Tag Archives: Connecticut

July 31: Three (tiny) states, ocean views, and a Really Big House

This morning I left out fairly early, and was across the state line into Rhode Island almost immediately. I’ve wanted to go to the town of Newport for a very long time. As it turns out, it’s a major production to get through the town to the part I really wanted to see, but I did make it eventually. It didn’t help that I had to arrive the weekend of the Newport Jazz Festival, but oh, well.

First I drove out and around the scenic ocean drive, which reminded me of nothing so much as Seventeen-Mile Drive in Monterey, California. Big fancy expensive houses right on the waterfront, interspersed with parks where us normal people can get out and enjoy the views, too.

The bridge over Narragansett Bay onto Rhode Island (the island itself as opposed to the state name).
The bridge over Narragansett Bay onto Rhode Island (the island itself as opposed to the state name).
A funny sculpture in downtown Newport.
A funny sculpture in downtown Newport.
A view of the shoreline.
A view of the shoreline.
Cormorants perched on the rocks.
Cormorants perched on the rocks.
One of several egrets I saw.
One of several egrets I saw.

Then I went in search of a mansion I could visit, so I picked the biggest one I could find. Cornelius Vanderbilt had The Breakers built in the early 1890s as a summer “cottage” (and then only got to live in it for one summer before he died). It’s almost 140,000 square feet (no, that’s not too many zeroes) of Italian inspired architecture and more gilding and carving and fancy furbelows than you can shake a stick at. See for yourself:

The front of The Breakers.
The front of The Breakers.
The Great Hall at The Breakers.
The Great Hall at The Breakers.
One of the chandeliers in the dining room.  I thought this was a cool shot -- just don't ask me to manage a photo like that again [wry g].
One of the chandeliers in the dining room. I thought this was a cool shot — just don’t ask me to manage a photo like that again [wry g].
A doorway carving.  Note the signs of industry (a railroad, etc.) behind the cupids.
A doorway carving. Note the signs of industry (a railroad, etc.) behind the cupids.
That silvery stuff in the background of those goddesses is *platinum.*
That silvery stuff in the background of those goddesses is *platinum.*
One of the many, many, many hand-carved details.
One of the many, many, many hand-carved details.
That bathtub was carved from a solid chunk of marble, and had to be refilled with hot water several times before the marble warmed up enough not to soak up all the heat and leave the water cold.  Oh, and the four taps?  Hot and cold fresh water, and hot and cold salt water.
That bathtub was carved from a solid chunk of marble, and had to be refilled with hot water several times before the marble warmed up enough not to soak up all the heat and leave the water cold. Oh, and the four taps? Hot and cold fresh water, and hot and cold salt water.
Even the stove is huge at The Breakers.
Even the stove is huge at The Breakers.
The back facade of The Breakers.
The back facade of The Breakers.

It came with an audio tour so I didn’t have to follow a guide with a group of fellow lemmings, which was nice.

But once the tour was over, I realized I really didn’t have much else I actually wanted to do in Newport, and it was still way early in the afternoon, so I called and cancelled my hostel reservation and headed east (yes, east, not north) to Massachusetts, and the city of New Bedford, with its National Historic Site devoted to the ships that sailed around the world in pursuit of whales.

And my third state of the day (I didn't get a good photo of the welcome to Rhode Island sign, alas).
And my third state of the day (I didn’t get a good photo of the welcome to Rhode Island sign, alas).

It was interesting, although I could have done without the re-created cobblestone streets (I like my teeth, and I’m sure Merlin didn’t much care for being bounced around like that, either), but by then I was ready to find a motel (the rule is still two nights camping, third night in a motel, and I’m so glad I can do the former now!).

I had to drive up into Massachusetts a ways to find one that wasn’t way overpriced, but I did, and now I need to decide what I want to do in Massachusetts, whether I want to go into Cambridge to see the maps exhibit, or go to Cape Cod, or Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, or Old Sturbridge Village, or any combination of the above. It doesn’t help that I’d be pulling a Kentucky (zigzagging across the entire state, not that it’s all that big to begin with) to do them all. I guess I’ll see how I feel in the morning.

July 30: Ahoy, me mateys! And what’s a casino doing here?

Last night was fine, and this morning I got an early start and arrived at Mystic Seaport just before it opened at nine a.m.  I’ve got so many photos of the Seaport that I’m just going to put them all at the end.

