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A “Revolutionary” Journey Part IV (Boston)

Author: Host Ciao
Date of Trip: December 2008

Previous: A “Revolutionary” Journey Part III (New York City)

I never would have believed that the streets of New York City could be so empty! I had an 8 a.m. train and wanted to arrive at Penn Station early to find a Red Cap and also find my way around. To do this I had a taxi pick me up at 6:30. The streets were deserted—a very strange sight.

The Red Cap took me down to the train quite early so I went into an end seat in the quiet car. The ride was good, and after a couple of hours the conductor announced that we were speeding up to 150 miles per hour. I would guess this was where the tracks were new enough to stand high speed travel. Without getting on my soap box too much, I think that we need to spend much more time and money on upgrading train travel in this country.

I took a taxi to my hotel in Boston, the Harborside Inn. I think the hotel must once have been part of the wharf buildings. It was tall and narrow and on the floors there was a wall about 4 feet high on one side of the hall. You could look over this and see the brick wall all the way down to the lobby. I was on the sixth floor so it was a long way down. The room was great—big comfortable bed, great pillows, a table with two OK chairs, big flat screen TV, even a video player and a copy of the Top 10 Boston guide. My only quibble with the hotel was that there was no coffee maker in the rooms. However, there was coffee available in the lobby 24 hours. There were also two computers for guest use there and nice comfortable chairs.

As usual I had picked this hotel because of its location, which to my mind couldn’t have been better—two blocks from Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall and close to the subway and many, many historical sites. The room cost was $129 a night plus tax, which I feel was very reasonable for its location. I wandered over to the market and saw a camera store on a lower level of one branch so I had my New York memory stick put on a CD—yes the missing CD.

I went to Faneuil Hall and toured the upper level. This was once Boston’s town meeting hall and is now part of the Freedom Trail and is operated by the National Park Service. There are shops on the lower level, mostly crafts and souvenir type. I then went over to the main market building which has a huge food hall with many, many, many different food stands and booths. The seating area was jammed so I opted for an Irish pub on the upper level. I had an excellent lunch—tomato soup and grilled cheese and a Guiness. It cost $21 with tip so not cheap. After checking out a few more shops I went back to the hotel and took a taxi to St. Stephen’s Church since I didn’t know how long it would take to walk to Saturday evening Mass.

St. Stephen’s is a very plain Catholic church. I expect this is because it was once a Congregational and then a Unitarian church. I had thought that St. Stephen’s was the “Italian church” but had found out at the camera shop that St. Leonard’s was. I didn’t go there because the evening Mass was later. There is also a third Catholic church in the Italian area. The area on Hanover Street and its side streets north of North End Park is the Italian section. It is full of Italian restaurants, so many that I don’t see how they all survive. There were already lines outside some of them at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

I stopped at Mike’s Pastry shop, which had been highly recommended by a friend. The coffee shop area was jammed, and there must have been six or eight clerks scurrying around the bakery area. I bought a couple of raspberry filled cookies and three huge macadamia nut cookies and headed toward the hotel.

I walked through Boston’s Holocaust memorial, which is a bit hard to explain. It consists of tall glass towers that in December had steam rising in them. This must be only in the winter and from heat pipes underneath because I have seen a summer picture, and there is no steam. There are engraved quotations to be read inside the towers too, but this is difficult at night.

The walk from church to Faneuil Hall took about a half hour. I wandered in some of the shops there again and then in shops and past push-cart kiosks in the main market building. These shops and kiosks sell clothing, souvenirs, crafts—lots of “stuff.” In the food hall I bought some orangena and chips. I took these back to the hotel and by adding a cookie had one of my throw together “strange suppers” before heading to bed before 10.

On Sunday I brought coffee up to my room and ate a couple of cookies for breakfast. Then I set out to walk the north part of the Freedom Trail, mostly Revolutionary War sites in Boston. It was snowing, but the big soft flakes weren’t sticking to the ground. It wasn’t very cold so a great time for a walk. I first stopped at St. Leonard’s church where the Mass in Italian was about to begin. With its statues, frescoes, etc. it reminded me of many churches I had visited in Italy. The church also has a nice little garden and a gift shop. Here is another Freedom Trail website.

