02 Oct Magical Mystic and Historic Yale
Have I mentioned yet that we love having a rental car? America is perfect for road trips; the petrol is a crazy $2.20 per gallon and the roads are wide and empty, well, at least compared to the UK. It’s so easy to throw all of our stuff into our red steed, Cherry, and zip from one state to the next; we’ve even grown to love the country music station on the radio. After our week in rugged New Hampshire we fired Cherry up and whizzed down to the coastal state of Connecticut.
*Update: you can read our complete 2016 New England Fall Foliage Guide here. This includes tips on where on when to see the best foliage, what to eat, which festivals to visit, how much our fall trip to New England cost and our favourite destinations in New England.*
Touring Historic Yale University in New Haven
New Haven was the first purpose-built city in America, comprised of a walkable nine square blocks which are now surrounded by suburbs. In 1716 Yale moved to New Haven and it’s dominated the city ever since; wherever you go the ornately carved, Harry Potter-esque walls and towers of its buildings are visible. In addition to Yale, there are four other Universities in New Haven, so the city’s streets, parks and cafés are full of students.
According to our guide book, there used to be some friction between New Haven locals and the University, but relations have become more amicable since Yale opened up its resources to New Haven residents, established student volunteer programmes in the community and began donating money to the city.
We were eager to get a glimpse inside the walls of historic Yale, the third-oldest University in the US and one of the most famous and expensive Ivy League schools; it costs $63,000 (£41,500) a year to attend Yale. We signed up for a free tour of the University, led by one of its sophomores called Edwin, an international student from Ghana who gave us many entertaining insights into college life.
Yale was the first University to introduce the grassy quadrangle campus layout copied by most other schools today. Edwin led us into the Old Campus, where students lazed on the grass with friends, sat on benches reading or played football. We saw a statue of Nathan Hale, a former Yale student, known as the country’s first and worst spy after he was hanged by the British after bragging about his cool job. On the Old Campus there’s also a statue of Jeremiah Day, Yale’s longest-standing president, whose foot is often rubbed for luck by visitors, as well as students about to sit a big test.
Edwin took us to Branford college campus next. Yale is split into 12 colleges which students are randomly assigned to, all are connected by underground passageways which also lead to subterranean libraries, gyms, laundries, dining halls, common rooms and even dance studios, pottery rooms and basketball courts. Yale students are actually paid to take part in extra-curricular activities and enjoy trips like apple picking to ‘bond’ with fellow classmates.
All Deans and Masters at Yale live on campus with their families and many have open-door policies where students can drop by their homes to study for tests and ask questions; they also host evenings with special guest speakers, Edwin had recently attended one with David Duchovny. Other celebrities who’ve popped into Yale for these events include Hilary and Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman and Angélique Kidjo. As if that isn’t cool enough, each student also has their own personal librarian.
Our last stop on the tour was the beautiful Sterling Memorial Library, designed by James Gamble Rogers, a famous architect who is responsible for many University buildings. Rogers originally designed the library as a cathedral and upon hearing that Yale needed a library instead, he simply crossed out the word ‘Cathedral’ in the plans and added ‘Library’ instead. Rogers also covered the walls with acid to age the stone, inserted stained glass windows depicting scenes from New Haven’s history, hung a huge painting of ‘Mother Yale’ over an alter and left empty gaps on the outside of the building to suggest statues had been stolen by Vikings. Strange fellow, but imagine studying in that library – amazing.
Stonington and Magical Mystic
While we were in Connecticut we also visited the Mark Twain House in Hartford and took a day-trip along the state’s beautiful coastline. We drove as far as the tiny seaside town of Stonington, which consists of one street of cute cafes and restaurants, a white church, grassy square with a library in the middle and a small sandy cove; Dubois Beach. The weather was warm for September and families were chilling out on the sand as dazzlingly-white sail boats zipped across the horizon.
Just down the road from Stonington we discovered Mystic, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful New England towns we’ve come across so far. The town is famous for its whaling and boating history as well as Mystic Pizza, which was the setting for Julia Roberts’ first film. You can visit the historic Mystic Seaport but we decided against the $25 per person entrance fee and instead headed to Olde Mystic, an old-fashioned shopping village where there was a random garlic festival going on.
Mystic’s real charm can be found in the downtown area, which is separated by a drawbridge. As the last of the afternoon light began to fade we walked down by the river, watching boats and kayaks sail by as people ate ice cream and relaxed in the park. We ventured along the strip of cafes and restaurants on the main street to find dinner; all too soon it was time to bid goodbye to Magical Mystic and hop over to the state next door, Rhode Island.