It was just as good as I remembered, although I have to say I don’t remember a lot about it. The highlight was the Charles W. Morgan, which is the oldest whaling ship left in America. She just turned 175 years old a few days ago, according to the docent who told me. It was built in 1841. I got to board her and look around, and watch a crew launch one of the little boats they actually chased the whales in. That was fun.

I also went through lots of reconstructed period maritime businesses and a couple of homes (one of which had a garden I fell completely in love with), and went through a really wonderful (and air-conditioned – while the temperature is only in the low 80s, it’s even more ridiculously humid) exhibit on whaling history. It sorta took Moby Dick as a jumping off point, but aside from that (Moby Dick is one of my least favorite books I ever had to read in college) it was enthralling. Some of the technology they used for the exhibits was stuff I’d never seen before, too, which fascinated me, too.

Oh, and I got to see the one thing that made an indelible memory for me the last time I was here, which was the exhibit of ships’ figureheads. They were so cool.

I finally left Mystic Seaport about the middle of the afternoon, and came back to the Indian casino camper lot, where I decided I’d go check the casino itself out. Why not, right?

Well, it’s the biggest casino I’ve seen outside of Nevada (and presumably Atlantic City, although I’ve never been there), and certainly the biggest Indian casino I’ve ever seen (which is saying a fair amount as we have a number of them in Washington). I thought I’d check out the outlet mall attached to it, just for the heck of it (since I’m not a gambler and also because they don’t believe in smoke-free casinos the way they do at home). It was the biggest outlet mall I think I’ve ever seen, too, and it was only one small part of the casino. Anyway, I was really glad they had a shuttle running out to the parking lots, because my feet were dead by the time I was ready to leave.

Tonight I’m camped here again, but tomorrow night I have a reservation at a hostel in Newport, Rhode Island. I’d have had one tonight, but the Newport Jazz Festival is this weekend, so lodging was hard to come by. So I’ll go drive around where all the mansions are, and tour one or two (I’m thinking of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s The Breakers, in particular), which is something I’ve always wanted to do, then I’ll spend the night and head north in the morning.

I will also have knocked off one more state (Rhode Island), probably the last one that I’ve never been to for this trip, since the only two left after that will be Oklahoma and Hawaii [g].

Then it’s on to Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and Maine. And Canada!

A cigar store Indian standing in front of the grocery store.
A cigar store Indian standing in front of the grocery store.
Appropriately enough, the quilt on the bed in one of the homes I toured is a Mariner's Compass pattern.
Appropriately enough, the quilt on the bed in one of the homes I toured is a Mariner’s Compass pattern.
Calling Dan Reilly.  This is just like the police lantern he used in Sojourn!
Calling Dan Reilly. This is just like the police lantern he used in Sojourn!
Did you know they used to make sewing machine lubricant from whale oil???
Did you know they used to make sewing machine lubricant from whale oil???
A chunk of ambergris, which is a whale product.  One of my favorite fictional characters is described as smelling faintly of ambergris, and this is *not* what I was expecting it to be!
A chunk of ambergris, which is a whale product. One of my favorite fictional characters is described as smelling faintly of ambergris, and this is *not* what I was expecting it to be!
That globe is a projection screen, believe it or not.  You could choose one of three documentaries to watch on it.
That globe is a projection screen, believe it or not. You could choose one of three documentaries to watch on it.
The Charles W. Morgan, 175 years old.
The Charles W. Morgan, 175 years old, and the oldest whaling ship in existence today.
Crew's quarters in the Morgan.  Can you imagine spending several years straight sleeping in there???
Crew’s quarters in the Morgan. Can you imagine spending several years straight sleeping in there???
Another view of the Morgan.
Another view of the Morgan.
Lowering a whaling boat from the Morgan.
Lowering a whaling boat from the Morgan.
The garden I fell in love with.  It's the mishmash of flowers, the whole dooryard thing, and the picket fence, I think.
The garden I fell in love with. It’s the mishmash of flowers, the whole dooryard thing, and the picket fence, I think.
Aren't these the most beautiful rose hips you've ever seen?
Aren’t these the most beautiful rose hips you’ve ever seen?
Figureheads.  One of the few things I really remember from the last time I was here.
Figureheads. One of the few things I really remember from the last time I was here.
Tiger lilies!  Blooming full blast with all the stops out.
Tiger lilies! Blooming full blast with all the stops out.
Part of a whole display of miniature figureheads.  The biggest ones are about six inches tall.
Part of a whole display of miniature figureheads. The biggest ones are about six inches tall.

