By Por Juan Abelardo Carles
Phtos: Carlos Gómez
For months I had been preparing for my trip to Boston, but a couple of days before my flight, a blizzard of epic proportions blanketed New England, and a good portion of the rest of the northeastern United States, with almost three feet of snow. I was on the verge of cancelling my trip
In the end, the snowfall stopped the day before my travels, and although my itinerary remained the same, I arrived to a half-sleeping city that was just beginning to shake the snow off its back. So, the following day my colleague and photographer, Carlos met up with me for a walk around some of this city’s most famous sites, sharing the road with only the workers busy restoring the public services and those unfortunate people responsible for shoveling the snow to clear the entrances to homes and office buildings.
Fortunately, the first monument we saw in Boston was large enough to not be covered by the snow: the Obelisk on top of Bunker Hill, built on the site where one of the decisive battles of the American Revolution was waged on June 17, 1775. Boston is one of the country’s oldest settlements so its urban area and surroundings feature a wealth of historic sites related to North America’s colonial period.
Founded in 1630, roughly a decade after the first Puritan pilgrims arrived on the continent, the new city prospered quickly thanks to its excellent port, which exported salt, rum, tobacco, and fish from the rich fishing grounds between Cape Cod, Cape Ann, and beyond, along New England’s entire coastal area.
The Bunker Hill Obelisk is the final stop on a path known as the Freedom Trail, which connects several sites of historical value to the city and the country. There’s nothing wrong with beginning with the end, because the sites along the path are not in chronological order. The Freedom Trail was designed to highlight the civic and libertarian spirit characteristic of Bostonians. The excursion includes places like the Old State House where the Boston Massacre took place (1770), and America’s oldest public park, the Boston Common, established in 1634. The Massachusetts State House, also known as the New State House, stands out among the buildings surrounding the immense quad; it was built to replace the old office, built by the British. The offices of the Governor of Massachusetts are here, and it is also where the state legislature meets. This very same path leads to Park Street Church, where the first anti-slavery debates took place in 1809.
A visit to the museum commemorating the famous Boston Tea Party, located on the bridge along Congress Street, makes an excellent complement to the trail. Here, the events of December 16, 1773, when Boston citizens resolved to not pay more taxes to the British Crown and threw hundreds of chests filled with tea into the harbor, are reenacted. A company of actors, who embody the main characters in the conspiracy, recreate historical scenes using the museum’s cutting edge multimedia technology.
The Freedom Trail could be the first item on the varied menu of tourist attractions that the city offers. A red line marks the trail, making it virtually impossible to get lost. Even better, you can walk the entire trail! In fact, you can walk almost all of Boston, something quite rare for most cities in the United States.
Don’t worry about getting tired either, thanks to the multiple routes offered by the city’s urban train, the first in the country (the first line was activated in 1897), popularly known as the “T.” In addition to the train, there are city buses, taxis, and countless other transportation options. Boston boasts of being home to many “firsts” in the United States. It can claim the first urban train, the previously mentioned first public park and first anti-slavery discourse, as well as the first public municipal library (1848), the first telegraph (1837) and, very importantly, the first public high school: Boston Latin School (1635).
Of course, the name of the school has nothing to do with Latin America, but rather with the fact that subjects at the school are taught in the noble language spoken by Cicero and Seneca. In 1638, this school inherited the vast library and half of the lands of one of its most enthusiastic benefactors, a man with the last name Harvard. To honor him, the educational institution changed its name to Harvard University. To talk about this university’s overwhelming global academic prominence is stating the obvious; what perhaps is not so well known about Harvard is that it offers a guided tour service that allows visitors to see Harvard Yard’s most important buildings: its historical shell, in a manner of speaking. The trip begins in Harvard Square, along the “T” line, next to the Out of Town News Kiosk, where you can find newspapers from all over the world. The guides are university students who entertain visitors with anecdotes about the life and traditions of this venerable educational institution, which counts among its former students John Adams and John Hancock, founding fathers from the time of the country’s independence.
