Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boston Day 3 - Walking the Freedom Trail

Boston is known for its ties with the American Revolution and birth of the nation now known as the United States. The Freedom Trail winds by some of Boston's historical landmarks and famous places. We started at Boston Commons and the Public Gardens, where the statue of Washington looms high. Adjacent to Boston Commons is the State House, whose dome is covered in real gold.

Winding our way around the streets of Boston, we walked past many of the same sights that we saw on the Duck Tour yesterday. As we quickened our pace, we can upon Faneuil Hall and Quincy Marketplace. In the center of Quincy Marketplace is an entire building filled with varoius food merchants, mostly local, like the Walrus and the Carpenter Oyster Bar.

Not feeling like a heavy meal, we decided to get some soup in a bread bowl from Boston Chowda (yes that is how they spelled it). I had my doubts about Theresa's order of the crab butternut squash bisque, so I went with the safer choice of the lobster bisque. Turns out hers was very tasty. I would never had imagined to put the butternut squash and crab together. Maybe it's hometown pride, but I found the bread bowls blah compared to the sourdough ones we have in the Bay Area. But, both soups were good, thick, and chunky.

Crab butternut bisque

We wondered around Quincy Market after lunch, and walked into a store called Best of Boston. Theresa immediately gravitated toward their collection of stuffed lobsters.

A pretty neat local store is Newberry Comics. They have a huge collection of used music, videos, and lots of quirky gifts. Our next stop was Boston's North End and the Old North Church

The North End is where many Italians settled and is similar to the North Beach area of San Francisco. Cobblestone streets were lined with what seemed like endless numbers of Italian restaurants. The Old North Church, where Paul Revere ended his ride and hung lanterns in the steeple to warn of the impending British invasion of Boston, stands at the top of a hill. The courtyard has a statue of Mr Revere, and an interesting memorial to the service personnel killed since we invaded Iraq. Each dog tag represents a soldier fallen. Very neat memorial.

Our next stop was Charlestown, via the Charlestown Bridge. After walking about 15 minutes at a brisk pace, we came upon the majestic USS Constitution, aka Old Ironsides. After waiting more than an hour in line, we hopped aboard.

The Constitution is still a commissioned ship, which means it remains in active duty in the US Navy. In fact, all the tour guides were active enlisted Navy personnel. The ship is in the middle of a major restoration, so it did not have its full masts installed, and they were doing construction on her main deck. Life aboard was not pleasant, as you shared sleeping quarters with almost 400 people, and the ceiling was a mere 5 foot 6 inches tall. Imagine being tall and stumbling around in the dark when the captain called all hands on deck. I had to crouch and almost hit my head a few times

With the sun getting low in the sky, we decided to head back to the North End for dinner at Antico Forno, which was recommended to us by Keith the concierge at the Hotel Marlowe. Theresa ordered the pizza with sausage and artichoke while I opted for the chicken saltinbucca.

We ended the meal with the quintessential Italian dessert, house-made Tiramisu.

With our appetites satiated, we hopped the T back to the hotel to rest and pack for our flight to San Francisco the next day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Boston Day 2 - Ducks, Squares, Lobsters

Day 2 started with a quick brunch in the hotel room, and we made our way from the hotel to the Museum of Science so we could board the famous Boston Duck Tours. DUKW were WWII amphibious vehicles that were designed to shuttle men and supplies from ships onto land. It is a six wheeled vehicle with its underside shaped like a boat.

Each duck tour guide is different and never the same, so it is possible to do the tour over and over again and not get the same experience, and sometimes even a different route through the city. Our guide was Ray Beez, a former animal control officer who thinks he's a dog, now conducts duck tours.

The tour brought us around the sites of Boston, but the really cool part was the cruise along the Charles River.

After the duck tour we again hopped the T Green Line and emerged at Copley Square where we checked out the Trinity church, and ducked into the Boston Public Library to escape a sudden rain shower.

The concierge at the hotel suggested a place called the Summer Shack as a good place to get lobster. Evidently, Jasper White opened some very fancy restaurants in the past, retired, but then decided to open a more casual restaurant, and therefore opened Summer Shack. We worked up an appetite after walking from Copley to the Prudential Center, so we made our way over for some lob-sta.

Summer Shack pan roasts its lobster, and you order off the chalkboard. The smallest is 1 lb all the way up to 2 lb-ers. Theresa thought 1 lb was kinda wimpy, so she upgraded to the 1.5 lb-er. I settled on the the clam bake that includes the 1 lb lobster (which Summer Shack refers to as the "chicken" size), potatoes, sausage, clams, mussels, and corn.

