Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Bean(town) There, Done That: Recapping a Fantastic Four Days in Boston - Travelogue and Photo Gallery

Old State House
Travel Recap

Boston, MA
Aug. 2-5, 2018

Why did I recently go to Boston, for a 4-day weekend?

Is it a city I'd never been to? Do I have friends, relatives or business there? Was there a concert by Bruce Springsteen or other cherished musical favorites? Is its famed baseball stadium one I haven't attended? Was there a particularly compelling theater production in town?

No, no, no, no and not one that was the impetus.

I consider Boston one of the truly great American cities, along with New York, Washington, San Francisco, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and my hometown of Chicago. (There are many other cities I really enjoy, including Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Denver, Seattle, St. Louis, Atlanta, Cleveland and San Antonio, but I consider the above a cut above in terms of tourism, with Las Vegas and Miami Beach being separate cases.)

And though I'd been to Boston twice before, and seen many of its top attractions, I had really only spent a total of 4 previous days there, and none since 2000. (I've been to ALL of the aforementioned cities, even the second batch, more recently.)

Boston Public Library, McKim Building
So although my big vacation of 2018--to Peru--ended just 5-1/2 weeks prior, it seemed prudent to visit Boston for a full 4 days in early August...and the weather cooperated well. 

Having never set foot in Maine, I considered taking a bus to Portland one of the days, but ruled that out fairly early in my planning given all I wanted to do in Boston. 

And I ended up wishing I had devoted one more day, allowing me to visit the historic nearby hamlets of Lexington, Concord and Walden, but I'm happy with everything I did in Boston (and adjoining Cambridge).

So I won't make this too fancy, but rather a straightforward recap of what I saw, did and ate across the four days.

Interior of Trinity Church
● Arrival via Logan Airport from Chicago O'Hare on American Airlines

● "T" (Boston subway) from Airport to Prudential (purchased 7-day T pass)

Boston Public Garden
● Copley House (non-traditional hotel) - Booked via Booking.com - Costing roughly one-third of any other accommodations I could find in downtown Boston, I had a private room in a row house at 240 W. Newton, close to the Prudential Center. This wasn't an AirBNB, and there was a reception office across the street. I found it quite acceptable.  
● Prudential Center - A shopping center I walked through on my way elsewhere.

● NewsFeed Cafe - In the newer building of the Boston Public Library; I had an apricot croissant.

Massachusetts State House
● Boston Public Library - After entering through the newer building designed by Philip Johnson, I realized the older building next door was the one I was really supposed to check out. It was gorgeous, with many grand murals, including by John Singer Sargent, Edwin Austin Abbey and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. A reading room called Bates Hall is also astonishing.

● Trinity Church - I took a self-guided audio tour of this spectacular church at Copley Square, and was even treated to a local choir singing live from the altar.

● Newbury Street - Walked down this posh street for a stretch toward the Boston Public Garden, ducking into the Taj Boston hotel for a look, but the lobby wasn't anything particularly special.

● Boston Public Garden - A gorgeous open space on a beautiful day.

● Cheers - Formerly the Bull & Finch Pub, the exterior served as that of NBC's hit sitcom. Now there's a barroom matching that of the TV show, as well as another in original form. I've been here twice before and didn't eat or drink this time, but wanted to stop by. Nobody knew my name.

● Massachusetts State House - I couldn't help but snicker sophomorically at signs directing me to access the capitol through the General Hooker entrance (Joseph Hooker was a Union Army General), but enjoyed a nice tour of the building, including two
Red Sox vs. Yankees at Fenway, under a blood red sky.
statues by Daniel Chester French.

● Freedom Trail - Time constraints didn't allow me to arduously follow the red line on the sidewalk, as I have previously, but I got to most of the sights on either Thursday or Sunday.

● Holocaust Memorial - Six glass towers represent the 6 million Jews who were murdered.

● Union Oyster House - Open since 1826 and claiming to be the oldest operating restaurant in the United States, it's rather touristy and I've been here before. But it seemed like the place to get a Lobster Roll and a cup of "chowda." Loved the cornbread and my waitress was wonderful.

● Fenway Park - Red Sox vs. Yankees - I felt fortunate to get a reasonably-priced ticket on RedSox.com, found that it was behind a pole that blocked my view of home plate, was switched to one that did but went back to my original when it started to rain. The rain stopped and the Red Sox won 15-7. As a Chicagoan and Cubs fan, I find Wrigley Field much more endearing, but it was cool to see a game at Fenway, actually my second (after a 22-1 Yankees win in 2000).

Dance at Bougival, Pierre-August Renoir
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
One of the primary reasons for wanting to revisit Boston was to go to art museums, 2 of 3 I'd never been to. So in saying that--due to rain or the threat of it--pretty much all of Friday until the evening was spent inside museums only reflects day-to-day scheduling adjustments, not a compromise or change of plans.

From my hotel, I basically just walked southwest on Huntington Ave. Without any prior awareness, I stopped for a bite at:

Temptations Cafe - I had a Sweet Temptation brioche sandwich with banana and Nutella.

Then, because it opened at 10am, I began at the: 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - I initially jumped on a highlights tour, but a fire alarm interrupted it as the building was evacuated. I would return afterward, and pretty thoroughly explore the MFA's wonderful multidisciplinary holdings.

