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Boston

Boston blends old-world charm and modern convenience better than most American cities. It is compact, walkable, historic and, maybe best of all, comparatively clean. Boston has some of the best preserved historic buildings and neighborhoods in the country the result of blacklash from 1950’s urban renewal. Unfortunately, preservation sometimes crosses the line into Disneyfication.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a combo theme park and shopping mall unto itself. With over 50 colleges and universities in the area, Boston’s cultural juices are flowing. Boston’s about history and tradition, from the cobbled streets of Paul Revere’s ride to Fenway Park.

Boston,a very old town, sports some of the loveliest architecture in the world

Boston started urban planning in America, when the Boston Common was created as the nation’s first urban civic space in 1634. It was used to graze cattle and endures today as the site of the popular Public Garden and Swan boats.

Unfortunately, urban planning apparently never extended to vehicle traffic. Streets are narrow. Almost always one way. And they tend to follow circuitous routes and change names seemingly without notice. So it’s best to avoid driving. Even if you could find your way around, parking is an absolute nightmare. Boston is currently host to one of the biggest construction projects on the planet, if not in the history of mankind the Big Dig. It has created numerous diversions that your road map won’t show you.

Trolleys, buses and the T (the subway) are your best bet for getting around. The color-coded T can be confusing at first, but a few minutes spent learning its intricacies pays off.

Don’t even bother with the famed Cheers bar (in reality, known as the Bull & Finch in posh Beacon Hill). The line to get in is long. The food’s mediocre. The inside bears no resemblance to the show and no, Sam’s not going to be there. Nor, for that matter, will anybody know your name. You’d be better off in one of the cheesy airport knock-offs.

A gull rests on a pier in Boston Harbor

History & Culture

Less than four years after the Pilgrims arrived in nearby Plymouth, the vanguard of English settlers led by Reverend William Blaxton arrived in 1624. The colony of Massachusetts Bay was established in 1630 when the elder John Winthrop, moved to town. From the beginning this was the center of Puritan culture and life in the New World. The Boston Public Latin School was established in 1635 (and continues as an elite public high school today). A year later, Harvard was founded in neighboring Cambridge. By 1653, Boston had a public library as well and by the early 1700’s the Thirteen Colonies’ first newspaper, the News-Letter. Though the New England coast had many excellent natural ports, Boston was blessed with the best of all. By the early 1700’s, it was well on its way to being what it remains today New England’s largest and most important city.

As the most important city in the region, it drew London’s attention. When King George III and Parliament chose to burden the colonies with taxation without representation, the taxes were first levied in Boston. When resistance surfaced, it was in Boston. The Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party were signal events in the development of revolutionary sentiments and the Battle of Bunker Hill solidified colonial resolve to declare independence from the British.

after the Revolutionary War, Boston suffered as the British government cut off American ships’ access to other ports in the British Empire. But as new trading relationships developed, Boston entered a commercial and industrial boom which lasted until the mid-1800’s. Fortunes were made in shipbuilding, maritime trade and manufacturing textiles and shoes. Beacon Hill was soon crowned with fine mansions built by the leading families and the Back Bay was filled in to make room for more. These same prominent families also patronized arts and culture heavily.

Though conservative and traditionalist in their general outlook, Bostonians were firm believers in American ideals of freedom and firm supporters of the abolition of slavery and the activities of the Underground Railroad. As the 19th century drew to a close, Boston’s prominence was challenged by the growth of other port cities and the westward expansion of the national borders.

The Irish potato famine drove thousands of immigrants to the New World, especially Boston, changing the city’s ethnic and economic profiles. The new arrivals were soon to be joined by immigrants from Italy, the Ottoman Empire and Portugal.

During the 20th century, Boston has remained an important port, a prominent center for medical education, treatment and research and USA’s premiere university center. Many graduates choose to remain in the Boston area, which has helped to fuel local booming commerce in computer research, development and manufacturing.

A view of Boston from across the harbor

The 1990’s have been marked by the city’s most ambitious public works project yet: placing the Central Expressway underground. The ‘Big Dig’ will cost roughly $1 billion a mile.

Attractions

North End
North end is Boston’s oldest neighborhood and home to much of the city’s Italian population. The heart of this is Salem Street, crammed with bakeries, cafes, delicatessens and candy shops. Among the remnants of Boston’s early days are Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the tiny clapboard Paul Revere House built in 1680 and the oldest house in Boston and the 1723 Old North Church, where two lanterns were hung in the steeple to signal the Brits’ arrival by sea.

Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall and the adjacent Quincy Market form one of the country’s first mixed-use commercial developments. The hall, built in the 1740’s, has always been a market with an upstairs meeting hall. Quincy Market’s three granite buildings were added nearly 100 years later to provide warehouse and retail space. The complex made the transition to tourist attraction in the 1970’s, getting redubbed Faneuil Hall Marketplace in the process.

Beacon Hill
You can locate Beacon Hill easily by the gilt dome of the Massachusetts State House and the undulating rows of brick houses that surround it. Beacon Hill is Boston’s most affluent neighborhood. Modern day young urban professionals now trod the brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets of the hill. At the 1798 State House, you can watch the parliamentary maneuvers of the state legislature when it’s in session. Some of the finest headstone carvings in New England are on view at the Old Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere, John Hancock and Samuel Adams rest in peace. Other historical buildings on the hill include the Old State House, from the balcony of which Bostonians first heard the Declaration of Independence read; and the Old South Meeting House, where a 1774 grievance session about a new tax turned into the Boston Tea Party.

