Boston as a tourist: three days

Old Sep 18th, 2008, 02:21 PM
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Boston as a tourist: three days

We lived in Boston for more than 20 years before moving full time to Nantucket. We still visit frequently to see our daughter and son in law, go to concerts, get medical care and visit friends.

This time, we are here as tourists. We rendevoused with friends who have never been to Boston and have been showing them around.

After many sessions on Priceline trying to find an affordable hotel, we have wound up staying in the home of friends in Brookline who are vacationing overseas. We will buy them a case of wine, water the plants, and we all will be happy.

Day 1 We arrived in Brookline Tuesday in time for a late lunch at Zaftig’s, a kosher-style restaurant, in Coolidge Corner. The borscht was good, the sandwiches were not embarassingly stuffed (that’s at Mike’s Deli on the other side of Beacon St), and we were late enough to have plenty of room to spread out.

Since our friends had never been to Boston, I wanted to give them an overview. After lunch, I drove them into the city: down Com Ave to the Public Garden, up to the Capitol, up and over Beacon Hill on Mt Vernon and down on Chestnut, then out into the Back Bay on Beacon, over to Copley Square, back to Beacon, out to Mass Ave and over the bridge to Cambridge.

We followed Mass Ave through MIT and Central Squre to Harvard Square, explored Brattle Street, found our old apartment on Putnam Ave, and took the bridge back across the Charles to Allston, wher we picked up Harvard St and crossed town back to Brookline Village.

That night we went back to Cambridge to the East Coast Grill, my all-time, long-term favorite restaurant in Boston. It has expanded over the years, now has parking, and Chris Schlesinger’s food is better than ever: four people, drinks, dinner, and tip -- $142.

A note on driving: Yes, many people would say I was crazy to drive this much in Boston. Remember, I lived and drove there daily for more than 20 years and not only remember what streets go where, I still know what lane you need to be in to get where you want to go – with the exception of Beacon Hill, where a lot of streets are now one way to keep people from doing exactly what I wanted to do -- cruise through as a sightseer! I also worked out our route so that when traffic was outbound, I was inbound. Finally, I am not intimidated by Boston drivers and will happily cut off anyone who tries to cut me off.

Day 2 This day was about walking as much as yesterday was about viewing. We had breakfast at the Family Restaurant on Washington Street in Brookline Village. This is a luncheonette operated by a Turkish family, and they have delicious American and Turkish breakfasts. You order at the counter from a board of choices, typical luncheonette style, but there is a printed menu on the counter that explains what the Turkish choices are. They now have a very cheap lunch buffet that is also very tired looking, but every fresh dish I have ever eaten there was delicious. It is in a strip of other inexpensive ethnic places, and it takes a personal recommendation to want to go in, but you won’t be sorry if you do.

After breakfast, we took the T to Park Street and did the Freedom Trail as far as Quincy Market, where we broke off to go to Christopher Columbus Park. When we sold our waterfront condo, the expressway was just gone, but the remnants looked like East Berlin in 1945. The city is a long way from achieving its Greenway dream, but they have come a long way as well. You can see water all the way from Faneuil Hall, and the waterfront itself is delightful.

After a short rest in the sun and breeze, we went back into the North End to visit the Paul Revere House and Old North Church, both “worth it”, for people who might wonder. On Salem Street, just downhill from Old North, the North Bennett Street School, a school of serious craft and cabinet making, has a new shop where I dropped some money. At the foot of the hill, at the corner of Salem and Prince, I pointed out where Gerry Angiulo ran the Boston Mafia from a storefront on Prince Street until the Feds got a bug in there and sent him away.

We then returned to Hanover Street where we had lunch at another place that very few tourists seem to find. Officially, the sign says “Umberto’s Rosticceria” but it is known universally in the neighborhood as Ralph’s. It has zero charm and a lot of atmosphere. If you want to eat in, you join the right hand line. If you call ahead to take out, you join the left hand line as you face the back of the store. The choices are cheese pizza, panzarotti, calzone, arrancini (fried rice balls) and a couple of other southern Italian specialties. I had a ball of mashed potatoes with a piece of cheese in the middle, breaded and deep fried. Wine or beer in plastic cups, no salads, no vegetables. Your cardiologist would love it. When the food runs out, no more for that day. It ran out at 2:22 yesterday with about 15 people still in line. Four of us were stuffed for $12. Well, not too stuffed to go across the street to Mike’s pastry for espresso, cappucino, and ricotta pie.

So we had plenty of energy to walk back through the newly reopened Hanover Street to City Hall, stopping at the Holocaust Memorial, deeply moving despite a group of loitering twenty-something derelicts stoned out of their minds. Why does Boston allow it?

We crossed City Hall Plaza and went up the hill to the old courthouse, the State Capitol and then back to Beacon Hill on foot. We ended up at the Public Garden, very nicely planted this year, and took the T from Arlington back to Brookline, this time using the Brookline Hills stop.

After a good rest, I hauled out the car again to go to the South End. We ate at Petit Robert on Columbus Avenue, a very attractive bistro with very reasonable prices. There is no legal onstreet parking in this area, so the choice is to park at Copley/Pru and walk or use valet parking. We were late, so we used valet parking, something I very rarely do. The food was not quite as good as on previous excursions but it was still very good indeed, and four of us got out with a bottle of wine and generous tip for about $145.

Day 3
A trifle footsore this morning, and our friends have a 2 o’clock train. We had breakfast at Zaftig’s and drove to the Museum of Fine Arts.

We are members and had preview tickets for the Assyrian show that is opening soon. Assyrians have never hugely excited me, but the show is so beautifully presented and lit that all the details show in a way they do not when you are looking at a stele in the hallway.

