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New London on the River Thames in Connecticut!

by Mary Gallagher

Halfway between New York and Boston and easily accessible by Amtrak or highway is a vacation destination with all you love about New England and more! We spent an all too short weekend exploring the “whaling” industries 350 year history in New London, a port city of only six square miles, located at the mouth of the Thames River. Overlooking this deep natural harbor to the north is Connecticut College and the United States Coast Guard Academy.

As early as 1870, New London had already become a seasonal and yachting community. Our Yankee heritage is visible everywhere as you walk the city or drive to surrounding villages on scenic farm roads with ancient dry stone walls.

Our first full day featured a clear blue sky as we visited the recently organized Saturday Market at the New London waterfront park right behind the historic and highly functional 1888 Union train station. Here local artists and vendors sell beaded and glass jewelry, honey. Maple syrup, photographs, African art, Cambodian fabrics, products from Vermont and Art from the Anvil by Susan Madacsi.

Before I could spend too much money, it was time to board the New London Landmarks Cruise of the historic Thames River. We had a clear-full-live and greatly appreciated narration by a local historian who pointed out and gave the history of all the pertinent places on both sides of the river including bridges, historic buildings, piers, forts, the submarine base, several lighthouses and industry. I took home a nice booklet with complete information on everything we saw. This is an amazing area to learn the early history and development of several of our countries key industries.

Getting off the boat around lunch time, Dan Surkis and the Clams were playing the greatest rock and roll music in the waterfront park while little kids danced enthusiastically, some happily swinging around with their dads.

We strolled down one side of nearby Bank Street for a tasty lunch on the deck of the Bank Street Lobster House enjoying the view over the water and the clear blue sky. It would be pretty difficult not to order lobster rolls in the land of “Lobster” at least once. I had a cold one and Felicity had the hot with a cup of their famous lobster bisque. Both of us came away stuffed and highly satisfied from this popular, locally owned, restaurant. They have frequent “special events” and were preparing for an out-door showing of the Rocky Horror Show that evening. Attendees were being encouraged to come in costume!

Taking a few minutes to walk back down the opposite side of Bank Street, we were able to look closely at the revitalization and renovations of many wonderful historic buildings and the growth of New London as an arts community. One can also overview the area on land with the Discover New London Shuttle, a trolley that carries visitors among New London’s many exciting historic sites, museums, galleries, and parks while onboard guides relate interesting stories. For only $5.00 you can ride the van all day, stopping and visiting sites of your interest. Although this is not a part of the world to be without a car.

While not on our agenda, I HAD to stop at the Hygienic Art gallery, one of New London’s premier visual arts organizations and named after the “infamous” Hygienic Restaurant. In 1979, artists began an annual at show in this the city’s oldest 24 hour diner. The exhibitions rules were No Judge, No Jury, No Fee and No censorship! The restaurant closed in 1985 and the historic 1844 building, which originally housed a Whaler’s Outfitter, was slated for demolition in 1996. Artists rallied a grass roots effort to save the structure and the Hygienic was transformed into a residential artist studio and gallery. This is the type of success story in community arts development and historic preservation we love to hear.

The Galleries serve as a venue for all artists, emerging and established, presenting monthly exhibitions. The lunch counter and other retained features of the original diner are great fun and the artists are hard at work on a unique garden with iron gates created as a memorial to September 11th.

On this visit there wasn’t enough time but cruises are available and popular on many styles of boats including replicas of old schooners.

Visiting the Hempstead Houses and other sites with lifetime New London resident and historical preservation activist, Sally Ryan, was a real treat and highly educational. The older Hempstead House (1678) is among the best documented 17th century homes in America and the two houses show the evolution of a Colonial seafaring family. A large amount of credit goes to the discovery of a faithful day to day diary of that belonged to one of the sons. This became the blueprint for authentic re-creation and understanding of the development of the house and grounds. Everything is in quite a natural state and more than amazingly preserved. Unfortunately the bulk of the furnishings disappeared overtime and most on view are replicas or garnered from other sources. If you’re into American history, the Hempstead Houses like the entire city of New London are an entire preservation of historic America district!

Hey! All this water and what about the beach? Ocean Beach Park on Long Island Sound is one of the longest and finest stretches of sand in the state. There is also an outdoor pool, board walk, miniature golf, accredited lifeguards, a huge water slide, food, gift shops, arcade and much more. All at the end of Ocean Avenue. The happy beach goers were easily seen from the train up and back home again. In fact, the tracks follow the shore for quite a distance adding to an already wonderful relaxing experience. The high speed Acela Express makes one of its few stops to Boston in New London so my traveling from DC is slick.

