Viewing Boston and the surrounding area through tourist's eyes.


Thanks for hanging in there with me. I haven't had time to post, but I did update the "Coming Attraction" section of my blog. Check it out when you get a change and feel free to add to it via comments.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Benefits of Traveling Where You Live: Revisiting Boston Common and Public Garden

Hey everyone, did you miss me?  I'm sorry for being MIA recently, between finals, commencement, a new work schedule and working on my thesis (the only thing left to finish before I get my MA) blogging got pushed to the end of the to do list - again I am sorry for this I really do appreciate my readers.  I promise I will try to make up for my absence and hope to post weekly (please don't give up on me).

One of the best things about playing a tourist where you live is that you can return to an attraction or location whenever you want.  With the great weather we have been experiencing I find myself more willing to stroll through the city - I recently walked from the Common to Coolidge Corner (I did stop for lunch and a little shopping but it was still a nice walk) - revisiting tourist areas to see what is going on.

Some of my favorite places to revisit are the Common and Public Garden.  You never quite know what you will see, the sounds you will hear or the scents you will smell.  I know I have already written a post on both of these places so instead of writing a bunch I am going to share some recent photos.  Enjoy!

Boston Common Memorial Day Flag Display - 20,000 flags representing the Massachusetts soldiers who have died since WWI in service of our country.

Swans on the pond at the Public Garden

Pretty flowers
(One of these days I am going to use my flower pics to decorate my place.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interesting Facts on Boston - The City We All Love

So for the last post of my class assignment - don't worry I will continue to post after today (but it probably will not be every day) - I thought I would share some of the random pieces of information.  Below are tidbits that either didn't make it into a previous post (I know they can get long so I try to edit them) or don't seem to lend itself to a solo post.

1.  A three-story parking garage, that can hold roughly 2000 cars can be found underneath Boston Common.  Drivers, you probably knew this, but as a non-driver I find this amazing.

2.  On January 15, 1919 roughly two million gallons of molasses spilled into Boston's North End destroying 10 buildings and killing 21 people.

3.  The Swan Boats are made of 30 individual custom-made pieces.  In case you are wondering, the boats were assembled this Thursday and as of Saturday are open to passengers.

4. The MFA is free on Wednesday nights.

5. The weather beacon on the top of the Old Hancock Building is still used to tell Bostonians the weather.  Think -  Steady blue, clear view.  Flashing blue, clouds are due.  Steady red, rain ahead.  Flashing red, snow instead.  (I read somewhere that flashing red in the summer means a Red Sox game is canceled - oh the horror)

6.  The nickname "Beantown" was given to the city by sailors because the smell of cooking beans would waft into the harbor.

7.  The Freedom Trail changes - not frequently, but it has.  It once ran down Spring Lane passing the site of the fresh spring that enabled puritans to settle in Boston.

8. The city of Boston finally payed England back for the tea our founding fathers dumped into the harbor (I heard this on a tour, but can't find any info online - if you know more please share)

I think I will leave the list at eight for now - I am sure there will be more as I continue to travel the city.  If you have any you wish to add, please do.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Celebrating Marathon Monday

Let me first say congratulations to anyone who ran today.  Since I really don't like running myself, I cannot even imagine what it took for you to complete all 26.2 miles today - I bow to you all.

This is not my first Boston Marathon, but it is the first time I went downtown - I am glad I did.  Listening to the pre-race interviews and hype most racers commented about Boston's supportive crowd.  I spent some time I was along the side cheering along Beacon street, but the crowd and amount of cheering was nothing compared with what goes on toward the end of the race. (After watching the elite pack pass by Washington Square, I went downtown to take in the sights.)  

I had no idea what to expect when I went downtown, but what I encountered was awesome.  Standing four deep on either side of Boylston Street people were cheering on the runners.  Applause, cow bells and cheers greeted the runners as the rounded the corner on to Boylston Street and didn't seem to cease until the runners crossed the finish line.  But even then volunteers were congratulating the runners as they passed out water, blankets and food.  I was just impressed with the amount of support and encouragement for the runners.

I was also surprised with how much of downtown is roped off (but it makes sense if you think of the all the runners that participate in the race) My goal today was to get pictures (for this post) of the finish line.  While I got the photos, I chose the wrong side of the street to walk down.    So for all of those first timers who head downtown next year for the race - select the side of the street you walk down carefully (once you chose you cannot cut across). 

