Mystic Seaport

The last stop during my New England road trip was the Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. The Mystic Seaport is a maritime museum with collection of sailing ships and boats, some were more than 100 years old. It also has a replica of a 19th century seafaring village, portraying what life was like back then in a coastal community.

It was already mid-afternoon when I arrived at the Mystic Seaport, so many of the programs for the day were already finished. I spent most of my time there checking out the ships and boats, big and small, that were docked at the port. There was also one big ship called Charles W. Morgan that had been at the Mystic Seaport since 1941, and was in the middle of restoration process at the shipyard to make it seaworthy again. Visitors could climb up into the ship to see what the interior was like. And there was also Schooner Amistad, which was used in filming Steven Spielberg’s movie Amistad.

The photo below was the scenery on the Mystic River that I saw from the seaport. It was a nice fall afternoon, and some people were cruising in their sailboats on the river. In the background, there were some nice homes with riverfront view.

Sailing on the Mystic River

Sakonnet Vineyards

Who would have thought of New England as having a wine region? I didn’t know this, until when I looked for things to do in Rhode Island during my New England road trip and found out that there are some vineyards located in Southeastern part of New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island). The climate at the southern coast of New England apparently is similar to the northern coast region of France, so they are able to grow some varietals of grapes for winemaking. I thought this was pretty interesting, so I decided to include a visit to one of the oldest vineyards there, the Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

I visited Sakonnet Vineyards on an early Monday afternoon, so there were hardly anyone visiting at that time. When I arrived at the tasting room, there were two couples in the middle of their tasting session. I found out that they were from Boston, and they were in the area for a long weekend checking out Sakonnet and several other vineyards in the area. When it came to my turn to taste the wine, I was the only guest left, so I got to chat with the winery staff about their winemaking venture in New England. One of them happened to be the owner herself, so I had good conversation with her and learned that she was working in high-paced life in New York City prior to moving to Rhode Island to ‘slow down’ and start Sakonnet Vineyards. We also had good conversation about the impact of New England climate on the vineyards (such as the freak snowstorm that happened the night before my visit). She said since their vines had been around for more than 30 years, they’re more adapted to the local climate. Some of their newer neighbors were not as fortunate and might had lost some to the inclement weather.

After tasting their wonderful varieties of wine, I asked if they had tours of the winery scheduled. They did have tours scheduled, but since the next one was not until later that day, and I mentioned that I couldn’t wait that long since I needed to continue my road trip, the manager offered to give me a winery tour right then. It ended up to be a personal tour just for me — quite a nice treat / hospitality from them.

The photo below was taken just outside their Hospitality Center. I would definitely recommend a visit to this place especially if you’re a wine aficionado. Try their Rhode Island Red; I thought that was among the best red wines I had ever tasted.

Sakonnet Vineyards

The Breakers

I started the last day of my New England road trip with a visit to The Breakers, a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, owned by the Vanderbilt family.

In the late 19th century, the Newport, RI, area became a summer destination for the wealthy Americans. There are several of those mansions that today became museums that you can visit. But one that is definite a ‘must visit’ is The Breakers, a 70-room mansion built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II (who was among the wealthiest persons in the United States at the time). He spared no expense in building this mansion. The home was constructed between 1893 and 1895 at a cost of more than $12 million (approximately $316 million in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation).

During the visit there, as part of the admission you get a headset/handheld player for a self-guided audio tour of the home. So you can spend as much or as little time on any part of the home. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the home, but you’re allowed to do so at the balcony outside and at the grounds around the home.

Here are some of my thoughts from my visit to this huge mansion. The home was definitely impressive and opulent, though it’s not my style preference (I like the modern style of interior design, more minimalist and clean style rather than the ornate). It’s mindboggling to think that this was only a vacation home for the Vanderbilt family, not their primary residence. The sad part of the story was that Mr. Vanderbilt could only enjoy the home that he built for four years, as he died due to a stroke in 1899. And it seemed that none of the Vanderbilt children except their youngest one, Countess Gladys SzĂ©chenyi, liked the property (she ended up inheriting it from her mother). Today it is preserved and opened up as a museum that provides a view to the life of the American rich and famous from the 19th century.

The photo below was taken at the balcony of the home’s second floor. Personally I thought the balcony was my favorite space in this home as it felt like a getaway from the heavily decorated rooms inside the home, and the ocean view facing the east was awesome and peaceful.

Balcony at The Breakers

Freedom Trail

If you’re visiting Boston for the first time, and you only have a few hours to spend, what could you do to get the most from your visit? One suggestion is to go downtown and take a walking tour on the Freedom Trail.

