In terms of where to go for a quick overnight getaway, you might say I’ve been schooled... by a school of fish.
Since flying has become a giant nightmare in terms of time and money (are they going to put pay-as-you-go quarter slots in the airplane toilets soon?), I’m always looking for day trips or at the very most overnights.
As a Boston family, we typically head to the Cape, Portsmouth, N.H., Newport or Providence, R.I. But let’s face it, you can only visit the same quaint small town enough times before it’s like walking down the streets of your own quaint town. You might call this an example of “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Enter Mystic, Conn. Although I’ve heard that New Yorkers haunt this spot often, but Bostonians have this crazy idea that it's a forever-long excursion. Not so. One and a half hours. Why didn't I know this? As I said, I've been schooled.
I hopped in the car for the last trip of the summer with my daughter. A momma-and-mini-me getaway. I was looking forward to the shopping, the history, the shopping, the colorful seaside charm, the shopping and, of course, the Mystic Aquarium.
Our first stop was to drop off our bags at the most centralized inn you could possibly imagine. A few storefronts from the historic Bascule Drawbridge in historical Mystic Center, The Whaler’s Inn (shown above) was an incredible start to our trip. The downtown's largest inn, it's a cluster of buildings with some overlooking the scenic Mystic River. The rooms were quaint and the porches a nice place to sit and relax. Stop by and chat up the owner (and kind soul) Richard who is usually walking around with a smile for all.
Step outside to stroll the main street across the drawbridge. In about three seconds (two minutes if the drawbridge is up) and you're right in the heart of an adorable setting of boutiques, gourmet food shops, cafés and of course the famed Mystic Pizza (if you’re a girl, you’ve heard of it's eponymous movie..and yes, we had a tasty slice, while my daughter made me run through the entire premise of the film).
Radio Waves is a cool eclectic shop of restored radios and collectibles, and we spent quite some time in Company of Craftsmen for Christmas gifts of hand carved items and such. As I can’t seem to get away from clothes wherever I go, she and I found Peppergrass & Tulip, where we spent an hour laughing and trying on gargantuan Derby-worthy hats. She settled on a fascinator that I will be stealing to wear. I'm still boggled by how I managed to leave the store without 15 different styles.
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Then we set off for Mystic Aquarium, just minutes away. We were excited for several reasons—to see New England's only Beluga whales (shown below, one even stopped to give my daughter a kiss on the head), sea lion shows, penguins, jellyfish (my favorite) and more. This is the place to do it--an impressive 19-acre site with a nice split of gorgeous outdoor and indoor exhibits.
The hands-on opportunities at the facility are incredible. Beyond looking at the impressive tanks of gorgeous marine life, they get you up-close and personal with marine life like I've never seen (or felt). You can touch graceful string ray, white-spotted bamboo shark, lobsters, American alligators and more. Even more "touching" is how they help the sea life they encounter at their marine animal rescue program and medical care facility (the day we were there the rescue team freed an entangled 700-pound male leatherback turtle with the help of the Coastguard). Remind me to tell you about the time they gave a hiphinge replacement to a decades-old mollusk (shown in the opening photo, top row).
And then...there are the Encounters (insert dramatic music here - the kind that lets you know something amazing is impending). Going beyond your typical penguin or beluga feeding attraction done by trainers, you can actually get up close with these gorgeous creatures (yes, I mean wading waist-deep into the water with a whale or sitting in a room with a tuxedo wearing cutie). At an extra charge, this is a worth it. Our experience with a penguin was beyond anything we've ever done. And we somehow managed to not get pooped on. #winning
One thing I didn't expect to be doing was feeding birds by hand, but there we were - holding out olive branches (ok, they were popsicle sticks covered in seeds) to beautiful birds of the Outback at a seasonal exhibit. Parakeets, cockatiels and rosellas, oh my. Another unexpected moment - how trained their sea lions are. I can't move that gracefully and I weigh roughly 800 lbs less.
Fun fact:Although it obviously doesn't apply to us, Mystic is also home to the only licensed preschool housed in an aquarium in the country. I guess kids are sponges.
So as you can see, I've discovered a new nearby spot to hang. And I'm Zen with that. And here is your Moment of Zen.
Photo of Mystic Main Street shops by Stephanie Marshall.
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