Connecticut is a beautiful part of New England with plenty of natural beauty complimented by rich history. We had less than a week and lots to see, and eat, so we planned our days carefully. The trip through the Constitution State was going to run the gamut of small obscure museums to maritime history to food.
Our first planned stop was to the charming town of Mystic. Mystic is that idyllic coastal town that embraces its maritime roots and history then throw in some art galleries, delicious restaurants, and quaint boutiques. A town of just over 4,000 people, Mystic swells in the summer when visitors arrive. Two of the biggest attractions are Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Aquarium (both of which we have been to before and did not visit on this trip but are worth a brief mention. Click here for a link to a previous post). Mystic Seaport is a waterfront facility that is a re-creation of a 19th century coastal village. The streets are lined with more than 30 authentic 1800’s trade shops and businesses that were brought to the site from towns throughout New England. Docked along the harbor are wooded sailing ships (including the slave ship “The Amistad”) which are available for touring and short cruises. Mystic Seaport is quite large and you could easily spend a full day there. The Mystic Aquarium is another popular attraction with wonderful indoor and outdoor exhibits and boasts having the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibit in the U.S.
We enjoyed strolling around Mystic’s small cute downtown where antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants hang next to the Mystic River flanked with boats and framed by the drawbridge. I would be lying if I led you to believe we only paid Mystic a visit just to see the sights and soak in its charm. Nope, we came to eat. Before leaving New England we were determined to have lobster one more time and there are plenty of quaint waterfront restaurants serving up this taste of the sea. But what we really wanted to eat was pizza. Five years ago we ate at Mystic Pizza and the taste has lingered in our minds all that time. Consistently ranked as one of the best pizza joints in the country, Mystic Pizza left an indelible mark on us and we could not pass up the chance to have it again.
Sitting on the Thames River just north of New London and a short drive from Mystic is the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum and Library. When we visited the museum and base it was abuzz because Michelle Obama was there to commission a new ship. The facility is home to the USS Nautilus. The ship was commissioned in 1954 as the world’s first nuclear powered vessel and became the first vessel to pass the north pole. Retired from service in 1980, the Nautilus is now on exhibit for all generations to marvel at. Our visit started with a great film that tells the story of the development of submarines from the early crude and dangerous to the invention of nuclear power and sophisticated weaponry. The film is about 45 minutes but very interesting and well worth the time.
After exploring the museum’s many artifacts and exhibits we headed outside to tour the Nautilus now permanently moored at base. There is an audio wand that interprets various stations and rooms throughout the ship and makes for a more enjoyable visit than reading placards. After being in the tiny cramped space of the ship, the motorhome felt quite large and spacious.
Next up on our Connecticut trip were two stops that focused on food. There is no way we could pass up the chance to eat at a hamburger joint that is often credited for having invented the hamburger. (There is some dispute about who actually invented the hamburger but Louis’ no doubt is the oldest continuously operating hamburger restaurant in the country). Louis’ Lunch, established in 1895, makes a simple burger with freshly ground meat stuffed between toasted white bread (after all the hamburger “bun” wasn’t invented yet). It started when a man dashed into Louis Lassens lunchonette and asked for a quick bite to take on the run. Louis sandwiched a broiled beef patty between two pieces of bread and the man was off. Today, the restaurant is still owned and operated by Louis’ great grandson Jeff.
The restaurant is tiny but considering it started as a lunch wagon, it is quite spacious today. If you don’t get there early or just before closing you will wait in a line that is out the door but worth it. The upright flame broilers look like something out of an antique shop but do the trick. Round meat balls are pressed between two grates and seasoned simply with salt and pepper (which goes to show you simple is sometimes the best). The meat laden grate is oriented upright and placed in the broiler.
Ordering is quite simple and the menu small. Hamburgers are cooked medium-rare. You can choose cheese, onion, and tomato but no ketchup or mustard (they would detract from the taste of the perfectly seasoned juicy meat). Bread continuously rolls off the radiant gas toaster like no toaster I have ever seen before. Meat is constantly being flame broiled in the upright grill that is the trademark of Louis’ Lunch. The history and delicious hamburger found at Louis’ Lunch are prime reasons this establishment made it into the Hamburger America book and a must eat for us.
PEZ candy has been around since 1927. The distinguished rectangular shape and iconic dispensers made it a popular candy treat for children and collectors item for adult enthusiasts. When we saw that PEZ had a visitor center in Connecticut we put it on our list to see. Entering the building you are greeted by a wall of nearly 800 PEZ dispensers and a waft of sweet candy smell. Entrance to the museum and store cost $5 but a $2 credit is awarded to ticket holders so you can purchase some sweetness to take with you or add to your dispenser collection like that new Obama dispenser you always wanted (they really do have a Presidential collection).
You may think this is an all-American candy just like a Hershey chocolate bar but there is more to that story. PEZ candy was invented in Vienna, Austria as an alternative to smoking. That’s right…what we know as a candy was invented as a breath mint to kick the smoking habit (and was round in shape). The name PEZ comes from a German word for peppermint, “pfefferminz” taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and Z from the last letter. PEZ came to the United States in 1952 and has been a staple of American pop culture.
The PEZ visitor center is the largest, most comprehensive collection of PEZ memorabilia on public display in the world! As you wander through the main floor visitors are treated to many vintage items that represent collectibles including those from Austria, Mexico, Russia, and more. Also represented are dispensers of various groups like sports, superheros, animals, Disney characters and many more. While you can not walk through the factory where the candy is made, there is a brief film explaining the process and portions are visible through glass walls. It seems everyone’s favorite area is the area where you can shop for new dispensers and pack a bucket full of candy to take home.
We have always loved coastal Connecticut and vow to spend more time there so I’m not sure why we just don’t budget more time. Maybe because we know we can always come back!
Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.