Boston Day 1: Boston's Historical Freedom Trail

Day 1: Friday, July 1st, 2016

Eric and I wanted to do a trip together for the Fourth of July weekend, and we couldn’t think of any place more American than Boston, the site of the most important pre- and post-revolutionary events.

This is also Eric’s and my first trip together on our own, sans parents, so either we’ll have some successful sibling bonding or we’ll break each other’s Game Boys like we did on the RV trip of '97 in Mesa Verde.*

Today we’ve covered so much ground that it feels like there’s nothing left to explore…yet this is only day one.

After a short jaunt on the plane from O’Hare to Logan, we arrived around 12:30am on Friday morning. We went straight to our hostel, which lived up to its pictures with a style that’s a combination of urban chic and industrial cool. Also, there a tub of free cookies right by the entrance 24/7. No Holiday Inn has ever granted me that.

What’s nice is the hostel has private one-man bathrooms, which makes changing and doing the before-sleep ritual much more convenient. No need to do that “remove your shirt under a towel” maneuver that you must learn in high school gym. Yes, you could stay in a hotel in the same neighborhood as our hostel, with all the usual conveniences of a private bathroom and general privacy, for over $200 a night. Or, for a mere $60 a night, you can stay at a hostel populated with like-minded travelers the same age as you that has a common room as happening as a bar (but free), complete with a pool table and an uber cheap coffee shop ($2 cookies the size of dinner plates, anyone?) and that has such unexpected features as your temporary Argentinian roommate drunkenly offering you a glass of water at 1:30am as you are attempting to fall asleep. I’d much prefer the hostel, because that sounds way more fun.

We woke up around 9 this morning and after enjoying our free breakfast, we headed over to Faneuil Hall, where the National Parks Service HQ is for the Freedom Trail. I, lover of all things NPS and all things free, knew they provided free tours of the Freedom Trail. We missed the first tour but hung out in the Faneuil Hall museum until the next tour started around noon. There was an artillery museum on the top floor, and the second floor is home to the Great Hall, which has hosted (and still hosts) town hall meetings, ceremonies and lectures. Just the other day, for example, was a naturalization ceremony. After Eric and his enormous brain corrected a park ranger on some historical dates related to a painting in the Great Hall, and after Eric summarized the state of the union in the mid 1800s to me off the top of his head in a few, eloquent sentences, it was time to head off to our tour.

Our tour began at noon, and our guide was Josh, a friendly and informative ranger who wears a cool ranger hat. Who wants to PAY for a guide wearing colonial garb to tell you about the local history when you can get a FREE guide who wears a neat flat-brimmed ranger hat complete with bronze pine cone pins? No one, I tell you. Not one person…in our tour group.

Josh walked us just down the road to the site of the Boston Massacre and to the Old State House, not far from our starting point. But in the hour he spent with us, he successfully explained the history of Boston from its early development to just before the Revolutionary war. I’m bad at re-explaining learned history because it goes in one ear and out the other; but let me tell you, it was fascinating. I do remember that Josh explained who could vote in Town Hall (the form of government before the conflict with the British in Boston). The representatives who voted were free, property-owning (read: middle class), Protestant men over the age of 21. When Josh had previously asked us the five main qualities of these voters, I had incorrectly guessed “White.” Josh explained that there were Blacks and other non-whites voting in town hall in Boston before they could vote in the presidential elections. Fun fact of the day!

Speaking of fun facts, Paul Revere was just an average guy who wasn’t famous during his lifetime, and only later became a national historical figure, about thirty years after his death. He was just a middle class silversmith who, when short on cash, worked as an amateur dentist (as one does). He also had two wives and sixteen children in his lifetime. We learned those things both during our tour with Josh and our walk through the Paul Revere house.

We walked further north on the Freedom Trail to the Old North Church, which appears to have cubicle pews (no better way to describe it). It also has a bathroom! Plan accordingly for your visit.

The trail took us through Little Italy, where we grabbed a quick bite of pizza before crossing the river to the Bunker Hill monument. We climbed 294 stairs to get to the top, and after taking in the amazing views from the top and descending, we realized we were the last group to be allowed up the tower! Perfect timing. We then walked over to the USS Constitution, where we got to walk around the old ship and hear puny jokes from a naval officer. He informed us that the ship was currently docked for repairs, which it does every twenty years or so, one of which includes replacing the copper panels under the ship. He also told us that inside the nearby museum, we could engrave our name on said copper panels, which will be affixed to the ship during these repairs, and remain for the next twenty years. After the brief tour, we went to the museum and I was the LAST in line to engrave my name on the copper panel for the day, which yet again was the luck of perfect timing. And now “Melissa Weinmann” will be engraved on the side of this ship for all the literate fish to read for the next twenty years.

I forgot to mention that since the Freedom Trail is a national park, it has park passport stations at every site. The park passports are purchasable purely as a souvenir, but you can also just stamp a piece of paper to affix in your travel journal, as I do. The stamps are dated with today’s date and the name of the historical site. I started this tradition back on my trip to Yellowstone and regret not starting as a kid during all of our family vacations. Since this area is so rich in history, I collected no less than eight stamps in eight hours.

By now it was nearing dinner time, so we walked back to our hostel to freshen up before heading out to dinner. We carefully avoided the major thunderstorm by dipping into an Italian restaurant called Scopa in Little Italy, followed by dessert from Mike’s Pastry across the street. While we ate our dinner, we saw people enter the shop in droves and decided we had to check it out. The shop had a gelato counter (my mind was made) and glass cases of hundreds of cookies, cakes, whoopie pies, cream puffs, and cupcakes. After taking forever to decide, Eric finally settled on a cannoli, which didn’t narrow things down much, since the pastry shop sells over ten different flavors. But after Eric chose his pecan cannoli and I got my mint chip gelato, we walked through a beautiful yet tragic monument for the Holocaust that was in a park along the freedom trail before walking the several blocks back to our hostel, where we settled in for the night. By now the rain had cleared up and should be the last that we see for the rest of our stay in Boston.

Tomorrow we will be renting bikes and heading up to Harvard (most notably famous for being the setting of the movie The Social Network [the Facebook movie] amongst other important stuff, I’m sure).   It’ll be where I can wear a polo shirt and pretend I attend an ivy league and Eric can just fit in by casually talking about material engineering or string theory or something. I’m excited!

*Eric’s mind is a steel trap when it comes to dates, and he remembered the exact vacation when this occurred, and what year we took that vacation. However, I was the one who later remembered that only my Game Boy was broken on that trip, multiple times, because I failed to remember that things slide off of tables when those tables are located inside a moving vehicle.