I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Mystic. I had started to think about it as a possible destination after seeing it in a National Geographic Traveler article on well-preserved historic places. But would there be enough to do for three days and two nights? Would there be great places to eat?
Yes, and yes. Mystic has turned out to be a lovely little town, not built up at all (I doubt there's a building over four stories), yet filled with lots of shops and restaurants. And Mystic Seaport, my main purpose for coming here, has enough attractions to easily fill a day or more.
The Seaport is particularly impressive. Basically, it has been buying up historic seaport buildings and ships from various locales over the years. The buildings get reassembled within its 19th-century seaport village, while the ships sit on the Mystic River alongside the Seaport, or in a preservation area. The result is one of the best and most extensive historic areas I've ever seen.
While I saw plenty of historic sites in Boston, Salem, and Quincy, they were all anomalies. Even along the Freedom Trail, most of what you see is modern buildings. The historic sites have been preserved, yes, but you have no sense of what it was like to walk along the streets of revolutionary Boston, for example. But in Mystic Seaport, as you walk along the paths lined with a 19th-century bank, grocer, chemist, press, shipsmith, and much more, and then look over to the water, filled with masts of historic vessels, you can really get a sense of what it was like to live during that time.
Many of the buildings are manned by people who will take the time to give you an extensive explanation of these 19th-century skills. I spent quite awhile in the carver's building, learning about how ship lettering, decorative work, and figureheads were carved — and how, as demand dropped for that art, they transitioned into things like furniture and carousel horses. The shipsmith, meanwhile, explained that since you can't exactly go out and buy the tools required to maintain Mystic Seaport's historic vessels any more, he just makes whatever they need.
The only difficult thing about going through Mystic Seaport has been the kids. It's the end of the school year and therefore school field trip time, and so there are packs of kids running around everywhere. I can see how this would be a great learning experience for kids, so I understand them being here, but if I were planning another visit, I'd be sure to come during the summer, when school is out. Also, I don't know who I write to recommend this, but I'm increasingly convinced that if schools made kids run about 15 minutes of wind sprints prior to any field trip, everyone involved would be much better off.
But anyway. The showpiece of Mystic Seaport is the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaler. As has been the case with so many ships on this trip, the Morgan is currently hauled out for restoration. However, although the ship currently has no masts, it's very interesting to see her hauled out — the ship has a much, much, deeper draft than I ever would have expected if I'd seen her in the water. It makes sense, thinking about it — a whaler out for years at a time collecting whale oil needs a huge hold to put all of that oil in. But it was very unexpected based on other ships I've seen.
Today, in the afternoon, I took a break from the Seaport-going for a ride on the schooner Argia. I knew I wanted a chance to ride in a ship under sail at some point during this trip, and the Argia, a short walk from my inn, the Whaler's Inn, seemed like the perfect opportunity. And, although there wasn't much breeze in the morning, and there was a threat of rain for the afternoon, the wind picked up and the rain held off, so the ship got to go quite a bit on sail power alone.
There's a peacefulness to a ship under sail that I'd sort of expected — with no motor, the main sounds you hear are the wind in the sails and the water whooshing along the side. I took tons of pictures as we breezed along, until I took one of an island along Long Island Sound, and the following ensued:
Captain: Did you just take a picture of that island?
Me: (Thinking: I've been taking pictures this whole sail. I know the houses on that island look big and very expensive, but is there some sort of law against taking pictures of them? We're in public waters, aren't we?) Uh, yes?
Captain: You're going to have to give me that camera.
Me: Do I have to delete the pictures?
Captain: Just give me the camera. I promise it will be good. And hold this — that's most important. (Points to the wheel.)
I gingerly take one spoke of the wheel, and then the captain walks off with my camera. I grab the whole wheel, and I can feel it humming in my hands.
And that is how I have a picture of myself behind the wheel of an 81-foot schooner.
After a great sail on the Argia and last night's lobster roll redemption at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough, it might have been best just to pack it in on the lobster roll and get some fish and chips or something. But I had checked out the Captain Daniel Packer Inne's pub menu, including its hot lobster roll "sautéed with a sweet sherry butter," and that intrigued me. First, HOT lobster roll. Second, butter.
So I headed over there, and I am so glad I did. First, the ambiance is great — it reminds me a little bit of the pub I had brilliant fish and chips in when I was in Portsmouth, UK. Perhaps it's that sense that centuries-ago sea captains dug in to a pie and a pint in the very same place you're sitting. At the DPI, the pub is in what's essentially the basement, with exposed stone walls and low wooden beams overhead. Housed in a building completed in 1756, it's historic without trying too hard. And the fire going in the fireplace felt great after being out in the cold wind on the Argia.
As for the food, I was feeling maxed out on oysters and clam chowder, so I went for the shrimp, scallop, and roasted vegetable soup, and of course the hot lobster roll. The soup was good, but not too remarkable — pretty much like a minestrone with seafood in it. The hot lobster roll actually had the most plate appeal of any I've had so far, with its herbs and shallots mixed in with the lobster meat.
The lobster roll was probably the second best I've had on this trip (behind Abbott's), mostly on the strength of being hot. Where it fell short, oddly enough, was the bread. The DPI got a little too ambitious, and put it on better, but too chewy, bread. As a result, every bite involved too much effort to cut into the bread. There was buttered lobster flying everywhere — it was not pretty. Which is a shame, because the guts of the roll were quite good. And it still beat cold, hands down.
I think it's definitely time to switch off of lobster rolls now. I don't think anybody in this area is going to beat Abbott's. But I may well be back to the DPI tomorrow before my train to sample their fish and chips — the space is too great to pass up another chance to kick back with a beer and some pub food.