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Mystic Mystique, A Favorite Connecticut Camping Destination
By Glenn Kaufmann
A Sense of History
Just a mile or so north of downtown sits Mystic Seaport, a historically accurate re–creation of a 19th century New England port town. Complete with vintage sailing vessels of all sorts, period homes, taverns, stores, museums – fully functioning workshops, even a short trip through the seaport grounds offers visitors a well–rounded view of New England seaside life in the 1800s. Costumed docents and attendants provide guests with information on the ships, seamen and families who played a pivotal role in the development of New England's maritime trades. In addition to its land–based charms, Mystic Seaport is home to the Charles W. Morgan – the last wooden whale ship still in existence.
Just in time for the holidays, Mystic Seaport offers guided lantern–light tours of the old seaport, beginning in late November. Just after sunset, costumed guides lead visitors from house to house on foot through the seaport, where characters from the 1800s greet them and provide clues to a holiday mystery. This beautiful and unique way to visit Mystic Seaport during a
adventure and catch the holiday spirit continues throughout the season. Another attraction held the week between Christmas and New Year's is Holiday Magic, which features a 19th–century magic show and activities at the planetarium.
Come summertime, Mystic Seaport plays host to The Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous. Along about mid– to late July, the builders, owners, groupies, gawkers and casual wannabes of wooden boat–building arrive for the event. The seaport, riverfront and bay around Mystic literally overflow with handmade, lovingly lofted dories, skiffs, sloops, hookers, gaff–rigged ketches and every other flavor of classic wooden boat imaginable. For the lover of fine craftsmanship and the armchair sailor, this is the perfect opportunity to ask questions, go for a sail, kick the tires, place an order and fall in love all over again.
And Mystic Seaport is also known for hosting its annual Herman Melville Birthday Celebration. The seaport holds a 24–hour continuous reading of Moby Dick, on the deck of the Charles W. Morgan. Visitors are encouraged to participate by taking a turn reading part of the book, and are given the opportunity to spend the night on the only surviving wooden whaleship.
Just seven miles from Mystic off of I–95, and only a mile or so from Foxwoods Casino, sits the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. This museum provides many little–known insights into the highly influential Native American tribe. Housed in an expansive facility with a terrific view of the surrounding woodlands, the museum escorts visitors through the tribe's history, from its earliest days, and lays out tribal plans for future development.
On the museum's lower level you'll find a remarkable reconstruction of an early tribal village. As you walk through this diorama you are given the chance to step inside the huts and walk amongst the people. This exhibit is handicap–accessible and, like so many other things in and around Mystic, is designed to let you take your time and truly observe and absorb the experience.
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The Natural World
Set just off of I–95, Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration is not just the best aquarium in the region, but is also the research home of Dr. Robert Ballard (the man who found the Titanic). As a result, Mystic Aquarium is home to numerous marine creatures and also boasts numerous one–of–a–kind artifacts and displays about the Titanic, her fateful voyage, and the incredible efforts made to locate and preserve the ship's remains.
Because Mystic is situated on the coast, the weather here can be mild all year round, allowing visitors to get out and explore the countryside and woodlands that have attracted the rich and famous, as well as naturalists who know where to go to find some of the best viewing in the animal kingdom. The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, with its well–designed walking paths through forest and meadow environments, makes walking in nature the easiest of things. But where these folks really excel is in their access to birds and birding–related experiences.
The center houses a number of owls that have been rehabilitated after accidents. Standing within a few feet of these amazing creatures, there is an aura and a palpable sense of nature's power that overtakes you. Additionally, the nature center's meadow walk is a terrific place for birders to add to their list.
Inside the nature center you'll find an exhibit called "Night in the Meadow." If you are within 50 miles of Mystic, do not miss this experience. Visitors sit in an enclosed and completely darkened theatre and are treated to the experience of really seeing and hearing a meadow at night. As your eyes adjust to the total deprivation of light, you begin to "see" as never before. Your hearing takes over, and you can truly sense the animal world around you.
Fill Your Plate
In the heart of Main Street's shopping district sits Mystic Pizza. This now–famous pizzeria inspired the film of the same name that vaulted Julia Roberts to fame and glory. If you are in the mood for a taste of Hollywood history, go ahead and step on in. The food is really quite good. Don't think of it as touristy, think of it as lunch.
If your trip to Mystic has special significance (birthday, anniversary, etc.), or you just want to dress up a notch and have a unique meal with a "jaw–dropping" view, head to the Inn at Mystic's Flood Tide Restaurant. Situated on a hill overlooking Mystic Harbor and Long Island Sound, the Inn at Mystic is an oasis of resort pleasure nestled within the town's seaport charms. Perhaps that's why Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall spent their 1945 honeymoon in room No. 8 of the Gate House.
With a compelling view of the water, "fresh off the boat" seafood, perfect steaks and chops, a deep and exquisite wine cellar and an eye for local specialties, the Inn at Mystic's Flood Tide is the place to go when you want to orchestrate a perfect moment.
Though Mr. Melville and Ms. Roberts may never have shared a plate of garlic knots, this quiet little coastal town is big enough, in spirit if not in size, to contain a bit of them both. Walk the streets and meet the people. There's plenty to do here, and time to do it right.