Visiting Boston and New England

Dave Walden

The TUG2012 annual conference will be held in July 2012 at the Omni Parker House in Boston. In anticipation of this event, I will incrementally post some sightseeing notes. Boston is a wonderful city—big enough to be interesting but not so big as to be overwhelming. It is also old and historic by a U.S. time scale, and easy to get around the parts relevant for sightseeing. However, don't expect a grid of right-angle streets and avenues.

I have lived in the Boston area for over 45 years, and feel qualified to present my personal views and what sticks in my memory. But of course you may not like what I like: you should also draw on other sources.

Mostly I will describe Boston and to a lesser extent Cambridge, with a little bit about the rest of New England (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). Of course, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York City are other wonderful places to visit for someone coming to Boston from far away. Also, Montreal and Quebec City and the Maritime Provinces of Canada are also relatively close to Boston when viewed from the other side of the world.

Feel free to ask me questions: dave@walden-family.com

Contents

The Parker House itself      Getting to the hotel when arriving at Logan Airport or by bus or train   (and back to the airport)      Overnight parking      Close to the Parker House      Topographical history and architectural history      Neighborhoods      Bicycles      Shopping      Boston Public Library lions      Boston tours      Boston literary trail      Uniquely Boston      Museums in the Boston area      Music      Restaurants      For children around Boston      Non-Internet information sources      Day trips from Boston (or longer travels)      Bookstores

The Omni Parker House

[2011-10-28]

The hotel is at the corner of Tremont and School Streets in downtown Boston. School Street is so named as the 1635 site of the Boston Latin School, purportedly the first public school and the oldest existing school in the United States. My memory is that there is a commemorative plaque on School Street, across the street from the hotel.

The conference hotel has its own interesting history, e.g., the Parker House roll, a meeting place for 19th Century literary figures, a place Massachusetts where politicians met, connections to President Kennedy, and Hô` Chí Minh and Malcolm X as prior employees: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omni_Parker_House. (As Hô` Chí Minh was a baker at the Parker House, one might wonder if he had a hand in inventing the roll.)

Getting to the hotel when arriving at Logan Airport or by bus or train (and back to the airport)

[updated 2012-06-28]

If you arrive in Boston by intercity bus, most like you will arrive at South Station. Take the MBTA Red Line from there to the Government Center station and read below about the short walk from the subway stop to the hotel.

If you arrive in Boston by train, you will come to South Station (in which case read the prior paragraph about arriving by bus) or to North Station (in which case take the Green Line of the MBTA to the Park Street Station and read below about the short walk from the subway stop to the hotel).

Obviously one way to get to the hotel from the airport is by taxi. It will probably cost something in the vicinity of $25 or $30 (I don't know for sure). The fare will include the per-minute-per-mile charge, an (expensive) toll through one of the tunnels to Boston, and the fee the taxi has to pay to the airport; in the United States we also tip taxi drivers. I would assume the driver would bring you to the airport via the Sumner Tunnel. The Ted Williams tunnel is a longer distance, but the taxi driver may know something about relative congestion (or may just try to get a larger fare).

The shuttle buses mentioned below stop at each terminal (A, B, C/D, and E), but different shuttles may have different stopping places at a particular terminal.

A fairly direct way (but not the completely free way — see Silverline below) from the airport to the hotel is to take the Blue Line shuttle (not the Red Line Shuttle, not the Silver Line, not the boat shuttle, and not the economy parking shuttle) to the Airport T Station. This shuttle is free. At the Airport T station, you can buy a ticket. It is $2 today (this will increase by the time of the conference) for one adult fare (the senior fare requires being pre-registered with the T). A Charlie Card which is refillable is cheaper per ride and thus a better deal if you are going to ride the T a lot while in Boston. One you have a ticket, go up the escalator over the train tracks and down the escalator on the other side. Take the Blue Line train four stops to Government Center Station. Go up the escalator to the street level and follow the walking directions after the next paragraph below.

