Mystic, CT: More Than Just Pizza

Hello, Mystic, Connecticut! With your clever, mysterious name and Hollywood movie pedigree, how could we resist your seaside charms?

You don’t really want to base nationwide travel plans on EITHER a restaurant or a Hollywood movie, except sometimes you do exactly that. Mystic is home of Mystic Pizza, the restaurant that inspired the adorable story of three waitresses and their messed-up lives.

The 1988 movie that launched Julia Roberts’ career into the stratosphere, and also featured Matt Damon in his first role (as an annoying brother in one dinner table scene), the movie is on endless loop inside the restaurant, in case you forgot how you ended up here. (We had already watched on the outside TV of the RV at the campground — under blankets. Sorry, Phoenix people.)

In business since 1973, you know that Mystic Pizza could serve really crappy pizza, and people would still come. I’m happy to report that is NOT the case. It was seriously some of my favorite pizza ever! The cheese was on TOP of the toppings and the crust was perfection. Siskel & Ebert gave the movie two thumbs up, and we gave the pizza two thumbs up.

The charming village of Mystic is also well-known as the home of the Mystic Seaport, a 19-acre open-air museum that recreates a 19th-century boat village — the largest maritime museum in the world.

A large quantity of 1800’s- era buildings have been disassembled from locations throughout New England and brought here, displaying “life in the day.”

More than just buildings, docked along the harbor are a variety of ships. Wooden sailing ships like the slave ship Amistad (of Steven Spielberg movie fame), and the last wooden whaling ship in the world (the second oldest floating ship, second only to the USS Constitution), the Charles W. Morgan. Stepping on board ships like the Morgan really proved the challenges of life at sea — starting with super low ceilings.

Many of the Seaport buildings had interpreters sharing the particulars of life in an 1800s fishing village, or displaying specific aspects of that life. My favorite was the display of perfectly preserved figureheads, the ornamental artwork that is frequently on the bow fo a ship.

Being a working shipyard, new boats are being built here daily, and some are here for repairs. We stepped aboard one that is just beginning a TEN year process of reconstruction, underneath its massive shrink wrapping protection.

At the Seaport, you’re encouraged to take to the water. They have boats you can use, classes you can take, and a steamship that will cruise you around the Mystic River. We launched our kayaks instead, and sidled right up next to all the massive beauties docked here.

Another Mystic mainstay is the Aquarium. Since 1973, this sweet and pristine facility has been showcasing the creatures of the sea, large and small. It was Pride Month, so every penguin was sporting rainbow-colored beads.

Our favorite exhibit was the white beluga whales, particularly the fact that they teased the children who came up to the glass to see them. They would playfully charge the glass and make faces at children, but the staff said they don’t ever do it to adults, because they don’t get the same delighted reaction. There is a life lesson in there somewhere.

A variety of touch tanks, animal feeding possibilities, and a very entertaining sea lion show made for a nice visit.

Of course, not all sea creatures make it to an aquarium … some only make it so far as our bellies. We biked to a tiny, hole-in-the-wall seafood shop and braved the packed crowd for pulled-from-the-water goodness.

Another day, we stopped by Abbott’s In The Rough lobster shack, with casual waterside picnic tables and freshly cooked lobsters up to 8 pounds (!!) — my brother’s was 1.25 pounds, by way of comparison.

Even the artwork is town is seafood. How about this fish made of tableware — knives, forks and spoons!

Back in town, we delighted in the movement of the “bascule bridge” at 40 minutes past every hour. “Bascule” means see-saw, which makes sense when you see how this bridge works, in order to allow ships to pass along the Mystic River through this low bridge. Of course, our kayaks passed under the bridge without requiring the opening.

This 660-ton bridge opens its 85-foot span like a giant seesaw, using two 230-ton concrete blocks on the other end to swing it up in the air. Clever, clever! The blocks are shaved off on the inner edges to jusssst miss the buildings on the way down.

Our last evening, we joining a open-air concert right alongside the Mystic River near the bridge. The Mystic community band (youngest member: junior in high school; oldest: 96 years old, playing trumpet for 81 years now) played all our favorite Big Band standards as we watched the sun go down and the tall ships glide right on by. This is small-town living at its most charming.

Yep, it was maritime madness in Mystic, and we enjoyed every minute. Next we will complete the journey to the sea, going all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in Narragansett, Rhode Island — a grueling 31-mile trip!


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