beantown magic

For a late birthday adventure, I found myself in Boston for a few days of R&R. Boston is a city steeped in history and culture, and it ranks fairly high on the world’s most livable cities. I only spent about two days in Boston, but I was able to squeeze in a bunch of activities despite having less than 48 hours in the city.

Boston Public Library

I am a part of everything that I have read.

Teddy Roosevelt said the above quote, and I think it aptly sums up my feelings about books and libraries too. Of course when I visited Boston, I knew I had to make a pit stop at the Boston Public Library. Founded in 1848, it is the third largest public library in the U.S. with over 20 million items.

I walked through the historic McKim Building, which is the “face” of the Boston Public Library (BPL). The McKim Building contains the library’s research collection including many rare books and manuscripts, even early editions of Shakespeare. It is known for the famous Bates Hall reading room, its courtyard, and its Renaissance Revival architectural features. The main staircase (with twin lions flanking each turn of the stairs) is gorgeous, with its triumphal arch, marble steps, and rich yellow wall coloring. There are lots of colorful mural paintings, lavish embellishments like monumental inscriptions, and sculptures.

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Main staircase

Bates Hall is the epitome of a reading room. High arched and grilled windows, coffered ceilings that remind me of a basilica in Rome, and rows and rows of tables with green traditional incandescent banker’s lamps. In its vastness and grandeur, you can’t help but stop all conversation when you enter. The room evokes tranquility and a duty of silence.

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Bates Hall

I made sure to stop and walk around the courtyard too. The open-air courtyard is based on the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, designed in the style of a Renaissance cloister with an arcaded promenade. In the middle of the courtyard, there’s a fountain with a bronze statue (“Dancing Bacchante and Infant Faun” by Frederick William Macmonnies). It is perfect for relaxing, reading, studying, and talking with friends. There’s a restaurant that overlooks the courtyard called the Courtyard Restaurant, which offers an afternoon tea service. In the summer, the courtyard holds free concerts.

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Courtyard of Boston Public Library

Boston Public Garden

Who can resist a visit to one of the most well-maintained gardens in the States? The Boston Public Garden was established in 1837 and these days the non-profit group, Friends of the Public Garden and Common, help to preserve and enhance this area with the Parks Department. This is a people’s park, not only accessible to everyone but also preserved by the community.

Here’s a handy Boston Public Garden Map for your perusal.

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Lagoon in Boston Public Garden

I really enjoyed walking around the Garden. There is a diverse mix of flowers from roses to tulips to tropical palms. There are more than 600 trees of over 100 varieties. You can find willows, oaks, maples, maidenhairs, Sierra redwoods, elms, and much more at the Boston Public Garden. There are also plenty of ducks, geese, squirrels, and the Garden’s two resident swans – Romeo and Juliet.

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Romeo and Juliet

Aside from these botanical beauties, you can also find sculptures and memorials. One of my favorites is the George Washington statue, which was the second monument to arrive in the Garden.

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George Washington statue

Newer memorials include the September 11th Memorial Garden of Remembrance for the Massachusetts victims of 9/11 and the Good Will Hunting bench, which was memorialized following Robin Williams’ death.

Being an avid fan of all things duck (I have amassed over 200 rubber ducks alone; I’ve lost count on duck paraphenalia in general), I had to make a stop at the incredibly popular Make Way for Ducklings statue. Based on Robert McCloskey’s 1941 bestselling book Make Way for Ducklings, the bronze ducks represent Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings as they head toward the island in the Garden’s lagoon.

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Make Way for Ducklings
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Make Way for Ducklings in November

And of course, I had to take a ride on the Swan Boats of Boston. Growing up, I remember one of my favorite books was the “Trumpet of the Swan” by E.B. White. In the book, the main character worked with the Swan Boats of Boston for a brief period of time (I particularly loved this part because he also gets to stay in the Ritz Hotel and orders watercress sandwiches, but I digress). Given the history of the Swan Boats of Boston and their part in one of my favorite childhood books, I was very excited to experience this Boston cultural icon.

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Swan Boats of Boston

Cost to ride is $3.50/adult and $2/child (children under 2 years – no charge). There are six rows of wooden benches in the boat, and only four people are allowed in a row. The driver of the boat sits in the back (inside the swan) and pedals the passengers around the lagoon. The entire ride lasts about 15 minutes, making a serpentine route under the bridge to the rocky island famous in Make Way for Ducklings, and back to the dock.

In operation since 1877, the Swan Boat itself hasn’t changed much since then. All the boats have kept the original design, and they are the only boats of their kind in the world. Not to mention, they are still being operated by the Paget family (Robert Paget started the Swan Boats for his wife), so it’s a time-honored and cherished tradition.

Freedom Trail

Boston is definitely a city for history buffs. If you’ve got some time in the city, I’d recommend walking on the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile route that takes you to 16 historically significant sites in Boston. This is a red-lined route that leads you to museums, churches, meeting houses, burial grounds, and more.

The places I checked out on the Freedom Trail include the Old South Meeting House (organizing point for the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773); the Old State House (seat of the Massachusetts General Court and one of the oldest public buildings in the U.S.); Paul Revere’s House (colonial home of Paul Revere); the Old North Church (oldest standing church in Boston); and the Massachusetts State House (state capitol of Massachusetts).

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Massachusetts State House

Charles River Esplanade

Walking on the Esplanade was what really clinched the ultimate, perfect Boston getaway for me. This is a three-mile path along the Boston shore of the Charles River from the Boston Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge.

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Views from the Esplanade

It is clearly a popular place for locals and tourists. And why wouldn’t it be? Walking on the Esplanade, you get to see people engaged in all kinds of activities. Sailing, kayaking, sunbathing, slack lining, jogging, biking, picnicking, sleeping in hammocks, and more. I love seeing the sailboats on the Charles River, as well as the Cambridge skyline on the other side of Charles River. It’s a beautiful sight no matter what time of the year.

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View of Charles River and Cambridge

There are playgrounds for the kids, an exercise course, a baseball field, tennis courts, and a field for pick-up games and picnicking. The Esplanade is also home to the Hatch Shell, popular for its community events and concerts. You can find a few boathouses for renting sailboats, kayaks, and paddleboards too. A lot of folks like to lay out and/or picnic on the docks. There’s even a gondola ride you can take (Gondola di Venezia) on an authentic, Italian gondola boat. Along the Esplanade, you’ll also see people kayak in the Storrow Lagoon between the Esplanade and the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path. There are many footbridges along the Esplanade which allow you to walk to and from the Esplanade to the bike path.

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Kayaking along the Esplanade

Food in Boston

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Beantown, you are magical.

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