Frommer's Boston Day by Day author Marie Morris chats with host Kelly Regan about Boston's cultural rebirth, what's new in this 400 year-old city, and some of the city's great places to see and things to do in this capital city. Marie reveals the best place to get lobster, talks about great romantic getaways, and shares engaging activities for kids.
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Top Tips from This Podcast
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- Think of the Children: What you think is interesting may not be for the kids.
- New Experiences: When planning a trip for the kids, think of what they've never done before.
- Places to Go: Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science, Fenway Park, The North End, Northern Avenue Bridge.
- Things to Do: Freedom Trail Tour, Sports bars, Museums, Dining, Shopping.
- Where to Eat: Legal Seafoods, Oleana.
- Saving Money: Travel in January through March, look for weekend specials at business hotels.
- Silver Line: Bus line which connects South Boston to airport terminals for $1.25.
- Romantic Boston: Walk down the by the river from Museum of Science to Harvard Square.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.Announcer: Welcome to the frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.frommers.com.
Kelly Regan: Hi, and welcome to the frommers.com podcast, the latest in our continuing conversations about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, editorial director of the Frommer's Travel Guides. I'll be your host.
My guest today is Marie Morris, a long-time author for Frommer's and the author of our new book "Frommer's Boston Day by Day," which is on sale now. For listeners who might not be familiar with the Day by Day guides, this is a new, four-color series from Frommer's that offers a series of itineraries, each accompanied by a detailed map, to help you see a city or a region in the smartest, most time-efficient way.
Marie is here today to talk about organizing your time in Boston, whether you're interested in romance, in family travel, or in fine dining. Marie, welcome. Thanks for being here.
Marie Morris: Thanks for having me, Kelly.
Kelly: You've lived in Boston for a long time. What's going on in the city right now that interests and excites you?
Marie: The hot, happening news right now, Kelly, is the opening of the first new art museum in Boston in almost a hundred years, the Institute for Contemporary Art. It's in the new South Boston Waterfront district, down by our beautiful federal courthouse. I can tell you a little about the building. It's designed by the New York firm of Diller, Scofidio, & Renfro, which is building its reputation on this beautiful building -- which is cantilevered out over the harbor, so that when we are in the galleries, you feel as if you are in mid air, above the water.
Kelly: Wow. That's pretty fantastic.
Marie: It's an incredibly beautiful building, day or night, and is rapidly becoming a destination both for Bostonians, because it just opened on December 10, 2006 -- people who approach the city from the water can see it on the water taxi that comes from the airport to the downtown area.
Kelly: Is the architecture pretty modern looking, as befits a museum for contemporary art?
Marie: It is extremely modern and it's a great contrast to the museum's old building, which was a renovated police precinct house. There's a lot of glass; there's one spot in the building where you can stand over a hole in the floor and look down and feel as if you are seeing only the water, and it's really quite remarkable.
This museum has existed for, I believe, 70 years, but has never had the space to have a permanent collection. It's a really exciting opportunity, as I say, both for long-time Bostonians and for visitors, to see a cultural institution that really is coming into its own while you're there. Especially if you are a fan of contemporary art, but if you're just curious about how a city that's almost 400 years old goes about reinventing pieces of itself, it's a great destination.
Kelly: That's a great point, Marie. It sounds like the building is a destination itself, even if you're not a huge contemporary art fan.
Marie: Very much. The whole area is rapidly becoming a very walkable area, that in the next couple of years, is definitely going to be a place where you'll want to be able to go home and say to your friends, "I was there when it was just coming together."
Kelly: This is the South Waterfront neighborhood?
Marie: This is the South Boston Waterfront neighborhood. The main drag down there is Northern Avenue, which is also called Seaport Boulevard.
The new convention center is in that area and is the size of some terrible number of football fields; it's a huge convention center, the largest in New England. It finally has a hotel attached to it, the New Western Waterfront, which opened this summer. It's an area that really was just parking lots and the occasional seafood restaurant, but now suddenly has hotels, restaurants, a cultural institution, better dining than it's had in quite some time. And it's not yet quite residential, but it's getting there; there's a lot of development going on on the South Boston Waterfront.
Kelly: You said it's a little hard to get to, meaning that the T doesn't go down that way or what?
