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Trip Report A Snowy Weekend of History, Food, and Fun: Boston

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2011 has been named "The Year of Domestic Travel" in my household. My husband has placed a moratorium on passport use. It's for good reason, but don't tell him I said that. I have been lucky to travel a good bit internationally, but there is so much of my own amazing country I have yet to see. Top of that list: BOSTON.

Who: My husband (31) and Myself (30). That's right- just the two of us. Every couple needs a romantic getaway from time to time. What better way to forget about the stress of work and daily life than by wandering 400 year old cobble stone streets blanketed in snow.

When: January 28th-30th, 2011... yes, the day after 15 inches of snow fell in Boston in only a few hours time.

Logistics:
Transportation- USAirways, non-stop CLT to BOS. Taxes and fees included for $250 for BOTH of us... that's right, an upside to traveling in the dead of winter: it's CHEAP! It was a very full flight- all of the flights the day before had been cancelled because of snow. Amazingly, we left on time and landed early.

Had we known how easy the T was going to be, we would have taken it from the Airport to our Hotel. Alas, we didn't. Instead, we forked over $40 including tip for a 25-minute, crazy cab ride. Given the limited lanes of traffic resulting from the 5 foot high piles of snow in the far lanes, we were stuck in traffic a good bit of time trying to get the 3 miles from the Airport to our Hotel at Copley.

Other than the one cab ride, we took the T or walked everywhere. The T is so convenient and relatively clean. We bought a week long Charlie Card for $15/each. An all day pass is $9 per day, so we figured better to pay $15 for the 3 days we would be there than be out $27 for 3 days worth of day-passes. The Charlie Card turned out to be the best investment we made in Boston. In fact, we took the T to the airport on Sunday. It took 15 minutes to take the T to the airport (including transferring via shuttle due to a closure on the Blue line) and cost us nothing in addition to our Charlie Card. Hindsight is 20/20, but I keep kicking myself for wasting $40 on the first cab ride. That's $40 that could have been spent on Lobster Rolls, New England Clam Chowder, and Sam Adams Boston Brick Red Beer!!!!

Hotel: CharlesMark Hotel on Boylston ($119/night). You cannot beat the CharlesMark price for the location it is in. It is directly across the street from the Copley T Station; the Boston Public Library is across the street; Trinity Church is catercorner; Old South Church is next door; it's one block over from all the wonderful shopping on Newberry Street.

The hotel is more utilitarian than deluxe. Honestly, who cares? It was incredibly functional- think European. Was it small? Kinda. Did it bother us? No. We had a queen bed and a small sofa that folded out into a twin bed (we didn't use it, but it would be perfect if you were traveling with a third wheel or child). The bathroom was functional and even had a surround sound system so you could listen to music or the television while in the bathroom.

The hotel also provided what it called a continental breakfast- not exactly a lavish spread, but there were doughnuts, bagels, instant oatmeal, fruit, juices, and coffee. It was a nice touch and unexpected given the low price tag for the room. It was served in their lounge at the back of the downstairs.

The hotel has a bar that also serves Thai food (perhaps from the restaurant next door). Although the menu looked good, we never ordered food. We did grab a few drinks one evening and were pleased with the prices- a Bailey's on the rocks and a Knob Creek on the rocks for less than $15 total. Notably, the bar was very popular and quite crowded. The crowd was diverse and welcoming though.

Fodors listed the cons of the CharlesMark as a noisy heating system- I wouldn't say it was noisy... for us, it was more like white noise and helped us sleep at night. Fodors also stated the rooms could be noisy in the front of the building. We had Room 201- right above the entry, at the very front of the hotel. Noise was never a problem for us. When we checked in, they did ask if we wanted a "quieter room" or a "room with a view". I don't know if the desk girl saw us and thought we looked like a young couple, not likely to complain if the restaurant/bar got too loud or what.... no matter, we opted for the view. We had a huge window overlooking the street below and were happy with our choice. I would highly recommend the hotel and will definitely stay there again.

Next post: Day 1- The Greatest Stadium in Baseball, Glutney in the North End, and an Irish Pub or two or three...

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    The Snowy Journey Continues...

