I continue my travel blog write-up of my hugely enjoyable two-week trip through New England by writing up about my time spent in the delightful state of Connecticut in this entry. Being New England's southernmost state, and bordering energetic and buzzing New York to its south-west, I rather expected Connecticut to be busier and less New England-y than my previous destinations so far - but boy was I wrong! Connecticut seemed quintessential New England, with lovely little towns filled with white clapper-board houses and tall white-spired churches, super-friendly people, and bodies of water everywhere - whether it was the sea, a lake or a river, houses seemed to be just built next to a waterway. I loved Connecticut, and enjoyed my time there very much.
After having gratefully received a lift from my mansion Air BnB host Chip back in Providence to the Amtrak train station, I boarded a short train ride out of the city and America's smallest state, heading for what I thought was the most amazing day so far on my trip, and this was certainly saying something after my previous days. Thirty minutes later, whilst much of the train's passengers seemed to be
Mystic Seaport Museum
heading off for the bigger cities towards the south-west, I hopped off at the tiny little station in the absolutely adorable little town of Mystic, just over the state border from Rhode Island. Immediately the pace of life slowed, and as the train left the station, the peace and quiet of this lovely little place descended all around, and I felt I had hopped into a different world from busy Providence - this was nice!
In my pre-trip planning, I was looking for somewhere to spend the day on my journey from Providence to my next accommodation in the Connecticut city of New Haven. I initially thought about stopping off in New London, an important whaling centre back in the day, simply because I thought it would be nice to spend time in a city named after my adopted home back in England. More reading led me to decide to spend the day in lovely nearby Mystic instead, and I was certainly happy with this decision. Mystic is home to the state's most famous and popular tourist attraction, the Mystic Seaport Museum, and is also known in my eyes for being the setting of an eighties film called "Mystic
Pizza". I hadn't actually seen this film before my trip, but I had very much heard of it, just like the film "Mystic River", which is actually set on the Mystic River back in Boston, rather than the Mystic River flowing here through eastern Connecticut. After returning home I bought "Mystic Pizza" on DVD, and enjoyed it very much - I was also able to recognise many of the places in the film which I'd already visited in the town. The film was actually inspired by the film's screenwriter, Amy Jones's, visit to the town and a previously unknown little pizza place there. Apparently she loved the pizza so much that she created a film about three waitresses who worked in the diner, including Julia Roberts. This was to be my first destination for the day ahead, as well as a brunch stop.
After getting off the train, I was hoping that there may be somewhere in town where I could leave my backpacks for the day while I walked around - no such luck unfortunately. There was a very friendly shop owner just across from the station who did actually offer to, but his shop was closing at
3pm and my train to New Haven wasn't leaving until 4.30pm. A friendly receptionist at a hotel in town was also just about to take them off my shoulders for me, when her manager stormed out of the office and absolutely refused to do so if I wasn't a guest staying there - I even offered to have a coffee in the adjoining hotel cafe, but that wasn't happening either. Ah well, I think I was going to have to get used to carrying my little travel buddies with me for the day.
The town centre was a short walk from the train station, beautifully set on a narrowing of the Mystic River before it opens out into the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The bridge over the river is in fact a drawbridge, and once in a while lifts up to allow boats to pass through, initially whaling boats, but now mostly fishing boats and plush yachts. Just a little beyond the drawbridge lies the afore-mentioned Mystic Pizza diner, past a lovely row of small, cute shops and super-friendly people, all willing to give a smile, and also start a conversation once they noticed my English accent. I felt as
if I had arrived in the perfection of America that I was looking for! Just a short while after the shops, I parked myself and my backpacks at the very Mystic Pizza restaurant itself, for a pizza which I think even topped the one I had back in Chatham on Cape Cod. I do believe it was in fact the best pizza I have ever had. I ordered the "House Special", along with a root beer, with pepperoni, meatballs, onions, and a few other things, and my goodness, it was divine. The slogan for the pizzeria is "A Little Slice of Heaven", as also featured in the film, and I do believe it was. The delicious taste of the pizza was all in the tomato sauce. I used to think that pizzas were defined by the topping, or even the pizza base, but I have now converted - it is very much I think in the sauce, and this one was flavoursome and delicious. The restaurant was also pure Americana, again something I was looking for on the trip and at last found there in Mystic - an American diner-type, with super-friendly waitresses, and cool American music. There was even
a big TV screen up playing the film itself. I loved every minute of my time there, and as a souvenir, bought a little shot glass saying "Mystic Pizza" to take away with me.