Marie: The only thing that goes there is the Silver line, which is a bus line. Although it appears to be a light-rail line, it is not. It is a bus line. That's another great thing to know about, because it connects you from South Boston directly to the airport terminals for $1.25.
Kelly: That's fantastic.
Marie: That fare is going up, which is the next thing we'll talk about. But it's still a great deal. So that would be the only problem.
When the weather gets better, I know we're broadcasting this in January. But once it's archived and people are listening to it in the summer, it will be a beautiful walk to go down there over the old Northern Avenue bridge, which is a preserved turntable bridge from 1908, which is now for pedestrians only. That is now basically the gateway for pedestrians to get to the South Boston Waterfront district. As you walk down there, you walk past our beautiful federal courthouse, the John Joseph Moakley federal courthouse, which is brick on the land side and glass on the water side.
The Harborwalk is a long-simmering public project, which still has some huge gaps in it but really is coming together. The Harborwalk continues along the South Boston Waterfront and takes you down to the I.C.A., as the Institute of Contemporary Art is known.
Kelly: You've touched on something that makes Boston such a great city, which is, there are 400 years of history but it's not a city that dwells in the past. It's a city that continues to move forward. In that way, it's a great place for designing an itinerary-based trip. There are distinct neighborhoods to explore. As you've mentioned, there's great architecture, both historic and very cutting-edge. And there's more history than you can shake a stick at.
In this book, there are tours that are designed by time, so that you can have the best of Boston in one day, two days, three days. They're designed by neighborhood, with some walking tours. They're also designed with special interests in mind. I wanted to turn to a few of the special interest tours. I love your "Boston with Kids" tour, because you're coming to Boston with your family in the same way as you'd go to D.C., where you'd be doing the Mall -- and, in Boston, it seems a natural idea to take the Freedom Trail. But what I love is that you say, in the introduction to the kids tour, "Every day, in the summer, children shuffle along the Freedom Trail like prisoners on a chain gang, looking hot, tired, and bored." I think that's good for parents to keep in mind is that there are no things that you absolutely must do when you're visiting a city. You can do it if the kids are up for it, if they're really interested in the history. But you also provide several alternatives to the Freedom Trail, things that are very engaging for kids of all ages.
What are some of your favorite things to do when you're taking little ones around the city?
Marie: Interestingly enough, the children who get the most bored on the Freedom Trail are the ones whose parents have really talked it up to them. I know this because I live not far from the Freedom Trail, and I get to see kids and, once in a while, talk to them, and I have a ton of friends who bring kids into town. And the ones who have come to the decision, on their own, that they would like to learn more about Paul Revere or perhaps the War of 1812, specific topics like that -- those are the children who have the better experience, than the ones who simply are told, "We're doing this."
Some people might find this a little bit insulting, but I find that adults get so wrapped up in their own planning process that they don't really stop to think about how things will look from two feet lower. You know, is this colonial uniform really that interesting to someone who doesn't have college-level course work in American history? The fact of the matter is, probably not. But, if you have a child who read Johnny Tremain and loved it, and you can get the child into the mindset of, "This is where Paul Revere was. Paul Revere's house is here, and it's not a big house. Paul Revere was a pretty prosperous guy; but this was a little, cramped city, as it still is, and here's Paul Revere's little, cramped house."
The whole notion of letting history come alive that way is one way to approach it. Another way is to come through fiction. I have a niece and two nephews who are at the moment enthralled with "Make way for ducklings." This is going to sound a little stalkerish, but one of my favorite things to do in the spring is to just go sit in a public garden and bring a magazine and sit not too far away from the "Make way for ducklings" sculptures that are there and see the little kids who have never seen them before, racing up to them and interacting with them.
And as a piece of public art it may seem a little hokey to people, but when you actually see the way that children react to it, it really is heartwarming.
Kelly: Sure, sure.
Marie: And the public garden -- partly for that reason -- is one of my favorite places to take kids -- really of all ages -- because it's just a great place to sort of unwind. Like every other park in the world there are green places to sit down there, but there is just so much to look at and there is so much history there to be absorbed pretty painlessly through just the notion of "What are all these crazy statues doing here?" and "Who are these people?" and "Why is there a monument to ether? What's the deal with that ether?"
