Essex Steam Train and Riverboat – Essex CT

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

It was another beautiful fall day in Connecticut, and we were still at Longview RV waiting for a part to fix our water heater. We wanted something fun to do for the day. We mentioned to our parts guy that we thinking about taking the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat tour, and he recommended it and said we should also go to nearby Gillette Castle.

We drove to historic 1892 Essex Station where we began our tour aboard a vintage 1921 coach, pulled by a steam locomotive. The train traveled through the beautiful Connecticut River Valley via the small New England towns of Deep River and Chester.

Then we were dropped off at Deep River Landing where we boarded the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a narrated cruise along the Connecticut River. After the cruise, we returned to the landing where our train picked us up and returned to Essex.

We were surprised how many people were on the tour. The 200+ passenger boat was full. All people our age or older.

We left Essex and drove a few miles to the town of Chester where we drove our car onto the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry that took us to the other side of the river. The ferry is part of the scenic portion of Route 148 and provides a link between the Essex Steam Train and Gillette Castle State Park.

Gillette Castle is a 24-room mansion reminiscent of a medieval castle. It was built in the early 1900’s by William Gillette, who was a stage actor, director, and playwright, most famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Gillette lived in the castle from 1919-1937.

We had seen the castle at a distance from both the train and the riverboat. We would have liked to tour the inside, but were unable to because it closed on Labor Day. But we were able to walk the grounds and enjoy the unique beauty of the castle and the spectacular views from high on the hill above the Connecticut River.

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New England Car Trip

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦+

As we planned our fall route, we didn’t think we’d have time to visit states east of New York before we’d have to head south for the winter. But then we decided to park the moho at a centrally located campground and just take the car throughout New England. Much faster and more nimble. We may not come up this way again, so this was our chance, and we’re so glad we took it! New England is everything we thought it would be. Our preferred methods of sightseeing are trolley and boat tours, and we took many. We saw historic fishing ports and the lively city of Boston. We wish we had taken more photos of the wonderful seafood we ate day after day. We also wish we would have had more time to explore. We loved this part of the country. This is a summary of our trip with links to the posts we wrote for each city we visited.

Portland Maine

Portland is crowded down to the waterfront; the old brick streets are narrow and go every which way and are full of cars and pedestrians. It is a working port, with container ships and cruise ships side by side. We had a lunch of fish tacos on the waterfront before taking a trolley tour out to the Portland Head Lighthouse, and then returned to the city for some shopping and dinner. Portland

Kennebunkport Maine

Who would have ever heard of Kennebunkport if it hadn’t been for President George H W Bush? This is his summer home, and it’s no wonder a person who could have anywhere for a summer home would choose this place. It is very compact, very cute, very upscale, and is now very crowded with tourists. We had the best lobster bisque and lobster rolls for lunch before taking a short trolley tour of the city. Kennebunkport

Portsmouth new hampshire

If there was one town we could go back to, it would be Portsmouth. We definitely didn’t plan enough time for this city. There are so many unique shops and restaurants along the narrow city streets. We had heard that Strawbery Banke was the place to visit while in town, so we spent a few hours there after our lunch of crab chowder and fish and chips on the waterfront. Portsmouth

boston massachusetts

Boston was amazing. Like all large cities, it was busy, crowded, and noisy. In order to see it all in one day, we took an Old Town Trolley Tour. We had taken Old Town Trolley in San Diego and Nashville, so we knew what to expect. The drivers are good tour guides. It’s a great way to learn about a city’s history, it’s architecture, it’s people, and it’s special places to visit. We can get off and on the trolleys throughout the day, visiting the places we want to see. This particular tour included a cruise of the harbor. We had lunch at Joe’s American Bar and Grill at the harbor. Boston

mystic connecticut

Becky’s sister Judy said we had to visit Mystic Connecticut, so we fit it into our plan. It was absolutely our favorite place! The small town is on the Mystic River, and is the site of the Mystic Seaport, the nation’s largest maritime museum. Most of the museum is outdoors, and is notable for its collection of historic sailing ships and boats. An entire 19th-century seafaring village has been re-created along the shoreline. We especially enjoyed a presentation of what it would have been like to work aboard a whaling vessel in the 1800’s. Lunch? We ate at the S&P Oyster Co Restaurant where the Seafood White Bean Chili and the Wood Grilled Ground Steak Burger with Vermont White Cheddar Cheese were delicious. Mystic

newport rhode island

We arrived in Newport in the late morning. It was foggy, but we booked a trolley tour hoping it would clear up. Except for about an hour in the early afternoon, it stayed foggy all day. We took a walk behind the mansions that line the ocean cliffs. There were high waves in the ocean due to the remnants of Hurricane Jose. It was a nice walk that would have been spectacular if the sky had been clear. One interesting note to those of us who are familiar with Commodore Perry: He was born in Newport and is buried here. There is a monument to him in a downtown park. Newport

Trolley Tour and Cliff Walk – Newport RI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

It was foggy as we drove into Newport, and it remained foggy all day. We took our usual trolley tour of the town and surrounding area, but it was hard to see anything. Our driver kept reassuring us that there were beautiful views out there! We just couldn’t see them.

After our tour, we had a wonderful lunch at The Mooring Restaurant on Newport’s waterfront, then walked around the wharf shopping area and into town. The fog had lifted for about an hour or so, and we got a glimpse of how pretty Newport is.

We visited the Oliver Hazard Perry memorial in downtown Newport. Perry was born in nearby South Kingstown RI, on the west side of Narragansett Bay. Perry was the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

It was interesting to see him memorialized here in Rhode Island. We think of him as belonging to the Toledo area, specifically to our former hometown of Perrysburg! But no, he is from Rhode Island. He actually died in Trinidad, and his remains were brought back and buried in Newport.