I am sorry to say that the rest of the MFA is a real mess owing to construction, and lots of stuff isn’t where it should be – some of it is in storage and some of it is hanging in weird places. Childe Hassam’s “Boston Common at Twilight”, for example, is in a hallway where you can’t get far enough away to see it. I agree with what they are doing, but I am not sure I’ll live long enough to see it end, and I really think the Museum should give a discount on entrance while so much can’t be seen.

No time nor need for lunch for people who breakfasted on cheese blintzes, nova, and latkes (not all on the same plate!), so we made our way to South Station, sent our friends on their way, and returned to Brookline to pack. The Country Mice (Island Mice?) return to Nantucket tomorrow after meetings in Boston. It was a nice interlude.
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 03:50 PM
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Nice report! thank you.
Petit Robert is a favorite of mine. There's a middle strip where we park.
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 08:49 PM
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What a nice read - sounds like a good time had by all - did your friends like Boston?

We often walk to dinner at Petite Robert Bistro - and that North Bennett School - I can only imagine what you might have purchased - I am always so amazed by what those students do - they are also always at CraftBoston with magnificent furniture and accessories -

And now I am going to bed dreaming of blintzes which I will have to make now in the morning !!
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Old Sep 19th, 2008, 03:07 AM
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Ackislander:

We will be enjoying a week in a house on the beach in Eastham summer of 2009. We are thinking of adding on some days to visit Boston.

How soon should we be looking to book a hotel for the Boston part of the stay? Any recommendations on the best area, no car, walking or using public transportation.

Enjoyed your informative trip report.

Sandy

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Old Sep 19th, 2008, 03:40 AM
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Sandy - Eastham is beautiful.

Boston area for what you want are called things like Back Bay, Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market, Copley, Downtown, Financial District.

They may be called Waterfront - but be more careful about specific hotel for that. Same with Cambridge (across the Charles River from Boston) since many Cambridge hotels are less convenient to MBTA.

They are not called South Boston, Revere, Airport, Dorchester, Brighton. Or any other city combined with Boston (like Burlington-Boston).

Timing - depends on the economy. I would start looking around March or so. If the US economy continues to be so scary, there may be some deals out there, but Boston hotels are still likely to be very expensive. Mutiple threads here on Boston hotels - you now have 6 months to read them all, and it may take that long.
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Old Sep 19th, 2008, 11:52 AM
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If you book after Harvard's graduation (the last in a long string) and not 4th of July or the Red Sox playing at home, availability in the summer is usually pretty good.

I have had a good *** in the Back Bay in May, but when people are coming for the first time, you want to do the best.

We had a great time, they loved both Brookline and Boston, and we vowed to do it again next spring and see more! So much fun being a tourist in your own town!
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Old Sep 22nd, 2008, 06:11 AM
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Thanks for your report. Very enjoyable!
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Old Sep 22nd, 2008, 10:21 AM
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SandyBrit, you might want to also consider an apartment or B&B in Boston. Sometimes cheaper and sometimes just better value for the same amount of money.

We've rented apartments twice, once for a girls weekend and just this past August for my husband and me. Here are the two agencies we've used:

http://www.boston-bnbagency.com/

http://www.bnbboston.com/

From the first one we rented a very nice 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment near the Pru (I believe) and from the second an equally nice one bedroom. One or both of those agencies also handles B&Bs.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2008, 11:00 AM
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great report ack!

I haven't been to ECG in years. Love it but living south of the city, makes it difficult to get to that area.

I love how the waterfront is shaping up and think the landscapers have done some great plantings

Boston just keeps getting better and better as a destination city!
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Old Dec 10th, 2008, 06:12 AM
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Love Boston, Love Nantucket!
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Old Dec 11th, 2008, 03:23 PM
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This place you described here:

"We then returned to Hanover Street where we had lunch at another place that very few tourists seem to find. Officially, the sign says “Umberto’s Rosticceria” but it is known universally in the neighborhood as Ralph’s."

is a spot I know of as Galleria Umberto. And I'll agree, it's great, arguably the best cheap lunch spot in Boston. Not cardiologist approved, but delicious.

Never heard of it as Ralph's, but maybe I don't get around enough to hear this nickname.
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Old Apr 27th, 2009, 01:10 PM
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We won a trip to the east coast the first two weeks in June, 2 nights in Wakefield Ma and 2 nights in Woburn. We would like to explore the coastal areas of the state as well as Boston. We love sea food and ocean views. I'm renting a car, we will be going to NYC before retuning to Ca. Any day trip advice would be appreciated.

Thanks, Jon V
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Old Apr 27th, 2009, 01:57 PM
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Jon_V--

There's nothing much to see in either Wakefield or Woburn. Places other than Boston to consider visiting from these towns would be Rockport, Gloucester, Essex, Ipswich, and Salem, all on or close to the shore. Good thing you have a car, as using public transportation would be very time consuming otherwise -- fortunately both Wakefield and Woburn are on Rte. 128, which will take you to or near all the other towns mentioned above.

If you want to go into Boston from Wakefield or Woburn, you can use commuter rail (recommended) or try and drive in (not recommended).

As for specifics, there's been a ton of info posted about all these towns on this forum that's timely. A board search for attractions and restaurants is highly recommended.
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Old Apr 27th, 2009, 08:16 PM
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Also, You could certainly do a day trip to southern maine - york, ogunquit, kennebunkport.
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Old May 11th, 2009, 10:13 AM
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Thank you all. Southern Maine sounds interesting, any seafood, specifically lobster, recommendations?

Thanks, Jon V
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