    Before we left, I polled friends and family on their top places to see or things to do in Boston. The compiled list included Mike's Pastry, touring Fenway Park, the aquarium, the duck tours, visiting Sam Adams' Brewery, walking the freedom trail, eating at the Union Oyster House, eating in the North End, shopping on Newberry, and it went on and on and on... Given our short visit and limited winter hours for most places, it was impossible to fit it all in. We did our best, but we'll just have to plan another trip to hit the rest of the list :-)

    We landed at 12:00pm on Friday. I estimated it would take an hour and a half to get baggage, get a cab, get to hotel, check in, get settled, etc. It was my hope that we could get to the hotel, grab some lunch in the back bay, and then see either Sam Adams Brewery OR Fenway that afternoon. In the winter, both places close at 4pm and their last tours leave at 3pm. We already had a tour scheduled for 12:00pm on Saturday (the Freedom Trail tour), right in the middle of the day, so we were only going to be able to make one of the other tours on this trip. If we didn’t make it there by 3pm, well, we were going to be SOL. Given the close proximity to all the attractions in Boston and the ease of the T, I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to get somewhere by 3pm… what I didn’t plan for was my husband’s toddler melt down.

    That’s right, husband was having a bit of a fit because he spilt soda all over himself on the flight in. He kept his composure on the flight, but he was all worried about staining his new sweater and new jeans and insisted we find a cleaners as soon as we landed. We got to the hotel room and husband showered and changed clothes. Note, time for a shower and change of clothes was not in my schedule! Can you see the type A, planner in me coming out???? However, we got a dry cleaner recommendation from the hotel clerk (Dependable Cleaners on Newberry Street), got there, got the clothes dropped off for next day pick up and FINALLY we were off to explore Boston.

    By this time, we were starving! My Clif bar from 6:30a had long worn off and I desperately needed something to eat. The hotel clerk had recommended Scoozi (on Newberry a few blocks down from the dry cleaner) for a quick sandwich. We popped in to the VERY full café and were able to get a table. One chicken pesto Panini and Gorgonzola and Pear Salad later, we were set. Several tables in there were drinking pitchers of Sangria- it looked tasty. If we’re ever there again and I would definitely go back, I may try the Sangria to take the edge off of traveling J

    By the time we finished lunch, it was 2:15p and I was worried we weren’t going to make Fenway or Sam Adams. Husband assured me we would and suggested we do Fenway since it was closer. That, and we could do our own tasting tour of the different Sam Adams Brews at the local pubs- we only had one small window at seeing the oldest and most storied park in Major League Baseball. We walked a few blocks back to the Copley T Station, hopped on the T (Green Line) and headed down the two steps to Kenmore. Off the T, up to Street level, and across to Yawkey Way, the Green Monster leading the way. We were there by 2:35p.

    We bought tickets at the Red Sox Ticket Office. Normally, tickets are $12.00, but with my AAA card, I got a dollar off one of the tickets. $23 later we had tickets in hand and were heading across the street to the Team Store to await the tour that began promptly at 3p. As we were waiting, one of the older tour guides showed off the 2004 and 2007 World Series Rings- the diamonds, sapphires, and rubies were just sparkling! I guess if you’re going to wait 90 some years for the curse to wear off, you should get some good bling for your patience.

    The tour was led by a young guy named Scott. He was passionate, informative, funny, and an all around great guide. A little over an hour later, our tour was over. We tipped Scott $10- not sure if it was the appropriate amount, but it felt right. Even if you aren’t a Red Sox fan- and we aren’t; my husband is a die hard St. Louis Cardinals fan- Fenway is just awing. I love baseball and I love history and I love that the new owners of the Sox didn’t tear down Fenway. Instead, they’re just renovating and building-on to the great tradition. I’m sure the ghosts of Cy Young, Ted Williams, and the like would be pleased.

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    Once we finished the tour, we jumped back on the T to go to the hotel. We both needed a little nap and some down time. A nap, a shower, and a change of clothes later, we decided to head to the North End to indulge in an Italian dinner. The only question was what restaurant should we chose?

    Both Fodors and the Top 10 (I believe this is what the guidebook was called. The hotel loans it to you during your stay and you just leave it in your room when you check out) recommended Bricco on Hanover Street. Fodorites had named La Familia Spagnolia, Cantina Italiano, Maurizo’s, and Pagliuca’s as prime restaurants as well. As all of these were on Hanover Street, we decided to head towards Hanover and just see what we could find that wasn’t too busy. As we had a late lunch, we weren’t starving, so we were going to have cocktail hour before making our official dinner choice anyway.

