MYSTIC, Conn. Ten years in Jerusalem, a city with only two significant seasons hot summers and cold, damp winters made me determined to have the best autumn possible my first year back on the East Coast.
So last October, I planned a 1,250-mile road trip from our home in Pittsburgh to make sure my family got to see a real New England fall.
At first, my husband and three children thought I was crazy. But in the end we all enjoyed the festivals, vibrant foliage, towns and cities, and most of all Mystic, Conn., a small town with big attractions.
We started by driving from Pittsburgh to Boston, noting how the colors changed the farther north we drove. The red, orange and yellow leaves encountered along the way impressed my three sons, ages 6 and under, all born and raised in Israel.
We spent hours answering questions about the sun, winter and why leaves change color though our explanations of concepts like chlorophyll did not always hold their attention as well as the DVD they were watching in the back seat.
We spent one day in Boston before continuing the hunt for colorful leaves. We visited the city's Holocaust Memorial with its six glass towers; historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which is more than 250 years old and includes Quincy Market, dozens of food stalls, kiosks and retailers; and the North End, with its cobblestone streets, historic buildings, Italian restaurants and gelati shops. We ended the day in a horse and buggy whose driver regaled us with colorful stories about the city.
Then we headed off to enjoy some coastal scenery. First stop was Galilee Port in Narragansett, R.I., a quaint fishing village about 85 miles south of Boston. A 15-mile drive from Narragansett to Newport on Routes 1A and 138 offered some of our best views of foliage. We stopped at roadside picnic areas along the way to collect leaves and put them between book pages to take home to dry and laminate.
Autumn in New England is festival time. In Newport, we stopped by the Bowen's Wharf Seafood Festival (this year Oct. 18-19), with entertainment and children's activities in addition to lobster, clams on the half-shell and the like. We peeked at the famous mansions and enjoyed the pier, then took a 60-minute ferry ride from Newport to Providence. There, we strolled around the city for a quick look at the statehouse and City Hall. The cool fall breeze felt good on the ferry back, and we pointed out the impressive estates tucked away in the colorful foliage lining the waterway.
Then we packed the kids in the car and drove about 50 miles from Newport to Mystic, Conn. The community of Mystic was settled in the late 1600s, but its main attraction, Mystic Seaport, includes a seafaring village with boats you can tour, an old-time printing office, a 19th-century tavern and a lighthouse. Guides in the working shipyard tell stories about whaling expeditions and other aspects of the area's maritime heritage.
A century-old coal-fired steamboat, the Sabino, offers daily cruises on the Mystic River (through Columbus Day). We arrived in time to catch Mystic's annual Chowderfest (this year Oct. 11-13) in a grassy area perfect for picnicking, relaxing and running around.
MYSTIC SEAPORT: Mystic, Conn., mysticseaport.org or 860-572-5315. Mystic Chowderfest: Oct. 11-13.
OTHER NEW ENGLAND ATTRACTIONS: The Web site new-england-vacations-guide.com has a good overview of events and destinations. Major fall events include The Big E exposition in Springfield, Mass., through Sept. 28; the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield Mass., Oct. 3-13; and the Fryeburg Fair in Fryeburg, Maine, Sept. 28-Oct. 5. Places to hike and enjoy fall foliage include the White Mountains in New Hampshire, visitwhitemountains.com, and Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, travelthekingdom.com.