My younger sister S is one of my Absolute Most Favorite People of All Time Anywhere. We used to share a room growing up, and when we’d inevitably fight over you-stole-my-this or stop-looking-at-my-that, our mother would come into our room, hands on her hips, and say: “Girls. You are SO lucky to have your best friend spend the night Every. Single. Night. Sisters are best friends.”
S and I hated when she said that because when you’re eight and just want your Barbie back, it sounds really stupid.
But surprise, surprise- somewhere soon after, we really did become best friends. Now we’re so close that we finish each other’s sentences and can tell what the other is thinking. Like a set of creepy twins.
Not long ago, S decided to spend her days getting a PhD in Psychological Neuroscience. 8 year old Me would’ve known this was done solely to show me up, but Grown-Up Me is simply amazed and awestruck by her dedication and knowledge of all things science. Recently, she passed her Qualifying Exams, which are the PhD equivalent of final exams: in essence, a reeeally big deal.
To celebrate, S flew out to New York to visit Mr. M & me, and because she hasn’t seen much of the East Coast, we decided to take a day-trip to Boston. Or Bastawn, as the locals say. Don’t be afraid to get nasal with it.
Day #11,044: S and I were up at 4am to catch the early train. I positively adore train travel, and the ride to Boston- especially along the NY/Connecticut waterfront- did not disappoint. S and I set ourselves up with paper cups of burnt dining car coffee, and enjoyed the scenery pointed out by a very friendly Amtrak conductor who seemed to delight in telling us girls about various cities and points of interest.
We arrived into Boston South Station and headed for Charles Street, the main thoroughfare of Beacon Hill. Beacon Hill is one of the oldest communities in Boston and retains its colonial architecture and a heck of a lot of charm.
S was immediately won over by all the brick row houses and gas lamps and decided she loved Boston, twenty minutes after arriving.
After meeting two dear college friends for lunch on Charles Street, S and I were on to every first-time visitor’s main attraction: The Freedom Trail!
The Freedom Trail takes you back to the American Revolution via sixteen different historical sites in central Boston. Like the path to Oz, it’s quite literally a brick road that you follow- no maps required- and it does a marvelous job of keeping tourists informed, happy, and mostly out of the way of commuting Bostonians.
Although it’s supposedly 2.5 miles, I don’t believe it, not one bit. I normally do a lot of city walking, and we were exhausted at the end of the day.
Wear comfy shoes.
S and I backtracked a bit to start at the very beginning in Boston Common, the oldest public park in America. We were all set to go when something small and felty caught S’s eye. Five minutes later, unable to continue without it, she was the proud owner of a novelty three-cornered colonial hat. And we could begin.
There’s so much history to The Freedom Trail that I can’t begin to do it justice; for a whole heap of information, including maps and a SmartPhone app, see the official site: www.thefreedomtrail.org. For the random musings of me, carry on.
After wandering Boston Common (the Frog Pond is pretty spectacular… a public pool- and carousel- in the middle of the park!), we headed for the Granary Burying Ground.
S & I both love cemeteries. Despite the obvious connection with loss, cemeteries collect so many signs of love and celebration of life: a well-swept grave, a bouquet of flowers, the American flags thoughtfully placed by a headstone. Rather than give us the heebie-jeebies, cemeteries feel peaceful… and Granary Burying Ground really was a lovely, grassy respite in the center of Boston.
After getting our fill of cool, leafy cemetery, we continued on past the site of the first public school in America. The Boston Latin School opened in 1635. Now it’s a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Huh.
Next up was the Old State House- the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770, which helped galvanize opposition against the British. Thomas Jefferson read the Declaration of Independence from this balcony in 1776- which is pretty darn wild.
Halfway through The Trail, we found an old book in Fanueil Hall with black and white photographs of the various parts of Boston that we had seen thus far.
I love being in the midst of history- such a wonderful reminder of how small you are in the grand scheme of things and how big any one act can turn out to be.
All that history can make two girls hungry, though. One of S’s Bostonian best friends recommended Caffé Vittoria off The Trail in the North End, Boston’s Little Italy.
Coming from someone who currently lives in New York’s Little Italy and once lived quite close to San Francisco’s, I think Boston’s is the best by far. Somehow it still manages to be quaint without being too gimmicky… and the Italian food is actually… dare I say it… good! Sorry NYC. I hope this doesn’t lead to a run-in with the mob next time I walk Charlie Mae around our hood.
While we stopped at a light, S in her ridiculous colonial hat and me with a backpack and giant camera in hand (no shame… sometimes it’s fun to be a tourist), a young woman came up to ask us for directions. I shouldn’t have found this funny- normally I love helping visitors with directions or pictures, like an unofficial goodwill ambassador or something- but I don’t think it could’ve been any more obvious that we weren’t from the city. We smiled and apologized for not being able to help, and promptly got the giggles over a local Bostonian wearing a colonial hat to go run errands.
One of our favorite stops was the Old North Church, where Paul Revere hung his famous lanterns (remember ‘one if by land, two if by sea’?) to signal the British troops advancing by boat.
We arrived at the Bunker Hill Monument in plenty of time to climb, but we California girls are really not built for the heat and humidity. S rightly recommended we pace ourselves. Instead of climbing, she read me an informational pamphlet about the Battle of Bunker Hill while I lay in the grass and drank an iced coffee and watched the clouds pass above the monument. Ever the sport, S read in various voices (ominous for the approaching Redcoats, scared & trembly for the firsthand accounts of onlookers)… I think several nearby families got into the spirit, too.
Once she had entertained Bunker Hill, we continued on to what turned out to be S’s favorite stop- the USS Constitution- the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat.
Old Ironsides- the ship’s nickname because the thing was unsinkable- was one of those sights S just never thought she would see. We finished exactly as the clock struck 6pm and its Navy caretakers ushered us off the boat. Perfect timing!
Our day couldn’t be complete without one last thing:
As we rode the Amtrak back into NYC that evening, our daytrip to Boston complete, I realized how excited I was that I still had S in NYC for two more days. Momma was right- it does rule having your best friend spend the night.
**Props to my seester for taking some of these photos… honestly can’t remember which ones, so a general shout out will have to do.**
You Can Do It, Too!
Transportation: Depending on where you’re coming from, Amtrak does a great job getting you within a short walk of The Freedom Trail. From South Station, walk along Summer Street to cut through Boston’s Downtown Crossing, an outdoor mall of sorts. It’ll leave you right on Boston Common, at the start of The Trail.
Eats: Caffe Vittoria (396 Hanover) is just off The Trail and seriously has the BEST cannolis. The ricotta pie was just okay… like a chunky cheesecake, if that’s your thing. Cash only.
Tips & Tricks: There’s no reason why you have to start at Boston Common! To avoid some of the crowds, start at Old Ironsides and follow the brick path back to downtown.
To get to Old Ironsides, you have to go through airport-like security. Just so’s you know.
For maximum historical enjoyment, get thyself a tri-corn colonial hat from the Visitors Information Center in Boston Common- for $8, it made for some great photos and several shout-outs from amused locals.