Mini-Break Boston

Last year, Ross and I won a trip to Toronto, and we ended up with a $300 gift card on Porter. (The gift card came after we had already bought our tickets.) With time running out to use it, we decided to hit up Boston for a mini-break weekend.

Because I work a compressed schedule, I get Friday afternoons off (I work longer hours Monday to Thursday to make up for this time) which is great for heading out on a weekend trip. We arrived in Boston around 6 pm, and took a cab to the hotel. (It was close to $30 when you add in tip and tolls.) We could have Ubered, but I was ready to just get to where we were going, so cab it was.

We had booked our hotel through hotwire.com, and were pleasantly surprised. We ended up with a reservation at Omni Parker House, the oldest continuously operated hotel in the US. (The oldest continuously operated hotel in North America is in Montreal, in case you were wondering.)

Omni Parker House still encompasses the ornate decor of the 1850s – the high ceilings in the lobby have decorative woodwork trim, and large chandeliers hang over heavy tables decorated with fresh flowers. Even the elevator doors have patterned overlay (perhaps tin?) It was a little disconcerting to walk in in jeans and sweaters. But we were given a warm welcome, checked in quickly, and shown to our room.

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Are you there Boston?

The next day dawned…..overcast and grey, not bright and clear, but while it threatened to rain, it didn’t. We headed out on a wander, our go-to destination activity. We briefly followed the Freedom Trail, accidentally in the wrong direction, ending up at the starting point in Boston Common. Rather than turn around, we continued on through the park, and across the street to the Boston Public Gardens.

From there, we headed into the Beacon Hill neighbourhood, back into Boston Common, and then over to the Financial District, at which point we thought ‘we should probably settle on a destination.’

So we picked Faneuil Hall. Which is probably better visited on a warmer, sunnier day. While there were loads of people popping in and out of the buildings, it wasn’t a great day for people watching. The indoor markets were crammed with people, and the outside saw people hurrying to get back inside. But the food smelt amazing (we didn’t stay to eat, as there was no where to sit and our feeties were hurting) and I could see this being a great spot to sit and relax on better days.

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The best part was the dinosaur

After a brief stop at a pub, and then back to our hotel room for our City Pass vouchers, we headed back west to the Museum of Science.

Side note: If you’re trying to decide if the City Pass is it worth, the answer is yes and no. We enjoyed not having to stand in line to buy tickets to the Aquarium, but for the amount of time we spent at any one attraction….it was more that we felt since we had bought them, we might as well visit them.

Back to the trip. We headed to the Museum of Science, arriving an hour before it closed. We traded in our vouchers for City Passes, and headed into the museum, which is…a little dated. Maybe I’ve been spoiled with the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology, when it was open here in Ottawa, but this one was a little flat. The optical illusions were a little dated (and the lighting needs to be fixed) but we still enjoyed an hour of looking at things and playing with things, and watching the chicks hustle in their incubator.

On Sunday, we woke to partly sunny clouds, and we thought we might be in luck. We headed to the Skywalk, another attraction that came with our City Pass. If you’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building in NYC, or Chicago 360 (formally the John Hancock Observatory) than you’ll have an idea of what this is. If you enjoyed those, you’ll enjoy this (and vice versa, if you’re tired of panoramic city views, this is a miss.)

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The only time I’ll cross this line is walking along the road trying to get somewhere else

While we were on top of the world (or at least of Boston) it started to drizzle, and it stayed that way for most of the day. We walked back to Boston Common, coming across Duckling Day (which I’m still not entirely too sure what that is, but it involved a school band and face painting) and then back to the hotel to rest in the lobby (and use their wifi).

Once we were rested (or our feet were) we walked (do you see a theme  here?) to the New England Aquarium. Which probably wasn’t the best of ideas, seeing as it was Mother’s Day, and a rainy one at that. But we went in anyway, as it was the final attraction that we wanted to visit on our City Pass. Inside was the usual hubbub of tiny humans and penguins. We meandered around the exhibits, staring at fish (including some that we had seen while snorkelling in Hawaii), slowly making our way to the top of the central aquarium. Then it was back down, over to the octopus tank, and out.

No trip to Boston would be complete without some local flavour (Ross had eaten chowder for dinner the night before, but I’m not a fan of seafood), so we went back to the hotel and ordered some Boston cream pie at the restaurant. (In the hotel history, they say that the dessert was invented by their chef, or possibly his assistant, in 1867. Although Wikipedia states that it was actually 1856.)

A whirl-wind visit, but a fun one, the weather notwithstanding. It would be fun to go back in a summer month, and follow the Freedom Trail to the end, as well as visit the North End, and The Paul Revere House.

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This is a cat I found in a bookstore in Boston. It is now my favourite place.

 

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New York, New York

As always, pros and cons (or the tl;dr version) is at the end of the post.

I’ve always said that I didn’t want to go to New York City.  Not because I have anything angainst it, but past experience says I’m going to hate it.

Cartwheel in 2001

Right before I went to Paris (the first time) everyone said, “Oh my god, Paris!  I loved Paris!  Soooooo amazing.  You’ll love it!  You have to _____.”  Fill whatever in there.  Sit at a café and people-watch.  Go to the Louvre.  Go to Rue Moufftard.  I did it.  And it was……ok.  Just ok.  It wasn’t this amazing city that I absolutely fell in love with.  It was ok, but not life-changing.  (Except for the cartwheel that I did in front of the Louvre, which I then repeated nearly 10 years later when I went back.)

Cartwheel in 2010

And I hear the same comments about NYC.  “It’s amazing!  You’ll love it!  The shopping!”  So NYC has always been a “pass” in my books – it’s close, I could go with little trouble, but meh.  Let’s go to…Chicago instead.