New on the Bed and Breakfast scene is the pristine and massive Kirkland House. Owners Gail and Alan Mayer have modernized the historic home without compromising its history and architecture. In addition to antiques from the area they have used pieces from their own collections gathered over the years they lived in Europe. This is probably one of the most spacious B & B’s I’ve seen and travelers that like a little additional privacy will enjoy staying here. Gail, a Cordon Bleu graduate, is planning some special events at Kirkland House that are bound to be very popular. The buildings and gardens made it look like a perfect wedding site.

We took a fast run through the Mohegan Sun, experiencing only the casino but getting a vague idea of the magnitude of this leisure property. The new hotel features 1,200 rooms and 175 suites and while one views the amazing beauty of the rolling hills, you’re engulfed in an extraordinary spectacle of sights and sounds while deliberating your choice of over 6,000 slot machines. At least fifteen other types of table games along with the newest in video and track betting facilities translates into 291,000 square feet of gaming that boggled my mind!

The Mohegan Sun has twenty-nine different restaurant and dining options, shopping, the Elemis Spa, three entertainment areas and on-site parking for more than 13,000. As someone who has first hand witnessed the unbelievable poverty of Native Americans on various reservations and public housing created and enforced by the US government, just viewing the artistic and architectural interpretations of a Native American theme when money knows no boundaries came as quite a shock. I am also aware of the many philanthropic projects supported by the revenues from this casino and also the nearby and spectacular Foxwoods.

According to one local resident, who wasn’t a big supporter of gambling, “this area would be in a serious economic depression if it were not for the employment opportunities offered to at least 30,000 by the casinos”.

Time to get back into the history mode and eat a fine dinner at one of New London’s favorites, Timothy’s at the Historic Lighthouse Inn. Built in 1902 as Meadow Court a grand summer home, with a breathtaking view of Long Island Sound and private beach, the formal grounds were conceived by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Now I’m impressed.

The property was renamed The Lighthouse Inn and began operating as inn in 1927 and today comprises three buildings; the original Guthrie Mansion, the Carriage House, and the Watchman’s Cottage. The current owners have taken on massive renovations to the property and it’s more wonderful than ever.

In 2002, to the delight of loyal area clientele as well as the Inns regular patrons and out-of-town guests, Chef Tim Grills brought his popular restaurant and catering business to the Inn. Grills, a culinary arts graduate of Johnson & Wales University, has received many accolades including a coveted Zagat Award of Distinction.

Our eight pm reservation turned into a true test of the facility and I was getting nervous when the couple ahead of us were told the wait for a table would be 45 minutes. Looking around, every room was packed with people while in some private rooms a huge wedding party was in the heat of their reception.

Only a few times in this lifetime have I seen a wait staff so over worked and under manned but valiantly doing their best. I’m surprised they didn’t all mutiny and just run out the doors screaming but no one lost their cool and they worked as fast as they could. Our very professional waiter was kind, understanding and patient with my questions including my request to have the very loud music turned down which was accommodated quickly. In this din why even bother with music?

Considering the pressure the entire staff was under including the rude belligerent behavior of one patron who in a screaming voice verbally abused a waitress beyond description, things went well. Actually, now I’m sorry I didn’t jump up and take the oafs photo so the world would know what total uncouth looks like.

Our food was good, presented attractively but not spectacular and I put that on the conditions that the entire staff including the kitchen were under. I didn’t even see a single busser! My Caesar salad was wonderful and not buried in garlic and our entrees large enough to take home a good size doggie bag. I would easily go back and give it another try. The ambience is wonderful in any section of the property and we had a beautiful view of the lawns leading to the water.

The popular Sunday brunch offers a different variety of salads, fish, chicken, and seafood entrees, as well as, breakfast items.

Get Revitalized at the Marriott Mystic Hotel and Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa in New London
By Felicia Persaud

There is something incredibly stimulating about hands slowly and carefully massaging your face, your shoulders and the back of your neck. It’s the sort of feeling that makes you want to take Terri McMillan’s advice to exhale seriously. However, just in case your imagination gets the better of you and you’re beginning to assume that I’m referring to a romantic encounter – think again! In this case, the hands are those of the skilled and talented Michelle Allyn, a skincare specialist at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa at the Mystic Marriott Hotel in New London, Connecticut.

The Mystic Marriott is not just simply another hotel; it is THE exception to the chain and together with this beautiful area of Connecticut, definitely worth taking the easy three-hour trip from New York City.

Amtrak comes directly out of Penn Station through New Haven to the New London station; then hop a cab or call for the hotel shuttle. We had notified them of our arrival time several days in advance and the van driver knew our train was running a little late. He had already checked the station and was back on his way when we called. This is personal service! Arriving at the hotel on 625 North Road in Groton, we were impressed with the sprawling cream-colored building that looks more like a private mansion set against a Connecticut woods back-drop.

