Updated: Sep 1, 2021
If you have read some of my earlier blog posts you know a hobby of mine is bird-watching. I guess seniors do tend to gravitate towards this activity so much it is almost a cliche . The reason most likely is because it requires patience, the ability to see movement, and decent peripheral vision. Retirees, without the demands of a specific work schedule, have that freedom from a time constraint which affords the opportunity for patience to develop. Spying moving objects is always much easier than trying to pick a form out of the leaves in a tree. Granted, at a certain age, “floaters” may give the impression there are more things flying about than there are. And, as for the decent peripheral vision, well, two out of three ain’t bad for most of us.
One of the birds that I have longed to see was the Atlantic Puffin. They are very cute and spend long periods at sea returning to land only to breed. The original idea was to go to Iceland in May of 2020 but Covid nixed that as well as our plans again in 2021. Fortunately, the Puffin can be seen off the coast of Maine starting in May. So, we planned a road-trip.
Although Maine could be reached in a full day’s drive from the New York Metro area, we decided to break our trip up into four segments.
Mystic Connecticut, 2 days
Boothbay, Maine, 3 days
Bar Harbor, Maine 3 days
Nashua, New Hampshire - 1 day
Part 1: Connecticut | Two Days in Mystic
When I was 12, I went with my family to Mystic Connecticut. Those fond memories, and the fact it was on the route to Maine, were compelling reasons enough for a two-day stop-over.
Mystic has a trendy little downtown area, a bridge that opens every hour and is home to the Mystic Seaport Museum. The museum is a re-creation of what a seafaring harbor town looked like in the 19th century, complete with buildings and sailing vessels from that time period. A walk through the seaport, and a little imagination, can transport you back to an era when whaling was the basis for fashions, fuel, fortunes and a famous fictional fanatic.
Mystic seaport, while not enormous, does cover about 19 acres of land along the Mystic River and is considered one of the largest maritime museums in the US. Here you will see the last surviving wooden whaling ship in the world, the Charles Morgan. The L.A. Dunton, an early 20th-century New England commercial fishing boat, as well as several other interesting vessels are docked nearby.
Fire Fighter has the hard-earned distinction of being the most famous fireboat in the world due to its prowess as a fire apparatus and its seventy years of service. The first diesel-electric fireboat, she could pump over 20,000 gallons a minute and was the most powerful in her class in the late 1930’s. Firefighter was awarded the Gallant Ship Award in 1974, and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1989.
Not content to sail into the sunset and rest on her laurels, Firefighter was again pressed into action one last time by helping to fight the fires at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Originally located in Plymouth, Maine, the Plymouth Cordage Company was the world's largest rope manufacturer in 1824 and is now part of the Mystic Seaport Museum. You will find exhibits in this building showing how both fiber ropes and steel cables are constructed..
The height of Mystics’s shipbuilding activity brought with it a burgeoning Seventh Day Baptist population. In 1851 the Greenmanville Seventh Day Baptist Church was built and soon became the focal point of this religious community.
The carved figurehead in front of all New England sailing ships, an amulet to ward off misfortune, was revered by the superstitious ship’s crew. This carved wooden sculpture held great significance to those on board and they would go to great lengths to protect it.
The Ship Carver’s shop a working exhibit displaying ships' figureheads, nameboards, and shop signs that a skilled craftsman would have made in the 1800’s. Ship carving was a specialized trade that flourished in large port towns where ships were built or repaired. Carvers used common woodworking tools such as flat chisels, u-shaped gouges, and mullets on soft, light weight and workable wood such as Eastern Pine. Hand files smooth finished forms, while paints and gold-leaf added color and life to the finished pieces.
With a trip advisor rating of 5/5, hundreds of reviews and outside seating, we decided to give the Mariner a try. As expected, dinner was delicious. I had my first Connecticut Lobster roll and loved the nice large chunks of lobster on a buttered brioche roll. For the record, this version is served warm versus cold lobster meat found in a Maine roll. Luckily, we enjoyed the outside seating early because a short time later there was a line of hungry diners.
For six months, from the beginning of May until the end of October, the Mystic River Bascule Bridge (also known as the Mystic Highway Bridge) lifts up twenty minutes after the hour from 7:20 am until 8:20 pm to allow boats to pass.
The next day we tried the legendary pizza for a late lunch, early dinner “Linner”.
In 1973, the Zepelos family opened Mystic Pizza. With lots of hard work, dedication and love, the little pizza shop flourished. The secret family recipe quickly became a favorite, drawing crowds from near and far. One patron captivated by the pizza was screenwriter Amy Jones, who was summering in the area. Ms Jones chose this establishment as the focus of her movie, aptly named “Mystic Pizza”.
To work up the appetite,,earlier that day we went to Barn Island Wildlife Management Area. (Again because birds.) According to various birding sites, Barn Island is the largest wildlife management area in the state of Connecticut. There you will find a hard-wood forest, tidal marshes, open salt water, four waterfowl areas, coastal scrub woodlands and thickets that provide a great home for a large number of our feathered friends.
Some of the species found on Barn Island would be difficult to find anywhere else. Included in the list of avian inhabitants and visitors are: the seaside and Salt-marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Willet, and King Rail, Great and Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Little Blue Heron, and Common and Least Terns. It also supports wintering populations of Short-eared Owl and "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrows. Recently, the Wildlife Management Area acquired the adjacent 144-acre property. That addition kept this tidal marsh from being drained, landscaped and made into a golf course. As a consequence, significant populations of birds have been protected.
On the way back to Mystic we saw this house with a mailbox that was its mini-me.
After “Linner” we went to New London looking for Street Art and found some really excellent examples. Shortly after pop legend Prince died in 2016, May Jamie Pearson painted a mural on the alley wall of Hot Rod Cafe inspired by “Little Red Corvette” to commemorate this super-star.
New London has more to offer than street art of course. The Coast Guard Academy, museums, music venues, a historic port and was home to more than a few prominent citizens.. For example, after graduating from Yale University, the patriot, Nathan Hale taught in the one-room schoolhouse below.
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Stay tuned for the next chapter of our New England trip.
Part 2 - Boothbay Area Maine