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What better way to spend a rainy Memorial Day weekend than driving to Mystic, CT, in slow traffic that turned a 2 1/5 hour trip into 4? The drive there was Frank’s turn behind the wheel, so I settled into a sleepy groove listening the windshield wipers keep an uneven beat.
I visited Mystic once before, not long after moving to New York City 20 years ago. Long enough that I didn’t remember any of it and was able to see what we could of the place as if I’d never been there.
Mystic is a village first settled in 1654 that’s now a “census-designated place” in New London County. It has no independent government, but instead is located within the towns of Groton and Stonington. These are details I didn’t know before Wikipedia, and like most people would not have guessed. The Mystic I knew was the well-known tourist destination you’ll find when you go there, looking for all the world like a town of its own.
A note about how we decided to go there: Our friend Kathi gave us one of her fabulous Christmas presents. Two years ago it was a trip to Key West, this year it was a gift certificate to a bed and breakfast called the Mermaid Inn. When someone gives you two nights at a B&B, you should probably go. The drive was becoming tedious, with the kind of mysterious jams that never appear to have a cause. I call it the wave effect: traffic bunches, then clears up, and the bunch travels backward along the wave. You keep looking for an accident and never find one, just this strange stop and go traffic. After three hours of it we had to take a break, so we pulled off at Exit 56 for lunch at the Chowder Pot in Branford, CT. Frank saw a sign on the highway for this place (note the effective advertising) and it deserved the crowded parking lot we found. This is comfort seafood, lots of rich New England clam chowder, oysters, salmon burgers, and everything fried you could want. It made the rest of the drive much more enjoyable.
Once we got to Mystic we found our way to the Mermaid Inn, a place to recommend most highly. Operated by Josephine Guamaccia, the Mermaid is an 1843 Victorian Italianate house located in the downtown area. Don’t let the “downtown” dissuade you – it’s a village, remember? The four rooms were each painted by local artist Jennifer Wolcin in variations of a mermaid theme. The rooms also each include a queen bed, private Italian granite bath, refrigerator, and cable TV (yes!). Josephine lives in the house and provides guests a different breakfast each day and afternoon refreshments. I don’t know what those cookies were, only that they were just baked and amazing. I’ll admit to not being much of a B&B guy – I love my hotels – but this is a place I would stay again without hesitation. Not only was there a familiar blue and yellow equal decal on the front door, but most of the guests we met were from New York, including one man who used to work at Reuters, my old company for a decade, and who knew my previous two bosses. Nicely serendipitous.
Saturday was another cloudy day. We took a stroll downtown, where you’ll find plenty of shops and an overgrowth of restaurants. On a better day you might want to take a historical harbor tour on The Mystic Express, go fishing with Captain Bruce Meyers, or just walk slowly along while you wait for the drawbridge to rise and settle back down, as we did. Coffee and pastries await at Li’s Bake Shop, and some gourmet salts and spices to bring home from The Spice and Tea Exchange. Visit the official Mystic website for an extensive lists of shops and eateries.
We tried going to the Mystic Aquarium but it was mobbed. The kind of crowd that has you driving around in circles looking for a parking spot and knowing that if you found one you would soon be inside with several thousand people, half of them children. Our desire to see the aquarium was overruled by our frustration at not finding a place to park anywhere in their sizable parking lots (plural), so we headed to the Mohegan Sun casino.
There are two casinos nearby, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. We hit Foxwoods Friday night since it had not stopped raining and there was nowhere to walk to in the wind and rain. It’s a nice place, and if you’re as into casinos as we are, definitely a good place to spend a few hours and lose a hundred bucks or so, which I did. And then, Saturday … my luck turned drastically. We’re penny slot people, and when we walked into Mohegan Sun I almost wanted to walk out. It’s very dark. I don’t know why some casinos are designed this way. Are we supposed to lose track not only of the time but whether it’s day or night? I don’t know, but my vision is poor enough in low light, I don’t need to wander around by the glare of slot machines looking for an available one. Still, I persisted, and something amazing happened. I played 80 cents on a penny machine and hit the biggest slot prize I ever have. Out came $660 dollars, and the hits just kept on coming. We both walked away significant winners, and took advantage of my first-time free buffet on our way out.
One note: don’t look for a place to eat on a Sunday night after 10:00 pm. We managed to hit Latitude 41 on Friday night returning from Foxwoods. The main restaurant had stopped serving, but the tavern was still open and I had a great hamburger to ease the pain of losing at Foxwoods. But Sunday night? Forget about it. We headed out for a snack just after 10:00 and everything was closed. Odd for a tourist town, but many of the small ones are like that.
Overall it was a great trip, and the kind of getaway you can take from Manhattan or anywhere within a few hours’ drive and enjoy for a weekend. Stay longer if you want to, there’s plenty to see we simply didn’t have the time or weather to accommodate, but you’re sure to enjoy yourself. And tell Josephine we sent you.