An almost equally direct and is a free method (save $2.50 or so per person) of getting from the airport is the Silver Line bus. The Silverline stops seem to be at the far right of each terminal building. Take the Silver Line bus to South Station (you will go past 3 or 4 stops before South Station, including one where the bus switches from diesel to electric power). At South Station go downstairs to the Red Line subway (the T) heading in the direction of the Alewife Station (an alewife is a type of fish — the end-of-the-line station is next to a small brook which might still include fish). Take the Red Line to the Park Street station. Go up the escalator to the street and follow the walking directions in the paragraphs immediately below. (You could also have gotten off a stop earlier at Downtown Crossing, but my walking directions below are not from there.)

As I read the schedule, the Red Line, Blue Line, and Silver Line run approximately between 6:15am and 12:15am. The MBTA trip planner may be useful to you.

The hotel is roughly half way between the Park Street and the Government Center T (subway) stops.

From Park Street Station, you get to the hotel by walking on Tremont in the direction of the Park Street Church (don't go in the direction of the State House), i.e., walk in the direction of the following photo:

Below is the conference hotel coming from the direction of the Park Street T stop:
From Government Center, you walk up hill on Tremont to get to the hotel, i.e., in the direction of the following photo:

(As of today, Google Maps doesn't clearly label Tremont. Viewing their maps you might think Tremont is a continuation of Cambridge Street after it passes City Hall, or you might think it is Shawmut Avenue which splits from Tremont after the Theater District.)
Below is the conference hotel coming from the direction of the Government Center T stop:

You can also get to downtown by ferry boat. There is a shuttle that circles the airport terminals providing free (I believe) transportation to the boat dock. Once you get to the downtown shore of Boston harbor, you can then take a taxi or public transportation to the hotel.

Getting back to the airport

Once again, the easiest way to the airport is by taxi, a short and perhaps slightly less pricey ride than coming in. I would think the taxi will use the shorter distance Callahan tunnel rather than Ted Williams tunnel to the airport.

You can get back to the airport via public transportation by walking to the Government Center T station, taking the Blue Line to the Airport Station, and then the free airport shuttle to your terminal. This is probably easiest. Alternatively, you can walk to either the Park Street (or Downtown Crossing) T station, take the Red Line going in the direction of Braintree or Ashmont, get off at South Station (one or two stops, so be alert), go upstairs one flight (but not up all the way to the street), transfer to the Silverline (SL1 going to the airport, not SL2), and get off the Silverline at your terminal.

Overnight parking

[2012-05-01]

The Parker House hotel 24 hour parking rate is $42, and they don't offer a discount for people staying at the hotel because, they say, the parking is operating by another company. Here are some other ideas for possibly less expensive overnight parking (with some URLs where you might find more information).

Close to the Omni Parker House

[2012-04-28]

It is a short walk from the hotel to many places you may want to visit, and the Government Center T Station and Park Street T Station a couple of blocks along Tremont in each direction connect you to other parts of the city. Longer but still very doable and pleasant walks can take you to most other sightseeing locations. (I typically keep my car parked while in Boston and walk or take public transportation.)

The history oriented Freedom Trail starts a few blocks west on Tremont and comes right by the hotel: Boston Common, State House, Park Street Church, Granary Burial Ground, Kings Chapel (directly across School St. from the hotel), the Ben Franklin statue, the Old City Hall (south on School Street from the hotel), the Old Corner Book Store (now a Mexican restaurant) at the corner of School and Washington Streets, the Old South Meeting House (half a block west on Washington), the site of the Boston Massacre (a couple of blocks the other way on Washington), and the Old State House and Freedom Trail Visitors Center (at the corner of Washington and State Streets).

Other old places and useful places very near the hotel are: the Boston Athenaenum (private library, but there are visitor possibilities—on Beacon Street between the hotel and the State House), the Tremont Temple [Baptist Church] (next door to the hotel), lots of restaurants in every direction, Commonwealth Books (used books) on Spring Lane across Washington St. at the end of School St., a drug store and pharmacy on Washington St. (turn right at the end of School St.), and convenience grocery stores (right on Washington from School St., and left on Tremont Street toward the Park Street T Station).

See the Tours section for a self-guided tour of lots of nearby 1794-1862 literary sites.

