Another beautiful day in New England and the perfect chance to take a walking tour of Boston. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile winding path that links significant landmarks in the history of the American Revolution. We had lunch in Boston Common where the trail starts and then made our way to the State House following the red brick line through the streets, in a manner reminiscent of Dorothy (that would be me) and her trusty companions. We stopped at the Granary Burial Ground where a friendly chap called Jimmy Cole stands all year round, loaning out copies of his free guide to the graveyard. The guide is several pages long and, although a little dog eared, it is clear that Cole is a keen historian, and a humble one at that. He has created the guide through his own research and now makes his living through the donations he receives from those grateful for his shared knowledge. It’s an interesting read and I particularly enjoyed his story of how he worked out that the current stone over Paul Revere’s tomb is not the original – all using his “noggin,” as he puts it, as well as his explanations for the coins left on many of the stones. With more time I would love to have stayed and absorbed more but the kids were impatient to follow that red line and we had another 13 stops to make.
As we approached North End we encountered an Anti Columbus Day protest, calling for the holiday to be changed to honour the indigenous people, as it is in South Dakota and parts of California. Having seen protests outside the White House, the boys were unfazed by this one and we took the opportunity to tell them about why Columbus Day is becoming less popular.
Just around the corner, in the Italian District, a drum beat heralded the start of the Columbus Weekend parade celebrating local Italian links with the area. Clowns mingled with boy scouts and locals dressed in renaissance costumes.
Teddy exchanged air punches with Tony DeMarco and, much to the boys’ delight, the Ghostbusters made an inexplicable appearance. We enjoyed the holiday atmosphere and stayed to the very end before heading onwards to Charlestown where the USS Constitution currently sits in a dry dock, part way through her 3 year refurbishment. The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world although her duties these days are ceremonial and educational.
Members of her crew were on board to talk to us about what life would have been like for serving officers and crew in the 19th Century and what their role was today. We had a good look around the lower deck and the boys posed for pictures at the helm, the wheel being considerably bigger than the three of them!
After a long but thoroughly enjoyable day, we headed back to the car to make our way back – not quite three clicks of the heels but not so bad!
Braintree, is about 20 minutes south of Boston by car and an hour or so north of Cape Cod; ideally placed for exploring both but, with a week to fill, there was plenty of time and we wanted something different to begin with. The answer was Plymouth.
Plymouth is where the original pilgrims eventually landed and settled in December 1620 following their voyage on the Mayflower from Plymouth in England, after a month long stop in Cape Cod. Following the long and difficult journey, more than half of the voyagers perished in the harsh winter that followed and were buried in a large unmarked grave high on the hill by the survivors trying to disguise the extent of their losses from the native community. A replica Mayflower sailed from England in 1957 and now stands in Plymouth (MA) harbour. Plymouth Rock, believed by some to be the very landing point of the Mayflower, bears the year of that first landing and stands in what has been designated the smallest state park in Massachusetts. We had a quick look, decided that it was indeed a large rock with the date inscribed on it, and moved on!
The town itself is lovely with cute shops and restaurants along the harbour and a thriving whale watching trade that got our attention. The largest fleet is run by a business called Captain John – a sure sign that we ought to take a chance and book, so we bought tickets for the following Monday; Columbus Day.
It was at that point that Nick realised his wallet was missing. The ferocious pace of our travels so far was taking its toll on all of us and the long drive the previous day added to Nick’s fatigue; he couldn’t be certain whether he had his wallet when we set out earlier but he definitely didn’t have it now. We retraced our steps through the town just in case and then drove back, somewhat stressed and contemplating the process of stopping credit cards and trying to arrange new ones whilst constantly moving around, only to find the offending item on the night stand when we got back.
What a relief.
Following the fire hydrant incident, we were still getting used to the street parking rules in New York. Nick had moved our hire car a couple of times to try to stay within the permitted parking zones but now we had until precisely 11am to pack up and ship out before some unknown calamity would befall our family. We threw our belongings randomly into bags, excited that our next Airbnb house came with laundry facilities, and hit the road.