    We took the T to Haymarket, made our way through the vendors as they were closing for the day and caught a prime shouting match between a very unhappy vendor and a customer. My husband and I just giggled as we listened to vulgarity with such a strong New England accent- love the “ah” instead of “r”…

    On to Hanover we went and passed by several restaurants before coming to Bricco. As it was so highly recommended and there were two seats at the bar, we stopped in. Unfortunately, Bricco’s bar left A LOT to be desired. Our bartender was not very knowledgeable. They were completely out of the best Sangiovese on their wines by the glass list. The bartender suggested I substitute a blend. I agreed to give it a shot, but it tasted like it had been opened and sitting on the bar for a week. The draft beer cooling system was not working, so all of the beer was hot or you had to chose from their limited bottle selection. Just all around not a great experience. Although the menu looked good, it looked pretty pricey considering the mediocre service and bad booze we experienced at the bar. We had one drink and left.

    Up the street, we spotted Mike’s Pastry and vowed to come back for a canolli or two at a later time. We were wandering aimlessly, getting hungry, when we spotted a little restaurant down a side street (Richmond Street, I think). As we walked up, Vinoteca di Monica looked cozy, cute, and busy. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a seat because we didn’t have a reservation, but two seats at the bar were opening as we were coming in.

    We were very impressed with Vinoteca di Monica- excellent wine list, working beer taps, knowledgeable and helpful bartender, WONDERFUL food and more reasonably priced than Bricco appeared to be. We ordered the Calamari for an appetizer- very fresh, lightly battered, fried until just crisp, and served with a delicious marinara and a shrimp sauce. For dinner, we were torn between several of the specials (Lobster Risotto, Lobster Fra Diavolo or Gnocchi with Speck, Cherry tomatoes, and a wine sauce). We opted for the gnocchi and a side of broccoli rabe to share. It was the most delicious gnocchi I have ever had. It was spectacular. I would go back there everyday, but I wouldn’t fit in my clothes. It was that good.

    After dinner, we were too full for pastries and decided to burn off a gnocchi or two by walking down to State Street and Quincy Market. The hotel clerk had recommended the Black Rose when we asked about a good pub. It was moderately crowded, but a very friendly crowd. My husband and I found a bar stool at a table in the back. I sat and he stood. As we ordered a drink, a guy at the bar offered his seats to my husband and me since we looked to be on a date and he was just there with his buddies. Very nice of him, but since we were only there for one beer, we politely declined.

    In fact, most Bostonians were incredibly friendly. Given the snow, you had to proceed single file off the sidewalk and into cross walks- everyone took turns and it went very smoothly. At another time, we saw a Bostonian voluntarily stop and ask a couple if they needed directions as they pulled out a map. We were very impressed. Boston exudes a welcoming, warm vibe even in the dead of winter.

    After the Black Rose, which wasn’t our favorite stop, we walked towards the Garden. My husband’s brother was driving in a race in California and the race was being broadcast live on Speed Channel. The bouncers at the Black Rose suggested that a bar on Canal Street near the Boston Garden, where the Celtics play, would be our best bet. We found a Sports Grille with a bazillion televisions, including Speed Channel. Several pints of Sam Adams and a few laps around a race track and we tabbed out to catch the T from North Station back to Copley. We tucked in for the night in the warmth of our hotel room and had no problems drifting off to sleep after a long, but fun day.

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    Neat to see your town from another perspective. I was surprised by the $40 cab ride from the airport. We are planning a trip to San Francisco and when we heard that the cab would be $40 I thought people who come to Boston have it lucky since the airport is so close to the city. I guess $40 is the rate no matter the distance. Thanks again for a great report.

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    Day 2: Long Walks in the City and a Damn Good Bowl of Chowdah

    Saturday morning we awoke around 7:30a, showered, and grabbed a doughnut, some juice, and some coffee at the hotel breakfast station. We headed out into Boston to walk the city and spend some leisurely time together. We had no where to be until 12pm, so we walked up Boylston to the Boston Public Garden. We watched dogs and their owners bound through the freshly fallen snow. The city was alive as residents were enjoying the sunny, but cold morning.

    From the Boston Public Garden, we crossed over into the Boston Common. The 44 acre Common houses an ice skating rink, a playground, and several paths. The rink was full of little ones taking skating lessons, children and dogs played throughout the park, joggers were burning off the beers from the night before, and a memorable, downtrodden (perhaps homeless) man was calling out the weather report, the Celtic’s score, and other news headlines from around the area. Hey, I give him credit. I’m much more likely to give my spare change to someone who gives me a little information in return!

    After locating the Boston Common Visitors’ Center, where our 12pm tour would meet, we popped into a great deli/market across the street on the corner of Tremont and Temple. Husband picked up a midmorning snack: a chicken, mozzarella, tomato, and pesto Panini (I wish I had his metabolism!!) and I settled for a Diet Snapple- hey, I had already eaten a doughnut that morning and gnocchi the night before! After our refresher, we were off to stroll through Beacon Hill.