Once fully fuelled, I headed once more with my backpacks through town, and on to my main destination for the day - the Mystic Seaport Museum. Arriving at the museum's smaller south entrance, the lady on reception there said they couldn't look after my bags for me while I looked around, but fortunately in the larger north entrance they let me leave them in a small room next to reception, making it very clear to me that they were not to be held responsible if anything were to happen to them. Coming from the UK where left luggage has been a security threat since the times of The Troubles, I am used to a small bit of difficulty in finding left luggage places. This felt even more cumbersome and problematic though in the USA, and I was particularly surprised to find it in quaint little Mystic. I imagine it comes from the heightened threat from terrorism since 9/11, as well as the constant need to
avoid being sued over damages due to the rampant US legal system.
Once bags were deposited, my shoulders lifted somewhat, and I was free to seriously enjoy my time at the amazing Mystic Seaport Museum. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable four hours there, and could have easily spent twice as long, as I think I only visited around half of the exhibits. It is an open-air museum, recreating an entire New England whaling village of the 19th century, spread over 17 acres and encompassing 60 historic buildings and at least four historical wooden ships. The place was practically deserted of tourists, which was a welcome relief after busy Newport the day before. It was as if I had a whole 19th century American village to myself - amazing! Highlights for me were exploring on board the 19th century Charles W Morgan ship, the last wooden whaleship in the world, a personal tour of a New York Fire Department fire ship with water cannons, a walk around the old storehouses of the recreated village to include an apothecary shop, bank and printing press, and finally, and rather fortuitously, a good look at the Mayflower II vessel. This re-creation of the
original Mayflower ship was actually created by the British and gifted to the Americans in 1947 as a thank you for their help during World War II, a lovely gesture indeed. The recreation of the original ship which took the Pilgrims across the Atlantic to become the first American settlers in 1620 is normally based in Plymouth back in Massachusetts, but outside of the tourist season it is towed here where the working wooden ship restoration activities of the museum gives it its annual service. I planned to visit Plymouth later on in my tour of New England, but since the Mayflower II would only return there mid-April after my journey ended, I felt very fortunate to be able to see it there.
Another highlight of my visit was learning more about the fascinating but absolutely heart-breaking whaling industry which this region of New England was famous for. In fact, Herman Melville's novel "Moby Dick" is set in nearby New Bedford which I'd passed through on my way to Providence, and prior to my visit I knew very little about this particular trade. In Mystic I learned how the whales were hunted, killed and processed, all on board a
ship and out at sea, and the products of the industry, most notably the oil derived from boiled whale blubber which served to light the streets of North America and Europe making them much safer places at night, before the advent of gas and petroleum-based lighting took over. As mentioned, fascinating, but absolutely heart-breaking considering the suffering the whale populations must have experienced at this time.
