by Deborah Burst
The faint sound of a harbor bell tolls in the distance as an early kayaker glides his oars through a shimmering river embraced by towering trees. Down the road, an ancient stone fence curls its way through a 19th century whaling village. A town of proud people eager to share their storied history, Mystic, Connecticut welcomes guests with open arms and a generous dose of New England hospitality.
One of the best places to get acquainted with this seaside community is the Mystic Seaport. This simulated 19th century whaling village details the bravery of our ancestors and the tenacity of the New England people in building a proud nation. Mystic Seaport is a working shipyard, preserving boats and ships including the newly built Amistad.
For another lesson in the hard life of a seaman, tour the Charles Morgan, the largest and last-built 19th century wooden whaling ship in the world. Crawl into the belly of this ancient vessel and witness the lower deck’s eerie sleeping quarters. The bowed hull formed by 200-year-old planks holds company with wood salvaged from oak trees devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Rows of cloth strung in communal hammocks share the musty smell of stale air. Feel the spirits of homesick seamen craving their families but forever drawn to the ocean.
After a full day of touring, you can travel the Mystic River to the Long Island Sound in a romantic cruise on the Sabino, one of the last coal-fired passenger steamers.
Melt away the hectic rhythms of life at the Mystic Aquarium with the quiet beauty of a 30,000-gallon coral reef tank and the graceful dance of a bottlenose dolphin. Meet Kodiak, a 9-year-old 1,700 pound Steller sea lion, and watch him scale a rugged flight of stairs for a treat from his trainers. Bond with some of the aquarium’s most popular residents in the interactive program: waddle with the penguins, feed a hungry stingray or serve a bird-feed popsicle to free-flying cockatiels, parakeets and rosellas in an aviary filled with Australian natives.
Or meet Naku, a six-year-old 1,800 pound Beluga whale who stole my heart, snuggling close to me, curling her tail and smiling for the camera. She’s quite chatty and animated, tossing her head and begging for that yummy tongue pat.
For a closer look at Mystic’s wildlife, experience the beauty of Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, home to 175 different species of birds and countless animals and reptiles. Just a mile and a half from downtown Mystic, the 300-acre nature preserve introduces visitors to southeastern Connecticut’s diverse ecosystems.
Salt and freshwater marshes, beaches, ponds, wildflower meadows, woodlands and rocky ledges offer an outdoor classroom for glacial history and wetland ecology. Engage your wild side and follow the call of the coyote on a full moon hike or paddle trip. Mystic offers birding, canoeing, kayaking and whitewater rafting along with family hiking and camping, nature photography and writing courses.
Mystic is bold but endearing. As the seasons turn, I long to see her changing moods: the vibrant pastels in spring and summer, the blazing earth tones in fall and the blanket of white and evergreens in the winter. From the loyal fan making his annual pilgrimage to the casual visitor at the scenic overlook, she casts her spell, inviting a new legion of faithful followers.
If you go:
The Inn at Mystic and Mystic Motor Inn, www.innatmystic.com, 800-237-2415
Flood Tide Restaurant, located on Mystic Inn grounds, 860-536-8140
Mystic Seaport, www.mysticseaport.org, 1-888-9SEAPORT
Mystic Aquarium, www.mysticaquarium.org, 860-572-5955
Go Fish (restaurant inside aquarium), www.jtkmanagement.com/gofishct/, 860-536-2662
Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, www.dpnc.org, 860-536-1216
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