After visiting Acadia National Park in Maine, I continued my New England road trip south bound through Massachusetts. I planned on stopping for the night near Newport, RI, but on the way, I wanted to stop somewhere in Massachusetts. I thought one place I couldn’t miss is the biggest city in New England, Boston. I had been to Boston a couple of times before for business trips, but never for leisure. So I thought at least I should stop there as it was on the way to my next destination. As I looked for activity that I could do in a few hours there, I found out about the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile walking path in downtown Boston that takes you to several historical landmarks where some key events in the American Revolution occurred. The path is marked with redbrick line that you can trace starting at the Boston Common. You can get a map at the Information Center and do a self-guided tour, or like I did, join a 90-minute guided walking tour that starts at the Information Center in the Boston Common area and ends at the Faneuil Hall. The tour runs every hour, rain or shine, led by a tour guide dressed in the period attire (and typical role play an important historical figure).

During the tour, you get to learn about the historical landmarks and some of the key figures in the American Revolution (people like Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams). I think doing the tour is definitely worth the time and cost as it allows you to learn more than simply looking at the sights and reading printed materials. You can ask questions about the city history that you probably won’t find in any guide books. For example, why are the streets in downtown Boston laid out in somewhat confusing pattern? (It’s because those streets started as walking paths created by farmers herding their cattle). And you get more in short time if you have time constraints like I did.

Near the end of the tour at Faneuil Hall, if you’re hungry, you can check out another historic landmark, the Union Oyster House. The restaurant was established in 1826, earning it the distinction as the oldest operating restaurant in the United States. There you can get some traditional New England fare like clam chowder or broiled scrod. The food might be a little bit on expensive side, but I think it’s worth it for the experience.

The photo below was taken as we started our walking tour at the Boston Common. You can see the redbrick line on the trail and our guide leading the group at the front walking in the rain (by the end of the tour, the rain actually turned to snow). The building with the golden dome in front of us was the Massachusetts State House. The photo was nothing spectacular, but I think it conveys the sense of place and captures the experience of being part of the walking tour. This is an example of one point to keep in mind in recording a travel experience. Sometimes you have situations where it’s less than ideal to take photographs with DSLR (like in this case, we were walking in the rain, and one of my hands was holding an umbrella). In such situations, it’s helpful to have a backup plan like carrying a small point-and-shoot camera, and it’s better to take photos anyway even in less than ideal situation so you would still have a record of your experience.

Freedom Trail

Ben & Jerry’s Factory

If you’re looking for suggestions for places to visit in Vermont, very likely one of the places mentioned is the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, VT. I’m not necessarily a big ice cream fan, but I had never been to an ice cream factory, so I thought that would be a fun place to visit during my New England road trip. So Ben & Jerry’s Factory was the first destination added to my list of destinations in Vermont for the trip.

After reading travel guidebooks for New England, I learned about some other things the state of Vermont is known for. An area called the Green Mountains have some great places for skiing during the winter time and is a great place to see the fall foliage, and Vermont State Route 100 is a road that cuts through the Green Mountain area and is wonderful route to take to experience the beauty of nature and Vermont countryside. Much of Vermont is covered with farm land, and two famous products from Vermont (other than the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) are cheese and maple syrup. Since I only had limited time during my road trip to visit places, I decided to pick three places to stop by during the drive through Vermont: the Grafton Village Cheese Company in Grafton, the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, and the Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier.

After leaving my previous stop in New York City very early in the morning (around 3 am), I managed to enter the state of Vermont by around 7:30 am. Why so early? Well, I had a very ambitious plan for the day: spend the morning driving through and stopping at the places mentioned above in Vermont, then continuing in the afternoon to the White Mountains area in New Hampshire, and continuing the drive at night to my destination, Bar Harbor in Maine. In hindsight, that was pretty crazy, but it did make a fun-filled day..

The first stop, Grafton, is located on the scenic State Route 100. The drive was wonderful; fall foliage definitely was around the peak time, and it was nice to drive through the Vermont countryside. The only problem was that scenic drive meant slower drive. I did find the Grafton Village Cheese Company, but they were still closed at the time I arrived there around 8 am. So I decided to continue on to Waterbury since I knew that Ben & Jerry’s Factory would already be open by the time I got there. I abandoned the initial plan of driving through State Route 100 after experiencing the lower (and safer) speed limit on this country road. Instead I drove back to the Interstate Highway and took it most of the way to Waterbury.

The Ben & Jerry’s Factory is definitely a fun place to visit in Vermont, especially if you come with family / children. For a small fee of $3.00, you get to watch a Moovie presentation about Ben & Jerry’s history and their integral place within the state of Vermont, view the ice cream factory from an observation deck, and taste the ice cream to finish it off. There is also the Flavor Graveyard in the back of the factory where you can find headstones remembering some Ben & Jerry flavors that didn’t quite make it well in the market. And of course there is an ice cream shop if you didn’t get enough from the tour. For me, the little cup of ice cream was enough. I still had a long journey for the day — didn’t want to have stomach problem from having too much dairy products.

