Saturday, January 16, 2010

Toursity Visit to Boston

It's 2 months ago today that I flew out of Boston Logan airport back to the big smoke.  I can't believe I have not even loaded the photos from that trip to my computer!  So while I'm getting my photos organized, I'll write up some tidbits about my Boston trip.

Before I went to Boston, I did loads of research on places to go, and of course, places to eat.  But this trip was a combo of R&R with Sarah with a special event going to see Star Wars in Concert, visiting friends, in addition to sightseeing, so I did not end up going to all the places on my list.

First thing I must say about Boston is the T, the public transportation system.  We got a 1-week pass for $15 (!) and were able to go pretty much everywhere.  It took less than half hour between the time I left the airport terminal to walking into the hotel lobby!  While the trains & the stations are really old (like the rest of the city), and some parts are so run down that it's spooky to walk through, I would still say the pass is great value for visitors.  Especially compared to the unusable weekly pass here in Toronto.

We stayed at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Beacon Hill.  It's one of the oldest hotel in US, and many famous people have stayed and even worked there!  Not to mention they supposedly invented the Boston cream pie & parker roll!  We had brunch one day at Parker's restaurant, and I had to try the Boston cream pie - It was OK, but not amazing.  At least I like my Seacoast Benedict, i.e. crabcakes instead of bacon, a lot more.  I really liked the recent renovations done - walking into the lobby was like a trip back in time, with amazing architectural details everywhere.  My personal favorites are the old style elevators and mail slots!


Although I try to not be too much of a tourist, we did do a fair share of touristy things - Freedom Trail (that we had to do over different days), Faneuil Hall, Navy Yard.  Not that these spots are not interesting, but the part I enjoyed about visiting these sites is probably the strolling through different side streets in between.  There are so many interesting old architecture to see!  And being able to walk around town with the sole purpose of exploring is so refreshing from day-to-day life.

We went to Harvard & Harvard Square on the last trip visiting our friends, so this time we went to MIT instead.  An unexpected surprise - the MIT Press Bookstore!  The tiny shop is full of interesting titles I have not seen at other places.  I wish I could stay there for a few days!  And throwing in some Frank Gehry architected buildings on the stroll didn't hurt.

We also went to the New England Aquarium one day.  I haven't been to a captive animal place (e.g. zoo, aquarium, safari) for a very long time, not counting the ones in hotel resorts I have stayed at.  It is quite fascinating that we have the opportunity to see the variety of other living things, but also quite sad that they are taken away from their natural habitat for our pleasure.  This is probably something that will always bother me living in this civilization ...

I mentioned Star Wars in Concert earlier.  I know it's probably a very geeky thing to do.  It was a very well organized and interesting evening.  The symphony lends a classical music concert bend to the music from Star Wars.  The narration by C-3PO & edited clips from the movies recaps the story for even people who are not familiar the movie franchise.  And for the geeks, there are props to browse through outside the concert hall.  My only regret was following the ticketmaster instructions to not bring my camera.  :-(   

Now some of you must be wondering ... where is the food?!  As I mentioned, there were lots of places I have researched but did not have time to go.  Here are some of the more outstanding meals we had on this trip:

- Grotto - We went for our post-anniversary / birthday special dinner.  It's a cozy not-too-formal Italian restaurant.  Their pricing is quite interesting - every course is fixed price, and they offer a 3-course prix fixe for any selection from the menu.  The food is rustic & traditional, yet with some surprising pairings.  The portions are HUGE!  And according to Sarah, their melting chocolate cake is orgasmic!  Overall, it's a delicious, relaxing meal at a very reasonable price.  Highly recommended!

- The Four's - This comes as a bit of a surprise.  After seeing Star Wars in Concert at TD Banknorth Garden, we wanted to get some food but it was late for a full meal.  I read about this place in chowhound (of course!) that is right across the street, so I suggested trying it out.  It looks like a regular sports pub, so I did not have too much expectation on the food.  The clam chowder was the best I had in Boston (comparing with more well known places like Legal).  The slightly charred steak tips in the Bobby Orr sandwich was flavorful yet tender.  It's perfect to be washed down with a Sam Adams holiday brew.

- Mike's Pastry - Anyone walking around the Italian neighborhood in the North End will notice people carrying boxes labelled "Mike's Pastry".  The place looks like an old school bakery from the 60's, with bright light and a bank of pastry display cases.  We got an assortment of pastries, including the famous cannoli and lobster tail.  The ingredients are fresh and the pastries are very rich, although like most Italian pastries a bit too sweet for my taste.  Between Sarah & myself, we could only finish half of a brownie in one sitting.  (But I can polish off a whole cannoli no problem. ;-)  )  I ended up having to bring some back to Toronto, and the crew at the airline counter helping me check-in were all salivating looking at the box in my hand.  Even though I heard many fellow chowhounder recommend Modern Pastry over Mike's, I thought I needed to try Mike's to make a decision for myself.  I will definitely try Modern next time I go back to Boston.

- Clear Flour Bread - This is such a gem buried in the Brookline residential neighborhood.  It's a tiny French / Italian bakery, with enough store front to hold maybe 5 customers at a time.  The whole place is filled with the wonderful sweet smell of flour.  I went to look for the famous cheese croissant, only to be told that it's already sold out (at 11am).  Since I was not able to buy all the rest of the bread & pastries, I finally settled on a plain croissant, a sesame stick and a cranberry scone.  These are possibly the best baked goods I have had in my life!  There are several bakeries I really like in Toronto, but none with this caliber & selection.  Why can't I have one of these in my walking distance neighborhood???

- Rincon Limeno - On my last day, after seeing Sarah off on her flight, I had a few hours to kill before my flight took off.  I decided to venture into the East Boston neighborhood to get some Peruvian fare.  After eating lots of rich foods during the trip, I decided to get some ceviche mixto (mixed ceviche with shrimps, fish & squid) & a purple corn drink chicha morada for dinner.  The seafood was fresh, and the marinade was flavorful, although it got a bit acidic for my stomach after a while.  This would be a good place to come with 3-4 people in order to sample of the different items. 

I do wish I have more time to explore all the neighborhoods in Boston.  I am definitely the type of traveller who likes to spend time staying in one place, getting to know the city, the people, the culture, and not to mention the food.  Overall, I enjoyed the break in Boston, soaking in some of the oldness of the city and exploring the various neighborhoods.

Until next time ...



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