But during the forced exit, I went over to the: 

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - The private collection of its namesake, still organized to her exacting specifications nearly a century years after her death. Despite missing some masterpieces due to a 1990 theft, it is a very impressive collection housed in a mansion designed to resemble a Venetian palazzo. Highlights include a couple of paintings by Raphael, a Botticelli (and another by his followers), a terrific Rembrandt and many beautiful tapestries.

Before an evening concert, I stopped at:

Legal Harborside - A waterside outpost of Legal Sea Foods. Having had a lobster roll the night before, I opted for a Swordfish Gyros Sandwich, which was good. The restaurant is right next to the big white tent of the...

● Blue Hills Bank Pavilion at which I saw Ann Wilson / Jeff Beck / Paul Rodgers on their Stars Align Tour - Two great rock and roll singers--Wilson of Heart and Rodgers of both Free & Bad Company--along with one of the best guitarists ever. Although it may have been cool to see them play together, they each performed their own set with a backing band. Rather than run through Heart's greatest hits--playing only "Barracuda"--Wilson sang a selection of choice cover songs, some representing rock's recently-passed legends. Beck mixed instrumentals with some sung by Jimmy Hall. Rodgers stuck to his best-known songs from Free and Bad Company and remains a terrific vocalist. Overall I give the show @@@@ (out of 5), with Rodgers being the most enjoyable.


John Harvard by Daniel Chester French, Harvard Yard, Cambridge
The forecast again called for a full day of rain, even thunderstorms, but they hadn't quite started when I got to:

● Harvard Square (in Cambridge) - I arrived right at 10am and knew there were free student-led tours of Harvard Yard on the hour, so I jumped on the first one I saw, which I subsequently learned to be a...

"Hahvahd" Tour - ...which should have cost me $12. So I apologize and give them a plug here. The guy giving the tour did a nice job, but as the rain started to get harder, I repeatedly wandered off and eventually ditched my bootleg tour to enter the...

● Harvard Art Museums - The Fogg, Sackler and Busch-Reisinger Museums are now housed in the same building, with nicely diverse collections but still considerably more compact than the MFA. They have a wondrous Blue Period Picasso, a great Van Gogh portrait and some terrific works by Max Beckmann.
On the advice of a friend who is a Harvard Alum, I sought out:

● Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage - A Harvard/Cambridge institution since 1960, they have a bunch of big burgers (with various toppings) named for Tom Brady, Liz Warren, Kim Jong-Un, Melania Trump and more. I devised by own, with Muenster cheese, grilled red peppers and grilled onions, accompanied by sweet pepper fries and a fresh Raspberry Lime Rickey.

With hopes that my doctor isn't reading this, I followed that up with a visit to the Cambridge location--I'm told the more famous original is in the North End--of:

● Mike's Pastries - They're famed for their cannoli, and I can report for good reason.

Before getting back to Boston proper, I rode to the Kendall/MIT T stop in Cambridge and took a stroll to and into the:

● Stata Center, a collection of adjoining buildings designed by Frank Gehry, in his typical unique fashion.

I had been advised that MIT has a great collection of outdoor sculpture, but it was continuing to rain and I was ready for a respite, so I made my way back to my hotel for a brief nap, before heading to the:

● Emerson Colonial Theatre to see Moulin Rouge!: The Musical - The newly refurbished theater--the oldest continuously operating in Boston--is absolutely gorgeous. And in a pre-Broadway World Premiere run, I thought Moulin Rouge! was phenomenal. See my review here.

Tail of a whale

● Long Wharf

● Whale Watching Cruise - On Thursday morning I had bought a ticket for a 9:00am Sunday Whale Watch tour, operated by Boston Harbor Cruises in conjunction with the New England Aquarium. Fortunately, the weather cooperated beautifully.

The cruise cost $53 and across nearly 4 hours into the Atlantic Ocean and back to Long Wharf, we saw only 2 whales, who for the most part were sleeping.

Boston Light
Still, even just the boat ride was worth it, just a glimpse of the whales was a thrill and I was able to take some great photos, including of Boston Light, the first lighthouse to be built in the United States (before it was the United States). 

● Paul Revere Statue - in the North End, on the Paul Revere Mall

● St. Stephen's Catholic Church (exterior) - built in 1804 

● Old North Church - I took a brief tour, which didn't take me up to the famous "one if by land, two if by sea" lanterns in the steeple (they don't remain), but taught me about the belfry and showed me some graves in the crypt underneath.
Old North Church

● Paul Revere House - I went on a self-guided tour. It was just OK, with some exhibits in the

adjoining visitors center pointing out that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famed poem, "Paul Revere's Ride" probably wasn't factual.

Hard Rock Cafe Boston - just for a quick peek

Faneuil Hall (exterior)

● Faneuil Hall Marketplace / Quincy Market

● Durgin-Park Restaurant - Within Quincy Market, it dates back to 1742, and since 1827 under the same name. I had a Crab Cake BLT, which was tasty.

● Kilvert & Forbes Bakeshop - Also in the market; I secured a fine macaroon.

● Old State House (pictured at top of blog post) - I took a self-guided tour and listened to a couple on lectures, on about the Boston Massacre and another about the 1713 building itself.

● T to the hotel, a Lyft to the airport and a flight to Chicago

And a few more photos...

All photos by Seth Arkin, copyright 2018. Please do not republish without permission and attribution.

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