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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More to Mystic Than Pizza!

When most people think of the tiny seacoast village of Mystic, Connecticut, they think of the movie, “Mystic Pizza,” starring Julia Roberts (and debuting Matt Damon). Yet when they visit this maritime community located half-way between New York and Boston, they find a lot more than pizza!

Included in National Geographic’s 100 “America’s Best Adventure Town list, this historic shipbuilding district straddles both sides of the Mystic River and took its name from an Indian word, “river running to the sea.”

Mystic, with its scenic views of tall ships, islands, lighthouses, and secluded coves, has attracted such legendary honeymooners as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and continues to attract tourists from all over the world. It is a place where those who cross the oceans gather to swap stories and repair their boats. It is also where famous explorers are born, visit, get married, or sadly, embark from on their way to becoming lost at sea.

Aside from the picturesque Mystic River lined with the Greek revival homes of noted sea captains and Mystic Seaport’s 19th century village, exhibits and ships, visitors can experience quaint shops, nationally reviewed restaurants, and the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, where the discoverer of the grave of the R.M.S. Titanic, keeps his home office.

Like the ancient Greek historians who compiled "The Seven Wonders of the World," I too, with the help of locals, compiled a list of seven, awe-inspiring “must-sees” in Mystic.

The following in an excerpt from my book, Mystic Seafarer's Trail:

1        Wanted: Epic Adventure


Shortly after stepping out of my new home with my hound for our first stroll through the historic seacoast village of Mystic, Connecticut, a woman pulled over in her van and yelled, "Excuse me."

Assuming she was a tourist wanting directions to Mystic Pizza or some other attraction, I wasn't prepared for what she really wanted to know.

"Do you realize the back of your skirt is tucked into your underwear?"

What a debut in my new hometown—I don’t think this is what National Geographic meant when they named Mystic one of the top 100 adventure towns in the United States.

Once recovered from my wardrobe “malfunction,” I continued toward downtown Mystic with Bailey, a beagle/basset hound mix, to embark on a new life and shake off my old, sedentary landlubbing ways.

No longer did I want to be known as the lady who always talks about losing weight but never does it. No longer would I sit around daydreaming about becoming thin and famous so I could hire someone else to clean my house. I had a real shot at it now that I lived in a place where I couldn’t help but fall into a swash-buckling adventure—the kind that might inspire me to write a bestseller.

Straddling both sides of the Mystic River in the towns of Groton and Stonington, the village of Mystic takes its name from an Indian word, “river running to the sea.” With its scenic views of tall ships, islands, lighthouses, and secluded coves, it has attracted such legendary honeymooners as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It is a place where those who cross the oceans gather to swap stories and repair their boats. It is where famous explorers are born, visit, get married, or sadly, embark from on their way to becoming lost at sea.

To launch my career as an adventuress, I decided to walk Bailey to the haunts and homes of such celebrated adventurers as Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic;  Dr. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of Titanic’s watery grave; Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the first aviator to fly over the South Pole; and Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer, who accidentally discovered Antarctica.

Now was the time for me to join their ranks, to start living life on the edge. Maybe I could become thin and famous like Amelia Earhart. Like her, I am fairly tall, my middle initial is M, I have a gap between my two front teeth, and until I looked it up, I couldn’t spell medieval either (more on that and her wedding day later). Unlike Amelia, I wasn’t skinny, but that was about to change. I would stop lying around reading about adventurers and do what it took to become one. 

My husband, Jim, and I were transferred to the Mystic area by his company, which meant I had to quit my job as a full-time writer for a college and search for a new one in a community revolving around life at sea—not easy for a confirmed desk sitter like me. Finding the area already teeming with underemployed writers and publicists, I was grateful when my former employer hired me back as a consulting writer. Although freelancing allowed me to work from home in my pajamas, it offered no retirement benefits—hence the need to become famous. Being famous not only helps pay the bills, but it gives you an edge when trying to accomplish other goals.