Cambridge
There are college towns and then there’s Cambridge. The double whammy of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) would make anybody’s head swell. Just across the Charles River from Boston, ground zero is Harvard Square and the surrounding blocks, crammed with all the book stores, cafes, restaurants and shops you’d expect to find in a town catering to 30,000 university students. Just off the square is Harvard Yard, a quiet leafy quadrangle of vine covered brick buildings.

Charlestown
This neighborhood is a living museum of Boston’s shipbuilding past. At the river’s edge is the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy, the USS Constitution. Launched in 1797, it got its nickname, ‘Old Ironsides,’ after surviving over 40 engagements during Thomas Jefferson’s war against the Barbary pirates of North Africa. Nearby are the Bunker Hill Monument and Monument Square, where during the Revolutionary War a rebel commander warned his men not to fire until they saw the whites of their eyes. The blocks around the square are lined with restored Colonial and Federal houses. You can reach Charlestown via a short walk from the North End across the Charlestown Bridge, or by water taxi from the Long Wharf on the eastern waterfront.

Recreation

Biking
Bicycling on the Charles River Esplanade is a great way to see the skyline. The nicest routes are through the ‘Emerald Necklace’ of city parks linking the Esplanade and the Back Bay with the Arnold Arboretum. The 7 mile Shining Sea Bike Path runs between Falmouth and Woods Hole on the southern shore of Cape Cod and offers great views of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Hiking
Boston is a walker’s town and there are several historical and nature walks in the area. The 2.5 mile Freedom Trail links over a dozen historic sites and ends at the USS Constitution in Charlestown. Guides are on hand to lead nature walks along the ‘Emerald Necklace.’ The Black Heritage Trail focuses on 19th century sites on Beacon Hill. For those whose feet follow their noses toward the sea air, the Harbor Walk takes in a mix of ancient granite warehouses and postmodern hotels along Boston’s fabled waterfront.

Paddling
Boston offers great boating, whether you want a gentle row or stroking a racing shell on the Charles River. You can take canoes, kayaks, sailboats, windsurfers and racing shells out on the Charles River or Boston Harbor.

In The Area

Lexington
On 17 April 1775, Paul Revere and two companions rode from Boston to Lexington in the predawn hours to warn the minutemen of the approach of British troops. What followed was the first battle of the Revolutionary War, which took place on Lexington Green now Battle Green. This town has a number of historic houses and taverns, one, the 1689 Hancock-Clarke House, is where John Hancock and Samuel Adams hid out from the Red Coats. Lexington is about 18 miles northwest of downtown Boston and is accessible by a combination of the subway and public bus.

Concord
Concord was the Redcoats’ next stop, but the guerrilla tactics of the minutemen proved too much for them and they hightailed it back to Boston. White church steeples and oak and maple trees make this a quintessential New England town, located about 22 miles northwest of Boston. You can stick you finger in the hole left by a British musket ball at Bullet Hole House. The home of Concord’s Ralph Waldo Emerson is now a museum and the remains of local hermit Henry David Thoreau’s cabin grace the shore of nearby Walden Pond. Thoreau and Emerson are buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. From downtown Boston, Concord is a short trip by car or a 45-minute ride via commuter train.

Salem
Salem’s mild-mannered suburbia doesn’t immediately make one think of witches hanging from the gallows, but 300 years ago the town was alive with accusations. Open to the public are the Witch House, the Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum. The most famous house in Salem is the House of the Seven Gables. It’s open to visitors year round. Salem is 20 miles northeast of Boston, about a 35 minute train ride away. The Salem Trolley takes visitors past all the major points of interest.

Marblehead
If you feel oppressed by Salem, Marblehead is a good place to clear your head with a big hit of sea air. Just a few miles southeast of Salem, Marblehead’s narrow winding streets are excellent for exploring on foot. The best sights are in Old Town, also known as the Marblehead Historic District, where most of the town’s colonial and early federal houses are. The 18th century Jeremiah Lee Mansion is now a museum with period furniture, toys, folk art and nautical and military artifacts. At the southern end of Old Town, a causeway leads a few hundred yards east to the wooded island of Marblehead Neck, where mansions share the place with the Audubon Bird Sanctuary.

Cape Cod
The Cape has come a long way since its early days as a fishing and whaling center. There’s still farming and fishing going on, but it’s now much better known as the playground of presidents and supermodels. Nestled among the scrub oalaska, pine and sea grass of this 65 mile peninsula are dozens of small villages and towns.

Falmouth, the Cape’s second largest town, is near the southwestern corner. It’s got a fine village green, 19th century houses and the ubiquitous white church steeple. Woods Hole, at the Cape’s southwestern tip, is a world-famous marine research center and the local National Marine Fisheries Service opens its aquarium to the public.

Farther north is Brewster, a sleepy village best known for its outstanding Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. The museum has photographic exhibits, fish tanks, whale displays and three short nature trails that cross cranberry bogs, salt marshes and beech groves.

Provincetown, at the bottom of the northern tip of the Cape, is the peninsula’s liveliest resort town and the gay mecca of New England. Provincetown has been a major arts colony since the turn of the century and is home to over 20 galleries. Provincetown is 128 miles southeast of Boston. It’s just as quick and far less hassle, to catch the daily ferry.


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