Topographical history and architectural history

The topological history and architectural history of Boston go hand in hand. Boston was originally almost an island, called the Shawmut Peninsula, with a narrow connection (the current Washington Street) to the mainland. In time lots of the hilly area of Boston was cut down and used for land fill to extend Boston, and later (e.g., 1850 to 1910) massive landfill projects used gravel brought in by train from a few miles away from Boston. See
http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/fnart/fa267/bos_fill.html
As the land was filled over decades, houses and other buildings were built in the style of the time. The Back Bay landfill took nearly 50 years, with house lots being sold as each was filled. This resulted in the architecture of Back Bay showing from block to block the evolution of architectural style over the 40 or so years of the landfill project. Even after the land was filled, architecture was affected: the construction on the flat of Beacon Hill (Charles Street to the Charles River) and in Back Bay was done on wooden pilings driven into the underlying mud flats and this limited construction options. Of course, in recent years deep steel pilings have been used permitting tall buildings, but not until much of the prior architecture was declared part of historic conservation districts. (My cousin Marc Diede took some panoramic photos a few years ago.)

Neighborhoods

[2012-04-08]

The above image roughly shows a number of the neighborhoods of Boston and Cambridge, with circles 1 and 2 miles in radius from the conference hotel (marked with a plus sign). As you can see, much of what one might want to see is within a mile or two walk from the conference hotel. The Freedom Trail map may help you interpret some of the street details in the regions closer to the hotel.

Bicycles

[2012-06-03]

Elsewhere on this page I mention walking and subways as ways of moving around the city. Another approach is by bicycle. Boston's Hubway public bikes rental system has groups of bicycles stationed at locations around downtown where you can pick up a bike, ride it to another part of downtown and leave it at another "bike station", do what you want to do, and then do it all over again between the same or other stations. There are stations relatively close to the conference hotel. (Via the link earlier in this paragraph, you can find a map of where the bikes are stationed.) It costs very little for a 3-day pass as long as you drop the bike off within 30 minutes of when you pick it up. In other words, these bikes are for transportation, not touring. Helmets are not provided with the bikes, so bring your own, buy one locally (there may be a rental possibility at a private bike rental place—I don't know), or risk riding without a helmet (Boston car drivers tend to follow an anarchy principle). I don't know how it all works, i.e., paying, unlocking a bike from its rack, etc., but hopefully you can figure it out if you are interested.

Shopping

[2012-06-03]

I have mentioned shopping elsewhere on this page (search for "shopping"), but I'll say it again (plus a little more) here. Zoom in on various parts of a map to see what I am talking about below. (The hotel is just off the right side of the map; Faneuil Hall Marketplace if farther off the right side of the map.)

The lions in the Boston Public Library (BPL)

[2011-04-12]

Here are Don Knuth's May 21, 1986, comments at the Computer Museum in Boston in honor of the publication of the Computers & Typesetting series:

People often ask me why TeX and METAFONT are symbolized in these books by a lion and a lioness. When Duane Bibby first came up with the lion idea, I instinctively felt that it was right, but I never understood exactly why this was, until about a month ago when I was in the Boston Public Library. I passed by the magnificent stone lions on the library's grand staircase, and I thought: "That's it! TeX and METAFONT try to be like these lions, fixtures that support a great library. I love books, and lions represent books!" No wonder I'm so happy when I realize that TeX and METAFONT have already contributed to the making of several dozen books of fine quality; it makes me extremely pleased to think that this research will probably contribute to the making of many more fine books in years to come.

Tours

[2012-04-28]

Self-guided tours

If you google around or look in guide books, I am sure you will find a number of self-guide tours of Boston. Or you can just wander around the various neighborhoods, e.g., North End, Waterfront, along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, etc.

Guided tours

There are many Boston guided tours available, and tours that go out to Lexington and Concord as well. If you google on "Boston tours", you will find dozens of options, both from individuals and companies. Some specific options follow:

Boston literary trail

[2012-04-13]

While our conference is in Boston, there will be an exhibit on Boston Literary History from 1795-1860. The first five "chapters" of the exhibit story are on display at the Boston Public Library. Chapter 6 is on display at Massachusetts Historical Society. If you look at the map on the just noted website, you will see that our conference hotel is in the center of this "literary trail."

