Monday, October 18, 2010

USA Trip 2010 - Boston [Part 4]

Copley Square at night
My first impression of The Copley Square Hotel was that it was pretentious. After its recent renovation the hotel is all dark colours, mirrors and very glamorous receptionists. To be fair though it is advertised more of as a business hotel. Still the staff were friendly and the room was very nice. It was smaller than the room in NY but the bed was comfortable, the bathroom spacious, it had free wi-fi and a nice TV for 'The Lost Weekend'. On the way into Boston I had pinpointed the location of the closest Apple Store to the hotel and as luck would have it it was only around the corner. So we basically checked-in, dropped our bags in the room and went in search of an iPad. Again.

I don't think I could have booked a hotel in Boston with a better location. It is located in Copley Square, a nice open space that is very well kept and I have since recognised in the film Spartan. The trendy streets of Boylston and Newbury running parallel to each other are just off Copley Square and it was to Boylston Street and the Apple Store we headed to first. It was a glorious day weather wise and as we wandered down the street we couldn't believe the difference between this and NY. The street was quieter, cleaner and just, nicer. It was only a short stroll to the Apple Store and I made a beeline for the nearest sales assistant. My plan was to buy the 32GB Wi-Fi only version of the iPad, the official case and the camera USB adapter. The sales assistant said that they only had one iPad in stock and it was the 64GB Wi-Fi model. He told me that they were flying off the shelves and thought I'd be lucky to find another one in Boston, or Chicago for that matter. I decided quickly to take it and I got it activated then and there. They had no cases or USB adapters but I was just happy to have found an iPad. It was $100 more expensive than I had planned but with double the memory it was good investment. Nearly six months later I have used about 30GB of space so it was the right decision.

With my business with Apple complete we decided to go wander around the area and see what was around. My wife stopped in Starbucks and got a strawberry and crème frappuccino. It was delicious and started a trend for the drink that lasted the rest of the holiday. We've had one since returning to Ireland but it just wasn't the same. After checking out Boylston Street we headed back to the hotel to go get ready for dinner. We had seen plenty of restaurants around so it looked like we wouldn't have the same problems that we had in NY. We ended up going for Thai that night, Bangkok Blue on Boylston Street. I remember the mains being very tasty but nothing much on the menu for dessert, which is par for the course I find with Asian restaurants.

Freedom Trail map
Our first full day in Boston was set to be a busy one as we had planned to tackle 'The Freedom Trail'. The Freedom Trail is a red brick path through down Boston that leads to seventeen significant historic sites. The trail is 2.5 miles long and it took us most of the day to complete as we had so much fun stopping at different locations. The Trail was originally conceived by journalist William Schofield who was promoting the idea of linking important local landmarks with a pedestrian trail since 1951. The mayor at the time agreed and put the idea into action. The trail starts in Boston Common, the oldest city park in the US and that day it was getting ready to host some hippy protest concert. Just as we left Boston Common we came across another site that I instantly recognised from film, the Massachusetts State House that played a significant role in The Departed. Up until writing this I was convinced that the Park Street Church around the corner was the location used to film the tripod reveal sequence from War of The Worlds but I can't find anything to back this up. We followed the red brick path through several more locations down to Faneuil Hall, one of our favourite places on the whole trip.

Street performers at Quincy Market
Faneuil Hall was originally built to be the city market and now it is home to Quincy Market, one of the most vibrant and lively places in Boston. We had lunch here and checked out a number of shops. We stayed for a good while at this location watching the street performers before heading in the direction of the Bunker Hill Monument. By the time we had crossed the bridge we had been walking for some time and had a choice to make. Do we head to Bunker Hill and back around to the USS Constitution (involved in the Boston Tea Party) or cut it short and just pick one. In the end we decided just to go see the USS Constitution and get some ice-cream while we were at it. The part about the Freedom Trail that we didn't factor in was that the 2.5 mile walk is only one way, we now had to make our way back to Copley Square. For anyone thinking of going to Boston, I would highly recommend going on this walk. Not only to you get an appreciation of a city steeped in a rich history (we found out about aid ships sent from Boston to Ireland during the Famine) but it is an excellent way to get to know a new city. The full list of Freedom Trail locations can be found here.

