Tuesday 13 to Thursday 15 June 2023 – Both Jane and I have visited Boston before, but some three decades ago, and then, in my case, for a very short visit. Although short, it established Boston as one of my favourite American cities. It’s compact enough to explore on foot, has considerable charm and, of course, a huge place in the history of the United States of America. (As an Englishman, I’m not bitter. Not at all. No, really.)
So we were both interested to visit and revisit the city, and it turns out that three days is a good length of time to spend exploring all the parts that are within walking distance of the centre. One could actually spend more time there and still find new and interesting things to see and to do, but three days is all we had. So, we went for a walk. Obviously. Well, several walks, covering about 30 miles in total.
One of the great charms of the place is its architecture. It’s full of handsome and historic buildings, such as the state capitol, Massachusetts State House, one of the oldest state capitols in use,
and the Old State House.
The balcony is where the Declaration of Independence was first read, on July 18, 1776, by Colonel Thomas Crafts. The declaration is read out every year on July 4th from the same spot.
Elsewhere, there are other fine buildings
with fine exteriors and, indeed, interiors. Possibly the finest of these was something we saw courtesy of a photo tour, an offering from https://photowalks.com/ – the courtyard and interior of the Boston Public Library.
The library is on Copley Square, which offers various points of interest, at least to me. The Old South Church pictured above is a wonderful building – Victorian Gothic with some inspiration from Venice. Its interior is a good match, too.
It features a wonderful display of stained glass.
The other significant church on Copley Square is Trinity Church.
Above is a photo of it reflected in the glassware that sheaths the Hancock Tower – still Boston’s tallest building, even after nearly 50 years – more of which later. The church itself gives an opportunity for some nerdish photographical musing. I took a photo with my Nikon Z6 and also with my Samsung Galaxy phone. The picture is towards the light, which makes it tricky to capture, as it’s very high-contrast.
The Nikon version is processed from a RAW image, which theoretically gives the best chance to get a top quality final version. Corrected verticals aside, the Samsung image is direct from the phone. It’s a great demonstration of how advanced computational photography is becoming, as it’s coped very gracefully with a high-contrast situation and presented a very attractive image.
Anyway, we went inside. This church also has a striking interior.
and another very fine display of stained glass.
The Hancock Tower gave me an opportunity to try to recreate a photo that I had taken on my previous visit in 1990. Back then, the Hancock Tower was relatively new, having been completed in 1976. That is, eventually completed in 1976, after teething problems which delayed it by five years. One of the tower’s USPs is that it’s sheathed entirely in blue glass. Therein lies a tale, because during construction several of the huge (500-lb, 4ft x 11ft) panes of glass actually fell from the building, and all 10,344 panes had to be replaced. I bet the insurers were livid. More details can be found in the tower’s Wiki entry.
It’s always been A Thing to take a photo of the tower using reflection to create the illusion of the edge of the tower disappearing. So Jane and I spent a non-trivial amount of time loitering on the pavement whilst we waited for the sun to shine and the bloody buses and other traffic to get out of the way to enable a second shot to compare with the one from 1990. Here are the two versions, side by side.
I was a little luckier with the weather three decades ago, but it was a fun experiment to try again – and the new photo shows some of the development that has gone on in central Boston over the years.
Copley Square is at the periphery of an area of Boston called Back Bay, which is actually land reclaimed from the Charles River. It borders another area called Beacon Hill. Both areas have a great deal of charm, and we spent much time, both on the photo tour and on other occasions, walking around these pleasant bits of Boston.
The whole area, basically south of the Charles River, is a pleasure to walk around, with riverside scenes,
and miscellaneous other vignettes.
The other main thing we had to in this area was to visit View Boston, a chance to ascend the 52 stories of the Prudential Building and see the city from the top floor. As you can imagine, there are some great views.
The day we visited was billed as the opening day of View Boston and we were very excited to be able to pay for the privilege of going to the top of the Prudential Center. However, it was sparsely attended, which we hadn’t expected, and when I proudly shared some photos on social media, various friends mentioned that they, too, had seen the exact same views, so the occasion wasn’t as exclusive as I had thought. However, View Boston did have a couple of treats for us. One was a cocktail in the 50th floor cocktail bar, enhanced somewhat by the availability of Gunpowder Gin; and the other was a very impressive 3D model, which is brought to life with projected illuminations of various sorts, illustrating the days, or the seasons, or other features of the city, such as the Boston Marathon or the success of the Red Sox.
If you refer back to the map at the top of this post (you don’t have to – I’ll explain here), you’ll see that although we spent a fair proportion of our mileage around Back Bay and Beacon Hill, we did venture further afield.
One of the Things One Simply Must Do Whilst In Boston is, of course, to walk the Freedom Trail. a 2.5-mile path past a collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution. It’s marked out in the pavements, typically as a narrow line of bricks. It starts at the Massachusetts State House (which gives the opportunity for a schoolboy snigger),
runs through Boston Common
passes the Old State House (see above) and the Old City Hall
and ends at the Bunker Hill memorial obelisk. On the way, one can learn about Paul Revere and his famous (indeed, revered) ride (and see his house), see Benjamin Franklin’s final resting place, and hear other famous names associated with the War of Independence, such as Samuel Adams. No, not that Samuel Adams, he of the excellent local beer, but his son, who was an excellent political activist – a founding father of the United States, no less – but a rotten businessman, as the brewery went bust under his stewardship.
Walking the path, past streets of interesting-looking houses,
on the way to Bunker Hill, we passed USS Constitution,
which is nicknamed “Old Ironsides” despite the hull being constructed of wood, because an incoming cannonball bounced off. Entry is free and one can go below decks which is interesting and slightly challenging for anyone over about 5′ 9″.
We also diverted a little to take a look inside the Liberty Hotel.
The interesting part of the hotel is housed in the slight forbidding-looking grey building, which used to be the city prison, hence the ironic naming of it as the Liberty Hotel, and enabling the management to have bars inside it called “Clink” and “Alibi”. The atrium is very ritzy.
Tempting as it was to stop for a drink, we pressed on and actually had a coffee in the very pleasant Beacon Hill Books and Café, which, like the Liberty Hotel atrium, was a recommendation from Saba, who runs the Photo Tour we did.
The other area of Boston we explored was around the seaport and harbour, which is a worthwhile expedition, leading as it does past some interesting sights.
We walked past what was clearly an artwork, but which wasn’t immediately engaging.
It’s by David von Schlegell and is called “Untitled Landscape”, which doesn’t give much of a clue, and consists of four large pieces of stainless steel facing each other at obtuse angles. Schlegell (I quote someone else’s blurb here) “intended to create objects of such a scale that could relate buildings, bridges, and other large objects”. Go figure.
However, I accidentally took a mobile phone photo of it directly from the side and all of a sudden
it was rather more interesting.
In our peregrinations around the city we saw a lot more, as it’s a very rewarding place to walk around. But I didn’t want to inflict nearly 600 photos on you, so I hope this distillation gives you a good feeling for the parts of the city we covered, even if it’s not comprehensive.
I’m writing this from the depths of the New Hampshire countryside (seriously – if out walking we have been advised to stick to the roads, because Bears) and when we move on from here we’ll head to Cape Cod, a place I’ve heard much about but never visited. If you keep your eye on these pages, you can follow us and I hope to see you again in due course.