The Freedom Trail

On July 4 we were probably the most touristy of any time during our entire trip. We took the T, Boston’s subway system, downtown and walked the Freedom Trail. And I, for one, would recommend it highly if you ever happen to be in Boston. You can do it one of two ways. Take a tour, they start at the visitor’s center in Boston Common, or buy your own map (it costs $2.00) and walk it yourself. We opted to buy our own map and walk it ourselves, though we did see many a tour along the way, always lead by a person dressed in period costume.

If you’re a person, like me, who loves history, then this is the tour for you. There’s a lot of history to be had along the 2.5 mile walk… the building where the Declaration of Independence was read, Paul Revere’s house, the Old North Church where the lamps were hung, King’s Chapel, the Old South Meeting House where the group gathered before the Boston Tea Party, the site of the first public school, and the burying ground where Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Franklin’s parents, and John Hancock are buried. To name just a few. It’s spectacular, just being in those places, seeing where history was made.

Besides the history of it all, there are other things to see…. like some of the architecture, Chinatown (that was a slight detour off the tour route… only a couple of T rides and we were there), old buildings next to new, street performers at Quincy Market, the oldest Tavern in the country, and the North End, otherwise known as Little Italy. And Little Italy it is… there were guys walking around in white ribbed tanks with gold chains, older gents sitting on benches in front of restaurants or markets smoking cigarettes or cigars dressed exactly as you would imagine, as if they’d been there every day for years and would be there for years to come. There were older women sitting in chairs on sidewalks chatting it up, or napping. And everywhere we looked, as we walked through, there were Italian restaurants and street corner markets. We loved it there, so much so we decided to have some lunch in the neighborhood. And let me tell you, it was the best Italian meal I’ve ever had. Plus, our wait staff was great… in that sort of “whatever… you eat the pasta or you don’t… who cares” kind of way. They were incredibly attentive and helpful, even answering our question about what the name of the restaurant meant, but they seemed to have to warm up to us. At first they could care less, but by the time we were done and leaving everyone was making a point of saying goodbye to us, almost like we’d become part of the family. It was great.

We ended our day in the city by taking a trip on the T to China Town, and let me say… wow. Talk about feeling like we were in a foreign country (kind of like when we were in Little Italy). Everything was written in Chinese, all the people were Asian, and the smells coming out of some of the restaurants were stupendous. We thought, man, if we hadn’t already eaten, we’d certainly be sitting down for some real Chinese food. It was the best China Town I’ve been in, except for maybe the ones in San Francisco and Honolulu, though this was close.

Finally, to cap off the day, after we’d made our way back to our hotel room for a couple hours of rest and relaxation, we walked down to the Longfellow Bridge (which goes over the Charles River between Cambridge and Boston) and found a spot to watch the fireworks. Boston’s fireworks for the fourth of July have no rival, save for possibly the show put on in D.C. The Boston Pops performed (with speakers on the Cambridge side… so we did hear it), John Mellencamp performed, and the fireworks themselves were spectacular. We had never seen anything like them. Not only were there so many it was incredibly bright, but there were literally some fireworks we’d never seen… like the ones that looked like lines with a little parachute on the end that kept them afloat for an amazingly long time, or the others in the shapes of planets with rings, hearts, boxes, smiley faces, and stars. Then there was the entertainment standing behind us. There were several guys and girl, all from the area, with very thick Boston accents, talking about a trip they took and what they thought of the fireworks. Listening to them was almost as entertaining as watching the fireworks and listening to the Boston Pops. We think they were college kids and we liked them instantly.

All in all it was a great way to spend the 4th of July. We started the day with a tour of the streets and buildings where the pursuit of our freedom started, and we ended the day watching a celebration of that freedom. It was pretty unforgettable.

Traveling North of Boston

Today we went to towns with names like Gloucester, Ipswich, Salem, Revere, Essex, and Rockport. It was, yes, another good day.

We spent most of our time in Salem, walking the city checking out all the sites to be seen. I had two reactions to it. One, it was strange and sort of cool to be in a place I’ve read so much about, knowing that major events from our history took place right where we were walking. The other reaction… Salem is a tourist town. We found few places with any historical information. What we did find… a lot of tours, mysteriously all costing around $8.00 (actually, we didn’t find that, we were told that by a couple of guys we stopped and asked directions from). They were everywhere. We’d see a sign, looking like it would be pointing us to a historical point of interest, like the Witch Village, and we’d get there and find it was a shop selling witch “stuff”. Whatever that is. We never went into any of the shops. All I know for sure is that the popularity of the Harry Potter books has been quite the boon for Salem tourism. We did manage to find some very cool older buildings and the burying point, a cool yet sort of creepy cemetery. Again though, getting back to my first point, it was cool being in a place where we know so much history happened.

After Salem we made our way to Gloucester, on Cape Ann, where we had some lunch, yes I had another lobster roll ( at the market value price of just under $24… it was good, though I’m not sure it was THAT good… Karen had Cajun Haddock and it was only $12. I tasted it, and it was as good if not better than mine. Ah well… we are in New England… a girl has to have her lobster roll. I think it’s a rule or something) Things were hoppin’ in Gloucester. The streets were lined with people staking out places for the evenings parade. We thought about staying to watch, but decided to get out of town before it started. From Gloucester we went to Ipswich, the town with the distinction of being the oldest period town in the country. It was incorporated in, I believe, 1626. However, we didn’t stay long… seems people in Ipswich don’t believe in public restrooms, so we had to go, because, you guessed it, we had to go. We ended up stopping just out of town at a public pool, seeing a bunch of cars there and thinking they must have one. They did, and when Karen went inside there were a bunch of little girls who screamed when she walked in. And as she came out of the stall they all started saying, “she’s coming out, she’s coming out”. She said it was hilarious.

