Day 15: Boston? Bos-done!

09 Jul

When I say we did Boston today, I mean we *did* Boston today. Of course, that is a blatant lie and a total fallacy, because it would take weeks, if not months or years, to properly cover all that Boston has to offer. But we sure did pack in a lot today. And if any attraction stayed open past 6pm, we would have done more!! Because I know that we only have two days in Boston to cover about 2 weeks worth of sightseeing, I’m just going to have to let some of it go. Especially since I must occasionally give the kids a break from my endless quest to acquire every single scrap of US History fact/fiction/myth available to me, or they will mutiny like Fletcher Christian against Captain Bligh on the HMS Bounty. My phone’s tracking tells me we walked over 7 miles today. My body is telling me that I am old, out of shape, and have arthritic knees. This whole adventure started at the crack of dawn. No, literally. At the crack of dawn. Knowing we needed to get up and out early to accomplish even half the things on our list, I intentionally left the curtains open in our hotel room. That’ll get you up before 6am around here! One of the nice things about splurging on a nice hotel is you can get a pretty decent hotel breakfast in the morning, and this one was excellent – including some delicious Andouille and an apple crumb cake to die for! After carbo-loading, we ventured forth into the day.

Knowing that many of the sites still wouldn’t be open because it was before 9am, I still wanted to walk as much of the Freedom Trail as we could. And I had selected and splurged on a nicer hotel, because it is located directly on the Freedom Trail, in Charlestown, right next door to the home of the USS Constitution. It is fun to follow the red brick road (bet you couldn’t read that without singing it!) It really is a treat to see the red brick line running through the sidewalks of Boston, twisting and turning its way through the city. In a few places new construction or road repair had us looking around for a moment to pick up the trail again. Eventually, we made our way to Fanueil Hall, which is, quite disappointingly, completely under scaffolding and blue tenting. Boo! From there, we walked the few blocks down to the waterfront, or rather, the New England Aquarium to be more specific. A month or so before we left, I did exhaustive research on the GoBoston Pass – a pay in advance all-access pass to tons of great Boston and Boston-area attractions. Obviously it doesn’t include every single thing you might want to do in this amazing city, but it sure does include a lot. And the passes are not cheap. But I meticulously priced out the attractions we were most interested in, and I am more than going to come out ahead on this deal. One of the things the kids wanted to do was go to the Aquarium. And while I really wanted to pack a little more US History into the day, I also love an aquarium! The thing that makes the New England Aquarium so special is the penguins. Their entire first level is basically four separate penguin habitats for different breeds of penguins. It has been beautifully designed to give visitors an up-close look. The cool thing about (literally) being the first people in the door of the aquarium is that you get to watch them really setting up for the day. There were still divers in tanks, cleaning and feeding animals, doing prep work, etc. There is also a 40′ wide, 4-story tank holding 200,000 gallons of salt water that runs right through the middle of the aquarium building, with a circular ramp that winds its way around the tank. Apparently the tank is so large that it was built first, and the rest of the aquarium building was built around it. It is an impressive exhibit, and fun to hear that the sea turtle I was face to face with was none other than Myrtle, a green sea turtle who has lived there since before I was born!

After over a little more than an hour in the aquarium I rounded the kids up and shuffled us off to the docks next door for a harbor cruise. One of the included attractions on the GoBoston pass is a 45 minute “USS Constitution cruise”. It was called that, because the ship briefly docks in the Charlestown Ship Yard to allow passengers to disembark to visit “Old Ironsides” if they like. Seeing as how our hotel is adjacent to the Ship Yards, I was just interested in a cruise around Boston Harbor. Our guide/narrator was an Irishman named Declan. He was very funny and full of interesting tidbits about the harbor and coastal buildings, history, and inhabitants. At the end of the cruise I felt compelled to speak to one of the deckhands and comment on his accent. I am an absolute sucker for the Boston accent. It is a rather polarizing accent – typically you either love it or hate it. I know many people find it terribly abrasive, but I LOVE it. The Town is one of my favorite movies just because it contains Jon Hamm imitating Ben Affleck’s accent saying the phrase “box of quarters.” And yes, I asked the guy to say that phrase. No shame. I just really love the accent!

