Saturday, May 30, 2009

Romantic and First-Date Picnics

A reader recently asked me about the best places for a romantic picnic, and a first-date picnic. First, a romantic picnic.

I love this question, because there is a kind of romance simply in the act of planning a picnic, thinking about where to go and what to pack for the ultimate experience. One of my favorite picnic menus is also the simplest; go to the market for a loaf of good crusty bread, a hard cheese (cheddar?) and maybe some brie. Add grapes, or fresh strawberries, and your favorite beverage. Don't forget the bread and cheese knives, napkins and a cloth to use as either a table cover or ground cover. If you want to go all out, include a candle and a portable CD player. Now, where to go?

Hammonasset Beach at sunset: Arrive late afternoon, take a walk on the beach, then sit on the sand or at a picnic table and enjoy your picnic while waiting for the sunset.
The Pond at Gillette Castle State Park: Before you drive up the hill to the parking area, look for the pond on your left. In the summer, the pond is covered with pink, white, and fuchsia water lilies, and the picnic tables surrounding the pond are set far enough apart for a feeling of privacy. Later, a visit to the castle can also be quite romantic, as is the view of the Connecticut River from the balcony.
The top of the mountain at Mohawk Forest State Park: A 4-mile drive brings you to the top of the mountain where there is a small roundabout with 2 or 3 picnic tables. Although there is no guarantee, there is a good chance you will have the space to yourselves. The panoramic view is breathtaking.
Wineries: Picnics at wineries can also be romantic. First the wine tasting and agreeing on the perfect wine to go with your picnic, then finding a secluded spot on the scenic grounds to enjoy the picnic and each other. Check out the wineries in the Connecticut Wine Trail for hours and picnic facilities.

First-date picnics should be stress-free, so don't overlook something as simple as picnicking at a local park. Pick a scenic park with unique attractions, such as Elizabeth Park in West Hartford (enjoy the flowers, especially the rose gardens peaking in late June and the duck pond), or Wickam Park in Manchester (ornamental gardens, woodlands, pond, panoramic view and plenty of walking around space. Picnicking options are plentiful at parks and the fun is to let serendipity guide you to the perfect spot. Check out the local parks in your area, and also the state parks, such as Kent Falls State Park in Kent, or Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. Just like city and town parks, each state park has its own unique features.

More ideas: Tour a historic home, such as Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, Mark Twain House in Hartford, or Roseland Cottage in Woodstock. (Check with your local library for free or reduced passes.) Or, spend a relaxing afternoon poking around Connecticut's charming town greens and scenic main streets like Essex, Stonington Village, Mystic, and Litchfield where, after your stroll, you can always find an inviting place to picnic.

Finally, the perfect day trip and picnic for romance or first-date, suitable for any age group as well as families, take a boat tour of the Thimble Islands, available at the Stony Creek section of Branford. Picnic at the small beach adjacent to the dock.

Although space is limited here, more information on all the places mentioned should be easily accessed on the web or at the Connecticut Visitors Center. Hopefully these ideas will get you started in thinking of your own romantic and first-date picnic ideas. I'd love to hear any success stories!

I don't usually use this venue to talk about my book appearances, however, I will make an exception here since it's an exciting opportunity for folks to meet 7 Connecticut authors with books of diverse genres. The date is June 7th at Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, where at 3:00, we will briefly introduce ourselves and our work and autographing our books until 5:00. Come meet and greet the authors and check out the great selection of books.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

No Cost Day Trips

These days we are all looking for ways to enjoy our leisure time, at little or preferably, no cost. Below is a partial list of Connecticut day trips that fit this criteria. All but one are from my book, Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket The only thing you have to worry about is gas and food.

1. Easy and Pleasant Walking Trails: Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam; Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill; White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield; Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic. (Note that these locations also have nature centers or buildings to tour for which there is an admission charge, however, there is no cost to enter and park, or for enjoying the walking trails and picnicking facilities.)

2. Window Shopping While Strolling Along Quintessential Connecticut Main Streets: Towns of Essex; Chester; and Mystic.

3. Spring Wildflower Walk: Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust, Woodbury; Connecticut College Arboretum, New London. (Note that May is the best month for this activity, although at Connecticut College you can also enjoy a profusion of native trees and shrubs in any season.)

4. Bike Paths: The one I know best is the Air Line Trail which goes through East Hampton, Colchester, and Hebron. For others, see or (Click Rail & Canal Trails.)

5. Museums: Always Free ~ Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art, both in New Haven; Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford currently has free admission on the last Saturday of each month. Confirm by telephone (860-278-2670) that this special is still in effect. Note that many libraries offer their patrons a free ARTpass to this and other museums.

6. Vineyards/Wineries: Although most wineries now charge for wine tasting, many offer free self-tours of the vineyards and guided tour of the wine making process. Best of all, the settings are scenic and most have picnicking facilities.

Speaking of food, save money by bringing a picnic on your outings, either packing lunch at home or stopping at the market to pick up your favorite sandwich makings. Money aside, a meal eaten outdoors is the ultimate complement to an outdoor activity or event.