After leaving Cuba we returned to the east coast to check in with our DC area kids and pick up our car before moving on. This meant returning to our regular trivia game, watching playoff hockey (Go Pens!) as well as catching up with our youngest grandkids which included: soccer, karaoke and an early birthday celebration.
We also had tickets to see a play at Ford’s Theatre. “Ragtime” is a musical that follows three turn-of-the-century families. The music is great and it was hard to believe we were watching it in such an historic building.
After a week of relaxing in DC we were ready to take off for Boston. Sort of moving from one part of early American history to another! We decided to drive some of the backroads to enjoy and learn more about the smaller towns in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. We stopped in Lititz for lunch at a fabulous deli. We had remembered the town (although not the deli) from a visit here with the kids back in the early 1980s. We toured The Lititz Pretzel Factory then and learned about the history of pretzles dating back to the 1600’s. From Lititz Bob and I decided we wanted to visit Crossings, PA. This is the place where Washington and his troops crossed the Deleware on Christmas 1776.
We then went on to spend the night in Valley Forge and toured the encampment the following day. I’m always astounded at what the Patriots had to endure to gain our independence. More than 2500 men died at Valley Forge from starvation, the cold and disease. It’s overwhelming to imagine.
And to think how far away from home many of them were and how concerned they must have been for their families, wondering if they’d ever see them again. I think we take our republic for granted not realizing how fragile it really is. But I digress… We had intended to spend an hour or so there and three and a half hours later decided we’d better get on our way if we wanted to make much progress toward our destination.
I reserved a place in Hull, Massachusetts, located on a peninsula just south of Boston. The location is great. We are a block from the ocean one direction and three blocks the other. We have a great front porch where we can sit and enjoy our morning coffee on those few days when it is warm enough. We are also just a 10 minute drive from the commuter rail that has us at South Station in downtown Boston in half an hour. South Station is an amazing place. As well as the commuter rail, many Amtrak trains arrive and depart for DC and parts beyond. You can also access the T (subway) here making it a hub for travelers whatever their destinations!
The Airbnb house we’re renting is a duplex and the young man we’re renting from lives right next door. It makes it very convenient to ask questions. I love that it’s a two story with three bedrooms upstairs..feels very much like home! And as an added bonus we can park right out front! Boston traffic is unbelievable and parking horrific so we make good use of the commuter rail. The fact that we qualify for a half price senior citizen ticket makes the trip reasonable as well as convenient. Hull was founded in the 1600s by Puritans. Nearby our house is Fort Revere with spectacular views of Hull and Boston. It dates from the Revolution when it was used to protect Boston Harbor.
We briefly visited Boston years ago but as I’ve said in previous entries when we have a month to visit a place we feel more like residents and less like tourists. It’s nice not to have to jam everything we want to do into a couple of days.
We were thrilled that my good friend Rita, from Pittsburgh, could visit us. It seemed easiest to pick her up at the airport instead of relying on public transportation so that we could stop and visit the JFK Library on our return. When Bob and I had been in Boston 1980 we had located the then new JFK library on our Rand McNally map and when we couldn’t find it stopped to ask a local. We were told, “Oh that’s where they were going to build it. They decided instead to put it out near the water.” What a perfect location. Seeing JFK’s sailboat leaning on the shore took my breath away! I think this is one of the few museums I’ve ever visited where I could connect to and recall the stories about nearly every exhibit!
History is everywhere you turn in Boston. We stopped to visit John Adams’ home and the national park service guide gave us a private tour of the home. It’s hard to envision the area as farmland much less Abigail managing the farm, as well as her family, while fighting is going on all around her and John is miles away! We also stopped at his library and later family home!
Most amazingly we met Keith, a young man in his 30’s I would guess, on the commuter rail on our first trip into Boston and he shared with us some sights he felt we’d enjoy. He mentioned the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and went on to describe some of the particular artists that were among his favorites. There was a special Matisse Exhibit currently on display so we had put the MFA at the top of our list. Also there was a lovely Chihuly glass piece in the lobby.
Keith also gave us some practical tips about how to get around and other areas to see. We were stunned when after we left the train he tracked us down in South Station to give us his business card telling us not to hesitate to contact him if he could be of any assistance! We continue to meet the most gracious people!
