Boston, a city with more than a feeling

by Dreamcatcher64

Boston is the birthplace of American Independence. Blessed with rich history, iconic monuments and sights, it is proud, smart, aristocratic, yet rebellious, funky and irreverent.

I came all the way from the Old World to check out this beautiful and iconic East Coast city.
A weekend is certainly too short a time to see all the magnificent sights Boston has to offer, but it is certainly enough to get enamoured with it.
Here, are some tips to maximise a weekend break in Boston.

Boston's skyline seen from Cambridge with the Charles river in between
Boston's skyline seen from Cambridge with the Charles river in between
Dreamcatcher64

Come fly with me

I am now two and a half hours into this flight and I can comfortably say that the ‘Castelnau Brut Rosé’ has not so much reached to my head but has taken over. Shame we are all crying! I am on my way to Boston for the very first time while enjoying the music playlist on my flight entertainment system. In fact, right now, I am listening to ‘Born Again’ by Big and Rich. Never heard of these blokes but man they sound bloody good! I must check them out on Wikipedia and probably buy or download something from them. It is hard to tell what is worse. The expectation of booking a trip far in advance or counting every hour until the day comes when you pack your suitcase, unleash your dreams and build up your illusions. Finally, the day arrives and you are with the usual butterflies, moths and every kind of living flying object orbiting inside your tummy until you go to the airport. Then you get there, the airport, whatever airport you leave from, with all its grandeur and cacophony of people, wondering aimlessly through its premises. There is excitement of check in, going through security where you are almost made to strip before assembling yourself together like an overgrown Lego character. Then you are airside, the duty free shops, the hundreds of creatures just like you, ready to jet off to far-flung places. Finally, look for your flight’s gate number. Gate number appears, you walk eagerly to the pre-boarding area, dozens of other travellers assembled, each of them with their own personal reason for going where you are, their own story that will have its conclusion at the final destination. You are all waiting to go through the same narrow hallway that leads to that big circular flying machine what will take you to where you are heading to; some will be sat like sardines perfectly lined in nice looking but excruciatingly uncomfortable seats, crammed together for , in this case six and a half hours. Others will experiment the luxurious confines of first or business class, sipping champagne, with á la carte dining worthy of the poshest restaurant you can think of. Well, to be honest I went through all the above motions. Even the few times I have to travel for work, I get that same buzz – probably because I do not do it that often.
Customs House building
Customs House building
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Quincy Market
Quincy Market
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My first American breakfast
My first American breakfast
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Old South Meeting House
Old South Meeting House
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Back in the US of A

This trip has its special meaning. I have not set foot on American soil in over four years and I am damn excited to return after all this time. I may be very set in my European ways, but the USA is a country I cannot tire of visiting; the vastness of it; the diversity of its landscapes, cities, people; a country we all love to criticize yet we cannot do without; and with exceptions aside, one cannot but love the Americans. Their sense of homeland pride, their passion for what they believe in; their welcoming nature; the contributions in all works of life they have contributed to the world, even the way they marvel at the exoticness of lands beyond their borders (Canada and Mexico included). No small wonder they are where they are. There is definitely something enticing of this great nation of the North that draws me back every now and again; not as frequent as I would like, but enough to keep me wanting to repeat my return.

We got there

A timely landing meant I arrived right on schedule a few minutes past eight in the evening. After deplaning, a relatively short waiting time at immigration, where I missed the odd heartbeat or two when stating my reason for holidaying in Boston. ‘Explain sir, your holiday in Boston.’ ‘I am just here on an extended weekend break, sir.’ ‘On your own?’ ‘Well, if I brought the family along, it wouldn’t be a break now, would it?’ I almost cursed myself for the comment, but fortunately, the Immigration Officer saw the joke, smiled, stamped my passport, and wished me a pleasant stay. Now entry paranoia aside, the whole process worked perfectly and rather quickly. Bag was on the carousel about five minutes after I arrived. Outside the airport terminal, I boarded the No. 33 bus, a complementary shuttle, to the airport subway station, which is on the Blue line, less than a five-minute ride. There, I purchased an $18.00 seven-day MBTA pass, cheaper than purchasing an $11.00 for each of the two days I intended to spend in Boston. Three stops later, I alighted at State St and made my way to the Langham hotel, which graciously hosted this humble travel writer. A journey, that from touchdown at Logan airport to walking through the revolving doors of 250 Franklin Street took exactly 71 minutes. Yes, I did time it. By the way, Boston’s subway system was the first underground opened in the USA, dating back to 1897.
Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
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Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall
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Boston - More than a feeling

Founded back in 1630, a century and a bit later, Boston became the birthplace of American independence, a heritage hard to equal by any other city. Many key events of the American Revolution took place here, the Boston Massacre, The Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Siege of Boston. Proud, aristocratic, historic, rebellious, it is no wonder it was on my wish list to visit. From a musical point of view, at least for such a music fan like me, it is important to note that many rock, pop, and generally great music outfits either decided to get born here, or developed their formative years in this city. Prime example include Aerosmith, Boston, The Cars, Donna Summer, James Taylor, Tavares, Joan Baez, and well, erm, what the hell...Back Street Boys.

