Boston, Massachusetts has a population of roughly 670,000 people with that number swelling to over 2.3 million to include commuters during the work week. You can then add on top of that the thousands of tourists visiting every day from around the world. It has a rich history in the beginnings of America that still have effects on our nation to this day. These are just some of what we learned on a recent long weekend trip to the beautiful Boston area and a very worthwhile trip it was!
Preparing and Navigating
For this five day trip, we stayed at an Airbnb in the largest of Boston’s neighborhoods, Dorchester. Founded in 1630 (just a few months before Boston was founded), Dorchester was annexed to Boston in 1870. We loved the architecture of the houses in the area we stayed. It was common to see signs on houses with placards stating the year they were built. Many houses and buildings were over 150 years old.
We’ve utilized Airbnb many times in the past and each time we are pleasantly surprised at what we experience in each location. While it may seem a bit unnerving to stay in a “non-commercial” establishment, we’ve always felt safe and we’ve made it a point to connect as much with the owner’s of the place as well as the locals in the area. It’s important to us to make an effort to experience as much of the local flavor of the area and to follow the traditions of the people living there. This includes eating in local restaurants, shopping for food or items we need in the area markets, and more importantly, talking with the people living there. I can guarantee that the most transformative experiences you will have is to connect with the people living in the area. Find out what kind of work they do, ask them for suggestions on things to see and places to go. The people of the area know the secret places and if you ask, they will share them.
Since we knew were were going to be mostly staying local to the Boston area, we decided not to rent a car during out stay. This has been a trend for us on recent trips and we highly recommend it. While it may be necessary to rent a car for some places you travel, spend some extra time to find out what kind of public transportation options there are.
On this trip we utilized a taxi from the airport to our Airbnb. We chose the taxi when we first arrived due to how late it was in the day. I don’t know if all the taxi’s are set up the same way, but we were introduced to the mobile app Curb. It was super easy to pay for the cab ride and it has a feature to “hail” the cab similar to Uber where it will find you at your GPS location. We also used Ubera few times when our feet were dog tired and we just needed a ride to our next destination. Uber is super convenient, significantly cheaper than the taxi and more readily available. The one downside that we found with both Curb and Uber is that neither of them successfully hailed a ride early on the Sunday morning of one of our excursions. We ended up walking in the rain for about 15 minutes to the hotel where our tour guide picked us up. It wasn’t bad though. We were prepared with umbrellas and the walk was invigorating! This is another important tip, check the weather in advance of your trip and check it before each day begins. I use the Weather Channel mobile appand it is proven to be pretty accurate no matter where we’ve travelled in the world.
MBTA – Red Line Train
Lastly, we also used the local Boston metro transit (MBTA) as our primary mode of transportation. I’ll have to admit, I’m always a bit apprehensive about using metro transit just about anywhere. I’m not sure why that is exactly, but each time I’ve done it, I’ve never been disappointed. When we first booked out Airbnb, one of the things I looked for is how close the place was to the local train station, and the place we stayed was about a 6 minute walk from the JFK/University of Massachusetts Redline train station. This was incredibly easy to use and the key to feeling more comfortable is to spend a few minutes reviewing the map the outlines each train and the stops related to where you want to go. Don’t spend too much time with this as it can feel a bit overwhelming, just get a feel for the trains (named by color, red line, blue line, etc) and the general directions they travel. A couple mobile apps that were helpful are MBTA Boston T Transit Map by Todd Elliot Schrock where you can see train arrival and departure times as well as a “zoomable” transit map. And mTicketby the MBTA can be used to see train times and to purchase tickets for individual rides as well as other options.
If you have a smart phone, your best friend for getting around will be to use a regular navigation program. I mainly use Google Maps or the iPhone Maps app. If you type in the the destination where you want to go, then select the mass transit option (this appears like a bus or train icon on the iPhone version), it will tell you which bus or train is closest, its arrival time and how to get there. This method is far superior to using any other type of app that I found so far. The downside to using your smartphone for navigation is that is tends to suck up your batter charge pretty fast. A couple things to consider when doing this I found super help is to bring along an battery charger and to take screen shots of maps or navigation directions.
When using a navigation program, you can view the map or text directions to where you need to go. I used my phone’s screen-shot feature to save images of the steps as pictures I can view without needing to be connected to the internet.
Screen shots save battery!
This was super helpful in saving battery power as your day goes on. Plus, be sure to close down any apps you aren’t using (especially navigation or social media apps as they use the most power). Spend some time reviewing your phone’s power usage and learn how to conserve power in any way you can. There is a sense of safety you have when you can find out where you are and how to get home, so do what you can to save your battery power. You can stop into your provider store for assistance, or ask your 10 year old granddaughter how to do it!
For the battery charger, there are two options, bring along your normal wall plug adapter and cable(s) in case you have an opportunity to plug in (helpful at some restaurants). And secondly, you can buy an external battery that you charge in advance of your day trip, then when your phone is about dead, you can plug in the battery to your phone to charge it back up (be sure you bring along any necessary cables to make either option work).
Tours and Sites
On most of the trips we plan, We try to pre-book at least one or two excursions depending on the amount of time we have slotted. One of the events is usually a tour of some kind that will give us some history of the area. For the rest of the time away, we like to keep it loose and flexible allowing us to manage our time and interests based on how much energy we have or the overall interest in the area in general. On this trip we planned for a walking tour of The Freedom Trail(via Airbnb) and for a day trip to Cape Cod (via Trip Advisor/Viator).