My last stop in Vermont, the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, is a great place to find maple products and other local food products that Vermont is known for. Since I was watching my timing closely as I wanted to get to Mount Washington Auto Road before it closes at 3 pm, I only stopped at Morse Farm to get some souvenirs to take home. It’s only a short stop, but tasting the real maple syrup (that tastes much better than the artificially flavored syrup you often get at the grocery store) got me hooked. Since I got back from this trip, I also learned that maple syrup is actually a healthier alternative to processed sugar to use as sweetener. And you can actually get the pure maple syrup at the local grocery stores (typically they’re from either Vermont or Quebec, Canada).

After the stop at Morse Farm, I continued my trip to New Hampshire. The few hours drive through and brief stops gave me a little taste of Vermont, leaving more to experience in future visits. As for the rest of the ambitious travel day, you can read about them on my posts about White Mountains and Asticou Azalea and Thuya Gardens.

The photo below was taken right outside the Ben & Jerry’s Factory. It was a nice autumn morning, and I saw this group of visitors enjoying their ice cream with the wonderful fall foliage in the background. It’s a little cool outside, but I don’t think it mattered when you have the tasty ice cream to enjoy.

Ice cream in the fall

White Mountains

This weekend the Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States are experiencing an unusually early snowstorm. It reminded me to another place I visited during my New England road trip a couple of years ago, the White Mountains area in New Hampshire. The White Mountains area covers a significant part of the state of New Hampshire. It is another popular getaway destination in New England given its close proximity to Boston.

My primary reason for going through the White Mountains area during my drive from Vermont to Maine was to check out Mount Washington. Mount Washington is perhaps the most well-known mountain in the area because at close to 6,300 ft it is the highest mountain in the Northeast United States. It is also home for the highest wind gust ever recorded on the earth’s surface at 231 mph. Weather permitted, you can drive your car on the Mount Washington Auto Road that takes you from the base to near the summit of the mountain, a 7.6 mi drive that climbs 4,618 ft (at about 11% grade). I was driving my new Acura for this road trip, so I thought it would be interesting to see how my car would fare on this road.

Unfortunately when I arrived at the base of the mountain, I found out that the Auto Road was already closed for the season as they had a snowstorm few days earlier that made the road impassable. So after taking some photos from the base of the mountain, I continued on with a drive around the White Mountains on the Kancamagus Highway. This drive is often mentioned as one of the prettiest drives in the United States, especially in the autumn.

I drove through the White Mountains National Forest to enjoy the scenery, and stopped for a short hike to the Sabbaday Falls. There were not that many people around on the trail. It was slightly past the peak foliage time there given the higher altitude, but it was still pretty. The photo below is from the trail — beautiful maple leaves covering the ground.

Fall leaves in New Hampshire

Mount Desert Island

When most visitors come to Mount Desert Island, the primary destinations are usually the Acadia National Park, which occupies a large portion of the island, and Bar Harbor, a town closest to the park where you find accommodations during the visit to the area. The island is actually more than just these two places; if you have a car (or a bike), you can also tour the island and visit many little towns there. In the last few posts, I mentioned about a couple of those places, Northeast Harbor with its beautiful Asticou Azalea and Thuya Gardens, and Bass Harbor with its famous light house. There are other towns around that may not necessarily have any particular landmark to visit, but are good representations of small Maine / New England coastal villages.

And not to be missed when you’re in Maine is a visit to one of the local lobster pounds where you could get the local product fresh from the fishing boat and at very reasonable price. These places may not have the nice decor as some fancy restaurants you find in Bar Harbor, but if you’re looking for lobster, I think this is the best way to get it. I went to Thurston Lobster Pound in Bernard, and had a wonderful feast of lobsters with side dishes and desert that was pretty easy on my budget but also very memorable experience.

The photo below was taken in a little town called Somesville. It’s located right in the middle of the island; you would pass it if you drive around the island between some of its harbor towns. There was a beautiful footbridge over a pond there that is very picturesque, especially in the autumn. I stopped there to take photos of the footbridge and the pond, but as I turned around, I saw this wonderful scenery of a home near the inlet with a gorgeous tree next to it. This is an example of one of good photography lessons I learned — be aware of your surroundings when looking for interesting scenery to photograph; sometimes you can find more interesting subjects beyond your initial one by simply turning around and look what is behind you. You can find more sights on Mount Desert Island in my flickr photo album.

Fall morning in Somesville, ME