Cambridge is a lovely city. We walked through the Harvard Campus, downtown, Lesley College and down Brattle Street past Longfellow’s Home. I had no idea that this was George Washington’s heaquarters from 1775-1776. Longfellows’ father-in-law bought the home in 1843 as a wedding gift. It’s the house where Longfellow lived until he died. We also learned that The Harvard Museum of National History houses The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass. We decided this was something we had to see! These models of plants are made entirely of glass. There are more than 4000 models of more than 800 species of flowers.
They were made between 1887 and 1936 and were created because a Harvard professsor wanted lifelike models for teaching botany. Prior to this time there were only papier mache or wax models available.
One of my very favorite parts of Boston is The Freedom Trail. This trail is embedded in the sidewalk making it incredibly easy to follow and it’s like walking through a textbook of early American history. On this trail are marked the sites of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s home, the Granary Cemetery (where Samuel Adams, Crispus Attacks, as well as Ben Franklin’s parents are buried). The Corner Bookstore was originally the home of Anne Hutchinson (who was kicked out of Massachusetts for heresy) and was later a meeting place for authors including: Longfellow, Hawthorne and Emerson. Perhaps because it has a commercial history that spans a couple of centuries I shouldn’t be upset that it is now the home of a commercial entity of the 2000’s. (Chipotle) But it really does bother me!
We paid to enter the Old State House which was particularly interesting because there were several informative narrations we could download on our phones that explained the history of the building! A realitively new addition to the Freedom Trail is The New England Holocaust Memorial built in 1995. This moving memorial consists of six towers which represent the six camps and six is also significant for the six years that the camps were in existence. On a lighter note, also along the Freedom Trail, in front of the Old City Hall is a donkey. For over 100 years Boston politics was dominated by Democratic mayors In 2004 this donkey was dubbed “The Democratic Donkey.” Next to the donkey are footprints with the inscription, “Stand in Opposition.”
We had seen the exhibit for Robert McCloskey’s book, Make Way for Ducklings at the Museum of Fine Arts. I remembered the book from when I was a child about Mr and Mrs. Mallard who find the perfect place to raise their family in Boston Public Gardens. So I definitely wanted to see the sculpture. Because we had missed it on our first trip, we made a second trek to the gardens to see it.
And while I loved the Museum of Fine Arts perhaps my favorite museum in all of Boston is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’s an eclectic collection of art, sculpture, textiles and antiques and housed in beautiful rooms that were designed to resemble a Venetian palace of the 1400’s. It’s unlike any museum I’ve visited anywhere!
We also drove out to Cape Cod. Because we were located south of Boston and didn’t have to drive through the city it made a much easier trip out to the Cape. And although there were lots of people, because we were visiting in late May we didn’t have to contend with the summer mobs. Provincetown has lots of cute little shops and I found a place to get my haircut. Another day we drove Falmouth which is about an hour south of Boston but not out on the Cape. We were particularly interested in this area because of the work at Woods Hole that environmentalist Rachel Carson had done in the 1960s. Ms Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962 about the harmful effects of pesticides. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Carter and because she was a family friend of Bob’s aunts (having grown up in the same small western Pennsylvania town) we particularly wanted to visit her statue in Falmouth. We fell in love with the area finding it even more beautiful than the Cape itself.
Our temperatures in Boston were cool. The locals tell us that it has been exceedingly cool this year. We also had quite a bit of rain, but it rarely rained all day and we found we could generally dodge between the showers. We like to read near the beach and we can do that in jackets just as long as the wind doesn’t gust too much. Another favorite in Boston for us is the chowder. We’ve tried it nearly everywhere we’ve gone and the cool weather only makes it taste that much better. We will definitely miss this special taste of New England when we leave! It seems too like we are following the flowers this spring. Starting on our drive up to DC from Florida in late February all the way to Boston in May, we find the rhododendrons gorgeous, one just exceeding the previous in its beauty. Rhododendrons have always been among my favorite bloom, but I have never witnessed any as large as we have seen this year. Some stand almost as high as houses!
The night before we were to leave Boston we found a small wonderful Italian restaurant not far from our house. We chatted with the owner (also waitress and cook) who wanted to know more about our lifestyle. As we were talking about all the things we love about Boston she commented, “Wow, you sound like locals!” I guess that’s what we love best…getting to really know a city, how to maneuver it, what makes it interesting, what’s its history, talking with the locals. In this case we definitely want to know more about this cradle of American history. Guess we’ll have to put Boston/Hull on our list of places to return to!