Less than a week after our trip to Stockholm, my wife, Alison, and I flew to Boston. I have been all over the northeast and have visited each major Atlantic coast city, but never Boston. That's unfortunate because now, in all honesty, if I had to choose between staying in New York City, Philadelphia, or Boston for any period of time, I'd choose Boston for sure! Why? Despite the crowds and traffic, Boston doesn't feel quite that big. People seem to constantly be honking their car horns for no reason...but, other than that, I only encountered polite faces during the short trip. I was surprised to see that Boston had so many recreational opportunities within the city center. You can go kayaking practically right through downtown! People of all backgrounds, ethnicity, and social status take advantage of these outdoor opportunities. In many ways, Boston reminded me more of a European city than an American one.
Beacon Heights & Boston Common
We arrived in downtown Boston from the airport via the energy efficient free transport shuttle. We then walked the several blocks to Boston Park Plaza Hotel near the Boston Common. It's a great location to be in for a short stay. The hotel is expensive, and in typical New England fashion, was much nicer in advertising than reality. The room was huge, but had cracks in the walls, chipping paint, each wall was a different shade of off white, and it had the tackiest hotel furniture I'd ever seen. I guess the place spends all its money on keeping the lobby and restaurant looking immaculate. Fortunately, my wife was there for a work conference so we didn't have to pay the small fortune that the Park Plaza charges for its lack-luster accommodations. I don't like hotels typically. If up to me, I'd always "airbnb it." But a free centrally located hotel room is fine with me!
While Alison was off conferencing about during business hours, I took long walks down narrow historic alleys (like Acorn Street in Beacon Heights). I kept it simple on this trip and only carried my Nikon D7000 and 18-35G (~28mm-52mm on a DX sensor). It took three trips over to Beacon Heights before I was able to shoot Acorn Street without iphone wielding tourists blocking both ends of the alley. The whole Beacon Heights area is "cute" for lack of a better term. People take arranging their tiny flower boxes very seriously. They might even pay pro landscapers to do it for them. I'm not sure, maybe Boston is just full of talented flower arrangers...whichever the case, the window boxes added little pops of color to the otherwise monotone brick architecture, making it easier for me to compose images.
The Common is also very well kept. It's like a miniature forest with freshly mowed grass, duck ponds, and rose gardens. Trees as old (probably older) than the city itself tower over the landscape. There were people everywhere, relaxing in the shade of these tall hardwoods and evergreens. This is one of the ways Boston reminded me of a European city. Generally, in Paris, Stockholm, or Munich, people take it slow and spend much of their day outdoors in the summer. I don't know how many times in New York City, Philadelphia, or Washington, DC I've observed people only being outdoors long enough to run from one mode of transport to another even in the nicest summer weather.
A short walk north of the Common is the Charles River. I think I wandered over to its banks three or four times and on both evenings we were in Boston. Each time there were dozens of sailboats, paddle boarders, and kayakers, enjoying the sunny weekday evenings. I didn't get the impression that Boston residents spend much time in front of TVs (again more European than much of the U.S.). The sun sets over Cambridge- across the river from Boston. This provided opportunities to photograph the activities on the riverside as silhouettes.
I love food just as much as I love photography. My reasons for traveling are just as much about culinary experiences as photographic ones. The best food that I experienced in Boston was in Chinatown. I love a good Chinatown. If in New York, I'm going to Chinatown. When I lived in D.C., my favorite restaurant was a tiny dumpling spot in Chinatown (Li Ho). Alison is obsessed with dumplings and has a talent for sniffing out the best dumpling, noodle, and dim sum places. This is one of the many reasons I married her. I couldn't live with a picky food snob.
Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe (on Bedford street) is the place to go for hand stretched noodles. I don't understand the restaurant's name, they pretty much specialize in soup and noodle dishes. It's a tiny little hole in the wall that only accepts cash. Prices are reasonable and I can attest that the noodles are awesome. Dumpling Cafe (on Washington Street) is also pretty awesome. I always wanted to try soup dumplings, but until my recent trip to Boston I had not had an opportunity. These are simply steamed dumplings filled with pork and an amazingly rich broth. They are very delicate. The trick to eating them is to poke (or bite) a hole in the dumpling and slurp up the broth as it spills out onto your spoon. It's a messy process and impossible to eat in a dignified way, but it is worth it. Trust me, you want these. I also have an obsession with steamed pork buns. At Dumpling Cafe, the buns are filled with roasted duck. These buns are fluffy little pillows of savory heaven. That's the only way I can describe them.
My Photography Gallery Experience
I like Boston. Boston is delicious. Picture takin' is also a lot of fun there. The city is relatively clean. There is an awesome food scene. What I haven't mentioned yet is the gallery scene. The Museum of Fine Arts is free on Wednesday evenings and it is easy get lost in there (figuratively and literally). There were two small galleries recommended to me that specialize in photography that I was excited to visit. One of them, the Robert Klein Gallery, was a sad space, which supposedly housed the works of Ansel Adams and Michael Kenna. When I entered and saw a bunch of boxes laying around, I asked the guy at the desk if they were open. He said, "Yes, feel free to roam about." The space was only one room about the size of my bedroom. There were several doors leading to what I assume were other galleries, but they were closed or the lights were off. The only photographs were large format prints of Stephen Wilkes recent work featured in National Geographic and there were only about 6 of those.
Disappointed, (not at Wilkes photos, but at the sparseness and disorganization of the Robert Klein Gallery) I walked over to the next photography gallery on my list, the Iris Gallery, which has the work of Nick Brandt (one of my favorite photographers) among others. When I got to the address there didn't appear to be a gallery there at all. I was confused after triple checking the map and the Gallery's website to confirm I had it right to find only a worn and torn carpeted staircase that had been duct-taped together. I looked through the large window and saw a nice big gallery space with empty walls and no one inside. At that point I gave up on my gallery crawl through Boston and got some pizza. There is apparently something I'm missing about these two galleries. Maybe on my next trip to Boston I'll be able to see some of the amazing works they show.
Despite my confusing gallery experiences, I enjoyed Boston and would return in a heartbeat. Two days barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer, I'm sure. I didn't even get to do any of the typical tourist stuff, nor did I hop onto one of those cheesy guided "duck boat" tours. I'm sure I missed out... The one thing I actually regret not squeezing into my short stay was a New England lobster. It's been a while my spiney friend. Maybe next time.
(c) 2016 Jon Reaves Photography. All rights reserved.