Because I had already “done” Faneuil Hall, my first Freedom Trail stop was Paul Revere’s home, one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. Much of the house is original and it contains furnishings thought to belong to the Revere family. He had two wives and eight children with each wife. Docents are on site to explain the house and the area. On that day the house next door was also open for special tours that featured Colonial style refreshments typical of Boston in the 1700’s: mulled cider and pastries such as seed cakes. No pictures are allowed inside so I bought several postcards and, of course, had to buy a 30 page paper “Colonial Christmas Cooking” book. I haven’t tried the recipes yet.

A service was going on at Old North Church so I would have to return there later. I walked to the next stop, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, second oldest in Boston. It is made to wander in, and the snow made it more interesting. When I read about it, the only names I recognized were Increase and Cotton Mather, Puritan clergymen included in some American lit books. I decided to find the Mather family tomb and did though it took a while because the tombstones are very old and hard to read.

After I walked down from Copp’s Hill, one of the highest points in Boston, I crossed the Charleston (I think) Bridge and headed to Bunker Hill, passing on the way the Training Ground (Colonial name) where soldiers trained for the Revolutionary, War of 1812, and Civil War. It is now called Winthrop Square.

There is a museum connected with the Bunker Hill Monument which has an interesting diorama of the battle and other exhibits. From here you can arrange to climb the 294 steps to the top. I did not! Instead I went across the street to the National Park Service building where there were more exhibits and a shop. I checked directions for sure and headed down to the Charleston Navy Yard.

USS constitution old ironsides boston mass massachusettsI was luckily right on time for a tour of the U.S.S. Constitution, Old Ironsides. The Naval personnel who conducted the tour did an excellent job, and it was very interesting. The huge guns weigh as much as a Ford Explorer and were manned by eight to 11 men. We visited the two lower decks too and saw the hammocks where the men slept—four hours of sleep, 20 hours on duty. We saw the rum barrel, the cooking area, and the officers’ small cabins. There was a Christmas tree on deck and work is going on there to make that part of the ship more like it was originally.

A modern ship was docked nearby, but I didn’t fancy standing in the long line so I went to the U.S.S. Constitution Museum for a bit. When I left there I managed to get my directions mixed up—didn’t have my handy compass. After a couple of blocks I realized that I was heading into strange territory. I headed back to the museum and got directions to the bridge. All was well until I got to a spot where the markers for the Freedom Trail (follow the red brick road) went off in two directions, and I wasn’t sure which one lead to the bridge. I’m still not sure though I have an idea from the map I wasn’t carrying that day. Luckily a taxi pulled up so I took it back to St. Stephen’s, which is near Old North.

On the Paul Revere Mall between the two churches a children’s group was singing and tables held items for sale, a small Christmas fair. Old North is Boston’s oldest church. This is where the two lanterns were hung that sent Paul Revere on his famous ride. The church has pew boxes with high sides. I also visited the shop next to it.

Leaving Old North, I headed back toward St. Stephen’s on Hanover Street. The sales tables were still up, and children were flocking to a colorful, open-sided wagon where Santa and Mrs. Clause were greeting them. Of course, this would be a picture I blurred!

Since it was already mid afternoon, I was pretty hungry and settle on Lucia’s, one of the many Italian restaurants. I liked the menu choices posted so didn’t go farther down the street. As it turned out going another block or so would have saved me some money. The pasta was very good. I chose one with a fairly plain sauce for $17. Of course, I had to have two glasses of wine and lemon sorbetto for dessert. The sorbetto came between two halves of frozen lemon and was sooooo good!

I slowly walked back to the hotel still enjoying the weather. I was able to use one of the computers for guests in the lobby and deleted about 400 emails. I sat in one of the comfortable chairs in the lobby and read for a while still enjoying the walk in my mind and my body—nothing hurt, not feet, not shoulders, not back. Must be it took three weeks for the aches to give in to the fact that they would not make me give in any plans! Supper was a couple more cookies from Mike’s.

It’s a good thing I didn’t know how cold it was when I set out to walk to St. Stephen’s for 7 a.m. Mass on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I found out later it was only 9 degrees. On the walk back I stopped at the Quincy Market and bought an egg and bacon sandwich that I ate back at the hotel.

