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Clay Kallam

Boston is full of pleasant surprises

Photo byMaggi Brown

“You’re staying here?”

Our Boston Uber driver was as stunned as we were pleasantly surprised as he dropped us off in Back Bay, an upscale Boston neighborhood. Our classic brick row house had a steep stoop leading to our refurbished VRBO one-bedroom apartment, which was pretty much everything we could have expected or wanted.

I’d love to take credit for nailing our accommodations, but sadly, it was blind luck. I knew nothing about Boston before we arrived, and after several days, I have, at best, a tourist’s feel for the city. That said, though, Boston is a very cool place to visit, even if you don’t happen to stumble on a rental that’s at the end of a sleepy tree-lined street that’s within easy walking distance of two transit stops, plenty of restaurants and a neighborhood grocery store.

Part of the charm of Boston’s tourist area is that it’s very compact. We did not rent a car, hearing that traffic and parking were a nightmare, and thus opted to pound our decaying knees while hitting all the high points – and there are many.

So far, we’ve gotten a feel for historic Boston, which is actually not just another East Coast city, It was an early economic and even military power, claiming territory from local Native American tribes to harvest fish, furs and other commodities to trade with Europe and the West Indies. All of this occurred a century or more before the American Revolution, and allowed Boston to act as an independent city-state only nominally under the thumb of Great Britain.

That early combination of power and wealth laid the foundation for modern Boston, which combines impressive historical monuments with all the accoutrements of a modern metropolis. We started our tour with a stop at the Boston Public Library, which was built in 1852 in classical style, so naturally there are grand staircases, sculpted stone lions and murals adorning the domed ceiling.

And those just aren’t any murals, but rather painted by John Singer Sargent, who went on to become one of the best-known portrait painters in Europe and America. This was his first major commission, and the beautiful murals hover over a library that actually focuses on books rather than Internet access or children’s story times.

But that’s not all. Another set of murals by relatively famous French artist Puvis de Chavannes are on the second floor, just outside an old-fashioned reading room, with long tables and green-glass lampshades that make a day poring through ancient tomes seem inviting.

As good tourists, though, we have no time for such frivolities as sitting and reading – there are places to see while the ibuprofen is still working.
Trinity ChurchPhoto byMaggi Brown

Luckily, our next stop was just across the street, where the late 19th century Trinity Church looms over a large paved square. For some reason, the church was completely empty when we walked in, giving us a sense of the grandeur of the gorgeous, sumptuous space. (It is worth noting, however, that the ornate Episcopalian church, though imbued with a sense of the sacred, is just about as far from the spare Puritan vision of Christianity as one could possibly get without simply converting to Catholicism.)

We finished our walk at the Boston Public Garden, and took a ride on the swan boats – which were made famous in the children’s classic, “Make Way for Ducklings.”

But then, of course, we got lost on the way back, vainly trying to use Google Maps to guide us back to our temporary home on Braddock Park. Sadly, Google Maps is focused on two things: Drivers and selling to businesses that appear on the map, which means its pedestrian directions are often confusing and sometimes simply wrong. But you know, that’s why they invented wine, and after a glass or two with some scrumptious fresh oysters, those frustrations faded into the background.

And got us ready for the rest of what promises to be a very fun trip.


A Visit to Boston

Part II: The Pioneer Spirit

Part III: Two Museums

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