And if you can explain to someone who has maybe had a touch of Novocaine to fill a cavity or something, there wasn't any sort of anesthesia until the middle of the 1800s it really resonates. And you can say, "Yes, of course someone who was able to achieve this level of pain relief deserves to have a monument made to them."
Kelly: Right, right, right.
Marie: Probably something a lot bigger than that.
Kelly: That's right.
Marie: The other thing to remember is that for kids who haven't traveled a ton... I know one of the ways that I researched this book and the most recent Boston guide was just by basically borrowing some children who live in Switzerland and taking them around. And the things that they were most interested in were the things that I would never have given a second thought to. They had never really been in a Barnes and Noble before, so I took them to the Barnes and Noble in the Prudential center and we easily could have spend the entire day there.
And that's just another thing to be aware of, to take that extra step back, that you might not automatically take when you're traveling with kids. And just try to think, "What actually is kind of a cool thing for them?" If the kids don't see a lot of TV, maybe a sports bar would be fun for them, a sports bar at night is not the most wholesome atmosphere in any city.
Marie: But in Boston, especially when there's a daytime Red Sox game, taking a family to a daytime Red Sox game gets really expensive and if your kids are too little to concentrate for the whole thing, then where's the fun there?
Marie: But sitting down for some chicken fingers and a little widescreen TV, that's a pretty fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Kelly: Of course. There's a vague connection that I'm about to make here, but another one of the special interest tours you have is called "Romantic Boston." What are some ideas you have for couples who are coming to Boston for a romantic getaway?
Marie: One of my favorite romantic things to do -- and this is sort of a cliche, but sort of not -- is a walk down by the river. Pretty much anywhere from the Museum of Science -- which is a stones throw from downtown -- to well past Harvard Square. There are places to walk along -- with the exception of Central Square, which is hard to get to anyway -- where it's just so romantic, it's such beautiful greenery and beautiful water and sailboats going by or crew shells going by.
And if you're there at twilight -- which is one of my favorite times to see pretty much any city really -- it's a great experience, especially from the Boston side of the river, to see the sun going down over the beautiful skyscrape of Cambridge. Just a little break between all the rushing around that you do in the daytime when you're in a strange city and whatever evening plans you might have.
It's worth carving out a couple of hours and just taking that time to unwind a little, reconnect a little bit. And especially if you have kids along, if you could park them somewhere and slice out your own little piece of romance while they're eating their chicken fingers, then everybody wins.
Kelly: Yeah, totally.
Marie: And another favorite thing of mine is just to do a little exploring downtown. And I put a little of this in the romantic walking tour just because it's something that I've done with platonic and non-platonic friends. And just that sense of here you've discovered this cool little place is such a bonding experience, that notion of peeking down an alleyway or coming around a corner and seeing something that not a lot of people see.
Walking around Beacon Hill and just seeing all the little nooks and crannies and just romantic little side streets is so much fun and so not the thing that you might be thinking of when you're making your list of museums and shops and events and whatever else you might be planning in your trip to Boston.
Kelly: And it makes you feel sort of like you've discovered a secret. And those are really I think the moments -- no matter where you're going -- that will stick with you.
Kelly: Speaking of neighborhoods to explore, one of the neighborhood walking tours you include is of the North End, which has kind of this ethnic enclave thing and also a history thing going for it too. So explain a little more about that, kind of two for one, bang for your buck. You've got the immigrant neighborhood but then also a lot of history there to see.
Marie: Well I should fess up as I do in the book that I live in the North End, and it was very hard for me to only pick one tour worth of things, so I managed to slip a bunch of other North End things in other places in the book. Pretty much any excuse to get people down here, it's just a fascinating neighborhood. Partly as you say because it is so historic. And if you look on a map -- which you can do if you go up to the Prudential Center skywalk -- you can see the original landmass of Boston, which was about one third the size that it is now.
And the North End was originally about half the size that it is now, and a lot of it was docks. And it was kind of a dicey neighborhood for quite some time. And about a hundred years before he actually lived there, Paul Revere's neighborhood was a little sketchy and you go there now and it's this beautiful little cobblestoned square. And you really get a sense of the scale of the colonial city, which is one of those things that is very hard to do I find, pretty much anywhere in North America that had been rebuilt.
