Largest city in Massachusetts and in all of New England.
One of the oldest and most well-known US cities as well (founded in 1630). Its population is around 670,000, but the greater metro area is estimated to have over 4.5 million people. There is something even larger called “Greater Boston Commuting Area” which is said to have 8.1 million people.
I gotta say, those poor 4 or 8 million people who drive in and out of Boston every day are truly dedicated. Still, I bet they sit in their cars in that God-awful traffic and dream of a better life in places like Chechnya or Mogadishu.
We drove into Boston from Bellingham. It is only 43.1 miles. However, that 43.1 miles took us through 4 toll booths and well over an hour of driving even during the middle of the day.
Why so far away? Well, like most east coast cities, there are no RV campgrounds in Boston or even close by. Yet in spite of the distance, we were paying over $55/night for one of the worst campgrounds we have stayed at during the trip.
We are here for two weeks so we will have plenty of time to let the nasty campground wash over us. That two weeks should let us explore everything in the area though since our Campground is about halfway between Boston, Plymouth, Providence, and the Cape.
We start with the Freedom Trail.
The Freedom trail traces a path through 16 locations that are instrumental to Boston or American history. Places like Independence Hall, the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, and Bunker Hill.
The trail is actually a brick trail that runs through the city and is therefore very easy to follow. Just keep walking on the red bricks!
Starting at the furthest end from downtown at Boston Common has us beginning the walk in Charlestown across the river. Bunker Hill.
What American didn’t grow up hearing about the great battle at Bunker Hill where the valiant patriots of the Continental Army faced off against the Redcoats?
Of course, like most Americans, about all I knew of the battle was that it happened, and that it was famous. Visiting the actual site was a good (re)education.
During the Siege of Boston in June 1775 British troops began to take up positions on the hilltops around the city to ensure they controlled access to Boston Harbor. A group of about 1200 Colonial troops led by William Prescott stealthily snuck onto Bunker Hill and nearby Breed’s hill during the night.
When morning light dawned, the British saw the Colonials and decided to launch a series of attacks to dislodge them from the hilltops. British attacks commenced with relatively little preparation since the British had a very low opinion of the Colonial military skill and therefore saw little threat or challenge.
Imagine their surprise when the first British attack was repulsed!
British troops redoubled their efforts and launched a second attack, which was also repulsed!
Colonists retreated from Bunker Hill to Breeds Hill where they were hit by a third attack from the British. The third attack broke the Colonial resistance and the Colonials retreated to Cambridge leaving the British in control of the peninsula.
However, while the battle was a tactical victory for the British, they paid a very heavy price. The British suffered a much higher number of casualties compared to the Americans. Even more damaging, many of the British casualties were officers.
The Battle of Bunker Hill showed the British that supposedly “untrained” Colonial troops could stand up to regular British army troops. Never again would the British rush into the face of Colonial troops in well-defended positions.
Today, a massive stone monument marks the battle.
Hiking up the hill itself is nothing compared to the walk up to the top of the monument. Just shy of 300 twisting steps led us from the base up to the observation level at the top.
Fortunately, step counts are painted about every 50 feet. Which is both a blessing and also torture.
Whew!! The view from the top is pretty good, but it is very crowded and the “windows” are very small. Since it is so dark inside and the light outside is so bright, it was hard to get a decent shot. This is the best I could do. You can see downtown Boston in the distance. It is quite a walk from there to here.
Near Bunker Hill is the Old North Church.
The Old North Church is famous as being the place where Paul Revere hung signal lanterns warning of the British troops moving on Concord and Lexington.
Today, a plaque memorializes the hanging of the lanterns.
Speaking of Paul Revere, his house is still standing. It is open and tourists can visit the house for a fee. We continued walking past the house and saved our money. I’m not sure what the interior is like, but I can tell you that the house is not large.
Even though Paul Revere was a wealthy silver smith who could afford a large home, most Americans today probably live in a house this large or larger. Plus, it didn’t even appear to have a garage or outdoor BBQ. C’mon Paul.
This is an interesting sight that is repeated all over Boston – namely a very old historic building right next to a Modern Building.
I took this shot near the downtown as the spire of a historic church is framed between two modern glass high-rise buildings. I thought it was a good example of modern Boston.
Continuing on the Freedom Trail, we passed Boston’s oldest Tavern, the Bell In Hand (1795). While it is old, regular readers of this fact-filled blog will know that 1795 is nowhere near the oldest tavern in the US. That would be in Newport Rhode Island. Not too far away.
Nearby is Independence Hall which is surrounded by massive high-rise buildings. Independence Hall was the site of many meetings influential to the Revolution. It was also the site of the Boston Massacre. That took place in 1770, right where the crowd of people is standing in this photo.
