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Saturday, 15 September 2012

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2007 European Summer Vacation

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2012 Massachusetts Summer Vacation

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2012 Massachusetts Summer Vacation V2.0

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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Toeing the Red Line, Boston's Freedom Trail

At 3.2 miles long and with an average elevation gain of 183 feet I wasn’t entirely sure if the kids would be able to manage Boston’s Freedom Trail in a single day.

In the end they did pull it off and even though we would love to have spent more time at many of the sites along the way it turned out to be a memorable, albeit exhausting, day for all of us.

Inner Harbour Ferry
The tour started off with a short ride on the Inner Harbour Ferry. The little, aging, MBTA operated ferry boat snakes in between its larger sisters (Boston Harbour Cruises, Codzilla and Whale Watcher Catamarans) to collect passengers travelling from Long Wharf, home of the New England Aquarium, to the Navy Yard, where Old Ironsides is moored.
Though short, the 15 minute trip provides some stunning views of the Boston skyline.

USS Constitution
After the HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship is the USS Constitution, but since Nelson’s Flagship is permanently in dry dock, the Constitution has the honor of being the oldest commissioned warship not only afloat, but still sailing.

Aside from special commemorative sailing events such as Boston Navy Week the Constitution or “Old Ironsides” is usually moored at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

If you get there early you should be able to join a guided tour of the ship, presented by an active-duty sailor, with only a short wait.

Thankfully for us both the gun and crew decks are pretty large, so if you have excited and chatty kids, keep them occupied at one end of the ship and they shouldn’t be much of a distraction to the tour taking place at the other end.
For a great upper-thigh workout, head to the 294 steps of the Bunker Hill Monument. Stroller parking is not allowed in the little building attached, so I ended up lugging the thing all the way up to the top.
The windows at the top are small, plexiglass and dirty so if it’s views you want head to the Prudential. Climb the obelisk purely for the bragging rights.

After the climb you can use the restrooms and enjoy the air-conditioning at the Bunker Hill Museum at the foot of the hill on the corner of High Street and Monument Avenue.
Warren Tavern
About 4 blocks off the Freedom Trail (counting from City Square) on the corner of Pleasant and Main Street is the restored 18th century Warren Tavern. This is a great place to cool off, grab a drink and a bite before heading back out on the Trail.
Look for a more in depth review of this establishment under its own heading.

After the Charlestown Bridge the Trail passes Copp’s Hill Burial Ground (Boston’s oldest after King’s Chapel), the Old North Church, the Paul Revere Mall and the Paul Revere House.

The kids can cool off a bit in the fountains of North End Park before you continue on Hanover Street, past a slew of Irish Pubs and on to Faneuil Hall.

At Faneuil you’ll often spot great street performers who entertain passersby with feats of acrobatics, juggling, music and comedy.

A little further up is Quincy market which consists of three main shopping areas: the historic Quincy Market Building has an inner promenade of dozens of vendor stalls selling just about every American and ethnic food variety you can imagine.

Along the outer walls of the Market Building you’ll find carts and stalls selling arts, crafts, jewelry, clothing and souvenirs.

Surrounding the Quincy Market are North and South Market Streets which, in turn, are bordered by more conventional shops, boutiques and offices.

The downtown leg of the Freedom Trail hosts further sites of historical significance such as the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House with the Boston Massacre Site and the King’s Chapel and Granary Burying Grounds.

Unfortunately by this time the kids were getting tired of the long walk and we skipped most of the sites in this area to head to the Boston Common.

End the day on a high for the kids and spend some time at the Boston Common Frog Pond. There’s a little playground there that is walled off and astro-turfed. It features some water fountains, slides and a bunch of climbing and swinging equipment.

Then head over to the Boston Public Garden and enjoy a relaxing ride on the Swan Paddle Boats. Two adults and two kids will cost you a little over eight dollars for a roughly 15 minute figure-8 tour of the pond.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Pleasure Bay, Castle Island & Sullivan's

Having a few hours to kill we decided to make a circuit around Pleasure Bay, before returning our rental car to Alamo at Logan Airport.

Pleasure Bay can be found at the East end of South Boston, just across from the airport.

Sheltered by the Head Island Causeway the Bay is popular with local swimmers, sunbathers and sail boaters while the Causeway itself is utilized by anglers, walkers, runners and skaters.