Pan roasting definitely preserves the flavor of the lobster, unlike boiling, which saps out all the flavor. We both got pretty messy cracking shells and having lobster juice fly all over the place. This is what it looked like before the carnage started

Tomorrow: The Freedom Trail

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Boston Trip -Day One - Walking around Cambridge

I was in Boston for some training this week, and Theresa suggested we make a trip out of it. Theresa took the red-eye and we checked into the Hotel Marlowe, a boutique hotel on the Cambridge side of town.

The hotel has a lot of well thought out amenities, like making bikes and canoes available to guests for use. One thing that I think more hotels need to do is provide recycling bins in their rooms, which the Marlowe did have. Must be a Kimpton hotel thing.

Since Theresa basically got very little sleep on the plane, she rested a bit in the hotel. Since we felt we did not have enough time to hit the Boston side and be back at decent hour, we decided to hop the T and walk around Cambridge. We had a late lunch at Hi Rise Bread company, which is located in an old house that it shares with the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. If it were not for the sign, we would have just walked right past it. The store reminds me more of a corner coffee shop than a bread company.

We ordered the Chicken Cuban sandwich and the Curry Chicken Salad sandwich. The curry chicken salad in particular was very good, with a blend of curry, raisins, and mango chutney.

With our bellies full, we wondered around Haaaaa-vaad Square and Haaa-vaaad University.

Theresa read on the web that the Natural History museum on the Harvard campus was worth seeing. I guess we were used to Washington DC, where the museums were free or really cheap. Well the Harvard Natural History Museum charged $9.00, so we passed and decided to walk to Central Square.

We made our way up Massachusetts Avenue (or as the locals call it "Mass Ave"). We came across a restaurant whose name lost something in the translation. Not sure what their specialty is, but I sure hope it is not the namesake of the restaurant

Walking past Central Square, we came upon MIT. Last time I was here, I visited Pankaj, Sameer, and Casim when they were grad students here. We took a pic in front of 77 Mass Ave, aka the Dome.

It began to rain, so we decided to have an earlier dinner. And any trip to Boston would be incomplete without visiting Legal Seafood. We had such a great experience in DC, that we had to visit one in the Boston Area. We started with raw Cape Cod oysters, which were on special that day. Theresa ordered the cioppino (filled to the brim with shellfish) and I ordered the grilled Arctic Char with jalapeno polenta and seaweed salad.

When the bill came, our server brought out what looked like a one of those credit card swipe machine like the ones at grocery stores and left it on the table. Turns out it is a wireless credit card terminal that the restaurant leaves with guests to pay the check. It even has the capability to split the check by amount, items ordered, and percentage. The theory is that within each group, you can pass the terminal to each diner and have them pay just his portion of the check, including different tip amounts. Our waitress claims they are the first restaurant to do this. Pretty cool

With the rain abating, we walked from Legal back to the hotel, kicked off our shoes after a long day of walking and rested. Tomorrow would be the Duck Tours

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Disneyland 2009 Trip

As a birthday gift to Theresa, I took her to Disneyland, just like I did 3 years ago. Instead of flying, we decided to make a road trip out of it. We stopped for lunch at the famous Harris Ranch in Coalinga.

We made great time until we hit LA county, where we crawled in LA traffic on Interstate 5 before arriving in Anaheim 2 1/2 hours later.
We had dinner at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney. And what is dinner without proper dessert? We of course ordered the bananas foster, which involves the waitress lighting the whole concoction on fire.

This year, Disney is giving away free admission if you go to their parks on your actual birthday, so Theresa got in for free.

Theresa is rather hardcore about Disneyland, so we spent from 9am to 12 midnight in the park riding various rides multiple times, including the Indiana Jones Ride and Space Mountain. Here's a tip for Space Mountain. Instead of buying the photo from the Disney people, snap a shot with your digi-cam of the preview screens at the exit . Theresa also got very attached to the little three eyed green alien squeaky toys from Toy Story.

The drive back from Anaheim was much better, as we bypassed Interstate 5 altogether and made our way on north on CA57 and then I-210 West. It added about 20 miles to the trip, but we cruised above the speed limit all the way.
Along I-5 we saw signs for Pea Soup Andersons in Santa Nella. Turns out it was only 5 miles out of our way, and since we went to the one near Solvang earlier this year, we decided to stop in for some pea soup.

We got the "Traveler' special", which is all you can drink soup, drink (we chose the milkshakes), and onion cheese rolls. Let's just say we had a lot of pea soup that night. Maybe we will do it again in 3 years.