New England - The Litchfield and Berkshire Hills


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Published: May 8th 2022
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Me and Mark Twain's HouseMe and Mark Twain's HouseMe and Mark Twain's House

The Mark Twain House and Museum
Dear All

Greetings again from London, writing up my fifth blog entry on my travels through New England. This time I'm writing about my very off-the-beaten track journey through the peripheral parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. I wasn't exactly on the international travellers' track before either, but this time I felt that I was certainly making my own trail through the region. I loved every minute of it!

On the Tuesday morning I left the swish apartment in New Haven's classy East Rock district, and caught a cheeky ride on the Yale University student shuttle bus into New Haven town centre. I figured with my youthful looks (!) and posh English accent, I could pass as a Yale Grad student, and it worked! Although after asking the bus driver whether he went to New Haven Green, where I wanted to go, he did end up telling me a spiel about where he could drop me off instead, and I had to pretend to understand what he was talking about, lol! It was a great free ride into town!

Just beyond the Green, I enjoyed breakfast at a local joint, where I had an English muffin with sausage, egg
Barkhamsted ReservoirBarkhamsted ReservoirBarkhamsted Reservoir

Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
and cheese, and a coffee, and then caught a train from New Haven's State Street station on the Amtrak's Hartford Shuttle line heading up north towards Springfield MA, but stopping off in Hartford CT along the way for the day. While I think New Haven is Connecticut's more famous city, Hartford is its state capital. With a metropolitan population of around 1.2 million, it is also Connecticut's largest, though I'm not sure if I enjoyed visiting the city very much. Although there were some friendly people, I found most people rather unfriendly, and there was a cold and edgy vibe there. Most didn't seem to understand my accent, I had to repeat myself many times to the two bus drivers who took me places there, and they did not seem too pleased at the minor inconvenience for them. I also spent my first half-hour trying to find somewhere to drop my bags off for the day - the security guy in the train station gave me a strict talking down to, saying that unattended baggage are considered security threats, and did not seem to be able to see I was simply a tourist looking for somewhere to leave my luggage.
West Cornwall Covered BridgeWest Cornwall Covered BridgeWest Cornwall Covered Bridge

Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
I ended up having to charm the owner of a Taco bar in town, who also didn't seem too keen on keeping my bags even though I had promised to return to the place for lunch later once I'd made my visit for the day, although neither was he saying no. I was a little confused whether to charm him further, or to see his response as a polite no. In the end, he agreed to taking my larger backpack, but not my smaller one, but hey - I wasn't complaining!

Yay! I was now free to explore, and first headed up to the city's State Capitol building. This was rather an unusual one, with a hotchpotch of architectural styles, including a large gold-leafed dome. Its position afforded commanding views over the city of Hartford below and its impressive group of skyscrapers, and I was able to take lots of nice photos from there. Heading back towards the train station, I took a bus to take me around a mile westwards to my star attraction for the day - the absolutely exquisite Mark Twain House and Museum, where I had a highly enjoyable time indeed!

I am a
Sheffield Post OfficeSheffield Post OfficeSheffield Post Office

Sheffield, Massachusetts
big fan of Mark Twain - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are two of my favourite books, I love his wonderfully wise and worldly quotes, and I also love his love of travel, particularly back in the Victorian heyday of gentlemanly tourism abroad. It was wonderful to visit this museum to learn more about the man's life, and also to see his amazing house there. He seemed to have mostly led a happy life, but also a very tragic one. The 17 years he spent at this house in Hartford were, as he said, the best of his life - it truly is a wonderful building of class and whimsy, and in his day it overlooked a lovely river and forest below. His tragedies lay in him outliving his wife and three of his four children, his only son dying before reaching the age of two years old, and one of his daughters passing away in the house while he was travelling with his wife and another daughter in Europe. I see him as a true great of American literature and experience - he said he wasn't "An American", but "The American", and indeed learning about his
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Connecticut
life story I couldn't agree more. He was born in humble circumstances in Missouri and grew up quite poor. He later worked in steam-boat driving on the Mississippi, gold prospecting in Nevada, and in journalism all over the United States, as well as being an author and a public speaker. He married well, to the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man of Elmira in New York State, Olivia Langdon. He himself was a striking and handsome man, particularly in his younger days. His actual name was Samuel Clemens, and Mark Twain was just his pen-name taken from a term used in navigating the Mississippi River, meaning that the water is 12 feet in depth and is thus safe to pass. I also learned that, Mark, or Samuel, was born in 1835 while Halley's Comet was flying through the sky. He then predicted he would die the next time it comes round, saying that he would be disappointed if he didn't - he indeed died in 1910 just as the comet had returned! As he stated himself in 1909, "now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together". I learned so much more about
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Connecticut
this man who I had already admired, and it was an honour to see his delightful home there in Hartford.

