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Hartford, Connecticut

City Sights Sans Stress
The Tourist and Mark Twain


The Connecticut Convention Center
The Connecticut Convention Center

DAY 2

Today we take advantage of Hartford's convenient access to highways and its location at the hub of a range of possible adventures. Your biggest challenge will be choosing which compass direction to follow.

Michael Jordan's Steakhouse
Michael Jordan's Steakhouse

If you feel pulled instead in a southeasterly direction, you're not alone. More Connecticut tourists visit the state's two Indian casinos than any other attraction. For sheer size and glitz, choose Foxwoods Resort Casino, the largest casino in the world. It's about an hour away in Mashantucket. If you're in the insurance city without a car, you can still get there thanks to regular casino bus service operated from Union Station in downtown Hartford by Peter Pan Arrow Bus Lines (860-289-1531, www.arrowline.com).

We're partial, however, to the slightly smaller and slightly closer Mohegan Sun Casino, which offers superior dining, shopping and entertainment options in addition to gaming action. If you're headed to the Sun, skip breakfast. Krispy Kreme doughnut shops are few and far between in the Northeast, but Mohegan Sun boasts one. At lunchtime, belly up to the raw bar at Jasper White's Summer Shack or dine on Italian fare beside the faux waterfall at Todd English's Tuscany. Take a break from the din of slot machines with an hour’s escape at the Elemis Spa at the Mohegan Sun Hotel. Appointments for body treatments, facials and even massage lessons for couples are available to casino visitors as well as hotel guests. If you haven't lost your shirt by suppertime, order from the extensive menu of martinis served under the stars of the casino's planetarium dome.

A Granville Brothers Model A Sportster at the New England Air Museum
The New England Air Museum

Due north, you'll find the New England Air Museum, located a ten-minute drive from Hartford off the I-91 near Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Here, the sky's the limit. The Northeast's largest aviation museum houses 80 historic aircraft and exhibits on the development of flight. You can even climb behind the controls of a cockpit simulator. If you relate more to Air Jordan, continue another 20 minutes north on I-91 to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which lies just over the state border in Springfield, Massachusetts. During the brutal New England winter of 1891, James Naismith, a physical education student at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, invented the game of basketball using a couple of peach baskets, a soccer ball and a set of 13 rules. The Hall of Fame is much more than a showcase for basketball memorabilia and a shrine to the game's greats. Interactive exhibits allow you to go head-to-head against top NBA athletes, to coach a team to victory or to assume the job of on-air announcer and call the play-by-play.

Basketball isn't the only big thing to come out of Springfield. A cat in a tall hat got his start here, or at least the author who created him did. Springfield native Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss and best known for his silly yet beloved rhyming tales, is honored at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial located in the courtyard of the Quadrangle Museums. Here, you can pat a Lorax on the head, tell the Grinch to cheer up and order a plate of green eggs and ham from none other than Sam I Am. All these characters are captured in life-size bronze statues.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

To the west, outdoor recreation beckons, particularly when summer sizzles. The Farmington Valley is about a half-hour trip from downtown Hartford, but you'll feel light years away as the cool Farmington River carries you briskly along in your bright yellow river tube. Satan's Kingdom State Recreation Area in New Hartford is the departure point for two-and-a-half-mile Farmington River Tubing trips that combine exhilarating rapids and calm, soothing stretches. For a lunch that will really stick to your rib cage, head to Little Mark's Big BBQ in Avon for slow-smoked ribs and other southern delights. Or pick up a gourmet picnic at Metro Bis in Simsbury and tote it along on the one-and-a-half-mile hike to the top of Talcott Mountain in Bloomfield's Talcott Mountain State Park. Ascend the stairs of the 165-foot Heublein Tower atop the mountain for unparalleled views of the Hartford skyline and surrounding countryside. If you're visiting in the fall, you're in for one of Connecticut's top leaf peeping experiences.

A Cider Mill at Old Sturbridge Village
A Cider Mill at Old Sturbridge Village

Speaking of leaves, you may want to head east from Hartford if chasing autumn's splendor is your primary aim. The state's northeast quadrant has earned it the nickname of the "Quiet Corner." Fall provides the perfect backdrop for a scenic drive along the state's first federally designated National Scenic Byway, State Route 169. North Woodstock, a logical starting point for a drive south along this picturesque route, is less than an hour from Hartford. This area of the state represents the New England that people have come to know and love from postcards and old magazine covers: stone walls, scenic farms with livestock idling in the fields beyond, bucolic wooded hills, historic churches and those quintessential small New England town greens. For the architecture enthusiast or history buff, Route 169 alone boasts nearly 200 houses built before 1855, while antique collectors will find a veritable trove of treasures in various little roadside stands and shops along the way.

You may want to continue east for a visit to Old Sturbridge Village, the living history museum just over the state border in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Here, costumed interpreters recreate daily life in 19th-century New England.

If you find yourself back in Hartford by nightfall, head to the city's south end for dinner. Hartford's "Little Italy" actually offers a number of diverse dining options, but you'll never go wrong with the homemade pastas at Carbone's, a Franklin Avenue fixture for 65 years and counting. Many of the authentic bakeries and Italian cafés that line the street are open late, so night owls with their hearts set on fresh cannoli and cappuccino needn't rush through their meal.

Continue to Day 3


MORE HARTFORD INFORMATION

Hartford Hotels
Hartford Restaurants
Hartford Attractions
Connecticut Trave Guide
Harford Restaurants
Hartford Tourism Board

* Hartford images courtesy of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau; Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame image courtesy of www.hoophall.com; Old Sturbridge Village image courtesy of www.osv.org.


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