Vacation in New England

A compilation of trips and sites in the New England area posted on ICON by Doug MacGillvary

The first part of this is a narrative of places around the area, and the second part is a simple list of other attractions in the area.

It's time to think "Vacation in New England". New England offers so much and is so compact you won't believe the things there are to do and see and most are just an hour or two away from the show site. I'm going to give you a heads up on some of the obvious and lots of the not so obvious offerings here in New England. I hope I can tweak your interest in not only attending the show, which should be a super event, but also to bring the whole "fam damily" and discover New England.

I'm going to start with eastern Connecticut and the town of Putnam right up in the northeast corner of the state. A typical mill town that struggled as the mills closed and headed south or overseas. Putnam has become an antique marketplace, with just about the whole center of town dominated with antique shops. Antique till you drop and then enjoy lunch or dinner at one of the many fine local restaurants. My favorite is Courthouse Bar and Grill. Putnam is just 50 miles south of Boxborough and can easily be reached by interstate highways in less than an hour. Gambling in your blood? Next time I'll tell you about two of the biggest casinos in the world. Right in Connecticut!

Everyone has heard of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, right? How about Mashantucket and Uncasville? Well they are the homes of two of the largest resort casinos in the world, and they are located just 85 miles south of Boxborough in eastern Connecticut. Mashantucket is the sovereign nation of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the the home of Foxwoods Casino. Look at the photo of the Foxwoods complex and the new MGM Grand at Foxwoods right next door! It's huge and it is a first class operation! It is the second largest casino in the world, second to the Venetian in Macau, China. Whether you are a gambler or not, Foxwoods is an unbelievable experience.

A "don't miss" experience, for everyone, is a visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum . The museum is located just a mile or so from the casino. Everything that has been created at Foxwoods is first class and the museum is no exception. There is an 85,000 square foot area of permanent display. Plan to spend several hours. It's just a fantastic experience. Many of the displays use full size lifelike wax figures (similar to Madame Tussaud's). The search for models that were good physical replicas of the early Pequot tribe members was not that easy a task. A little cheating took place. Insulator collector, Marvin Burnett (Nashua, NH.), a Native American of the Lokada Tribe, had the body that the figure creators were looking for. Marvin, I believe, appears six times in different poses. I think he told me they used his whole body twice and other times substituted another's head onto his body. In none of the settings that Marvin appears will you find him holding or shooting at an insulator! I'm sure if my facts are not correct, Marvin will correct me.

About 15 miles to the northwest of Foxwoods, and in a section of the town of Montville is the village of Uncasville, and another giant casino, the Mohegan Sun. It rivals in size to Foxwoods as far as gaming but as you look through their web sites you will see features at one you may not see at the other. The 10,000 seat Mohegan Sun Arena is the home of the Women's National Basketball Association, Connecticut Sun. The summer season will be in full swing and if you have never seen a women's professional basketball game you are in for a huge surprise. The skill level that they play at is unbelievable. Both casinos are easily reached by interstate highways and an easy 1 1/2 hour drive from Boxborough.

Mystic is the destination of thousands of tourists as they travel through New England. There are two major attractions but there is so much more to see and do. I'm going to try to fill you in on all of the possibilities, obvious and not so obvious. We may have to do this in more than one session. The main attraction is Mystic Seaport. There is so much going on at the seaport, which is basically a recreation of a seaport village back in the 1800's. The seaport is the home to the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving wooden whaling ship. There are more than 60 original buildings that make up the village. You may want to take a cruise on the "Sabino" a 1908 coal fired steamboat. The other major attraction is the Mystic Aquarium, I'll let you explore their website but I will say everyone in the family will enjoy a visit to the aquarium. The sea lions at the Marine theater shows are a "don't miss" event. To satisfy the shoppers in the family, you can visit Olde Mistick Village which is adjacent to the aquarium. In the old village setting of about 30 buildings there are 40 retail outlets, restaurants, a theater etc.

