The Best of Beantown

Day after day the cows trample pathways in the hills beside the bay. In time, perhaps a cowpath becomes a farm road. Then a house rises at the roadside. Then more houses, then a whole town, then a city of glass and steel and concrete, with here and there a street that may still remember where a cowpath meandered several centuries ago.

Welcome to Boston, the “Athens of America,” whose urban planners may have included a colonial cow or two. Think you can tow your trailer through that tangle of narrow, winding streets and alleys? Think again. Find a nearby campground under “Boston Area” in the 2009 Trailer Life RV Parks, Campgrounds & Services Directory, and the good people there will direct you downtown via rail, bus, or – for a Darwinian driving thrill – your own tow vehicle. It’s survival of the fittest in the Boston traffic jungle, and those lead-footed Bostonians take no prisoners, so just park your rig and come see Beantown with us, on foot.

Bring your camera, walking shoes and sunglasses. But you can leave the letter R at home. We Yankees don’t use it much. Soon as you enter New England, your rig becomes a trailuh or a motuh-home and your tow vehicle becomes a cah. The native tongue gets even quirkier in Boston, where soda is called tonic – no, not tonic; taw-nik. Here you dine on oystuhs, cawdfish and lawbstuhs, and you can’t get thayuh from heah in a rig that’s five cows long.

Appropriately enough, we’ll start our tour in a cow pasture, where colonial farmers grazed their herds, sneered at miscreants clamped in the stocks, and gawked at the occasional public hanging. Set aside in 1634, it’s now called Boston Common, and it’s the oldest park in the country. Tremont Street borders it on the southeast, and there you’ll stock up on maps, brochures and good advice at the Visitor Information Center.

Now for a stroll around the web of paths: Listen to the soapbox orator and the girl with the guitar. Look at that mounted policeman and his superbly trained horse. Here’s an impressive statue; there’s a sparkling fountain; and over there are graves of both Redcoats and militiamen who fell at the Battle of Bunker Hill – which, by the way, happened on nearby Breed’s Hill. Got kids? They’ll love wading in the Frog Pond. And why should they have all the fun? Pull off those shoes!

 

Right across Charles Street is the Public Garden, the nation’s oldest botanical showplace. Wander its flowery pathways, then see it again from a Swan Boat on the Lagoon. Back ashore, you can amble southwest down Newbury Street and shop-hop with wealthies and wannabes from one upscale boutique to the next. Or quaff a frosty Sam Adams – a Boston brew – at Cheers, the watering hole on Beacon Street that inspired the long-running TV sitcom. Or snap a shot of cobblestoned Acorn Street, probably the most photographed street in Boston; some say in all America. You’ll see why when you find it just off Chestnut Street between Cedar and Willow. You’re in highbrow Beacon Hill now, and Acorn shows this posh old neighborhood at its loveliest.

 

It’s a long walk out Newbury Street – or a short subway ride on “the T” – but if you have the time it’s well worth the journey to see the sights of Boston’s famous Back Bay. Spot waterbirds and wildlife at the swampy Fens. Imagine swatting a bases-loaded three-and-two curve ball over the “Green Monster” left field wall at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. Visit the impressive Christian Science Center, and top it all off with the eye-popping view from atop the Prudential Center. Up there it seems like you can see all the way to China.

 

Well, you can’t. But you can see to Chinatown. It’s one of Boston’s fascinating ethnic neighborhoods, and it’s worth a side trip to see the massive Dragon Gate at the east end of Beach Street. As you snap its picture, you may be standing at the spot where the Boston Tea Party took place. No beach here? No water? No wonder. Fill dirt long ago pushed the waterfront a block or two away. Boston’s street names tell you a lot about what used to be where: School, Beacon, Well, Beach, Water, Canal. You’re way too late to haggle for hay in Haymarket Square, or hear the guns boom on Battery March, or milk a cow on Cow Lane and sell it on Milk Street. But if it’s before 11 pm, you’re not too late for delectable dim sum at the China Pearl on Tyler Street and a stroll through Chinatown’s living museum of shops and smells and languages from half a world away.

 

Then come back to the visitors center and walk a red line into history. That red stripe in the pavement marks the Freedom Trail, and it begins right there at the Common. It’s only 2 1/2 miles long, and you could do it easily in a day. But you won’t. You’ll stop to read the curious epitaphs in the ancient burying grounds – Granary, King’s Chapel and Copp’s Hill. You’ll stand at the site of the Boston Massacre and try to imagine the chuff-chuff of muskets as Redcoats fire into a rowdy gaggle of snowball-hurling colonists and five of them fall dead at your feet. You’ll visit Paul Revere’s house, built in 1680 and said to be Boston’s oldest building. You’ll gaze up at the steeple of the Old North Church, where the “One if by land, two if by sea” lanterns spurred Paul Revere on his famous ride.

You know what they say about Chinese food. Well, now that you’re hungry again, follow the red stripe to Faneuil Hall (say “flannel” without the first L), once a colonial meetinghouse, now a marketplace with food stalls inside and vendors and entertainers outside. Right behind it is Quincy Market, row on row of assorted shops and eateries with shady promenades between. And if your tastes match Daniel Webster’s, eat where he did. They say he was a regular at the Union Oyster House, just a few steps farther along on the Freedom Trail. Built around 1713, it’s Boston’s oldest restaurant and maybe the oldest in continuous operation in the country.

By trail’s end, you’ve visited more than a score of sites that earn Boston the sobriquet, “Cradle of Liberty.” And some say the last stop is the best. Across the Inner Harbor at the Boston Navy Yard rests the great square-rigger USS Constitution, the oldest ship in the Navy. Barbary pirates challenged her; so did British dreadnoughts in the War of 1812. When a sailor saw cannonballs bounce off her stout oaken hull, he blurted a nickname that she has borne proudly ever since: “Old Ironsides.” Welcome aboard, landlubber; she’s open to visitors.

Old, older, oldest – is anything new in old Boston? The city answers that one with a shiny bar graph skyline and a feast of attractions. See what’s wet and wild at the spectacular New England Aquarium, where – well, I don’t like to brag, but a coy little octopus flirted with me shamelessly while my wife was admiring the sharks. Our kids loved the Children’s Museum – what kid, of any age, wouldn’t go quackers over the Duck Tours? You climb into a World War II amphibious landing craft, and it takes you by land on a tour of the city, then drives right into the water for more.

World-class art collections, science and natural history museums, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, the parklands along the Charles River, the colleges, the Celtics, the Red Sox, the Patriots – oops, we almost forgot the beans. Boston isn’t called Beantown for nuthin’. Up here we bake them all afternoon in a big brown crock with molasses and a chip of pork, and you can’t leave without trying this local specialty. It’s practically a state law. So before you leave your campground and reluctantly head for home, ask where there’s a church supper or firehouse fundraiser. That’s where the beans are best. The best of Beantown, strange-uh.

The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, (888-733-2678, www.bostonusa.com) offers a ValuePASS
and basic visitor info.
CityPass, a nine-day pass to six attractions is available at (888)
330-5008, www.citypass.com.
Go Boston Card, a multi-attraction pass and a guidebook to more than 60
places can be found at (800) 887-9103, www.gobostoncard.com.

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