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Go for a Mystic experience in a state that proves size isn't everything

WHERE New England really resembles old England is in the question of size. In places such as Connecticut, you won't need to worry about driving for hundreds of miles along dead straight roads which fuse into far, misty horizons. From east to west Connecticut is barely 100 miles across and, from north to south, even less than that. The second smallest state in the land, it's of a size that Belgians would recognise.

On the subject of smallness, the capital city, Hartford, has a population of only 125,000. In the middle of the 19th century, Mark Twain called it the "handsomest town" he had ever seen. Now, though, it seems to have degenerated into a dull little business centre with no residents but lots of commuters in cars. Ironically enough the only interesting thing left is Twain's own house (which was built after the above remark of his had been made).

No matter. The coastal towns have a lot more going for them. The improbably named Mystic contains one of the world's great seaport museums, inaugurated more than 60 years ago. These days the museum comprises over 60 historic buildings, all populated by that American speciality "people from the past" - costumed attendants who talk about their imaginary business.

Visitors can idle away their afternoons aboard whaling ships, schooners and square-rigged sailing ships.

Come the evening, they can then get a take on the curious state of race relations in the US by visiting the Foxwoods High Stakes Indian Bingo and Casino, a gambling emporium run by the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe in the nearby town of Ledyard.

If that all sounds a bit fake, drive a few miles up the coast to the borough of Stonington which is no theme park, but a real 19th-century town, trapped in a time-warp by the end of the land and sea traffic between Boston and New York.

Not that Stonington is the last word on old stuff in Connecticut. Over in the north-western part of the state where the hills roll towards New York is the town of Litchfield, a place which prospered not on the railways but even on the 18th- century stage-coach routes. In fact it was the advent of the train that stifled the development of the place, and saved it for tourism. Come for grand old wooden houses, broad lawns and leafy avenues.

Having thoroughly explored the second smallest state, you might even have time to visit the smallest state of them all - neighbouring Rhode Island. It won't take long.