On Boston

Oct 07, 2012 | 6 minutes read

Tags: blog

EI133 Upon arrival, I was greeted by 20 degrees, and beautiful autumnal New England sunshine. EI133 was the shortest trans-atlantic flight I’d been on, and it barely felt like long haul at all. Jet Lag? 0.

I was also greeted by a 2012 Toyota Corolla, courtesy of Hertz. Whilst thankfully not a Nissan, it’s still a struggle to see how this gets classified as ‘intermediate’ car. I was shocked at the level of finish for a modern car, which was completely incomparable to most modern manufacturers. Still, it’s transport! After dumping bags, I took my first venture into Boston, parking at Boston Common for the day at a very reasonable $12 (Sunday rate).

The first thing that stuck me was such incredible cleanliness. Footpaths, road ways, parks – everything pristine. It’s almost Germanic in nature, something I don’t recall seeing in San Francisco, Seattle or Austin.

I took a wander through the ‘middle bits’ of the city first, and eventually stumbled upon the site of the old beltway at Atlantic Avenue. A few years ago, this elevated highway was torn down and replaced by a park which loops around the east side of the city, the result of a massively over budget project called the ‘Big Dig’. It’s a collection of public gardens, fountains and greenery, and it’s an amazing amenity, which came from dire beginnings.


From here, I ended up in Waterfront, where boat trips leave from. Beautiful, apartments, but a little touristy. Christopher Columbus Park is a great place to kick back. From Waterfront onto the North End, the Italian quarter. This was particularly European feeling, with the most incredible array of restaurants, many of which had a queue stretching along the block.

Uphill in the North End brought me to Copp’s Hill burial ground – which was, unfortunately , closed. Heading downhill again towards the Charles River brought me to the first less salubrious part of the city, a pattern which continued until passing the Longfellow Bridge, which leads to Cambridge. The banks of the river from here onwards are sublime. A parkland path meanders along the riverside, dotted with occasional pontoons.

The outdoor culture of the city is well personified here. The path is crowded with joggers, cyclists, people kayaking, sailing and rollerblading.

Day two saw me parked in Harvard Square. On the doorstep of the university of its namesake, the area is packed with students – but not the rowdy, all-you-can-drink variety. Although it was early, this bunch seem pretty mature.

Harvard Square has a stunning collection of cool shops and restaurants, plenty of which are independent.
One of the worst things about America I’ve found is the sheer quantity of chain or franchise restaurants. From fast food to slightly more upmarket sit down affairs, a staggering majority of eateries are chain operated. Thankfully, in many downtown districts, independents reign.

Harvard Yard is a stunning campus. Interestingly, I’m not sure it matches some of the campuses of Cambridge, England in terms of majesty. Even Trinity’s own Front Square felt a little more imposing – but I am, perhaps, a little biased.  Harvard certainly wins on quantity, however. Not a portacabin in sight!
Lonely Planet recommended an Indian restaurant – it was pretty mediocre. A $20 parking fee later (ouch!), and that was it for the night.

Tuesday evening brought me to Davis Square, which could be summarised as a more laid back, slightly less busy Harvard Square. For the first time, I managed to find on street parking – in the heart of Davis, and only 1$/hr! Davis is a collection of (almost entirely independent) restaurants, coffee shops and bars, with a great community feel to it.
I decided to give Lonely Planet another try – this time, ‘Redbones’ – a BBQ joint. Amazing food, huge beer menu, and thoroughly recommended – possibly the best meal of the trip.

As the week rolled on, work and weather curtailed my exploring. Cabin fever on Friday evening set in, as I spent the evening driving around in a torrential downpour, exploring South Boston. Unfortunately, it’s hard to reach any conclusions in the dark, but the waterfront looks nice!

Saturday brought me back into the city centre – this time via the MBTA parking garage at the end of the red line in Alewife. ‘The T’ seems like a pretty exceptional service, and arrives into the city centre in no time. In future, I’ll be getting off at Park Street, a great location, rather than Downtown Crossing, which felt like a kind of nowhere in the city centre.

Another day spent walking around the city (with many destinations shared from the previous Sunday) gave a great flavor for the city. I found Quincy Market (seemingly missing it by about 40m the previous week), which truth be told seemed a little overrated. I’d take Cork’s English Market any day!
After some 9km of walking around the city, and back through Cambridge and Somerville, I was back at the MBTA garage, and back to the hotel.

On Sunday I needed to be at the airport for 4pm, so naturally I got in some last minute sight seeing.
Not really.. What actually happened was, I made one last ditch attempt to obtain an unlocked iPhone 5. Radioshack proved very accommodating, and a stock check of nearby stores revealed availability in one store, 30 minutes up the coast in a small town named Swampscott. This gave me the opportunity to explore the coastline north of Boston on the route back, through some nice seaside towns. This also routed me back through Reveere and Chelsea, which were the only particularly rough looking areas I’d encountered.

My last few hours were spent exploring Charlestown, and some of the squares of Somerville and Cambrdige.
Charlestown had some nice waterfront districts, and certainly seemed what realtors would describe as ‘up and coming’, but lacked any sort of feel of a community.
Of the squares, Davis remains a clear favourite, but Imman is a close second – it’s only disadvantage the lack of an MBTA station.

From here, it was on to the airport, and an even shorter flight back home. Strangely, unlike the outbound journey, the way back introduced some considerable jetlag.

So, some thoughts.
The Boston Accent is often the subject of mockery – most recently, the 2012 comedy Ted. It really only begins to grate in the most extreme of cases, which are fortunately rare. The fact the city is such a melting pot of cultures both domestic and foreign does much to alleviate any hint of an irritant!
The description of a ‘More European’ city is a partial truth – in terms of  street layout, certainly – but it still retains a strong American feel. It’s almost a ‘best of both worlds’. The roots of the city, and the origin of terms such as ‘American-Irish’ and ‘American-Italian’ become much more apparent. In Boston, it seems so much easier to classify.

It seems that Boston’s neighbour, the Cambridge districts often get overlooked. I’d thoroughly recommend visitors take an hour or two to at least explore Harvard Square and University.

In conclusion, Boston is a great city, and easily a rival for the others I’ve been equally enamoured with in the US.
A visit is thoroughly recommended.