentially classic, with a beautiful dark wood lobby and sitting area. The room was spacious, and also has a gym and swimming pool, which of course we made use of, and breakfast was included as standard. After a long day of travelling, it was dinner and an early night!

The problem of flying transatlantic of course, is that you tend to wake earlier than you normally would and with our first activity of the day still a couple of hours away, we took advantage of our location and took a short 5 minute drive to a 1.25-mile trail to Heublein Tower in Talcott Mountain State Park. Set in beautiful woodland the trail certainly gets the heart rate going early in the day. With a fairly steep climb accompanied by stunning views over the Farmington River Valley, Heublein Tower is a beautiful 165-foot-tall tower right at the top of the hill. The tower is open for visitors from 10am – 4pm however we were a bit early for that, so enjoyed looking around the tower and taking in the views before heading back down the mountain. Be warned though – bear warnings greet you on arrival!

Next up was the first official visit of the day to the historical home and museum of the US author Mark Twain, famed for books including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn which were written in this very house. Set just inside the city of limits of Hartford, a 20-25m drive from Simsbury, the house has free car parking close by. The 25-bedroom house itself is a beautiful red-brick house set inside stunning gardens and incredibly well kept and though sold by Twain in 1903, with several owners since, it has been lovingly restored to its former glory. We had a private tour through the house which comes highly recommended. Mark, our guide for the approx. 1h tour, was incredibly knowledgeable and walked us room by room through the house, history and private lives of Mark Twain and his family. One thing to note however, is that once inside the property no photographs are permitted. This gives more time to enjoy and appreciate the opulence and intricacy of the design, decoration, and style of Twain. A fascinating experience which can be further enjoyed in the gardens and of course, with a souvenir from the gift shop. Allow 1-2h for this excursion and book online in advance.

Our next destination was not too far from the Mark Twain House and Museum – in fact no more than a 7-minute drive – Destination: Hartford Yard Goats Minor League Baseball Game at the Dunkin’ Stadium (of Donut fame!). Set right in Downtown Hartford, the relatively new Dunkin Stadium is anything but minor! We had the benefit of a guided tour from the Yard Goat’s president, Tim, who spent an hour of his time (on game day no less!) showing us around the stadium, the VIP seats and booths / rooms, not to mention all the behind the scenes stuff that the crowd on game day wouldn’t get to see including the players gym and batting range which was being used pre-game to warm up.

The Yard Goats play in the Eastern Minor League and though you may be hard pushed to have heard of the Yard Goats or any of the other teams in this league (like their opponents, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats), I can tell you that you are in for a treat if you get the chance to see a game. Unlike the lower leagues in football/soccer in in the UK, the Minor League baseball teams are incredibly well funded, and it shows in the quality of the stadium, the options for food, drink, and souvenirs as well as the standard of play. The nice thing about a baseball game is you can get up and wander around taking advantage of the many (and I mean many) food establishments! Thankfully baseball lasts a while and so we got to sample a fair few of them! Tim’s recommendation was Bear BBQ and the “Beef Brisket Bap” – it was a good call! The game was great fun and, to make it even more special, the Yard Goats won after a shaky start! The atmosphere was fantastic, very family orientated. In fact, Tim was telling us that Sunday ball games are always popular with families as was evident on our visit.

We had a bit of time to kill after the game and before heading out for dinner so we walked into Hartford to explore having been advised that Bushnell Park was worth seeing. The city itself is relatively small and compact so easily navigable but it seemed that Sunday was the wrong day for a dander with many shops, cafes and restaurants closed, though admittedly it was around 5pm. That said, we weren’t disappointed by Bushnell Park which was set in the middle of the city. With ponds and water features throughout (not to mention an indoor carousel!) it is a place of relaxation in what I would assume is a busy city come Monday morning. On the top of a hill in the park, nearby the grand entrance marked by two almost European-like Medieval Towers (The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch), sits the CT State Capitol Building, a huge, grand and also somewhat European building.

