A walk through historic Boston (travel article)
This is a little travel article that I wrote for The National on Saturday’s Travel section. Every week, page two of the section features an series called “My Kind of Place.” The idea is to have a small city guide that has been written by someone who has not just visited the city, but is familiar with it in a more personal way. The article is split into sections about why to go, where to stay, what to do, etc. I wrote about 1600 words, but the article had to be shortened to fit on the page. I’ve had other words printed in the newspaper, but this is my first actual article for the paper. The photo is from my most recent trip home this past August.
Here’s a link to the article on the new National website:
Boston is not the city you might think it is. It’s a big city in a surprisingly small area. It’s not New York, it’s New England; with red and orange leaves in the fall, and a winding river with sailboats and kayaks. Boston is the America you read about in history books. The pilgrims landed near here, the Revolutionary War was fought here. A walk through the city is an introduction to the founding of an entire country. With 52 colleges and universities in the city, it’s an educational hub, with tens of thousands of students from all over the world moving in every fall. There are museums and theatres, and amazing restaurants and concerts, but it also has a real sense of community, with each neighbourhood standing out as a distinctive part of the city. Bostonians are intensely proud of their home town. You’ll get off the plane, hear the locals talk as if they were extras in Good Will Hunting, and wonder: are they are for real? Yes, they are.
> A comfortable bed
Boston is a walking city, so you’ll want to stay in a central location. The beautiful Ritz Carlton, Boston Common, recently renovated in 2008, sits between the posh shopping area of the Back Bay, and the city’s largest park, known as the Boston Common and Public Garden. Rates start at US$452 (Dh1,660) per night for a single or double room, including taxes (www.ritzcarlton.com; 00 1 617 574 7100).
If you want to stay somewhere a little different, the Beacon Hill Hotel (& Bistro) offers 12 uniquely decorated guest rooms in two 19th-century townhouses in the blue-blooded Beacon Hill neighbourhood. A common roof deck offers a chance to mingle with other guests, while the small elegant rooms featuring shuttered windows overlooking Charles St keep the hotel from feeling too much like a hostel (www.beaconhillhotel.com; 00 1 617 723 7575). A double room starts at $246 (Dh904) per night, including taxes and breakfast for two at the award-winning Beacon Hill Bistro.
> Find your feet
The best way to start exploring the city is to put on some comfortable shoes and take to the street. Most of the main neighbourhoods – the Financial District, Back Bay, the Theatre District, the North End, Beacon Hill – are all within walking distance of each other. A classic route to follow is the Freedom Trail: a 4km line of red bricks that begins at the Massachusetts State House (the seat of the state government) and ends in the cute Italian neighbourhood of North End. Along the way, the trail visits 16 historical sites from the American Revolution including the Old North Church (“The British are coming!”) and the USS Constitution. If it’s too cold or rainy to walk – and there’s a fair chance that it will be – you can just jump on the “T”. Short for MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority), the T is the oldest underground subway system in the United States. The bus system is a bit confusing, but the colour-coded subway map is easy to navigate, and will get you to anywhere you need to go, including the airport.
> Shopper’s paradise
In need of a lobster-shaped coffee mug? A T-shirt that says “pakh the cah in hahvahd yahd”? Look no further than Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. This area has been a marketplace since 1742, although the building itself was rebuilt in 1762 and then again in 1898. Alongside the touristy knick knacks, there are rows of push carts featuring the work of local artists, a few larger stores, and a variety of restaurants. Keep an eye out for street performers and re-enactors in Revolutionary War dress playing the fife and drums. There is also a farmers’ market every Monday and Wednesday across the street at City Hall Plaza.
For more serious shopping, head straight to Newbury St and Boylston St. The parallel streets run the length of the Back Bay neighbourhood. The stores are almost perfectly lined up according to price, so use the alphabetised cross streets (A-H) to find your bearings. Jump on the Red Line and head to Harvard Square for some alternative shopping. Located in Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston, Harvard Square has a feeling all its own and features offbeat bookstores and art galleries.
> Book a table
You can’t visit Boston and not have clam chowder; the best is found at Legal Sea Foods. A bowl is a reasonable $6.95 (Dh25) and comes with oyster crackers and fresh bread. The rest of the seafood menu is equally delicious. There are 10 locations in Boston, but for the best oceanfront feeling, visit the one at Long Wharf, near the Aquarium (225 State St, 00 1 617 742 5300).
Feeling like something a little more raw? The Neptune Oyster (63 Salem Street, 00 1 617 742 3474) is a hip, intimate little restaurant located in North End. Don’t be put off by the stylish interior and its frequent placement on top 10 lists, the atmosphere is actually very relaxed and welcoming. Stop by early to avoid a wait; it is very popular and doesn’t take reservations. Entrees start at $24 (Dh88).
For an after-dinner treat, indulge in a taste of Italy. Everyone knows about Boston’s Irish history, but there is an equally strong Italian heritage, and its epicentre is the North End. Try an amazing cappuccino at Caffe Vittoria (290 Hanover St; 00 1 617 227 7606), and then move next door and sample the cannoli at Mike’s Pastry (300 Hanover St; 00 1 617 742 3050).
> Meet the locals
There is no better place to meet a true Bostonian than at a Red Sox game. Take in America’s pastime at Fenway Park, the oldest baseball park in the country, and the seats are just as cosy as they were in 1912.
> What to avoid
Driving. Motorists are notoriously aggressive, the streets are sometimes confusing, parking is expensive and hard to find, and traffic wardens rarely miss an opportunity to issue a ticket.
The “duck tours”. Fun for kids, the amphibious vehicle tour of the city verges on the cheesy for adults (you are actually asked to quack). It’s also a bit pricey (adults pay $31 [Dh114], kids age 3-11 pay $21 [Dh77]).
> Don’t miss
Fall is a beautiful time to visit New England, and a uniquely Boston fall event is the Head of the Charles Regatta, a rowing competition held every year during the second to last weekend of October. The regatta is the largest of its kind, and it attracts the most elite rowers from all over the world.
The Museum of Science (www.mos.org) may be aimed at children, but the exhibits are truly fascinating for people of all ages.