Now was the time for me to follow in the path of prominent authors such as Herman Melville who went to sea on a whaler (a ship designed to catch whales and process their oil) when he couldn't find a job. Although he deserted and had to live among cannibals for a time, he found the inspiration to write his first novel. Further sea adventures, which included mutiny and learning about a whale that rammed and sank the Essex, led to the creation of his magnum opus: Moby Dick. I, myself, could barely get through this “Great American Novel,” but somebody obviously likes it. And now that I lived within walking distance of the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world, I wondered if that was a sign. Perhaps I could enlist as a deck swabber on its next epic voyage. The house we purchased was adorned with a brass, whale-shaped door knocker. Now that had to be a sign.

If following in the footsteps of a whaling writer didn’t work, there was always the chance I could get famous by finding a dead body—just like Bailey and our older daughter had. Although it didn’t make her into an international celebrity, I use it as a party stopper whenever I want to be the center of attention. Of course, I should really find my own body, preferably of a well-known person. Celebrities are always coming to Mystic to film movies or vacation.

Since I couldn’t count on finding a dead body, famous or otherwise, I decided to start small. First, I planned to compile “The 7 Wonders of Mystic”—something quick I could shout to the tourists who rolled down their car windows asking what they should see (besides my underwear).

National Geographic’s website suggests that Mystic adventurers bike what it calls the 25-mile Vineyard Loop that includes “some hairy climbs that stops at two of the best wineries.” Hairy climbs? I hoped to get thin, but did I have to go uphill to do it? I thought not.

Instead, I would conquer a trail of my own design—one that would avoid hills where possible—and call it the “Mystic Seafarer’s Trail.” It would include “The 7 Wonders” (once I figured out what they were), plus the stomping grounds of legendary explorers, heroes, traitors and shipwreck survivors—as well as those who went down with the ship. With so many potential wonders to consider and adventures to try, I had a lot of ground—and water—to cover. So, every afternoon, I checked my skirt and off Bailey and I went to follow a scent of our own...



“You will laugh out loud at Lisa’s adventures in this part travel guide, part historical reference and completely hilarious tale.” Bree Shirvell, Editor, Stonington-Mystic Patch


“Author Lisa Saunders has mastered the art/science/gift of writer-reader communication. She’s not writing at you; she’s talking to you…no holds barred. Her frequently disarming candor evokes reader reactions ranging from chuckle to head-shaking laughter.“ George Nammack, Long Island Boating World


“With a keen, self-deprecating wit, Saunders tells the tale of each of the 7 Wonders [of Mystic], beginning with Wonder #1, the whaleship Charles W. Morgan.” Windcheck magazine


“Lisa Saunders has written an engaging and solidly researched narrative which should capture the attention of all who are interested in early New England history and the traditions of the sea that were one of its foundations.”

David S. Martin, Ph.D., Professor/Dean Emeritus, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC


“I found Lisa’s anticipation of her sailing adventure just plain entertaining and could relate to her internal dialogue, misgivings, and somewhat grandiose fantasies. She is a person worth spending time with.Ann Kuehner, LCSW


“I laughed out loud on a number of occasions. It’s interesting, humorous and touching.”

Glenn Gordinier, author of Surfing Cold Water: A New Englander's Off-Season Obsession


“This book is a splendid way to tie Mystic's history to life today—a bridge from the past to the present—for any age.” Lou Allyn, Masons Island


An historical—and sometimes hysterical—look at Mystic. I can’t wait to visit!”

Marianne Greiner, Illustrator, New York


“Entertaining, witty, informative—and cute! It covers a range of topics from personal loss to finding life, history and new friends.” Kristin Hartnett, Executive Director, Laughworks, Mystic, Connecticut

Excerpt about

Wonder #1: Whaleship, Charles W. Morgan 

Although the majority of the country’s wooden ships built in the mid-1800s are gone, some are enjoying their retirement years in Mystic. One in particular is not only history-making, but a sight to behold. In the Mystic River, near the corner of Isham and Bay Streets, without any argument from the locals, is the first official Mystic Wonder—the Charles W. Morgan—the last wooden whaleship in the world.

