One of the perks of my job at Mercer University is that the school closes its doors between December 24th and January 1st each year, giving each employee a solid week of winter vacation. My wife Aimee, however, does not get that time off, which leaves me to come up with my own entertainment. For 2015, I wanted to visit somewhere that I had never been. Being a son of a Delta Airlines family, I grew up flying, so my Dad and I essentially just told my mom to find an open flight to anywhere in the country, and we'd go to the airport and hop on. After one missed flight on Friday, we touched down in Hartford, Connecticut around 5pm Monday afternoon.
On word of a coming snowstorm, we decided to opt for a Jeep Grand Cherokee. We didn't expect to do any serious off-roading, but we were going to be visiting a few state parks, and we didn't want to be fighting snow-covered roads in a Ford Taurus or similar. On Monday night, we made our way to the city of Mystic for dinner and a hotel room, resting up for the following day.
We had a rather soft start to our day of exploration with our first destination being Wal-Mart. We were hilariously unprepared for the weather, me bringing only a pair of Onitsuka Tigers and Dad failing to pack a pair of socks. Twenty bucks later, we were back on the road.
Our first park was Bigelow Hollow State Park. We followed a single pair of tire tracks through the recently fallen snow back to the 18-acre pond through Nipmuck State Forest.
One of the first things that struck us was how rocky the the landscape was. Many of the homes had rock walls built around the property.
Our next stop was the Natchaug State Forest. There wasn't a whole lot here other than the remains of General Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union General killed in the Civil War.
After a great lunch at Jamaican Me Crazy in Windham, we chose to head over to Gillette Castle and the Devil's Hopyard. Gillette Castle was built by actor William Gillette in 1919. It's an enormous mansion that was designed to look like a medieval castle. Unfortunately, it was closed for the season, but we still got to look around the property.
The house overlooked the Connecticut River. I'd imagine that there are some amazing views on less dreary days.
Our final stop was the nearby Devil's Hopyard. Honestly, I think this was my favorite park of the day. The sun sets at around 4:30pm in Connecticut during the winter, so our time here was rather short. There did seem to be a lot more variety here, with some great picnic spots, trails, and a killer waterfall.
When I posted on Facebook that I was going to Connecticut, the state didn't get a whole lot of love. The prevailing opinion was that if you weren't rich, the state didn't have much to offer. And while neither my dad nor I will be rushing back up there any time soon, I think we'd both agree that had a great time on a dreary day in the off-season. Boston may have better culture, and New Hampshire may have better natural vistas, but if you have the chance, Connecticut is worth a visit.
Restaurant Recommendations: The Engine Room (Mystic), Jamaican Me Crazy (Windham), J's Crab Shack (Hartford)