BOSTON - We see those silly "duck boats" all over the place these days. At least we do in cities with major waterways.
I always resisted the temptation but the folks from Boston tourism had me try one Thursday here in this great city, setting me up with Boston Duck Tours. And I was really glad we went. Not so much because the car suddenly rolled into the river and turned into a boat, because it IS kinda cool, but because the tour itself was so interesting.
Things didn't start out so well, I must say. A bunch of kids had bright orange "duck call" whistles on our "boat" and, as we waited to pull away from the Prudential Center downtown, they kept doing very loud duck calls. And I mean loud. Over. And over. And over. I think I finally cleared my throat and put my hands to my head and said, "Okay, ha, ha, that's enough" a couple times and someone got the message.
Our tour guide was a nice young girl who laid on the corny jokes a bit too much (why do tour guides feel the need to make puns worse than mine?). But she was fun and quirky and quite entertaining.
We learned about Paul Revere, of course. (I'm staying at the Omni Parker House downtown, which is not only the oldest continuously operated hotel in the U.S. but right across from King's Chapel, an historic part of the city. We hadn't even checked in when I spotted by my first Paul Revere tri-corn hat dude on the street). We also learned about Ben Franklin, who was born here, and Sam Adams and lots of stuff.
Our guide, who called herself Ally-Oops and claimed to have bombed out of referee school at Harvard when she gave the "safe" signal at a basketball game, explained how the Union Oyster House is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the U.S. (there's a lot of that in a town as old as this) and was a favourite of John F. Kennedy. That was great but what got my attention was when she said it was the first restaurant in the world known to have given customers wooden toothpicks.
Isn't that great?
Later we passed the TD Garden, home to the Boston Bruins (boo) and a famous statue of Bobby Orr (yay). Oops told her duckboat customers that there's a great story of the time when the old Boston Gahden was being torn down and things kept going missing. Some suspected ghosts, but she told us that they later discovered the skeleton of a monkey in the rafters. It seems a monkey had escaped a circus one time at the old Garden and had been living for years on left over hot dogs and popcorn and spending its days watching Bruins and Celtics games and rock concerts before finally succumbing to old age, or perhaps had a heart attack from the junk food.
Another great story.
We also heard about the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere, who apparently never yelled "The British are coming" because all the people he rode past on his way from Boston to Lexington and Concord were British citizens. I also found out that the famous song "Dirty Water" about the River Charles was written by a California group, The Standells, and not by a band from Boston.
Anyway, there was a lot of cheese on the tour but it was still fun and informative and took in Back Bay, downtown, the waterfront and the Charles River, which is now pretty clean and has tremendous new parks on either side.
I'd forgotten just how cool this town is, to be honest. Last time I was here it was in winter for a Raptors-Celtics game and I didn't see much. And that was 10 years ago, at least.
The architecture is first-rate, with tremendously beautiful churches like the Trinity Church, which is gorgeous outside but even more stately and regal inside. Back Bay has awesome shopping and the Boston Common (see photo above righ) is an urban dream, with giant swan rides on the pond and huge open spaces for frisbee tossing or, as was the case Thursday, a protest from restaurant workers demanding better than minimum wage. I listened to the protest ("the workers, united, will never be defeated") and munched on a $4 arepa I got from a vendor; two corn tortillas sandwiching some melted mozzarella. Not to everyone's taste, but sweet and tasty and filling.
We had lunch at the fabulous Beacon Hill Bistro, part of the Beacon Hill Hotel. It's a beautiful old property that was once a pair of fashionable townhomes in an area that feels like Rosedale but on a hill with gas lanterns. A lovely part of town, for sure, and we had great mussels and a roasted eggplant and pepper sandwich and lovely New Zealand wine. It's a classic, old-style French bistro done quite well by a fellow who hails from Buffalo.
At dinner it was Al Dente, an Italian institution in the north end, where there are dozens and dozens of Italian restaurants and shops still selling bags of coffee; not unlike Little Italy in Toronto before it was "discovered." We had to wait outside for 20 minutes even though we had a reservation, but it was fun to chat with folks and it's a cool place to watch the world go by.
It's sparely decorated and noisy as can be, but lordy what food. The spicy mussels appetizer was the best plate of mussels I've had anywhere in the world; rich and flavourful in a tomato base I greedily slurped afterward. And, no lie, there had to be 60-plus mussels in the bowl. And that was an appetizer. Welcome to the United States.
The seafood diavolo with shrimp and calamari was on a huge bed of linguine and way too large a portion for one person. Ditto the lobster ravioli in a creme-tomato sauce, which was probably even more delicious than the seafood.
Two appetizers, two large pasta dishes and a bottle of wine and the bill was still less than $100, albeit not by much.
They don't serve dessert (why bother) or coffee but they usually will "kick you out the door," as my waitress said, with a free glass of chilled Limoncello. Alas, the delivery didn't show up Thursday and we went without our farewell drink. Next time....
Instead, we popped into The Last Hurrah at the Omni Parker House, where we stayed the night. It's a great, old-time hotel bar with inventive drinks. We ordered two classic martini style drinks, one with gin and basil infused simple syrup and lime and the other with cognac, lemon and ginger infused syrup. They both arrived in tiny martini shakers and a martini glass and the waiter shook the shakers and poured the drinks in front of us. Very nice touch and the drinks were utterly sensational. Not only that, they were priced at less than $11. Try that in Toronto. Or a big hotel in New York, for that matter.
The Parker House is a beauty; like a smaller, more intimate and woodsy version of the Royal York or the King Eddy in Toronto, which Omni recently purchased. Our room is pretty small but nicely decorated and the overall feel of the hotel is rich and warm and filled with tradition. A great breakfast buffet, too....
WIN A TRIP TO KENYA
The Kenya Tourist Board is excited to announce the launch of the "Dare to Roam Kenya Safari Contest," in partnership withJaunt.ca (a division of Torstar) and Transat Discoveries.
The Canadian "Dare to Roam Kenya Safari Contest" runs until September 11th, 2013 awarding one lucky winner, plus guest a 10 day epic safari adventure in Kenya.
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The winner of the "Dare to Roam Kenya Safari contest" will stay one night at the historic Sarova Stanley Hotel, Nairobi, a night at the Sweetwaters Tented Camp in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy; two nights at the Elephant Bedroom Camp, Samburu; two nights at the Mbweha Safari Camp and two nights at the Tipilikwani Luxury Tented Camp in the Masai Mara.
The prize Safari package also includes most meals and a dinner at Nairobi's famous Carnivore Restaurant as well as nine Safaris. The package is provided by Transat Discoveries and their tour operator in Kenya, Twiga Tours.
To enter and for complete contest rules consumers can visit www.jaunt.ca/safari or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GoJaunt Participants entering the contest can earn additional chances to win by sharing a personal contest link with friends, which is received after entering the contest. The more referrals made through the personal
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The "Dare to Roam Kenya Safari Contest" is open to residents of Canada,
excluding Quebec, who are 19 years of age or older and have a valid passport.
Kenya's landscape is as diverse as its wildlife; its colossal mountains are known to border expansive fields and beautiful beaches with colourful coral reefs. The country offers desert patches alongside snow-capped mountains and deep green valley's by looming volcanoes. Riding the equator along the eastern coast of Africa, the country is famous for its safaris, offering unparalleled opportunities to see nature's wildest creatures in their beautiful natural habitats.