    Beacon Hill is beautiful. The period homes, architecture, and decorations (yes, some houses were still decorated from the Christmas Holiday) have an aristocratic air, but the neighborhood did not seem standoffish in the least. We walked down Beacon and Charles Streets, noting the cute restaurants, shops, and bars, and attempted to stroll through some of the smaller streets like Mt Vernon and Chestnut. However, these side streets were a solid sheet of ice. The main streets and sidewalks were all completely clear (minus the massive piles of snow on the sides from scraping), but the secondary roads appeared impassable. After attempting to traverse the tundra for a few blocks, we decided it was in our best interest to get back on Beacon Street.

    We walked down Beacon and cut over to Commonwealth, admiring the mall/grassy area lined with trees, then back to Newberry. We window shopped at the many fine apparel and home furnishing stores. Ultimately, we made our way back to our hotel to add a few more layers (it was quite cold and we knew the rest of our day would be outside as well), before hopping on the T bound for Park Station.

    Before we left Charlotte, I purchased two tickets for a guided tour along the Freedom Trail (http://www.thefreedomtrail.org). Even though you buy tickets for a given date, you can actually use them anytime within a six month window. Tickets are $12/each, easy to purchase online, and are a great value for the tour you receive. Although you can walk the Freedom Trail on your own (just follow the Red Line through the city), I highly recommend the guided tour. It’s inexpensive, the guide is incredibly informative, and it’s highly entertaining.

    In the winter, there is only one tour per day and it leaves at 12pm from the Boston Common Visitors’ Center. We met our costumed guide promptly at 12pm. Even on a cold, snowy day, there were still 14 of us on the tour. We explored the Common, climbed to the State house and then walked past the Park Street Church, all the while listening to the story of the founding of Boston and the beginning of a revolution.

    In the granary burial ground, we hiked through a foot of snow to pay our respects to Paul Revere, Sam Adams, crazy Mr. Otis, the victims of the Boston Massacre, and John Hancock. In the snow covered graveyard, it was hard not to feel a swell of patriotism and a new found respect for the conviction of our forefathers.

    To warm up from the elements, our tour guide took refuge in the Parker House Hotel. Although I know the Parker House best for the delicious rolls, several other significant events occurred there. Malcolm Little (later known as Malcolm X) was a bus boy in the restaurant in the 40’s; Ho Chi Minh was a pastry chef at the restaurant from 1911-1913; JFK proposed to Jacquelin Bouvier at Table 40 in the Restaurant; Charles Dickens gave his first American Reading of “A Christmas Carol” there; and, Longfellow drafted “Paul Revere’s Ride” in the hotel. I’m sure the organization or the guide gets some type of kickback from the hotel when we stop in, but it was interesting and I appreciated the chance to get warm for a few minutes!

    As the tour continued outside, our guide told stories to entertain us and reminded us of facts we long ago learned in grade school. The tour ultimately ended at Faneuil Hall some hour and forty minutes after it began. We tipped our wonderful guide- I can’t remember if it was $10 or $20 (probably depended on what bills we had) and headed on our way to eat some lunch.

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    We were advised by a native Massachuttesian (???) and several friends who had been to Boston that the Union Oyster House was a mandatory stop. They recommended eating in the bar area as opposed to the front restaurant. Despite warnings from guidebooks that it was a tourist trap, we felt obliged to check it out. We were not disappointed.

    Even at 2pm, the bar was fairly crowded with patrons slurping down crocks of New England Clam Chowder aside pints of Sam Adams. We found two seats at the bar and promptly ordered pints of Sam Adams Boston Brick Red. Although we can get many Sam Adams flavors in NC, the Boston Brick Red is, to my knowledge, only offered in Boston. It’s delicious and definitely worth a try even if beer is not your thing.

    After settling in with a pint, I ordered a bowl of Chowdah (there is no “r” on the end of it) and husband ordered the Lobster Roll. Even though the Lobster Roll was pricey- $23, I believe- it was part of the experience. I had a few bites and it was packed with large chunks of lobster, not very mayonnaise-y, and really tasty. The Chowdah, however, is where it is at. It was creamy, filled with clams, and served with a side of cornbread. AWESOME GOODNESS.

    We didn’t find the Union Oyster House touristy at all. It may be that we were in the bar at 2pm on a Saturday during the snowiest January on record. None the less, we enjoyed our meal and will definitely go back.

    Thereafter, we hopped on the T to Copley. We were hopeful husband’s dry cleaning would be ready, but it wasn’t. So, we tucked back into the hotel for a nap and some down time.

