Connecticut is a state that has a lot to offer in the way of a mix between the old and the new. A New England state lying along the coast, it has many activities and sights from both worlds. Connecticut is considered to have the wealthiest residents in the United States. Its cities, buildings, and streets are filled with history - and beauty.
One city that definitely is a reminder of days gone by would have to be the town of Mystic. This was a sailing port town in the days of whaling ships, and Mystic has sought to preserve its heritage with a 17-acre complex. Much of Mystic has been rebuilt to resemble a town of whaling days. Many of the buildings and quaint little shops are the original buildings, and some have been brought in - or built. Overall, the effect is grand, and it is easy to understand life in the old days. Little eateries are included in the shops, including fresh lobster and seafood restaurants. Real historic ships - about 14 of them, are along the docks, including the Charles Morgan - a real whaling ship of the past. Mystic Aquarium is another place that you need to see while you are there. After a little instruction, you can actually wade into the water and touch a 2,000-pound beluga whale. Other exhibitions include rays and sand-tiger sharks.
You can actually live the adventure of those days and have a part in the old-time sailing vessels by taking a cruise on one of them from the Mystic seaport. You can help the crew raise the sails, do some cooking, and even take hold of the steering wheel on their 61-foot ship, called the Brilliant. Weekends are available for adults in the Spring and the Fall, and several day programs are available for young people.
Not far from there is the town of Groton. Here you will find a submarine base and one of the finest submarine museums in the world. The first nuclear vessel, and the first submarine ever to travel under the North Pole is there - the USS Nautilus - and you can take a tour through it. Other things you can see include a submarine used in the Revolutionary War - Bushnell's Turtle, and other exhibits showing the development of the US submarine in America's "silent service." There is also a museum.
If you love horses and are in the Hartford area, then you want to stop by and see the free horse show. Since 1788, this Cavalry unit, now volunteer, has been known as the First Company Governor's Horse Guard. They are a part of the state militia. On Thursday evenings, though, you can watch this group perform various movements and drills on horseback.
Another fantastic place to go is to take a tour of the Gillette Castle in East Haddam, on the Connecticut River. The actor William Gillette (who played Sherlock Holmes) completed this 24-room castle in 1921. It has recently seen renovations that cost about $11.5 million completed on this fantastic stone structure. Located on the river, this beautiful and well-visited 200-acre state park is a great place to take the family. A museum, picnic grounds, hiking, and scenic views are available.
See how maple syrup is made. In Connecticut in the early spring, when the maple tree sap
begins to flow, you can learn and watch how the sap is turned into maple syrup. A number of places do this, some are in the Burlington area, so you can take your pick during the months of mid-February through late March. Some of the sweetest syrup on the market comes from Connecticut. Watch this traditional process and pick up some of your own to take home with you.
While you are so close to the ocean, you can take advantage of the deep-sea fishing opportunities. Connecticut has about 250 miles of coastline and there are many fishing boats available from Bridgeport in the West, and then over near Waterford, Niantic, and Groton, in the east. You can catch flounder, cod, striped bass, bluefish, and tuna or shark on your charter fishing boat cruise. For this kind of fishing, you do not need a fishing license.
Just off of Branford, there are the many Thimball Islands. Depending on whether it is high tide or low tide, there could be as many as 365 small islands in this archipelago in the Long Island Sound. These little islands are mostly uninhabited, but some of them have homes on them and are often visited by sightseers. Cruises around the islands are available and bring delight just to see the dense growth that means hardwoods and pines on top of pink granite.
See Mark Twain's elegant Victorian mansion where he wrote most of his books. There are 19 furnished rooms, and each room was decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1884. Many of Twain's personal possessions are in the mansion, and it also has a museum center, a gift shop, various lectures are given and some special programs. Huck Finn Tours are also available up in Farmington. This is a wide canoe trip up the Farmington River that stops for a picnic and an opportunity to view an Indian cave. The canoes are large enough for families and have extra seats.
Skiing is another great activity in Connecticut. You can find a number of ski resorts and excellent hills where you can break in that snowboard and skis. The ski area of Connecticut is mostly in the central western part of the state. Cross-country skiing is also available.
When you are in Mystic, be sure to hear the Ancient Mariners, Connecticut, Fife & Drum Corps. This group was founded in 1959 as a way to keep alive the nautical life of years gone by. Using mostly fife and drums, as well as hornpipes, the haunting music of this group is worthy of your ear. Having gained a name for themselves over the years, they have played for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. They appear annually at the Mystic Seaport Seamusic Festival in Mystic. They also perform in parades - both in the US and in Europe.
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