If you go someplace like Saint Augustine, Florida for example, you get that sense of "Oh, this is really little" but there it's just sort of select properties, there's no sort of neighborhood. But in the North End you get this sense "Oh, what is this crazy little alleyway doing here?" and you begin to realize the better you get to know it that these are all property lines. And that you're walking where somebody would have walked... A path that eventually developed because people were walking their cows somewhere to pasture them or something like that.
And you begin to get a feel for what that would've been like. And as crowded as the North End is now, it's nothing compared to when it was -- for example -- an immigrant neighborhood in the late 19th century.
Rose Fitzgerald -- who was later Rose Kennedy -- the mother of President Kennedy, was born in the North End in 1890 when it was the Irish ghetto. And I believe if you go back and look at the census figures for those days, there were more children than adults in the North End. And in the most recent census in 2000, there were 5000 residents of the North End and 100 of them were kids, so it's very different than it was then. And little details, like the size of Paul Revere's house and how close it is to its neighbor really give you a flavor of that.
And similarly, if you then walk over to the little neighborhood next to Faneuil Hall, which is called Blackstone Square, you get a real sense of the little narrow alleyways and how cramped the buildings were. For example, if you decide to have lunch at the Union Oysterhouse and you're tall, you may wind up ducking as you go through some of the doorways, because people were smaller then.
And the other really interesting thing about the North End is that although it is known as the city's Italian neighborhood, it is now -- people estimate -- less than half Italian American. And much more popular than it was even twenty years ago, with people who live in the financial district and walk to work.
So it's still a developing neighborhood and it's a place that's evolving as it has evolved since Boston was settled in 1630. We'll say almost 400 years, that seams to be a good round number. And like every other neighborhood in Boston, the North End has changed dramatically and it happens that because the North End is one of the original ones it's easier to see.
Kelly: It's funny, so much of what you're talking about with Boston are sort of these intangible, experiential things that can really make a trip special. And in the introduction to this book, you mentioned that one of your favorite Boston experiences is to dig into a lobster. Where is your favorite place to get lobster in Boston?
Marie: I fear that I'm going to disappoint some people by giving you my answer because everyone imagines that the all-knowing travel writer will have a secret thing and that I'm just going to pull you aside and whisper to you and only tell you.
Marie: But the real answer is Legal Sea Foods.
Marie: And I know that it's a chain, and that everyone's heard of it, and I really don't care. It really is the place. Because they do all of their own processing, and they have special relationships with a lot of actual fishing concerns, it really is the place to go to get a consistently good lobster year-round. Which is not the case with a lot of other places, because lobster in the summer is just very different from lobster in the winter.
Kelly: It is, yeah.
Marie: Hard-shelled lobster, which you get in the winter, is a little less sweet, but also a lot less watery. And in the summer, it tends to be a lot easier to actually get into your lobster, because the shell is not as hard.
Marie: But it's also not as satisfying, I find.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah.
Marie: And the thing about Legal's is, they're so accustomed to people who've literally never seen a lobster before, and I know this because I, again, actually borrowed someone else's kid and I took my 19-year-old cousin about a year ago to the Legal's in the Prudential, and she was very curious but really trepidacious because she had never actually seen a whole lobster before.
The waiter actually could not have been nicer. When he realized she was having trouble with this, he just took it away and brought it back to the kitchen for a moment and brought it back and it was chopped up into manageable pieces and everything that needed to be cracked, was cracked. And he walked her through it, and she just had the best time.
She had that look on her face that pretty much everyone under six who wears a bib gets on their face has when they get something really good and she was sitting there being 19 with a nice bib on and just grinning from ear to ear.
Kelly: [laughs] Right. [laughs]
Marie: And it would have been really easy to make fun of her or to have not really cared that she was having trouble, but this is the beautiful thing about Legal's, is that their staff is so well-trained. They do such a high volume of everything that they really know how to deal with any eventuality. And at the end of the day, the thing is, the quality.
Kelly: Yeah, also I was going to say that they have great clam chowder as well. Yeah.
Marie: Amazing soups, amazing desserts. I have a good friend who was actually just in town about a week ago who is a wine expert, and extremely picky, and travels all the time, and he said that Legal's is the chain with the best wine list that he knows of.
