Ack. Organized tours make me so uncomfortable. They always have and they always will. I’ve just learned to live with it now. Michael, however, cannot live with it and refuses to go on any kind of organized tour anywhere, ever. But there is so much history in Boston and I wanted to get the lay of the land so I thought…well…while he’s at rehearsal, I’ll take the classic Nanny Rigsby approach and go on the Boston Duck Tour.
The Duck Tours are actually conducted on military ducks which are half land vehicle/half sea vehicle, like a platypus or Aqua Man. They used ‘ducks’ to storm the beaches at Normandy. Again, like the hotel that used to be a jail, this does not conjure up terribly romantic images. But part of the fun is that after you drive around town, you get to drive into the Charles River (this is where the half boat part comes in).
Be warned, if you ever decide to go on the duck tour yourself their website is so intense and cranky that I almost decided not to go. It’s a little tricky to navigate and there are all kinds of ‘no-exceptions’ rules. This is for a reason though. The tours are WILDLY popular. You really do need to book them 30 days in advance. Because it was mid-week in March we were able to book the day before, but the whole boat was full by the time we got there.
Personally, I found the tour to be about 30 minutes too long, but that might be because I had a toddler asleep on top of me and I had to support his entire body weight. And even though the tour had a few of those scripted, guided tour jokes that make you want to look at your feet, our guide was pretty funny. No—our guide was really funny. I got a great understanding of the city from him and a few tidbits of history.
AND…we had to get on the Duck at Boston’s Museum of Science, where we were greeted by this guy…
Here’s a brief overview of the most interesting tid-bits about Boston from our (well worth it) tour, and a few things we stumbled on on our own.
Top 10 Things to SEE in Boston (according to me!)
1. The Old State House.
- This original State House was built way back in the day (1717) and has a little balcony on it where the Declaration of Independence was read out to the people for the first time.
This is also the site of the Boston Massacre (1770) which helped fuel the Revolutionary War. The story changes depending on which side you were on. Some say that English Soldiers randomly opened fire on an innocent crowd of Bostonians. Our tour guide told us what actually happened (?) was the English were attacked by a Boston gang that turned into a mob so they acted in self defense. Either way, the colonialists were really tired of the English by then, so it was a story that didn’t go away. It spurred future Revolutionary events AND proves that the political tool of ‘spinning’ events in one’s favor goes WAAAAAAAYYYY back.
- My favorite part of the Old State House is the Lion/Unicorn statues on top.
When we walked past them earlier in the week, I pointed them out and said, ‘Look at those crazy statues. They look like relics of England don’t they?’ Then the tour guide told us, they were originally symbols of England (yay me!) and when the victory of the Revolutionary War was announced people were SO excited they literally climbed the building, tore the statues down and BURNED them! Then they thought, ‘hey…you know…we actually like those statues.’ So they were cleaned up and put back.
- This tavern claims to be the oldest in America. Our guide told us it is also the only place you can enjoy a Sam Adams beer while you look out at his grave. (!) Samuel Adams is buried across the street in the Granary burial ground (so is Mother Goose, or is she?).
- This brings us into the Back Bay section of Boston which was built on a landfill in the 1800s. The extended land took 40 years to complete. It’s about 200 years older than the original town of Boston, which includes the Boston Common, founded in the 1600s. It’s very fancy, but will always be in the fancier shadow of Beacon Hill.
The public space of Copley Square was donated by John Singleton Copley who was a prominent (and very dashing) portrait artist from Boston (left). It’s adjacent to the Trinity Church. Across the street on one side is the John Hancock building (designed by I.M. Pei). Across the street on another side is the Boston Public Library (worth a peek inside for the architecture). In designing the Hancock building, I.M. Pei decided he couldn’t compete with the architecture of the church, so he made the building out of mirrored glass to reflect the historic landmark. It’s a very nice effect.
- This posh street is like the Madison Avenue or Blvd St. Germaine of Boston. Fancy shops, places to eat and art galleries all mix in with 19th century architecture.
- This avenue runs parallel to Newbury St, and is lined with beautiful examples of 19th century homes. The two roads running side by side are analogous to Madison and Park avenues in New York City. Commonwealth begins at the entrance to Boston’s Public Garden, which is marked by this guy…
- Michael also snapped a few photos for us of homes at the base of the Commonwealth (in spring, no less), and one of G bringing me a leaf on the fairy lit Commonwealth Mall.
- I LOVE the Public Garden. We were lucky enough to show up in this freaky spring snap so we got to see the garden at it’s best. It has manicured lawns, topiary hedges and flower beds. It’s never teeming with people, so it always has an intimate feel to it, like there’s room to walk and breathe and soak it all in. Founded in the late 1800s (it’s part of the Back Bay), it’s a good 200 years older than it’s neighbor, the Boston Common. Charles Street divides the two parks.
This garden holds special meaning for me because as a little girl one of my very favorite books was Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey…I honestly didn’t realize until recently this book was based on a family of ducks who lived in this very real Public Garden. If you were lucky enough to have someone read you stories every night before bed, you know how they get burned into your brain. To see-in real life-the pond and the little island where the ducks ended up living was nothing short of magical. Their drawings in the book are indelible to me. They have a statue now to commemorate the ducks and they claim it has never been professionally polished because children sit on the ducks so often. G, however, tried to pick one up.
- Even though it’s only the exterior shot, it’s fun to walk by the Cheers sign on Beacon. I loved Sam & Diane.
- This shiny domed beast fit into John Hancock’s former backyard.
- This monument, constructed in the 1800s to
commemorate one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War had a lot of financial trouble. To see it through to completion one Sarah Josepha Hale (right) organized a craft fair and bake sale that raised 30 thousand dollars. That was a LOT of money back then. Here’s to the power of craft fairs.
- This is the beautiful space Les Mis lives in for 3 weeks. Michael stood on the stage for us and snapped a few photos of what it would be like to look out into the audience…