by Saul Schwartz
We spent a cold, blustery November weekend in Boston with our friends from Hartford, Bob and Ellen. My wife Fern and I thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with this historic, patriotic city. We dressed in warm clothes so we would not be deterred from seeing the outdoor attractions.
Saturday in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is home to Harvard University. The highlight of our day was the one hour “Hahvahd” Tour.
Advertised as the most popular tour of the Harvard University campus, we thoroughly enjoyed the tour led by a current Harvard student. The tour began outside the Harvard subway station. Offered several times each day, the adult tickets cost twelve dollars if booked online. www.trademarktours.com.
Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest college in the United States. We first walked by the historic old Harvard yard and the new yard, where many eighteenth century buildings still stand today. Stopping at the bronze John Harvard statute, we learned that there were no photos to indicate what Harvard’s founder looked like, so the sculpture was modeled on a student descendent of a university president. Our tour guide told us about the most famous people to attend Harvard, including eight U.S. Presidents and currently including Malia Obama. Of particular interest, we found out that the great central library building was named for Harry Widener who perished on the Titanic. This building was built from the donation from his mother which included as one condition that all students pass a swim test. That requirement was overtaken by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When the tour ended in the Harvard Square neighborhood, we briefly stopped in the Harvard Coop, the oldest and largest college bookstore in the U.S. On a very cold day, we warmed up with hot tea at J.P. Licks, while we watched students eat ice cream. We ended our day with healthy dinner salads made at Sweetgreens.
Sunday in the Park with Brian
We spent two hours on a “free” walking tour of the Freedom Trail with our guide Brian from freetoursbyfoot.com. Brian was extremely energetic and knowledgeable. With free tours by foot, your payment consists of tips at the end of the tour. Generally we tip $10 per person on this type of walk. This tour covered the first mile of the trail, involving about a dozen historic sites of the pre-Revolutionary city. We began at Boston Common’s park street subway station at 10:30 a.m. The common is the oldest public park in the United States.
Stopping at the Massachusetts state house, built in 1798, we marveled at the gold dome and watched the guards in front of the building perform a Veterans Day gun salute. Within the Granary burial grounds, we saw the final resting place of Samuel Adams, one of the three signers of the Declaration of Independence who are buried there. At the walkway in front of the State House, we learned about the Boston Massacre Monument, which remembers the five victims killed and six wounded by the British on March 5, 1770.
Our tour ended at Faneuil Hall, built in 1742. This building was given to the city by rich merchant Peter Faneuil. We found out that the grasshopper on top of the building, named Gus, was copied from the grasshopper on the London Royal Exchange building. Once a meeting hall, this market place now includes numerous food vendors and shopping boutiques.
Spending Sunday Afternoon Remembering a President
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is an iconic Boston attraction. Over the course of two hours, we enjoyed wandering the JFK museum, which showcases his remarkable life and Presidency. The cost of the museum is $14 for adults. www.jfklibrary.org.
The striking I. M. Pei building sits on Boston’s waterfront and provides an extraordinary view of the downtown. Once inside, we guided ourselves through the permanent exhibits, which include a reproduction of J.F.K.’s oval office, a room dedicated to the first lady, another room focused on Robert F. Kennedy and numerous multi-media exhibits, such as photos, film and television footage and campaign memorabilia. We particularly enjoyed listening to J.F.K.’s speeches, many of which contained dramatic oration and memorable lines that we still quote today.
One impressive temporary exhibit entitled “100 milestones and momentos” chronicles historic moments in the President’s career, administration and personal life. These items include a flag from the PT109 the boat he commanded during World War 2, as well as many personal belongings such as a collection of his ties. The museum does not focus on the tragic end of his life.
Monday at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
We spent the majority of Veterans Day enjoying and admiring the rich holdings of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts. As the fifth largest art museum in the United States, we were very impressed with the wide variety of art on display. Founded in 1870, the MFA moved to its current location in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood in 1909. The adult admission price of $25 includes docent-led tours. These tours take place periodically throughout the day. The current Winnie the Pooh exhibit is drawing crowds of young families. http://www.mfa.org.
We particularly enjoyed the one hour guided tour of the Americas collection. Highlights included John Copley’s famous portrait of Paul Revere which is displayed alongside his silver Sons of Liberty bowl and John Sargent’s delightful painting of the four young daughters entitled “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” which is hung alongside the actual vases drawn within the painting. After the tour, we ate lunch in the garden cafeteria, which includes an extensive salad bar, as well as a reasonably priced menu of American fare.
After lunch, I joined the art of Europe one hour guided tour. Highlights of the European collection included the 35 works of Monet, an extensive collection of Impressionist paintings and a huge salon style gallery with paintings lined up on top of each other as exhibited in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Paris salons.
By lodging at the Doubletree, we were able to enjoy the nicely equipped fitness center, with both cardio equipment and weights. Although we did not take advantage of it, the hotel offers free admission to the YMCA right across the street from the hotel. The downtown location at 821 Washington Street is right by the MBTA subway station. The onsite Wisteria restaurant offers a full American menu, including an extensive breakfast buffet. The complementary cookies were quite a treat! www.doubletree3.hilton.com.
Boston’s North End/Little Italy is a maze of narrow streets with some of the city’s oldest buildings. We had a fabulous dinner at Giacomo’s restaurant on 355 Hannover Street. Although the restaurant is small, the service is very quick and the wait was short. The eggplant parmesan with pasta was superb, the portions were ample and the prices were very reasonable. Only cash is accepted for payment. Our old school waitress was as blustery as the weather! After dinner, we had fabulous Italian desserts at Mike’s Pastries which definitely was worth the wait in line.
After not visiting in Boston for many years, we thoroughly enjoyed our three day weekend. Even though the weather was abnormally unpleasant, Fern and I had a fabulous time with Bob and Ellen visiting these sites in Boston.