Many travelers settle for those two attractions and then move on. There is soooo much more! The village of Mystic actually lies in two towns, Stonington to the east and Groton to the west. The boundary is the center line of the Mystic River. The only river crossing occurs on Main St. (US Route 1). Start your walking tour of Mystic right there. Actually start at the Drawbridge Ice Cream Shop. Give yourself some time to pick from 25 or more flavors. But have that cone in hand by quarter to the hour. That's when the whistle blows and the drawbridge goes up. All traffic stops for about 10 or 15 minutes while a parade of boats make there way up or down the Mystic River. Sandwiched between the drawbridge and the west end of Main St. are all the shops you would expect to see in a town that makes its living on tourists. However at the west end of Main St. is one of the most famous restaurants in the country; Mystic Pizza! If you don't have lunch or supper there at least have your picture taken in front of this restaurant made famous by the 1987 movie of the same name. "Mystic Pizza" launched the movie career of Julia Roberts! Visit the various Mystic websites and you will get a feel for what the town and area offer.

Before we depart Mystic there are just a few spots I want to mention if you happen to get hungry. Besides ice cream and pizza, you might want to try the best whole belly clams in the area. Just a mile or so east on Route 1 is the Sea Swirl Restaurant . Looks like an ice cream store out of the 1950s. Eat outside on picnic tables. Plenty of choices on the menu, but those clams are delicious! One other place you have to try for breakfast or lunch is Kitchen Little. Located on Route 27 just north of the Seaport. Very popular with tourists and locals alike. Great food tends to draw a crowd.

The Mystic area is just 100 miles south of Boxborough and good highways get you there easily within two hours. Next time I can clue you in on some more of the southeast Connecticut shoreline, New London to Stonington Harbor.

Daniel Packer Inn is a great old restaurant and I believe is the oldest one still in operation. It's a little off the beaten path, but has great atmosphere and great food. The Inn At Mystic is where Clark Gable spent his honeymoon and many other celebrities stayed there as well. The breakfast buffet is awesome and the crepes are one of their spectacular specialties. The lift bridge is cool. And there is an 1850's telegraph line running right through the city!

I've spent a lot of time describing many of the places to visit in the southeast corner of Connecticut. The majority of visitors to the state do head for that area. I'm going to add a few possibilities to the list, especially if you decide to stick around the area for more than a day or two. Consider in New London a self guided tour of The Coast Guard Academy. The grounds are beautiful and you can picnic right down by the Thames River. Fort Trumbull State Park is also in New London. One of the really nice parks in the state. The original fort dates back to 1775. Built to protect New London against the British. Again, right along the Thames River. A great visitors center/museum, large piers and beautiful grounds. If you happen to see the waste water treatment facility on the way to the Fort, you will be looking at the former site of the Thames Glass Works. The one and only whole CD 718 Thames insulator was purchased right in the area. A local fruit jar collector found the insulator in the basement of a home where they were having a moving sale. He was exploring the sills for jar lids that may have been left behind. If my memory is correct, knowing that anything embossed Thames had value, he purchased the insulator for the amazing price of $1.00!! I'm not going to dwell on eating in New London. There are however two neat spots to enjoy a lobster roll. Fresh chunks of lobster served with just the right amount of melted butter and server on a lightly grill split -top bun. YUM!!! Try Captain Scott's Lobster Dock at 80 Hamilton St. or The Dock at 9 1st St. in Waterford (just west of New London).

Cross the Thames River, from New London to Groton, head for the Submarine Force Library and Museum and a tour of the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus. I've been there three times and it's absolutely fabulous and free!! As you travel around the Groton area you will spot a monument similar to Bunker Hill. This is at Fort Griswold State Park. Fort Griswold goes back to the Revolutionary War. Worth a little time to check out the museum and the remains of this site that dates back to the 1770's.

Now if you want to take a look at a New England seaport village, almost unspoiled, visit my favorite in Connecticut, Noank. Noank is a small village in the town of Groton. It is about 5 miles southwest of Mystic on Route 215. The most famous thing in Noank is Abbott's Lobster in the Rough. Sit at picnic tables by the Mystic River and watch the boats go by. If it's crowded, and it often is, just go a bit further down the same road and try Costello's Clam Shack. If your heart is set on lobster go to Abbott's.

