First, my apologies for what will most likely be a very wordy report. I usually hang out on the New York City board where people appreciate lots of details.
The background: We are a couple of middle-aged Midwesterners with far more wanderlust than time or money. Even so, we have managed to visit many of America’s great cities over the last few years. I am typically an obsessive planner; we always arrive at our destination with itinerary, guidebooks, menus, and transit maps in hand. Like many of you, we usually hit the ground running and cram as much in as possible.
That was never more true than during our two-day visit to Boston two years ago: we saw a lot, but I am not sure we truly experienced or enjoyed most of it. As a result, Boston has been at the top of our “must-return” list since.
That return would certainly not be this year, however. Since school ended in late May, for one reason or another, we have spent far more nights in guest bedrooms, rented condos, hotels, and an RV than we have at home. The last thing on my mind was another trip.
Then, hubby called with a new assignment for me, his mostly volunteer and mostly unpaid travel agent. He needed to spend part of a day in Newton for business. Suddenly, I had one more trip in me, but only if we could we enjoy Boston’s beauty, history, and culture without wearing ourselves out, blistering our feet, and emptying our wallets. Here’s how it went:
Day One—Getting Here: For the first time in two years, the flying gods smiled upon us and all flights were on time with no problems. We landed at Logan a little before midnight, in time to take the shuttle to the Airport T station. Two Charlie tickets for $15 each and our transportation was (mostly) covered for our three days. What a deal!
After less than ten minutes, we arrived at State Station where we walked out and were basically facing our hotel, the Ames. I will write a full review later, but let me say that this hotel was quite nice. It is not the sort of business-oriented hotel that hubby normally prefers, but it was very modern, quiet, and clean. Its best feature is probably the location—quite walkable to lots of locations and 30 seconds from a green line station. We unpacked and got to sleep as soon as we could.
Day Two—Here We Are: After a quick few hours of sleep, we were up and out the door. Our first stop was breakfast at Delicato Café. This is nothing spectacular, but it was quick, filling, and cheap—just what we needed. Then, it was the green line for both of us. The husband rode all the way to Newton where he was picked up and he conducted business. I, however, got off at Kenmore Square and made my way to Fenway Park for a tour.
This was so interesting and so much fun! We are not big baseball fans at all, but this seemed like a great way to spend part of my day alone. Our guide’s enthusiasm and love for all things Red Sox was catching—and his knowledge was astounding. I highly recommend this for anyone.
After that, I wandered around the Fenway store for a bit, then it was back to the T to Park. Lots of tour groups and trolley riders were congregating in this area; I was quite glad to be on my own with my trusty Frommer’s. (Yep, I couldn’t resist one guidebook. Needed that T map, you know.) I followed a suggested walk through Beacon Hill: Joy to Mt. Vernon, Louisburg Square, Acorn Street, Charles Street, and Revere, not necessarily in that order. I know it is not for everyone, but this is my kind of touring. I just ambled around those old streets and sidewalks, snapping pictures and gawking at the architecture and tree roots that were tearing up the sidewalks. I marveled at those old narrow streets and just truly enjoyed a nice morning.
Just before noon, I stopped in at Caffe Vanille for a salad, quiche, and mango iced tea. This was a superb little spot, with tasty food and excellent prices. Then, a little more wandering around Charles Street, then I walked back to the Common. It was getting pretty warm, so I sat under a tree and watched all the families cooling off in the Frog Pond. I was glad I wandered upon that—now I know that it’s a shallow, gigantic wading pool and not a lily pad-covered pond. Everyone was enjoying the afternoon here.
Next, I took the T back to our hotel to freshen up and wait for my husband. He had a little more work to do once he got back to the hotel, but he was pleased with his meeting and we were soon on our way to Harvard Square in Cambridge. He had not had lunch so we decided on a late lunch/early dinner at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage. I had the Skip Gates; hubs chose the Steve Jobs. These were the best burgers we had ever had—truly. I also had my very first Raspberry Lime Rickey; that was wonderful as well. It was raining off and on by then, so we went back to the hotel for a bit.
Convinced the rain was over, we walked the three minutes from our hotel to City Hall Plaza where the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra was playing the first Mayor’s Concert of the summer. WOW! What amazing music—and it was free! We found this interesting: a reporter from the Globe was wandering around, trying to get a quote from a local. He could not find any—it seemed the whole crowd was made up of visitors. Anyway, it was a truly wonderful evening: a dance floor filled with happy people, music by great musicians, and perfect weather. What a night!
After dark, I realized I was a wee bit hungry, so we walked over to Durgin Park where we chose an outdoor table and had the best server of the whole visit. We just wanted a bite or two, but we ended up choosing the most ridiculous combination: Boston baked beans, shrimp scampi, and Indian pudding. (Yes, yes, I know. Maybe we were tired.) The beans were good, but not entirely different from other baked beans. The Indian pudding was tried because this is the only place (Boston) we had ever seen it. I think it must be an acquired taste—and I have not yet acquired it. The scampi, though, was divine. Honestly, I would eat that every day. Three or four times a day. Right now, if I had some.
