Monday, July 4, 2011

Please Come to Boston

Boston (say Bah-stiin) bills itself as "America's Walking City" and walking is indeed the best way to get around.  Established in 1630, the city mostly reflects the original layout; a seemingly haphazard plan that even confuses longtime residents.  Old Boston is filled with alleys, dead-ends, one way streets, streets that change names and streets named after extinct landmarks.  On the bright side, every wrong turn leads you to an interesting sight you might have missed if the city was laid out logically! 

After a quiet breakfast in our suite we got rid of that car!  Armed with directions from a city bus driver, we found the Alamo office and set off to discover Boston.  How about this view from the Alamo garage?

Boston Bay
We spent our first day in Boston wandering through 2 wonderful museums.  Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) was an individualist before strong-willed women were acceptable in Boston society.  She built an exquisite home in the style of a 15th-century Venetian palace and filled it with European, American and Asian paintings and sculpture.  Besides the amazing sky-lit courtyard filled with gorgeous plants and flowers, you will see works by Titian, Botticelli, Matisse, Raphael, Rembrandt and Mrs. Gardner's friends - James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent.

Titian's Europa
(Widely considered to be one of the most important Renaissance paintings in the U.S.)

Opened to the public after her death, Mrs. Gardner's last will and testament forbid any changes to the arrangement of her art in the museum.  You should know that even before 9/11 this museum was taking security very seriously.  No cameras are allowed inside and anything you bring in will be searched.  Let me tell you why...

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole thirteen works of art from its galleries.  The stolen artworks include The Concert by Vermeer (one of only 34 known works by Vermeer in the world), three works by Rembrandt including The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (the artist’s only known seascape) and a postage-stamp-sized Self-Portrait, five drawings by Degas, Chez Tortoni by Manet, a landscape painting formerly attributed to Rembrandt, and two objects, an ancient Chinese Ku and a finial in the shape of an eagle from a Napoleonic flag.

Several empty frames hang in the Dutch Room gallery, both in homage to the missing works and as a placeholder for their eventual return. 

The stolen artworks have not yet been returned to the museum. However, the investigation remains an open, active case and a top priority of the museum and of the FBI Art Recovery Squad. Some media estimates have put the value of the stolen artworks at as much as $500 million, making the theft the largest single property theft in recorded history.

An offer of a reward from the Gardner Museum of up to $5 million dollars
for information leading to the recovery of the stolen artwork remains open.

I wonder if  James "Whitey" Bulger knows where they are? 
(Boston crime boss that was captured last month after a 16 year manhunt)

After a lovely lunch at The Gardner Cafe, we took a short walk (just a couple of blocks) to the Museum of Fine Art - Boston.  This is a must see for anyone traveling to this wonderful city.  The collections are magnificent and the special exhibits make art accessible to all.  We guarantee you will find something interesting to see here!

This is the look I'm going for in my living room!

Can you tell the difference?

Our second day in Boston was all about HISTORY.  We took a walk to the Boston Common to purchase tickets for the Old Town Trolley.  Along the way we stopped by Firehouse # 33 to pick up a souvenir T-shirt from the very handsome firefighters!  (What?...Guy had a gorgeous nurse in New Hampshire!)

The Freedom Trail is a 3-mile line of red paint or red brick in the sidewalk that links 16 historic sights, many of them associated with the American Revolution.  Instead of taking the 2-hour guided walking tour we opted for a day pass on the trolley...(we recommend this way because you can get on and off as much as you like.)  And you must get off to eat PIZZA in the North End!

Our favorites along the Freedom Trail included:

Boston Common
See the memorial to Col. Robert Shaw & Massachusetts's Colored Regiment
(You saw the movie "Glory" right?)

Massachusetts's State House
Samuel Adams laid the cornerstone in 1795
(Then he had a beer!)

Faneuil Hall
Known as the "Cradle of Liberty"
(All those speeches you had to memorize in American History class were given here!)

Old North Church
Officially named Christ Church, it's the oldest church building in Boston - 1723
(Paul Revere made his "midnight ride" after seeing the light here!)

At each of the 16 historic sites you are offered individual guided tours...pick the ones you are most interested in and enjoy.  I prefer churches and government buildings with very tall ceilings...because of my phobia!  (From the Latin word "phobus" meaning - Seriously, you're scared of that?)

Full disclosure:  I have a problem with old buildings filled with antiques.  I can smell death.  I remember clearly, when I was 13 years old, our family visited Washington, DC.  After touring Ford's Theater, we were guided across the street to see the actual blood-stained pillow (encased in glass) that Lincoln's wounded head laid upon.  That did it for me!  I literally ran out of that old a mouse trapped in a maze...and vomited into a trash bin on the sidewalk.  For the rest of the vacation, I was allowed to stay outside, with one of my Dad's handkerchiefs; which he had sprinkled with his after shave.  To this day, I love the smell of Old Spice!

