Ever since I was a kid, I have always wanted to go to Boston. The name stuck to my mind after being endlessly brought up in history class during my years of school. And as someone who loves history, it seemed like the ideal place to go. I’ve been to Philadelphia, New York, Washington, and other major cities along the Eastern seaboard, but I never really took the time to make a trip to Boston. That is, until just recently. Earlier this month, I came back East for a friend’s wedding in New Jersey. Determined to make the most of my week-long trip, I decided to finally take the initiative and make my way up to New England for the first time.
Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t discovered the budget bus lines that appear to dominate the eastern half of the country. A few months ago I was reading a blog about cheap travel and learned that, for quite a few years now, companies like BoltBus and MegaBus have been offering rides as low as $1 to cities all over the East Coast, the South, the Midwest, and parts of Canada. I’d call it a steal, but I think even that would be an understatement. Greyhound fares often start out around $30 and Amtrak is nearly twice as much (PHL-BOS one-way). And with all the extra fees airlines are charging now, that wasn’t even an option for me. So I decided to go with MegaBus since I could book my ticket earlier than the other companies. Although I didn’t get the coveted $1 deal, I still managed to snag a one-way fare for $19. Not bad for a seven-hour bus ride!
After bidding farewell to friends & family and standing outside in unusually hot weather (for this time of year at least), I hopped on one of MegaBus’ huge double-deckers at Philly’s 30th Street Station. Although the bus arrived nearly 40 minutes late (must have hit traffic coming up from DC), we still managed to make good time. The interior is built much like that of an airplane—tight seating with an overhead light and air conditioning unit. There are plug-ins under the seats for charging electronics. Free Wi-Fi is also advertised, but I had trouble connecting. So I spent most of the time reading and watching the scenery go by. Other than that, it’s nothing fancy. But for only $19, I wasn’t expecting much anyway and was happy that it got me from point A to point B so cheap. We did make a quick stop outside of New York City and another in Connecticut, but other than that it was pretty much straight through to Boston.
I couldn’t resist listening to Augustana’s “Boston” as we drove into the city seven hours later. We eventually pulled into South Station where I met up with my friend and CouchSurfing host, Andy. We hopped on the next train (actually, it was more of a mad dash as the train was just about to leave) back to his dorm at Northeastern University. This was my first time CouchSurfing and I was a little nervous on how things would turn out. But he turned out to be a great first host and even treated me to dinner after I got my stuff settled in. After talking over dinner and walking around campus for a bit, we headed back and crashed at his place.
The following morning I woke up to a warm, sunshiny spring day. Andy had work so I spent most of the day on my own exploring the city. I hopped on the “T” (Boston lingo for the public transit) and headed downtown.
So here’s the first of the many things that impressed me about the city: transportation. For one, the transit system is super-efficient and makes it very easy to get around. I never took the bus, but the subway seemed to be the way to go at only $1.70 per ride. They’re even conveniently color-coded and branch throughout all the major parts of the metro area.
Once I reacehd downtown, I decided to begin the day by heading over to the waterfront to find a geocache near where the Boston Tea Party occurred and then caught a ride on one of the Inter-Harbor ferries to check out the Navy Yard in Charlestown (also a $1.70 ride). It was a quick trip, but it sure beat walking and offered a nice vantage point of the city from the water.
The Navy Yard was a pretty cool place. They have the USS Cassin Young (WWII-era destroyer) and famed USS Constitution on display there, so I took the time to go on both of them. I remember reading about the Constitution in social studies/history class throughout my years of schooling so it was interesting seeing it in person. I learned that it’s not only the oldest commissioned warship in the world, but it is also still on active duty. In fact, active duty sailors were on board whom showed us around. So basically, if the Navy really wanted to, they could send it out into action. But of course, that’s very unlikely since the cannon-cladded barge would be pretty ineffective nowadays. Overall, it kind of reminded me of the ships you’d see on Pirates of the Caribbean. Best of all, it was free!
After exploring the Navy Yard, I headed north going further into Charlestown toward Bunker Hill. I originally didn’t plan on going there, but I figured it wasn’t that far of a walk and I was already in the area. And I’m actually really glad I went because it turned out to be among my favorite parts of town. Getting there was made a lot easier by following the Freedom Trail, which meanders its way throughout the whole city highlighting all the historic sites. The monument is basically a granite obelisk—a mini-version of the Washington Monument in DC. To my surprise, you could actually go in it (for free!) so I huffed and puffed up the 294 steps on the narrow, spiral staircase. There are windows at the top for viewing, which offer some nice views of the city and surrounding area.
Afterwards I followed the Freedom Trail back into the city and explored the North End—another part of the city that I really enjoyed. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in Boston and is home to many of the city’s historic sites. It also seems to be quite the place for eating! Also known as the Italian neighborhood, there are plenty of restaurants, cafés, gelaterias, and bakeries to choose from. Since the weather was warm, a lot of the establishments were open-air. I had my first cannoli at one of the pastry shops and then proceeded through the plethora of brick-lined and cobblestone streets toward the Old North Church.
