Friday, October 21, 2016

The 'mystic' side of Connecticut

It's been many years since I've been to New England in the fall. Although I grew up in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, my recent trip to visit family ("The Great Beck Trek") took me to a state I don't recall ever before visiting: Connecticut.

Mystic, CT

The Charles W. Morgan in its home port at Mystic Seaport, Mystic CT

I'm staying in the seaside area in the state's southeastern corner known as Mystic Country. The village of Mystic, perhaps best known in pop culture for the 1988 film "Mystic Pizza," is located between Groton and Stonington. Mystic is bisected by the Mystic River, which flows into the Long Island Sound.

The Mystic River Drawbridge opens up to river traffic at 40 minutes past the
hour during the low season, more often in the summer.

With a rich colonial history, the Mystic Seaport showcases the village's richest legacy: shipbuilding. On my walk through town on this post-tourist-season weekday afternoon, I enjoy a lack of crowds (it's an ongoing traffic jam in the summertime), and two hours here allows me time to window-shop, watch the Mystic River Drawbridge in action, and of course, eat a scrumptious slice of cheese at from Mystic Pizza.

Of course I ate here: Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT

First United Methodist Church in Mystic, CT

On another day, my sister and I tour Mystic Seaport, inspired by an oyster festival happening this day. The seaport is a living and working museum. The world's last wooden whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan, is docked here, and an entire museum is dedicated to her.

Shipyard workshop at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

Mystic Seaport also contains a recreated 19th-century seafaring village with houses, gardens, a schoolhouse, doctor's office and various nautical crafts workshops. In the summer, this is a lively area with demonstrations, chanteymen and interpretors all making the village come alive for visitors. Those wishing to take to the sea can rent rowboats or sailboats, or take a ride on the Breck Marshall.

Admission to Mystic Seaport seems pricey to me ($26 adults/$17 ages 6-17 for a two-day pass) but locals can take advantage of annual membership rates, and it's clear that this is a National Historical landmark is worthy of preservation.

Wheel of the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT 

Loom in one of the homes of the 19th-century village at Mystic
Seaport, Mystic, CT

Mystic River Scale Model at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

Catboats on display at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

On deck of one of the historical vessels at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

Mystic trivia: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall honeymooned at the Inn at Mystic.

Noank, CT

Looking across the river in Noank, CT

Just a couple miles up the road is the lovely village of Noank. I attend a pleasant wine tasting at the local Package Store (where liquor is sold in Connecticut) and enjoy some nice walks along the water.

A flag flies on the harbor in Noank, CT. Morgan Point lighthouse
can be seen in the distance.

This area was the summer camping ground of the Pequots. Its name comes from the word Nauyang, meaning "point of land." Many of the houses here have historical markers. I come face to face with my own little historical milestone in Noank: my first lobster roll, from Ford's Lobsters. Yumerific!

Buoys hang on the shack at Ford's Lobsters in Noank, CT

Lobster roll and chips at Ford's Lobsters in Noank, CT

Noank trivia: Amelia Earhart and George Palmer Putnam got married in Noank on Feb. 7, 1931.

Stonington, CT

Little Narragansett Bay on Stonington Harbor, Stonington, CT

The riches of the bucolic village of Stonington were amassed in the sealing trade. The port withstood two naval attacks by the British — one during the American Revolution and another during the War of 1812. Today, visitors can tour the Old Lighthouse Museum or walk along the harbor. Fresh seafood, a dip at DuBois Beach and a vibrant sunset might round out a typical summer day in Stonington.

Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington, CT

Pretty house in Stonington, CT

Reproduction of an original American flag
on a home in Stonington, CT

Stonington trivia: Author Peter Benchley wrote part of the novel "Jaws" in a converted chicken coop in Stonington.

New London, CT

Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in New London, CT

My sister's business in New London gives me an hour to explore the city on my own. It's a little early in the day, so some of the shops aren't open yet, but I do find a bakery where I buy a peanut butter-chocolate muffin (I'm enjoying peanut butter at every opportunity while I'm here). Ocean Beach Park is deserted, but I sit for awhile, look at the water and savor my pb treat. 

Brightly painted submarine art at Ocean Beach Park in New London, CT

Located on the mouth of the Thames River (which is pronounced differently from the Old London Thames) New London's wealth came from whaling. Its harbor was considered to be the best deep water harbor on Long Island Sound, thus making it a base of naval operations during the Revolutionary War. The United States Coast Guard Academy is located here, and New London harbor is the home port for the U.S. Coast Guard tall ship Eagle.

One of Connecticut's most famous heros was Nathan Hale, known for his last words as he was being hung by the British for spying during the American Revolution: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." The schoolhouse where he taught in 1774 and 1775 is located here.

Sculpture honoring playwright Eugene O'Neill who lived in New London, CT

New London was the childhood summer home of Eugene O'Neill. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is honored with a bronze sculpture in downtown New London, and the family home, Monte Cristo Cottage, setting for "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "Ah, Wilderness," is a museum.

Mural in New London, CT, touts the city's vibrant art and music scene.

New London trivia (courtesy of Connecticut College's newspaper, The College Voice): There is a secret button located somewhere in New London that can blow up the bridge over the Thames River in the event of attack. 

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