July 29: A misty, moisty morning, and cloudy was the weather

As my mother would quote at me whenever it rained. Which it did, most of last night and well into the day today, although it had stopped – and cooled off, down to around 80 for the high, amazingly enough – by mid-afternoon.

I left Irene’s around nine, and headed southeast towards the Connecticut coast and New Haven. It was a pretty drive, which could have used more pullouts for photo opportunities. New Haven itself was something of a rabbit warren. I’d had sort of vague ideas (not terribly concrete ones because DC sort of museumed me out) of stopping at the Peabody Museum of Natural History and the New Haven Museum (local history), but parking was a pain in the rear so it just didn’t happen.

The river I followed from Danbury to New Haven.  It's very inconsiderate of my map not to have its name marked.
The river I followed from Danbury to New Haven. It’s very inconsiderate of my map not to have its name marked.
An interesting building in New Haven, crouched down amongst the skyscrapers.
An interesting building in New Haven, crouched down amongst the skyscrapers.

Once I got to the coast, I kept trying to get off of I-95 and onto U.S. 1, but wow, were the roads badly labeled. At one point I was so lost I wound up flagging down an extremely nice FedEx driver, who let me follow him out of the labyrinth of backroads – and back to I-95 instead of U.S. 1 [sigh]. So I pretty much gave up at that point and didn’t try to get back off of the Interstate until past New London, where U.S. 1 was labeled, and went on to Mystic.

The only real reason I wanted to go to Mystic is for the Mystic Seaport Museum, which I’d been to once 35 years ago, on the same trip that I saw Washington Irving’s house. I had good memories of it, and I love maritime history, and I wanted to see it again.

I didn’t arrive in Mystic till the middle of the afternoon, though, so I parked Merlin (who parallel parks much more easily than you’d think) on a side street and walked the touristy little downtown, where I also got to watch the drawbridge over the harbor entrance go up. Which was kind of cool.

I haven't seen the movie, but I've driven by the pizza place, does that count?
I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve driven by the pizza place, does that count?
One of several painted submarines in downtown Mystic.
One of several painted submarines in downtown Mystic.
A tribute to my alltime least favorite fictional character.  If someone behaved like that to me, he'd get a knuckle sandwich.
A tribute to my alltime least favorite fictional character. If someone behaved like that to me, he’d get a knuckle sandwich.

Then I went looking for a campground, because it was, hurrah! cool enough to camp. Well, barely. And my rib is finally healed enough, too!!! I ended up in the RV lot of a local Indian casino with everything from huge fifth-wheelers to one family with a tent trailer, and at least two other vans, of which mine was the smallest. I fit right in, thanks much. It was either that or pay forty bucks for a campsite, and I’m sorry, that’s ridiculous. I paid less than that for my motel room in Williamsburg, and it was the principle of the thing.

July 28: Wandering around Danbury, and state parks that shouldn’t have historic names

Last night, Irene and I walked around her neighborhood, which has houses built over 200 years ago. That was fun, if a bit hot and sweaty, and dark by the time we got back. We also ate Thai food for supper, which was another first for me. I’d always thought Thai food had to be really hot and spicy, so I’d always avoided it. Turns out I was wrong. I had pad thai with shrimp and lots of bean sprouts, and it was quite delicious.

This morning I was looking at my map and noticed a state park named after Franklin Delano Roosevelt that was only about thirty miles away, so I decided to go check it out. Irene tells me that it’s only a ten minute walk to the train station and a two-hour ride to go into New York City, but NYC intimidates the heck out of me. Someday I’ll fly into JFK and actually stay in the city somewhere, but for now, no. By the time I got there I’d only have four hours or so to do stuff before I’d have to turn around and come back.

Anyway, so it turns out because the roads are so twisty and turny and go through so many little 30 mph towns, thirty miles took about an hour. And when I got there, it turned out that it wasn’t a historic park at all. In which case why name it after him? Oh, well.

I came back and went to the Danbury Railway Museum, after getting a recommendation for the diner across the street where I ate a huge Italian grinder for lunch. Grinder appears to be the local term for a sub sandwich. Anyway, it was good.