British governors and government officials stood on the second floor platform to read new laws and regulations to the public. After a series of unpopular legislative edicts, a crowd formed and began harassing one of the British sentries posted to guard the building.
Eight additional British soldiers came to the aid of their comrade and tensions between the troops and the crowd reached a boiling point. British troops fired into the crowd, instantly killing three people and wounding others, two of whom would die in subsequent days.
The incident was used to stir up revolutionary spirit against the British. Future president John Adams defended the troops, 6 of whom were acquitted and 2 were found guilty. The guilty troops were branded on their hands as their sole punishment. The Massacre became a rallying cry throughout the colonies.
Today the building is a museum dedicated to Colonial history. It is also fee-based entry and is very busy during the tourist season. We chose to save our visit for another day.
Closeby is a building I had to photograph. The Old Corner Bookstore at the corner of Church and Washington Street.
Built in 1718, the Old Corner Bookstore has had a long and distinguished history. Once the location of the publisher of “The Scarlett Letter,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and “Walden,” today the building hosts Chipotle. Instead of getting a book, visitors can now get a burrito.
Down the street from Burrito Books is the King’s Chapel. Originally built in 1688 and expanded several times since, King’s Chapel remains an active church. It also houses the oldest wooden pulpit in America.
It was interesting to see the church seating layout. Unlike the pews we had seen in every other church, King’s Chapel had boxes that were reserved for specific families. These boxes meant that churchgoers had assigned seating for each service. It also meant that everyone would know if someone was missing.
I will say that while Kings Church is extremely historic and has a long history, it isn’t particularly impressive inside or outside. At least, not compared to large cathedrals in places like New York City, Montreal, New Orleans, Charleston, or Savannah. And certainly not like the National Cathedral in Washington DC.
The last stop for us on the Freedom Trail was the Massachusetts State House, located just adjacent to the Boston Common park. The State House was finished in 1798 and was one of the finest public buildings in America at that time. Perhaps THE finest. It still looks incredible today.
The dome was not always gold. Originally it was just plain wood but Paul Revere covered it in copper shortly after completion. In 1874 it was covered in gold and has remained gilded since that time. During WWII it was painted dull grey to prevent it from being used as a bomb target by the Nazis.
We clocked about 6 miles of walking on the Freedom Trail. I applaud Boston for creating it. I don’t think I have ever seen a self guided tour as extensive. Or as easy to follow! We saw parts of Boston that we would not have seen otherwise, and walking the trail was a completely different experience than driving or doing a double-decker tour.
Next stop on our exploration of Boston was not on the Freedom Trail. In fact, it is a completely different kind of place.
The Liberty Hotel.
The Liberty Hotel is a somewhat ironic name for a hotel that is – quite literally – a jail.
The Liberty Hotel is a remodel of the Suffolk County Jail, built in 1851. It was a model facility which embraced a new design of four 3-story wings converging on a massive central atrium. Prisoners were segregated in the wings by type of crime, at least in the early years. The jail had 220 cells of 8×10 granite and concrete blocks.
It housed some famous prisoners including Malcom X and WWII prisoners of war. Conditions were harsh in the jail, with little comfort. In 1973 after years of intense overcrowding, the jail was found to violate the constitutional rights of its inmates. Still, it wasn’t completely closed until 1990.
The empty shell sat unused as its incredibly robust construction meant any attempts to demolish it would be expensive and time consuming. Improbably, a group of developers thought they could create a luxury hotel out of the jail. Plans were approved, investors were found, and construction began.
The project was successful and the Liberty Hotel now operates inside the old jail. The once famed – and once feared – atria is preserved and is a lounge and meeting area. Rooms go off into the cellblocks.
One of the prisoner processing areas is now a high-end restaurant and bar, serving food and drink inmates could only dream about. I’m sure many former inmates have returned to tour the property, wandering in disbelief as they reflect on what the jail has become. Its a cool site and I highly recommend stopping if you can.
Of course, we couldn’t leave Boston without a trip to see one of the most famous and iconic monuments to human achievement and history in the city. I’m talking of course about Fenway Park – home of the Boston Red Sox! Built in 1912, remodeled in 1934.
Now I have to admit I’m a Yankees fan, and the Red Sox are the historic rival of the Yankees. But I put that aside as we toured this temple of baseball. I mean, it was really nice of Boston to build a stadium for the Yankees to have a place to win games while they are away from home.