Even Governor Dannel P. Malloy loves the Morgan and designated the 2013-2014 academic year to be the "Year of the Charles W. Morgan" in the State of Connecticut.

The Charles W. Morgan is presently undergoing restoration at Mystic Seaport. In its long career, the Morgan witnessed floggings, stowaways, drownings, desertions, amputations, burials at sea, and men who took the “Nantucket sleigh ride”—a high-speed whaleboat ride sometimes given by a harpooned whale.

If one touches the Morgan, launched during the height of the whaling industry in 1841, one is not only touching a vessel that has survived typhoons, hurricanes, crushing ice, stirrings of a mutiny, and an attack by Pacific Islanders, one is also touching a movie star. Featured in several films, including Steven Spielberg’s Amistad with actor Morgan Freeman, the Charles W. Morgan can be viewed in her (a ship is still referred to as “she” even if it has a male name) original role as a whaling ship in a 1922 film playing inside Mystic Seaport.

Visitors to the Morgan will not only see the industry side of whaling, like the brick furnace used to process the blubber into oil, but they will also see the personal side, such as the captain’s cabin that includes a private “head” (toilet to the sea), sitting room, and a gimbal (always level) bed installed by a captain so his wife could sleep comfortably despite the pitch of the sea.

When actor William Hurt climbed aboard the Morgan to prepare for his role as Captain Ahab in the TV mini-series Moby Dick, he sat on a sailor’s bunk with Mystic Seaport staff members and talked for an hour about what life aboard a whaleship must have been like. “This is the only place in the world where he could have done that,” said Matthew Stackpole, the ship’s historian.

The Morgan arrived at Mystic Seaport,  A19-acre maritime museum, in 1941. Having been in a derelict condition for several years, Mystic Seaport’s shipwrights got her back into shape. Since then, approximately 20 million visitors have crossed her decks. ...

Lisa Saunders is an award-winning writer and T.V. co-host living in Mystic, Connecticut, with her husband and hound. She works as a part-time history interpreter at Mystic Seaport and is a member of the Mystic River Historical Society. A graduate of Cornell University, she is the author of several books and winner of the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations Gold Medallion. She is the Congenital CMV Foundation parent representative. Lisa can be reached directly at saundersbooks@aol.com. Her work and availability for speaking can be found at: www.authorlisasaunders.com.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lisa's Guide to Mystic

Are  you or someone you know visiting Mystic this summer? For my guests coming by train, plane or boat, I offer them the following sample itinerary:

"10 things to do in Mystic without a car"
1. Follow the Mystic Seafarer's Trail map (on foot or on a borrowed Mystic Community Bike) to the 7 Wonders, where along the way you will find several attractions, shops, restaurants, kayak rentals and unique boat & walking tours (be downtown at noon or 6 pm to enjoy the bell tunes played by the big white church on the hill); 2. Watch boats from all over the world go through the drawbridge at 20 minutes to the hour; 3. Visit Mystic & Noank Library to grab assorted trail maps, a beach read from their free books section, a great view of the Mystic River Valley, and a chance to place a piece in the group puzzle; 4. Stroll through Olde Mistick Village to the Tourist Info Center to find fun brochures and discount deals, then watch the duck drama at their pond or a movie at Art Cinemas where they proudly serve real butter with their popcorn; 5. Wave to the friendly beluga whales and clap at the antics of the sea lions at Mystic Aquarium; 6. Spend a day (or two) exploring and finding adventure at Mystic Seaport; 7. Relax in the country surroundings of the historic 1717 Denison Homestead and tour the home of one of Mystic's earliest families; 8. Embark on the trails maintained by the Nature Center; 9. Swim in the Mystic River at William's Beach Park; 10. Find peace on Enders Island where you can leave a written prayer in the three-sided seaside chapel, visit St. Edmund's very old, withered arm, stroll through spectacular gardens, and buy island-made jams and jellies with names like "Fire and Brimstone" hot pepper jelly.


