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Monday, May 27, 2013 : Boston

 

The night at the Best Western in Quincy has been ugly. There was a wedding, and guests went to bed very noisily around the wee hours. Hotel management has been absolutely powerless to bring the mayhem back under control.

 

Anyway, after a quite average breakfast, we take the hotel shuttle to the subway station. Predictably, as in any other major city, parking in Boston is a pain, and it's wiser to use public transit.

 

The weather is absolutely gorgeous.

 

Métro de Boston, recto du Charlie Ticket

Charlie Ticket, Boston subway ticket valid for a day

 

We buy two Charlie Tickets, passes valid for 24 hours on the whole MBTA subway network. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates public transit in the Boston metropolitan area.

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Massachussetts Bay TYransportation Authority, backside of the Charlie Ticket

Backside of the Charlie Ticket

 

I love the picture on the back of the Charlie Ticket.

 

In Boston, the subway is simply called the T. Lines are identified by colors. We take the red line, then the orange line.

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Boston, a family of greylag geese

A family of greylag geese in downtown Boston !

 

After changing lines in downtown Boston, we leave the T at North Station which, apart from being next to the Boston Bruins hockey arena, is about in the middle of nowhere. Right after the T exit, we cross this family of greylag geese, rythmically parading in a street fortunately closed to traffic.

 

That's a big surprise, in the center of a major city.

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USS Constitution frigate, Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown

The USS Constitution frigate

 

We have crossed the Charles River, which separates Boston itself, in the South, and Charlestown, in the North. The former Boston Naval Shipyard, located in Charlestown, has been turned into a museum. In addition to the visitor center, not very large but clear and friendly, two ships are anchored : the USS Constitution, a 1795 frigate, and the USS Cassin Young, a WWII destroyer.

 

The USS Constitution is the oldest still actively commissioned floating military ship in the world. Following an engagement against the British frigate Guerriere during the War of 1812, in which she distinguished herself by her boldness in action, she was nicknamed "Old Ironsides", although her sides are made of wood and not iron.

 

We also visit the USS Constitution Museum, with many vintage objects and at times emotional testimonies of what life on board was for the crew. But we are running short of time, and we will visit the frigate itself another day.

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USS Cassin Young destroyer, Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown

The USS Cassin Young destroyer

 

At the time of our visit, the USS Cassin Young is not open to visitors. Too bad. We satisfy ourselves with a few outside pictures.

 

I also thought a destroyer was a much larger ship.

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Boston downtown, seen from the other side of the charles River

Boston, seen from the other side of the Charles River

 

At the tip of the former Boston Naval Shipyard, we enjoy a very nice view of the Charles River and, on its opposite bank, the historical and financial center of Boston. The weather is really beautiful.

 

The city of Boston was founded on a small peninsula inside a large natural harbor, sheltered from the fierce storms of the North Atlantic. This smart location ensured its military security and its commercial development. Today, Boston is a prosperous city, pleasant to live in, and rich of an history that extends from the 17th century till now, from the Mayflower Pilgrims to Mark Zuckerberg, an Harvard University alumnus.

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Boston metro, orange line

Boston subway, orange line

 

After visiting the old shipyard, we take the subway again at North Station. After another change, we get down at Aquarium, where we collect our tickets for a whale watch cruise on the Atlantic.

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Boston Harbor Cruises, New England Aquarium Whale Watch

New England Aquarium Whale Watch

 

Last night, I reserved two tickets for a whale watch cruise on the web. It is migration season for whales, and packs of cetaceans settle in a few known areas around Cape Cod.

 

We had two choices : either drive to Cape Cod, spend a day on the road and see nothing much else, or go there by ultrafast catamaran and rest on the boat, while someone else takes care of the trip. We wisely chose the second option, which allows us to spend more time visiting Boston, a beautiful city we really loved.

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Boston Harbor Cruises, ultrafast catamaran

Our catamaran

 

We briefly await boarding on the wharf, alongside our catamaran.

 

The cruise is supposed to last three hours. In reality, it will be closer to four. Whale search has been slightly longer than expected. Never mind, we are on vacation.

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Across Boston Harbor

Across Boston Harbor

 

While in the harbor, the catamaran limits its speed but, once far enough from the other ships, it accelerates to full throttle and rises slightly above the sea, leaving a wide trail. Boston quickly fades away behind us.

 

We pass close by the airport where we had made a brief stop three years before.