After dinner it was back to the Simsbury Inn before checking out the next day to move from Simsbury / Hartford to New Haven, home of the famous Yale University.

The drive from Simsbury to New Haven took approximately 1h. Once again fuelled up for the day ahead (after a pitstop at the NInja favourite IHOP), our first stop was the Ivy League, Yale University set right in Downtown New Haven. Driving into New Haven you immediately get the feel that this city is different – the architecture, the shops, cafes, delis and tree-lined streets – it very much has that academic / university vibe about it. It is the sort of place you can’t wait to get out and explore. Much of this is credit to Yale University as many of the most impressive buildings that make up the city are university owned.

We arrived at the Yale University visitors centre for our guided tour with Josh, a current student at Yale, and a fountain of knowledge on all things Yale. Founded in 1691 in a town called Killingworth with only 6 students, Yale (named after an English donor, Elijah Yale) later moved to its current New Haven home, the first planned city in the US. The Central campus is large but compact which made navigating the grounds relatively easy. With it being summer break, the university was quiet, which in some respects was nice in order to be able to take our time walking, talking and admiring the various buildings we visited. While there are too many key buildings to mention, a few are notable including the Harkness Tower which houses the university bells. These bells are still functional and used by the students and, if you are fortunate enough to be around when the bells are ringing, see if you can pick out the tune, as rather than your typical pealing of the bells, they ring out well-known popular songs!

Connecticut Hall is the oldest of the buildings on campus and the Old Library is used as a community hub to host events and nearby is a statue of former President of Yale, Theodore Dwight Woolsey. The statue is said to impart good luck if you rub his foot, so of course this is naturally busy around exam time! Sterling Memorial Library will also be familiar to fans of the US tv series, Gilmore Girls, with this image being used for the university-based scenes. Last but not least, is Woolsey Hall, the university’s largest entertainment venue which has hosted some notable speakers including Sir Paul McCartney.

While you could wander the grounds and buildings yourself, I would highly recommend a guided tour – lasting around an hour this is by far the best way to see the university and learn all about it.

Continuing the Yale Uni theme, we headed off to our next lodging, the aptly named Study at Yale Hotel, a few blocks from the central campus. This quirky, academic, and artsy bespoke hotel is a beautiful place to base yourself while in New Haven. As soon as you walk in you get that feeling of this being an extension of the university theme. Set in the heart of Yale Uni Art’s district this is reflected in the décor and atmosphere of the hotel. Our modern twin room had the most stunning views out over the skyline of New Haven with, of course, Yale taking centre stage.

Despite our sizeable breakfast at IHOP, we kept hearing rumours of Connecticut being something of a pizza mecca, particularly New Haven. Step aside New York and Chicago! But of course, this had to be put to the test and so as we spoke with people, we started to get an idea of the best pizza places in town with two coming up time and time again – Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s. So, which was it to be?

We went for Frank Pepe’s, located in the Little Italy district of New Haven and it did not disappoint. On the go since 1925, this pizza house has established itself as one of the best and of course, with that it also comes with recommendations on which pizza to go for. “Try the white clam pizza!” was the general advice and being a seafood lover, it didn’t take much to convince. Take note – a small pizza is plenty for one person!! We also got a medium pepperoni pizza which could have fed a family! The thing that sets the New Haven pizza apart from the others is the thin base, charred around the edges to bring that proper oven baked flavour to the pizza. Both pizzas were top class and I highly advise you to visit this pizza haven.

So, where next? Mystic, CT. You may not have heard of Mystic before (we hadn’t) but the film Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts was inspired by a pizza parlour in Mystic. It is the most beautiful riverside small town, with bustling centre, lined with typical buildings you would expect to see in this sort of setting. We started at the main tourist attraction; Mystic Seaport Museum set on the banks of the Mystic River and overlooking Mystic village. The museum shines a light on the maritime nature of Mystic and its importance as a shipbuilding and sea-faring hub. The museum is entirely outside with many of the boats docked by the quayside and accessible to hop onto and explore which was a real highlight. Two boats of note that were key attractions were the Joseph Conrad and the Charles W. Morgan whaleship. Getting on board and exploring below deck was particularly interesting as you get to experience the cramped conditions the majority of the crew had to endure and work in (except of course the captain!). For the tall folk amongst you be prepared to hunch – a lot! The museum has working demonstrations at scheduled times throughout the day including ropemaking, something the Ninja was very keen to try! The Seaport Museum was amazing and definitely a family destination to spend a few hours (with café and restaurant) before heading into Mystic village for dinner, a drink and a wander around.