Be sure to either walk or drive around the village. Lovely old homes, narrow streets, beautiful views. After you have been to Noank you will want to visit the webpage of local artist Lolly Stoddard who has captured the flavor of Noank.

Last stop before leaving the area is Stonington Harbor. Another seaport village that has survived progress. Water Street is the main drag. All the way to the south end of Water Street you will find the Old Lighthouse Museum. Two things of real excellent display of Stonington pottery, 1780 to 1834..... photos of Stonington when it was a rail head. Before the railroad built a bridge over the Thames River in New London, passengers and freight were ferried to Stonington Harbor and back on the rails headed for Providence and Boston. The Harbor is a fun place to shop and poke around. While in Stonington you really should have a sample of the fine wines that are being made at the Stonington Vineyards. Their Seaport White is one of my favorites. This isn't Napa Valley but you might be surprised at the fine wines that are available along the Connecticut Wine Trail.

A few things about Connecticut that you should know. Gas is priced higher than in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, usually ten to fifteen cents a gallon. This might all change with the budget problems the states are having. Beer is sold in grocery stores. Beer, wine and hard liquor are sold in "Package" stores. No alcohol sales are made on Sunday. There are no toll highways. State police patrol in unmarked cruisers.

Whether you attend the national show in Boxborough by yourself or with your family, be sure to set aside a few extra days for exploring at least a little bit of New England. Like I've said, there is so much compressed into a fairly small area. I'm going to travel a bit west of Boxborough, about 80 miles to Springfield and the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Basketball originated in Springfield and the beautiful new hall is a must see for the basketball fan. I've taken three grandsons there at different times and it's amazing how each one was attracted to different things in the hall. Plenty of hands on things to keep young minds interested. If you have kids and you want to be a hero, how about a visit to Six Flags New England in nearby Agawam. Plan on that to be an all day adventure!

If you travel down I-91 from Springfield about 15 miles you will be back in Connecticut at the Warehouse Point section of east Windsor. That is the home of the Connecticut Trolley Museum. Probably the favorite ride is on the open air trolley that once graced the streets of Montreal. If by chance you are hungry when you leave the museum, go back toward I-91 but continue on Bridge Street another few blocks. On the right you will see the favorite restaurant of Jack Roach when he attends the Pole Cat show in the spring. Maine Fish Market and Restaurant is a very popular seafood restaurant and has good reason to be! A couple of exits down the Interstate will get you to another great attraction, the New England Air Museum. Allow yourself at least a few hours because there is a lot to see.

Hartford is just down the road another 15 miles. The capital of Connecticut is not really known as a mega tourist attraction. However there are a couple of really neat places to visit and they are free. I highly recommend a tour of the state capitol building. There are guided tours or you can take a self guided tour. I got hooked into being a chaperone for a bunch of fourth graders about ten years ago. That was the first time I had been inside the capitol building. Since then I've been back three times, just showing it off to visiting friends. Right across the street from the capitol is the Museum of Connecticut History. It's not going to bog you down with tons of reading. Many interesting displays and a "must see" Colt Firearms Collection. Remember that there is no charge for either place. One other very popular attraction in Hartford is the Mark Twain House and Museum.

The last two things I'll suggest in Connecticut. If you are traveling on I-95, coming through Bridgeport, you will enjoy a stop at the P.T. Barnum Museum. Then in East Haven, just up the road from Bridgeport you might want to stop in at the other trolley museum in Connecticut, The Shore Line Trolley Museum. Take a look at their web sites and you will get a better idea of the amount of time you would want to spend.