And the museum was fun. It had four working model railroad setups, and lots of railway artifacts, and, outside, at least twenty vintage rail cars, engines, and cabooses, some of which you could go inside of. I went in a couple of them, but my nemesis the weather drove me back inside, which was fine.

The Danbury Railway Museum.
The Danbury Railway Museum.
A whole rack of antique railway brochures.  The one fourth from the right in the fourth from the top row is for the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroad [g].
A whole rack of antique railway brochures. The one fourth from the right in the fourth from the top row is for the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroad [g].
One of the four model railway layouts, each with a button to push to make it run.
One of the four model railway layouts, each with a button to push to make it run.
Some of the many antique railway cars in the museum's yard.
Some of the many antique railway cars in the museum’s yard.
I'm not quite sure what the purpose of these pink pigs is, but I thought they were cute.
I’m not quite sure what the purpose of these pink pigs is, but I thought they were cute.
A slightly more than 100 year old steam engine.
A slightly more than 100 year old steam engine.

I came back to Irene’s and now I’m catching up on things and figuring out where I’m heading tomorrow and where I’m going to spend the night. It’s supposed to be cooler in general tomorrow, and cooler on the coast than here, so I’m going to see about camping for the first time since I fell out of the van. We’ll see how that goes.

Heading east by north. It’s funny how the coastline runs east-west in this part of the world.

July 27: Another literary hero and two months on the road as of today

Today I drove more winding backroads, crossing into New York state, until I reached a bridge over the Hudson River. My photos of it aren’t very good, but I tried…

Another state.  I think this is #19? 20?
Another state. I think this is #19? 20?
Over the Hudson River.
Over the Hudson River.
A view of the Hudson from the other side.
A view of the Hudson from the other side.

Then I wound down the eastern side of the river until I got tangled in some serious traffic, er, made it to Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, where Washington Irving built his house, and set the most famous of his short stories.

No, that so-ridiculous-it’s-fun (at least for the first couple of seasons) TV show of the same name isn’t filmed here. It’s actually filmed in South Carolina, but it is set here. And apparently there’s been a small Twilight-esque run on this place in the last few years because of it. Not to the extent that Forks, Washington, has been taken over, but enough that the lady who sold me my ticket to visit the house looked like she wanted to roll her eyes at me when I commented on it.

Irving was the first person in the United States to make his living writing fiction. He wrote a lot of other things, too, history and satire and so forth, but it was his fiction that made his name. His house was the second most visited home in the 19th century, after Mount Vernon.

It’s a pretty cottage (Irving’s word), described by our guide as a pastiche of many architectural styles, from Dutch to Spanish. The front door is all but encased in wisteria, ivy, and bad hair day (trumpet) vine, and it took an act of will for me to get through it [wry g]. I did remember that from my first visit here, in April, 1981, with my mother while I was visiting my parents during the year and a half they lived in Connecticut.

According to the plaque, this sycamore tree on the Sunnyside property was alive during the Revolutionary War.
According to the plaque, this sycamore tree on the Sunnyside property was alive during the Revolutionary War.
The front of Sunnyside, almost smothered with wisteria on the left and trumpet vine on the right.
The front of Sunnyside, almost smothered with wisteria on the left and trumpet vine on the right.
The back of Sunnyside, with the docent who took us through.
The back of Sunnyside, with the docent who took us through.
Believe it or not, this is Sunnyside's ice house.
Believe it or not, this is Sunnyside’s ice house.

It was fun to see the house again, though. It stayed in the Irving family (Washington Irving was a bachelor, and he left the house to his nieces) until the 1940s, over a hundred years after it was built, and it was purchased not long after that by the Rockefellers and preserved as a historic site, so it’s in much the same condition (and filled with much of the furniture) it was in when Irving died.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, as I always do this sort of thing. The last time I was here it snowed that night and knocked the power out at my parents’ house. Too bad we couldn’t split the difference between that visit and this one. The house itself isn’t air-conditioned. Thank goodness for thick stone walls. It could have been much worse inside than it was.

After I left Sunnyside, I headed for Danbury, Connecticut, and listee Irene, who offered me a bed for a couple of nights. Her parents hosted the listee curry party at Denvention in 2008, which was great fun, and we’ve corresponded off and on ever since. She has a nice place nestled on a hillside, and I hope she’s having as nice a time hosting me as I have being her guest.

Tomorrow I shall explore around Danbury (Irene has to work), and then on Friday I am headed for the Connecticut coast and Mystic Seaport. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see.