The library is between Dartmouth, Exeter and Boylston Streets (Copley T station). The historical society is at 1154 Boylston Street, between Fenway and Hemenway Streets (the Hynes Auditorium T station is the closest T station). The exhibit hours at the historical society are 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday. The library hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 9am to 5pm; Tuesday 9am to 7pm; Sunday 1pm to 5pm.

The BPL part of the exhibit mostly consists of books from the 1795-1860 period, with descriptions on "chat cards", author photos, etc. These are in 5 to 7 display cases, depending on how you want to count big versus small display cases. It is primarily about books and authors, not about publishing and printing.

The appropriate entrance to the library for this exhibit is on Dartmouth Street, across the street from the westbound exit of the Copley Square T station.


[The day I took this photo, preparations were going on for the Boston Marathon finish which is at the library; hence the tents in the street]

Go into the front entrance, look at the BPL lions half way up the stairway, find an elevator, and go to the third floor. The exhibit is in the Cheverus Room, in the middle of a long high hall that has John Singer Sargent murals around the top of the hall.

Leaving this exhibit, you might turn right and go through the Wiggin Gallery until you can make another right turn down a corridor toward the Fine Arts Reading Room. A little way down this corridor you will find a couple of old printing presses, although nothing particular special. If you continue on to the Fine Arts Reading Room, make a right turn and walk to long direction of the room and go through another doorway into the Koussevitzky Room; at the far side of this room is a little room with another printing press (less old, I think, and a bit more impressive).

The Massachusetts Historical Society part of the exhibit is about "The First Seasons of the Federal Street Theater" and is quite a small exhibit compared with what is at the library.

The Society is housed is a beautiful building that looks like a late 1800s residence (although I believe it was in fact designed for the Society). It is primarily a research facility, but they do welcome sightseers. You ring the doorbell, they buzz you in, they ask the purpose of your visit and give you a badge, and will direct you upstairs to the literary trail exhibit where other interesting things were also on display the day I visited.

[At the conference, I can tell you about Boston literary, printing, and publishing history before 1795 and after 1860. -Dave]

Uniquely Boston

[updated 2012-01-09]

Obviously this is a very subjective list (to which I will add over time).

Museums around Boston

[2012-01-24]

Boston is a great place in terms of museums. There is apparently an association of museums that lists 40 of them. It includes some of the most important ones, e.g., Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler art museums at Harvard, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Boston Children's Museum. However some of the other important museums are not include: the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Museum of Science, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the New England Aquarium (if we can call a zoo-like place a museum). There are also some interesting lessor museums that are not part of the association of museums, e.g., the Rose Art Museum at Brandies.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner has just opened a new wing. The Museum of Fine Arts opened a new wing last year. The Institute of Contemporary Art built an entire new building on a new site just a few years ago.

Music

[2012-04-08]

Boston appears to have a typical amount of popular music for a city this size. I don't know much about it, except that some of it happens at the Orpheum Theater, a short walk from the conference hotel. House of Blues near Fenway Park is another venue.

There is a good bit of Irish traditional music at various Boston and Boston region pubs. There is also some jazz, e.g., at Schullers Jazz Club.

Boston is strong in classical music with many excellent but lesser known groups (and venues) in addition to the Boston Symphony. King's Chapel across the street from the conference hotel has a music series.

An aside. Boston has a lot of fine music schools: New England Conservatory of Music, Boston Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, Boston University School of Music, Longy School of Music (now part of Bard College), and programs at other university and colleges. During the school year (less so in summer) these places have frequent free concerts.

Restaurants

[updated 2012-06-27]

I don't live in the neighborhood of the hotel and thus don't eat out around there. I'll let you google-map yourself on "Omni Parker House Boston restaurants" to find the nearby options. However, three of the oldest, landmark Boston restaurants are within walking distance of the hotel: Union Oyster House, Durgin-Park, and Locke-Ober. The first is on Union Street a little north of the Faneuil Hall Market Place complex. The second is in the Market Place complex. The third is in an alley (Winter Place) off Winter Street between Tremont and Washington Streets near the Park Street T station. Read up on each of these before you go. Each has an old feel and is a unique experience that many people love, but not all. I suspect the Union Oyster House and Durgin-Park haven't changed much since I last ate in them a few decades ago. I have not eaten at Locke-Ober since Lydia Shire (a generation of first rate Boston chefs developed their skills in her restaurants) it over; from what I have read it still has its old school atmosphere. Marliave is also a long-time Boston place, now under new (and pretty good) management (and very close to the hotel). Owned by the same chef as Marliave is the Grotto, fairly close to the hotel; it has an excellent reputation and is on my to-try list. No. 9 Park also has an excellent reputation, is close to the hotel, and is on my to-try list. At least this last restaurant (and perhaps the next to last) are expensive.