From there we traveled back toward Cambridge, making it in time to walk across to Boston, look around a little, walk over to the Esplanade where the Boston Pops was practicing for the big event tomorrow, and finally walking back over the river and to our hotel. With a stop, of course, for what has become our nightly ritual of getting a slice of cheese cake at the Cheese Cake Factory. Tonight… original cheese cake with strawberries for Karen, and chocolate mousse for me. Tasty.

Tomorrow… the plan anyway, is that we take the T into Boston, walk the freedom trail, enjoy some food, somewhere, and then finish off the day with a viewing of the 4th fireworks in Bean Town. Should be fun. I say the plan because with us, we usually have some sort of idea about what we’re going to do, but we don’t like to set anything in stone. We love to go off the path, hence our day today, when we left Salem and headed North to Cape Ann. That was not the original idea, but it’s where we ended up, and we had a great time.

Happy Birthday To You… Karen

Today was my Karen’s 50th birthday, and in honor of that we ventured out to places called Cape Cod, Plymouth, Sandwich, and Provincetown. We had a blast. We started, as always, by grabbing a chai, and then drove South toward the cape. We stopped in Plymouth and looked at the Mayflower II (though we couldn’t find Plymouth Rock… who knew, we thought it would be easy, but alas, there were no signs and it was getting dark… next time), we paused at the Cape Cod Canal to take some pictures, and stopped in Provincetown, at the end of the line, to have some dinner. What did we have for dinner you ask? Well… I had the famous New England lobster roll (and it was good), and Karen had some very tasty shrimp. We ended the day by getting a couple of slices of cheese cake from the Cheese Cake Factory (Karen chose plain New York with some sliced strawberries) as a birthday cake. Yum!

Now we’re all comfy on our nice cozy bed, and Karen’s wrapped up in her leopard print plush bathrobe covered up by her faux fur blanket. We love this hotel. Tomorrow… Salem.

Northampton and the Quabbin Reservoir

We traveled off toward Western Mass. today to a small town called Northampton. We’d read about it before… smartest town in the U.S. (there are 5 Universities there) and also it’s the town that’s supposed to have the most PLUs (people like us) of any U.S. town.

After sleeping in a bit and then getting a chai at the Starbucks nearby, we jumped on I-90 West. Now, I-90 is a toll road, and for those of us from Oregon (where there are no toll roads), this sometimes can pose a problem. For one thing, they don’t always tell you how it works, and trust me, it works differently in different places. So what happens is, you’re speeding along at 65 and suddenly there are signs that say there’s a toll plaza ahead. That’s when the tension starts. You approach quickly, trying to figure out which line you need to be in… and there are different lines… one for the people with passes, a couple for people who need tickets, two or three for people who are going to pay right then and get off. It’s a bit mind boggling. And there we were, Karen and I, starting to panic saying to each other, is this the right line? How about that one? Where do we need to be? Finally… you pick one, and you hope it’s right. We pulled up to a ticket booth and a ticket popped out and I took it (I was driving). I’m sure that if, as the sign said, there was a camera photographing all who passed through, the picture of me would show a woman who had this panicked shocked confused expression. It made us both laugh. How could it not?

After the horror of the toll, we successfully navigated our way to the hamlet of Northampton, MA. And… we absolutely loved it there. Massachusetts is lovely (I just had to ask Karen how to spell Massachusetts… I wasn’t sure. I was close, but hey, like Karen said, it’s not like Mississippi, whose spelling is beaten into all elementary school kids so you never forget. It’s harder… ) It’s green, there’s a lot of water around in the form of lakes and rivers, and it’s hilly, so there’s movement to the landscape, but your view isn’t really obstructed. We also loved Northampton. For one thing it’s a university town, a major university town. There are five of them here, so take a university town you know and multiply the funkiness by five… lots of art, lots of little restaurants, no fast food joints, no mini malls, lots of great architecture, and very friendly liberal people. It was very much our kind of place. We enjoyed a lunch of Thai food, cruised around Smith College, walked around the downtown area, and then made our way toward toward Amherst, back toward Boston.

On the way, just east of Amherst, we came across the Quabbin Reservoir, so we drove in to take a look. It was gorgeous. Lovely landscape, and beautiful views. While there we found the Quabbin Tower and took quite a few photos of it and the reservoir. I’ll blog a couple of them, and have already put a few more on flickr, so check them out.

From Quabbin we drove along hwy 9 east back to Boston. It was a longer, but a much nicer drive than returning on I-90. We hit several little towns, stopping for another chai in Worchester.

Now we’re back in our room, having found our way back to it via a drive through downtown Boston. It’s 11:33 Eastern and we’re tired. Tomorrow, for Karen’s birthday, we’re driving to Plymouth Rock and then Cape Cod. Fun, fun!