Published: November 7th 2010August 12th 2010
No Wombles here.
In the morning, Clare seemed to be suffering a bit with her nose, but being the trooper she is she still wanted another day in New York City. When we arrived at Penn Station we transferred to the subway and headed north to Harlem. Harlem sits on the north side of Central Park and would extend all of the way up to the top of Manhattan Island if it wasn't for the small neighbourhood of Washington Heights. Since the 1920's Harlem has been a predominantly African-American neighbourhood, although the size of the black majority has been declining in recent years with the gentrification of the area, and also with the influx of Latino-Americans, which has created a Spanish Harlem on the east side. During the 1830s New York became the centre of the slavery abolitionist movement in the Northern States. Known as "the spiritual home of the Negro protest movement"
and "the centre of Black America"
, since the 19th C. Harlem has always been a hotbed for activism, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X being two of it's most famous 20th C. activist leaders.
From the subway we walked down 125th street and visited the Schomberg Center for Black
Massachusetts State House
Start of the Freedom Trail.
on Malcolm X Boulevard. We saw a few small but interesting exhibits on the African diaspora, Harlem and Malcolm X himself. At midday we got back on the subway and headed for Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, where almost immediately upon entering we were offered drugs twice. We were slightly confused as there seemed to be a large group of NYPD sitting around the fountain. With all these police why were drugs being so readily pushed? It turned out the 'cops' were actually part of a film set, where a film crew were shooting what appeared to be some sort of thriller action movie or cop show. We watched as a guy with a gun repeatedly pulled a girl out of a car window followed by a lot of running and screaming.
After a while we got bored and carried on towards Lower East Side. I really wanted to see the building of 96-98 on St. Mark's Place, and Clare finally relented. Apparently firmly on the Everyone-hates-a-tourist trail, said building was the cover for Led Zeppelin's 1975 album Physical Graffiti. I felt like a big geek snapping a couple of pictures of an otherwise completely nondescript apartment
Old State House
Site of the Boston Massacre.
block, but hey, each to their own. Nearby was a cool organic vegan cafe on 1st Avenue. Lower East Side seems like a cool place and if I was going to live anywhere in New York it might be here.
Clare got in touch with one of her old colleagues from Shanghai who now lives in Lower East Side, and we met at the 6 Ward pub for happy hour. $3 beers in NYC is nothing to complain about! We stayed for a few and then Clare's friend took us on a walking tour of Lower East Side. We had another couple of beers at his apartment and then he took us on the roof of his building. By far not the highest place in Manhattan but it was definitely a cool view of the area. We took a few pictures and then a guy whom we assume owns the tenement came up and told us to get down, threatening with eviction! We quickly scarpered without giving him any residential details and decided it would be a good idea to take another walk around town so he didn't see which flat Clare's friend lived in. We walked around and
Near Faneuil Hall.
up to Chinatown, found a cool vegan shoe shop called Moo Shoes, then went for a Thai meal near where, rather bafflingly, a big statue of Lenin stands on top of a tall building. Lenin?! In America?! No, I don't know either.
We headed over to Penn Station again early the next morning but this time we weren't staying in New York. We walked out of the station and round the corner to outside the Madison Square Garden, home of the future Madison Cube Garden, and waited for the M21 Megabus to take us five hours due north to Boston. Frustratingly the coach was over an hour late, so it was well gone 2pm by the time we arrived in the capital of Massachusetts. While that is it's official role, Boston is also sometimes referred to as the capital of New England, for it economic and cultural impact on the region. New England is that region tucked away in the northeastern corner of America and consists of six states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. New England, and particularly Boston is one of the oldest European settlements in the whole of the North American continent, with
Old North Church
Paul Revere lit his beacons here.
pilgrims from Boston, England arriving in about 1620, and founding Boston, America in 1630. The English Boston itself was a shortening of St. Botolph's Town, named after a 7th C. English saint, and was where many Puritans lived at the time, the same religious group who founded Boston, MA.
Several prehistoric Native American archaeological sites that were excavated in the city have shown that the area was inhabited as early as 7,000 years ago. The early European settlers first called the area Trimountaine, in honour of the three hills that were the main feature of the landscape, but later renamed the town to Boston. It was the largest town in British North America until Philadelphia grew larger in the mid 18th C. Back in the colonial days, a favourite food of Bostonians was beans baked in molasses for several hours, giving the city the nickname of Beantown. The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 killed 21 people. It's hard to imagine 21 people drowning in a flood of molasses :S. The city was also famously part of the triangular trade
, in which slaves in the Caribbean grew sugar cane to be shipped to Boston and made into rum, which would
Paul Revere's House
Oldest building in Boston.
then be sent to West Africa and traded for more slaves that would in turn end up back at the Caribbean where the triangle was completed.
As soon as we got to Boston's main coach and train station we were ravenous as we hadn't had any breakfast. Chinatown is pretty much there as soon as you walk out of the station, so with a little help from happycow.com
we found a veggie restaurant and filled up. A few minutes away from Chinatown is Boston Common, the main public park in Boston, and part of the Emerald Necklace, a seven mile chain of parks and green spaces. Despite it being a major city, and the largest in the whole of the New England region, Boston has a surprising and pleasantly relaxing atmosphere. The Freedom Trail
begins in Boston Common and with just over 24 hours to spend in Boston, we figured this would be the quickest, simplest, most concise and comprehensive way to see the historic city.
The Freedom Trail is a two and half mile, mostly brick, red line path that traverses through downtown Boston and leads to sixteen historic sites. Essentially it is a trail that links
On the ferry back to Boston from Charlestown.
all the important historical sites from during the American Revolution
era; the fight for independence from Great Britain in the late 18th C., and goes from Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. It was originally conceived by a local journalist called William Schofield who had been waffling on about the idea since the early 1950's. We also wanted to do the Black Heritage Trail
but sadly ran out of time. In 1783, Massachusetts became the first state to declare slavery illegal, considered mostly out of gratitude for black participation in said Revolutionary War.