Another thing I really liked about Boston—the unique blend of both modern and historic architecture. You could be walking down the street surrounded by huge skyscrapers, go around the corner and then suddenly stumble across a little church or house that’s been there for hundreds of years. It appears they do a pretty good job when it comes to preserving their history. Come to think of it, that’s how it seems to be for a lot of eastern cities. Although this is practiced out west as well, it doesn’t appear to happen as much. For the most part, if a building is old it gets torn down to make room for something new to come in. Not so much in Boston—history and tradition is definitely a valued part of the local culture.
After wandering the streets in the North End for a little while (and taking a sneak peak of Paul Revere’s house), I lost track of the Freedom Trail and started walking down random streets and alleyways toward Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. It seemed like this was another place where all the locals and tourists alike were hanging out as it was super crowded. It reminded me a little bit of Pike’s Place Market in Seattle—minus the fish flying through the air. I thought about getting a bite to eat here, but decided to pass for a later time since it was packed. Instead, I continued on with my aimless wanderings, finding a few geocaches along the way, and eventually finding myself in East Cambridge across the river at a pretty neat park (North Point I think it was called).
That’s pretty much how I spent the afternoon—strolling down cobblestone streets adorned with quaint colonial houses, occasionally coming across a small park or plaza. I eventually managed to make my way to the Boston Common & Public Garden, which is the city’s largest park as well as the oldest in the country. This was another thing that impressed me about Boston: the parks. Out of all the American cities I’ve been to so far, I would rank Boston pretty high on its parks. Maybe it’s just because I came in the spring when everything was in bloom, but I also think the overall design and landscaping was really nice. When I arrived at the Common in the late afternoon, it was nearly 80 degrees and there were tons of people walking through the park or just hanging out on the huge grassy lawns. The Common was another one of my favorite parts of the city (you can never have too many favorites!). I could have sat in the shade of a tree or just lay in the grass, soaking in the blissful, warm, radiant sunshine for rest of the day without a care in the world, watching life go by; but I only had a day and a half in the city and I was determined to see as much as I could.
I made my way to the nearest subway station that I could find (while taking a detour along ritzy Commonwealth Avenue and Newbury Street) and caught the T to Cambridge to see Harvard University. By this time it was starting to get dark so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on campus. Therefore, I don’t really have a lot to say about it other than it looked pretty nice from what I saw. And as one of the most prestigious schools in the world, I may or may not have doubted my intelligence while walking around.
It was already dark by the time I made it back downtown. I wanted to see if I could take a few night shots of the city from a park I heard about before I headed back to Northeastern, so I made my way over there and got a couple of long-exposures. I also wanted to get some New England cuisine for dinner so I headed back to Quincy Market in hopes of acquiring a lobster roll. It wasn’t meant to be however, since I came too late and everything was closing. So I had to settle for Subway on my way back to the T station.
I was pretty beat from walking around all day so I just chilled with Andy back at his place. The next day I had a few hours to kill before I had to head off to the airport, so I packed up and said farewell to my new friend and caught the T to Boston Common. It was another brilliant spring day and I spent most of the morning sitting under a willow tree by the pond, taking pictures and watching people (in a non-creepy way). Around noon I finally got to try a lobster roll from the market before taking one last T ride toward the airport. Before flying out, I took a detour to a little-known park I had heard about that offered a fantastic panoramic view of the city—a perfect ending to my 42 hour trip in my new favorite American city!
Notes on Boston:
There is honestly so much to see and do here that I couldn’t possibly do it all in a day and a half (which makes for a good reason to come back again!). I still would like to catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, try New England’s famous clam chowder (chowdah!), take a ferry ride out to some of the Harbor Islands, and maybe explore some of the surrounding areas like Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Maine. But for now, I’m very happy I finally made a visit. To sum things up, here are a few things I noticed/observed:
- One thing I noticed was that many people I saw walking around appeared no older than 40. Most people seemed to be pretty fit and there were always tons of people out running or walking their dogs. And with so many universities around there’s no doubt that there’s a large college-aged population. I definitely got the feeling that Boston is a “young” city.
- Before coming to Boston, I had heard that it was nicknamed “America’s Walking City”. I can definitely see why now. Compared to other cities I’ve been to, Boston is very compact and everything always seems to be within walking distance. Even the airport is close enough to walk to if you really wanted to. The city is very pedestrian friendly with plenty of paths and other byways suited for bikes and walkers. This, combined with the efficient transit system, makes getting around cheaply a piece of cake. I can’t imagine driving here though—it would be a nightmare.
- There seems to be a certain vibe to this city that is uniquely Boston. I had a hard time trying to compare it to other American cities I’ve been to and the best I could come up with was somewhat of a blend of Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington. But that’s probably off. Between all the colleges and universities, the city’s sports craze (city of champions!), the maritime New England feel, the Italian and Irish influences, the accents, and high value for history & tradition, Boston definitely stands out among the crowd.