Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Three (more) Days in Boston

[Kyle]I had a trip at work that did not allow me to get on a flight home the same day. There wasn’t enough time to get a hotel before the first flight out the next morning a few hours later, so I got to spend half of a night in a chair in the crew lounge. This provides a quality of sleep slightly worse than trying to sleep on a plane.

When I got home to Boston the next morning, I was still pretty beat. Maryanne was chomping at the bit to go explore, but was kind enough to let me have a few hours sleeping in a nice, flat bed before dragging me out.

Once I got some coffee in me, though, and once we actually got out into the beautiful spring weather, I was back to my usual explorey self. We started by taking the ferry to Charlestown and then walked to the Bunker Hill Monument for the 276-step climb to the top. The Battle of Bunker hill was the bloodiest of the Revolutionary War. Even though the colonists lost the battle, they inflicted enough damage on the British to convince them that they were up against a real army, turning the war in the colonist’s favour.

Monument to the Battle of Bunker Hill - a loooong climb to the top, but the views were great!

From there, we went to see the USS Constitution, a wooden, three-masted heavy frigate that is the oldest commissioned warship in the US fleet. We took the tour, given by active military stationed at the ship. It was pretty typical square-rigger stuff: cramped decks and LOTS of line (rope). I swear, a third of the weight of the ship must be line. They must get a bulk discount. Below decks, and in the accompanying museum, the details of life aboard such a ship were made clear. It was cramped, smelly, dangerous work with awful food. It’s hard to imagine anybody willingly taking it on. There was much resentment at the time of the British pressing Colonists against their will into service on British ships, so patriotism and revenge were drivers. Also, the pay was actually more than a typical farmer or shopkeeper, even more than the Marines that were also carried aboard, so that must’ve helped.

Exploring the USS Constitution - Maryanne seems to prefer steering to climbing the rigging, and Kyle wonders if we could find a home for this spare anchor

I was really impressed with the Captain’s quarters, which were about the size of the combined officers’ quarters and much more luxurious. I particularly liked the four-poster beds with the little glass wing cabins on each side. They were like little private solariums. If I were Captain, I’d want to spend all of my time there when we weren’t being shot at.

Another thing that impressed me in a different way was the ship’s history. Since she was commissioned, the Constitution has spent basically two entire years out of every five in port for refitting and maintenance. That’s even after having a full-time crew of hundreds performing constant upkeep along the way. Wooden ships are a lot of work.

From the Constitution, we started making our way back to Begonia on foot with some delicious ice cream we found for walkin’ around food. We crossed the bridge back into Boston and were meandering our way back toward the boat when Maryanne realized our timing was good to make the opportunity to visit the top of the Custom House Tower, now a very upscale Marriott, so off we went. {Maryanne: The Customs House Tower was added onto the original dome structure (to provide additional office space in the early 1900's), the tower once dominated the city, but has since been surrounded by modern sky-rises. The tour was much more than we expected, a private tour, with excursions to view the clock face mechanisms, and the cctv footage of the tower's nesting peregrine falcons}

A trip to the top of the tower - and sunset view with the tower reflected on the glass buildings. Cocktails were great, as was the additional unexpected entertainment!

We entered the beautiful lobby and bought two tickets for the tour-and-a-cocktail. In short order, we were escorted to the viewing floor by our own personal guide who told us more about the history of the building, the streets and buildings below, and Boston in general than we could ever remember. When he was done, he let us potter around on our own as long as we liked. It was starting to get a bit chilly, but we managed to hold out until we saw the sunset from up there.

We went down to the bar on the 2nd floor to cash in our drink coupons. We then planned to enjoy them in the quiet ambiance of their beautiful lounge. Instead, we came through the connecting door and arrived just at the start of… Well, I don’t know what it was. A presentation? A show? It was a re-enactment of 17th century parlour entertainment by a pair of musicians in period garb. I forgot about that. There was a sign in the lobby where we bought our drink tickets. I remember remarking to Maryanne at that time that it wasn’t my thing.

So now we were in the middle of it, where a graceful exit was impossible. Just for the record, I’ll go ahead and say it: I was wrong. We (that includes me - see previous) had a fabulous time. The musicians played songs, sang, told jokes (bad 17th century ones) and engaged the rest of us in parlour games. The woman of the group even played on a 17th century violin built a couple of generations before Stradivarius. Being there was so much more instructive than reading about it on a museum board. People back then had fun! - The ones not on ships, at least.

A Busier Day

I started off with a nice, hard run first thing the next morning around the waterfront and then all of the way to the far side of the Esplanade in clear, warm spring weather. Since Boston is such a runners' town, running along the Esplanade feels like being in a race. There are plenty of people keep pace with, pass and be passed by. When I got done, I was pretty wiped out, but poor Maryanne had been waiting on me before starting the day’s tourist itinerary. I quickly freshened up and we were off again.

Our first stop was at a place called the Mapparium in the Mary Baker Eddy museum. The Mapparium is a three-story diameter stained glass globe that is viewed from inside at the middle. The countries are all inverted so that they appear in correct relation to one another with only the curvature of the sphere being the wrong way. So the United States, for example, is still to the left of Europe, but is concave instead of convex like on the surface of a standard globe. Inside, there are also some pretty cool acoustic effects. In the very center, all of the sound is reflected back so the slightest noise is greatly amplified. People at opposite ends are also able to hear each other’s soft voices much louder than people in the rest of the room. Unfortunately, they were pretty strict about the “No Pictures” rule, so you’ll just have to imagine.