The sun was really out by the time we went on the harbor cruise, and it was getting rather intense. I stayed topside the entire time, but the kids mostly stayed below in the enclosed space looking out the windows.We were also feeling hot and thirsty from the sun, as well as hungry. We walked back up to Fanueil Hall so I could check with the ticket booth about the Walk Into History guided tours. Turned out that the next tour from that location was about an hour away, but I didn’t want us to be feeling rushed, so I found out the timing of the tours leaving from Boston Common, and we set out to Quincy Market to find food. I let Beau go off on his own into the city, because he had done his reconnaissance to find the location of a nearby Chipotle. It amuses me to no end that this particular Chipotle is located in Boston’s oldest commercial building (1718) and in the location of the Old Corner Bookstore. This was once the location of the publishing house who published Thoreau’s Walden, Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, and Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, among many, many others. The girls and I managed to find sustenance in different food stalls, and regathered outside in the plaza, serendipitously snagging a table. After eating, the girls moved to an empty table with a chess board to play a few games of chess while waiting for Beau to return. Thankfully Beau is looking out for all of us, as on his walk back he stopped in a Walgreen’s to get us some sunscreen. (Never mind that I have at least 8 bottles of sunscreen in the car, which was parked by the hotel valet.) Appropriately covered, we ventured forth for a walk to Boston Common.

I really do like traversing a city. There is something electric about a mass of humanity, but there is something extra special about Boston – the way the truly historical blends with the mundane modern. There were people just scurrying along back to their offices after a lunch break, trodding the same paths past some of the most historically significantly locations as did the likes of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Joseph Warren. Wait, who? Don’t worry, we’ll get to Joseph Warren in a moment. Once at the Common, we secured our time for the Walk Into History tour (2:00pm), and decided to cool off with some shaved ice in the shadow of the New State House and its golden dome. The shaved ice was an inspired idea, as it had gotten rather warm (90 degrees) – man, I reallllllly don’t want to leave New England to return home to Florida!! But, at least I was merely in shorts and a t-shirt, as our authentically costumed tour guide was in several layers, including a coat and stockings and tricorn hat! Turns out our guide, whose real name I didn’t catch, but did reveal that he was 24, was playing the role of an actual historical figure. He was, I’m sure you’ve guessed it, Dr. Joseph Warren. And he was right, his is a name that is fairly lost to history, but he has a fascinating story, and seems to have earned his right in the pantheon of Founding Fathers ( But he had the grave misfortune of being shot in the face during the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle (but not the first shots of) the Revolution. Upon hearing that the British doubted whether the Patriots would even fight, Joseph Warren is quoted as responding, “I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!” Check. A cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for. And then, because he was so recognizable to the British as a Patriot leader, they mutilated his body beyond recognition and dumped him into a shallow grave with others. It was almost a year later when his friends, including Paul Revere, went to retrieve his remains from the battlefield. How were they to know which remains were his? Paul Revere was an amateur dentist and had placed a false tooth in his friend’s jaw some time before, so Revere recognized Warren’s dental work, in one of the first recorded examples of forensic dentistry (Next time on CSI: Colonial Revolution…).

Our hour and a half long walking tour took us from Boston Common, past the New State House (Hands off the sacred cod!!), and into the Granary Burying Ground. There we viewed the grave sites of John Hancock (trolling before trolling was a thing. That coat of arms, tho. HA!), a slave owned by John Hancock, Paul Revere (Thank you, Longfellow, for turning his into a household name), Sam Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. And no, that huge obelisk in the center is not for Ben Franklin, but rather for his parents. I do wish that we had had more time to simply wander, as I am a huge fan of old cemeteries (excuse me, it’s a burying ground and not a cemetery!) and I would have loved to have examined more of the grave markers and their fantastic momento mori carvings. We also went past several important churches, I learned the origin of the Congregationalists (“Puritans” was pejorative),  we visited the site of the Boston Massacre in front of the Old State House (where a panhandler was holding a sign that said “Seeking Human Kindness”), and discovered that Faneuil Hall – the very cradle of liberty – was actually built with money made from the slave trade. Plus, I got to make a super nerdy joke when the guide asked if anyone had heard of the Coercive Acts, and I responded, “Yes, they were intolerable.” (Heeheehee…because the colonists called them the Intolerable Acts. See what I did there? Anyway…) Overall it was a very enjoyable and informative tour. I do wish it had been smaller (with less people) and that there had been a little more time to kind of soak in a sight instead of just running off the minute the story/explanation was given, but I do understand their need to move things along. I would absolutely recommend a Walk Into History Tour and would take one again.