Mystic Village spans both sides of the river and one of the main features is the large Bascule Bridge which crosses the Mystic River in the centre of town. We weren’t fortunate enough to see if lift to let river traffic pass but definitely something to keep an eye out for. As a popular American tourist destination, Mystic has its fair share of ice-cream & sweet shops, restaurants and bars and many home made delicacies, including mouth-watering fudges that you must try.

Crossing the bridge onto Main Street you feel a little bit like you are in a movie, set-in small-town America during the summer break season – the atmosphere was great and again, we stopped off for a drink at the local craft brewery, Bank & Bridge, set in what used to be an old bank building. Sitting outside in the sun, sipping a drink, and watching the world go by – it is sometimes worth just taking the time to do that and take in the surroundings of where you are. Mystic was an absolute gem, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to visit. With that, we headed back to The Study in New Haven as the next day we had a very early start, but for good reason …

One of the key selling points of Connecticut is its proximity to some of the big cities on the East Coast, with Providence (Rhode Island), Boston and New York City all just a train ride away. So, which would it be for the Ninja? Well, the NYC was calling and with a sub-2h direct Amtrack train from Union Station, New Haven into Penn Station, NYC it was off to the Big Apple we went. To make the most of the day, we got the 6:30am train getting us into NYC just before 8.30am. Stepping out of Penn Station and into the bustling hectic streets of NYC is always a special feeling.

Our first destination was only a few blocks away – SUMMIT at One Vanderbilt – one of the newer viewing galleries to join the likes of Empire State, Rockefeller & One World Trade Centre. The difference with this however, is the immersive experience as well as the sights and skylines! Upon entry you are given sunglasses and overshoes – seemed a bit strange so I asked – “why the need for these?” The answer: “to protect the mirrors and your eyes!” That certainly got my attention! The mirrored elevator ride is a pulsating, strobe like experience as you ascend the 90 floors to the top – very cool. And once at the top, you make your way round to a viewing gallery with a difference – the floors, ceilings and walls are all mirrors! And when the sun catches them, you see the need of the sunglasses. It really is a unique experience and gives the perception of looking into infinity, thinking you are seeing people on hundreds of floors above and below you – all the while aware it is you and your fellow visitors! Very surreal and mind-bending.

While taking the time to enjoy this it is easy to forget why you are there – to see the famous New York Skyline – and it does not disappoint – the location of One Vanderbilt allows stunning views of the most famous skyscrapers in NYC – Empire State out one window, Chrysler Building out another and off in the distance at the southern tip of Manhattan stands, One World Trade, with the final window looking up over Central Park. And one of the things that struck me was that there were no real reflections – the windows almost looked like they weren’t there, which of course made for stunning photos! And it wasn’t just the windows – the glass floor was also like this! Utterly terrifying to stand on – but you have to!

Further round the experience was a room full of sliver helium balloons which made for a moment of chaos amongst everyone hitting, kicking, and jumping trying to pose for their Instagram pictures! One note – make a trip to the toilets while here – even if you don’t need it – just to see the view from there!

There is a café bar on the floor above the main viewing gallery and we were ready for a coffee and snack, and a view that was simply unrivalled. This attraction is an absolute MUST, and I have to say I would recommend over and above the usual viewing galleries.

