Boston, Mass. and Newport, RI- hip, historic and sophisticated

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For many Western Canadians, Boston isn’t a top of mind destination when it’s vacation-planning time.  That’s understandable; it’s on the eastern seaboard, a long way over there.  But with a family function to attend and our Boston-born and –bred relatives volunteering as tour guides, we jumped at the chance for a 2-week visit.

“European visitors love Boston because it reminds them of Europe”, says Stephan, a concierge at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Boston.  Boston is an old city that charms visitors with its ‘walkability’, rich history, superb dining and outstanding shopping.

With more than fifty colleges and universities in the metro area, the city feels young, hip and cosmopolitan.  And during our many hours of exploring the city on foot, we found Boston pleasingly clean and safe.

Here’s a selection of ‘must-see’ attractions we enjoyed:

  • The Paul Revere House (19 North Square), in the city’s North End.

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  • Old North Church (aka Christ Church in the City of Boston, 193-5 Salem St.)  Built in 1723, this is where the famous “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal was said to have been sent to warn the American militia of the impending attack by British forces.
  • Boston Common.  Dating from 1634, this is America’s first public park.
  • Faneuil Hall, Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market.  Faneuil Hall has been a meeting hall since 1742 and is part of the Boston National Historic Park.  U.S. Park Rangers provide free interpretive services on the building’s historical significance in America’s fight for independence from Britain.  The Faneuil Hall Marketplace (indoors) and adjoining Quincy Market are crammed with local eateries and retail outlets.
  • Little Italy.  This is Boston’s lively Italian district in the North End.  Stop at a bakery and buy a cannoli, an exquisite Italian tube of fried pastry dough filled with sweet riccota cheese.  In the summer, various Italian Feasts and Processions (such as the Fisherman’s Feast of the Madonna, an annual event since 1910 that was happening during our visit) are held in North End neighbourhoods.  The streets are closed to motor vehicles and the streets teem with people and food vendors.
  • New England Aquarium (1 Central Wharf, (617) 973-5206, Boston.  Admisson:  $15.95-$22.95 depending on age; children under 3 free.)  At the heart of the aquarium is the Giant Ocean Tank, 23 ft. high, 40 ft. wide containing salt water.  In this tropical display Myrtle the green sea turtle is the star, along with sharks, barracuda, stingrays and moray eel.  Best of all, the viewing ramp spirals around the tank so visitors can view the display at all heights of the tank.
  • Boston Harborwalk.  Some 62 kilometres of public access winds around the city’s waterfront, and it’s easily accessible from downtown.

Dining in Boston.

Our ‘foody’ relatives guided us to some of the best eateries in the city.

  • Flour Bakery + Cafe (1595 Washington St., (617) 267-4300, Boston).  Their Boston cream pie is fabulous, and our hosts say it’s the best in the city.
  • Massimino’s Cucina Italiana (207 Endicott St., (617) 523-5959, Boston) served up one of the best seafood meals of our trip.  Our hosts have been ‘regulars’ at this family-run North End Italian restaurant for more than twenty years.  The Seafood Diablo special (includes half a lobster, swordfish, calamari, shrimp, squid, mussels and clams on a bed of spaghetti) is more than plenty for two.  My order of shrimp and the scallops on tagliatelle (thick cut ribbon noodle) had me delirious.  These were the best scallops ever – sweet and large (No. 12, or twelve scallops to the pound, explained co-owner Paolo di Giovanni) in a creamy tomato sauce.  A second visit earns big thumbs up for the braised veal ossobucco and rack of lamb.
  • Legal Sea Food (43 Boylston St, Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, Newton, MA, (617) 277-7300; various locations.)  For many Bostonians, “Legal’s” is the seafood restaurant of choice.  Famous for their clam chowder, our server says it has been served at every Presidential Inauguration since 1981.  We weren’t disappointed, and the crab cakes are outstanding too.

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Near Boston

Plymouth.  Just 65 kilometres south of Boston, Plymouth Rock is where the Puritans landed in 1620.  Visit the actual Plymouth Rock which is enshrined in a neoclassical granite portico erected  in 1920 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the landing, and wander around the Mayflower II replica ship docked nearby.

Plymouth Rock was enshrined in this monument in 1920.