After our tour, at Avery’s request, we headed toward the Boston Tea Party Museum. We got there by using the City View Hop On-Hop Off trolley (also included in the GoBoston Pass!) Our first driver was hysterically engaging. He talked almost nonstop, giving history of the areas of the city we were rolling through, and engaging the passengers in questions.) I was almost sorry to reach our destination, it would have been a wonderful tour to just take the full circuit ride with him. But we disembarked the trolley and headed off to the waterfront (after grabbing a quick snack at the train station). Once we got to the Museum, I was shocked to see the prices, and this one was not included in our pass. Another catch is that we were arriving at a time in which our only option was a 4:30 start for an hour-long experience which would have prevented us from being able to visit any other sites. I have heard that it is a fun experience, and had we more time, I likely would have complied with the request, but going another $120 in the hole when I knew that it was at the expense of a different experience would not have made me happy, even if it would have put me in the proper mindset to chuck tea into the Harbor! So, viewing the boats from the dock, we headed back up to our trolley stop and took off on the route towards Charlestown. We ended up having to switch trolleys at Stop #1 – we needed to get to Stop #4 and a different trolley was departing on the new circuit sooner than the one we arrived on. So, we ended up having 3 different drivers total with 3 completely different personalities. It was an interesting study in human contrasts. Once we arrived in Charlestown we made a beeline for the Ship Yards. I have been looking at the masts and flags from our hotel window and have been eager to visit the USS Constitution in the same Harbor where she was launched in 1797, after being commissioned in 1794. She saw action against the Barbary pirates, but earned glory and her nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812. It is said that the cannon fire bounced off her thick oaken hull as if it was made of iron, and she struck fear in the hearts of our enemies at sea. The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat, and the Navy runs her as a historic site in cooperation with the National Park Service. I had to show photo id and our bags had to go through security screening as we walked through a metal detector. Up the steep boarding ramp and suddenly we were on the deck of a 222 year old warship! Inconceivable. We were also allowed to go below decks. Several decks worth of space is open to the public. At 5′ 6″ I was too tall to stand fully upright throughout the deck space, as support beams running throughout made it necessary for me to duck when moving. It is inconceivable to think of the hustle and bustle that must have been occurring when she was fully staffed and underway during the War of 1812. After all, the thing that makes this a warship is the cannons! Dirty, dangerous, intensely noisy cannons! I found it to be a very moving experience to be able to stand on the decks of Old Ironsides – what an incredible piece of history. And as one of the logos inside the ship said, the USS Constitution was “Undefeated.” By the time we disembarked the ship, the museum was 30 minutes from closing. Another substantial entrance fee, and I didn’t feel that we’d have the time to truly appreciate the exhibits. However, I kind of regret that now. Even if I had to take it at a run, I think I would have very much enjoyed that museum.

But everyone was physically and mentally exhausted by this point. We’d been out and about in the city for 10 hours! So we walked the block back to our hotel and basically fell onto our beds to put our feet up. The kids couldn’t even be roused to seek dinner! Though Avery did want to go utilize the hotel pool and I will admit that it felt good to stick my feet in the whirlpool. Overall, it was a jam-packed day. Did we do a ton? Yes. Was it enough for me? No. But I have to just let it go. I cannot do everything I would like to do in Boston. Not in two days anyway. Tomorrow, we are nerding out – Museum of Science, M.I.T., and Harvard. Plus some other drive-bys to be named later.


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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim