The street where we stayed – Claremont.
This was a road trip from Wilton, Connecticut. A few-days away from our extended vacation there. We searched for a scenic route; and, really there is none. There is a route through Mystic, Connecticut which is a special place to visit, (In 1000 Places to See Before You Die; and, I agree with that); but, we all had been before. My brother Paul and sister-in-law Gail were our traveling companions. So, we decided we wanted to spend all our time in Boston, first time there and all. The option we did choose was: on the way home we would stop in Providence, Rhode Island, to check off another State on our list of places we have visited and compare lobster rolls another of our agenda items.
Weather-wise, Boston in December is dicey. We knew it and were prepared with layers of clothes, warm coats hats, ear-muffs and mittens. Seattleites are masters of layering. We brought shoes that we knew could stand the slippery ice or deep snow should it appear. We were soooo lucky. Chilly temperatures and the most beautiful, light flurries of snow, added to the Christmassy feel of the City (which was beautifully decked out for the season); and, that was all we had to deal with on this visit. Lucky us! We were told sometimes this season was snow up to your waist and tunneling thorough city streets.
I did extensive research on B and B’s in Boston. It seemed the more reasonable choice economically over a hotel. It also provided us with the opportunity to live in a Boston neighborhood, walk and use the reportedly great public transportation. I selected The Gilded Lady, a beautiful brownstone (could it get more Boston?) in a gentrified neighborhood close to almost everything: many things on foot, the Boston Pops being one, (which was to be one of the trip highlights we had selected to do), the subway, Downtown, Hop-On Hop-Off route, other historic neighborhoods of interest and the Museum of Fine Art, Boston.
Stoop to The Gilded Lady.
The other thing was the layout. 2 rooms on one floor with a small shared kitchen with breakfast makings. There are 2 floors with rooms. And, lots of steps – beware. Boston’s laws make it hard to have hot meals included in the B and B experience so the cereal, bagels and muffins option was the best we could do. And, at the Gilded Lady that was not half-bad. The Keurig Coffeemaker was a wonderful thing to have given the chilly weather. And, there was enough in the frig to get an ample breakfast and have snacks. The best feature was the parking space for $25 dollars a night (there is one available). If you visit this city by car, you want a place to park it and leave it while you do the city on foot and/or using public transportation or the Hop-On Hop-Off buses. The rooms are spacious, nicely decorated, including the sweet electric Christmas candles in each window welcoming us home at night and the tasteful Christmas decorations on the porch. Trip Advisor reviews accurately sum it up!
This was our room! The fireplace is not a working one.
Welcome and intro to Boston and the neighborhood by James, the owner, was a real bonus that came with the wonderful rooms. He was gracious and gave us a great map to work with; and, tons of advice on restaurants, things to see and do. He loves his town and knows it well. We benefitted from this. On his recommendation, Jon and I knew we would be visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for John Singer Sargent’s watercolor exhibit. James was fun to run into throughout our stay and he always had some new information to pass along for the day’s activities. He even shared his art museum pass! The cleaning staff was wonderful! Friendly!
We headed for lunch around the corner at the Five Horses Tavern (South End). We took James recommendation on this corner bar. He had described it as having really “tasty” food. We were hungry and the convenience was great. On top of it, we loved the place. Smallish and cozy, a great little menu and the food WAS very, very tasty! The Chili blew me away. Served in a little iron skillet it was hearty, spicy sweet and wonderfully warm on a very chilly afternoon. The beers were great and everything we had we shared and enjoyed; salads, chicken, sandwiches.
The touring began for us a few more blocks away at the Sheraton Hotel. The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours are always a great way to get the lay of the land; and, figure out where you want to spend your time during your stay – reliable transportation to all the best spots; and, most often a historic and humorous narration. And, as is the usual practice the off-season brings cheaper fares and more days to ride without added charge as well as flexibility in stops and drop offs. A real bonus! In cities with known traffic headaches, we leave the car behind and hop on and hop off!
What a great large lobby, bustling hotel and a beautifully decorated place The Sheraton was. The full size Gingerbread sleigh was amazing and they had a jar of large gingerbread pieces for the taking. Fun!
The Starbucks there is busy. We filled up on cocoa and coffee and headed out to hop on. The first go around was with an obnoxious driver who talked loudly and offered nothing much in the way of good history or narrative. Fortunately for us, he was off-duty after our first half hour on the tour. The next driver was excellent and we learned so much amazing history about Boston and the places we passed and made a mental note of returning to in the next 2 days. He was a middle-school history teacher and all I can say is: “those lucky kids”. He made the history of the revolution come alive for us and there we were in the place where it all happened.
