Our New England Journey: Goodbye Chicago, Hello Mystic
2 Oct 2012 - Chicago ... another world away, except we’d barely left it 12 hours ago. I couldn’t even manage to blog about Chicago, much as I loved the city and the vibe and went nuts over their restaurants: Carmine’s, The Girl & The Goat, Piccolo Sogno. The mere mention of them sends me into a salivating frenzy still. Our hotel, The James Chicago, was contemporary, stylish, ideally located at the heart of Chicago’s world famous Magnificent Mile and steps away from Michigan. That just about ticked all the boxes for me. As for the city of Chicago itself, with charm and personality oozing out of its pores, it’d have to be one of the most exciting cities I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. So why no blog?
I was in Chicago for a very personal reason. Reuniting after 30 years with the closest person I’ve ever known to a sister, my cousin Ines, those four days in Chicago were jam-packed with emotion. Filled with tears of laughter and joy on the onset, we held hands as we walked Chicago’s streets like the children that we once were. Peter and I met her husband, Charlie and children, Joseph, Ana and Mike for the first time, all wonderful human beings. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As we expected, the day we had to say goodbye triggered in us both the separation anxiety that we felt as children. But despite it being sad, it was with the committment of seeing each other annually, either in the US or another destination. Isn't travel a wonderful thing? The morning after, Peter and I caught the short flight from Chicago to New York, where we would be grabbing a car and begin our fall journey across New England.
Arriving Into La Guardia & Aussie Drivers Discriminated Against By Car Rental Companies:
After Chicago, I wasn’t in great shape. Wrung out emotionally and with my lower back ravaged by the rigors of globe trotting - sorry, Chicago, your “chiro’s” have nothing on my Osteopath in Sydney - I arrived in New York’s La Guardia exhausted and sleep deprived from the night before. Although Peter wasn’t faring any better, he was momentarily buoyed by the victory of having outsmarted the system by getting our car rental rates from Dollar at US rates (as opposed to higher rates offered to Australians).
For those of you who are non-Aussies, let me explain what I mean by that last sentence: International car rental companies protect their Australian franchises by having car renters stipulate which country they’re renting from on their online booking systems or automatic tele-prompters, thus automatically thwarting non-US citizens from getting the best car rental rates. As a result, us Aussie drivers pay up to 50% more for our car rental in the US than US citizens. Unfair? Yup. Discriminatory? You bet! Frustrated by the system and resenting red tape in general, Peter phoned Dollar car rental directly and made sure that he spoke with a person rather than a machine. By taking the time and the trouble to speak with a person, he was able to negotiate a great deal and save us a whopping $900 from our total car rental for our New England journey. Pat on the back, Peter!
But back to La Guardia Airport.... while Peter was chuffed about his car rental saving on the one hand, one of our pieces of luggage went AWOL and ended up on the flight after ours on the other. (Sigh) You take the good with the bad when traveling. OK, no big deal. At least we knew where it was - we hung around the airport and had lunch as we waited for the next incoming flight from Chicago, albeit an hour and a half later. By the time we retrieved our wayward suitcase, our timetable had been set back for a couple of hours. This meant that by the time we pick our rental car up, our hour and a half drive to Mystic (Connecticut) ended up taking 3 and a half hours on freeway peak hour traffic. As if we weren’t feeling like sloppy rags enough as it was, the skies opened up and it started to pour. Grrreat.....
Arriving in Mystic:
Hmmm, Mystic. A quaint and charming coastal town in Connecticut. It was 6:45 pm, dusk had already fallen, and it was pissing down with rain, excuse the French. And where on God's Earth was the Steamboat Inn? Our GPS was telling us to turn left, but all we could see was a parking lot. We were irritated, desperately tired, and busting for a pee. Pulling into the parking lot, peeling ourselves off the car seats and braving the rain, we went in search of some locals. Running into a cute little pizzeria, we accosted a young guy and his date at reception, ruining their ‘moment’.
“Yeah, you do go right through the parking lot to the very end. You’ll find the wharf there and the Steamboat Inn. The inn will give you passes for the parking lot so you won’t have to pay.”, he said. I’ll never curse our GPS again.
After passing rows of cars and character filled Cape Cod style buildings, we finally found the Steamboat Inn. Never have we been so relieved to walk into reception! After checking in and bringing our luggage up to Room #6, Marie Gilbert, our stress melted away as we looked out the window onto the water. Ahhh, home for the next 2 nights.
Brushing our teeth and throwing something warm on, we borrowed an umbrella from reception and crossed the bridge to Holmes Street, to a highly recommended restaurant called S & P Oysters. With a table by the window overlooking the river, we were served by a delightful waiter named Justin. “That’s my son’s name!”, I said. I could tell that the day would end on a good note. Over a couple of glasses of a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (me) and Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir (Peter), I shared a spinach & goats cheese salad with Peter, followed by Yellowfin Tuna wood grilled and brushed with a miso sesame ginger sauce, topped with a Napa cabbage salad served over a yucca croquette. (Sigh) No dessert. We didn’t need any.
After an intensely emotional weekend in a big city like Chicago, and a super long day in transit, it was lovely to come back to a small town where we didn’t need to do much more than stroll around, look at the arts and crafts stores, and chill. A town like Mystic is made just for that.