Friday, January 29, 2010

Following the Freedom Trail - Boston, MA (USA)

Destination:  Boston, MA
Number of Days Spent:  3 days
Where we stayed:  We stayed with Antonia, David & Aaron, Jason's cousins.  Thanks guys for hosting us! 
Best restaurant:   The Fresh Catch in Mansfield is somewhat of an institution.  What looks like a warehouse on the outside gives way to a fresh seafood counter with a delicious restaurant attached.  The joint is popular with Patriot football players, even on the night we were there there were a couple of big linemen in there chowing down.  After wandering around Boston for a couple of days and seeing Mike's Pastry boxes in everyone's hands, we had to check it out.  Everything we got was sinfully delicious, but cannoli are their speciality.  Sorry fans, we didn't make it to the famed Union Oyster House, perhaps next time.
Best of:  Surprisingly friendly people (despite what you hear about New Englander's), Independence Hall, huffing and puffing to the top of Bunker Hill & the Boston Fine Art Museum
Worst of:   Sorry Boston, Dunkin Donuts doesn't hold a candle to Krispy Kreme as far as doughnuts are concerned. 
Most Memorable: In one of our few attempts to try and cheat the system, we tried using an expired train pass.  The conductor caught us, but luckily didn't fine us for our weak attempt to save a couple of bucks.  Just proves that we are horrible liars and even worse at cheating. 

Useful Tip:   Save some time, a little money, and get a great view of the Boston Harbor by taking the Public Ferry.  The ferry connects Long Wharf (near the aquarium) to Charlestown (Old Ironsides, Bunker Hill) and costs $1.70...far less than the privately ran "tours" that line Long Wharf.
Welcome to Bean Town!  Safely back on American soil it was time to explore the town where our nation's independence from British rule began.  One of the best ways to see all the "sights" of Boston is by way of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile long red line crisscrossing across the city.  The trail starts in the Commons where the British troops were stationed and winds its way through the heart of Boston, across the river and up Bunker Hill (technically Breed's Hill) where Patriot forces established fortifications overnight signaling the start of the war.  While you can walk the whole length in a couple of hours, it best to reserve the day allowing for stops at some of the major sights.  We split our journey up over one afternoon and the following morning.  While there are 17 stops along the trail, we opt here to just share a few of our favorites.

After taking the public ferry across the Charles River, we made a quick stop in to see the venerable wooden frigate USS Constitution, aka "Old Ironsides".  Commissioned by the fledgling American Government at the end of the 18th century, she is the oldest naval ship in the world still afloat.  The ship saw action in the Mediterranean during the Franco-American "War" and the war of 1812.  During the later, her nickname was born as cannon balls were reported to "bounce off her hull as if it were made of iron".  Our timing however was not the best as the ship is closed on Monday's so we only got to see the museum.  While interesting, the museum is geared to entertain the 10 and below crowd with "How far does this canon ball go?" interactive displays. 
A short walk uphill from Old Ironsides, we picked up the Freedom trail at the Bunker Hill Memorial.  It was here on the night of June 16th, colonial forces established a temporary fort with fortifications leading up to the first major conflict of the American Revolution.  The colonial forces eventually lost the battle and had to abandon the hill, but not before British troops endured heavy losses.  The battle signified the colonials willingness to fight back and were not about to lay down arms and run anymore.  The monument itself stands at around 220 feet high.  It takes 300 steps to reach the top, but the views are well worth it.
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"One if by land, two if by sea" ~ The signal code sent by Paul Revere 1775
On that fateful night, Paul Revere had two lanterns hung from the top of the Old North Church steeple - at that time the tallest building in Boston.  As the famous poem reminds us, one lantern meant that the British troops would be coming across the bridge and two meant they were coming by boat across the Charles River.  The lanterns were only there for less than a minute, but that was long enough to make it into the history books.  From there, news spread by a series of riders, including Revere himself, to other towns alerting the local militias to be prepared to fight.  Historical significance aside, the church provides a glimpse of how churches were designed during the 18th century.  Today it's considered a little odd, but in those days a family would occupy their own "booth" separating them from one another.
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As famous as Paul Revere is for his ride, his actions five years earlier may have been even more important than the ride itself.  Five years prior to the war, tensions were beginning to rise in certain circles, but for the most part, the colonists still saw themselves as British and loyal to the crown.  In March of 1770, a mob of around 400 people incited a handful of British soldiers to open fire into the crowd killing five people.  In a classic propaganda move, Revere etched the scene with an anti-British slant, depicting the scene as a calculated and planned shooting by the  the oppressive British army.  News of the "massacre" reached far and wide thanks to Revere's etches, turning public sentiment in favor of the patriots.
Overlooking the site of the Massacre, sits the Old State House.  As the oldest building in Boston, the three story building is dwarfed by modern day skyscrapers and has seen a lot over the years.  The Declaration of Independence was read aloud from one of the buildings side balcony's, the first elected legislature in America was formed here and one of America's first subway stations occupied its basement.  The top floors today are used as a museum - not really the best museum for the price, but still an interesting part of American history.
Taking a pit stop from the trail, we had to stop and hit up one of Boston's most beloved companies - Dunkin' Donuts.  The donuts don't hold a candle to Krispy Kreme (in my biased opinion), but the coffee was good and a stop in the little park was just what the doctor ordered.
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A few extra unnecessary calories later, we get back on the trail and make our way over to one of the more important cemeteries on American soil, the Granary Burying Ground.  Here lies some of the more famous statesmen such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere.
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When the State legislature outgrew the Old State House, they moved out to the obviously named New State House.  Built at the beginning of the 19th century, the building is not exactly new anymore, but still impresses.  The dome was originally wood covered in copper, thanks to Paul Revere and his copper company (is there anything this man didn't do?).  Today's dome still contains the original copper, which lies under a thin layer of gold.  Beneath the dome inside the House of Representatives resides the longest member of the house, the famed Sacred Cod.  A wooden representation of a cod hangs in the house as it has for over 200 years and symbolizes the importance of fishing to the state.
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Across the street from the State House sits one of the largest public spaces in Boston known simply as the Commons.  The park is a great place to take a stroll, have a picnic or just sun.  One thing unique to the park are the famous swan boats.  These swan shaped boats are popular with the tourists, but to be honest we don't really see the appeal.   
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Ok, so it's completely kitschy but I had to have a pint at the Bull & Finch Pub, aka Cheers.  The TV show used the unique basement like entrance of the pub for it's set.  The pub's interior looks nothing like the set on the show, but one can get a "Norm" size beer.  It's a nice size beer by American standards, but still a bit small compared to the liter sized beers of Germany.  
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After we had our Norms, we ran over to Fenway just to see if we could get in for a peak.  Our timing was a little off, but we were able to see the field through the windows of the bar located in the "Green Monster". 
Turned back at Fenway, we headed out to the Boston Fine Art Museum.  Normally a rather expensive museum at around $20 per person, they had a "by donation" entrance fee that night if you came after 5pm.  The museum contains an excellent collection of Egyptian art as well as some nice impressionist paintings. 
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Our last day in Boston was a rainy one so we opted to stay indoors and go to the Science Museum thanks to Antonia's pass.  The museum contains displays on how electricity works, dino bones and all the usual science and nature exhibits one would expect. 
The rest of our time in the Boston area was spent visiting with Antonia, David and Aaron.  We want to again thank you guys so much for hosting us and helping us get around.  We had a great time and hope to do it again one day soon!
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We could have filled more than three days, but our tickets had been booked and it was time to go back home to meet our new nephew Landon!
To see more photos from Boston please click here!

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