Summer is a good time to catch up on your reading and to post a travelogue. Yesterday’s day trip to the Essex steam train and riverboat at the Connecticut Valley Railroad, and recent overnighter to Mystic, featured some good old Yankee ingenuity displayed in the unique features of a couple of funky bridges.
Mystic River Bascule Bridge
I’m somewhat mechanically inclined, however, I’m still not sure how the bridge works, but there are two huge concrete blocks that counterbalance each other through linkages to the span. The massive forms hover above the roadway and look like something out of an old Looney Tunes cartoon, designed to mash Wile E. Coyote into a pancake. “Beep-beep….” When the bridge is down, the span is so low that passengers in small boats need to duck under the structure as they pass. You may also envision the coyote’s spread eagle form plastered to the side of the framework. There is a small boardwalk on the northern end of the bridge with benches where you can sit to take in the scenery. Others fish in the early morning or evening hours.There are many small, interesting shops, restaurants and an ice cream parlor along the main and nearby streets, and of course Mystic Pizza, made famous by the movie of the same name. (Outside of New Haven, the best pizza in CT is not as good as the worst pizza in NYC, but that’s a review for another day). There are other great sights in this quaint little village including the Mystic Seaport which is not to be missed, but if you are a fan of bridges, this is a great one to visit and view in operation.
East Haddam Swing Bridge
The Connecticut Valley Railroad in Essex offers several options that allow you to experience a piece of history riding an old steam train through the Connecticut River valley. My wife and I chose the popular steam train and riverboat combination that takes about 2 1/2 hours. I would recommend going a little early to take a leisurely stroll around the station, gift shop, cafe car, rail yard, steam train museum and gallery to get a good flavor for the experience and to transport you back in time. As I heard the train whistle and felt it rumbling into the station, I could understand the sense of excitement that one must have felt in anticipation of the adventure ahead, the possibilities the train offered in an age without automobiles.The train clattered along through the valley, opening to varied landscapes, boat slips, and marshlands filled with aquatic birds and other wildlife, until we arrived at the dock to make our connection with the Becky Thatcher. Once aboard, we headed up the Connecticut River toward the bridge in East Haddam. Along the way you pass Gillette Castle, high up on the cliffs. There is a separate option to take a short ferry ride across the river and hike about 3/8 mile up one of several trails to get to the castle and state park. On this particular hot summer day, there were many people enjoying the water and weather in boats, on jet skis and swimming along the shores.We passed a hanger with several small aircraft and sea planes as we approached the bridge. Off to the right of the bridge is the Goodspeed Opera House where they feature musicals and original stage productions. The East Haddam Swing Bridge, like the bridge at Mystic, is very odd looking and unique in function. The bridge and roadway swing out 90 degrees at set times during the day to allow the taller boats to travel up or down river. Sadly, I have never witnessed the bridge in operation, but plan to one day. We turned around at the bridge and headed back for the return leg on the steam train. Back at the station, back in the present, we were satisfied with an afternoon well spent.