As mentioned, four hours only enabled me to cover half of the museum or so, it really is one of the best museums I think I have ever visited. When the time came, I gathered my backpacks from the room next to the reception, relieved to see that they were still there, and walked the mile or so back to the train station through the rain to await my onward transportation. Fortunately the rain wasn't too wetting, and an hour by Amtrak later, after passing through New London and Connecticut's oldest settlement of Old Saybrook founded in 1635, I was arriving in my next stopping point for the following two nights. This was the interesting city of New Haven, one of Connecticut's larger cities at around 600,000 people, and within commuting distance of
My "House Special" pizza and root beer
the very New York City itself. The host of my next Air BnB which I had booked there offered to pick me up from the station and take me the mile-and-a-half journey to her stunning abode in an area called East Rock, just to the north-east of Yale University. Her flat was huge, and very tastefully furnished and decorated. I also learned that early the next morning she'd be leaving to Florida for a week, so I ended up having the whole place to myself for most of my time there - wonderful! After settling into my new room with attached bathroom, I just had time to go out to a nearby shop and grab a chef-made ready meal which I enjoyed, before settling in for the evening, after what had been a(nother) highly enjoyable, wonderful day on my travels.
For my full day in New Haven, I was considering either using it to explore the city and its attached Yale University, or using it as a base to spend a day in nearby New York City. The latter option won out in the end, with the argument that it isn't every day you can do a day trip
to New York City convincing me in the end! New Haven is just within commuting distance of the Big Apple, and I took advantage of this, catching the Metro-North Railways New Haven commuter line from its final stop there in town into Grand Central Station NYC! On my way to the station, I was still able to explore the really beautiful campus of Yale University, as it was conveniently located on my route into town, and ticked off my third and final Ivy League University visited on this trip. I found it really attractive, with so many lovely views all around, and like Brown University back in Providence, it also didn't seem to have the stuffiness of old Harvard back in Boston, the student population seemed much more relaxed and friendlier. New Haven very much seemed a tale of two cities though, and this felt very obvious walking around. There are the tree-lined streets and affluent student population of Yale University, juxtaposed directly next to the far more raggedy and downtrodden downtown area itself, populated by more of the increased homeless types I'd already noticed in significant numbers on this journey so far. I imagine there is more to tell
on the city's duality, but I didn't have time to delve deeper, New York City was beckoning.
At New Haven's station, I had breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts - in America, they're not just about doughnuts, they also do lovely breakfasts - I had a delicious sausage and egg muffin and mini hash browns with a coffee while awaiting the next commuter train to New York. Just before my trip, I had seen the amazing film "The Commuter", about a guy who regularly takes one of New York's commuter trains having a really bad journey home one day, and it was a great inspiration for my ride into Grand Central Station on this day. On previous trips to New York, I'd only arrived at its Penn Station, so it felt just right to arrive at its more famous cousin nearby. I was also inspired by another New York commuter train film called "The Girl on the Train", also amazing, although my journey into the city was a little less remarkable than both. It was pleasant, and it was very interesting seeing the landscape change gradually from New England peace to New York urban.
I had visited New York three
times before, so I've actually seen a number of sights in town already, including the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Central Park. This time I aimed to see other places that I'd not seen before, so quickly put together an itinerary for the amazing day ahead during the train journey. After exploring more of Grand Central Station than I'd seen on previous visits, I took the subway to the south and west of Manhattan, heading first to the Friends Building, on the corner of Bedford Street and Grove Street in Greenwich. I absolutely love the TV series "Friends", and it very much formed my first impressions of America as a teenager growing up in the 1990s. It was something special for me to see this building. I then headed to a spot on my phone's map app which was labelled "Ghostbusters Building", but was a little disappointed not to be able to locate it whilst there. It certainly does exist, as an old school-friend from Sheffield was also in New York around the time I was there, and I saw on his Facebook page that he had uploaded a photo of it. Ah well, maybe next time.
From here I headed further southwards towards the southern tip of Manhattan Island, for my main destination for the day: the World Trade Centre site and memorial. Last time I was there, in 2012, the whole area was a major construction site and there was nothing to see, apart from the lower half of the new One World Trade Centre tower which was being built at the time. It was quite incredible to see the area now transformed, with the completed One World Trade Centre tower, the two beautiful square-shaped water features marking the original sites of the North and South Towers, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and a rather striking spikey-looking building housing a new Westfield Shopping Centre and subway station below.
