Boston. One of America’s most famous cities, home to Harvard University, some of the country’s richest history and the largest city in New England, it makes sense to start a tour of the North East region here.
We arrived in early May – an unseasonably hot day, there was an air of happiness with everyone relaxed, wearing shorts and baseball caps and filling the many open public spaces. We had 2 nights in Boston and a lot of ground to cover. Here is what we got up to:
1. Baseball at Fenway Park
I realised as we walked towards Fenway Park (the oldest ball park in Major League Baseball, built in 1912 and home to the Boston Red Sox ever since) that I had never been to a live professional sporting event! I know that is almost impossible to believe, but it’s true. So to say that I was excited was an understatement. We soaked up the atmosphere in the evening sun as people, some clearly straight from work in suits and ties, milled about eating hotdogs and drinking beer. Our seats were right on the back row, which gave us a great overview of the park.
Baseball is one of America’s favourite pastimes and never before have I felt so simultaneously a part of and apart from American culture. No one seemed to be paying particular attention to the game, yet every now and then a ripple of applause would echo through the stadium, for reasons unfathomable to me. Guys walked up and down the steps with trays of drinks or hotdogs balanced on their heads. We ordered a drink, passing our money down the line and receiving our drinks and change back again. Occasionally, the game would be interrupted by local kids doing performances, tributes to soldiers and police officers, and even a live proposal of marriage at a seemingly random point. After every single pitch, music was blasted out; sometimes the famous ‘Ballpark Organ music’, other times chart hits, and some details of the batter or pitcher appeared on the big screen. The sun was low, casting long shadows of the players across the field, and as the light faded behind the now glowing Coca-Cola sign, so too did the warmth. A strong, cold wind blew through the open bleachers and we snuggled together stubbornly drinking our iced lemonade for as long as we could bear it. We gave up at around 9.30pm (the Red Sox were losing anyway, apparently). It was marvellous fun and a great experience. I recommend it.
2. A Self-guided ‘Freedom Trail’ exploration
Boston is a great city to walk around, and following the Freedom Trail is the ideal way to see many of the city’s historical sights. There’s a handy red line in the pavement to follow and it leads you into some seriously pretty neighbourhoods such as Charlestown, complete with narrow streets, old-fashioned lampposts and the most stunning display of window boxes you’re ever likely to see (I suspect a little ‘one-up-man-ship’ from the house owners, but that’s fine by me). We opted for a self-guided tour so we could do things at our own leisure, but if you so wish you can follow costumed period characters around whilst they describe the history to you – it looked liked great fun.
3. Go to a place where everybody knows your name
In need of some refreshment? A good place to stop is at the Cheers pub. There are actually 2 in Boston. One is on Beacon St (pictured above) and was used for the exterior shots in the actual TV series. The other is near Faneuil Hall and features a reproduction interior. We enjoyed a lovely lunch and much needed break here – having already walked several miles in strong sunshine – which I’m sure made the pink lemonade taste even sweeter. Sadly no one knew our name. Not a soul.
4. Relax in Boston Common
This is just one of many beautiful open public spaces in Boston. A well designed and cared for place for people to relax and socialise, play and recharge, it is thought to be the oldest public city park in the US, dating back to the 1600s. We enjoyed a lovely stroll through the Common in the sunshine. It’s only small (50 acres, compared to London’s Hyde Park at 350 acres, or New York’s Central Park at 843 acres), but it truly is a refuge from the busyness of the city. The spring flowers were all in bloom and there was colour everywhere (you can read more about springtime in New England here).
5. Check out the view from the Skywalk at the Prudential Centre
There is something special about seeing a city from a different perspective, looking down and taking a moment as those below go about their lives. From The Skywalk at the Prudential Centre you can see 360 degrees around greater Boston from 50 floors up. Whilst the view here isn’t famous like the New York skyline, it’s still very beautiful and well worth a look.
6. Visit the Old State House
The Old State House was built in 1713 and housed the early government of the Colonial communities, and was where the Declaration of Independence was read in public for the first time in Massachussets. You can see all kinds of historical artifacts from history, ranging from clothes worn by John Hancock (a prominent Patriot of the American Revolution) to tea from the Boston Tea Party (see below for more details). The building itself stands in contrast with the modern architecture that has developed around it, and when we visited, it glowed in the afternoon sunshine.
7. The Old South Meeting House
The Old South Meeting House was built in 1729 by the Puritans, and was used for public meetings as well as worship. Long story short, in 1773 the British Government introduced the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to ship tea to the Colonies and only allowed certain Loyalist merchants to sell it, with added tax (it is more complicated than this, of course, but this is a blog post!). Increasingly angry meetings were held in the Old South Meeting House between the Loyalists and Patriots, leading to some pretty dire events including the Boston Massacre. A meeting held on December 16th 1773 failed to reach a compromise, and resulted in the Boston Tea Party – the destruction of a shipload of tea in Boston Harbor. It was this event that sparked the American Revolution and eventually the creation of America as we know it today.
We were fortunate enough to visit at the same time as a school group who were re-enacting the events of that infamous meeting. Each child had their own role to play, with a Loyalist group (essentially those loyal to the Crown and British Parliament) and a Patriot group (those opposed to both). We quietly observed the scene play out – the children acting their little hearts out – full of passion and clearly loving every minute of their day out of the classroom. One boy was particularly pleased with his line, “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION”, the small voice echoing around the room as he reacted with surprise at how loudly he spoke, followed by a big grin as he returned to his seat. It seems the British were not very pleasant at all, behaving like a bully stealing the lunch money from the kids they perceived to be weaker. It was an hour or so well spent, even if negotiating the gift shop looking for a fridge magnet whilst 50 children all decided which completely unrelated-to-the-attraction bead necklace or bouncy ball they were going to buy with their $3 pocket money was more than a little frantic.
8. Take a wander around the Reflection Pool and visit the ‘Mapparium’
Another of Boston’s many open public spaces, this is actually called ‘Christian Science Plaza’ as it is the home of the ‘Church of Christ, Scientist’ Headquarters (not to be confused with Scientology – a whole different idea which Tom Cruise is famed for being a part of). The building itself is complex and beautiful, with turrets and domes surrounded by trees and a huge ‘Reflection Pool’, mirroring the buildings at its edge. There was a group of children playing in the fountains at one end of the pond, shrieking with delight as they ran and ducked through the water. You can visit the Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science in 1879) Library, which houses the ‘Mapparium’, a 2-storey stained glass map of how the world looked politically in 1935. It is beautiful, and has the ‘whispering gallery’ effect on your voice which is great fun to try out: Whisper into your chest at one end of the walkway, and your friend can hear you loud and clear on the other end. You’re not allowed to take photos, so this one is from the people at Focus Lighting who revamped the lighting system at the attraction:
Photo Credit: Ryan Fischer, Focus Lighting, www.focuslighting.com
9. Visit the Bunker Hill Monument
The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first battle of the Revolutionary War in 1775 and whilst the Brits won this one, the Colonials put up a great fight and showed what they were made of. The monument is in the Charlestown District, the oldest district of Boston. The pavements are cobbled in places, and the houses closely packed together, painted in bright pastels with American flags flying from many of them. The sound of the breeze gently moving the trees above us was the only sound we could hear until we approached the momument itself. There were many visitors, some opting to climb up the inside of the 221 ft tall obelisk, others (like us) content with sitting on the many benches, recovering our breath and gazing out at the view from the top of the hill. It forms a part of the Freedom Trail, so if you’re taking this walking tour, you’ll see the monument.
Of course there are many other things to do in Boston; these were our highlights and the things that have stuck in our minds. It would be great to hear other’s experiences too.