Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Day in the North End

A lot of people are interested in Old North Church because of Paul Revere. I'm interested in it because it dates to 1723, the oldest surviving Boston Church. Cotton Mather would have walked past it, muttering. It's interesting that an Anglican church, an absolute hotbed of British loyalists, would be the site of the whole "One if by land, two if by sea" thing, but apparently Revere had been a bell-ringer at the church and knew of the unparalleled view from its steeple.

We heard this and a lot of other history today because we went totally non-native and took a trolley tour. This was the best money we've ever spent, because we got to see all kinds of places we would never have gotten to on our own, like the campus of MIT, Charlestown and Bunker Hill, Long Wharf and the waterfront, and, of course, the heavily Italian North End.

The great thing about our trolley experience was that it's a hop-on, hop-off, so we spent the whole day looking at various areas. We walked down Long Wharf, first, and looked at the waterfront and at the view of the financial district from there. A short trolley-ride later, and we got off at the Boston Garden stop, to hike over to the Old North Church. (And here's an aside: We considered going to a Celtics game last night at the Garden, but the CHEAPEST tickets we could get, in the nosebleed seats, were $96. Good grief.) To continue, the trolleys can't go into the North End because the streets are really, really narrow. This is because they're pretty much the original streets. That doesn't mean that Franklin, Adams, and the rest would recognize anything -- Boston has had a lot of fires and calamity in its history. They'd recognize some things, though. Paul Revere's house is still standing, for example.

Let's see. Here in no particular order are some Fun Facts we either learned or experienced on today's foray, with many thanks to Joe and J, our trolley drivers. (And yes, we got off and on more than once, but we kept getting Joe's trolley.)

1. Boston has 290,000 college students living in the city on 88 campuses. We have been, (counting my travels earlier in the week) to Northeastern, Boston College, and MIT. We were in Cambridge, but elected not to take the MTA to Harvard. It's just as well nobody knew that we were from Virginia when the VT-BC score came through. We rolled past dozens more schools, and generally had a fine time.
2. When Franklin and Adams roamed the town, Boston was just the North End, connected to the rest of Massachusetts by a narrow peninsula. (Really narrow, like about 20 yards wide.) All of the Back Bay area, where our hotel sits, among other things, was underwater. The city dumped two of Boston's three hills into Back Bay to transform it into more Boston.
3. As an interesting side note to 2., we learned yesterday that Trinity Church is supported by wooden pilings sunk 40 feet into the fill gravel and kept underwater by pumps, so they don't rot.
4. Today we encountered a jillion cops and SWAT teams just south of Fenway Park. They had guns drawn and were ducking behind cars. We were fairly freaked out until we learned that somebody was shooting a scene for a movie.
5. The religious makeup of Boston is 45% Catholic, which is down from 60% fifteen years ago. A lot of Irish and Italians in Boston, which would, again, make those Puritan fathers scream. They really didn't like Catholics at all.
6. The Big Dig (that project that put all the interstates under the city) cost 17 BILLION dollars and took 16 years to complete. It was projected to cost $3 billion and be done in five years. Oops.
This is me enjoying the breeze on Long Wharf. The financial district is behind me. Boston Harbor is what I'm looking at. We have to note that, as a port city, Boston hasn't really been one in a long time. In terms of shipping traffic, Boston ranks below Huntington, West Virginia. (Coal barges, dontcha know?) It actually ranks below a lot of places, coming in at the 31st busiest U.S. port by weight.

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