From News 8, Connecticut Style: “You don't have to fly halfway around the world for adventure. National Geographic lists Mystic as one of the top 100 “adventure towns” in America. If that isn't incentive enough to get you there, maybe the Mystic Seafarer's Trail will. This book combines travel, history and humor, including seven wonders.” See images of "The 7 Wonders of Mystic" on News 8 interview with author Lisa Saunders.

How to get to Mystic and what to do:
Getting here (by car, ferry, boat, bus, train or plane): http://www.mystic.org/getting-here.

If you are flying in, the following airport in Rhode Island is probably the easiest. You may then consider taking a shuttle to the Amtrak station in Providence:

T.F. Green Airport (PVD)
, RI
401 737 8222
(800) 872-7245
Daily service is available between Providence Station 

Providence Shuttle
(401) 737-2868
2000 Post Road
Warwick, RI 02886
Daily service (in season) between T.F. Green Airport and ...Providence AMTRAK station
2000 Post Road

How easy it is to get around Mystic? Easy to walk and bike. Parking is not always easy downtown but you can park on side streets and at the Arts Center on Water St.

What is the atmosphere like? It's a quaint seaside village.

What are the main attractions in Mystic?   Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport,  Olde Mistick Village, and the historic downtown village where the drawbridge goes up and down during sailing season.
Fun stuff to see and do: Just follow my Mystic Seafarer's Trail map, which is based on my book, Mystic Seafarer's Trail. You will find major and minor attractions along the way in addition to places to eat, boat or bike.

Welcome Centers
  • Mystic & Shoreline Visitor Information Center Olde Mistick Village, Mystic, CT 06355, 860-536-1641, mysticinfocenter@yahoo.com, mysticinfo.com
  • Also, contact: 
  • Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce: 860-572-9578, mysticchamber.org
Helpful websites:

  • Mystic, CT
  • Historic New London
  • Luv Downtown (NL, Niantic, Norwich, Mystic, Pawk., Westerly (R.I)
  • Mystic Country

  • Weather--Mystic weather is never right, even though the Weather Channel loves to come here to film upcoming hurricanes beside all the tall ships. But if you want a rough idea, go to: http://www.weather.com/weather/today/Mystic+CT+USCT0129 (Even when it's pouring rain or the fog is so thick you can barely see, the weather on my phone says it's sunny.)

    Bike Sharing (free bikes available with a deposit--but you should reserve as soon as possible during the tourist season. The bikes hibernate in the cold months so do check the website for availability). Visit: Mystic Community Bikes, Mystic, CT: http://mysticcommunitybikes.org/
    Info: mysticcommunitybikes@gmail.com, (860) 245-8150.

    Kayak Rentals: Call ahead to Marine Consignment in Mystic (15 Holmes St.): 860-245-0588. They rent kayaks for easy placement in the Mystic River. http://marineconsignment.com/

    Coffee: Green Marble CafĂ© and Bartleby's in downtown Mystic, and Starbucks near Olde  Mistick Village. Another place may have just opened in Olde Mistick Village.

    Jogger/walker? One close, scenic spot is through or beside Elm Grove Cemetery (a garden cemetery along Mystic River at site # 4 on my Mystic Seafarer's Trail map) on Route 27 (Greenmanville Ave.) heading toward downtown Mystic. Another popular spot is River Road (near site #7 on Mystic Seafarer's Trail) with its scenic views of the tall, old ships docks at Mystic Seaport.

    Restaurants, places to stay, more things to do: Visitor Info

    What are the 7 wonders (located on Mystic Seafarer's Trail map)?

