Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Wandering about Connecticut

We've had two really good days with some amazing Italian treats along the way. Yesterday we got to Waterbury, let John do some recovering while Jet and I took advantage of the hotel pool and the summer heat here, and then wandered about New Haven. Today we took it slow and started a little late, but then did the submarine museum at the New London Navel Base in Groton, CT and spent the rest of the afternoon at the Hammonasset Beach state park.

We met up with agrimony in her home town of Waterbury, CT and went to an Italian restaurant right there. It was San Marino Ristorante Italiano, and it was really, really amazing. They had all kinds of specialities that I'd never seen in an Italian restaurant before, including Escarole soups, three kinds of handmade pastas for their lunch special, and broccoli rabe in various dishes. I had to have the pasta with broccoli rabe in a pink sauce. Jet had a plateful of pasta with butter and Parmesan and John had some of the soup and a salad. agrimony had the house pasta special, and we all ate until we were really full.

It was good to visit with her as I haven't seen her since she moved away from the Bay Area, and it was nice to catch up and just talk for a while. She had given us excellent instructions on how to get there, and even drew us a lovely map to get us on our way toward New Haven as well, along more local routes that didn't need the interestate.

She also turned us onto White Birch Beer, a local favorite, and it turned out that the Polar branch, which Anne had gotten for the Inn, was one of the ones that she really liked. Jet, John, and I loved it too as we hit the local grocery story to buy a liter of it along with more cold medicine for John.

John wasn't doing well. He'd had a hard night, and an early morning and had done most of the driving for the morning in order to get me in good shape for visiting. I needed the extra sleep as well, as I'd been up late. So I did the driving for the afternoon, and managed to get us to the hotel in Branford before he collapsed for a nap.

I was still kind of sick, but not too badly off, so I took Jet, who was brimming with energy after a day in the car and a huge lunch, to the pool. It was a good eight feet deep in the deep end, and cooler than I normally like my water. So I had to jump in with Jet because there was no way I was going from a nearly 90 degree day into probably 75 degree water without no means of controlling my descent. I just know that there are times when I just can't get into cooler water any way but by jumping. It was good once we were in, and was actually probably pretty good and warm, just much cooler than the outside air. We swam for an hour, doing some races, and Jet doing his best to touch the bottom of the eight foot pool. He did somersaults for ten minutes straight until he felt a little dizzy. He "slid on his belly down the slide" which was actually the incline between the five foot part of the pool and the eight foot part of the pool. He swam underwater from one side to the other. He did one of the long lengths of the pool to keep me company. He thrashed his way "on his back" backwards from one side to the other.

He is astonishingly comfortable in the water.

John got in a good hour nap, and then another half our as Jet and I showered. And that was when John felt human again. That was good, he finally got over the hump of his cold. With his brain intact again and a good Internet connection, he figured out where things were in New Haven, and we went in with a map from the phone book as well as a map he'd drawn from what we found on Google maps. This would probably have been easier with a GPS... so next time I'm pretty sure I'm going to get one and just not worry about this business of trying to drive places we don't know.

But we found Clark's in the middle of New Haven. When we got there, it was closed, but there was a sign saying that, next door, was a Clark's that served the same ice cream, so try them out! So we did. It was a little Greek/Italian diner type place, with specials like a fish bake that John got that had a lovely local fresh catch on a bed of stuffing and a "Spinach Special" that was actually two little spanakopita with a huge salad. Jet got his favorite grilled cheese sandwich. And we all finished with ice cream. The boys got a scoop on a cone, and Jet's was, again, bigger than his head. I got a "small" in a cup with a little hot fudge around the sides, and the maple walnut was just wonderful against fudge.

We walked around town a little to work off some of the ice cream, and then went back to the room where Spongebob has taken over Nickelodeon for the weekend. So Jet got to watch some before we all fell asleep and didn't get up until late. The hotel served a free breakfast, so we took advantage of that and then headed out towards Grodon, CT, which is a smaller port to the side of New London, which gives its name to the navel base there.

There is a free submarine history museum there, that has gathered up historical data about the electric ships that turned into the submarine vessels of today, everything from the old diesel powered ones to the modern nuclear powered ones. The first nuclear powered submarine was the USS Nautilus, which was decommissioned back in the 70's and became a display here in the museum. It was anchored out in the back. The museum was fascinating, with mockups of control rooms, displays of flags from US as well as Japanese submarines with all their trophy tags on them, still. There was a wall that contained the whole class tree of all the commissioned submarines that had ever been in the US fleet. That was truly impressive.

USS Nautilus
Still, the best part was being able to climb down into the Nautilus and wander through the cramped and narrow corridors, to see models of crewman lying in bunks with their faces nearly against the bottom of the bunk on top of them. One of the crew men that was doing the passing off of the little tour batons to visitor said that he'd seen a guy wake up with a start and whack his head so hard he had to get four stitches. Ouch. But he said it happens. In that close a set of quarters, things happen. It seemed very claustrophobic to me. It was amazing seeing the living quarters be just that squeezed in. The dining room seemed almost the largest room on the ship, even all the navigation and weaponry coordination rooms seemed cramped together, perhaps for coordination. The batteries were under the mess, the engine and torpedo rooms had everything crammed in on top of everything else.