    Around 5p or so, we headed out to check out some of the pubs and restaurants in Beacon Hill. After a pit stop at the dry cleaners, we strolled back down Commonwealth before cutting over to Charles Street.

    After our late lunch, we weren’t very hungry and decided to duck into a pub for a cocktail. Sevens pub magically appeared as we were discussing grabbing a pint. This dark, dingy pub was our favorite of the drinking establishments we visited all weekend. The service was friendly, the beer was cold, it was moderately priced, and it was filled with local characters who were just out to have a good time.

    After a pint, we walked up Charles in hopes of finding another good watering hole. Much to our dismay, we didn’t find anything that jumped out at us. We were also checking out restaurants in preparation of dinner. Alas, none of that appealed to us either. Having walked all the way up the street to the Charles/MGH T station, we decided to take the T back to Copley and have dinner somewhere in our own neighborhood.

    We ventured south-west down Boylston and found a crowded Sushi/Asian restaurant named Typhoon. It was very full, but we were given two seats at the sushi bar. Unfortunately, our server left much to be desired, but the sushi and steamed veggie dumplings were good. I’d say it was definitely better than average, but not the best sushi I’ve ever had. Would I go back? Yes. Would I go out of my way for it? Probably not.

    After Typhoon, we continued on our walk and saw several bars that appeared to be filled with a slightly younger crowd- college aged or perhaps right out of college. We kept walking and found Lir, an Irish pub that seemed to have a good mix of people. When we first arrived, the music was low, people were eating and drinking at the tables around the bar and the televisions were tuned to the X games. As the night went on, the bar turned more into a “scene”, if you will; groups of guys and groups of girls who were definitely looking to meet up. The music got louder, the bouncers removed the tables and the bar stools, and the crowd got a little younger (maybe mid to late 20s). Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to watch, but just not where I am in life right now. We left soon there after and headed back for a nightcap at our hotel bar. Then, up to our room to get some rest after our adventurous day.

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    Thanks for sharing the story on Gilly. Makes me wish I had given him more money. It's awful that he was attacked and robbed of $8- some people are just so cruel. I'm glad life hasn't broken his spirit. He was entertaining, flirtatious, funny... next time we're in Boston, I'll put a little extra in his cup.

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    I'm just thrilled that you got to meet The Weatherman. A few years ago there was a major crackdown on panhandlers, street musicians and the like. . . dark days indeed. Gil left town to a shelter, I forget where. He hated it. Boston is his home. The first day I saw him back under his tree, I was so excited I hugged him and shook his hand and told him how much I had missed him, and he told me how much he had missed life under his tree! I haven't seen him in awhile. He is a beautiful broken mind who has brought smiles to countless. Who can say that?!

    It must be 20 years since I've gone to the Union Oyster House. Perhaps a chowder is in order. Only eat at oysters at the bar! They have a rep of preshucking.

    Thanks for such a great report of our hometown.

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    Day 3- Our Last Day in Boston

    We awoke on Sunday morning and lounged in the room for a bit. It was nice to be lazy for a while even though there was more left to see. Eventually, we went downstairs where I grabbed a quick breakfast. Husband wanted something more substantial than bagels or doughnuts, so we set out to wander Newberry and find him some grub.

    We found a small deli and market a few blocks down Newberry. I don’t remember the name of it, but if you’re walking south-west down Newberry, it’s on the right a block or two past Exeter Street. Deli man made husband an overstuffed Southie Sandwich- Boar’s Head Cajun Turkey, Monterrey Jack Cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, mustard, etc, all on sourdough bread. I have to admit, I was pretty jealous of his sandwich. After stopping for a minute for him to eat, we continued on our morning walk.

    Down to Mass Ave, around Copley Square Mall, back down Newberry… we stopped in a few shops, including an awesome shoe store on Boylston, made a few purchases and headed to the hotel to pack up our bags.

    Luckily, the CharlesMark has a 12p checkout time. It was nice to not have to rush out of the room. Instead, we could enjoy our morning. We packed up, checked out, and printed out our boarding passes in the hotel “business station”. One last trip on the T and we were at the airport. Security was a breeze in our terminal. We did go through the ever-invasive scanners and the TSA agent did do a thorough pat down of the underwire in my bra, but it wasn’t too unbearable. We boarded on time and arrived back in CLT a few minutes early.

    Upon return, Charlotte greeted us with 68 degrees and sunny skies. Vastly different than the weather we left in Boston. However, I would do it all over again- snow, cold, freezing rain and all. It was a wonderful weekend and Boston is a spectacular, first class city. I can say with certainty that we will be back; it’s just a matter of when.

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