Being in NYC for the day meant trying to maximise what we could see in a relatively short period of time (12 hours!), so we headed past the Plaza Hotel (for some celebrity ding-dang-do … can you name the film?) to Central Park and after an ice lolly and drink in the shade (it was over 32 degrees!) we moved south through Manhattan taking in a lot of the sights and sounds, including:

Radio City Hall, St Patricks Church, Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square, Ghostbusters Firehouse, Wall Street, The World Trade Centre, 9/11 Memorial, Battery Park, The Staten Island Ferry, and Brooklyn Bridge ….. phew!!

Last on our list was to head back uptown to The Edge, another of the newer viewing galleries situated in the revitalised Hudson Yards area of Manhattan. Unlike Summit, this gallery had a large outdoor seating area with glass panels all around – still unnerving mind you when you look down! Upon arrival you are again greeted by a more interactive and immersive experiences from lobby to gallery, but it is all just preparation for the views that you see upon arrival at the top.

The Edge, aptly named, juts out from the rest of the building, and allows unrivalled views of the city skyline. There is even a bar in the outdoor area and to sit with a beer and look out over the bustling city below was a relaxing and unique experience. Of course, this viewing gallery also had a glass floor section for the thrill seekers amongst you! The two busiest times to visit will always be sunrise and sunset so make sure to manage your visit when suits you best as it can get VERY crowded.

And with that, over 35,000 steps later, our day in NYC came to an end. It was back to Penn Station and onto the train back to New Haven. While we jammed as much as possible into a day there is the option of course to make the most of NYC and maybe stay a night before heading back to base but the proximity of New Haven to NYC and the ease of getting there on the train made this an easy and amazing daytrip.

And so, we arrived at our last day and as with any NInja x USA trip, that means the outlets! The nearest one to New Haven, and en route towards Bradley International Airport, was the Clinton Premium Outlets, Clinton, CT. With all the usual designer outlets (Armani, Boss, Calvin Klein & Ralph Lauren), sports outlets (Adidas, Nike, Under Armour) and American apparel outlets (Abercrombie, American Eagle, Aeropostale) this is a compact but well stocked outlet mall and a great stop to stock up on clothes and some bargains before heading home.

Following a quick bite to eat at Bobby V’s restaurant and Sports Bar right by Bradley International Airport (perfect spot for that “last” meal before you fly home) it was off to our last activity before checking in for our flight. And somewhat suitably, it was the New England Air Museum, in Windsor Locks, CT, right by Bradley. If you have an hour or so to put in before your check-in, this museum is worth a visit. Jam-packed full of both military aircraft (especially focussed on the Vietnam War) and commercial aircraft, some of which you can hop in and look around, this is a great way to see what the USA has to offer in terms of their aircraft. There are a couple of flight simulators (extra charge) should you want to experience what it is like to fly a jet, for example. A pretty cool attraction that has such a convenient location to fit in your schedule.

Once back at Bradley International Airport, we checked in (literally no queue at the desk 3 hours before take off!) and were through security very promptly (this airport prides itself in never having long lines at security!). We were also treated to complimentary access to the “Escape Lounge” prior to our flight – the airport lounge itself was compact but had everything you would want for comfort before the overnight flight (there are plans to extend it due to the popularity of Bradley as an airport and the lounge with commuters). The airport itself is very simply laid out and has a superb range of shops and eateries / everything you would need for that pre-flight home.

Connecticut is the absolute PERFECT base for exploring New England and the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. Whilst it has fantastic proximity to the BIGGER cities, the State has enough going on that you should consider spending a couple of days exploring. The road network is very simple to navigate, even the highways – however the train network is there (and within budget!) if you didn’t fancy driving yourself. The other aspect (that shouldn’t be overlooked!) is that CT is a little more “kind on the wallet” for lodging, food and drink, compared to those BIGGER cities!

You can check out the FULL highlights from this NInja trip over on the Instagram page – on the homepage under the CONNECTICUT Highlights – CLICK HERE

Why not visit your LOCAL NInja travel agency and ask them to plan your next NInja adventure to Connecticut and New England – you can contact them via Holiday NInja CLICK HERE and we can easily make that connection for you!!

For further information on Connecticut in general visit http://www.ctvisit.com

The Simsbury Inn - 20 mins from Hartford
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