I was delighted to see all the beautiful and innovative ways these city dwellers displayed flowers and plants.  The brownstone pictured above is in Louisburg Square...the most expensive real estate in Boston.  Their next door neighbor is Senator John Kerry.  You will not see a photo of his home here because his garden was pitiful... (dead plants in the pots and weeds in the window boxes.)  I wonder if his Homeowners Association has made him aware of the Covenants!
When you visit Boston, plan on spending time in the North End, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.  Home to waves of immigrants over the years; it was predominantly Italian for most of the 20th century, but now it is only half Italian-American.  Nevertheless, you will hear Italian spoken in the streets and find dozens of Italian restaurants, cafes and bakeries.   And depending on your timing, you will hear shouts of joy for the Italian soccer team from crowds gathered around TVs.

Our third day in this historical city was all about the Red Sox and shopping. Since it was drizzling rain, we took a $6 cab ride to Fenway Park for a morning tour.  This is a must when you visit Boston!  Steeped in legendary history, Fenway is the oldest ballpark in the country.  (1912)  The tour includes a visit to the Red Sox Hall of Fame and the Press Box...and a walk on the Warning Track, if weather permits.  Since it was raining, our guide took us into the hand-operated scoreboard that fronts the "Green Monster" (37-foot left field wall) instead of on the field.  BONUS!

And even though it was 2006, these fans were still celebrating their 2004 World Series Championship win! had been 86 years since their last pennant win.  After our tour, we took another short cab ride to an incredible lunch in the Back Bay neighborhood at an Italian Steakhouse called Davio's(More about this place in my next post!)  We lingered long enough over cappuccino for the rain to stop and then we went shopping for a treasure to bring home.

That evening we returned to Fenway Park for the Red Sox game versus the Baltimore Orioles.  First, you should know that these are the most expensive tickets in Major League Baseball.  You should also know the seats are tiny.  And the crowds have a reputation for being rowdy.  With all that being said, order your tickets early...nearly every game in Boston is a sell-out.  Thankfully, we know the owner of Second Ticket and he got us great seats on late notice.  (6 rows above the bullpen)  When you go, be sure to have Sausage & Peppers from a street cart along Yawkey Way.

After years of hearing comments about Red Sox fans, we expected everyone to be rowdy in a New England sort of way.  So, we decided to keep a low profile and be Red Sox fans for the night.  We had the best time ever at a baseball game!  First of all, these folks are ALL about baseball.  They stay in their seats and watch the game from beginning to end.  Vendors do NOT sell beer from aisle to aisle; you have to leave your seat for it, so we didn't have to endure any loud drunks.  (Have you been to Wrigley?)  Guy was impressed with the posted and announced Rules of Fenway Etiquette!
The young couple seated on Guy's left (he was from Boston and she was from New York) got engaged!  But she told me "the children would be raised Yankee."  We had so much fun with the folks seated around us, we all walked out of the ballpark together.  In fact, we were enjoying their company so much...we walked right past our hotel!

The next day we started off by visiting 180 Marlborough Street...this brownstone was Guy's father's childhood home.  We will have to return to Boston one day for a Genealogy Tour.  In 2010, after joining I discovered Guy's grandfather is buried here.
After browsing and shopping along Newbury Street and Charles Street, we ducked into what everyone recognizes as "the Cheers bar" but was once called The Bull & Finch Pub.  (See the first photo of this post.)  The location in Beacon Hill looks absolutely nothing like "Sam Malone's" bar.  (There is a spin-off Cheers bar in Faneuil Hall if you want photos.)  This one is a neighborhood bar and has good pub grub, drinks and souvenirs.

In the afternoon we took a short cab ride to Harvard Square.  Guy's grandfather was a graduate of Harvard, along with his good friend Theodore Roosevelt.  We wandered around this beautiful campus and bought a few souvenirs before heading back for afternoon tea at L' Espalier(More on this restaurant in my next post.)  And I did NOT wear jeans to tea!

That evening we had tickets for Blue Man Group at the Charles Playhouse.  Who knew a performance could be so much fun?  Thankfully, we were in the 16th row...the first 10 rows were given plastic ponchos to wear.  These blue men get messy!  After the performance, while trying to hail a cab, we got caught up in a crowd on Charles Street seemingly waiting for a parade.  And...oh say, what did we see?  Red, white and blue buses, fully lit on the inside, carrying all of the Congressional Medal of Honor winners in formal dress!  Absolutely perfect ending to our final evening in Boston - the birthplace of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION!

Finally, our flight home wasn't until 4 in the afternoon on a Sunday, so we took a quiet, leisurely stroll through the Boston Public Gardens and had Sunday brunch in a lovely French bistro.

Next time:


(or all about a surprisingly delicious dining destination)