The drive from New York to Boston is approximately 215 miles and the speed limit on most of the highways is between 55 and 65 mph. A quick bit of mental arithmetic and, with scheduled breaks, we were looking at around 4-5 hours on the road. Events on these road trips were starting to form a pattern:
- Nick packs the car – it’s a long story but essentially, if I do it, it wouldn’t be done correctly and would have to be repacked taking much longer and not helping at all, so I keep out of the way.
- The camera is always to be located in a bag behind my seat. I have no idea why – it just is.
- After setting off, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes into the journey, Nick will say “Look at that [bridge/river/train/*insert landmark of choice], followed by a pause, followed by “If you had the camera ready…”
- Much hilarity from the kids as I fumble with the lens cap, the electric windows, the zoom and ultimately produce a picture of a moving car with the desired landmark disappearing somewhere in the background.
I have other duties as well, such as changing the music selection, passing drinks back to the children and negotiating peace settlements when disagreements reach the point of violence (of course, I am referring to the children as opposed to other motorists…) Occasionally Nick will ask me if the route suggested by Here Maps is in agreement with the car’s sat nav. Mostly he does this for his own entertainment because I can’t read a map or operate a Windows phone.
As we drove through Massachusetts the fall foliage intensified; many of the highways are like tree lined avenues, as if deliberately landscaped to show off the varying shades of gold and red throughout the journey. You will have to take my word for how stunningly beautiful it is because my attempts at photography were frustratingly bad. In the end I stopped trying for fear that I’d miss the view altogether in my unsuccessful attempts to capture the best picture.
In this way we somehow manage to get to our final destination and, so far, it has always been raining whenever we arrive somewhere new, and it’s always around dusk as we try, in vain, to read the numbers on the buildings.
We were staying in Braintree – our first house in the suburbs – and as soon as we arrived we felt at home. The only problem: very limited internet connection. How on earth would we break it to the boys?!
We couldn’t agree what to do for our last full day in New York so we decided to split up: Nick took John and Alex to the American Museum of Natural History whilst Teddy and I took on the Central Park challenge – there are 21 playgrounds in Central Park and our mission was to get to all of them. Going our separate ways just outside the museum we agreed to meet back in the same place 3 and a half hours later.
How naive we were.
Even when just spending 5 minutes in each one, Ted and I only got round 14 of the playgrounds and found ourselves on the opposite side of the park at the allocated time. I managed to hook on to the free wifi just outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sent Nick a quick message saying we would be late. He suggested we meet back at the apartment.
For most people, especially those who had already spent a week in the city, using the subway system frequently, this would be a sensible option. The trouble is that I genuinely have zero sense of direction and really hadn’t been paying attention – I couldn’t even tell you which subway line we needed. Not to worry – there must be a subway map at the station. Without any further ado, and with Teddy leading the way, we set off heading for 86th Street. Two things would have made that easier – first a street map and second a little more faith in Teddy’s memory of our walk to the same station just a few days before. Sadly, I had neither and seeing as my phone was no use to anyone, we winged it. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it is to be led by an 8 year old through New York, exasperated at your appalling sense of direction. What we learned is that whatever direction I start heading off in, I am usually 180 degrees out.
2 hours after we left we finally arrived back at the apartment to a slightly concerned Nick and a bemused John and Alex. In our defence, we would have been quicker if, having bought our metro tickets, we hadn’t gone through the wrong turnstiles and ended up committed to trains going the wrong way. After 20 minutes of pacing the platform and realising our mistake we exited, bought new tickets and started again – I tried to look for the positive: “You see Teddy, this is how we learn – we make mistakes and then we fix them and do things differently next time.” The worst part? When we were at the same station just two days earlier, Nick had stopped us from going through the wrong turnstiles, marched us out of the station, across the road and down into the correct metro entrance.
Teddy and I remembered that… As soon as we were committed in the wrong direction.