Aside from a nearly non-stop stream of Yankee bashing, the tour guide was very entertaining and gave a fabulous tour of America’s oldest baseball park. Its also America’s second smallest capacity park. Those red seats are the original seats from 1934. They can’t be replaced because they don’t meet current code and if the seats were replaced Fenway Park would loose over 4,000 seats making it the smallest capacity park in the country. So, they remain original.
The scoreboard is also still the original and still updated by hand. I love that!
We saw the visiting team locker room. The empty locker right next to the door on the right was Derek Jeter’s locker when the Yankees were visiting.
Without a doubt the most famous feature of Fenway Park is the “Green Monster.” The Green Monster is a towering wall beyond the left outfield
The Green Monster is just over 37 feet tall and some of the most sought-after seats in Fenway Park are on top of it. However, the most famous seat at Fenway is not on the Green Monster.
That seat would be Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21.
See that sole red seat? On June 9th, 1946 Joseph A. Boucher was sitting in that seat watching a game. Tired from a late night, Boucher slid his straw hat over his eyes and squinted into the sun. 502 feet away Ted Williams stepped up to home plate. The pitch came in, straight and over the plate. Williams swung and a mighty crack echoed off the walls of the press box. The ball went flying toward the outfield where it crashed through Boucher’s straw hat and bounced off his head!
To this day, no ball has gone further at Fenway and the lone red seat marks its distance. The seat is available and costs as much as any other seat in the outfield. It is not available for season ticket sales however.
At the other end of the park, we sat in the pressbox high above the field. I couldn’t see the Ted Williams seat from here.
But what a view!! The field, the seats, the Monster all with Boston’s downtown in the background!
4 tolls and nearly 2 hours of driving later we returned to our campground.
The area that the campground staff had spent hours with leaf blowers a few days ago – creating the Great Dustbowl of Bellingham – was back to looking like nature had reclaimed the area. So much for all that hard work!
I thought I would dump the black tank before the rainstorm being forecast arrived. I went outside and hooked up our flush hose, filled the black tank until full, and pulled the dump valve.
Everything was ok at first. Then the smell hit. That wasn’t typical. Shortly thereafter the sound of air hissing out of the sewer pipe around the connection for the sewer hose took on a sharp note. And then, a horrific demonstration of Newton’s third law of motion.
Remember those water bottle rockets you had as a kid?
Well, we made one only instead of tapwater this one used pure foul muck from our black tank.
I called the campground office who acted like this was a regular occurrence around here. Which is at least somewhat due to the fact that it IS a regular occurrence around here.
It seems the campground has individual cisterns for each of the sewer sites (most of their sites don’t have sewer). The cistern is 200 gallons. They did not empty it before we arrived. That would have been good information to have.
A very nice old guy arrived with the honey wagon to pump out our cistern. (Aside. Honey wagon? Honey wagon? Talk about some seriously creative marketing)
After he was done, he sprinkled lime around the sewer hose to help sanitize the area. I felt like I was in that scene from Meet the Parents where the septic tank overflowed at the wedding and ….. ewww. Where is the biohazard tape?
This campground was the first and only time anything like that has ever happened. But now I know to ask about any capacity issues with dumping when we arrive at new RV campgrounds.
Good thing too because a massive storm came in the next night. Flooding alerts popped up on our phones and we started to get nervous. Our campground was in the bottom of a drainage and looked like flooding might be a real issue.
I went outside in the howling storm to watch the water. Levels were rising and several campsites flooded. Heather was ready to pull in the slides and I was prepared to unhook us. I didn’t want to leave in the middle of a storm, and wasn’t even sure where we would go.
Standing outside, I noticed a giant bullfrog had taken up shelter under our MoHo. He was the size of a grapefruit! Together, we watched the storm rage.
Fortunately, the water drained through the spot next to ours and we stayed safe. Had we been in one of the other spots, we would have been in six inches (or more) of water!
The storm dropped the remaining leaves from the trees and our roof was completely covered. Add that to the list to clean off before we leave.
The next day I looked out the window at the campground and thought about Boston. It was an interesting town to see. The contrast between old and new was more apparent and abrupt than we’ve seen in other cities.
Sure Santa Fe and New Orleans are as old (or older) and both have historic buildings and new buildings just like Boston. But generally their historic buildings are in historic areas and the new buildings are located outside of those areas. In Boston, a brand new glass-and-steel high rise could be 5 feet away from a wood and stone building that is hundreds of years old.
In some ways I think Boston has done a better job than any other city in the mix of old and new. In other ways, I think Boston has a strange mix of old and new that doesn’t “flow” very well.
Ultimately you will have to be the judge of whether they pulled off the right blend or not.
Meanwhile, we’re ready to brave our next adventure -the trip to Harvard!