Plymouth Rock was enshrined in this monument in 1920.

Cape Cod.  “The Cape” is about an hour’s drive from Boston.  The Cape’s numerous towns were settled in the 1600s.  We used Mashpee (named after the Mashpee Indians) as a base for day trips.  Provincetown at the tip of the Cape is where the Puritans first landed, but unable to find fresh water, moved on to Plymouth Rock.  P-town, as New Englanders call it, attracts throngs of visitors in summer with its beaches, narrow streets dense with restaurants and stores, and thriving arts and theatre community.  We met a young woman on the busy main shopping street ‘pitching’ the menu for Grand Central Restaurant (5 Masonic Place, Provincetown, (508) 487-7599).  “The food is excellent and the prices are better because it’s off the main street”, she promised, and she was right.  My dish of broiled scallops was easily one of the best meals of the trip.  Nauset Beach (in Orleans) is famous for its expanse of fine-grained, clean sand, and a few minutes walk away is its picture perfect lighthouse.  In Barnstable, we visited the U.S. Coast Guard Heritage Museum (3353 Main Street  (Route 6A); Admission:  $5.00 USD donation).  Retired USCG members volunteer at the museum and are happy to share their high seas adventures and tour visitors through the compact facility overflowing with USCG equipment and memorabilia.  The building itself is an attraction, built of cast iron and formerly used as a Customs House.   Next door we meandered through Barnstable’s Old Gaol (free) built in 1690; it’s the oldest wooden jail in the United States.  We also took in a whale watching cruise, one of many offered on the Cape.  Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises (269 Millway, Barnstable, (800) 287-0374; CAA discount available) offered a spectacular afternoon cruise past the tip of the Cape into the Atlantic.  While our boat slowed to a quiet idle, as many as seven whales – the greatest number seen near the boat this year, according to the on-board biologist – swam, rolled and fin-slapped the surface to everybody’s delight.

Cape Cod Dining

Plaques for ‘The Best Lobster Roll on Cape Cod’ crowd the Raw Bar Inc.’s (252 Shore Dr., Mashpee, MA, (508) 539-4858.) wall.  The barmaid uses a 1-cup (!) ice cream scoop to dig out a 5-pin bowling ball-size serving of lobster meat and smacks it onto a sub bun.  After jabbing two plastic forks and a knife into the mix she puts it in front of us at the bar.  “How much lobster is in that?”, I ask, wide-eyed.  “About one pound”, she says.  Ingrid and I share the gigantic roll and it’s outstanding, and for $25.00 USD, it’s a gourmet lunch for two we’ll never forget.

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport is famous for its jazz festival and it’s just an hour drive from Boston.  It’s ‘touristy’ with shopping and restaurants stacked around a busy marina and through town.  Newport’s ‘must-see’ are the unbelievably large mansions that line the oceanside highway.  These are America’s castles and this is where ‘old money’ lives.  Just follow the “Mansions” signs; there are plenty of places to pull over and gawk.

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If you go.

  • If you’re driving, GPS is a must.  Boston and Cape Cod’s road network resembles a handful of cooked linguine thrown on the floor.  Really.
  • Car rental.  We found a deal online through Hotwire for a Toyota Corolla at Alamo Car Rentals (Logan International Airport) for $208.00 USD per week, unlimited miles.  The rental company offers an EZPass electronic transponder ($13 USD for the week) that automatically pays highway tolls and lets you drive through the toll booths’ express lanes.  Get it.
  • Shopping.  Wrentham Village Premium Outlets (One Premium Outlets Boulevard, Wrentham, MA, (508)384-0600) has 170 stores.  You’ll likely spend the entire day at this high-end factory outlet mall, so pack your own food; the food court’s offerings are poor.  For CAA auto club members, present your membership card at the mall’s administration office for a free a VIP Coupon Book for discounts at selected stores.  (We received an extra 10-percent off at the Jones New York store.)
  • State Parks and Cape Cod Beaches.  Massachusetts State Parks on Cape Cod charge a $15.00 USD daily parking fee.  A Park Ranger advised us to go at 4:45 PM to save money; that’s when they stop charging.  Some beaches are for resident use only.  Tourists are directed to nearby state beaches.

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