Luckily this was not a day I had planned for much walking because several of the places on the other half of the Freedom Trail were closed on Mondays. I had all along planned to go to the Kennedy Library. The hotel staff directed me to the station for the Red Line train I had to take toward the outlying area where the library is located. Again luckily there was a friendly transit authority person who helped me get the kind of ticket I needed out of the machine. It was called a “Charlie Ticket.” Could it be that it comes from the old Kingston Trio song about poor Charlie “doomed to ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston”? The ride was very pleasant, and from the station I boarded the bus to U Mass and JFK Library—a 10 or 15 minute drive.

The Library is a very handsome, modern building with many exhibits. The first one was about the President’s life, leading up to his running. The introductory movie goes through the campaign and ends with his nomination at the 1960 Democratic Convention. Other sections include the Inauguration, White House Corridor, Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy (the Office of the Attorney General including several drawings made by his children) the First Lady, Kennedy Family, November 22, 1963, and Legacy. The exhibits feature photos, furniture, film clips, etc. It was certainly a very interesting time for me since I think I mentioned before that this was the first President I was old enough to vote for and also the only one I traveled to see during the campaign when he spoke in the Quad Cities in Illinois not far from where I was teaching.

I had already decided it was too darn cold to take in the second part of my day’s plan, wandering around Harvard University. So I spent more time in the Library looking at the opening exhibit. Also I ate lunch of pasta salad and milk, which was pretty good for $6. I wandered through the shop and for once didn’t find too much to buy. There was no book about the library, and I have several of the Kennedy books on sale there. I did buy a library book mark and a magnet with a JFK quote on it. I might also mention, there was Obama “stuff” on sale there.

“Charlie” got me back to the station, and I went back to the hotel to read a bit. Walked out for dinner and decided on Green’s Tavern, not as crowed or as expensive as the nearby Oyster House. I think I have mentioned the number of Italian restaurants north of the park. However, around the hotel and just south of the park there are many, many Irish pubs/restaurants. Anyway tonight I picked Irish and had a Guiness and excellent shepherds’ pie for $20. And so back to the hotel and bed.

My last day in Boston and on my Revolutionary Journey sent me out to walk the other half of the Freedom Trail. I stopped at the two sites closest to the hotel. First was simply a circle of paving stones which marked the Boston Massacre. This is on a traffic island directly in front of the Old State House. The Massacre’s beginning is unclear, but it involved a group of angry citizens and another of frightened soldiers, whom the mob was taunting. The soldiers fired, killing three men. The soldiers were arrested, but when it became clear that it was not really a massacre, John Adams defended the soldiers. Six were acquitted, and the two who fired directly into the crowd were convicted of manslaughter. They were punished by branding on the thumb, a light sentence which seems to mean the jury believed the soldiers had felt frightened. Here is more information on the historical sites run by the National Park Service.

The Old State House was the seat of government in Colonial Massachusetts, where the government protested the Stamp Act and then the Townsend Acts, taxing every day items like paint, paper, and tea. When the colonists proclaimed that they could not be taxed without representation and refused to withdraw the Circular Letter stating this, the king dissolved the colony’s government and British soldiers occupied Boston.

It was from the balcony of the Old State House that the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed to a happy crowd. Also from this balcony 200 years later Queen Elizabeth spoke on the 200th anniversary of Independence. The building is still decorated by the lion and unicorn, symbols of the British crown—copies, though, since the originals were burned during the Revolution.

From here I set out to go to the far end of the Freedom Trail in Boston Common and beyond to the Boston Public Gardens. I wanted to go to the Garden to see some of the statues there. Probably the best known is the grouping called “Make Way for Ducklings,” which features a mother duckling followed by four or five of her offspring.

The Visitor Center for the Freedom Trail is in Boston Common. There you can pick up a map and other information. There are also tours that leave from there. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument from the Civil War is near there as well as a beautiful fountain—with no water, of course, in December. It was a cloudy day so some of my pictures of statues are too dark. The Frog Pond is for wading in the summer and skating in the winter and is presided over by a couple of friendly bronze frogs. The Central Burying Ground is part of the common and is one of the oldest in Boston. It is the site of graves of many American and British casualties from the Battle of Bunker Hill.