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Ultrafast catamaran on the Atlantic

Ultrafast catamaran on the Atlantic

 

The sea is quiet. The voyage to Cape Cod takes hardly more than an hour.

 

Of course, at such a speed, the wind is chilly, despite the sunny weather. We bless our windbreakers.

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Looking for the first whale

Looking for the first whale

 

Once near Cape Cod, where whales are supposed to have migrated for the summer, the ship slows down almost to a stop, looking for cetaceans. The crew carefully watch the surface.

 

The search is going to take a while.

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First whale

First whale !

 

And at last the first whale shows up !

 

Oh, this Minke whale is not that big, but it is here, right before our eyes. We follow it for a few minutes.

 

Then the catamaran picks up some speed and the search goes on.

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Second whale ... Thar' she blows !

Second whale. Thar' she blows !

 

The crew now looks for bigger whales. They are guided by those water and steam clouds that whales exhale as they emerge from a deep dive. Where there is a blow, there is a whale, exactly like in Moby Dick.

 

And they are successful once again. One crew member spots a blow at some distance and guides the ship. This time, it is a North Atlantic right whale, much larger than the Minke whale.

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Third whale

Third whale

 

A moment later, we see a third cetacean, another North Atlantic right whale. It is at some distance from the ship and, although it is really large (it is the second largest whale species in the North Atlantic), it does not look that huge.

 

In fact, we have been mentally influenced without realizing it by what we have seen on TV, documentaries featuring Saint Lawrence humpback whales joyfully jumping off the water, while Zodiacs circle around them. But those whales seem much quieter, and none will frolic around our ship.

 

The agreement has been met, we have seen three whales. Our catamaran may sail back to Boston.

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Small lighthouse in Boston Harbor

Small lighthouse in Boston Harbor

 

Back in Boston Harbor, we look at the islands. Some are inhabited. This small lighthouse, marking the harbor entrance, is absolutely charming.

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Old State House and its balcony, Boston

Old State House and its balcony

 

After leaving the catamaran, we set out for a stroll in Boston historic center, in anticipation of tomorrow. The old city is not that huge, and we have plenty of time ahead of us.

 

This red brick building on the picture is the Old State House. We will come there again tomorrow.

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Beacon Hill, Boston

Strolling in Beacon Hill

 

After crossing Boston historic center and part of the financial district, we reach Beacon Hill, a very quiet, residential, upscale part of town. Red brick houses, all historic landmarks, are very carefully maintained.

 

The neighborhood takes its name from an old lighthouse that had been built there in the 17th century, on the highest point in Boston. Of course, landfill after landfill, the lighthouse was too far from the coast and had to be displaced.

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Louisbourg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston

Louisbourg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston

 

Beacon Hill is obviously the most prestigious part of Boston. At the top of the hill is the Massachusetts State House. This building is closely guarded but, to our big surprise, we can walk pretty close by, as any other big upscale house in the neighborhood.

 

We then continue our stroll in Beacon Hill down to Louisbourg Square, a nice little square under large trees, between Pinckney Street and Mount Vernon Street.

 

It's time to quote Baudelaire's verses :


Here, everything is order and beauty,

Lusciousness, calm and luxury.

 

It is an invitation to travel.

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Louisbourg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston

Louisbourg Square. Only the residents of the square have the key to the garden

 

The specificity of Louisbourg Square is this fenced garden in the middle of the square. Only the residents of the square hold the key to the garden and are allowed to enter.

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Squirrel, Charles River park, Boston

A resident of the park along the Charles River, Boston

 

After Louisbourg Square, we walk down Beacon Hill to the Charles River, which has a nice park along its banks. On the other side of the river is Cambridge, seat of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the famous M.I.T., and of the equally prestigious Harvard University.

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Longfellow Bridge, Charles River, Boston

Longfellow bridge at sunset, Boston

 

Our stroll ends at Longfellow Bridge, affectionately nicknamed the Salt-and-Pepper Bridge by the locals, in reference to the four towers in its center.

 

After walking around the Massachusetts General Hospital, we have dinner at The Hill Tavern, a restaurant where the Red Sox, the local baseball team, are the absolute rage. They are playing tonight, and most guests have their eyes and ears stuck on the TV.

 

We then take the subway back to Quincy and the shuttle to the hotel. At the end of this day, we have walked a little less than we thought, only 6 miles.

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