Being sailors and cartography buffs, the Mapparium is what drew us into the Mary Baker Eddy Museum in general. The Mapparium is only a small part of a much larger building that is also stunning in it’s own right. A complex of buildings with a similarly ornate and grand architecture surrounds this building. What we did not know until we had already forked over our $6 each to see the Mapparium, is who Mary Baker Eddy was. It turns out she was the founder (in Boston) of the Church of Christ, Scientist. The entire complex turns out to be a thinly veiled recruitment and indoctrination center for the Christian Scientists. We stayed long enough to try to search for any real science in the literature and displays before beating a hasty retreat. {Maryanne: The really cool thing about the Mapparium, is that as you stand in the center, all the surface is the same distance away, so the scale of each country and distances are true - you don't get that from a map (which is distorted to fit on the paper somehow), or even from an ordinary globe, as the surface itself curves away from your eye, and again distorts scale and distance. Again we had a private tour as no other visitors were there, so we were able to ask questions and play with the acoustics without worrying we were disrupting someone else's tour}.

Christian Science complex - Beautiful inside and out: home of the Mapparium, and Christian Science Monitor among many other things

Next stop was a quick pass through the beautiful Boston Public Library and then a pause at the Marathon bombing sites and memorial.

We had walked a long way and were getting hungry, so we stopped for a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown before our next tour. I like Vietnamese food (Pho Pasteur, extensive menu and great price!), and this stuff was good, but I don’t think I get how to eat it. I did what I normally do in restaurants: Pick something that looks good, order it and then eat it when it arrives. Yummy! It seemed, however, like all of the Vietnamese people in the restaurant (always a good sign) had much more elaborate rituals for their food. The guy next to me spent a good twenty minutes tinkering with the already prepared food after it came to his table. He took fresh mint leaves that were brought to the table as a garnish and carefully tucked them into the bottom of his soup around the outside of the noodles to steep. He then started adding this and that, before separating the dish into two bowls that ended up with vastly different ingredients. These were then eaten in what appeared to be a specific intended order. Everybody else at the table did pretty much the same thing. Here I was thinking, “Oh, yummy food! I’ll just go ahead and eat it.” I’m so uncouth.

Following the Vietnamese meal, it was time for a ghost tour. There are two main companies that do these in Boston. One let’s you spend a lot of time playing with ghost hunter “equipment” and seemed to be heavy on the paranormal. Maryanne, not being one to believe a cold spot or a wifi signal is incontrovertible proof of ghosts, chose the other one. It was only slightly better. The guy giving the tour did not seem good at public speaking. He kept losing his train of thought and going off on tangents. For the paranormal part, he showed us a few pictures of “orbs” – artefacts caused by light scattering in camera lenses – and telling us fourth-hand anecdotes in an attempt to creep us out with how haunted everything was. I caught Maryanne rolling her eyes at me a lot in response to one thing or another. It wasn’t all for naught, though. We got to see some nice stuff when it was lit up at night and there were some interesting historical titbits that made their way through, particularly how the Boston witch hunts eventually led to the more famous ones in Salem (through the ‘helpful’ guidebook published by Cotton Mather who is a key figure in both locations).

By the end of the tour, we had put in a lot of miles on foot for the day. Maryanne wasn’t wearing the best walking shoes and was starting to limp on both sides. My feet were okay, but I was struggling with a lot of leftover soreness from the run. We briefly considered getting the train back, but the nearest station was only slightly closer than the boat. It was also the other way, so we decided to just dig in and walk home. I had been looking all day for a place to get an ice cream, like we did the day before, but had so far had no luck. I was hoping we’d still be able to find some on our limp home. We found lots of bars, but no ice cream. Perhaps tomorrow…

An Extra Day

For some reason, Maryanne thought I had to go back to work a day earlier than I did. That gave us a bonus day, so to speak.

So even though I was still sore from the day before, I eventually got up the motivation to go for my morning run. It was the same nice weather, the same race feeling, only this time I was a tad slower. I did get to see the year’s first goslings – four adorable little puffball Canada Geese that couldn’t have been more than a couple of days old.

When I got home, I wasn’t feeling motivated for an ambitious day, but I was willing to do an easy one. I decided we would tackle the previous day’s ice cream problem first; just to make sure it’s done. As usual for us, once we were out and about, we wandered for four or five miles looking at whatever took our fancy while performing more mundane errands along the way. At the end, we found a good second-hand book store to help us weigh down the backpack. Then it was back to Begonia, as I had to get up early and we both had boat jobs to do, most of which Maryanne has already written about. One thing, though: I think she made our steering problems seem much worse than they turned out to be. The bent and cracked parts were the starboard limit stop bracket and the plate that connects the autopilot hydraulic ram to the steering linkage. The rudders, the cables, and the actual steering system itself are just fine. This is all good since on returning from work next, I plan to leave on the next available tide. Farewell Boston!


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you guys back cruising again. Fair wings!
Ted and Rhonda

Anonymous said...

Make that Fair winds!