One of his sources was David McCullough’s book 1776. By the time, we had finished the go around it was dark and Christmas lights were twinkling all around. He took us back to Faneuil Hall Marketplace where the Christmas tree lighting show was; and, the shopping interesting. There is a little museum and Armory of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts that was interesting and worth a look. Quincy Market is also here but we were too late to make a visit that day.
In talking to one of the shop keepers, I mentioned we really wanted to get to North Boston the Italian District for dinner. As luck would have it, he pointed out a way to walk that was a little tricky because it involved a free-way overpass; but, quite easy from where we were. In less than 5 minutes, we were smelling garlic and arguing over how to select a restaurant.
When we got there, we were taken in with all the lovely restaurants, bakeries and shops – all Christmassy and inviting. Picking a restaurant was fun and almost impossible. We wanted to just walk and be inspired by our senses. We checked out Modern Pastry vs Mike’s Pastry the two rival bakeries of note in the area; and, decided we would be returning after dinner for the assorted and so cute mini cannoli at Modern Pastry. As we walked, we sniffed and peeked inside restaurants and read menus. My brother asked what region of Italy they specialized in when accosted on the street by a restaurateur gesturing people into his spot. When the reply was a confident and assuring: all regions, “we do it all” We decided Al Dente would be where we cast our lots. 100% Italian and a great cook myself it is always a tough challenge for a restaurant to live up to my expectations. This one did and some. I absolutely hate, hate, hate paying good money for poor food! And, I did not have to here.
Photo from Al Dente Restaurant.
We shared the anti-pasta salad (huge and full of meats and Italian specialties), the bacon wrapped scallops (sometimes a cliché but to die for here…really!); and, all variations of red and white pastas. Jon and I had half clam linguini with white sauce and half Bolognese. It was a grand round of food and plenty of it. It felt warm and steamy, nicely opposing the crisp cold outside. And, it was a lot like eating dinner with a noisy Italian family. The family owners and wait staff are long time invested in the restaurant and embedded all over the place. Fun! We had our little shots of a complimentary and creamy lemoncello and waddled right out of the restaurant on to Modern Pastry.
We got assorted mini cannoli wrapped in the cutest little red and white box with red and white string – It would be a souvenir for my Christmas tree at home. The subway was up the street and took us back to our neighborhood. We had time to walk around and figure out our route to the Boston Pops Symphony Hall for the next night and find a good bodega around the street corner in case we needed one. Cannoli and coffee, strategizing for the next day with maps and iPad ended our first terrific night in Beantown.
Photo by Modern Bakery.
Day Two Away–
We woke with a plan to eat leisurely and take in the Prudential Center a couple of blocks away. Again, the faintest of snow flurries met us on the street as we walked the neighborhood getting to our destination. I love to photograph doors and the Christmas wreaths and decorations added to the fun!
The Prudential Center was beautifully decorated!
I am not a shopping mall person. But, boy is this a great one with great shops and so many surprises. Clean (did I mention we were blown away by how clean this city is –); and , gorgeously decorated every turn revealed a new Christmas motif. I loved the giant ornaments laying outside on the lawns and hanging from the ceilings. There was an information booth with all the events going on in the mall and there were so many photo opportunities. The biggest surprise was the St. Francis Chapel. A real working Catholic chapel and gift shop. Simple and elegant. Confessions were going on and the Advent service was about to begin. It was incense-y and inviting.
We decided to head to the Copley Place Shopping Center and it’s a much more old-style department store feel. Dark and richly decorated – interesting in its own right. After 2 hours of strolling and window shopping, I noticed a subway station that would take us to Long Wharf. That was a destination for Legal Seafood Long Wharf, a chain (relax…it is ok…) that serves famous lobster rolls so good it is also listed in 1000 Places to go Before You Die.
We hoped on the subway. This is clean and convenient transportation and I got a very real looking million dollar bill from a fundamentalist Christian selling me on Christ – another ornament for the Christmas tree. The Boston Subway (The T) is orderly and easy to navigate. Even so, we missed our stop and had to do a back again trip to make it to Long Wharf. We were settled in the restaurant with a view of the water and the snow flurries and the little ferry we would be taking to get the USS Constitution Museum our next adventure.
Sister-in-law Gail, Jon, me and my brother, Paul, riding the T.
The lobster roll was great, great, great! And, the other food just as good or so Jon and Gail said and reported: The clam chowder was good; but, Seattle can best it. But, Paul and I had come for the lobster and that is what we concentrated on. Lobster rolls are as good as the lobster in them…legal Seafood knows that! The two ways to serve them is a lobster salad, light mayo with celery, filling on a very white bread roll usually buttered and crisped and wrapped around. Here it is a pile of sweet lobster salad in a buttery toasted roll. We finished up slowly savoring the simple recipe that certainly highlighted the main ingredient!
It was cold and light snow kept falling. The teeny little boat arrived and the one man running it sold us tickets and let us board.
