NEMPQ: Boston and Cambridge

Visit dates: September 5-7, 2023

In September 2022 the Mattilas and Thompsons ventured forth on what was supposed to be a five-train coast-to-coast trip across Canada by rail. We rode three trains but Hurricane Fiona stopped us in our tracks in Montreal. Nova Scotia was in Fiona’s crosshairs so we didn’t get to visit Quebec or Nova Scotia. We were fortunate that we were well out of harm’s way when the hurricane hit.

But there were still things we wanted to see so the four of us planned a follow up trip for 2023. When I suggested we could pick up where we left off and travel by train Terri’s left eye started to twitch and I swear her right hand started to ball up in a fist; Jim and Carla involuntarily (?) shouted “No! No! NO!”. So with that firm but gentle response we decided a road trip would be a better option. We would fly to Boston and see the sights for a few days before heading up to Acadia National Park in Maine, then to Halifax, and Quebec City before returning to Boston through Vermont and New Hampshire. Here is an overview of the trip. Note that the route from New Hampshire to Boston isn’t shown because Google Maps only allows 10 stops.

NEMPQ Tirip Overview Map (Click on it to open Google Maps and see the details)

I know what you really want to know: What the heck is NEMPQ in the post title? It is the short hand for our trip. When I have a series of posts on our travels I preface the title of each post with the event (e.g. “Spring 2023 California Road Trip” or “Canada by Rail“) Theoretically, that makes it easier to search and sort posts. But “New England, Maritime Provences, and Quebec” is a bit unwieldy so I’ve trimmed it down.

After arriving at Logan International airport we collected our belongings and grabbed a ride share to our Air BnB in Boston. It was 8:30pm local time – 5:30 Pacific Time – and we were hungry but didn’t want to go too far after a long day of travel. We found an Italian restaurant about a 10 minute walk away: perfect. Not a true North End eatery, but it worked.

Jim, Terri, Carla, and me (Howard) having dinner on our first night in Boston

After a good night’s sleep we got ready for our day’s adventure. We started in Boston Common which was a short walk from our condo. This park has fond associations for both Carla and Terri. Carla’s parents met on Boston Common where her dad was serving during WWII and her mom was a nurse. We visited the swan boats which figure into a story Terri would read to her elementary students every year as a teacher. Unfortunately, the swan boats are stowed after Labor Day weekend – so no rides.

Boston Common

We caught our Hop On Hop Off bus just across the street from the Massachusetts state house.

Massachusetts State House

I imagine the number 1 Boston tourist attraction is the Freedom Trail.

Freedom Trail marker in Boston

The trail is a do-it-yourself tour. There is a yellow line you can follow to see many of the highlights of America’s quest for freedom from Great Britain. Also near Boston Common is the Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party plan was hatched.

Old South Meeting House – Home of the Boston Tea Party planning

You’ll also see Paul Revere’s house, the Old North Church where Robert Newman and Captain John Pulling Jr. held up two lanterns in the steeple to let Paul Revere know the British were going by sea from Lexington to Concord. If you grew up in the United States you may remember the lines “One if by land; two if by sea” from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”. You can take follow the trail across the river to see where the colonists tossed bales of tea into Boston Harbor.

And you’ll see old cemeteries. The headstones were so much different back in the day – featuring skeletons, skull and crossbones and other scary images. The centuries are wearing away the engravings. This headstone is just a few feet away from John Hancock’s grave.

One of the colonial headstones in the Granary Burying Ground

Oh, it was a hot and humid day. By afternoon we were melting and returned to the air conditioned comfort of our condo. The next day – September 7 – we had two tours set up: Harvard and Fenway Park. Our Harvard tour was led by a Harvard student from Brazil; she was very informative and helpful.

Our Harvard guide was a student.

I took away two bits of information from our tour. First, no one walks through the main gate into and out of the campus; instead they walk through the nearby side gate. The tradition – superstition – is that you only walk through the gate twice: on your first day entering as a Freshman and then leaving after graduation.

The second thing I learned was related to the Titanic – a recurring theme for our trip. Harry Widener was accepted into Harvard and embarked to America on the ill-fated ship. He left behind his large personal library. Wanting to memorialize her son, Harry’s mother made a gift of the books to a new library that would bear his name. There was a major stipulation: the footprint and exterior of the building could not be changed or the building would be given to some other organization.

But the library collections continued to grow and the building could not be accommodated without some sort of adjustment. Not being able to go out or up they went down. Way down. Eight stories down. The library now has eight additional floors of books and other items below ground. I don’t know how they did it. Now I may have some, or all, of this wrong. If so, it isn’t our tour guide’s fault. I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.

The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library – Harvard

Once again we were in danger of melting in the heat and humidity, so after the tour we dropped into a local BBQ joint for cool drinks and slabs of corn bread. Terri introduced me to a drink called the Arnold Palmer: a 50-50 combination of ice tea and lemonade. Though I’d heard of it, I’d never had one before. Now it’s a summertime go-to.

Near the spot where our tour commenced is a “T” stop (“The T” is Boston’s light rail system). We found we could get a train from Cambridge over to Fenway Park. Well, near-ish Fenway . Did I mention it was hot and humid during our stay? We straggled the few blocks from the train stop over to Fenway for our tour.

This was my third visit to Fenway – the only one where I didn’t attend a game. In the summer of 1977 we visited Carla’s relatives in Massachusetts and took in a game from right-field bleachers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked for the International Group of Tektronix – a once large tech company headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. We partnered with a software company in Boston to build an accounting system for the Tektronix subsidiaries. This required us to travel back east about every 6-8 weeks for the better part of the year. Luckily for me, one of the visits coincided with a Red Sox homestand. We sat down the left field line for that game.

We got to see the park from many vantage points including the top of the Green Monster

View of Fenway from the top of the Green Monster

Here is a panorama shot from down the right field line.

Panorama of Fenway Park from the right field line.

At the end of the tour we got to see a large display case with autographed baseballs from decades of World Series winners. I made a beeline toward the 1963 ball with my hero – Sandy Koufax’ – autograph right there! My Los Angeles Dodgers swept the arch rival New York Yankees. Koufax was the winning pitcher for games 1 and 4!

Autographed game ball from the victorious Los Angeles Dodgers 1963 World Series.

Our time in Boston was drawing to a close but we hadn’t eaten in the North End yet. So we took a ride share to the Italian district for an awesome meal. Pro Tip when eating in the North End. It doesn’t matter which restaurant you pick; they are all awesome. My son lived in the North End while attending law school in Boston; when we visited we’d pick a restaurant at random and were never disappointed. So on this trip, we didn’t search Yelp, Google, Trip Advisor. We just wandered around and picked a spot at random. I had a great plate of spaghetti carbonara.

We walked back to our condo with a quick stop top at the Parker House hotel to pick up two portions of the original Boston Cream Pie for dessert. Then we packed up, retired and got ready to move on to Camden, Maine for our second stop.

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