We followed the trail out of the Common and first hit the gold-domed Massachusetts State House
, the local seat of government. The dome was originally exposed wood that leaked quite regularly, and so it was painted grey, then yellow, then eventually gilded with gold leaf. During the Second World War it was painted black to prevent reflections during black-outs. It was only re-gilded gold in 1997. Next was the Park Street Church
, and the Granary Burying Ground
where Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and loads of other Revolutionary patriots are buried. Sam Adams was a co-signer of the Declaration of Independence
, second cousin of
the Second President, John Adams, and supposed original brewer of the famous (and damn good) Sam Adams Beers. Although I think that last one is probably just marketing.
The story of Paul Revere seems to essentially be the story of the American Revolution in Boston, and the man, who looks suspiciously like Jack Black in his portraits, continuously comes up along the trail. He is most famous for his "Midnight Ride"
in 1775, where he rode horseback to nearby Lexington to warn Samuel Adams about the invading British. Not particularly noted during his lifetime, 40 years after his death, a posthumous homage was immortalised in the poem, "Paul Revere's Ride"
. Although historians say a fair few liberties were taken in the chronicling of certain events, such as the credit for the ride being given to Revere alone.
Carrying on around town, the red line took us to King's Chapel
and it's Burying Ground
where Mary Chilton, the alleged first European woman to step ashore in New England, is buried. After that is the Statue of Benjamin Franklin
; Old Corner Bookstore
; Old South Meeting House
, famous for being the organising point for the Boston Tea Party
, a movement against
British colonists in 1773; the Old State House
, the seat of the first elected legislature in the Americas; and the Site of the Boston Massacre
, where British troops killed five Bostonian civilians.
Eventually we got to Faneuil Hall
, the site of several famous Revolutionary speeches, and that day, a street performance. After that was Paul Revere's House
, now the oldest surviving building in Boston. The Old North Church
was next, the steeple of which is where Paul Revere lit the beacon to warn about the imminent British invasion. "One if by land, and two if by sea"
. Up the hill is the Copp's Hill Burying Ground
, before crossing the bridge to Charlestown, where the Bunker Hill Monument
stands, and the trail ends at the USS Constitution
. Old Ironsides, as it is known, is one the original wooden-hulled frigates to be built for war with the British in 1812. Still owned by the US Navy, it is technically the world's oldest floating commissioned naval vessel. We didn't pay to go on the ship but we did briefly visit the neighbouring museum before it closed at 6pm.
From the pier we took a ferry back to Boston and walked through
Not the real one. Either the physical being or the likeness.
downtown while the sky grew slowly dark. We found a subway station and headed out to the suburbs where our hotel was. Hotwire.com
is apparently a bit hit and miss with the quality and locations of some of it's hotels, and rather irritatingly we were situated in the Crowne Plaza (not bad) in the middle of nowhere (bad), otherwise known as Newton. Contrary to what the hotel say, they are nowhere near the nearest subway station and we ended up having to fork out for an expensive taxi to take us there. We worked out that it would have been cheaper to stay somewhere more expensive in the middle of downtown. Oh well, lesson learned. We checked in and then headed out for Chicago style deep dish pizza at a branch of the disputed inventor, Pizzeria Uno.
In the morning we took the bus from Newton to Cambridge where the oldest and supposed best university in America, Harvard University is located. We got a bit lost looking for the bus, before a ridiculously friendly woman showed us the way and took us there. Before we got on the bus she decided to warn us about the Mormons in Salt
Lake City in the desert of Utah State, where we would be a few days later. We walked around the pleasant Harvard Yard, a grassy area that constitutes the oldest part and centre of Harvard University. In the yard is the statue of the university's first benefactor, John Harvard, although amusingly no-one knew what he actually looked like, so a student at the time posed for it.
We got back on the metro and headed for downtown again. The metro is America's first subway system, and when you ride it you can definitely tell. Instead of the underground train image associated with most metro systems, it's actually an underground tram system, and looks particularly quaint. We got off at Boston Public Park and strolled around in the sun for a while, checked out the building that was the inspiration for Cheers
, and then decided to spend our remaining hours in Boston seeing the mighty impressive collection of churches. It sounds kinda dull, but they are definitely impressive buildings. On our trail we saw the First Baptist Church, the Old South Church, the Church of the Covenant, the Trinity Church, the Arlington Street Church and the First Church of Christ,
Lots of ducks.
Scientist. Near the Episcopalian Trinity Church, we met an elderly man called Bert who decided to tell us his life story and the life story of Boston and it's many different religions. He was a really nice guy and really funny, and actually turned out to be in one of our photos of the churches. He also talked a lot about the Bostonian accent.
It's kind of hard to explain in writing, but with most American accents, there is a strong pronunciation of the letter 'r'
in, for example, the word 'hard'
, where as Bostonians don't. Also, with it's broad 'a'
vowels, Bostonian English can sometimes sound quite similar to Southern England English, and is often parodied in the US. Apart from the accent, I was actually really surprised with how much Boston reminded me of England, as opposed to reminding me of stereotypical American cultures such as New York, California, the Midwest and the South. The architecture, the green spaces, the relaxed village feel, the plethora of quaint churches, (and huge cathedrals), even seeing pictures of the surrounding countryside and the Appalachian mountains reminds me of north Wales.
We chilled for the last hour in Boston Common
before heading for our coach back to New York, excited that in the next few days the four of us would be camping in the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park for a week!
There are more photos below