That night we were pretty drained and planned an early night; this may also have been due to the Lost finale that was airing that night. We went to Uno Chicago Grill on Boylston Street for a pretty standard dinner. A constant problem we had faced in the US with dinners was the portion sizes, they are just outrageously big in some places. This means that there is little chance of having room for any desserts. I remember the dessert in this place well because they had 'mini' desserts listed on the menu. This sounded perfect so I went for the mini apple pie. It might have been mini in the US but it was still pretty big by European standards. We retired back to the hotel room to settle in for the Lost finale, an event I'd been looking forward to. Now, I want to be careful here lest I get sidetracked on some rant about the finale. I felt that the the series up till this episode had been good and the last few in particular had been building some great momentum. It is such a shame that I can't say that I loved the final episode. I can't say that I thought it was bad, it is something that I may have to watch again to make up my mind on. I know one thing I didn't like and that was the crazy number of advert breaks. I think the running time must have been two and half hours in total.

The next day we had a morning appointment at Boston Gliders, a company running Segway tours of Boston. The traffic was pretty heavy so we were a few minutes late in arriving and it was all a bit of a rush to get signed in and down to watch the training video. It was actually the same video from our last Segway tour in San Francisco back in 2007. When they realised we had been on a Segway before we only got some cursory training tips, which was okay as I got accustomed to the Segway pretty quickly but a little more training would have helped my wife feel more at ease. A small group of us, seven in total took off along the streets of Boston on the two hour sightseeing tour. I find Segways fantastic. They are so easy to control, they do all the balancing work for you. All you have to do is learn to relax and enjoy the ride. For those next two hours I just become a big kid again, I'm all ready looking forward to my next Segway experience. The tour took us to many of the locations on the Freedom Trail but you get a whole new experience doing it by Segway. This time we did get to Bunker Hill and we spent some time there taking photos and enjoying the space on the Segway. We were finished the tour by lunch time and went and got a bite to eat in the Cheers Bar at Quincy Market. I'm not sure what the deal was with that place and the show, it probably just licensed the name and likeness. 

One of the days we went to the Boston Science Museum. I had read good reports about it being a very interesting way to spend a few hours so we found our way on the subway to the science park. I'm not sure what we were expecting exactly but whatever it was we didn't find it. We spent a couple of hours there making our way around the attractions, some of which were very impressive. I think the place was too geared towards children, which is a fine thing if you've brought some along but in our case not so much. I was most impressed by the full size model of the spaceship used by Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. I think it was that evening that we got to eat at Joe's American Bar & Grill. It is on the corner of Newbury Street and we had passed it several times, admiring the food being served. I really enjoyed the meal there (the waitress pretty too) but it is most memorable for my wife being asked for ID, something she wasn't too impressed by. I saw onion rings on the list of starters and got them because I thought to myself that they can't be too big surely. Wrong. Each one was the size of my fist but they were finger lickin' good.

As I mentioned in a previous post we had done very little shopping in NY and decided it would be a shame to return home without having at least tried to take advantage of the cheaper clothes prices. So we went to the Prudential Center, the large department store at the end of Boylston Street. We split up for an hour or so and I managed to find myself a couple of t-shirts. We met back up for a frappuccino in Star Bucks and then both went to Newbury Street. There are lots of nice little clothes shops along there that do unique items but some of it is a bit pricey. We both picked up some sports tops; I went for the Bears and my wife went with the White Sox. Throw in the iPad, ModNation Racers and Red Dead Redemption for the PS3, a handful of t-shirts and nice top from Gap and I was very happy with my shopping from Boston. That night we went back to the Prudential Center for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. We still hadn't figured out how to fit in a main course and dessert though but the couple beside us showed us how it was done. Eat half your main, and then bag it up and order dessert. The main course in the Cheesecake Factory was just insane, it was a very nice chicken dish with corn and mash but it was about the size of four normal mains. Next time we'd just go to the place for dessert alone.

We were sorry to see the end of our four night stay in Boston but excited at the same time to be going on to see Chicago. Like San Francisco before it Boston has joined a select few cities that I would like to return to again. There really is no contest between Boston and NY as to which we preferred, we just hoped Chicago wouldn't let us down.

Part 3

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