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Boston: Home to Harvard, heritage, and an easy escape


Mostly I remember Boston for getting lost — so much so that I was rolling down the window and asking people in cars next to me for directions at every red light.

But this time Boston was an entirely different experience.

Boston skyline

First there was Harvard University. My eldest nephew wanted to apply there, and I decided to tag along when he went for the tour. The presentation regarding why Harvard is so good for undergrads and the tour were mind blowing. Here are some of the things our tour guide—a newly graduated history major—told us:

Harvard’s flagship library, the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, houses a large part of its collection underground. Eleanor Elkins Widener donated the necessary funds for Harvard to build a new library suitable for her son’s extensive book collection, which he bequeathed to Harvard after perishing on the Titanic. However, to ensure this memorial to her son would remain intact in perpetuity Mrs. Widener made stringent, airtight conditions, the key one being that the exterior structure of the library could not be changed in any way. Therefore, as the library’s collections grew and evermore space was needed, the library expanded downwards and then outwards.

So, as our tour guide said, if you walk across Harvard Yard between Widener Library and Memorial Church, or attend a commencement ceremony there, you’re on top of part of the library.

 

Harvard really takes care of its freshmen. So much so that the oldest and most central real estate on campus is for them. Some freshmen even share the oldest building on campus, Massachusetts Hall, with the offices of the president and provost. The list of notable alumni who have lived in these dorms is truly impressive and includes such names as Mark Zuckerburg, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Yo-Yo Ma, John F. Kennedy, Leonard Bernstein, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Adams.

Freshmen also have their own dining hall, Annenberg, that no other students on campus are allowed to enter. Many have commented on the similarities between Annenberg and the Great Hall at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Not only that, freshmen attend a sorting ceremony of their own in this esteemed dining hall towards the end of their first year. This is where each of them finds out which upperclass House they will belong to for the remainder of their time as an undergrad.

Everything at Harvard emanates a strong sense of history, and so does the city of Boston itself. Countless residential and commercial buildings of historical significance have been preserved. Many of the sidewalks are still made of cobblestones that add much to the character of the streets, but must be treacherous under the ice and snow of winter.

We ate our first dinner at the Union Oyster House, billed as “the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S. [where] the doors have always been open to diners since 1826.” John F. Kennedy frequented the establishment so much that a booth is dedicated to his memory.

The Freedom Trail runs through Boston like a 2.5-mile (4-kilometre) red thread that leads from one historically significant site to another and offers a great way to take in many of the other sights and sounds of the city.

Boston

As one of the oldest cities in the United States and a key player in the American Revolution, Boston has a tremendous story to tell, and the Freedom Trail tells it very well. We visited:

  • Boston Common – America’s oldest public park (and across Beacon Street from Cheers)
  • Paul Revere House – the actual home of Paul Revere and his family when he made his famous ride to Lexington on April 18, 1775, to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that British soldiers were on their way
  • Old South Meeting House – the site of many revolutionary meetings and debates and the birthplace of the Boston Tea Party, which began in 1773
  • Old State House – credited with being the place where the seeds of the American Revolution were planted due to many discussions and debates about self-government in the company of leading revolutionaries such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock and John Adams
  • Site of the Boston Massacre – where, on March 5, 1770, outside the Old South Meeting Hall, long-running tensions between British soldiers and Americans erupted into a confrontation that ended the lives of five civilians and wounded six others
  • Faneuil Hall – the building in which America’s first town hall meeting took place
  • Bunker Hill Monument – a 221-foot (67-metre) granite obelisk commemorating the first major battle of the American Revolution, which took place on June 17, 1775

Not only did we learn a great deal, thanks to the Freedom Trail, everywhere we turned, history spilled over into fun.

Climbing to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument was tiring, but playful and afforded a great panoramic view of Boston.

The Faneuil Hall Market had many shops, boutiques, vendors, and an outdoor station where we could play table tennis and other games at no charge. We chose the patio of Dick’s Last Resort for our final dinner in Boston. This restaurant chain is known for its hilarious wait staff who actually abuse and harass their guests. They did not hold back where we were concerned.

After two jam-packed days and nights seeing all these amazing sights, we headed north to Gloucester. Slightly off course, but totally worth the detour, we stopped at Markey’s Lobster Pool in Seabrook New Hampshire for scrumptious fresh clams, oysters, lobster, and scallops.

In Gloucester, just 35 miles (56 kilometres) north of Boston, we stayed at a gem of a hotel called the Atlantis Oceanfront Inn. Here each large clean room afforded a breathtaking ocean view and opened onto a balcony running the length of the building.

Directly across the street was a rocky beach perfect for climbing and enjoying the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean up close. The windswept rocks and ocean spray invigorated and refreshed us after our busy, hot city days and instilled a sense of freedom and calm.

Boston

These are all the reasons why my third trip to Boston was definitely my best. Plus, my brother did the driving and didn’t get lost once.

If you would like to experience Boston this way, you might want to visit these websites:

Harvard tours: http://www.harvard.edu/on-campus/visit-harvard/tours
Union Oyster House: http://www.unionoysterhouse.com/
Freedom Trail: https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/
Markey’s Loster Pool: http://www.markeyslobsterpool.com/
Atlantis Oceanfront Inn: http://www.atlantisoceanfrontinn.com/

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