Finally, it was off to bed for us. We had a full day ahead of us.
Day Three—Maps and a Whole Lotta Water: We started the day with breakfast at Bruegger’s Bagels; again, tasty, filling, and quick. I finished my coffee while we read the plaques across the street at the Irish Famine Memorial. I am mostly Irish and I found this quite interesting. It was probably all information I should have known, but I really never paid attention in history class.
Our first stop today was the Mary Baker Eddy Library. We got off the T at the Prudential stop and walked past the reflecting pool which was anything but calm because of a brisk wind, then we walked past the church and around to the far entrance. This building was beautiful—lots of Art Deco details everywhere. Our reason for being there was to tour the Mapparium, a three-story tall stained glass globe that shows the earth and the countries of the world as they were in 1935. Oh, my, was this unique—and very enjoyable. The tour lasts 20 minutes and is a mix of live and taped narration and some lighting effects. My favorite part was that the acoustics were such that you could hear everyone’s conversations: we stood there staring at the world, listening to at least four different languages. Surreal. Hubby was truly impressed.
Next, we were going to get back on the T but we ended up just walking to Boylston and on to the Boston Public Library’s main building. We grabbed some lunch in the Map Room Café and took it out to a table in the courtyard. What a beautiful space! The weather was just wonderful, too, so this was very enjoyable. You can sit in that courtyard and truly imagine you are in Europe somewhere with its fountain, sculpture, and Italian-looking architecture.
Across the street from the main entrance we took some photos of Trinity Church, the Tortoise & the Hare, and we joined the crowd around that lovely water feature. Really, a perfect day so far.
We stopped by the hotel at this point to change shoes and it was off to the harbor. This was the only part of our two days that didn’t quite go as planned, but it still beat not being on vacation. I bought tickets for the 3 pm harbor ferry out to Georges Island. The young lady at the window explained that they were running about 20 minutes late, so we would leave at 3:20 and be able to return at 5:50, instead of at 5:30. This was important because 5:30 is usually the last ferry of the day back to Boston.
While we waited, hubby rested on the grass on Christopher Columbus Park while I roamed around taking more photos. The weather had brought everyone out: parents with their children were enjoying the playground and fountain, sunbathers were working on their tans, and others were finding all kinds of ways to enjoy themselves here. Beautiful!
Well, 3:20 turned into 4; we finally got on the ferry and headed out at about 4:10. No big deal as we were told we would still have plenty of time. The ride was relaxing and fun; only a handful of people were on the boat so we could easily move around and enjoy the views. We got to Georges Island just about 4:30. Now, I really just wanted to stick my feet in the water and enjoy the day, but my husband was excited to see Fort Warren so we walked all over that place and I pretended to be excited about “ramparts” and “guns.” He was having a great time! When we got to the far side of the fort, we sat for a few minutes and watched a sailboat and a lighthouse out in the distance. A gorgeous day and a lovely moment. By now, it was about 5:15 and I started to get nervous about when the last ferry would really be leaving. As we began walking back, the park rangers were rounding people up and explaining that the last ferry was coming and would leave at 5:30. Oh well, we had seen all of the fort and had a good time--no worries. We got on the ferry and it stopped at Spectacle Island to pick up a few folks there. Then, the captain announced that we were going back to Georges to pick up some folks who had missed the boat. We finally got back to Boston at about 6:30. So, we spent just about an hour on the island, but spent nearly three hours waiting/riding. I don’t regret this choice, but I will probably just take the T to Revere Beach next time.
On to the North End! We wandered around for a while and then chose L’Osteria for dinner. We shared an antipasto plate, hubby had lasagna, and I had a fettucine-like dish with prosciutto, mushrooms, and peas. It was all good, but mine was the best. Service here was just okay; seating people seemed more important than actually serving them, to be honest. By now, it was nearing 8 and we needed to be at the airport by 5:30 the next morning. We left the restaurant intending to go back to the hotel, but the night was just too nice. We walked long enough to eliminate that “boy am I stuffed” feeling and then walked into Café Vittoria. What a gem of a place! We had coffee and dessert and enjoyed the atmosphere—you truly can believe you are in Italy here.
Finally, we made ourselves head back and pack up. The next morning, we took a taxi to the airport (just a little too early for the T) and flew home without incident. The first thing I did was download my photos and share them with my Facebook world because I was still basking in vacation love.
We had a truly wonderful time! Boston is beautiful, historic, and so easy to navigate; we had a tremendous time without wearing ourselves out or spending much money at all. We will most certainly be back someday.