Snowflakes scurry down from a gunmetal gray sky and land purposefully on the bow of the Charles W. Morgan, America's last surviving wooden whaleship. The otherworldly and achingly beautiful sight of clapboard houses and businesses can be spied beyond the ship, appearing as though photographed through moving curtains of gauze. This gathering of dwellings, strong in the face of wind and water, constitutes the heart and soul of a living and working 19th-century whaling town. Miles from the wide avenues and monument-filled squares and circles of D.C., Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Conn., is as real as the visitor's desire to retreat quietly back in time -- and as close as a few miles south of Connecticut's portion of Interstate 95.

Mystic, Conn.

If you go
Distance: About 350 miles from the District
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Nothing defines Mystic more than its maritime flavor, both in heritage and present-day attractions and activities. To appreciate the best this delightful town has to offer, it is best to think in terms of three distinct areas, all basically within walking distance from one another. First, there is Mystic Seaport. Karin Burgess, a Mystic resident and owner of her own public relations firm from which she writes about the town's charm, extols the seaport as a rare opportunity to experience history.

"Mystic Seaport is a museum and is an entity unto itself," she said. "It is the re-creation of a village from the 1800s with many historic buildings."

Indeed, it is the nation's largest maritime museum which has preserved a number of sailing ships like the whaler Charles W. Morgan, along with seaport buildings such as a barrel maker's shop and a pub. Much like in historic Williamsburg, men and women, dressed as period residents, present a living picture of the past. The seaport is located on the Mystic River, which flows into Long Island Sound, providing access to the sea.

Second, there is Old Mystic Village just northwest of the seaport where visitors can wander the streets to experience interesting shops such as Franklin's General Store and the Blue Squid Bakery & Cheese Shop. It is here that the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration opens its doors to lovers of our ocean planet.

"Just call us the Mystic Aquarium; we're undergoing a bit of branding overhaul," quips PR chief Erin Merz. "We do a lot of research with our animals here -- we like to think of them as ambassadors to those animals in the wild."

Set on 19 acres of land, the aquarium boasts indoor and outdoor exhibits with residents that include three beluga whales from the Arctic Circle and a variety of fish, sharks and penguins.

Across the Mystic River Drawbridge lies the third area of Historic Downtown Mystic with its coffee shops, quirky little bookstores and boutiques along West Main Street. Burgess recommends the Bravo Bravo (you are not seeing double) Restaurant and Bar for delicious seafood blended into classic Italian recipes.

Most visitors looking for a relaxing getaway will find it in Mystic, with as much or as little to do as they please. For that "other place in time" feel, the town's accommodations include places filled with atmosphere such as the Whaler's Inn, and the Inn at Mystic.

Perhaps the traveler might choose to hang a hat for a few nights at the Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast. Now there's a trip back in time.