There's definitely something for everyone there, and as they've been sort of individualizing the decor of the different branches and expanding the menu, they've definitely been trying to keep everything as consumer-friendly as they can. One of the ways they've done that is to put a really nice bar in pretty much every location. And they've always had bars, but they haven't always been, perhaps, a destination bar.
But that's definitely something to know about. If you're not feeling terribly hungry, you can go to the bar and have a Bloody Mary and a shrimp cocktail and have be a great dinner.
Kelly: There you go. Yeah, definitely. So, casting a wider net, what's your favorite restaurant in Boston right now? And why is it your favorite?
Marie: My favorite Boston restaurant right now is actually in Cambridge. And it's a little place called Oleana, which is outside Inman Square, so it's a little off the beaten track, and it's a perfect example of one of the things that Boston does very, very well, which is to support a large community of neighborhood-sized restaurants that are higher quality than I can even really believe sometimes.
The thing about Oleana is that it's the brainchild of Ana Sortun, whose full name is Oleana Sortun, and she worked at a bunch of other places in the Boston area while she was learning her trade, and set out on her own in exactly the right way. She made sure that she had an equity stake in it, she has a partner who really knows what he's doing. And her food, which is Mediterranean, for lack of a more specific description, is seasonal and flavorful and imaginative. Going to Oleana is an occasion even if it's something that you can afford to do once a week. It's just a fun, welcoming place that is as romantic or unromantic as you need it to be, a great place to meet friends, and it's a place that I enjoy going back to over and over.
Kelly: OK, that's great. That's a good recommendation. And finally, give us a few of your best money-saving tips for visiting Boston. What are some ways that people can save on hotels, or maybe on sightseeing.
Marie: The best way to save on hotels, I'm glad to say because of the timing of when we're originally posting this, is to travel between January and March. That's the slow season, so if you can possibly arrange it so that you can travel then, you can get some amazing deals.
Another thing to watch out for is weekend specials at business hotels. Most downtown hotels are considered business hotels, and every once in awhile I'll get an email notifying me, or I'll do a search, which I try to do at least every couple of weeks, all year round, just to get a sense of what's going on. I'll just be blown away by the special offers, which not only are discounted, but also include such things as meals, parking, tickets to attractions, whatever they think they need to do to stir up interest.
Kelly: Oh, that's great.
Marie: Hotels are most interested in keeping their occupancy rates high.
Marie: And if you can book far ahead, or if you can wait until the very last minute to book, if you have the spontaneity to do that, you can score a really good deal pretty much year-round.
Kelly: So even getting a good deal on the hotel might actually include some savings on the sightseeing stuff as well.
Marie: Yes, every once in a while. And the best way to save money on sightseeing, I've found, is to either invest in a pass (and the book describes two different passes, City Pass and the Go Boston card) and if you have a sense, if you're organized enough to figure out what you're going to want to do and how realistic it is to think that you're really going to do it, that could be a really great investment.
But if you're being unrealistic, you might have to sort of give yourself a little talking-to and say, "Now let's really think about this. If we're only going to be there for two days, there's no way we're going to six things, and really enjoying them." And in that case, you may just need to bite the bullet and say to yourself, "We're going to pay full price for this, and we're going to spend a whole five hours there and really get everything out of it that we can."
Kelly: Right. It really depends on your interests and what it is you want to do. If you want to hit a lot of the highlights in a kind of brief way or if you want to just go a little more in-depth into a couple of places, knowing you might come back to do some more exploring.
Marie: Exactly. And it's just a question of recognizing that even if you are getting a great deal on discounted tickets to ten things, if you're only going to three of them, it's not a great deal anymore.
Kelly: Right, and...
Marie: And it's hard to keep that in mind in a new city, because it's all so exciting and you really want to see everything. It can be a little game that you play with yourself, to really think hard about what matters to you, and what you really do think is interesting.
Kelly: Yeah, and hence the need for an itinerary guide, which is what this is.
Marie: Right. [laughs]
Kelly: [laughs] So that's all the time that we have today. I've been talking with Marie Morris, who is the author of our new book, "Frommer's Boston Day By Day," which is on sale now. Marie writes several other Boston guides for us also, and Marie, it's always good to talk to you; thanks for being here.
Marie: Thanks for having me, Kelly.
[ending theme music begins in background]
Kelly: And join us next week for another conversation about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, and we'll talk again soon.
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