I had booked a ticket to the Museum a few days earlier, so managed to skip the huge queue outside and head straight into this poignant and emotional place. I remember I was with a friend in Covent Garden, London, on September 11th 2001, and spent the afternoon watching the events unfold on TVs through various pub windows in the area, as the normally-bustling streets of the market were hushed and silent. My parents
Mystic Seaport Museum
had also visited the World Trade Centre in New York just two weeks before the tragedy, which was a little too close to home for me. During my visit, I learned there was a gentleman with my surname who was one of the victims of the attacks, James A Waring, and was most moved by his story and the words of his wife and four daughters he left behind. The Museum contains remnants of the steel structure and foundations, lots of video clips of the day itself, very moving and emotional eye-witness statements and words of family members and friends of lost loved ones, and a whole section dedicated to those who lost their lives on that day - I'd say this last part was the most emotional part of the visit for me, and I let a few tears go there.
After a very moving couple of hours, I took the subway again northwards to Chelsea Market for an absolutely delicious Quesadilla con Pollo Asado for lunch, and then enjoyed a lovely 1.5 mile walk along The High Line - a new New York attraction, brought to my attention by my fellow TB buddy on here, Siewch -
thanks Siewch! The High Line is a converted old railway line which is now an elevated walkway above the streets of western downtown Manhattan. After some amazing views of the unmistakeable New York cityscape all around, the walk ends at a very noticeable building called The Vessel, which is basically a building made of circles and circles of staircases, all built on top of each other. Again, thanks Siewch for the inspiration, I really wanted to see these two places for myself after reading your blog from your most recent visit to New York. The Vessel was closed during my visit so I was unable to climb any of its huge array of staircases, but it was still a remarkable structure to view from the outside. Another nearby building of note was at 30 Hudson Yards - at the top of this skyscraper is The Edge, an amazing ledge protruding out over the skyscraper and looking down through a glass floor nearly 400 metres to the streets below. The view over Manhattan from the top of there must be incredible, although unfortunately my constrained time in the city this time did not allow me to find out - maybe on
a future visit!
From here, I took a final subway journey to Times Square, which although I had seen before on previous visits, I don't think I could ever get too tired to not want to visit again! The 360 degree views all around of modern, urban amazement are just mesmerising - a bit like Piccadilly Circus in London, but timesed by 100. In fact, it makes Piccadilly Circus seem like a candle. After taking lots and lots of photos, and just gaping wide-mouthed in every direction, I had to pull myself away from the spectacle and head eastwards from Broadway, which Times Square is located on, to cross the Avenue of the Americas, and then Fifth Avenue with views towards the Empire State Building, and finally back to Grand Central Station for my commuter train back to New Haven again.
Whilst New York was just as amazing and as exhilarating as ever, it was lovely to leave the suburbs of the huge city behind and cross the border back into peaceful Connecticut once more. I noticed the houses starting to become the typical New England types again, of white clapper-board mostly on a body of water somewhere.
It actually felt like I was going home again after the chaos and energy of New York, and getting back into my New England travels once more after a brief venture away for the day. New England seems very much characterised by small quaintness, beautiful buildings and houses with water views of rivers, lakes and the sea everywhere, and rolling hills and fields - it was nice to return to the familiar territory of this trip once more.
The train arrived in New Haven 15 minutes early, which was a bonus. I bought a lovely microwave meal at a CVS store, after I'd made the amazing discovery that it's not just a pharmacy but also sells groceries (!), then took a bus back to my swanky digs again in the East Rock neighbourhood of New Haven. I very much enjoyed having the place to myself again, and unwound properly after such a contrastingly energetic day!
I had an absolutely wonderful time in Connecticut, which although short, still enabled me to fit quite a few places in. I also enjoyed a bonus trip to New York - wahoo! The next day I planned to head northwards through more of
Connecticut, so in actual fact my CT journey doesn't quite finish here. I will write more on my further explorations of Connecticut, as well as more of Massachusetts, in my next one.
Until then, thank you for reading, and all the best!
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