Escape From NYC

In “When You Get a Curve Ball,” I wrote if I were in Chicago I’d go to my godparents in Springfield to get away from the city and collect my thoughts. Well, after my “That Thing Called Love” fiasco, I took refuge at a quaint B&B that I visited last year, the Inn at Harbor Hill in Niantic, Connecticut. It reminds me of the warmth of my godparents’ home. The Inn at Harbor Hill was exactly what I needed.
In June, I started reaching my boiling point living in NYC. By July, the heat and humidity index reached record highs baking the city, causing the stench of trash and feces on the street to attain toxic levels. The subway urine smell on my morning commute guaranteed that by the time I arrived at work I already had an attitude. It’s 9am. Why do people smell musty? Granted we’re all sweating but didn’t people shower this morning? For some apparently not, and don’t have the misfortune of getting on a subway car with no air. It’s enough to make anyone lose their mind. Maybe my pent-up frustration with the city, delays moving into my new apartment, or lack of movement on the dream chasing front attributed to me allowing my troubled waters to overflow the dating bridge. Either way, escaping NYC, if only for a weekend, is necessary to get perspective.
Friday was overcast and chilly with intermittent showers. I’m a sunshine warm weather girl, but even the gray day couldn’t sadden me so long as I was leaving this city. The train ride allowed me to catch up on lost sleep. The closer to Niantic, the sun would play peek-a-boo. No worries, Saturday and Sunday were both suppose to be sunny, mild, and low 80s. I arrived at the Inn to drop off my bags so I could get some comfort food – lobster crab bisque. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was 1pm. Dave, the innkeeper, remembered me and like family warmly welcomed me. He got me settled and said that he wouldn’t come between me and my bisque. So off I went to the Eclectic Chef. His lobster crab bisque is a thing of deliciousness. I only order two things – lobster bisque and the lobster/crab salad on kaiser roll. His bisque is like homemade mac-n-cheese to my soul. I stopped by the antiques store and picked up some old school boxing paraphernalia – Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. I stop into other shops, including 3 Blind Mice. Last year, the owner of 3 Blind Mice told me that although Eclectic Chef had good bisque, there was one better. No! She told me about La Belle Aurore. Last year I had the crab cake entree at La Belle which was so filling that I could not try the bisque. This evening I had reservations for La Belle Aurore determined to try this famed bisque.
It began to rain as I walked back to the Inn, but I was happy that Niantic looked the same – quaint, cozy, and my favorites shops still here. Sue, Dave’s wife and co-innkeeper, greeted me. She asked how I’d been. My reply, “tired and dating woes.” Sue said that hopefully things would be better after a weekend of rest. She introduced me to the new gliding rocking chair on the veranda. Well that will definitely help. Glass of wine for happy hour and book in hand, I break in the gliding rocker. Ah yes, this is more my pace. On the other side of the wraparound porch was a group of three ladies with a pitcher of sangria that looked like a moonshine jug. They were chatting happily enjoying the scenery.
The sun finally made its appearance before sunset. I figured I’d take a stroll on the Boardwalk before dinner at La Belle Aurore. On my way out, I met a couple visiting the Inn from Long Island that said to be sure to get a boat ride. What? I totally forgot that the Inn offered them and kayaks, weather permitting. Last year when I was here, it rained all day Saturday. I walked back into the Inn to inquire about a boat ride in the morning. The sangria ladies heard me and asked me to join them right then for an evening ride. They were doing a girls night out from kids and hubbies. I called La Belle to push back my reservation. At 6:30pm, I joined the “sangria” ladies for a ride up the river. As the sun made its descent, the views were scenic – a rainbow, tranquil, and Long Island Sound birds tending to a nest of newborns.
