In retrospect, February may not have been the best time for a trip to Boston. But of course I didn’t think about that when a Porter seat sale prompted us to visit a new city. Yes, new city: somehow neither of us had ever made it to Boston.
The trip started out well enough: it was snowing when we left Toronto last Friday, but not so much that our flight from the island was delayed. We landed in Boston with no problems, fat fresh snow falling on banks built high in the previous week’s blizzard. My sense of direction is usually pretty good, but I was more than a little disoriented by the time our cab reached our hotel, the XV Beacon. Luckily, in addition to a ton of space and a nice gas fireplace, our room had a great view of Boston Common, so I was centered again. That fireplace, it turns out, would come in handy.
We were already hungry, so we homed in on a nearby place known for both good food and good beer for a late lunch. We took the long way, walking through a bit of the Common where we saw kids ice skating and guided tours of the Freedom Trail starting, before finding ourselves a barstool at Stoddard’s. Our food was great, and they had some serious American craft brew on tap: I had a Narragansett porter and and a Left Hand milk stout, while Nellie had a Harpoon UFO Belgian white and a Brash “The Bollocks” IPA. We left there pretty fat and happy.
We walked a tiny bit of that off by circling the Common and Public Gardens, getting our bearings, figuring we’d do the heavy-duty touring the next day. We saw a little more of Beacon Hill, and had dinner at Bin 26, a wine bar not far from our hotel. It was okay, but didn’t blow either of us away. Still, any place with that many wines by the glass has to be commended, even if the wine list is like a puzzle. We walked back to our room in the chilly night, past the golden dome of the State House to our hotel, and planned our adventures for the next day while the downtown lights gave us a little reminder of home.
Plan, schman. Turns out something the Weather Channel called “winter storm Plato” decided to show up and pelt Boston with a wicked (see what I did there?) blast of snow and cold. We set out with every intention of trying to see some of the Freedom Trail, but it was just too cold and windy…we got maybe a few blocks before the ice pellets stinging our eyes drove us inside. We couldn’t bear the thought of retreating to the hotel though, and decided to jump on the subway.
Needless to say, I had The Kingston Trio’s “MTA” playing in my head from the moment we bought that ticket. We decided to go way out to Allston, in the middle of Boston College and Harvard and a bunch of other schools, to try a place called Deep Ellum…the top-rated beer place in Boston. It was a long, brutal walk through the storm from the train stop to the pub; getting through a door never felt so good. It was packed with students scarfing down hangover brunch, but we found two seats at the end of the bar. Despite being twice the age of anyone else in the place we got asked for our ID. Incroyable!
The beer selection was impressive: the draft list alone consisted of a couple dozen American craft brews I’d never even heard of, and we took full advantage. I had a Jack’s Abby “Smoke and Dagger” smoked lager, a Pretty Things “Saint Botolph’s Town” rustic dark ale, a Rising Tide “Daymark” rye APA, and a Jack’s Abby “Saxonator” dopplebock, while Nellie had a Wormtown “Petite Belma” IPA, a High and Mighty “Beer of the Gods” German ale, a Pretty Things “Baby Tree” quadrupel, and a Green Flash “Palate Wrecker” IPA. Food-wise we had a nice soft pretzel, some sausage & mustard, and poutine (!) with duck gravy. We wrapped up with one more (another Palate Wrecker for Nellie, and a stout on cask that I don’t quite remember) before starting the return trip. It was still brutally cold, but at least the ice pellets had stopped hitting us in the face.
We got back to the hotel and made full use of it for the rest of the afternoon, taking long hot showers, curling up in front of the fireplace, watching travel shows about warm destinations. We weren’t up for another excursion when it came to eating dinner; luckily Mooo (a new steakhouse) is in the hotel’s basement, so we ate there. It was pretty decent: Nellie had lobster bisque and filet mignon, while I had short rib croquettes and prime sirloin, paired with a 2007 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon. After spending the whole afternoon at Deep Ellum we needed that food in our stomachs too.
We went out the next morning with every intention of doing at least some of the sights on the Freedom Trail, but didn’t get far…it was still fantastically cold. We got as far as the Boston Massacre site and turned back for the hotel. A shower and some packing later and it was time to go. I have to say, the whole process of flying out — from getting to the airport (in the hotel’s Lexus SUV house car) to checking in (no lineups, and friendly, funny TSA agents!) to waiting to board (lunch at a Vino Volo and painless boarding) to the super-smooth flight — was one of the most painless travel experiences we’ve ever had. Always good when a trip wraps up like that.
So, while it wasn’t a bad trip — indeed, we had a lot of fun — it was certainly limited by the weather. Clearly we’ll need to go back, not just to see what the city is like in the warm sun, but also to further explore a feeling we both had almost immediately about Boston…that it feels an awful lot like Halifax. I guess that makes sense — both are old North American cities, not terribly far apart, designed largely by the British around the mid-18th century — but we still both had the strong feeling of familiarity almost immediately upon arriving. The commons in the middle of the city, the public gardens, the waterfront, the wealth of colleges (though Boston’s are certainly more prestigious), the unusually strong ties between the cities with traditions like the annual Commons Christmas tree and the love of Boston sports teams in Nova Scotia…it all made Boston feel familiar to two people who consider Halifax kind of their spiritual home. And just as we’d never assume good weather before travelling to Halifax, but trusting to find its’ charm indoors and out, so we’ll plan a return trip to Boston someday.
Photo by Oefe, user under Creative Commons license