A monument at the edge of the Common and part of the Freedom Trail is the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. In 1863 Shaw was asked to lead a regiment of black troops. Fighting in the South, the soldiers risked death and enslavement if caught. Shaw was killed leading his troops in a charge in South Carolina. The story of this is enacted in the movie Glory. The monument is beautiful and the bas relief shows Shaw riding beside his soldiers.

Across the street is the Massachusetts State House begun in 1795 when Paul Revere and Samuel Adams laid the cornerstone on land bought from the descendents of John Hancock. The building is beautiful with a golden dome. Inside I went up to the second floor where tours leave from. My timing did not hit a tour time, but I wandered around the five halls on that floor on my own. A choir group of teenagers was singing Christmas Carols on the main stairway.

I saw Nurses Hall with a memorial to Army nurses, the hall of flags were there are many historical flags, the Doric Hall and the Great Hall, a special ceremonial space with flags of 35 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

The next stop was Park Street Church, which was not open for visits. Here on the front steps on July 4, 1831, the hymn “America” was first sung. The Grainery Burying Ground is adjacent to this church and definitely worth wandering through. You can see the tombs of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and another signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Treat Paine. The victims of the Boston Massacre are buried by Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere is also buried here.

King’s Chapel was another stop on the Trail that was not open to visitors at that time. This was built because the British King ordered an Anglican Church built. The Puritans refused to sell any land to the king because they had fled the Anglican Church. The Royal Governor seized land owned by Boston used as a graveyard because the dead could not protest. Again I wandered in the graveyard here and found the grave of John Winthrop, first governor of the settlement in Boston. Does seem like I toured a lot of graveyards!

Somehow I managed to miss the Old Corner Bookstore where Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Charles Dickens hung out. Probably I missed it because it’s not a bookstore or a Boston Globe souvenir store any more. One guide book said it was a jewelry store. Deciding it was time for lunch I stopped at Beantown Pub. I ate Barristers Burger with onions and a special sauce with potato salad and a beer—good food and about $19.

The outside of Old South Meeting featured a market stand of flowers and vegetables. Inside pictures were not allowed, but there were interesting exhibits. A group of grade school students were visiting and having a great time listening to revolutionary talk and loving being able to yell “Huzzah!” at the appropriate times—and in a type of church too. This was a very important meeting house, the scene of many protest meetings against the British taxes. It was from here that the group of patriots stirred up by Sam Adams headed to the wharf to hold the Boston Tea Party. (I couldn’t visit the Boston Tea Party ship because there had been a fire there. It should reopen in 2009.)

The British, when they took over early in the Revolution, used Old South as a stable. Benjamin Franklin was baptized here in 1706, and in 1771 Phyllis Wheatley, the first African American author to publish a book was baptized here and became a member of the congregation. The meeting house also featured an exhibit called “Voices of Protest.” Old South in 1919 established a free speech policy that allowed open discussion of controversial subjects.

I found one last interesting spot on my walk that was not really part of the Freedom Trail. This was the site of the first public school in America, the Boston Latin School. There is a statue of Ben Franklin there and nearby is the old City Hall, now the home of a Ruth Christs Steak House. Also in the yard here is a statue called “Discussion,” featuring a donkey and a set of footprints—yeah kind of different.

After a day of lots of walking, I headed back to the hotel to pack. Again I had no aches and pains. Must be age that it takes three weeks for that to happen! For dinner I headed to the North End to eat Italian again. So many restaurants there I can’t remember where I ate, maybe Saraceno. I had Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana, which was good but had more meat in it than I’ve had before—must be for American palates. I also had two glasses of wine and espresso for $33 with tip. I stopped for gelato at Quincy Market$5 fro a cup of tiramisu and panna cotta, a very good ending to a good day.

I was up early to finish packing. I checked out and waited for the shuttle I had reserved with a company called Zebra. Traffic was awful on the way to the airport; however, that was not crowded. I paid the $25 for my extra bag, ate lunch, and the plane took off on time. Obviously nothing very revolutionary about the end of my journey, but it was a great trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed brushing up my long ago learned United States History lessons.

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