The path around Pleasure Bay has been designated a Healthy Heart Trail by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and a full circuit is approximately 4K. (Incidentally I find that Boston is one of the best cities for walking and running).
Bear in mind though that apart from few short stretches on William J. Day Boulevard and around Fort Independence the trail is pretty much unsheltered and at times when the breeze isn’t blowing it can get quite hot.

At the North End of the trail, near to the paths up to the Fort, you’ll find Sullivan’s, a fast food joint and a South Boston staple since 1951. Sullivan’s offers the usual New England fare: Lobster Rolls, Fried Seafood and Ice Cream but the quality is good and the service outstanding.

Lines usually extend through the door but orders are taken quickly and efficiently at the three to four registers and the wait is surprisingly short.
The Clam Strips, Fried Shrimps, Chicken Strips and Crinkle Cut Fries were all good, not greasy and are served with single serve packets of Tartar Sauce upon request. The kids really liked the Vanilla Soft-Serve which can be ordered with fruit-flavored syrup swirled in. The Italian Soda was a bit too sweet for my taste but still good. (The best Italian Soda we had in Boston was the Torani Mango from the Cookie Monstah food truck on Chinatown Park, right next to the Paifang).
Meals can be eaten on the picnic tables out front (un-shaded) on the grassy hillside heading up to the Fort or on park benches in the shade. Since there were a lot of dog owners walking their pets on the same lawn the picnickers were using we opted for one of the benches.
A little way further is a clean and well-maintained playground where the kids can run around and blow off steam.  The area is not fenced off however and since some of the equipment is very large and impossible to see over or around my wife and I each sat at opposite ends of the playground so that at least one of us could have an eye on the kids at all times.

The rest of the trail swings around Fort Independence, where you can watch the boats cruise in and out of the Charles River Mouth on their way from or to open sea, and onto the Head Island Causeway which in parts is connected by a series of bridges.

Apart from the occasional rumble of jets taking off from Logan airport the walk around Pleasure Bay is a relaxing and invigorating experience.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Fenway Park

If you’re going to experience one MLB game in your life, there is probably no better choice than to watch the Red Sox play at home in historic Fenway Park.

Fenway, which celebrated its centennial in 2012, is the oldest Major League ballpark still in use (the Minor League Rockwood Field in Birmingham, AL dating from 1910 is the oldest in the world) and arguably the most famous sporting venue in the United States.

Yawkey Way
Located just south of the Charles River Basin between the Downtown and Brookline areas Fenway shows its age by having no parking facilities worth mentioning. Drivers can get parking in private garages and supermarket parking lots for anywhere from $25 to $50 depending on the proximity to the ballpark.

We were lucky to get a lift to the corner of Boylston and Yawkey which is about as close as you’ll get to the stadium on game-day since all streets adjacent to Fenway are cordoned off for the duration of the game. Each corner has several lines for ticket and bag checks but they move pretty rapidly and shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes or so to get through.

The concession stands outside the park and inside, below the stands offer a wide range of beverages and snacks. Onion Rings were good, Fries average but we didn’t much care for the Italian Sausage which was bland. I’ve been told that Fenway Franks are the way to go and I’m sorry we didn’t try those instead. Be prepared to pay a premium; Fries, Rings, Sausages, Bottled Water and a 100 Year Fenway keepsake cup of Soda set us back nearly 50 bucks.

If you’re a little late getting into the ballpark and your seat is near one of those support columns that hold up the upper deck, you might find that the person who booked the spot behind the pole is occupying your seat (as we did) but you should be able to sort that out with a minimum of fuss.

It is obvious from the cheers of encouragement, the roars of approval and the occasional cat-calls directed at the visiting team that Red Sox spectators are die-hard baseball lovers and it’s hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm. Pretty soon you too will be participating in the Mexican Wave, whistling at an unpopular linesman decision and yelling for that potential homerun hit to “Get out of here!”

Spectators in the bleachers and on top of the Green Monster are particularly dedicated, braving 3 hours of scorching heat while cheering on their teams. It is no surprise that MLB’s cameras which take time out to zoom in on fans in the stands during the interludes between innings, pay special attention to those folks out in the sun.

Being from Europe and used to seeing football fans separated by fences and police I was surprised to notice the Lighter Blue of the Texas Rangers fans dotted around the stands, surrounded by a sea of Red, Kelly Green and Navy. Unmolested, even when the game ended with the Rangers up by one point, opposing team supporters smiled, shook hands and filed out of the ballpark. True sportsmanship which, unfortunately, seems to be becoming more and more unique to the fans of baseball.

After the game we initially joined the shuffling throng bound for Kenmore Station (Green Line) but after a few steps down the subway stairs we decided to about turn and head for fresh air.