If you chose to walk next to the Prue you will have access to food carts and some freebies (I got a bag and muscle milk), however you will be unable to easily get next to the finish line - you are stopped about a block away (and then it is a 5 or 6 block detour around buses and event related tents to Arlington before you can cross over)  Walking on the other side of Boylston will give you an almost straight shot to the finish line (there is a one block detour) but you miss out on the free stuff.

Despite the unexpected amount of walking I did, I must say I am glad I walked next to the Prue.  Doing so allowed me to see the huge number of buses holding the runner's things (keys, change of clothes, etc) the assembly line of volunteers passing out blankets, medals, food and water.  I also got to hear the announcers direct the runners which was entertaining (one spoke of a new Gatorade product and told the runners they were going to be guinea pigs since they got to try it - made me smile).

Besides the immense size of the marathon, there is a lot of history surround the race (but I will let you look that up so this post does not get to long).  However, I would love to hear about your experience with the race (audience or runner) and hope you had a great day if you were along any part of the route.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy (belated) Chinese New Year

Recently I was organizing my photos (which I so need to get off my computer and print) and came across the ones I took at during this year's Chinese New Year celebration in February.  Looking at the pictures I was reminded of the sights and sounds I saw that day and wanted to share my experience with you.

Celebrated at the beginning of the lunisolar Chinese calendar, the Chinese New Year is considered an important traditional holiday.  Boston's Chinatown celebrated the New Year on February 21 with a lion dance parade.  For those of you who have never seen this before (I hadn't before the 21st) this isn't a parade in the American sense - walking down a set route with audiences lining both sides of the street. The lion dance parade featured 10 groups who preformed on a stage and then proceeded to walk through Chinatown and preforming in front of the neighborhood restaurants.

The celebration began with numerous Chinatown representatives and area business people speaking to the crowd.  According to my friend (who is Chinese) it is normal to have a lot of people (there must have been at least 20) give small speeches at events.  Since many were speaking chinese, I was glad my friend joined me - she was able to translate what was being said - wishes of luck, prosperity and good fortune in the year of the tiger (and tell me a little about what I was seeing).

After the speeches were over, the performances began.  Imitating two fighting lions, dances moved to drum beats, preforming various steps and lefts, and tossing lettuce and tangerines into the crowd (for luck and prosperity to those who caught the flying produce).  A few of the groups also preformed the dragon dance which was really interesting to watch (it was also different from the lion dances which began to look the same after a few groups preformed).

Once all of the groups finished their stage performances, they moved onto the restaurants.  Groups of people would follow the dancers from place to place watching the dance.  These performances were more intimate and were meant to grant the restaurant good fortune.  Judging by the wait time I had for lunch at the China Pearl (go if you have never been and like chinese food) the restaurants' year was starting off great.

If you have a chance to participate in next year's celebration I recommend you go - if you know someone who speaks chinese I would also suggestion you bring her too (translators can be helpful).  If you don't want to wait until February, check out Chinatown's website for a list of other upcoming celebrations and events.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Local Haunts - Visiting Historic Cemeteries

When I was a kid I would have preferred to be anywhere but in or near a graveyard.  All those dead people were creepy - and the books I read about ghosts and vampires didn't help my love of cemeteries.  However, somewhere along the line I have developed an interest in cemeteries - not in a crazy psycho way - I find the calming.  It provides a visual representation of the past and those who came before me.

Just like other historic cities, Boston has its share of cemeteries and each is filled with notable individuals.  While there are many, want to point out three located on the Freedom Trail: King's ChapelCopp's Hill and Granary Burying Ground.

King's Chapel Burying Ground is the first cemetery in Boston.  Located next to King's Chapel - the nation's first evangelical church, the cemetery is the final resting place for some of Boston's first residence, including its Massachusetts' first governor John Winthrop (he gave the "city upon the hill" sermon).

The city's second cemetery was Copp's hill.  Of the three cemeteries I think it is the prettiest - it as least has the most grass.  Copp's hill also sits  - as its name suggests - on a hill and offers a great view of the city and was a great lookout point during the Revolutionary War.  Like King's Chapel there are some famous people buried here (but I don't know who they are).  It is also a stop on the Ghost and Gravestone Tour at which you get to hear some unique stories about the cemeteries permanent residences.