    1.Mystic Seaport’s Whaleship, Charles W. Morgan—the last wooden whaleship in the world
    2.Mystic Aquarium’s “Crowns.” Outdoor structures look like they belong to a massive King Neptune. Designed by famed international architect Cesar Pelli (designed Britain’s tallest building, etc).
    3.Elm Grove Cemetery Arch--colossal arch leads to scenic garden cemetery shaped like an elm tree.
    4.Mystic River Drawbridge (seen in film, Mystic Pizza), historic 1922 bascule bridge has seesaw design

    5. Hanging Gardens of Enders Island-maze of rock hedges, archways & St. Edmund’s withered arm
    6. Mystic Depot Welcome Center (inspiration for American Flyer’s “talking” toy train stations made in the mid-1900).  
    7. Mystic Pizza Restaurant, inspired 1988 Mystic Pizza movie) starring Julia Roberts and debuting Matt Damon (whose only line, "Mom, do you want my green stuff?" was said while eating lobster).

    “7 Wonders  of Mystic” * &  other wonders

    *Mystic Aquarium’s “Crowns” outdoor structures--appear as belonging to King Neptune. designed by famed international architect Cesar Pelli (designed Britain’s tallest building, etc).
     2.       Olde Mistick Village duck pond (where Gloria the cranky goose reigned)

    3.       Mystic & Shoreline Visitor Information Center

    4.       *Elm Grove Cemetery Arch--colossal arch leads to scenic garden cemetery shaped like an elm tree.

    5.       *Mystic Seaport’s Whaleship, Charles W. Morgan—the last wooden whaleship in the world

    6.       *Mystic River Drawbridge (seen in film, Mystic Pizza), historic 1922 bascule bridge has seesaw design

    7.       Captain’s Row (Gravel St.) & River Rd—views of captain homes, ships & nature

    8.       *Mystic Pizza Restaurant, inspired 1988 Mystic Pizza movie) starring Julia Roberts and debuting Matt Damon (whose only line, "Mom, do you want my green stuff?" was said while eating lobster).

    9.       Captain Daniel Packer Inne (feel like a character in Moby Dick)

    10.    Mystic Railroad Swing Bridge (will it close in time for next train?)

    11.    Portersville Academy, 1839 schoolhouse (C)

    12.     Record-breaking Cape Horn rounder, Captain Joseph Holmes (#77 private home)

    13.    Union Baptist Church (chime songs at 12 & 6 p.m.)

    14.    Mystic & Noank Library -Voted 8th Wonder (Emily the Library Cat buried there)

    15.    Octagon house (#8 private home)

    16.    Captain Peter E. Rowland, maker of record-breaking run on famous clipper, David Crockett (#10 private home)

    17.    Gold Rush Captain Sisson (#12 private home)

    18.    *Mystic Depot Welcome Center & Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce (inspiration for American Flyer’s “talking” toy train stations made in the mid-1900).   

    19.    *Hanging Gardens of Enders Island-maze of rock hedges, archways & St. Edmund’s withered arm

    20.    Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

    21.    Denison Homestead Museum (built 1717)

    22.    Captain Palmer House (discovered Antarctica on Mystic-built sloop, Hero)

    23.    Stonington Lighthouse Museum (Stonington Historical Society)

    24.    Amelia Earhart’s Wedding site (private  home on Church St.)

    25.    Latham/Chester Store (Earhart wedding plaque)

    26.    Sylvan Street Museum (Noank Historical Society)

    38.    Carson’s Variety Store (locals have eaten there for over a century)

    55.    Cannon Square (War of 1812). Seen in movie Hope Springs with Meryl Streep

    B. Mystic Community Bikes (free bike use)

    C. Mystic River Historical Society

    Be sure to consider following these popular trails:
    Our area is currently working on another trail around and across the Thames River. See: Thames River Heritage Park