Boston’s Museum of Science (MOS) honors the tradition of knowledge the city has cultivated almost since its founding. The museum is heir to the Boston Society of Natural History, founded in 1864. Construction of the building that the MOS now occupies began in 1951. It includes more than thirty rooms dedicated to the various fields of human knowledge. There is a butterfly house, a room dedicated to mathematical laws, and a room with prehistoric animals. Why are we so attracted to prehistoric animals as children? The most enduring memory I have from my visit to the MOS is of Bob, a retired electrical engineer and museum volunteer, who spoke to me about the lives of these extinct animals, with photocopies in one hand and a Velociraptor claw in the other. The majority of the MOS volunteers are retirees who interpret science for the legions of children who visit the museum daily.
In addition to its commitment to scientific knowledge, Boston has a solid reputation as a center for the arts. By the middle of the 19th century, the city had tripled in size; it was the home to some of the country’s most important manufacturing industries and consequently, some of its greatest fortunes. The gentrified magnates from this side of the pond began to compete with aristocrats from the other side in all fields, but above all in the acquisition of works of art. The Isabela Stewart Gardner Foundation collection is a lovely example, named for an unorthodox woman from Boston’s high society. During her life, this remarkable lady collected all types of items, from art itself to utilitarian items from Europe and the Far East. It is in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that the city’s artistic heritage reaches its greatest peak: pieces from the four corners of the world and multiple historical periods can be viewed here, including Egyptian stone carvings and contemporary art, taking the viewer to ecstatic heights.
The noble city of Boston also has space for less lofty activities, like shopping for example. In contrast to other, newer U.S. cities, you won’t find huge shopping malls here, swimming in a sea of suburbs. Here, the most exclusive shopping centers are arranged elegantly and soberly in the city’s financial district. Copley Square, The Shops at Prudential Center, and the alternative design shops on Newbury Street complement each other (there are even foot bridges between Copley and Prudential), creating a very pleasant circuit where one can buy the best known brands from the U.S. and the rest of the world. Near Newbury, the elegant, wooded Back Bay area on Commonwealth Street makes up one of the city’s most homogeneous and best-preserved displays of 19th century architecture. It’s fun to go into Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, historical areas that have been converted into shopping districts.
After enjoying experiences like these, the snow and cold don’t seem so intimidating. Imagine, esteemed readers, how much fun you can have this coming July, when Copa Airlines will begin service to this city. Then you can see Boston at its best: in summertime, smelling of flowers and sea foam, with friendly people enjoying the sunshine or under the shadow of the stars, proud of their history and their heritage, ready to share it with visitors. A city of tradition, a city like those of times past, as it should be.
Boston is a city with ample and sophisticated options for visitors. Apart from the attractions mentioned in the article, several noteworthy hotels, restaurants, and other sites helped make our coverage more pleasant, and above all, complete.
Royal Sonesta Hotel: This hotel is located in Cambridge, on the banks of the Charles River, in one of the city’s most scenic areas. It offers luxury lodgings and services, and provides easy access to the university district, the financial center, several museums, and many monuments and historical areas.
Westin Copley Place Boston Hotel: This hotel is located in Back Bay, in the financial district of the city, in the same complex as one of Boston’s most exclusive shopping malls, the Prudential Center, and the shops on Newbury Avenue. www.westincopleyplaceboston.com
Emerson Inn by the Sea: This inn is located in Rockport, Cape Ann, a wonderfully inviting fishing village that is a classic romantic destination for Bostonians. Excellent for getting a taste of the simple, country life of New England. www.emersoninnbythesea.com
The Langham Hotel: The old Federal Reserve Bank of Boston was restored and converted to house this luxury hotel, and it is one of the most refined lodging options in the area. The Langham offers sophisticated options for Bostonians, like the Sunday brunch at Café Fleuri, and cocktails and dinner at Bond, its renowned bar.
Restaurant Trade: In 2012 this restaurant was awarded the Best of Boston prize for its creative dishes and original cocktails.
The Gloucester House: Built on the docks in Rockport, Cape Ann, this restaurant prides itself on serving one of the best clam chowders in the country. I can vouch for this, as well as for the lobster: the flavor goes beyond words. And if you are lucky enough to sit at the table with Lenny Linquata, one of the owners who is well versed in the history of this town and this area of Massachusetts, even better.
If the English language intimidates you, you can contact Don Quijote Tours, an agency that has been offering guided tours of Boston’s extraordinary cultural legacy in Spanish since 1991.