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Published: October 11th 2014
Montreal to Boston
We're up at 5.30 am to catch the 8-15am Greyhound bus to Boston, Mass, USA. It's pretty misty and for once Montreal looks pretty nice & atmospheric in the Old City area. Sad really that it takes mist to make it feel cool! Anyway it’s goodbye to Canada & we aren’t sure we will be back this way again.
The bus drive takes us past open pasture farm land tinged with autumnal colours and some typically French looking settlements and farm buildings on the Canadian side.
We make the US border in 1.15 hours. We are all required to get off the bus and go for passport checks and a few security questions then we're cleared to get back on the bus. C is concerned that the passports didn't get stamped (administrative laziness we reckon) but as our next meeting with immigration will be when we leave it shouldn't be an issue. Welcome back to the USA. Then we drive through the Vermont Countryside which looks a lot greener than Quebec with more hills.
First stop is Burlington, a University town. It looks quite quaint and typically rural America! It's clean, nicely laid
out, with some lovely elegant buildings - one with a steeple could be straight out of the film ‘Back to the Future’ - and lots of trees and greenery though the hint of autumn colours are around. We had thought about coming here as part of our New England road trip but it's just a bit too far out of the way from the rest of the route we are planning to travel.
Next it's Montpelier, the capital of Vermont which is alongside a river. We see more trees with changing colours, squares, impressive buildings. It's all just what you imagine New England to look like. So we definitely have something to look forward to after the week in Boston. Boston – They started the American War of Independence & created Clam Chowder here!
The rest of the journey is without note - a couple of big towns, diminishing redness in the trees as we head south and long miles of Interstate. We eventually get into Boston at 5-00pm. The bus station is huge and next door to the train station, and the metro which we need - though it's pretty poorly signposted. At the metro (T
train) we find a very helpful guy who guides us through the process to buy a weekly ticket and how to get to the Hynes Convention Centre stop which is nearest our guesthouse. We get a weekly pass - only $19 each and it covers all transit in Boston; amazing value as the one day pass alone is $12.
We hit the metro at rush hour and it's pretty busy. It’s also pretty warm underground even with very large electric fans on along the platforms. We dread to think what the place is like in the peak of summer. The metro looks old & tired & in need a lot of investment. The one thing we note though is that the Green Line trains have steep steps up into the carriages. Not easy with big bags and crowds but completely inaccessible to anyone with mobility difficulties. Also, while there are lifts and escalators in many of the stations, they don't necessarily get you all the way from platform to street level.
All this is surprising as Boston has a reputation as a progressive & liberal minded City (the first to legalise gay marriage) and yet we see many
signs during our stay that it has the same issues as many of the southern, more conservative states, and it really needs to invest more in its infrastructure.
We're staying at the Oasis Guest House in the Back Bay Area, very close to Massachusetts Avenue and the Berklee School of Music and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which explains the number of folk carrying instruments on the streets and metro – we just thought that there were a lot of buskers in town! Actually there are, as many of the students seem to practice outdoors as buskers & play some great music.
This is also the location of the First Church of Christ Scientist (founded here in Boston in the late 1800's, it is the first and only religion formed by a woman) - a very impressive complex with a domed church and library. It's a bit like the Mormons Temple in Salt Lake City in that it's a beautiful building and you can do tours but there are no folk around "promoting" the church and it gets no mention at all in LP yet it occupies acres of central Boston!!
The guest house is pretty expensive at
about £110 per night (and yes that is a pound sign - and that's for a room with a shared bathroom) but it's the cheapest we could find near the centre. The rooms are compact but comfy and breakfast (a good one at that) is included. The neighbourhood is quite attractive though during our stay we're surprised to see how many rough sleepers and beggars there are, many sleeping in shop doorways. We haven't seen this scale of rough sleeping since Vancouver.
In the evening we take a walk around the local area - Boylston and Newbury streets are the main drags in central Boston for high end shopping and eateries. The local buildings & architecture are pretty impressive. There are lots of ornate buildings and churches, especially in Copley Square where the very impressive public library is and a couple of very splendid churches, intermingled with modern but generally well designed buildings. We look forward to seeing it in the daylight.
There are lots of options for food around - though many are relatively pricey, but on Newbury Street we discover Trident Bookstore & Cafe; it serves beer (nice IPA) and has a great menu. It's packed
with students enjoying good value food and free Wi-Fi. We have a great burger and the most fabulous hot mixed berry cobbler with ice cream. Good call! We go here again a couple of times for the odd snack during our time in the city.
