Boston

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

Boston

Boston

Boston was the site of the 2009 Asian American Journalists Association Convention, so I was there in August with my husband and mom in tow for some sightseeing as well. We stayed at the waterfront Seaport Hotel at the World Trade Center, where the convention was held.

History all around you
The neat thing that sets Boston apart from most other American cities is the sheer amount of history you can see and touch all around you. So many significant events happened there that shaped this country. So that’s the positive side of an old city. The negative side is that many building facades are worn and ugly, and the subways are creepy and depressing. But overall, the greater Boston area was quite charming and scenic.

Boston Harbor near downtown

Boston Harbor near downtown

Seafood
I was unimpressed by the seafood I ate, even though it was at popular joints recommended by locals. It’s no better than fresh seafood I’ve had elsewhere, including my hometown of Houston, which sits near the Gulf Coast. Alaska’s fish is still the best I’ve ever had.

Chinatown
Boston’s Chinatown is similar to Chicago’s in that it’s old and it’s a walking Chinatown. Several blocks shoot off the main street, and you can walk the sidewalks to get to restaurants, bakeries, and other stores. Residential units sit above the ground-floor storefronts. It’s unlike Houston’s or Los Angeles’ more modern, sprawling Chinatowns that are best traveled by car to each shopping center. Like other Chinatowns, Boston’s boasts good food at dirt-cheap prices. An 80-cent slice of cake, anyone? You’ll find it at Great Taste Bakery & Restaurant. We also ate at Gourmet Dumpling House — a popular, crowded eatery open late at night.

Boston Common

Boston Common

MUST-SEES

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

1. Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail encompasses most of Boston’s famous historic sites. Boston Common is believed to be America’s first public park, and it’s a scenic one. From there, you can cross the street to see the Massachusetts State House with a gold dome (made of real gold). Then you pass historic churches and meeting houses along the trail, which is delineated by a continuous thin strip of red brick on the ground. It’s especially chilling to go past the site of the Boston Massacre. On a more positive note, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a fun shopping and dining complex, which includes Quincy Market. But again, like almost everything else in Boston, it’s got that old-world charm. Freedom Trail wraps up with the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), Charlestown Navy Yard, and Bunker Hill Monument.
2. Harvard University & Harvard Square in Cambridge. People definitely look intelligent on the campus of America’s top-ranked Ivy League school, Harvard. The campus itself looks as old as it is. Minus the passed-out drunks on outdoor benches, Harvard Square is a delightful nearby shopping district of cafes and boutiques. I had the best salmon sandwich at Crema Cafe.

Harvard Square

Harvard Square

3. MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It looked like one: very institutional and geeky. (I can say that because I went to a brainy university myself, but Rice has beautiful Mediterranean architecture. MIT looks like the rest of Boston: old and a little depressing. Sorry, I like contemporary style!)
4. Boston Harbor. Waterfront dining and shopping opportunities are abundant, as well as just places to sit and enjoy the view of sailboats on the famed Boston Harbor.
5. Beacon Hill. A charming, wealthy neighborhood where gaslights line the street and stay lit all day and night, Beacon Hill has been home to famous figures both historical and current. Even the 7-Eleven is classy.
6. Newbury Street, Back Bay, Copley Place, The Shops at Prudential Center. All are a shopper’s heaven. Newbury Street is like the Rodeo Drive of Boston. Filene’s Basement, which is famous for its annual Running of the Brides, during which brides-to-be rush into the store to grab deeply discounted bridal gowns, is a bargain-hunter’s paradise for everyday items you’d find in a department store. Back Bay and Copley Place are also nice shopping destinations not far from Newbury Street. And Prudential Center is an office building with a floor of department stores, restaurants, shops, and a food court — just like a mall.

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

We took the Boston Duck Tours to see most of the main attractions. The tour guide took us around the Boston area in a World War II amphibious landing vehicle that starts on land, then drives into the Charles River and functions much like a boat for us to see the city from the water.

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River

Vatican

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

The Vatican, also known as Vatican City, is the world’s smallest country. So there’s not much to see, but what there is to see is very significant. We literally stepped into the Vatican from Rome, which borders the country. A place with so much history, St. Peter’s Basilica is where the Pope makes his speeches and crowds gather below in St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro in Italian). While that’s not going on, the area is teeming with tourists.  I was 17 at the time of my visit. There’s a new pope now. The square is also the location where many Christian martyrs lost their lives. It’s a beautiful setting for such tragic events.

That brings us to the end of my European tour. In the coming weeks, look for new posts about my domestic travels in the United States, plus more exotic places, including Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and more of Japan.

England

My high school graduation present (in 1999) was a trip to five countries in Europe. The first stop: England. The country is so often portrayed in movies, it’s almost exactly how I’ve seen it in film and imagined it. We spent most of our time in London and only drove through the English countryside on our way to France.

MUST-SEES:

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

 1. Windsor Castle. The Queen’s home, it’s just one of those places you have to see. It’s the closest most of us will ever get to royalty. Tourists were teeming around the castle when we visited.
2. Buckingham Palace. Another grand estate, this is where official business of the Monarchy gets done.
3. Eton College. Prince William (Princess Diana’s older son) was attending school here at the time of our visit.
4. Westminster Abbey. Princess Diana is buried at this church.
5. Big Ben. It’s the world’s largest 4-faced chiming clock and sits above the Thames River.
6. Trafalgar Square. This beautiful public square is complete with fountains and statues and surrounded by art galleries and an opera house. It’s the kind of outdoor spot in which you’d want to sit down and sip a cup of coffee and maybe read a Jane Austen novel.

over Thames River

over Thames River

7. Harrods. Possibly the world’s most famous luxury department store, Harrods, Knightsbridge is unlike any other department store. Ornate, intricate designs are carved into the ceilings. Every detail is highlighted. The merchandise, no doubt, is expensive, but the experience of walking through the store is worth it. I managed to find a few affordable items.

Harrods

Harrods

And of course, don’t forget to grab some fish and chips at a local pub. Plus, take a subway ride to Picadilly Circus, where we ate at a Chinese restaurant with excellent wonton noodle soup. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name. But I’m sure a local Chinese person who knows his cuisine can tell you. The days are long in London, albeit often cloudy and gloomy, so we took advantage of the daylight until as late as 11 p.m. London is an interesting mix of the royal and modern. I was conceived in London; my husband was born just outside the city.

Next week, my journey through Paris and Versailles, France. And as my Western European tour continues, we’ll venture to Switzerland, Italy, and the Vatican in this blog in the coming weeks.