Oh, really this is the last thing. If you want to try something that is hard to find even in Connecticut, you have to stop at Ted's Restaurant in Meriden. Ted's is one of the few and probably most popular spots to get a steamed hamburger. I love them, but some people wonder why you would steam a burger. They are moist like you wouldn't believe and loaded with Vermont cheddar cheese. Ted's is a "hole in the wall" located on Broad Street in Meriden. It's right off I-691. It's a local favorite so it's pretty crowded around mid-day. Meriden and Middletown are about the only cities that you will find the steamed burgers being offered. I can't tell you why they are so popular there and not elsewhere.

Picture some place that is 48 miles north or south from where you live. Now picture a place 37 miles east or west of where you live. With that in mind you now have an idea of the size of the State of Rhode Island! One hundred miles and a two hour drive from the 2010 National in Boxborough, MA. is the great little city of Newport, Rhode Island. It's right at the mouth of Narragansett Bay and the open Atlantic coast. First thing that comes to mind, are the Newport mansions, or summer homes that were built in the late 1800's. There are several that can be toured but how much wealth can you take in a day! The most popular is "The Breakers", built for the Cornelius Vanderbilt family. It's like 70 rooms and 60,000 square feet! It is amazing to see the ornate work that was done by European craftsmen brought over here just to work on that one mansion. Can you say alabaster!! Passing by the Breakers property is the fantastic Cliff Walk. This is a 3 1/2 mile walk along the edge of the ocean sometimes as much as 70 feet above the water. You have to at least sample a portion of the walk because it truly is spectacular. However, if you decide against a walk, take a spin on the Ocean Drive. There are several spots to pull off and get a feel for the rugged Atlantic coast. This route will take you to one of the most outstanding parks in New England, Fort Adams. Back in the center of town and dying to have a bite to eat and explore some of those touristy shops, then head for Brick Market Place. One last stop for you sports fans while you are right in town is the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Newport will make a great one day side trip. Rhode Island has several coastal towns that all have some of that New England charm. I have no favorite restaurants in Newport. But if you want a chicken experience, head back to the Boxborough area by way of Route 146. North of Providence is Wright's Farm. Imagine over a thousand customers eating chicken, salad and fries! On a weekend night there still may be a wait to be seated! They have been doing this for thirty years, so they must be doing something right.

Years ago there was a restaurant in Rhode Island that was super popular with their "all you can eat lobster, steak and shrimp buffet". Well the price kept going up and up and I completely forgot about Custys. However, Custys International has moved just down the road from Foxwoods Casino, in North Stonington, CT. If you have some luck gambling at Foxwoods, have a huge appetite and love seafood then Custys is where you want to head. That $25 buffet has grown to $74.50, but you sure won't go hungry!

I'm not one to spend lots of time in a museum, so it has to be kind of different to catch my interest. I'm going to tell you about what I think is a really neat museum tucked away in the southwest corner of Vermont. The Bennington Museum is about 125 miles to the west of the Holiday Inn at Boxborough, site of the 2010 National. It's going to take about 3 hours to get to Bennington. It's a beautiful ride especially across Route 9 and the southern tier of Vermont. I first went to the museum just to see the Bennington threadless insulators. I was disappointed to find out that the whole pottery display had been redesigned and the insulators had been returned to storage. However, I did find a display of Bennington stoneware that was just plain fantastic. Here was a company that started in the late 1700s and continued in business for 100 years. Bennington pottery is extremely desirable to stoneware collectors and this display has to be second to none!

Staying with things that would interest guys, is the Martin-Wasp automobile. The only car ever made in the State of Vermont. What a machine! The Duesenburg of the Green Mountains!! Speaking of machines, there is a whole area of inventions and products made by Vermonters. There is also a very impressive area of early furniture made by Vermont craftsmen. On the sissy side, there is a huge display of pressed glass, goblets and other fine glass objects. I kind of buzz by this section but I'm only kidding about the sissy part. No museum is complete without fine art. The Bennington Museum contains the largest collection of Grandma Moses painting anywhere. This is art you can understand! Grandma Moses took up painting at age 70. She passed away in 1961 having passed her one hundredth birthday. She banged out over 1500 paintings and was really popular with her simple country scenes. Her winter country paintings were always popular on Christmas cards. So even if you are not an art connoisseur, you will enjoy the Grandma Moses collection. Now if you are a history buff, there is a section of the museum dedicated to the Revolutionary War and in particular to the Battle of Bennington. Outstanding!

