Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Vacation - Boston Day 1

Grams and Grandad were staying at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Arlington, Massachusetts. Our morning started with their free breakfast buffet. They offer a very nice variety of choices including a selection of fresh fruit, yogurt, breads, bagels, scones, sweet pastries and some pre-made omelets, sausage, and bacon.  It was pretty impressive for a free buffet breakfast.

Before leaving home, we purchased tickets via the internet on the Old Town Trolley.  The trolley stop nearest our hotel was at MIT, which is about five miles from the hotel.  On the first day we drove our rental car to the MIT campus and parked in the public garage at Cambridge Center.  We were parked there for about five hours and it cost $23.  We thought that was a little steep.  After that day, we took the bus and the subway; it's a lot cheaper than parking and a lot less stressful than trying to drive in an unfamiliar city with very narrow streets and hundreds of people on bicycle.

If you're vacationing in Boston and want to see the sites with some knowledgeable narration, you can't go wrong with Old Town Trolley. If you buy online, ticket prices are $34.20 per adult. This gets you two days on the trolley plus a harbor cruise. The trolleys make 16 stops around Boston including one in Cambridge. You can get on and off at any of the stops as many times as you like. The trolleys run every 10-15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You must be back on the trolley at 5 p.m. and they will take you back to your original boarding point. The Conductors on the trolleys are very friendly and very knowledgeable. Most of them are natives of the Boston area and many of them have studied history. They definitely enhanced our Boston tourist experience. 

Our first stop was Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, Long Wharf, and the New England Aquarium. We started with a stroll through Quincy Market which has been a public market since 1742.  Vendors sell all sorts of souvenirs, clothing, shoes, and a large variety of food. Some of the shops are indoors and some are outdoors. In the outdoor marketplace, there is a delightful variety of street performers. We saw singers, jugglers, acrobats, and a bagpiper. They move on and new performers move in throughout the day. It's a lovely place to spend a few hours and a few dollars.

We walked across the street and out onto Long Wharf, the site where the British landed when they came to occupy Boston in 1768. It was built in 1710-1721 and in colonial times was the busiest pier in the busiest port in the Americas. Today it is the launch point for a number of tourist boats and ferries. There are also a several very nice restaurants and a Marriott hotel on Long Wharf.

Since we were there and it was about to depart, we lined up for our Boston Harbor Cruise.  The 45-minute cruise takes you around the waterfront past modern docks and wharves, past the site of the Boston Tea Party, and to the Charlestown Navy Yard where the USS Constitution is docked. It was Navy Week in Boston and there were two other US Navy ships docked at Charlestown and open for tours.

Upon returning to Long Wharf, we ate lunch at Tia's Boston. It's right across the street from Quincy Market and has a lovely patio where you can eat outside. Their lobster lunch special is only $13.95 per person for a one pound lobster,  slaw, and french fries. It was the first time Grams has ever eaten a whole lobster. The waitress was very helpful and gave me instructions. It was delicious and messy. They provided a bib, but what they really should provide is sleeve covers and gloves.  

Next we walked over to Faneuil Hall. The original Faneuil Hall was built in 1740. It was destroyed by fire in 1761, but was immediately rebuilt according to the original plans. It was renovated in the 1970s. Since colonial times, it has been a site for speeches, announcements and assembly. I was very moved to stand where such noted Americans as Samuel Adams, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and John F. Kennedy have delivered important speeches. In colonial times, the Sons of Liberty met on the second floor of Faneuil Hall giving the hall its longtime nickname "The Cradle of Liberty."

After leaving Faneuil Hall we strolled back through Quincy Market where Grams bought a pair of shoes. They are Apropos Conversation Shoes advertised as "influenced by European women whose fashion sense does not include white athletic shoes." I bought the open-toe "Sand-elle" model, since I'll be wearing them where its extremely hot most of the year. They are designed to look fashionable while being as comfortable as athletic shoes. I like them so much that I've decided to order a pair of the Ballet Skimmers too.

By this time it was almost five o'clock so we boarded the trolley and rode back to MIT. We really enjoyed just riding the trolley. Every one of the conductors/tour guides has different stories and points out different landmarks.

When we got back to Cambridge, we discovered a Starbucks right around the corner from the parking lot.  We went in for frappucinos and enjoyed visiting with the baristas. There were quite a few students studying in the coffee shop. This particular Starbucks has a daily trivia question with a free drink if you get it right. Since Grams is a trivia buff, I was excited.  Sadly I did not know the answer to the question "What singer was the character Dudley Dooright based on?" But I do know now. If you want to know the answer, leave me a message in the comments and I'll send you the answer. We also discovered that the Google offices were in the building next to the trolley stop. I couldn't resist snapping a photo.

We returned to the hotel and started looking around for a place to eat dinner. On the advice of the desk clerk, we went a few blocks down the street to the Arlington Diner. The decor is very mid-century modern retro diner. The booths are upholstered in turquoise and pink vinyl and the tabletops are Formica. The menu has a distinctively Greek flavor. Even the waitress was from Greece. Grams had the Beef and Lamb Gyro Pita. It came with lettuce, tomato, onions, and Tzatziki and was very good. Grandad had a Turkey Rueben which he also enjoyed, although the sauerkraut was not as strongly flavored as he is used to eating.

We went back to the hotel and turned in for the night. It was a great day.

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