After the boat ride, I rushed to La Belle Aurore for the famed crab/shrimp bisque. First, don’t let the strip mall location next to Dairy Queen put you off. Cheap rent means the focus is on quality food. Second, La Belle’s motto is “from farm to table” – locally sourced food. Everything is cooked to order, appetizer, entree, and desserts. This is home cooking, but fine dining, yet unpretentious. You must be patient. Patience paid off as my bisque arrived. I immediately knew I made a mistake ordering the bisque and an entree. The bisque is enough for two to share. For one, it’s a meal in itself. Oh what a meal! I love the creamy goodness that is Eclectic Chef’s lobster/crab bisque. However, La Belle took bisque to a level of nirvana. It’s rich and complex, yet still has that comfort food goodness you’d expect from a good bisque. It’s like Julia Childs took your granny’s recipe and added a layer of ecstasy. Oh yeah, I’m that serious about shrimp crab and lobster. If they travel as a duet or trio, even better. I left La Belle’s stuffed. Opening the door of the Inn, I was greeted by the smell of fresh baked peanut butter cookies. After two months of loathing the city and a week of Ronda does dating wrong, this is exactly what I need to return to normalcy.
Saturday Sunshine
I opened my eyes when the sun peeked through my window about 6am. I tried going back to sleep to no avail. Maybe I had one too many glasses of red wine. At 7am, I decide to take in a walk on the Boardwalk before breakfast. Breakfast at the Inn is especially good. This morning’s feature – veggie egg strata with sausage on the side. Eating my full, I say good morning to the “sangria” ladies. I get a beach chair, umbrella and towel and head to Hole in the Wall beach.
I find a spot at the end of the beach secluded except for a family with a toddler and five year old. I get situated and commence my sea shell search. I am looking for something different – a pretty blue. To my surprise, I find a shiny black shell, a deep blue and white shell, and a lavender and white shell. I’m happy. The five year old runs to tell me that my umbrella fell over. As I re-stake the umbrella, the five year old, who hasn’t left my side, asks if he could pick shells with me. I told him to see if it was okay with his mom and dad. Instead of asking his mom, he proclaimed that he would be picking sea shells with his girl friend. Wow, just like that I had a new boy friend. Let me make sure not to mess this one up. Fortunately, this relationship only required yellow and orange seashells to be picked and rinsed off. My “boyfriend’s” sister must be cutting new teeth because she never stopped crying. His parents tell him it was time to go because his sister needed a nap. My “boyfriend” asked if I’d be at the beach next weekend. I told him no. At least this relationship ended amicably.
I settled in my beach chair to read. All was well until an hour later I felt a sting. Apparently the black flies/buffalo gnats decided to turn my ankles into their buffet. No matter how I swatted or fanned them away, they returned. Enough! I packed up my chair and umbrella and returned to the Inn. But first I stopped at Gum Drops & Lollipops for a fruit smoothie. Then across the street for a cup of bisque from Eclectic Chef.
At the Inn, preparations were underway for the 3rd Annual Poker Run to benefit leukemia. Book in hand, bisque on the side table, I eased into the gliding rocker and make myself at home like Goldilocks in Baby Bear’s chair. True creature of habit, I moved from the glider to the adirondacks on the lawn, then the gazebo, and back to the gliding rocking chair. Curled up like a cat, I was making progress reading my book when Dave, the innkeeper, told me to put that book away because I was going on a boat ride. This wasn’t just any boat. This was one of the nicest boats in the harbor. The boat owner was participating in the Poker Run and graciously offered to have me along as a guest. He said not to worry about food or drink, all would be provided on board.
I ran to my room, did a quick change, applied lipstick and mascara, and headed to the dock. Besides a water taxi, with the exception of last night’s boat ride, I was a boat newbie. Look at me now, heading out on the Long Island Sound. My host and his other guests (fellow boat owners in the marina) were attentive, making sure I had a great experience. This won’t surprise New Yorkers but the boat was as big as my apartment and more nicely appointed. There were three couples on the boat. Each married at least two decades. As I listened to their stories of love, I thought about my recent flight from dating. Even if that guy wasn’t the one, at some point I need to be willing to give love a try (isn’t that a Lenny Kravitz song).