I might slip in a few more museums as I tour around New England, but the Bennington Museum is one that I highly recommend.

Oh, I almost forgot about eating. An absolute must in Bennington is the Blue Benn Diner right on Rt7 in the center of town. This place gets rave reviews from everyone and with good reason. Now after the museum and eating if you still have a bit of time, consider a walk around town. It is a small very old typical New England city that has retained much of its original charm. The Bennington Chamber of Commerce has two walking tours for you to consider. Just go to their web site for details.

The last time I wrote, we were taking a look at Bennington, VT. I had taken you from the National show site in Boxborough across southern Vermont on Route 9, a beautiful drive. Now if you left Bennington and traveled about 20 miles south you would be in North Adams, MA. There are many reasons to visit North Adams, but if you are a railroad nut, the #1 reason would be the Hoosac Tunnel. Started in the 1850s and taking almost 25 years to build, claiming nearly 200 lives and when completed its 4.75 mile length making it the longest tunnel east of the Rockies. A must visit is the Western Gateway Heritage State Park. That is the western terminus of the Hoosac Tunnel. If tunnels aren't your thing, then maybe a visit to Mount Greylock State Reservation is just the ticket. Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts. Almost 10 times higher than the highest point in Florida! Miles of hiking trails including 11 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Gracing the top of the mountain is the very impressive Veterans Memorial Tower. Now the last thing I want to mention that is in North Adams is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. All I can tell you is that their annual attendance was 120,000.

Now the ride back to Boxborough is going to be on Route 2, better known as the Mohawk Trail. I'm quickly going to tell you about a few stops you might want to make along the way. First is the east terminus of the Hoosac Tunnel. Directions to it can be found at the Hoosac Tunnel website. Next is the Bridge of Flowers at Shelburne Falls. A 400' bridge that has been planted with flowers each year since 1929. Should be beautiful that time of the year. North Adams to Greenfield is 40 miles and a beautiful ride. Last attraction is 5 miles south of Greenfield on Route 5 to Historic Deerfield. If you are into authentic early Americana, Deerfield Village will knock you off your feet!

A week or so ago I wrote about crossing the beautiful Mohawk Trail (Route 2) heading back to Boxborough and the site of the 2010 National show. I mentioned a stop along the way in the town of Shelburne Falls. I just want to elaborate on this little side trip off Route 2. This past week my wife and I decided to take the day off and do some leaf peeping up in Massachusetts. We went back roads up through Westfield on to Williamsburg and then north to Shelburne Falls. We arrived early in the afternoon ready for lunch. There are plenty of eating establishments in this little town, but we usually zero in on McCuskers Market. There is a deli in the rear of the market that makes some mean sandwiches. There is a dining area off the side of the deli and not far from the railroad tracks.

The main attraction in town as I told you before, is the 400' long old trolley bridge that has become the "Bridge of Flowers". The town has one paid gardener and the rest is volunteer help. Even with a touch of frost in the night air, there were still plenty of beautiful fall flowers in bloom. The other big attraction in town are the glacial potholes in the Deerfield River just below the hydro dam just beyond the bridge. The potholes are in a fairly large area of rock outcrop. I believe there are about 50 total with the size ranging from less than a foot to nearly forty feet in diameter. Up on the hill overlooking the river is the main line of the old Boston and Maine RR and the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. Being fall and middle of the week, the museum wasn't open but I suspect during the summer they operate longer hours. This is a most unique museum....there is one trolley! That's right, one trolley. No10 from the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway has been restored and is the centerpiece of the museum.

Shelburne Falls is a fun place to visit. Plenty of free parking. Walk around town. It hasn't been spoiled by redevelopment. Jan and I spent about 3 hours in town and then headed back toward Greenfield along the very colorful Mohawk Trail.

Some quick links to other attractions: