Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 25 - Boston Uncommon

July 1 - We took the "T" into Boston for a long day of exploration by air, land and sea. As mentioned before, public transportation is the way to go around here, especially inside Boston with its narrow twisting streets and drivers who view traffic signals and signs as guidelines at best.

The air part was actually from inside a building about 750 feet above the ground as we visited the Skywalk at the Prudential Tower. Similarly to the Montparnasse Tower in Paris, this glass-walled promenade at the top of an office skyscraper offers a 360 degree view of the city. "Buddy" was our guide via a handheld audio program. His thick Boston accent turned my daughter off, "How ya' doin?" but I stayed with him as he pointed out the many Boston landmarks that could be seen from the high vantage point. Particularly beautiful to me were Fenway Park, the crowded row houses of South Boston, the train on the bridge across the Charles River, and the Christian Science campus almost adjacent to the Tower. The tower's reflection in the glass walls of the nearby John Hancock tower is also striking.

After lunch at PF Chang's (I was a little disappointed that we came all the way to Boston to eat in a chain restaurant in a mall, but the fried rice was pretty good), we reported for the Boston Duck Tour just a block away. Duck Tours, which also run in at least Philadelphia and Seattle, use remodeled DUKW amphibious vehicles of World War II vintage to take tourists around the streets and waterways (in this case, the Charles River) of the city. Our guide was a part seaman, part actor with the stage name Jett Black, who fancied himself a one-time privateer - hired by the government to steal goods from enemy ships. He knew a lot about the city and was amazingly skilled at manuevering the 19-ton Frog Pond Lily, one of 31 "Ducks" in service in Boston, through the serpentine streets of the city. About 45 minutes into the 80 minute tour he steered the boat down a bumpy ramp into the Charles River. Once in he "threatened" sailboats and rowers and then allowed both Kallie and Erin to steer for awhile. The Duck has a strange delayed response to steering--it is definitely not a front-wheel drive vehicle.

Among my favorite sights seen from the Duck were the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge (Zakim was a hero of the civil rights movement), a 10-lane suspension bridge that carries I-93 traffic over the Charles. It is a spectacularly beautiful modern structure that kept drawing my camera back. It was also fun to see the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and surprising to see a large hunk of the Berlin Wall displayed as a monument. We drove past, but not on, some widened sidewalks posing as streets. Near the end of the tour we seemingly drove past ourselves as the Duck was reflected in the John Hancock building at street level.

After disembarking the Duck we got back on the T and rode to Cambridge to visit Harvard University. The brick buildings of this almost 400-year old institution (it was founded in 1638) are spectacular. The Harvard Yard was thronged with prospective students, many of whom lined up to have a picture taken while touching the golden left boot of the John Harvard statue. The rest of the statue is tarnished, but the boot has been kept polished by thousands of luckseekers. The buildings inside the Harvard Yard aren't prominently marked (architectural purity, I guess) so I couldn't tell which one, if any, housed the famous Harvard Divinity School. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his famous Divinity School Address here in the 1830s, which turned out to be one of the seminal documents in American Unitarianism.

As though walking through the campus wasn't enough we then walked around its outside wall in search of a beer or soda (most critically, a beer, since we passed a couple of non-alcoholic emporiums along the way). The walk seemed somewhat ironic to me since we'd just bought weeklong T passes, and seemed to be trying to walk back to Boston instead. Finally we circled back near the Harvard T station and found a place to rest, but only after descending about 25 stairs into the bar on the lower level.

Thankfully, we took the elevator back up out of the bar. By this time we could start thinking about dinner. My friends from Boston told me that the best restaurants were in the North End, a mostly Italian neighborhood. We weren't sure where that was, but the T had a North Station, so we rode there and struck out on foot. My instincts proved pretty good as we bypassed a row of sports bars just outside TD Banknorth Garden (the new building that replaced the old Boston Garden) and found Joe Tecce's restaurant at edge of the North End. Dinner there was great - I had linguini and clams as an entree and tiramisu for dessert.

The rest and meal rejuvenated me a little. We made it back to the North Station and rode home. The walk to the station provided a great nighttime view of the Zakim Bridge. I took some of my last pictures (over 200 total) of the day. I knew I would have a big job sorting them out back at the hotel, but at least I could get off my feet.

The day made me realize why Bostonians love their city so much. At least in July it's a beautiful place, and I'm sure that's the case for much of the rest of the year. Always it's full of history, diversity and a spirit of progress - the most beautiful areas of the city were reclaimed from swamp; blighted areas are turned into parks; the river was cleaned up so that people can even swim in it. I doubt I'll take up rooting for the Celtics, but I'm happy we made the effort to be here. Stay tuned for July 4th from Boston--an event that attracts "hundreds of thousands" of people to the city.


Harvard Divinity School said...

Interesting thoughts on Boston and Cambridge. Just wanted to mention that the building Emerson gave his famous "Divinity School Address" is not located in Harvard Yard. Rather, it is located in Divinity Hall, which is part of Harvard Divinity School.

Jon Beasley

dadlak said...

Thanks for visiting and for the insight. I'm sure I wouldn't have been up to a long walk somewhere to see it.