I have also noted some little breakfast-lunch places around the hotel, but I don't know anything about any of them except one: High Spot Deli a short way up Beacon Street; Starbuck's halfway down School Street; Delicato Cafe down the alley from Starbuck's (I think I also remember a Dunkin' Donuts somewhere around here); Viga Italian in Pi Alley which is to the right, past one building after you emerge down the alley from the Delicato (this was OK for a quick lunch); Archie's Place next door to Viga Italian in Pi Alley; Tequita Mexican Grill on Bromfield parallel to School Street behind the hotel; Sam La Grassa's on Province Street which is a right turn from School Street just after the hotel. Maybe I've missed some. Just a little farther away, on Tremont Street and on Washington Street to the west you can find places such as McDonald's, Burger King, another Dunkin' Donuts, etc. There is a food court at the corner of Washington Street and Winter Street (which you can also get to via a door to the right of the entrance to the Orpheum Theater at the end of the alley directly across Tremont Street from the Park Street Church).

Now I'll list some restaurants that I have eaten at in the not to distant past. Remember, you taste may not match mine, so don't blame me if you don't like it.

For children around Boston

[2012-01-24] The Children's Museum and the New England Aquarium (not such a long walk from the conference hotel) are obvious places children might like to visit. The Museum of Science may also be good. The Boston Common and Public Gardens (just a block or two from the hotel west on Tremont Street) is the closest place for running on grass.

The Public Gardens are the location of the Swan Boats rides.

The little Make Way for Ducklings sculptures are also in the Public Gardens.

The locations of most of the Make Way for Ducklings story are within a few blocks of the sculptures: the island where they grew, the bridge from which they flew, the streets on which they walked, the intersection where the policeman held the traffic for them, and so forth (ask me if you want me to draw you a little map).

The Boston By Foot organization also has children's tour of the Freedom Trail: Boston By Little Feet

Non-Internet sources of information on Boston

[2011-10-28]

You can learn about what's currently going on around town from the Boston Phoenix tabloid paper or the Improper Bostonian magazine, both free here and there about town (you may also be able to buy copies at a newsstand—I'm not sure). The Boston Globe newspaper also lists current happenings in its Monday through Saturday G section.

You may have your own favorite tourist guidebook, probably in your own language. Personally, I like the Insight Guide series, and one exists for Boston although I believe it is not updated yearly like some of the other guidebooks. There is also an Insight Guide for New England. For more detail on New England, I like the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America's two volumes on New England: northern New England (Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) and southern New England (Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts).

For deeper study of Boston, I recommend the A.I.A. Guide to Boston architecture, 3rd edition (the first and second editions are still largely relevant); Whitehill's Boston: A Topographical History, 2nd edition; 1984's Blue Guide to Boston and Cambridge (out of print and without coverage of more recent things, but detailed on historical aspects of Boston and available used from Amazon), and the Zagat guide to Boston Restaurants.

Some day trips from Boston

[updated 2011-11-22] Or more than a day trip. Once you are coming to Boston for the TUG conference, you could easily spend a week or two visiting sights in Boston and the rest of New England. I recommend doing that.

Bookstores

[update 2012-04-05]

Boston used to have lots of independent book stores. Then the big chains pushed most of the independents out of business. Then Amazon, etc., pushed most of the big chain stores out of business.

There are a couple of used bookstores within a few blocks of the conference hotel:

The only big chain bookstore left in Boston is Barnes and Noble, with one store at the Prudential Center and another store on Commonwealth Avenue near Boston University. The Trident Booksellers and Cafe is one of the few independent bookstores left in Boston (on Newbury Street between Hereford Street and Massachusetts Avenue).

In the Harvard Square region of Cambridge, there are:

In Brookline, there is the Booksmith bookstore on Harvard Street near Beacon Street.