We didn’t have to be anywhere until late in the afternoon, as and Boston wasn’t too far from Providence we decided to throw in a detour for lunch along the way. B consulted the map in our Lonely Planet book for some viable alternatives, and presented the car with two options to consider: Sandwich, picked because we found the name amusing; and Salem, which we recognised as being somewhere where something happened to witches, or something.
Salem won the vote because we hoped it might provide more lasting entertainment value than somewhere with just a funny name (the guidebook mentioned Salem was geared towards tourism), or if not that we might at least learn a little history, but unfortunately we were disappointed on both fronts. We found the middle of town to be wildly tacky, not at all a nice place to hang out. It may be a novelty the first time, and perhaps even the second, but when you walk past the 15th shop making reference to witches in some way it gets a little much. I have a suspicion we may have just walked a perfect route to form the wrong impression – we didn’t find the waterfront at all, and the prominence of the Peabody Essex Museum suggests a level of culture – but we didn’t find much to keep us around too long after lunch.
We had tickets to a Patriots game that evening, their first home game of the preseason. Tossing up about whether to go straight there or head into Boston first, we decided it would still be best to go check into our hotel so that we could leave our gear safely there while at the game. After all, we still had plenty of time.
What we hadn’t considered was the Boston traffic. We were staying at the Intercontinental during our time there, which is right in the middle of the city. I don’t remember it even being rush hour, but it still seemed like everyone in Boston had come out to welcome us in. Consequently it took something like three and a half hours to get in and out again, from the edge of the city, but eventually we managed to find out way to Foxborough, parked up and set off towards the Gillette Stadium for the game.
After passing a whole lot of tailgaters having a great time on the edge of the road, we got our first glimpse of the grounds. In a word – WOW. I’ve been to Eden Park back in NZ, the MCG in Melbourne, Emirates and Olympic Park and Wembley here in London, so I’ve seen big stadiums before. But Gillette is just epic. It seems massively big, perhaps because it is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and the noise and light inside are on the edge of overwhelming. Also, although it was only preseason, we still got to see both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers play – a bit of a highlight for any NFL fan regardless of which team you might support. We all absolutely loved it, and B bought herself a Patriots hat.
Next morning we helped ourselves to the free hotel breakfast and headed out to see a bit of Boston. First impressions: Boston is a beautiful city. B and I walked under Seaport Boulevard and down to the New England Aquarium, just staring out at the sparkling harbour the whole way. It actually reminded us both a lot of Auckland: a modern city sitting on an amazing waterfront, and full of very nice people. That in turn made us slightly homesick for a while, but we soon got over it.
Once the guys were up and ready, we walked to the Harpoon Brewery to get a taste of some local beer, and a bite to eat. They didn’t really do food beyond light snacks, but I’d definitely recommend it for a drink – Harpoon have a great range of things to try, and a very fun beer hall in which to enjoy your selection. We enjoyed it so much we must have stayed for a couple hours, before heading off and getting rejected by three separate restaurants in our search for lunch. Top tip – if you aren’t American, take your passport with you when you eat. We kept getting denied because two of our group didn’t have theirs, and the staff on the door wouldn’t accept a foreign drivers license (or the fact that all us guys had a fair amount of stubble by then).
Lunch finally complete, we headed back to the hotel and got ready for our next American sporting event: a Redsox baseball game at Fenway Park. At 103 years old, an absolute relic by America’s usually unsentimental approach to preservation of such things, Fenway was a lot of fun. Having just recently seen a game at Yankee stadium we had a good benchmark, and for me Fenway is hands-down the better place to watch baseball. The seats are a little cramped, and the views quite obstructed, but the place just has so much more character – it is miles more fun. I also realised I was starting to get quite into baseball here, perhaps aided by the fact that it was a much more exciting game than last time: Boston won 15-1.
That night, our last friend to be joining us flew in from Harrisburg, PA. Between us all we now live in four different countries on opposite ends of the world, and we hadn’t all been in the same room together for something like four years, so everyone was very excited. After catching up at the hotel for a bit, we went out to celebrate (at an Irish pub – where else in Boston?).
We spent the next day exploring. We walked the waterfront, we explored some of Boston’s beautiful central city parks, and we followed the Freedom Trail for a while for a bit of light education. For the non-Bostonites who may read this, and as I know not a single person there I imagine there will be some; the Freedom Trail is a 4km pedestrian path which links 16 of the city’s significant historical landmarks – the Granary Burying Ground, where you’ll come across such notables as Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, and the site of the Boston Massacre to name just a couple. We didn’t see everything, but we had a very enjoyable stroll in the sunshine. I also think it is a great idea to show off some of the nicest parts of a city while at the same time teaching people about its past. More places should do the same.
A couple of the guys, having never really seen one before, also spent a relaxing half hour chasing squirrels around beneath the trees in an attempt to coax them into eating nuts out of a hand. Great times, and of course very amusing to all the locals. B and I would have joined in too, but we’d gotten that all out of our system already when we arrived in London.
Now that our whole group was together, we decided to go out for a proper, nice, grown-up meal to celebrate our last night in Boston. You wouldn’t expect it from the photos above, but some heavy thunder clouds had rolled in for the evening so we didn’t want to stray too far from our hotel. After walking around a little we found a steak house which looked nice, and after checking the menu on a table outside – appeared reasonable – we went in and found ourselves seated in the Smith & Wollensky. After starting with some wines and breads, we were delivered the menus and made a slightly alarming discovery: the menu we’d looked at outside, which we’d thought had fair enough prices for mains, was actually only displaying bar snacks. Inside, as those of you who followed the link may have seen, after tax and tip were added on prices for a single steak started at about NZ$100 each. After a small, slightly urgent debate amongst ourselves we decided to stay – YOLO, as the kids say – and I can now report that my NZ$120 steak was by far the best I’ve ever eaten. The whole experience was actually pretty close to perfect (as you might expect), so if you are in Boston and after something a little special, I can give this place my endorsement. A tip though – drink a lot of wine while you’re there. Aside from being very nice, it will also make you care a lot less about the alarming number on your bill at the end of the night.
And that was it for Boston, for us. A little more focused on friends rather than sightseeing, so maybe not the most exciting of reads for you guys, but we had a great time. The next morning we’d be heading off for a couple of nights in a cabin in the woods – until then, B & A.