My favorite cemetery is Granary Burying Grounds.  It is home to many Revolutionary War patriots - meaning it is where I know the most individuals. The Granary Burying Grounds is the third oldest in the city.  Grain used to be stored in the building where Park Street Church now stands - hence the cemetery's name.  There are 5,000 individuals who are buried in the cemetery, but is only has 2,300 (give or take a few) gravestones - many graves were reused because of space limitations.  And just so you know,  graves are still being discovered.  Last year a tourist fell into a previously unknown crypt when the ground gave way (don't worry she was unharmed).

When I first went to the cemetery the two graves I wanted to see the most were the Boston Massacre gravestone and John Hancock's - which I will never be able to look at the same again thanks to one of my friends (look at the shape, think of John's last name and let your mind wonder - you'll get there too.)

Tourist Time

One of the easiest ways to play tourist in Boston it so go on an actual tour.  Boston is host to number of guided tours so you are bound to find one to go on.  I have been on two guided tours (and would recommend then both) and there are several others I want to go on.  Here is a list of some of them - you can visit for a list of others, or head to the Boston Common Visitors Center.  They have a large list of tours they sell tickets to, along with free guidebooks that have others.

If you have ever seen a group of people clustering around a period dressed individual.  This is the Freedom Trail Tour.  It is really informative and provides some fun facts about the founding fathers and revolutionary war landmarks.  The tour begins at in Boston Common, at the visitors center, and ends at Faneuil Hall.  Depending on what time you take the tour, you may be able to catch one of the two tours leaving from Faneuil Hall and go into the North End.

The Ghosts and Gravestone tour is AMAZING.  The guides are awesome and do a great job of keeping their "character" throughout the tour.  One of the neat things about this tour is that you get to go into the area cemeteries at night - they are usually locked at night.  The tour can be a little scary - just ask my friend who coward behind me because she got spooked (I was laughing) - it truly depends on how you approach the tour.  Because of the tour premise, you not only hear the usual Boston tour information, but you get other tidbits (but you will have to go on the tour yourself to learn those).

If you aren't into walking there are several tours that take you around the city via bus.  You've probably seen them around town.  I like the ones you can hop on and off of, but each tour has its merits and can offer you different factoids on the city.  However, if you want to get on the Charles River, check out the Duck Tours.  I haven't been on one, but I want to.  Don't want to be in a bus, check out the Segway Tours (another one that sounds interesting if only because you get to ride a Segway).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Artistic Discovery at Boston Art Museums

Before I get to far into this post I have a confession - I am not a huge art museum fan.  The ability to stand in front of a painting, sculpture, photograph, or art instillation contemplating its beauty is lost on me.  I go through these museums at a stroll, meandering past the artwork, maybe pausing occasionally to take a second look at a piece (but that is usually as long as it lasts) admiring how pretty, realistic or unusual a piece.  That said, I have taken strolls through three of Boston's art museums: The Museum of Fine Arts, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art.  All three museums offer something different to visitors and are more than just a museum.

Located at the MFA T stop, the MFA is your average art museum, but it is really large.  After spending about an hour strolling through its exhibits and halls I left without seeing several of the halls.  The MFA is also building a new wing which will increase the amount of artwork displayed and art of the Americas.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a unique one.  The building was the home of Isabella Stewart Gardner and upon her death was turned into a museum.  Therefore, instead of artwork hanging in a nice neat row, it is hung anywhere it would fit (at least that is how it looks to me).  Basically everywhere you look you will find art - floor to ceiling, stairwell, in the courtyard - EVERYWHERE.  Personally I think it give the museum a bit of character.

Of the three museums, I must admit the ICA is not my favorite - but I think that is largely due to the actual museum building (it is a bit odd and ugly).  From what I can gather - based on my visit during the Shepard Fairey exhibit - the top floor is where the artwork is displayed.  I will admit I am not very familiar with the ICA, so anything you can add would be helpful.

