There’s something about a road trip that really excites me. Getting in a car with someone whose company you enjoy (it goes without saying that this is a prerequisite for a road trip), chatting about life and nonsense, and watching the countryside change as you drive towards a new destination, I have just always found it so enjoyable. So on Easter weekend we (the other half and I) hired a car and set off for Boston, Massachusetts. Boston has always been somewhere I’ve wanted to visit, having heard nothing but positive things about it (and also as a kid being completely in love with the TV show Ally McBeal. In my defence there was a dancing baby, what’s not to love?!) A relatively quick five and a half hours drive (plus an hours wait to cross the Border from Canada into the US) and we arrived in Somerville Massachusetts. Somerville is around two miles from the centre of Boston but definitely easier on the bank balance to stay in. It was around 30 minutes on the T (Boston’s public transport system) from there to Downtown Boston or around $10-$15 in a taxi, so very accessible.
I often find that by not making too many plans when visiting a city and instead just taking a walk and seeing where you end up, going a little off the beaten track or in this case the tourist track, is when you discover the real city. I also have no shame in admitting that ‘people watching’ in a little cafe/bar with a glass of wine is one of my favourite pastimes wherever I am in the world. However, we had waited a long time to visit Boston and as this was our first trip there we did want to hit the tourist spots as well so I figured that this time a little research was called for. So where do you begin? Well, recommendations from friends who have visited previously is always a good start, especially if it’s people who know you well, so you can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy the things they recommend. So for your recommendations ladies I am very grateful.
We managed to fit a lot into our 4 days in Boston (with an adequate amount of aimless wandering and people watching thrown in) but I won’t bore you with our full itinerary, instead here are the highlights that if you’re visiting I would recommend.
Now you may have gathered already, I’m no beer drinker. However Harpoon succeeded in doing something my husband has tried for years to do, find a beer I could actually face drinking. Enter the UFO Big Squeeze Shandy – a sweet grapefruit shandy which was more than just drinkable, I actually enjoyed it, which from this beerphobe is high praise. The tour itself (very reasonably priced at $5USD) was informative and interesting, even to a non beer drinker (well until that day) like myself. Though the section at the end of the tour where you can try free samples of all of Harpoon’s beer and cider offerings was definitely the highlight for most. You can’t book tickets for the tour before the day of so I would definitely advise heading there early on. We went to the brewery around an hour after it’s opening time and were able to walk right onto the next tour slot however by the time we had completed the tour and had a beer and a pretzel (an absolute must) in the food hall, the tours for the remainder of the day were all fully booked and there was a long queue outside just to access the food hall and shop.
Quincy Market, in Downtown Boston was somewhere that came up repeatedly in everyone’s recommendations and rightly so. The building itself, first built in 1824 is just beautiful. In 1976 it was reopened as part of the new Faneuil Hall Marketplace and this is how it remains today, as a bustling market hall full of restaurants and food stalls selling a smorgasbord of tasty treats. We could have eaten at every one of the food stalls, the smells coming from each of them were so magnificent however we finally settled on sampling pizza from Regina Pizzeria which turned out to be some of the best pizza we have ever tasted. I suspect though we would have been hard pushed to find a bad choice.
One section of Quincy Market is dedicated to a replica of the famous set from the TV sitcom Cheers. The place where everybody knows your name. Is it a little cheesy? Yes. Did we care? No. In fact we thoroughly enjoyed a couple of hours one afternoon working our way through the wine and beer offerings. We were fortunate enough to be joined at the bar by three local men whose witty banter could easily have rivalled that of Norm and Cliff, leaving us to wonder if we had indeed walked onto the actual set. Sadly though Sam and Carla were nowhere to be found.
We spent a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday morning wandering around the picturesque campus of Harvard University in the Cambridge area of Massachusetts. The buildings were just as stunning as they appear in the movies (Legally Blonde and Good Will Hunting were both partly filmed there). The main area of the campus covers a whopping 209 acres of land. It has a lovely, laid back, friendly vibe to it, which if I’m honest rather surprised me. The cynic in me wondered if it might be a little pretentious but it was far from it and our morning here ended up being my favourite part of the whole trip. We managed, rather fortunately (and a little cheekily) to join part of a tour of the grounds that was happening for future prospective students and the guide, a student of Harvard herself, was very informative and entertaining. I couldn’t help being a little envious of these future Harvard students. I wonder if it’s too late to go back to university….
Mamma Maria restaurant
Mamma Maria was a recommendation we received from a friend and with being voted #6 on Trip Advisor’s best restaurants in Boston (at the time of our visit) it was definitely worthy of the recommendation. An authentic Italian delight hidden away in Boston’s North End (literally hidden away, we almost missed our reservation as we couldn’t find the place). Once we did find the cobblestoned North Square where it resides, it was worth the wait. The restaurant has five private dining rooms, giving it a very intimate atmosphere. Reservations are definitely recommended as there wasn’t a free table on the night we visited. The staff were attentive, the wine was good and the food delicious – three huge ticks from me. I had a mushroom ravioli which practically melted in my mouth. Desert of a super rich chocolate torte with fresh raspberries and cherries was worth every one of the I’m sure thousand calories it cost me and Mark’s caramel apple tart looked equally delicious (and equally calorific, as all the best things in life inevitably are). Although definitely a nice, classy restaurant, (somewhere worthy of making an effort for) it wasn’t overpriced and we were actually surprised at quite how reasonable the bill was. Within walking distance there are also plenty of lovely cosy wine bars for a few after dinner drinks which was an added bonus.
So, did Boston live up to our [high] expectations? ….Yes, 110%! We both fell completely in love with the city. I use the term city loosely as although it is indeed clearly a city, in fact it’s the largest city in Massachusetts and the 24th largest city in the whole of the US, it didn’t really feel like a city. Much like Montreal there was none of the hustle and bustle you often find in other cities, like New York and London. I wonder if this could be due to the fact that Boston, like Montreal, is made up of many different individual distinct neighbourhoods. In fact Boston has 23 designated neighbourhoods, all with their own unique selling points. A local taxi driver, very aptly described Boston to us as “the biggest small town in North America” and this seemed to sum it up perfectly – it did feel much more like a small town, which welcomed us, very warmly, with open arms. Until next time Boston.