The Langham hotel

Located in the heart of the Financial District, this iconic hotel was once the Federal Reserve Bank. The building, built in 1922 in a Renaissance Revival style, exudes all the grace and charm its historic name can conjure. A large white and gold coloured marble foyer, in a soberly tasteful decoration welcomes you. Check in and room introduction were completed in a swift and very friendly manner. A couple of Samuel Adams at ‘The Reserve’ restaurant in the lobby and brief visit to ‘The Bond Lounge’ located in the mezzanine where an assortment of glamorous and smartly clad Bostonians welcomed the weekend, just set the mood for a fun weekend. Jetlagged as I was however, my eyes and head just begged for the fluffy queen-sized bed in room 526. A special mention now that we speak of all things booze related. This relates to the very friendly barman Diego at the newly opened ‘Reserve’ restaurant & lounge; in true American barman style, he is a fountain of amiable conversation and friendly service.
The Langham Hotel
The Langham Hotel
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Newbury Street
Newbury Street
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Newbury Street
Newbury Street
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Fenway Park, the home of The Boston Red Sox
Fenway Park, the ho...
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Now back to Boston. After sleeping like a baby, a sensible wake up time, and an invigorating shower, I experienced my first American breakfast in more than four years at Mr. Dooleys, an Irish bar on Broad Street, recommended by the hotel’s concierge. I had completely forgotten what American portions meant! Fortunately, I ordered a half Irish Breakfast, which could have easily fed me, my wife, son, brother, the neighbour’s dog and our combined aunties. I just tremble to think what the ‘whole’ breakfast would look like... welcome to America. Nutritional needs fulfilled for at least a week, I walked over to Washington Street where I took the opportunity to compare between the main mobile phones operators to see which SIM card I should purchase so I can call some dear friends I have in this country. It also makes getting hold of me from the UK cheaper (for me) rather than running up silly bills with roaming. I then walked the remaining length of Washington St until I came to State St, continuing all the way down to Long Wharf. There I took it in turns to explore all the different wharves that have been tastefully and cleverly redeveloped. On Central Wharf, you have the New England Aquarium. Long Wharf was, if not the, at least one of the busiest piers in the busiest port of Colonial America. Nowadays, it serves as principal terminus for cruise boats and Boston Harbour ferries. Long Wharf also holds a hotel, various restaurants, and shops. From there, wind permitting, I just walked across Columbus Park and made my way through the backstreets that lead from Commercial St towards Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. Quincy market is flanked by South and North Market at each side. This market was established in the XIX Century as Faneuil Hall began to grow beyond its originally intended capacity. After perusing the different shops at both markets and visiting Faneuil Hall with all its historic stalls and buying the proverbial T-shirt, I ventured into Quincy Market. A myriad of food stall after food stall, I had to make two rounds before deciding where I was going to whet my appetite for typical Boston fare. In the end, ‘Boston and Maine Fish Company’ stall won my heart (and wallet), and disappoint it did not. A New England Clam Chowder, a small oyster platter and a Sam Adams was enough to entice and cajole my taste buds. It was no small wonder the place heaved with punters. After a very much needed walk back to the hotel, by which time I was starting to regret having purchased the MBTA pass, I made use of the ‘Reserve’ once again before cleansing my body and resting my feet at the hotel’s sauna. The night ended at the Bukowski Tavern, on Dalton Street, just off Boylston Street. This pub is firmly on the list of America’s best beer bars. And all for the wrong reasons. Its exterior appearance is seedy at best and intimidating at worst. As we arrived, a small queue was waiting to be ID checked before being allowed in. We were not required to show any, which I did not know whether to take it as a compliment or just a sad fact that Father Time is leaving his inexorable mark on me. The bouncer (security bloke) seemed very laidback and friendly anyway. Once inside, the place is everything one can expect of a notorious watering hole. Deep rather than wide with little space between the stools at the bar and the wall, dark, heavy rock playing in the background, strangely enough not at eardrum-piercing volume, a large flat screen TV in the background showing a baseball match; Boston Red Sox against Toronto Blue Jays, and every single stool taken. Not surprisingly for a Saturday night, it was full but not crowded. This place, proudly, irreverently and unreservedly – again for the wrong reasons – celebrate the inebriating life and work of Charles Bukowksi. Unlike any other self-respecting bar or pub, all conventional rules of social decor, behaviour and drinking habits are strongly discouraged. The beer list is long as it is interesting, the food menu is rude, unassuming, and although we only drank, I am sure the fare on offer is not the best in town, but again, you do not go to the Bukowski Tavern for its haute cuisine. The clientele was a varied bunch, ranging from beer guzzling human tanks, to geeky statistical searching youngsters, to high ending young women in for the initial poison of their Saturday night sortie, to couples just enjoying the seedy surroundings. If you like your beer, have ever read Bukowski and are not fazed by basic, rough and loud décor, this is the place. The prices are decent, I must add, very much in line with most reasonably priced drinking holes in Boston. The only disappointment I must stress is that the bar staff are actually very nice and friendly – not what I expected of this supposedly seedy, low-life joint.
Massachussets State House
Massachussets State House
Dreamcatcher64

