Friday, December 13, 2013

Boston: The Best Bits

Before the Christmas rush began, we had a week in Boston over the Thanksgiving period. Some sightseeing, some shopping - a great holiday, even if it was the coldest week of the winter thus far. If you're visiting Boston, here are some of the highlights we enjoyed:

1. Harvard University Tour *
You have the option of paying $10 or more for some tours, but we went on the free tour of Harvard Yard with a student tour guide. Our tour was well informed, giving us lots of information about the history of Harvard, the oldest university in America, as well as lots of trivia about the New England architecture, and what it's like to study at such a prestigious place of learning.
The Memorial Church

2. The JFK Library and Museum
JFK Library
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, JFK, was born and raised in Boston and had served as Senator for the State of Massachusetts before becoming President of the USA. The Library and Museum built in his memory is worth visiting for the view of the Boston skyline from the (disappointingly poor) cafe. The museum is fairly detailed, although, due to a little bit of confusion, we were ushered past the first cinema which actually dealt with the assassination and funeral. The tour proper begins with a presentation of JFK in his own words, compiled from hours of video interviews and footage of his childhood and early campaigning. It's probably the best bit of the whole museum. After that, the visitor is brought through a series of exhibitions, from the presidential candidate interviews, election count, inauguration, and a replica of parts of the White House, including the Oval Office. You'd need to be fairly fanatical about the Kennedys, though, as the level of detail can be a bit overwhelming.

Massive Stars and Stripes

3. Skywalk Observatory: The Prudential Center
Trinity Church and the Hancock Tower
This might be the very first thing you should do on arrival in Boston. The Prudential Center is a massive shopping centre with lots of shops, eating places, hotels and lots besides. The 50th floor of the Prudential Tower is a brilliant observatory with audio guides telling the visitor what they're looking at across the skyline of Boston. The guide also tells you about lots of other visitor centres and tourist attractions, so that's why I say it should probably be done first. On a clear day you can see for miles, and it's also open until late in the evening if you wanted to see the city in a different light. Probably because it's enclosed (and therefore warmer), I enjoyed this more than the top of the Empire State Building in New York.
Fenway Park

4. The Freedom Trail
Freedom Trail Tour Guide
Boston was at the heart of the American Revolution and independence from Britain. The Freedom Trail brings the visitor from Boston Common along a red brick path through the city centre past some of the important sites and sights connected with the independence movement. The path is well marked, and you could follow it yourself. We decided to go on one of the official tours with a guide, who would hopefully be able to tell us more than we knew about the American Revolution. He was the best tour guide - funny, informative, knowledgeable, and inspiring. He really did bring history alive as we walked along the streets and stopped at the key sites.
The Old State House
The State House

The Freedom Trail begins at Boston Common, where we found George Washington in a sports jersey
Washington Monument
and the cheekiest squirrels:
Cheeky Squirrel

5. New England Aquarium
I've no pictures of this on Flickr yet, but it really is the best aquarium I've visited. Imagine an oblong building, with a huge glass tube running up through the middle of it. On four or five floors, the central display houses thousands of fish and sea creatures, with my personal favourite, the turtles. Along the outer edges of the building are a variety of smaller, specialised displays of tropical fish, sea creatures, wildlife and such like, and on the ground floor, several different varieties of penguin. It's well worth visiting, especially if it's a wet day outside.

6. Shopping
No pictures of this, but shoppers looking for bargains will not be disappointed. The State of Massachusetts declares that clothing up to a value of $175 is a necessity, and therefore doesn't levy any Sales Tax (VAT to those of us in the UK and Ireland). The difference in price is astonishing, especially when branded items seem to be even cheaper in America than across the Atlantic pond. If you're in Boston, a visit to the Wrentham Village outlet mall is well worth the travel cost.

7. Boston Tea Party
They do really good tea in Boston - but then they would have to, since they had rebelled over the tax on tea in the first place. With the weather so cold, it was vital to keep wrapped up warm and to keep refreshed with good tea and snacks. Even though there was a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts on every street corner, we found a real, proper, great coffee shop, where we became like the many regulars (it was always packed). Thinking Cup on Tremont Street (running down the side of Boston Common) was brilliant - good tea, friendly staff, and really good almond macaroons in a variety of flavours (and flavors). They also sell Stumptown Coffee, not that I drink coffee, but it must be good as there was always a queue for tables!
Boston Tea Party

8. Trinity Church and Phillips Brooks
I realise this may not be for everyone, but I was delighted to be able to see Trinity Church in Boston. One of its previous Rectors is a bit of a legend in the world of evangelical preaching: Phillips Brooks. Brooks was the author of several hymns, including the well known Christmas carol 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' and is also famous for his dictum that 'preaching is truth through personality' - quoted almost religiously in most modern books on preaching. After being Rector at Trinity, he became Bishop of Massachusetts and was obviously well thought of, since there's a bust of him in a side chapel inside Trinity Church and a slightly bizarre statue of him and Emperor Palpatine Jesus(?) outside the church in Copley Square.
Phillips Brooks Bust
Phillips Brooks Statue

So there you go, a few suggestions of things to see and do when you're in Boston. There was more than we could fit into a week, so hopefully we'll make it back at some stage in the future.

* Technically, of course, Harvard isn't in Boston, it's in Cambridge Massachusetts, the city just across the Charles river from Boston. Harvard is, however, accessible on the Boston Metro (subway) so it might as well be Boston, and well worth a visit while in the state capital.

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