Our first day we spend mooching around & getting orientated. It's a pretty walkable City. From our place to the waterfront area takes about 30 mins if you don't stop but we meander enjoying the parks, street scape and getting a feel for the place. In many ways it's like a smaller version of London, England. The population is only 650,000 so really very much smaller than London, very attractive and has a nice feel about it even though most of the commuters looked wired up.
The main park we go through is Boston Common which is the historical base of the city and then cross in to the Faneuil Hall area and Quincy's Market hall which is basically filled with food stalls of different varieties; pizza, seafood and clam chowder, hot dogs, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, etc. We certainly won't struggle with options for places to eat for lunch while we're here.
Though the quality might be suspect in some places we guess.
One thing we soon notice is that drivers are much more likely to use the horn here. Folk are still polite, giving way to pedestrians (other than one F***wit who wasn't concentrating and nearly took C out!) but road rage abounds it seems, judging by the constant blaring of horns. Reality Boston style!
In the morning we uploaded new credit into our AT&T data SIM for the iPad and once again nothing goes smoothly. Although we get a message confirming the transaction, the Wi-Fi won't work so we spend about an hour in the AT&T shop trying to get it fixed. It seems they can't work out what has happened, nor can the customer care centre so we end up getting a new package though not quite what we wanted. We'll be glad not to have to do this again when we finish our trip. We will be online till the 25th
Oct by which time Louise, Ben & Olive will be with us and we won’t have need for the SIM.
Boston is a good place to go clothes shopping as items less than $175
don't get taxed, so we plan to spend a bit of time shopping here. There are a couple of Malls in the downtown area, Saks & Macy's etc. so we hope to get a few good deals. Maybe time to get a bigger suitcase!!
We wake to a nice sunny day (79 degrees) so plan a visit to Harvard University Campus and the downtown area. We had thought going on a weekday we would see it at its most normal i.e. full of students. It's packed ok, but with tour groups - though most are run by Harvard students.
The campus is very attractive - large, Georgian style buildings around leafy squares with lots of colourful chairs outside for folk to sit in the sun. The Church on campus is very New England style - White spire on a brick structure and has a foundation stone taken from Southwark Cathedral to commemorate the baptism of Mr Harvard in London – whom the University is named after. Inside is very simple with one full wall listing all the Harvard students killed in various wars. Apparently they take in 1500 students each year and have a regular student population of
4500 so quite small for a major Uni. It’s still considered the top Uni in the world.
The area feels a bit like Oxford or Cambridge with lots of impressive buildings around town that are part of the Uni or Halls of Residence. We go shopping for some Harvard T shirts - some of the shops are run by the Harvard students, and M gets carried away and acquires a great Rugby shirt as well.
For a late lunch we head across to Quincy Market in downtown for clam chowder (not bad but not a spot on what we had in Nova Scotia), smelts and (a tough as old nick) feta and spinach flatbread. Then we wander a little taking pics and window shopping. M's knee is giving him real trouble so we take the T back which takes ages as there are delays on the line. It seems a pretty geriatric metro system for such a modern place. We feel sorry for the folks in Boston who seem to depend on it. It sucks.
Then it's a 15 minute walk from the guest house to Kenway Park - the home of Boston Red Sox who we
are to see playing the New York Yankees. It's a much smaller stadium than we expected and we have pretty good seats overlooking 2nd base. This is supposed to be a local derby full of needle but apart from one mouthy git near us it all seems very civilised and tame! Supporters of both teams sit side by side in the ground.
Considering how quickly each innings is on the whole we have no idea why it takes over 3 hours - lots of intervals, singing, celebrating local war heroes, etc. and the game ends 3:2 in the Yankees favour. We didn't eat at the ground so feeling a bit peckish we go looking for food and end up at Boston Burger nearby for a take-out (as they are about to close); they're awesome & great value! Loads of different toppings and really medium rare burgers - yummy. We'll be back. They have featured on a few Food Network programmes including Triple D.
An even better sunny day follows (85 degrees) so we plan to walk the Freedom Trail but don't quite make it. We head to the Prudential Centre a Shopping Mall for a mooch and find
a store with a great Sale and a Ralph Lauren section. M stocks up! Shopping for C is a futile task until we hit H&M then she hits gold - well more like nickel plate as it’s so cheap.