The soft colors of the exquisitely decorated lobby immediately catch your eye. The architecture of this building is a throwback to the Victorian-era and the cream-colored expanse of marble adds to the old-world charm.

Of course the Mystic Marriott’s friendly professional staff even when the hotel is full as it was for our weekend gives strength to the confidence that you have made the right decision as soon as you walk through the door.

The rooms at the Mystic vary, depending on your choice but all come with queen-size beds, dual phone lines, Internet access and cable TV. Bathrooms are roomy and so are the fully mirrored triple closets. Rates, depending on the season, range from $189 to $239 per night.

To relax and unwind after a long or any length trip for that matter, make your way down to the Red Door Spa, located on the Concierge level. Be sure to call ahead for your appointment as the spa is usually quite tightly booked including on our visit. A wonderful aroma permeates the air as you enter through the signature Red Door and the friendly staffs greeting adds to the de-stress mode as they cater to every need. Start with a mini-tour to the changing, shower and locker area, slip into a robe and slippers and progress to the relaxation room to sip on juice and herbal teas while munching fresh fruit to your heart’s content in this soothing atmosphere.

You must try the signature Red Door facial as well as the signature Red Door massage. The 50-minute signature facial is customized for your individual skin-type and includes a thorough cleansing, exfoliation, a customized mask and olive oil lip treatment.

The signature massage is also 50 minutes and is specialized according to your individual needs. What is special about this massage is the use of rose oil and shea butter in the routine along with reflexology and acupressure. If you have special needs like a cold or real exhaustion the herbal formula can be adjusted. Prices are a tad steep, running at $90 for service but the friendly staff, great atmosphere and wonderful specialists are worth every penny. All the spa services are available including hair, makeup, manicures and pedicures.

Following your massage, take time to enjoy a gourmet dinner at the Octagon Restaurant where Chef John Trudeau is sure to thrill you with his great steak dishes as well as his unique salads and lobster bisque. I wanted to eat a lot of lobster and this bisque was quite unusual – good but different from my expectations with a fair amount of sweetness. The wine selection is sure to blow you away as will the ambience and décor of this Four Diamond Restaurant. We especially enjoyed the lights twinkling through the bottle wall divider and the open kitchen as well as the competent service and top quality creative selections.

The next morning the buffet breakfast was totally decadent and the dining room packed with multigenerational families enjoying it all. I had samples of all the muffins, eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, potato dishes and more! No waiting just great food and service. One can also order off a breakfast menu. We didn’t eat again for most of the day!

The hotel has conveniently located an espresso bar in the lobby unfortunately using Starburnt coffee but the espresso provided through the dining room was superb.

The Marriott Mystic is also ideal for meetings, conferences and even weddings or parties. There is 20,000 square feet of space available with state of the art technology features that are sure to make your event memorable. Plus the Marriott’s close location to nearby New London as well as Mystic makes for a relaxing weekend getaway. It is necessary to have a car in visiting this area.

Other services and features: babysitting referrals, business center, car rental telephone in lobby, concierge desk, free outdoor parking, gift shop, ice and vending machines, non-smoking rooms, safe deposit boxes, special facilities for physically challenged guests including accessible rooms and TTY communications device, valet laundry service and Marriott Rewards frequent traveler program. Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon onsite offering a fitness center with cardiovascular and weight rooms, hair and nail salon, hydrotherapy room, indoor pool, juice bar and ten treatment rooms.

Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa
625 North Road (Route 117), Groton, CT, 06340, USA
Phone: 1-860-446-2600 Fax: 1-860-446-2601
International Toll-Free: 866-449-7390 Reservations (from U.S. and Canada): 866-449-7390

Southeastern Connecticut Tourism District (covering 21 communities)
800 444 2206

City of New London

Bank Street Lobster House
194 Bank Street
New London CT
(860) 447 9398

New London Shuttle
Eugene O’Neill Drive at Golden Street
New London, CT 06320

The Hempstead Houses
(860) 443-7949

Hygienic Artist Cooperative & Galleries
79-83 Bank Street
New London, CT 06320

The Kirkland House Bed and Breakfast
51 Glenwood Avenue
New London, Connecticut 06320
860 437 7868

Mohegan Sun Casino
1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard
Uncasville, CT 06382

Foxwoods Resort Casino
39 Norwich-Westerly Road
Mashantucket, CT 06339

Ocean Beach Park
New London, CT 06320
(800) 510-SAND
(860) 447-3031.

The Lighthouse Inn
6 Guthrie Place
New London, CT. 06320
Phone: 860.443.8411
Toll Free: 888.443.8411

Amtrak – New London
27 Water Street
Union Station
New London, CT 06320
On board Acela Express, you can plug in your laptop or cell phone, spread out at a conference table, relax in the Quiet Car or enjoy some refreshments in the Café Car. Acela Express also offers an Executive First Class service.

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