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20 February 2017

A Wintry Week in Boston

The main motivation for my current work trip to the US was to attend a conference in Boston. I have a soft spot for Beantown as it was the first US city I ever visited, on a family holiday back in 1993. I went back four or five more times over the next decade and a half but as work took me increasingly to San Francisco and DC, and the attractions of New York won me over, I began to neglect Boston and I haven't been back since 2007 (some of my adventures on my last trip are documented on this blog, the recent 10th anniversary of which I realised that I have forgotten to celebrate).


A colleague and I took the train from New York on Wednesday afternoon, a very pleasant four-and-a-half journey through the New England countryside. The views from the window seat were wonderful, particularly as the sun began to set, and I also appreciated the free wifi and comfortable seats. It was a short, if snowy, walk from Back Bay station to my hotel, the Sheraton at the Hynes Convention Center, and I stayed around just long enough to check into my room, which was on the 23rd floor and had impressive views over Fenway and Kenmore, before heading out in search of dinner. We went to Luke's Lobster, a small chain of seafood shacks on the Eastern Seaboard, and I had a delicious lobster roll (well, when in New England...). On the way back, I stopped by Trident Booksellers & Cafe, a wonderful independent bookstore where I spent quite a bit of time back in 2007. I was glad to see that it is still thriving.



In the morning, I woke up early so that I could go for a run before my hectic day of back-to-back meetings and networking. It had snowed again overnight and was snowing lightly when I set out towards the Charles River. The esplanade along the river is probably lovely in the summer but the paths were covered in snow and slush and it made for a somewhat slippy run. I headed over the Longfellow Bridge and then ran along the Cambridge side of the river before returning to the Back Bay via the Harvard Bridge. There are several bridges along the river so it's possible to do longer routes if you have more time and better weather than I did.



Although my conference was at the Hynes, my meetings took me out to several of the academic and research institutions based in Boston and Cambridge so I did get to see a bit of the city. Although I've been compiling a list of speciality coffee shops to visit since last year, time constraints meant that I had to limit myself to those cafes that were very close to my meetings. As usual, I will put together a separate post about my coffee experiences in Boston in due course.


I had heard good things about Boston Burger Co, a little further west along Boylston from the Hynes, so my colleague and I went for dinner. I ordered a frankly ridiculous 'mac attack' burger: a burger topped with deep-fried mac 'n' cheese, topped with bacon, served with a portion of home-made chips (crisps) and baked beans. It was absolutely delicious but I was grateful I'd been doing so much walking and running. It wasn't even the most ridiculous item on the menu: that might have been one of the 'freak frappes', a milkshake served with whipped cream and Reese's Pieces on the side, and topped with a wedge of cheesecake the size of my head. God bless America!


Friday was another hectic day so I was grateful that Eataly, the 'Italian dining emporium', had just opened in the Prudential Center. I had a delicious (and huge) artisanal pizza slice for lunch one day, and a caprese panini another. There is a big deli section and counters for salads, ice cream and all sorts of other goodies too. In the evening, there was a drinks reception at Fenway Park, which was fun to visit, although the pitch was rather too snowy for a game (the last time I was there was for a Red Sox game, most of which went way over my head).



I had a little more flexibility in my schedule on Saturday and it was also a beautiful sunny day, so I took a couple of hours off from the conference to walk down to the Boston Common. I picked up a sandwich at the excellent Flour Bakery, which also has some impressive pastries, and went to eat it in the Boston Public Gardens. The pond was still frozen over but the weather was so mild (for Boston, that is) that some people were wearing short-sleeved shirts.





After my mini-picnic, I walked a little way along the Freedom Trail, which I've covered in its entirety a few times in the past. I didn't have time to go inside any of the buildings but I enjoyed my walk, which took me through the North End.






On my final evening, I had a drinks reception and a party to go to — a nice position to be in! The first took me up to the 50th floor of the Skywalk Observatory and although we were a little too late for sunset, the views of the city were still impressive, albeit hard to photograph well. The latter took place in Cyclorama, a historic venue in the South End, which might be my new favourite Boston neighbourhood.


Despite these festivities, I was still up early this morning to go for a run along the river, through the lovely Beacon Hill neighbourhood and back across the Common. The weather was much more pleasant and the snow was starting to melt so it was quite a different experience from Thursday.


And so ends my busy but fun visit to Boston. The good news is that I won't have to wait another decade before I return: my family and I are coming back in July to spend a couple of weeks on the North Shore, which was the location of our initial visit in 1993. I'm looking forward to lobster, sunshine and, of course, more time to explore Boston's coffee scene in more depth!

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