There are two wonderful things about the Mystic Aquarium: the penguins and the beluga whales. The aquarium has all the fantastic exhibits you would expect from a top aquarium. There are touch tanks with stingrays. Long tubular displays hold floating jellyfish of many varieties. There is a fantastic tank full of sea horses and another giant tank with sharks. There are outdoor exhibits with seals and sea lions. These are all great and would make a trip to the aquarium completely worth it. But the most awesome exhibits are the penguins and the beluga whales.
Mystic Aquarium has African penguins. They are small as penguins go. The exhibit is designed to allow the penguins to rest on rocks above or swim in water below. Visitors can view the penguins from either spot. In the past, we have enjoyed watching the penguins come right up to the glass as they swam in the water. We laughed at memories of Clare being taken by surprised when she was suddenly eye to eye with a penguin. On this trip, the penguins were mostly relaxing on the rocks. Just as we were about to leave the viewing area by the glass, two penguins began swimming high in the water. Unfortunately, there were no eye to eye encounters with the penguins.
There, however, was an eye to eye encounter with a beluga whale. I love beluga whales. Perhaps it is because their mouths seem to be stuck in a permanent smile. Perhaps it is just the adorable shape of their heads. I don't know exactly why I love them, but they definitely make me happy. We were lucky enough to snag a fantastic viewing spot of the belugas at the aquarium and one kept swimming right beside the girls. When the enormous beluga whale would suddenly appear in front of them seemingly out of nowhere, Anne would scream, turn around and run to me. Then she would go back to the glass and wait for him to return. The picture below captures her mid-scream and turn.
We also visited the nearby retreat center at Enders Island. This beautiful island is the perfect place for a retreat. Whether you are sitting in a beautifully manicured garden or on a glacier rock that nature placed there randomly, every spot provides a place for reflection and prayer. The retreat center includes a beautiful chapel built of rock perfectly designed for the environment of the island. If anyone is looking for a place for a spiritual retreat, I strongly encourage you to consider this location.
After Enders Island, we headed to nearby Niantic, Connecticut--home of the Book Barn. The Book Barn consists of several locations throughout Niantic. Its main location is not a single building, but a landscape filled with random structures full of used books. In the midst of these structures are fantastic play areas for kids. There are cats that wander freely and goats that are confined in a fenced area (if the goats were allowed to run free, I'm guessing there wouldn't be many books left to buy). The only thing lacking at the Book Barn is a real bathroom. There are only porta-potties available. Three-year-old Anne desperately needed a potty, but she flat out refused to use a porta-potty. We had to cut our trip short a little bit and the lack of a real bathroom probably cost the Book Barn a larger sale. That being said, I did well in the time we had. On the recommendation of the same friend who initially recommended the Book Barn, I bought several Geraldine Brooks books and I'm excited to read them. Meg and Clare picked out an assortment of books as well, including a couple that they are considering for a book club meeting. Anne wasn't too interested in the books, but she loved a tricycle she found and rode it throughout the grounds and into various buildings. Here are some pictures from the Book Barn.