Sunday – Walk this way

The next day after slowly ridding myself of the hangover wrought upon me by last night excesses, I began a marathon walking tour of this compact city. I had taken the very sensible decision to have a more frugal breakfast at Bruegger’s Bagels, on School Street, just of Washington Street. Combining a scrumptious bagel themed breakfast with local history, I perused the very touching Irish Famine Memorial, just opposite the Old South Meeting House. Not much as monuments go in terms of grandeur, but the two statues and various plaques describing the terrible famine that befell the Irish in the 1845 and lasted approximately five years, decimating the population and forcing the luckier ones to flee, searching sanctuary in these welcoming American shores; a place to reflect, no doubt. Walking up School Street, we come across the Old City Hall grounds flanked to its left by King’s Chapel. A statue of Benjamin Franklin and Josiah Quincy stand in the courtyard of this grand building that housed the City Council between 1865 and 1969. To better absorb the history of the city, no better way than to follow the Freedom trail. A 2.5 mile urban walking trail where you will see the sixteen historically significant sites that helped forge the independent movement of this nation. These are marked with bricked or painted red lines. On this occasion, I only managed to cover the route starting at Boston Common as far as Old North church. With only a weekend to play with, time management was paramount if I wished to cover the main sight of Boston. For this matter, I decided to utilise and maximise the value of my MBTA card. Getting off at Park Street I crossed the 50 acres of Boston Common, a beautiful central public park also known as ‘The Common’. Dating all the way back to 1634, it is the oldest park in the USA. Taking in the greenery and fresh – even wintry – spring air, and crossing through the adjacent Boston Public Garden, I arrived at the western entrance that leads onto Arlington Street, immediately making my way to Newbury Street in the Back Bay area. Running from east to west, it finally ends onto Massachusetts Avenue. A mixture of varied architectural styles adorns this trendy street, popular with both tourists and locals thanks to its array of restaurants, bars, designer as well as quirky shops. A definite must for anyone visiting Boston. Parallel to Newbury is Commonwealth Avenue, one of Boston’s major streets that run all the way to the city of Newton. The Back Bay segment of this long stretch of avenue is a parkway, divided at the centre by a wide grassy mall, dotted with statues and memorials. Smart buildings, mostly residential flank this particular stretch of commonwealth Avenue, or Comm. Ave, as the locals refer to it. For the rock fans among you, apartment 41 on 1325 Commonwealth Avenue was the house Aerosmith, Boston’s prodigal sons of hard rock wrote their first songs. Next stop was no other than Fenway Park, home to Boston’s Red Sox baseball team. Finally, and in no small measure determined to maximise the value of my MBTA pass, I made the trip to MIT in Cambridge, and Harvard. The visit to MIT was brief as on one hand the wind/chill factor was increasing exponentially, the closer I got to her grounds, and on the other hand, I had the firm intention of reaching Harvard and hopefully return to my hotel in daylight. Harvard, that beacon and icon of high education, was established in 1636, meaning by this that it is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. Its wealth, influence and history makes it one of the most sought after and prestigious universities in the world. After about an hour marvelling at its campuses and well, pondering at the higher education I never achieved, I made my way back to Boston and to my hotel. Firstly, relax and reacquaint myself with my aching feet in the Jacuzzi, detox in the sauna, pack my bags for my journey back home and down a couple of Sam Adams in the ‘Reserve’ lounge.
Harvard
Harvard
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Harvard
Harvard
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Farewell - don't look back

Boston certainly left a good taste in me. It is a very compact city, easy to explore on foot. I almost regretted spending the $18.00 on the MBTA pass, which was why I decided to make the most of my investment on Sunday. But having walked the walk, I can definitely talk the talk. For good measure, Boston has a lot t be talked about. If some years back I claimed that San Francisco stole my heart, Boston on the other hand nurtured it with its laidback soul, rebellious heart, friendly locals, and delectable seafood – not to mention their Samuel Adams. And I tire not of repeating, the best way to get to know this wonderful town is to walk it. Apart from its iconic landmarks, there will be the hidden gem waiting to be discovered, may that be in the shape of restaurants, bars, residential side streets, or maybe a small park, statue or quirky design shop. But what I think still makes Boston so endearing is its rebellious and quirky spirit. For that reason, I would not hesitate to recommend a weekend break in ‘Bashtan’. For the serial and regular traveller, failure to visit this lovely city should be deemed a cultural and criminal offence. On the fourth day, it was time to rise at crack of dawn, leave the lovely Langham Hotel, and take the T back to Logan airport. With tired feet, a heavy heart but a soul most content I bid Boston farewell with a promise of a prompt return.
Updated: 04/26/2013, Dreamcatcher64
 
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Dreamcatcher64 on 04/28/2013

Completely agree. I happened to be there the week before the bombings. It hasn't hindered my desire to return again though.

EliasZanetti on 04/28/2013

Lately Boston has been the center of attention for ... well ... all the wrong reasons so it's nice to see a travel article. It is, without a doubt, a great destination.

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