Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Croissants, Crabs and Celtics

Friday morning in Boston was a rainy affair, and sadly the weather did not improve much as the day wore on. But we were not about to let the weather dampen our spirits cause we were on holidays, man – and it felt gooood.

Despite the strong, in-room pod coffee that I had pretty much needed just to open my eyes, I needed a hefty (and larger) Au Bon Pain coffee and croissant to propel me forwards. So it was that I discovered this lovely chain store sells raspberry and cream cheese croissants. Don’t screw your nose up like that – you would love them! But if not, then I would eat it for you and all would be well. I give and I give.

Having purchased my breakfast, I waited outside for J-Train and I was immediately set-upon by a swarm of sparrows. This was not a regular flock either – this was a swarm. Similar to the seagulls back home, these birds had my croissant in their sights, and they were not afraid of me at all. As I lifted the croissant to my mouth to take a bite, several of the brave sparrows flew right up to my face, equally keen for a bite of pastry. It was astonishing! Never have I known sparrows to be quite so forward. Being the Catholic ornithologist that I am though, I started to hand-feed the sparrows, much to the delight of a creepy taxi driver parked nearby who kept shouting encouragement to me. Or perhaps he was cheering on the birds. Who could tell? J-Train took some photos of my awesome bird whispering, and then we decided to move on before all my breakfast disappeared.

For the next little while we rode around on the hop-on/hop-off tourist trolley car – the only tourists doing so on that drizzly morning. We drove past the Cheers bar (well, the one used for the exterior shots on the TV show anyway) and looking ahead at the map I realised we were headed straight for the famous and fabulous Fenway Park, where guided tours are conducted at the top of the hour. Even in the rainy conditions, J-Train indulged me and around we went. Having lived so close to Wrigley Field in Chicago, I really got into the baseball – not the rules of course (I still have no idea), but I love the atmosphere and the tradition of it all. And Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, has all those things in spades. The ballpark may be turning 100 years old this year, but the place has still got "it". In the ubiquitous souvenir shop after the tour, I wanted to buy a hoodie or a pair of red socks or something, but I felt like I would be cheating on the Chicago Cubs. So I walked away empty-handed. How weird is that?

Leaving Fenway Park I dragged J-Train around the trolley tour route to the Seaport District, and in particular for a lunch at The Barking Crab. I’d been here before – in fact, I tried my first bowl of clam chowder here a few years ago, and the restaurant had made such a good impression. It’s on the water, it’s relaxed, and it’s got great seafood. What’s not to like? After an appetiser of clam chowder and a main course (a 1.5lb bowl of Alaskan crab legs), J-Train seemed as pleased as I was with the lunch destination. My lobster roll and fries hit the spot for sure. We rolled ourselves out of there and met up with our trolley driver, who agreed to drop us off at our hotel even though it wasn’t on the trolley route.

Somewhere along the way, the driver got confused and dropped us off at someone else’s hotel instead (the allegedly haunted Omni Parker House, where the Boston cream pie was apparently created). But this little detour wasn’t a bad thing. I was grateful in fact, cause normally it’s me that gets geographically challenged but for once, I actually knew where we were (conceptually at least)! J-Train took over the map and directed us back to our hotel, through the gorgeous Boston Common (created in 1634 and therefore the oldest park in the US) and the Boston Public Garden across the street. We were set upon by more wildlife – this time it was squirrels, but these ones were actually very cute and curiously interactive, and not the scampering vermin I’m used to seeing.

Back at the hotel we crashed for a bit but then had to spring into action to take the Metro out to the TD Garden, Boston’s big sports stadium (basketball, hockey, and um...other athletic pursuits). We could have taken a taxi there of course, but the Metro line for the stadium was right by our Hotel, so it was almost too easy. In much the same way as New York’s subways require you to know whether you want to go Uptown or Downtown, to be successful in Boston you need to know whether you’re going Inbound or Outbound. Your subway line number or colour helps too. Once we worked all that out though, we knew where to catch the train and where to get off. And the tickets were only $2 each way. So easy!

On Friday night the Boston Celtics (yay!) were playing the Indiana Pacers (boo!) and from our nosebleed seats way up in the back, we had a fantastic view of the court and could appreciate the sea of green all around us. I love watching the NBA basketball live – again, it’s not about the rules (what are they again?). For me, it’s still about the atmosphere and the tradition. When the jumbo-tron tells you to cheer, you cheer. And when the music starts, you chant “De-fence! De-fence!”. Resistance is futile, chums. Naturally I wore a green cardigan to show my support for the team, but I just couldn’t bring myself to invest in official Celtics merchandise. What would the Chicago Bulls say?!

In any case, a victory for the home side left everyone – including us – in a great mood and we capped the night off back at our hotel with a greasy room service hamburger and fries. A great start to the holiday, and to our weekend away.

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