We then drove out to see the summer “cottages” of the rich and famous. Newport is built on a number of islands. While the Newport harbor faces the protected side of the main island, the cottages are along the rugged ocean shoreline on the opposite side.

You have to be very rich to call a 70 room mansion a “cottage”, and these people were rich: Astors, Vanderbilts, silver barons, and real estate tycoons. Visitors can tour the biggest mansion, The Breakers, for $25 per person. But that seemed a bit pricey for non-rich folks like us. So we decided to take the Newport Cliff Walk instead, since it was free.

The Cliff Walk is one of the top attractions in Newport. It is a 3.5-mile public access walkway that borders the shore line between the mansions and the sea. It has been designated a National Recreation Trail.

It connects many of Newport’s most famous gilded mansions, such as Beechwood,Rosecliff,Marble House,The Breakers,Ochre Court, andRough Point. Most of the Cliff Walk is paved and usually offers beautiful vistas along winding pathways if there’s little or no fog.

But by time we started the Cliff Walk, the fog was so heavy that it was nearly impossible to see the waves below or the mansions above. But we continued along the way until we reached the back side of The Breakers.

Even through the fog, The Breakers is a magnificent sight. It is the crown jewel of the Newport mansions. Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a member of the wealthy Vanderbilt family, it is now owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County. Seeing it up close made us wish we had opted to take the mansion tour after all, but by then it was too late in the day. Would definitely be something to come back to see.

Mystic Seaport – Mystic CT

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

While our motorhome was in the shop in Windsor Locks CT, we drove down to Mystic CT. Sister Judy had said this was a must-see in New England.

The small town is on the Mystic River, and is the site of the Mystic Seaport, the nation’s largest maritime museum. The town’s location on the river gave it easy access to Long Island Sound between New York and Boston, making it a leading seaport and shipbuilding area.

The town’s most dominant feature is the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, which crosses the river in the center of the village. A bascule bridge (sometimes referred to as a drawbridge) is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span throughout its upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic. The word “bascule” comes from the French term for balance scale, which employs the same principle. Because the bridge is open to foot traffic as well as automobile, it was possible to view the bridge mechanism up close. It is quite ingenious.

The Mystic River seemed aptly named. On the days we were there, the river was quite misty and somewhat mysterious. But according to the Mystic River Historical Society, the name “Mystic” actually is derived from the Pequot term “missi-tuk”, describing a large river whose waters are driven into waves by tides or wind. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful river with a wonderful name.

We stayed three nights at the Hyatt Place Mystic, which was very nice, reasonably priced, and included free breakfast.

On our first day after exploring the city, we had a late lunch at the S&P Oyster Co Restaurant upon the recommendation of a local. It turned out to be an excellent choice. It was right on the river next to the bridge in a beautiful garden setting. And the food was great, adding to our string of delightful dining experiences in New England. Becky had Seafood White Bean Chili, and David had a Wood Grilled Ground Steak Burger with Vermont White Cheddar Cheese. Delicious!

The next day we visited Mystic Seaport, whose full name is Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea. Most of the museum is outdoors, and is notable for its collection of historic sailing ships and boats. There is also an extensive shipyard that does restoration of historic vessels for the museum as well as for other organizations. Currently, they are restoring the Mayflower II in time for the 400th anniversary of the landing of the original Mayflower at Plymouth Colony in 1620.

The centerpiece of the historic vessel collection is the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling ship which was active in whaling for 80 years. She is the only surviving wooden whaler from 2,700 historical whalers that operated in the United States whaling fleet. On her deck are huge try pots used to render blubber into whale oil. She came to Mystic Seaport in 1941 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

In addition to the floating exhibits, an entire 19th-century seafaring village has been re-created along the shoreline. It captures what a village like Mystic would have been like in the 1800s. The village consists of more than 60 historic buildings, most of them rare commercial structures moved to the 19-acre site and meticulously restored.

There are guides throughout who explained what life was like then. We especially enjoyed the presentation of what it would have been like to be part of the whaling crew aboard the Morgan. The village contains nearly all the types of general and specialized trades associated with building and operating a sailing fleet. They include a chandlery, sail loft, ropewalk, cooperage, shipping agent’s office, printing office, bank, and others.

Each building is used both to show the original activity and to display multiple examples of objects sold or constructed; for instance, the nautical instrumentshop displayssextants, nautical timepieces, and the like. Demonstrations at the cooperage show how casks are assembled.

Additional buildings house more exhibits. One is a  1⁄128th scale model of the entire Mystic River area circa 1870, complete down to the outhouse behind every residence. The model is 40 feet long.

We spent the entire day at the Seaport, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and still didn’t see everything. In many ways, it was the highpoint of our time in New England.

Longview RV Superstore – Windsor Locks CT

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

We needed some work done on our motorhome, and chose Longview RV Superstore based on the recommendation of the local Freightliner shop. We dropped it off on Monday, and drove off in the car to spend a couple of days sightseeing in Mystic CT and Newport RI, which are not far away.

On Wednesday, we got the diagnosis on the problem we were having, which is pretty fast work for an RV shop. They had to order a part, which would take a few days to arrive.

When we explained that we lived in our motorhome, the service manager mentioned that they had overnight parking in the lot with electric and we were welcome to stay there for free while we waited.

The part arrived on the following Tuesday, and was installed on Wednesday. Ten days in all. Not the most glamorous vacation spot, but free is free.