All three museums offer student discounts, accessible by public transportation and host various events.  During the summer the Gardner usually invites musician to play in the courtyard and other events year round.  Similarly the IMF  hosts cocktail hours and is free on Wednesdays.  Visit the calendar section of their website for a list of events.  The ICA also has a calendar available on their website.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Explore the New England Aquarium

As one who once aspired to be a marine biologist, I have been to my share of aquariums.  The most memorable ones offer something unique and the New England Aquarium is no exception.  When you walk into the aquarium you are confronted with a penguin exhibit (I have never seen that many penguins at an aquarium) and a four-story circular fish tank - two things that set the New England Aquarium apart from others.

My favorite part of the penguin exhibit are the rockhoppers because they always make me smile.  Just look at the plumage they have on the side of their heads for the reason why - to me it looks like they are having the worst hair day ever.  Two other species of penguins are also on display - African penguins (who can be quiet talkative) and the blue penguin.  Depending on when you get to the aquarium you may be able to the trainers doing a feeding or giving a presentation.  If you have to chose, I would recommend the feeding.  It is fascinating to watch the birds hop to the trainers and swallow the fish whole.

The fish tank is HUGE and to get to each floor in the aquarium you walk up a ramp the circles around the tank.  As you walk around it you get the chance to see many species of fish, a shark or two, and of course Myrtle the sea turtle - an aquarium resident for almost 40 years.  You may also see divers in the tank feeding the fish or keeping the tank clean.  After you have made your way up the ramp - stopping on each floor of course - head up the stairs to look down into the tank - that is how I got the picture to the left, but I don't think it is Myrtle.  (If anyone knows for sure please let me know.)

On each level of the aquarium you will find several smaller tanks - but than again anything is small when compared to the four-story tank - and other exhibits.  Depending on where you are in the aquarium you will see some interesting creatures.  My favorites are the seadragons and lionfish.

Besides fish and penguins, the aquariums is also home to Northern fur seals and Atlantic harbor seals (among other animals).  As with the penguins, depending on when you arrive at the aquarium you may be able to catch a seal show.  The shows are educational and fun, so if you get a chance I would definitely take some time to watch it.

Finally, for those of you who might not be into aquariums, if you find yourself in the general area (Central Wharf right next to the Aquarium T stop) walk of over and check out the harbor seals.  Their enclosure is outside for all to see.  It is one of my favorite places to walk by - the seals make me smile - and it is just a neat sight to behold.

Of course there are other exhibits at the aquarium, but the ones I mentioned in this post are my favorite.  I don't expect you to just like these, so please share some of your favorite experiences and exhibits in the aquarium.

There She Blows! Lets Go Whale Watching

While I am not a huge fan of Moby Dick, I do enjoy going looking for whales.  There is something so majestic about these huge mammals, whose natural environment is the water - a space others cannot survive in because we can't hold our breaths long enough.  If you want to go whale watching - and like most things I post about, I think you should - there are plenty of tour operators in the area.  However, because of proximity, I go on the tour connected with the New England Aquarium.

The tour lasts about 3 hours (an hour out, an hour at your location, and an hour back) and like most tour operators, they guarantee you will see a whales or you will get a pass for another trip.  The boat takes you out to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary - the whale use the area as a feeding ground.  And not only do you get to see whales but there is a naturalist on board that can tell you what type of whales you are seeing, who they are (there are a couple who have been named and are regular visitors) and a bit about their behavior.
I have gone whale watching three times, and each time have seen something new.  The first time out was probably the best - proving that these are wild animals who don't always behave in entertaining or picturesque ways - I got to see several tail flukes, breathing spouts, the whale's head and even a reverse breach by a calf.  However, each time I have gotten some great photos and when my parents joined me, my dad got some decent pictures.

Besides being connected with the New England Aquarium (in name only, it is not run by the aquarium), if you have taken a trip to the Harbor Islands - hold on to your ticket because you can get a discount on your whale watching trip.  When you go whale watching be prepared - it gets windy on the boat and if you get seasick stay on the first level - you don't feel the waves as much.  Every time I have gone I tend to camp out on one sides - the front is windy and fills up quickly and you can normally get a good view of whales on the sides.

One piece of advice - be on the look out for whales or dolphins as you go and return - twice when leaving the feeding grounds I have seen additional animals - a mother and her calf and a pod of white-sided dolphins.  So go, have fun and please feel free to add any pictures you might get to the Tourist Slide Show.