Submarine Sink
There was one information board in the museum itself that said that ship yards didn't really like taking on the building of submarines because they're so dense that that a lot of functionality has to be packed in very, very little space, so they take a lot longer to build than most types of ships. A *fast* build was taking it from hull to finished ship in nine months.

We all really enjoyed that whole museum. There was lots there.

From there we went and found some lunch at a little bar not far from the base. They had great burgers and fries and plenty of iced tea. Which was good as we wanted a beach and found one at Hammonasset Beach State Park. It was utterly enormous. There were two beaches and when we went to the West Beach there were not only four enormous parking lots, there was also all the parking from the huge amount of campgrounds over near them.

When we went to the beach itself, it was entirely packed with people. Very, very different people than I was used to seeing on Southern California Beaches, though in the summer, anything goes, it was very much a mix of humanity in all it's guises. The beach itself was different, too. Slippery and sliding hard, with soft sand that was as much rock as sand, and the waves were tiny and slapped hard against the steep bit where the sand and water met. There were also lots of big, jagged bits of shell in there, along with the whole shells. And the water, while it was cool wasn't the cold of the Pacific. It was relatively warm, like the hotel pool, cool enough that it was nearly impossible for me to walk in, but Jet dove right in.

He and John went way, way out into the water, as the beach actually was fairly shallow when the tide was out, and just a few feet beyond the shore, the sand took over and was fairly soft compared to the rocky shore. My feet really hurt from all the rocks fairly quickly, and when I finally did go out to meet the boys, Jet started diving for the soft sand. The sand out there was quite a lot better for the kind of sand castle building I'm used to compared to the gravelly and nasty stuff that was on the water's edge itself. There had been a lot of recent erosion, the signs said. And the shore sand had all the stones and shells in it and I cut up the tips of my fingers a lot....

But it was sunny and nice, and so we spent the whole afternoon on the beach, getting our toes and fingertips cut up a bit, and using some of Jet's diving sand to build sandballs (like snow balls but a LOT denser and harder and heavier) and four or five castles that all got progressively taken by the incoming tide. One last castle marked the end of the day, and we went to the showers (COLD water but fresh) and rinsed off and changed into our clothing so that we could go into town and have some dinner.

Watching them Work
While John was looking through the AAA guide book for food, he found Frank Pepe's Pizzaria Nappoletana, a place that he used to go as a kid when his mother and father brought him and his three brothers to New Haven for their summer vacations to visit with their grandmother and Great Aunt Jean. The place was opened in 1925 and has been running continuously, since. They have huge, brick ovens, wood fired, and they do a nearly cracker-like crust that cooks in minutes on the hot stones. There's a line out the front door of people waiting for a table, and the bus girl comes and gets the next group that can fit the last table she cleaned, and she keeps a list of what size groups are waiting outside.

When we got our table, the waitress got us a menu, waited a few minutes and then came back for our order. The menu's pretty simple, just a few things, including a clam pizza with red or white sauce, and when we said clam with white, she asked us with our without mozzarella cheese and then added, "It's better without." So we got it without, but we got Jet's Tomato Pie with. *laughs* And when we asked about soda pop and were worried about caffeine in the root beer, she offered a liter bottle of Birch beer, "It'll be good. You'll see." *laughter* So we got to try our second type of white birch beer, one that's bottled in West Haven, the next town over. It was good. We bought another liter to have on the road with us tomorrow.

We were seated right next to the kitchen, and could see the guy wielding the 20-foot long peel with expertise and panache. They also pulled the dough out to size and coated it just barely with toppings before sliding the big rounds into the oven and then moving everything around. They did a brisk to-go business that could just come in as they pleased.

When our pizzas came, they were amazing. Two rounds of perfection. The clam one they'd actually gotten live clams, steamed them themselves and cut the 'whole belly clams' to their own specifications for the pizza. The toppings seemed to include the clams, garlic, and a generous helping of either butter and/or olive oil. That was it. Jet's pizza was thin and lightly tomato'ed and gently cheesed. Jet loved it and ate three slices. It was an amazing meal, and the birch beer was herbally, lemony, and just a little bit of bitter against the sweetness. Lovely.

While we were waiting outside, people were wandering by with little cups of Italian ice, so we thought that there might be an Italian ice stand just a little ways down.

It wasn't just an Italian Ice stand. It was Libby's Italian Pastry Shop. Oh my god.

There were things in there that I'd only heard of and never tasted, there were things in there that I have to really fight to get in Colorado, like the pignoli covered almond-flavored cookies that I can never get enough of. They had tiny linzer tortes, a dozen different flavors of cannoli, anginette cookies, single-cup tiramisu, and miracles of miracles, sfogliatella. I've never eaten a sfogliatella, I've only seen them online or on a television show. So I had to buy one, and Jet wanted a strawberry cannoli for breakfast as well, so we got both.

And then they also had the Italian ices and gelato as well. Jet got a root beer ice, and John got a lime one. I found the pignolato, which was a combination of the chopped up pignoli cookies and almond cream for the base. It was insanely fragrant with almonds, and it's a flavor of gelato I know I just cannot get in Colorado. It was utterly amazing and well worth feeling vaguely over-stuffed.

John then found a hotel in the Days Inn book and here we are. I should be asleep, but the darned pictures aren't uploading properly. The connection keeps getting reset. So I'll have to catch you up on the visuals some other day.
Tags: 2009_roadtrip, travel

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