Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ah, Boston!

Yes, I disappeared for a little while.

I've just come back from spending a long weekend falling in love with a new city and having a little second honeymoon--in other words, travelling alone my husband for the first time in 18 years. It was great.

The new city I explored was Boston. What a fabulous place! My husband left six days before me to take a week-long course at Harvard. His employer asked him to go and footed the entire (hefty) bill. I think he's greatly appreciated in his field.

I flew into Boston on Friday morning and his course ended early Friday afternoon. Within an hour of his arriving back at the hotel, we hit the road running...and walked...and walked...and then we walked some more.

During my four days away from home, I racked up 3 days of 20,000 steps or more. On our last day, Monday, I only did about 15K steps. I have to admit, my unoperated hip is rather unhappy now, but it was still worth it.

I have always lived in walkable cities, so I adored Boston. Our hotel was about a 15 minute walk to the subway (the T). We were about 25 minutes walk from the heart of the Harvard campus, a wonderful exciting area. You can just feel the intellectual effervescence bubbling all around you. Lots of bookstores, music, young people reading great literature while sipping coffee. It made me want to be in my 20s again!

Boston is at the heart of American history. We spent a good part of our time walking the Freedom Trail and seeing some of the most important sites of the American revolution: the site of the Boston Massacre, the port where the Tea Party took place, Paul Revere's house (pop quiz: did you know that Paul Revere's father was French and that the family name was originally Rivoire?), etc. We took a walking tour led by a guide in Colonial dress. He was absolutely fantastic--a great actor, with a booming voice and incredibly knowledgeable. I really learned a lot about American history and I feel I now have a somewhat better understanding of the reasons behind certain fundamental political differences between Americans and Canadians (no, these differences have nothing to do with our relationship with Britain).

We were treated to both warm, sunny weather and rainy, muggy weather. On one of the rainy days, we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, an extraordinary gallery housing the impressive art collection of Isabella Gardner, an immensely wealthy patron of the arts of the 19th and early 20th century. That afternoon, with the rain pouring down, we nipped into the Coolidge cinema in the Coolidge Corner neighbourhood of Boston and bought tickets for the only movie neither of us had seen that was playing that day, a very strange, but quite good indie film called "Another Earth".

For the scientifically minded among you--and even die-hard artsy-fartsies like myself, I recommend the MIT museum. Wonderful.

Of course, we also took a little tour of the harbour. It was interesting, but the heat and all the walking got to me and...I dozed off a bit.

And graveyards, or, as they call them in Boston, burying grounds! I just love to read old tombstones and I got my money's worth in Boston. There's nothing like seeing where someone who died in the 1600s is buried. Just fascinating. Oh, and they used to write the verb "to lie" (as in "here lies John Smith") with a "y": here lyes John Smith. Many stones were also decorated with skulls. Didn't see any angels, just a whole lot of skulls. Hmm.

I was in Boston for two half and two whole days and every single meal I ate there was fantastic (OK, breakfast was pretty ordinary: we bought fruit and cereal at Whole Foods and ate in our hotel room). The Little Italy section of Boston, which seriously overlaps with many of the stops on the Freedom Trail, was full of restaurants. The first evening, we ate at Trattoria Il Panino, splitting a plate of antipasto and a fish dish. Just mouth-watering. If you go to the website, the second picture that comes up on the homepage screen shows the table where we ate (no, that's not us). We had lunch one day at the oldest restaurant in the US, the Union Oyster House. I recommend the clam chowder. A cupful is more than enough.

Eating seafood is a must in Boston. I regret not having had the opportunity to try fried clams (though I did have chowder twice), but I ate some might fine catch of the day at two different restaurants.

For burger lovers, I highly recommend Mr. Bartley's in Cambridge, right near the Harvard campus. We sat at a table with a family from France who had just arrived that day. They were very sweet and seemed to be really enjoying the American burger experience. With the exception of my husband's absolutely stellar homemade burgers, Bartley's burgers are the best I've ever had. You can have your burger with fries or onion rings, but neither hubby nor I did. The burger, with tomato and lettuce was plenty.

Although the streets were absolutely crawling with people carrying Mike's Pastries boxes, we didn't have the urge to try their famous cannolis. Nor did we try the ice cream at J.P. Licks. The meals we had were just too good to need any sweets. And fresh fruit from Whole Foods awaited us back in the hotel room.

The day we wandered around Coolidge Corner, we passed by Trader Joe's. Having heard about it from Ellen at Fat Girl Wearing Thin, I was really curious, but after peeking through the window and seeing that it was essentially a big grocery store, I passed up on the opportunity to explore. We were leaving the next day and I didn't want to have any trouble bringing food over the border. My husband had also heard good things about Trader Joe's. Maybe the next time we're in the States, we'll go in at the beginning of our trip and try out some of their wares.

I'm sure it seems pretty clear from what I've written that I absolutely ADORED Boston. I hope I'll get there again one day!


  1. I spent a week in Boston about a year or so after college and I loved it as well. It's one of the view American cities I've been to, and I'd love to live there. However, it's got some cost of living issues that will probably put it out of my reach.

    I can see why you adored it. :-)

  2. I am thrilled that you had such a lovely trip! Boston does look wonderful!

    Great restaurants...the burger place has hilarious names for their burgers.

    I have always wanted to go to Boston...and now I want to even more.

  3. Early tombstones with the skulls were intended to remind people that no one can escape death, that we are all mortal, and that in the end we are just bones-- this was to keep everyone humble. The skull and crossbone motif lasted quite a while but were eventually replaced with things like trees, nice urns and other more peaceful images as the (remarkably long lived)medieval beliefs of the English lower classes (as many of the early immigrants were) were gradually replaced by the thinking and imagery of the Enlightenment. This can actually be seen spreading throughout New England, from cities to towns, from towns to smaller settlements, in the monuments they left behind. I love archaeology!


  4. i too *enjoy* grave yards and their art. love your report on Boston, and it makes me think more seriously about visiting a couple of friends who live there--one of them is wealthy, and the other is rather poor, so i might end up seeing different Bostons.

    how nice that you could travel for pleasure, and i hope your time with hubby was romantic--so often i find that a bit of new surroundings (even just a tent!) can lend a new spark of light to my loved one's eyes. :)

  5. Barb, Thanks for the explanation!

  6. I'm so glad you had a lovely mini-vacation with hubby in Boston. It sounds like it was educational, exciting, and delicious! Simply wonderful!

    Thanks for the bonus info about Paul Revere. Your blog is always so interesting to read. Love it!

  7. Too bad I was in Maine when you were here! We could have enjoyed a good canoli in the North End or something!

  8. Oh, darn Lori. I don't know when I'll ever get to Boston again! But now that I know you're there...canolis await! You never know.

  9. Whoa. Okay, it's been longer than I thought since I visited, obviously.

    So glad the states gave you a Boston experience. Gives me reason to be proud. I loved Boston too when I visited, er, 25 years ago. Thanks for the flashback -- seafood, history and bookstores. As long as there's a Boston there will always be consumer demand for comfortable shoes, because the best way to get around is on foot, and the terrain, as I recall, is composed of brick streets.