Boston Freedom Trail
The advantage of the walking tour (and the part that I love) is being able to connect more one-on-one with the other people in the group as well as the tour guide. The downside to this type of tour is that you have a pre-set time frame (about 3 hours) to get through the entire 2-1/2 miles of the walk and to touch a little bit on each historical site. As with any tour, the value is in how well the guide know’s their subject and how they keep it all interesting will managing a group of people. For this tour, the guide did a fairly good job even though he was a law student and history was only a side interest. There are many Freedom Trail tours that you find out there and we passed other groups as well. My advice is to do some research on the guide or tour company to make sure it has what you are looking for.
If I had to do the tour again, both my wife and I agree that we would recommend doing the Hop-on Hop-off Bus/Trolley Tours option. The down side is that you don’t get that personal connection of the walking tour, but that’s about the only trade-off. There are trolleys running all around the main attractions of the city with regular stops every 10 minutes or so. Like the title states, you can hop-on or hop-off the trolley any time. The hours vary, but they run during normal business hours from what I see. The nice part of this tour is that you basically get to see all the same parts we did on the Freedom Trail walk, except you get to hop-off and spend more time at each location. If you choose this option, you may want to pick up a guide for the trail to learn about the significance of each location. Also, since there are tons of tours happening all the time, you can likely hear what other guides are saying while you are there. Also, (especially for you older folks) you get to ride around on the bus which gives you time to relax. You can ride the route as long as you want all day long, no limit!
The tour to Cape Cod was a full day affair. We started the day by walking to one of the hotel pickup points near our Airbnb location (which you had pre-book). We then picked up a few more people and headed for the main transportation “terminal”. From there people re-arranged to find the tour they signed up for. We hit the road at about 9:30am with the tour bus driver giving us a play-by-play of information on Boston, the suburbs, highway system, and various attractions and history as we went. It took about 1-1/2 hours to drive south to our main first destination of Hyannis Port, MA which is located on the opposite side from Cape Cod Bay on the Atlantic ocean. Hyannis is a quaint little town with many shops and restaurants to choose from. It’s also the launching point for many high-speed ferries to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. We had about 2-1/2 hours there where we ate our first lobster (pronounced laahbstah) at Fresh Ketch
of the trip as well as other succulent sea food. We also picked up some reasonably priced sweat-shirts and we even had time to enjoy an ice cream at Katie’s Ice Creamwhich even had some non-dairy coconut ice cream options!
One other stop in Hyannis was visiting the John F. Kennedy memorial park located by Veterans Park Beach and near the Kennedy Compound. This was a beautiful place and access to the water was easy to dip in your toes to cool off.
Next on our day tour was stopping in the small town of Sandwich, MA which is the oldest town on Cape Cod at a mere 379 years old! It is known for the many advances Deming Jarves made in glass molding and pressing technics. We witnessed a glass blowing demonstration at the Sandwich Glass Museum and spent time visiting
Dexter’s Grist Mill
Dexter’s Grist Mill and walking around the neighborhood taking in the architecture and a local cemetery. This was a cute little village that I could have definitely spent more time discovering more of what they had to offer.
Our last stop on this tour was in Plymouth, MA. Normally the tour we were on included a boat cruise on Cape Cod Canal, but due to the weather being cold, windy and rainy, the cruise portion was call off for safety reasons. Instead of the cruise, the tour added on a stop in Plymouth where we saw the Plymouth Rockand the National Monument to the Forefathers.
Plymouth Rock – 1620
Seeing the Plymouth Rock was very interesting and it even had a park ranger giving an oral history of the location and its place in history. It was somewhat anticlimactic, but worth the time to see it and take in the history of the area. The more impressive site was the National Monument to the Forefathers. According to the tour guide, this is an often-missed site that not a lot of locals even realize is there. It’s hidden away near a residential area of town, but impressive nonetheless. It is thought to be the largest solid granite structure of it’s kind and it was quarried from local Quincy granite. I highly recommend finding this gem and taking in the messages given on the monument.
Beyond Cape Cod, the Freedom Trail and the countless number of historical sites to see in the Boston area, we also took in The Yard of Harvard University and Harvard Square in Cambridge. The history behind this school is amazing to say the least. It has given us eight US Presidentsas well as many captains of industry, entertainers, attorneys, etc. It was amazing to walk the Harvard Yardknowing that some of the most influential people of our history had walked there in the epicenter of the oldest part of the campus. We also visited the Harvard Memorial Church and witnessed the dedications to the many who fought and died for our country that attended Harvard. We even saw the statue of John Harvard put our own bit of shine on his shoe tip!
The Boston Experience
Just in our short time in the Boston area, we saw quite a lot of interesting sites, but I feel we only exposed a small tip of the Boston iceberg. Perhaps the most important aspects of the trip to me were connecting to the
National Monument to the Forefathers
beginnings of our nation and to the original tenets of the pilgrims who landed in Plymouth in 1620 (Liberty, Education, Law and Morality). The basis for these tenets were a guiding force for the beginnings of our country and can even be seen in the writing of our Constitution.
Another important aspect to our trip was honoring and connecting with the people of Boston and all who visited. It truly felt like the melting pot that we are as a nation. We saw and heard many different people and their unique languages. For me this actually gives me hope in our future. That all of these people mixed and mingled without any issues. Everyone seemed to go beyond being “tolerant” of others, but rather to being compassionate.
There is something special about discovering the vernacular of the locals in various places I’ve traveled over the years and in Boston I learned and enjoyed a couple new phrases. One is “Wicked Smaht” and the other is “WickedPissah”. Wicked Smaht refers to someone being really smart and Wicked Pissah means really awesome. I’ve decided to work these phrases into my on vernacular in honor of the people of Boston.
Boston, you are wicked pissah!
Dwight J. Raatz
July 27th, 2018