Monday, May 21, 2007

Springtime in Boston

You may have noticed that my Lost recap went up a few days late. This is because my husband and I took his parents to Boston for two days. We’d taken his folks to NYC for his father’s 65th birthday; this trip was for his mom’s 65th, and I got to be tour guide this time since I used to live in Boston. We had pretty terrible weather – high 40s and raining, low 50s and raining, low 50s and not raining – but we managed to pack a fair amount into our two days.

Since you really don’t need a car in Boston (and parking is neither readily available nor affordable!), we took full advantage of public transportation: the bus from Maine, and multi-day unlimited T-passes. I found a great little guesthouse in Back Bay (on pretty, residential Beacon Street, just blocks from the Hynes T-stop … and one block away from the Crossroads Irish pub – where we ended up no less than three times. Sure do love me some Guinness.).

The first order of business was the Duck Tour. We had a fantastic guide - stage name of “Ace Bandage” - who was funny (but not over the top), well-spoken and full of information. The tour is a great way to see the whole of the city before you go off exploring on your own. After the duck, we took the Red Line to Cambridge for lunch at John Harvard’s Brew House in Harvard Square; I was disappointed that they were out of porter but made do with a yummy red ale instead. A stroll through Harvard showed not much action on-campus, so we headed back to Charles Street and prowled around Beacon Hill for a while. It is amazing how quiet that neighborhood is, even being in the heart of the city. We took Newbury Street via the Public Garden back to check in and rest our feet briefly, then jumped on the T to Government Center. We saw the Holocaust Memorial, peeked in the windows of the Union Square Oyster House, and made our way to the North End.

My favorite place in the North End is Dairy Fresh Candies at the start of Salem Street: in my three years living in Boston, this candy store is the only place I was ever recognized as a regular. They carry imported and domestic chocolates, candies and nuts of all kinds, fresh fudge and roasted nuts, pasta, sauces and cakes. I managed to get out of there after spending only $36.00 (my usual is closer to $50, especially around Christmastime). We explored for a bit, finding North Square and the Old North Church, and took our time perusing menus before settling on a place for dinner. Our waiter, Joe, was great; the antipasto and bruschetta appetizers were quite nice; my shrimp and asparagus risotto was tasty but could have been a little creamier. As we headed out, Joe asked me if I was a football fan and pointed out Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, dining with a girlfriend in the back dining room.

Friday was pretty much pouring rain all day, so we decided to be indoor kitties as much as possible. We grabbed bagels at a Finagle-A-Bagel (mine: chocolate chip bagel with plain cream cheese) and zipped over to the Museum of Science. Luckily for us, they had a Bank of America/MBNA promotion going on and all four of us were admitted for free – yay! We explored for a couple hours (along with about eight million field-tripping grade schoolers) and then decided that we needed more sustenance. On to another one of my favorite places: the Parish CafĂ© on Boylston Street. Each sandwich recipe on the menu has been contributed by a local celebrity chef: I was tempted by the mussel po’boy special, but ended up with smoked ham and cheese on warm banana nut bread with peach chutney. Mmmmmmmm. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was our next stop – the one thing my mother-in-law really wanted to see. I had never been there before and can now wholeheartedly recommend it. Mrs. Gardner was a rich Bostonian who liked to collect art, and she designed and built this museum to house her collection. She placed the artworks in the rooms as she wished, not grouping them by any rhyme or reason, and instructed that the collections be left as she had put them. She also decreed that anyone named “Isabella” should have free admittance for life – very cool. We wished that more of the exhibits had been tagged, but were fascinated by the collection even so.

Our final stop was dinner at Tapeo on Newbury Street (another of my favorite restaurants); I was glad I’d thought to make reservations because it filled quickly, even with the dismal weather. This is a Spanish restaurant with a large tapas menu, and I knew it might be pushing the envelope of my in-laws’ food comfort zone a little. But they totally rallied and, I think, enjoyed it quite a lot. I had sangria (several glasses, actually), and we all shared a number of tapas: skewered spiced pork with dates, sole stuffed with asparagus, salmon in a dill cream sauce, empanadas, garlicky chicken, and beef tenderloin on toast with pimiento. So delicious! Also, Tapeo serves their bread basket with a little scoop of hummus instead of butter: flavorful and a bit healthier.

Since it was still raining Saturday morning, we decided to just head home; frankly, I couldn’t have stomached anything for breakfast at that point! I’m going to call our mini-trip a success: my husband enjoyed himself for the first time ever in Boston, my in-laws wore big grins the entire time, and me, I always like being back in the city for a visit.

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