The Collision of Past & Present in Boston

Headstones at King's Chapel Burying Ground in Boston.
Four-hundred year old headstones dropped toward each other and melted into the ground.

I love big cities. I love the noisiness, the crowds of people, the mixture of cultures. I also love history; the stories embedded within years, the generations etched into the sidewalks of someplace old, the intricacies of a lifetime that I’ll never quite understand. The combination of these loves is probably why I have a soft spot in my heart for places like New York City, Montreal and Kyoto. They are dense with people and pasts.  So it was almost obvious that I would adore Boston, too.

The Collision of Past & Present in Boston

The Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw in the Boston Common.
The Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw in the Boston Common.

The Freedom Trail

Boston is the birthplace of the American Revolution, so the first item on our to do list was The Freedom Trail, a self-guided walk through all the city’s historical places. Guided tours are available, but the walk is marked by a red brick trail and free iPhone apps are downloadable for more information about each site. (We used this one, called Freedom Walk.)

The Freedom Trail Markers and the Massachusetts State House.
The Freedom Trail Markers and the Massachusetts State House, built in 1798.

The Freedom Trail starts at The Boston Common (the country’s oldest park, dating from 1634) and ends in Charlestown. (We stopped at the North End before crossing the Charlestown Bridge and didn’t feel like we missed much.) Most of the stops on the trail are free, while some ask for donations and some charge a small fee (like museums). It takes about 2-3 hours, depending on how much you spend at each spot or go through museums.

The Old South Meeting House and Paul Revere Statue.
The Old South Meeting House and Paul Revere Statue.

The trail weaves through large buildings, along busy streets.  The usual city noises that make me swoon were everywhere — cars honking, police sirens and the burrrahhhh of big trucks crammed on too-tight streets. But then our red-brick path would lead us somewhere nearly four hundred years old and my mind would wander to a time without cell phones or street lights, when running water was considering technology and eating local was the only way meals came.

Four-hundred year old headstones dropped toward each other and melted into the ground.
Headstones leaned on each other and melted into the ground.
The green of the trees matched the green moss on the headstones.
The green of the trees matched the moss on the headstones.

Cemeteries & Burying Grounds

We were easily side-tracked by the cemeteries. They were eerily peaceful but also playfully cliche. I felt like I was in a Halloween cartoon every time I saw a skull and crossbones or “RIP” on a headstone. But when I realized how incredibly old the graves were it was almost hard to fathom.

The King’s Chapel Burying Ground is the oldest in the city, founded in 1630. The victims of the Boston Massacre are buried here and it just so happens that Curtis is related to one of them. Suddenly we were a living connection to Boston’s past. How cool is that?

The Old State House is the
The Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre, is the oldest surviving public building in Boston, built in 1713.

The North End

The Freedom Trail eventually strays from the heart of the city toward the North End, Boston’s Italian District. This is the longest continuously inhabited neighborhood in the city and home of Paul Revere. And plenty of delicious Italian restaurants (but more on our Italian dinner in another post).

It’s also where to find two of the best bakeries: Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry. Both are known for their cannolis and both are delicious. (Yes, we taste-tested both!) Mike’s Pastry has a huge selection of goodies but there is usually a massive line to match. Modern Pastry fills their cannolis to order but has a smaller selection of treats, however, they taste fresher in my opinion. Both places are cash only.

Paul Revere's house in Boston's North End.
Paul Revere’s house (the black building in the background) in Boston’s North End.

Past, Present & Future

The North End’s cobblestone streets were yet another element that caught my eye. I wondered about the people who walked these streets back in the 1600s. Did they think about how Boston would be 400 years later? Which got me thinking about the city 400 years from now. I thought about how friendly Bostonians are, how proud they are of their city, how they eat delicious seafood from the bay. And I realized that even 400 years from now, Boston will still be an amazing city worth visiting, full of history and charm.

Stay tuned for more about Boston, including dinner at Mamma Maria, the restaurant you can’t miss and more.

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