Copley Square looks awesome in the sun but it's packed with tourists and locals so we head over to the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival which is a short walk away down Massachusetts Ave. We'd seen it advertised in a local paper and it sounded worth a trip. It’s much bigger than we anticipated with loads of stalls and food places, three stages with differing types of jazz, and it's packed. We notice that there are a lot of black folk here - more than we've seen in any place since the south & there’s definitely an African American (Afro Caribbean as well) vibe in the air.
We decide to take advantage of Macey’s sale to buy that extra capacity suitcase before heading back for a Thai meal for supper - not bad, and nice to have something different for a change, though the spiciness seems tamed a little - for Bostonian taste buds no doubt.
We have booked
tickets for the 9-30 am Duck tour of Boston (doing so online gets you $9 off per ticket for the 9 and 9.30 slots! So its $50 for the two of us). We’ve never done one and they seem to be around in every major city in the world these days. The trip covers the main sights and also gives a short cruise trip round part of the bay as its one of those amphibian vehicles. Thankfully it's a beautiful, warm and sunny day.
We have a great driver/guide, Flo (she dresses up as a Nora Batty style housewife) - a local woman with 7 kids (or so she claimed) who has a great line in banter & terrific sense of humour with a healthy dose of road rage!
A few Duck Tour facts or restating of history (which may or not be accurate!) - the Boston Massacre wasn't a massacre it was self-defence (and found so by the courts when the British soldiers involved were found not guilty having been represented by a patriot lawyer); Bunker Hill, where a monument stands to mark the site of a siege between the patriots and British, wasn't the site of
the patriotic defence at all. The fight was actually at Breeds Hill nearby which is no longer a hill as it was flattened for redevelopment.; Paul Revere (famous in American independence history) did not ride all the way to Lexington as stated in a famous poem by Longfellow - he was caught and a guy called Prescott completed the trip to warn the patriots of the British advance, however Revere fitted the rhyme better!; Boston was originally an area of three hills with a river running through it but the river was filled in with landfill from 25 miles away, two of the hills were removed and the third was reduced in height by 60 feet! We also learn that the local expression of choice for anything positive is "wicked good!”; The city was named after Boston in Lincolnshire England by the Puritans who settled on Boston Common when they arrived.
There aren't really any great photo opps & the trip is not really a tour of the city or even the highlights of the city but we see a few areas we want to go back to and it's good fun.
After the tour we take a
coffee and then walk the streets! We see more of Newbury Street (which starts near where we stay and runs along to the Boston Common) - it's a bit like the Bond Street of London - lots of high end and designer shops, more hair and nail salons than you can shake a stick at, and in lovely stone and brownstone buildings. The Cheers Bar TV series location is in a hotel near the corner of Boston Common.
Then we head across to North End where the local Little Italy is and find some great looking places to eat when it's not Sunday as they're all packed. We also find the historic heart of Boston near the waterfront - the site of the first pub dating from 1795 and the first restaurant, Union Oyster House. As it’s sunny and hot (83F/29C) we go for an ice cream from Emack & Bolio's, one of Boston’s best apparently. Not bad - though not as good as Island Farms on Vancouver Island.
After trying to find our way to Chinatown rather unsuccessfully, M's knee gives in so we head back to Copley Square by T train for a few more pics
& get the reflections of the fab looking Trinity Church in the adjacent glass fronted building & it’s back to the guest house for a well-earned cup of tea.
For supper we head to Zest, a small Lebanese place nearby - it's a cafe and nothing fancy but the food tastes surprisingly good, and one plate is plenty for both of us.
Next day it's a lazy start as its cloudy but by the time we go out at midday the sun has broken through, so we head to South Station to get our Greyhound tickets printed and then off to see the local sights. First stop is Chinatown. It's pretty small with the usual mix of stores and eateries, a Friendship Arch and a couple of small squares where folk practice Tai Chi or play cards and chequers. Then we visit the site of the Boston Tea Party where they have two Tall ships moored in the river and a museum - though we don't go in as it seems a bit pricey for what it is.
Then it's off to Little Italy for lunch - the first time we've been to an Italian for a
meal for years!! It's not bad but not a patch on what you get in Italy (which is why we don't go out for Italian meals in London either).
On our final day it rains so we spend the time rejigging the bags to put all the shopping spoils in the new suitcase, doing the laundry and catching up with blogs etc. Then it's Boston Burger Company again for a scrummy meat feast supper. Tomorrow we head off for our 2 week tour of New England in the Fall - "leaf peeping" as they call it here, though we'll start on the Coast and hope to enjoy some more great seafood in Maine.
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