The other day I found myself in Boston. By design of course, not an accident (that would have been very odd), and so I had a day to explore the city. My sister lived there for a while and had good things to say about it, plus of course it has a sculpture of “Make Way for Ducklings”, a perennial children’s favourite for those of American heritage, which I was very keen to see for a small panther-related reason.
As I had other things to do I arrived quite late on Saturday evening and went straight to a bar that a family member had recommended. It did not disappoint, especially the guy behind the bar who had probably behind it for 40 years – a proper character. Whilst I would have liked to have stayed all night, that would have ruined the following day which was when I planned to charge around the city like a mad man. Plus of course I am now properly middle-aged and don’t do all night drinking any more.
So as planned I managed to get up early enough to see the sun rise over Boston Harbour from the North End, and scoffed down a traditional American breakfast to fuel my day. Hashbrowns, bacon, poached eggs and caw-fee. Sated I rolled off into the empty streets near the Coast Guard station and walked at least a bit of it off around the wharves before joining the Freedom Trail near the Paul Revere House. I don’t intend to give a huge history lesson here, but Paul Revere was quite an influential person in the early stages of the American Revolution and the various skirmishes with the English which of course eventually led to the founding of the USA with the July 4th 1776 Declaration of Independence.
I will come back to (and did) the Freedom Trail later, as I was keen to visit Beacon Hill before the crowds arrived and perhaps take a few photos without people in them. Beacon Hill is one of the oldest districts in Boston, a delightful suburb of old house set in leafy streets, some of which remain partially cobbled. It is also the location of “Cheers”, if anyone remembers that, right on Beacon Street.
Across from Cheers was the main event of the day, in the north-east corner of the Public Garden. They did not disappoint. I was read the book very frequently when I was a child, and made sure that our house had a copy when our kids were little, though it probably did not have the same appeal as The Gruffalo. It was still very early with few people about, so I was able to mess about to my heart’s content without shame or embarrassment.
I then took a very lengthy walk along the south bank of the mighty Charles River to MIT on the north side. The weather was great and with a nice breeze blowing it was extremely pleasant. Not much bird activity beyond Common Grackles and eponymous Mallards, but then I did not have bins and wasn’t in birding mode anyway.
MIT is very grand, especially the massive Dome, and I have to say it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I guess the name “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” conjures up images of gleaming space-age buildings. Whilst there are some of those, actually it was founded in 1861 and so a lot of the campus is old and imposing. By now it was mid-morning and a lot of the students were beginning to wake up – I am not sure how many students there are but the campus is enormous.
I pushed on – literally, I rented a bike – to Boston’s other major campus, Harvard. Technically it is in Cambridge, but there is no telling where Boston ends and that begins. This is much older than MIT, and you can see why the town’s name was changed to mirror that on which it was modelled. I’m from the original Cambridge, and was keen to see if lived up to its namesake. I did and it didn’t – it clearly felt like a university town, and the campus squares with lawns also emulated my home town, but fundamentally it is just not as old. Harvard was founded in 1637, some 400 years after Cambridge, and that is quite telling when it comes to buildings and architecture. What it does have in common is the number of tourists wandering around, of which today I was one! Still, it had a nice feel about it, and I spent some time listening to a choir rehearsal in the chapel, and then a pleasant half hour in the world-famous Harvard Book Store where I added to my meagre luggage.
By now it was time for lunch, so I hopped on the tube and went back south to China Town. Sunday is a big day in China Town, and the city’s Asian residents were out in force enjoying their afternoon. I watched a bunch of old guys playing cards and chain smoking, and window-shopped numerous bakeries. This along with all the walking and cycling I had done confirmed that my large breakfast had completely disappeared and I was in need of more food. Nothing enormous and American, just a snack, so what better than Dim Sum? The Empire Garden was enormous, a sea of tables between which staffed pushed trollies of fresh steamed dumplings and other treats. It used to be a theatre, and it has all the faded opulence that you would expect. Dim Sum comes in baskets of four, which obviously wouldn’t be enough, whereas eight would probably be too many. I had eight. And an egg custard tart for good measure – I had a lot of walking still to do.
Finally I found myself at Boston Common and the start of the Freedom Trail that I had intersected in the North End. The Freedom Trail is a self-walking tour that takes you from the Common and past numerous historical markers to Bunker Hill, site of a famous revolutionary battle between the English and the American colonists and today of a huge obelisk. Boston has a huge amount of late-colonial and revolutionary history. Some of its most notable residents were instrumental in the founding of the United States (13 of them in 1776!), and indeed some of their signatures are to be found on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness etc etc. )
Founding Fathers like Samuel Adams (after whom the beer is named) and John Hancock were from Boston, and are interred in the Granary Burying Ground, which is perhaps the second or third stop on the trail. South Church Meeting house is also on the trail, and is where the Boston Tea Party (not actually a social event!) and other acts of resistance were organised. Anyway I followed this trail almost all of the way through the city, zigzagging from historical waypoint to waypoint (via a canoli in the Italian district!), before finally finding what I had been looking for all along just over the North Washington Street Bridge, a bar!
Perfect. Time to try a selection of north-eastern American pale ales. Although the concept started in the Pacific northwest, I was delighted to find that one of the first pioneering beers was brewed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Boston’s own Paul Revere’s midnight ride in 1775 when he snuck across the river to warn the colonists that the English were on their way. The tradition is alive and well in New England, and I enjoyed two great beers from Maine washed down with some Clam Chowder. While in Boston….
And that was it really. I had a quick look at Bunker Hill and at Old Ironsides, but I needed to get to Logan for my flight home and work on Monday morning. Due to striking pilots I had to go via Dublin which wasn’t much fun as it’s a five hour flight which results in a fairly meaningless amount of sleep, but I was able to freshen up on arrival and get myself ready for work before the short hop to London City.