After my visit to the House and Museum, I took a bus back into town again, and had lunch as promised at the Tacos place which had stored my bag for me. I enjoyed a taco with chilli pork, and an enchilada with fried chicken - both were delicious. I then headed back to the Amtrak train station for my next train for the day taking me further north, back into Massachusetts again, but this time deep within its western hinterland, to the gritty but friendly city of Springfield.

Upon arrival, my legs were a bit weary by this time, so instead of exploring a bit of Springfield while waiting for my bus to my accommodation which was due in an hour, or walking the two miles there, I just took it easy on a bus station bench in the lovely sun which had made the day my first warm one on this journey. I enjoyed a bit of people-watching from there, watching the comings and goings of a number of homeless types in particular who seemed to have made the bus station their home. Bang on time, an hour later, the bus arrived, and took me on to my next Air BnB accommodation over the Connecticut River, and into the civically separate entity of West Springfield on the other side. This was another basement flat, with its own basement issues which I only noticed on my second night there, but very comfortable, with everything a traveller could possibly need, including fridge, microwave and a proper coffee maker. It was very calm and peaceful, and the Ukrainian owner and her Mum who lived above were very welcoming and friendly. The plan was to use this place as my base in Springfield, while I rented a car the following day to explore the more rural areas of both Massachusetts and also Connecticut again - the Berkshire Hills of the former, and the Litchfield Hills of the latter, both highly scenic areas of the Appalachian Mountains which slice through the western border regions of the two states. I was excited to see more of rural New England, and I was also very much looking forward to seeing what renting a car could do for my travels in America. So far, public transport had served me well, but I did wonder how different it would be with my own set of wheels - the next morning I found out!

It was amazing! I was a bit nervous at first, but I'm so glad that I did it. It was a good choice to hire a car for the day. My initial plans would have seen me hire a car for a few more days, but car rental prices in America at the time of booking were astronomical. It seems that many car rental firms sold off their cars during the heights of 2020, and since the country is now beginning to travel again, and since there aren't now so many cars as before, the prices are at a premium. I could afford one day I thought, and this would be the day for it. I had aimed to visit the settlement of Sheffield in the far western corner of Massachusetts, and since there was no public transport at all to this place, the car came in handy. It so happened that the area is also surrounded by beautiful places and lovely scenery, and so I put together a lovely little
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Connecticut
driving itinerary for a mini road-trip away from places reachable by buses and trains. It turned out to be a beautiful day of driving along winding and forested country lanes, with every turn producing a stunning new vista of forests, hills and valleys. I was to take in the lovely Litchfield Hills of Connecticut and beautiful Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, both regions forming part of the glorious Appalachian Mountain range as it makes its way along the east coast of America towards Maine and beyond. In all my travels, this was the first time I had hired a car, and I can imagine this will also be helpful on my numerous visits planned to the US in future years, particularly those beyond the built-up parts of the north-east. I was endowed with a lovely automatic black Kia car, with a New Jersey number plate. It was amazing, and so much easier than I expected. Driving an automatic car is a breeze, rather like a dodgem car - you just go forwards, backwards, left and right, with no worry or care for a clutch or gears - hill starts were particularly easy! The US road system and signs also seemed easy
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Connecticut
to navigate, as long as one remembers that you can turn right on a red traffic light if there is no sign saying you can't, and that roundabouts are to be taken anti-clockwise, just as of course you drive on the right-hand side of the road there. I also downloaded the very helpful "Here We Go" app, for its very useful offline navigation and road directions, which became a real boon. It was a wonderful day indeed!