The boat went out on the Long Island Sound. I saw private beaches and “cottages” bigger than the Inn. My hosts made sure to point out areas of interest: Fisher’s Island, Orient Point, and other notables along the way. We went further out near a private beach accessible by boat only. We sat in the open water with a cool breeze eating and drinking. The private beach looked like something from Beach Party starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. There were wood cabana houses on the beach. At any moment, you could imagine a cabana boy coming out with mai tais and daiquiris. I took in the view, worked on my tan, and made new friends.
On our return to the harbor, we took a tour up the river. As we passed other boats, my hosts and fellow passengers stopped to wave and chat. The harbor/boating culture is very communal, at least at Harbor Hill. It’s someplace where everybody knows your name, your kids, your boat, and your pet. It’s like a large extended family and this weekend I was part of the family reunion. The Poker Run is like a family reunion of three harbors, all participating because one of their own had a family member that suffered from childhood leukemia. That is how the Poker Run was birthed. From heart wrenching news, the boaters gather each summer to raise money for children battling leukemia. It is a festive occasion. There’s a raffle, auction, BBQ, music, dancing – an all around good time.
As we docked in the harbor, I could hear the singer singing “Blue Bayou.” I love the range of Linda Ronstadt. In high school, I worked at a dental office so I got hooked on lite fm, elevator music, and muzak. Linda Ronstadt and America were always in heavy rotation. I hummed Blue Bayou and joined the other boaters gathered under the tent for the festivities. Even after the Poker Run, music from the boats in the harbor played into the night. I went to bed, windows open, gentle breeze, and the sounds of laughter on the dock.
Sunday – All Good Things Come to an End
Parting is never fun. This time I woke at dawn to the sound of sea gulls and birds. No sleeping – too pretty out. I showered and went on the Boardwalk. By the time I returned, other Inn guests had already claimed prime seats on the veranda and lawn for morning breakfast. Instead of eating indoors, as usual, I sat outside near the dock. There’s one thing about cramped NYC living that I have not adjusted to – no dining area. I am used to eating at a table, not a counter or a sofa. The family table is so central to all my childhood memories. Even if my family ordered out, we all ate at the table. Maybe that is why I dislike my apartment so. I can’t sit at a table to eat or invite others to commune with me. I’m not asking for room for a 7 pc set. I’ll be content with a 3 pc bistro. Therefore, at the Inn, I made a point to eat inside in the dining room. However, it is my last day and the view is gorgeous. As I devour the Lana’s berry French toast, I watch the boaters in the harbor awake and begin the rituals of morning boat life.
Niantic has been good for me. After breakfast, I take a cat nap. I awake 15 minutes before check out.  Like a kid dreading the first day of school, I don’t want to go back to the city. The air is fresh here. The sidewalks are clean and the grass is poop free. People smile, wave, and say “good morning” as you pass on the streets. Oh well, there’s always next year. As I leave my room, the staff ask if I had a good time and reminded me they are open year round so no need to wait till next year. I sit on the front porch in the rocking chair waiting for my cab, saying good morning and good-bye to the boaters, new friends, I made this weekend.
My cab driver, Lewis, is a gem. He was my cabbie last year and I kept his card. He is a local who knows the towns in and around Mystic and travels as far as Boston and NYC. Last year, I took the train out of Mystic and had time. Lewis’ eating and sightseeing recommendations for Mystic were spot on. This time I’m leaving from New London. He tells me of a lobster dock on the water – Captain Scott – fresh fish and seafood. They sell retail but also have a dock out back for cooked meals (clams, oysters, fish, lobster, crab, shrimp, etc). Again Lewis was on the money. Fresh flounder, Atlantic blue crab, and lobster rolls to put NYC to shame. It is my last meal before returning to the insanity of the city. I’ll need a gym membership for sure the way I’ve been eating.
I miss the Inn already. If you’re ever in the Mystic-New London area, stay at the Inn at Harbor Hill. You won’t regret it. Tell them Ronda sent you. If they say who, reply the blogger that spends all her time reading in your rocking chair.


Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.