But then a few months ago I received an email from Porter Airlines with a huge discount.  Buy one ticket, get the second free.  So the BF and I tossed around a few ideas – go back to Halifax?  We both loved it there, but we’d both been there a few times.  Chicago?  Could do.  Washington DC?  Also a possibility.  Then the BF suggested NYC.  And I thought….for $275, why not?  We could go for a long weekend.

So we went.  We booked a hotel with Hotwire – you get an amazing discount (we got a 2.5 star hotel on Central Park for $70/night) but the kicker is that you don’t know the name of the hotel, or the exact address (you know the area, but not which street) until after you book.  It turned out great for us – the hotel was small (80 rooms), clean and comfortable.  There were lots of restaurants around (and most were in the $15 – 20 a plate price range), and the subway was only 3 blocks away.

As always, there was a….situation….at customs.  I have never, in my life, ever, had a normal experience at customs.  Normal for me is something strange happening – not bad strange, I’ve never been detained, but strange as in “Well you’re wearing glasses, and in your passport you’re not!  Are you sure you’re you?  Have a good trip, miss”.

This time, it was my boyfriend going through in another lane from me, before me.  When he mentioned he was travelling with his girlfriend, the customs agent yelled out to me “Is this your boyfriend?  Do you want me to deport him?  I can you know!”  Yep – right there, in front of hundreds of other weary travellers, I’m yelling out answers to a border official.  From the line.  That’s my life.

Anyway, once in New York we took the afternoon to wander the neighbourhood we were in.  We ended up having lunch/dinner at The Ellington (just found out it’s a newly opened bar!)  Good food, great staff, great beer – and they spelled draught right!  Straight to this English teacher’s heart.  We crashed after dinner, and didn’t wake up until 10:30 that night, so we decided to stay in, and rest up for the next few days.

Friday morning saw us up early, and out the door by about 8:30.  We picked up coffee and breakfast foods (egg sandwich for the BF and croissant for me) at Zanny’s Cafe on Columbus Avenue before heading to Central Park for a walk through.  Our ultimate destination was the Central Park Zoo, which we hit at about 11 a.m.

Central Park in early spring

The zoo is small, but perfect for kids.  There are indoor exhibits (lizards and birds), and a few outdoor ones as well – namely the sea lions (who, it appeared, are always ready to play to the crowd), the polar bear, the snow leopard and the red pandas.  There’s also a children’s zoo not far away, and admission is included.  Bring plenty of quarters, to buy feed for the goats, pigs and alpaca.

Alpaca!

After that it was a dash to Pier 6 on the East River, where we had made a reservation to take a helicopter ride over the city, with Liberty Helicopter Tours.  It’s $180 for a 15 minute trip, but it’s so worth it.  We flew over the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – actually we made two passes, so that both the righ-t and left-sides of the helicopter got a good view.  Then it was back down the East River towards the financial district, mid-town (and Time Square) and then Central Park.  The helicopter stays over the East River the entire flight, you don’t actually fly over the city, but it really is a lot of fun.  We definitely recommend it as an activity if you have the budget for it.

The helicopter blades were spinning.  Scary.

Our pilot, and another passenger

After the helicopter tour, it was a quick subway ride up to Times Square, where we got out and wandered around (so many people!), before heading to Empire States Building.  We opted for the fast track route, at $50 a person.  Big mistake.  It’s normally $25 per person, but you end up standing in an hour long line, so we though to by-pass that and go straight up.  It’s cramped quarters at the top, and it was windy and cold by the time we got there, after the Skyline Ride – a very 80s feeling explanation of the building, and then a “ride” where the seats move, as if you’re in an airplace.  I say give it a pass.

View from the Empire States Building, just after sunset.

After that it was a quick rush back to the hotel to change and drop off our souvenirs, a quick rush to a curry house nearby for a fantastic spicy dinner, and then to Comic Strip Live for a comedy show.

Comedy shows are always hit or miss.  This time, the host was fantastic, the first comic was great, and the others….meh.  Some hits, some misses. We paid $15 each, plus there was a two drink minimum, again each.  It was worth it, I think – we had a few laughs at a comedy club in NYC, what’s not to like?

The next day, our last day, was a free day.  We had decided to not book anything, and just play it by ear.  This time we headed to Starbucks – not for their coffee, but their free wi-fi.  Good tip for travelling – if you need to look something up on the internet, and don’t want to pay through the dataplan, Starbucks is great for their free wi-fi.

sadly, this place was not open when we went by

We ended up taking the subway to Greenwich village, where we wandered around, before heading towards Chinatown.  About midway, somehwere in Soho, we decided to do it “pub crawl” style (it didn’t help matters that it was cold and windy again.  We wanted some place to warm up) so we popped in and out of pubs along the way, having an appetizer and a pint at each place.  We did hit Chinatown, but then promptly left.  The crowds of people were just incredible!  Memo to self:  Saturday around noon in Chinatown is crazy.

After that it was lunch in Little Italy, a walk to Noho, then back to Soho (then back to Noho, while trying to find a pub to stop in) before getting back on a subway to head to the hotel.

TL;DR version:

Pros
– Liberty Helicopter Tours
– New Yorkers are friendly, who knew?!?
– Astor on the Park is clean, generally quiet, and comfortable
– Comedy Strip Live
– Greenwich village is great to wanter id
Cons
– Empire States Building, if you’ve done other tall buildings (e.g. The Sears Tower in Chicago)
– Subway system can be confusing
– Most shops/restaurants open late on the weekends – 10 or 11 a.m.

– Astor on the Park has thin walls, if you’re a light sleeper