My first port-of-call for the day was the Six Flags New England resort. Although it was closed for the season, I had very much heard of America's Six Flags theme parks as I just love rollercoasters and adrenaline rides, and thought it would be nice to just see one. There was a good view of some of its white-knuckle rides from the car park and main gate. Next door there was another one of those wonderfully typical American diners, called "Bobbie J'Z", where I stopped off for a late breakfast - it was an authentic one, where the customers knew and greeted everybody, and the waitress comes round to top up your coffee! From here, I headed into the Litchfield Hills, filled
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Connecticut
with pure rolling rural beauty, forested mountains, windy roads, and quaint little New England villages with white clapperboard churches. On the way, I stopped off at the stunning and surprising Barkhamsted Reservoir, surrounded by misty mountains, with the cold icy breeze back again. After a few photos and numbed cheeks, I continued on to the lovely little town of Litchfield, and appreciated talking to a nice lady while waiting to take away a pastry at a local cafe there. My journey from here took me on to a typical New England covered bridge near the town of West Cornwall, which was beautiful, and just as I had expected from films such as "Sleepy Hollow" and "Beetlejuice". This one was situated on the region's beautiful Housatonic River which winds its way through the area through lush, forested river valleys and mountains. Then I headed on through the nearby towns of Sharon and Salisbury, taking a particularly scenic route recommended by the Lonely Planet along state roads numbers 4 and 41. I had a lovely conversation with a lady in a shop in Sharon, who said she loved my accent. I noted that people around there were even less used to meeting
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English people, and I loved seeing the double-take people would have once they realised I was speaking with an accent - "oooh, where are you from?" - I love that!

After Sharon and Salisbury, I headed back over the state border again into Massachusetts, and onto the tiny settlement of Sheffield. Being from Sheffield in the UK myself, I just had to visit this place which I spied on a map during my pre-trip planning. Since no buses went there, it was this place which actually inspired my car rental for the day in the first place, and it was so worth it to end up being able to go there. The people were friendly, apart from the staff in the local petrol station who simply just stared at me during my whole time in its shop, and I imagine many of the townfolk wondered why I was so gleefully taking photos of all the signs around town saying "Sheffield", though no-one seemed to know how it got its name. Some of them directed me to the local "Sheffield Historical Society" building, which unfortunately only opens at weekends, so I couldn't find out. Nevertheless, it was a town so
The Mark Twain House and MuseumThe Mark Twain House and MuseumThe Mark Twain House and Museum

Hartford, Connecticut
eminently different from its namesake back in England, one a big industrial giant of nearly 600,000 people, the other a quiet rural backwater of 3000. They do seem to share one thing in common though - they are both situated on the edge of hilly areas. UK Sheffield is on the edge of the Peak District National Park, MA USA Sheffield is on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains! I also noticed that the settlement's symbol seems to be a picture of Robin Hood, of Sherwood Forest fame, which most people don't know is actually closer to Sheffield than Nottingham - clearly the people of Sheffield MA know the truth though! I enjoyed a few treats from the local bakery in town, and bought a "Sheffield" souvenir from there, before moving on.

Next, I headed up into the Appalachian Mountains just on the edge of town, to a place where I could have walked part of the famous Appalachian Trail had I wanted to. Arriving at the trail head, I wasn't sure that I would have enjoyed it though. I love walking trails in national parks, forests, mountains and so on, but this place seemed so remote and otherworldly
Mark TwainMark TwainMark Twain

The Mark Twain House and Museum
- I had to drive the car for a mile along a dirt track first of all just to get to the trail head itself. I wasn't sure if I'd feel comfortable walking completely alone, it was very isolated, and there are certainly bears in them thar forests, probably waking up about that time hungry after their winter's hibernation. It was nice to take a few photos, walk a few metres of the trail, and then head back in the car onto tarmac roads again.

