Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Weekend in Boston

Aaaah…. Boston.  Beantown.  The Hub (of the Universe).  The Cradle of Liberty.  The Athens of America.  The Walking City.  Whatever name you choose to go with, there’s certainly a character to this metropolis that entices anyone from history buffs, to sports enthusiasts, foodies and scholars… pretty much anyone with an appreciation for how America evolved (and in this case conserved) over the years.

It seems like “the first”, “the oldest” is still present around every corner and well blended in with the new.  There are 17 and 18 century buildings and churches still standing tall (and well preserved) among modern structures.  Newbury Street – Boston’s answer to Rodeo Drive – is a prime representation of this, with essentially every luxury retailer, elegant cafés and beautiful churches lined up in a harmony of color and style.   Then there is the Old Town, where skyscrapers – although clashing here and there with the old edifices – bring a sense of continuity to it all…

 Newbury Street - shops and old churches

The neighborhoods are just as unique, yet well-blended into the city’s canvas: from the North End (where it seems you’ve instantly left the States and are deep in the heart of southern Italy), to ‘old-money’ and affluent Beacon Hill, or the equally vibrant and upscale Back Bay, to ethically-mixed South End, Chinatown (although not one of my favorite when compared to San Francisco, LA or NY), the Financial District and the Waterfront, it just seems like you’re visiting seven cities at once, although most often you’re just rounding the corner only to be surprised by an entirely new perspective!

 Beacon Hill
 South End - Union Park
Old State House with downtown skyscrapers in the background

Did I also mention the water surrounding the city on 3 sides?  Charles River and Massachusetts Bay, tying it to the Atlantic?  The city claims the oldest industrial and fishing port in the Western hemisphere.   Anchored in the Boston Inner Harbor, in Charlestown, USS Constitution is the oldest (1797) – and still active – vessel in the U.S. Navy.  The cadet giving us a tour didn’t fail to mention ‘her’ 32-0 undefeated record in battle (outstanding when you compare it with similar records from the likes of the Bruins or the Celtics… hi,hi,hi).

 Boston Harbor
 USS Constitution
...the galley

And just down the river, in Cambridge, the oldest and most famous higher learning institution: Harvard University (1636).  Beautiful campus, I might add.  With MIT just minutes down the street (and a few other top-notch schools in the area) Boston attracts the brightest minds (and ‘fullest pockets’) when it comes to education.  The pedigree extends way back to 1635 and the oldest public school in America: Boston Latin School, which among its alumni counts the likes of Ben Franklin [whose statue is erected on the site of the old wooden school], Samuel Adams and John Hancock. 

Harvard - welcomes you with open doors (if you have the money or the brains)

Other notable “oldest or first” sites in Boston:
  • The subway (opened in 1897)
  • The Public Garden (1837) – oldest public park (also containing the world’s smallest suspended bridge)
  • Fenway Park (1912) – oldest sports arena in the U.S.

Images from the Public Garden with George Washington on a horse and the famed swan boats 

But enough with the intro and stats.  Is a weekend enough to take in the city with all it has to offer?  Barely.  Unless you travel with me and brought a good pair of walking shoes!  So let’s go:

Tourist ‘traps’ abound – of course – but it’s part of the deal.  Union Oyster House – the oldest restaurant in the States, which opened in 1826 – is one of those.  The Kennedy clan frequented it (JFK allegedly had a booth there) and Louis Philippe – king of France – lived upstairs while in exile here in 1796.  The building itself dates back to 1704.  But one can avoid the long lines and find better food elsewhere.  Ditto for Faneuil Hall.  Souvenir carts and shops, food stalls, the whole ‘tourist-friendly’ arsenal…  But too crowded for my taste.  Maybe it was just the light drizzle who prompted everyone to run for shelter…   

... and back in the day
The Union Oyster House today...

Faneuil Hall

Across the street, another busy setting around the Aquarium on the waterfront.  Tour boats of all sizes and shapes, a few more restaurants and gift carts.  At the Chart House (another 1700’s building that had a musty and faint barn-like ‘aroma’) we did finally ‘break-down’ for a big lobster, amazing bisque and excellent chowder.  When in Rome…

Another 5-10 minutes’ walk from the Long Wharf and you’re in the North End neighborhood.  They might as well call it ‘Little Italy’, for everything on Salem and [especially] Hanover Streets screams ’Italian’.  Quaint little restaurants opening onto the sidewalk [where patrons often wait for an open table], authentic cafés serving the best Italian espresso and gelato, and the ever-present ‘nonni’, puffing on cigars and acting like they own the place.  This is the oldest neighborhood in Boston, and although many ethnic groups claimed it as their ‘home’ over the years, the Italians clearly define it today.  Sunday service in Italian at St. Leonard clearly attests to that.

In terms of restaurants, they are all highly rated and I imagine the kitchens are run by old Italian ladies who put a lot of soul into their cooking.  We were drawn to this area every day, had some great pasta dishes, but the pizza at Antico Forno was just simply phenomenal.  Very close – if not better – to what I had at John’s on Bleecker years ago in NY.  And for desert, Mike’s Pastry – a Boston institution in its own right – seemed to be “the” place, judging by the line that perpetually stretched around the corner, regardless of time of day.  But the wait for the best cannoli I ever had was well worth it.  No wonder everyone was walking around with a string-tied box of southern Italian goodies.     

Check out the line outside the pastry shop... and the guy's smiling at the cannoli pictures on the wall!

The only slight regret was not being able to get into Neptune Oyster – a tiny restaurant that claims the top spot for bivalves and lobster rolls.  The no-reservation policy coupled with the hour-and-a-half wait didn’t sit well with the hunger pains at the time ;-) … as an alternative, B&G Oyster (this one, equally small but in the South End) was on the menu for late lunch next day.  The oysters were very fresh with a dozen different options available, but the lobster roll did not live up to expectations.  Average at best :- (

Paul Revere and the North Church
But back in the North End for a second.  Paul Revere’s house is up there (which I didn’t really care for) but we did swing by the North Church, where they hanged the two lanterns announcing the arrival of the Red Coats.  Now, call me ignorant, but this Revere guy is considered such a hero of the Revolution when all he did was ride up to Lexinton to bring the bad news.  Two others [William Dawes and Sam Prescott, the latter being the only one who actually made it to Concord, where the militia arms were stored] had similar journeys, bearing the same news, but since they weren’t immortalized in Longfellow’s poem, they barely receive any historical credit for their efforts.  So with all due respect for the likes of Samuel Adams, John Hancock and the American Revolution, I just can’t get into the whole Paul Revere deal… If it wasn’t for him, any of the others would have brought the news to Lexington anyway.  Oh, and of the 3 mentioned above, Paul revere was the only one captured… ‘Nough said…   

Regardless, as I mentioned earlier, history buffs would have a field day – literally and figuratively – in ‘The Cradle of Liberty’.  Everyone else would enjoy it equally, for it has so much to offer.

 The Public Library
Capitol Building
Downtown and the Theater District
An Episcopal church on Newbury and The Trinity Church
 Downtown view from across the Charles River
 The Liberty Hotel - a former county jail - provided an interesting stay...

...and a couple more views from the harbor:

No comments:

Post a Comment