TIP: If you have the time, the weather is cooperating and you don’t mind hoofing it a bit consider walking to a station further away from the Stadium to avoid the press. Since we were headed South, we instead made our way to the Orange Line at Ruggles, a pleasant walk of about 15 minutes.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Amity Island Scavenger Hunt

Intersection in Edgartown.
This was originally supposed to be a review about doing the Amity Trivia Hunt, part of Jaws Fest on Martha’s Vineyard. However, due to a variety of circumstances, although we did purchase the hunt, we were unable to start it, let alone complete it.

I have therefore filed this piece under Stories and Tips to provide some advice for anyone considering participating in this event in the future.
Some background info:

In 1972 the movie Jaws burst onto the screen defining the whole concept of the summer blockbuster, becoming the highest grossing movie ever at the time and instantly garnering a cult following. To stage Amity Island from Peter Benchley’s novel, director Steven Spielberg chose a variety of locations on and around the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Wood's Hole Terminal.
Martha’s Vineyard is an Island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts and a very popular vacation destination for New Englanders during the summer months. It is reachable via a variety of ferry services which depart from different ports along the coast from Maine to Rhode Island.

The biggest of these outfits is the Steamship Authority which operates services between Wood’s Hole (WH) on the mainland and your choice of Vineyard Haven (VH) or Oak Bluffs (OB) on the island. As far as I can tell the S.A. is the only company that carries cars and trucks as well as walk-on passengers.
Since Jaws’ release (and its subsequent sequels) every summer scores of fans make the pilgrimage to Martha’s Vineyard to photograph themselves in some of the movie’s iconic filming locations. (In addition to the Jaws fanatics, there are a growing number of “film location tourists” who enjoy visiting sites and sets around the world related to their favorite movies.)

Chappaquiddick or "Chappy" Ferry.
These visits eventually culminated in the first organized fan event in 2005, dubbed Jaws Fest, which since 2010 has taken place annually in August.
Since we already had plans to make a trip to Martha’s Vineyard during our stay in Massachusetts, we decided to have our visit coincide with the Amity Trivia Hunt so we could combine sight-seeing with a little movie fandom and a game which might entertain the kids.
However, the Triva Hunt is not Letterboxing or Geocaching; deciphering the cryptic directions in the game book requires an intensely geeky knowledge of Jaws, including plot, dialog, character names and especially the architecture and location of the various buildings (original and purpose-built) that were depicted in the movie.
Old Sculpin Gallery, the model for Quint's shack.
Here follow some tips that should help make your Amity Trivia Hunt more enjoyable and successful:
1.       Watch the movie at least three times before attending Jaws Fest, paying special attention to the first half of the movie (before the protagonists set out on the Orca II). I casually watched it the night before thinking that would suffice. How wrong I was.

2.       If you own a digital copy consider taking it along on your mobile device. (No idea if this constitutes cheating).

Sea Shanty Restaurant advertising Jaws Party.
        3.       Make sure everyone tagging along is old enough to have watched and appreciated the movie so they can participate. My 2 and 6 year olds hadn’t a clue what was going on and were subsequently bored out of their minds.

        4.       Make sure everyone in your party is wearing comfortable shoes and is fully ambulant. A lot of walking is involved (including on beaches and other rough terrain) as well as hopping on and off buses. Parking grandma is the shade while you go traipsing about is not an option.

       5.       If you’re day-tripping, arrive at Wood’s Hole as early as possible. I would recommend catching the 08:15 to Vineyard Haven which should get you to Edgartown by around 09:30. Ferries depart every hour and fifteen minutes so every delay takes a significant chunk out of your day.

       At 09:00 the parking lots closest to the ferry dock were already full and we were redirected to the Gifford Street lot. Driving there plus waiting on and taking the shuttle bus meant we arrived back at the dock just in time to miss the 09:30 and had to wait until 10:45 for the next service. Close to noon on the Island the traffic from VH to Edgartown was bumper to bumper so it wasn’t until after 1 PM that we finally got to the Dr. Daniel Fischer House to collect the Trivia Bag.
I can’t comment on the other aspects of Jaws Fest including the VIP meet and greets, the prop museums, the shark conservation presentations and the reenactments by dedicated fans since we didn’t have the time to experience any of those.

The website however says that the event was a success and that nearly 1800 people attended the screenings of Jaws in the Park at Vineyard Haven, so I’m guessing there’s a good time to be had with the rest of the program as well.


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