My final destination for the day was the small town of Great Barrington, made famous in recent years by a declaration signed there by a very sizeable number of medics and scientists. It controversially argued that lockdowns cause more harm than good, but was largely ignored by the majority of world leaders in their race to the bottom to see who could out-compete each other in being able to "govern" their populations harder. I was interested to see the town, although admittedly by the time I arrived, I was actually about done for the day in exploring places, and after taking a few photos from the car having parked up on Main Street in town, I was ready to head back to Springfield again. My road back avoided the toll road heading through Massachusetts from Albany NY to Boston MA, and instead took a wonderfully hilly, scenic, up-and-down, curvy forested road, packed with lake and river views. I noted on this part of my drive in particular that there were a number of local drivers willing to go beyond the speed limit, and some tailgating was going on - I made the point to the tailgaters that if you tailgate me I'm just going to go slower, and enjoy the views even more, which I did and appreciated. Despite the tailgaters, it was a great route to travel along, and while I was tempted to stop and take photos at every scenic bend and turn, I didn't as this would have taken too long. I needed to fill up the tank again, and return to the car rental place back in Springfield for 5pm, 5.30pm at the latest. I hired the car at 8.30am, and returned at 5pm. I had thus been driving on and off on this mini road-trip for 8.5 hours!! Wow!! This has definitely given me confidence to hire cars on
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The Mark Twain House and Museum
future US trips, I was so glad I did it!

After returning the car and feeling great satisfaction, the end of my day's adventures were still not over though. I spent the next couple of hours exploring the attractive city of Springfield, and really enjoyed it. It was industrial and gritty, but felt friendly and welcoming - coming from Sheffield (UK!), this is definitely my kind of city. It is also famed for its museums, and on my walk through town I stopped by outside the very famous Dr Seuss Museum, the "Amazing World of Dr Seuss". Indeed, Springfield was once home to the famous children's author, and writer of one of my favourite books as a child, "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back". We never did have "The Cat in the Hat" original book, just its sequel, and I remember reading it and re-reading it so many times - I loved it! Whilst the museum was closed by the time I arrived, its sculpture garden was still open for another hour or so, and I really enjoyed a walk through there, admiring the statues of Dr Seuss himself, along with the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax,
The Mark Twain House and MuseumThe Mark Twain House and MuseumThe Mark Twain House and Museum

Hartford, Connecticut
Thing One and Thing Two, and a character from "Green Eggs and Ham" amongst others. What a delightful little place!

I then took a look at the nearby "Basketball Hall of Fame", which Springfield is also famous for, but again only from the outside as it was also closed - not to worry, there were also some good photos to be had from the outside. Finally, I spent a very gleeful hour or so at Springfield's famous MGM Casino. Wow!! What an experience! I had never been to a casino before, and this place was something else. Even on a weekday early evening, it was very busy with people on the slots and games, seemingly very avid and experienced players, with a sizeable proportion of more elderly folk which surprised me. I could have watched the roulette, black jack, and a game with dice, for hours, not really knowing at all what was going on, but seeing how the person leading the game and the gamers themselves seemed to know everything that was going on, at the speed of light. It was just mesmerising to watch, and I do hope someday to be able to visit Las Vegas itself
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Hartford, Connecticut
and see more!

From there, it was a two-mile walk back again to my Air BnB basement flat. The last bus at 6.20pm had already left by this time, so I had intended to walk anyway. It was a lovely walk, over the attractive Memorial Bridge spanning the huge expanse of the beautiful Connecticut River below, and into West Springfield again. I stopped off on the way at a supermarket called "The Big Y" for a frozen ready meal and a bottle of milk, ready to settle in for a wonderfully warm and cosy evening. It was another amazing day on this amazing trip!

Thanks for reading, and I plan to write about my final days of my time in New England in my next and final blog entry for this trip.

Until then, all the best 😊

Alex


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Hartford Amtrak Station


15th May 2022

International Travels Track
Off the beaten path is often the best. I loved your story about riding the Yale bus. Very smart. There are some great roller coasters in Ohio and California. I'll give you details when you head that way. I love the photo at the Sheffield post office. I'm glad you made it. You explored some places we haven't been to.
15th May 2022

International Travels
Thanks Merry. This part of my trip very much felt like treading new travelling ground, I very much enjoy being able to do this 😊 Details about rollercoasters in Ohio and California sounds grand if I head those ways, I imagine my US plans will hopefully include them at some point. Thanks for reading 😊
15th May 2022
Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail
Many have walked the entire distance. It is a tough one.
15th May 2022
Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail
Ah, indeed. I've read Bill Bryson's account. It must certainly be an experience. I was content to just walk a few metres.

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