Old State House

Visiting Boston: Day 1, The Freedom Trail

Boston is a city is that has always appealed to us. So when my employer closed down for 12 days over Christmas (yes yes, we really are only writing about this over 2 months after the event), it was the perfect opportunity to go to one of America’s oldest and most historic cities.

We had initially thought about escaping the Canadian winter for warmer climes, but the only offers we could find were to skanky looking package holiday destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. At this point we found cheap flights to Boston, and despite being only a bit warmer than Toronto, we jumped at the chance.

So instead of having a relaxing Boxing Day at home, we packed our bags and jetted into Boston for three whole days. Our hotel was next door to Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball and home to the Boston Red Sox, one of baseball’s most famous, successful and biggest teams. We spent our first morning walking round the perimeter of this famous old stadium – unfortunately no chances to see inside – before making our way into the centre of Boston via Newbury Street.

Fenway Park Boston
The sights around the perimeter of Fenway Park

With a spring in our step on what was an unusually warm day (see, I knew we didn’t need Mexico or the Caribbean), we made our way along Newbury Street, which is one of Boston’s premier shopping areas. It is lined with attractive terraced shops, cafes and restaurants, with one establishment occupying the ground and 1st floors, and another in the basement.

Newbury Street Boston
The sights of Newbury Street

Newbury Street led us to the Boston Public Garden and the adjacent Boston Common where we started the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is a self guided walking tour (after all, one of Boston’s nicknames is ‘the Walking City’) of a number of key sites from the American Revolution (which was the period in history when the Thirteen Colonies fought for independence from Great Britain in the late 1700s so they could form the USA).

Boston Public Gardens, Boston Common
Boston Public Garden (left, top and bottom), and Boston Common (right)
Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail. It’s very easy to follow, as the city has gone to the effort of marking it out with a line of bricks in the pavement along the entire route.

Given the rhetoric at these sites and memorials – e.g. ‘we fought for America’s liberty from the evil rule of Great Britain!’ – we did feel a bit like the unwelcome enemy as we pounded the streets of Boston! However, the Freedom Trail does serve as an excellent way of seeing a number of prominent sites in the city, and anyway, look at our two nations now; we’re the best of friends with our ‘special relationship’…!

For the sake of both the author’s and the reader’s sanity, let’s not list every single place on the Freedom Trail (if you’re that interested, take a look at the Freedom Trail website). However, here are some of the more interesting ones. We started at the Massachusetts State House, adjacent to Boston Common, which was built after the American Revolution, but is notable due to its impressive golden dome. From here, we moved east, passing several sites on the trail, before eventually arriving at the Old State House.

Massachusetts State House
The Massachusetts State House

Home to several key events, the area outside the Old State House was also the scene of the Boston Massacre. With tensions high between the colonists (Americans) and British soldiers in the town, provocation from the colonists and the ensuing confrontation resulted in five colonists being shot by British soldiers. This turned out to be a useful piece of propaganda for the independence movement.

Old State House
The Old State House
Boston Massacre
Site of the Boston Massacre outside the Old State House

Not far from here is Faneuil Hall. Nicknamed “the Cradle of Liberty”, this marketplace and meeting hall was the site of many important speeches and gatherings during the independence movement. Nowadays, behind the hall are more marketplace buildings. We paid them a visit, and with it being the Christmas holidays, they were bursting at the seams. Many places here sold lobster, New England’s ‘national dish’, but given the setting, it all looked horrendously overpriced. Remembering the trick from a previous visit to the US, we popped into Ghirardelli for a free chocolate. We may have done this more than once.

Faneuil Hall and marketplace
Faneuil Hall and the bustling nearby marketplace

We then moved on through North End, one of Boston’s oldest districts, and which nowadays is home to Boston’s Italian community. Having seen a couple of Freedom Trail sites here, we passed over the Charles River and made our way to the Charlestown Navy Yard.

This is where the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat is berthed (afloat being the key word before anyone starts quoting HMS Victory at me). The ship goes by the nickname ‘Old Ironsides’, given that it survived several British attempts at sinking it in the early 1800s. It is free to board the ship, but upon arriving we discovered that you had to pass through airport style security and needed a piece of official government ID. With my mini-Swiss Army knife in my rucksack, and my passport back at the hotel, the Americans had once again foiled British attempts at getting close to the ship with their unexpected security measures. Emma was secretly pleased by this.

North End Boston
The North End district in Boston
USS Constitution
This was as close as we could get to the USS Constitution

Our final stop on the Freedom Trail was the Bunker Hill Monument. The first actual battle of the American Revolution was fought here, and although the British won, the battle stands out with the Americans due to the character shown by their ill-equipped troops (and because they eventually won the war).

On top of the hill is now a 221 foot granite obelisk. It is free to walk to the top, as long as you don’t mind climbing the 294 steps and awkwardly passing others along the way on the spiral staircase. The views from the top are good, but expect it to be busy, thus making patience an important virtue. The windows are small and a bit dirty too, so despite the potential of excellent photos of the city, the opportunity doesn’t really arise. It was a good workout though!

Bunker Hill Monument obelisk
The Bunker Hill Monument
Bunker Hill Monument views
Views from the Bunker Hill Monument
Pretty street Bunker Hill
Caught in the evening sun: a pretty street leading down from the Bunker Hill Monument

So there we go, day 1 of Boston was complete. Our first impressions of this historic and beautiful city were good!

Stewart

Faneuil Hall Marketplace Christmas tree
The enormous Christmas tree at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Freedom Trail other views
Some of the other views along the way on the Freedom Trail
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