The little ferry makes it way, center, toward the dock.
It was such a fun little trip and a glorious view of the harbor. Jon and I stood outside on the back of the boat outside watching it all go by and feeling a great affinity for this new place we were discovering. When we docked we walked to the Museum. (The ship itself was not open – sadly for my brother who is all things nautical in work and play.)
The USS Constitution Museum is very neat, lots of hands-on history – very interactive and engaging. The gift shop was also interesting to poke around and that is where I nabbed some free colonial chocolate samples to bring back to the room. An hour and a half later we know a lot about Colonial life and Old Ironsides history. We had planned it well – The Hop-On Hop-Off stop was a block away and going our way. We hopped on and listened to yet another version of Boston History. When we were the last on he asked where our hotel was and dropped us literally four blocks away and right by the Bodega we wanted to visit for appetizers and wine before we dressed up and went out to the Boston Pops. Tillamook white cheddar cheese, fancy crackers, a Malbec and sweet saprasosa salami we had brought with us provided a very happy hour. As we rested and tuned into a You Tube video about a band of kids circumventing the globe in a broken down boat – Hold Fast The Full Documentary. It was crazy and entertaining.
We then all got dressed up and headed out in the 14 degree weather. A brisk walk, two blocks away we entered the symphony hall and were not prepared for the great treat that was in store for us. The Boston Pops is an American Icon, we knew that. And, how bad could there Christmas concert be? Stupid question! The tickets were a splurge. But, from the minute we entered it was magic. No exaggeration! The hall is beautiful. We were on the floor which meant we were at a round table surrounded by other people at tables all dressed up and chatting excitedly as they ordered from the cute little menu. We settled on crudités and the Christmas cookie box – 25 different little cute and sweet little treats wrapped like a Christmas package. Wait staff were passing bottles of wine and beers and the crowd had to help out hands over heads passing bottles.
Boston Pops Christmas Concert 2013. Photos Stu Rosner.
There was so much going on and the excitement was infectious. By the time conductor Keith Lockhart came out we were in the spirit. The swells of Christmas carols, the Tanglewood chorus and well just everything down to the Lockhart’s red socks, that showed when he jumped up and down and matched his bow-tie and red vest, brought out the Holiday spirit all around us. The Twelve Days of Christmas was an original arrangement that combined all types of music while keeping its original charm. The chorus had on red and white hats, reindeer antlers and mufflers of every Christmas stripe. The Polar Express reading and music were beautiful. Santa’s appearance and explanation his new GPS was a riot. And, the ending sign-along had everyone swaying and swooning. This excellent cd has been added to your Christmas favorite’s collection.
So much warmth inside – and, in the Peppermint schnapps in the cocoa! And, freezing cold when we walked home. But, what a memory we made!
Day Three Away–
The next morning had us all in different directions…Jon and I off to The Museum of Fine Art, Boston to see the John Singer Sargent
watercolors exhibit and his other work, he is the painter of the Rotunda, beautiful! There was an intriguing video on how to Sargent perhaps painted Melon Boats. Artist Monika deVries Gohlke explores John Singer Sargent’s techniques by attempting to re-create this well-known work, Melon Boats.
The outside of the Fine Art Museum, Boston and rotunda, paintings by John Singer Sargent.
Paul and Gail headed for Back Bay to hit a renowned Chocolate Shop – Burdick Chocolate and they saw Thrinty Church and the Boston Public Library while they were roaming. Each of us had lots to talk about when we piled into the car for our good-bye Boston onward to Providence, Rhode island leg of the trip.
One more state to check off the list; and, we were in search of more lobster rolls. It was a quick trip and when we arrived – bitter cold…25 degrees with a good amount of wind chill.
After, we drove through the Brown campus we headed downtown and stumbled upon the tourist info booth. A very knowledgeable man gave us the highlights and we went to check out two suggested restaurants. Hemmingway’s was the winner and it says something because we were walking and it was farther away from the car! This is an old style steak and seafood place, large airy, a bit staid but attractive. It is on the Providence River which runs through the city and is the site of several events in town. The menu was extensive and great! My brother and I took up where we left off at Legal Seafood in Boston and took the lobster roll challenge, measuring up to legal Seafood would be hard we knew; but what the heck how bad can lobster be. It was great.
Photo Hemingway’s Restaurant.
These were pure lobster, toasted white bread with drawn butter. We now had experienced excellent varieties of both traditional types and were very happy we did! It was a delightful lunch that cemented our love of the lobster roll, fueled our desire to keep tasting them and ended what had been a wonderful get-away…and, the state of Rhode Island…check! Well. Sort of…we wanna come back not only Rhode Island; but, more Boston, and Massachusetts…definitely, more lobster rolls!