The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part Thirteen – Boston to New York

For what was supposed to be a really relaxed morning, it turned into another early start and manic morning. We separated into three groups.

Stephen Barker and the Sheriff went over to Essex County to meet Sheriff Cousins and his team. Tim Garratt and Nick Hammond took the walking tour and myself and the Sheriff’s Lady, Adela took a walk to the world famous Cheers Bar (which was closed as it was too early in the morning) and then onto the Museum of Science, based on the waterfront. Tim will write a guest blog that I’ll add below, but first I need to finish up on yesterday’s visits, with our tour of the USS Constitution.

It was built in 1795 and could carry up to 55 huge guns. It’s currently in the process of a very major restoration, which is being part navy funded and part public funded. It still sails four times a year.

Old ironsides - The USS Constitution - Officially the oldest warship afloat and still an operational US Navy ship
Old ironsides - The USS Constitution - Officially the oldest warship afloat and still an operational US Navy ship

The word authenticity is everything and we were give the opportunity to climb right down into the gunpowder store. In its heyday, this would have been the workplace for 20 hours a day for up to three young boys who worked as gunpowder runners, delivering the powder to all of the cannons on the higher decks. It was horrifically small, amazingly claustrophobic and stiflingly hot – and that is when its sitting in a dock. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in the height of battle in the early 1800’s

The gunpowder store at the bottom of the boat and the workplace for 20 hours a day of three boys - in this photo, the resting place for two boys
The gunpowder store at the bottom of the boat and the workplace for 20 hours a day of three boys - in this photo, the resting place for two boys

A nice small fact that came out from our bright young tour guide was that if you are in the US Navy and brave enough to win a Medal of Honour, it will have been made from some of the copper rivets on the USS Constitution that are replaced in rotation to prevent fatigue.

The learning from this is probably less so than some of the others places we have visited, other than the quality and knowledge of the guide. He is a serving Navy junior and has a two year rotation on this ship before transferring over to Florida to start his training in Avionics, in order to become a aircraft mechanic, working on the aircraft carriers. Whether it’s just the American way or just the Navy way, but he seemed genuinely proud to be serving (even if his role was mainly as a tour guide) on such an important part of American Naval history.

So, Cheers Bar. About a mile from our hotel, so we walked it. Boston like most US cities isn’t exactly geared up for walking, but it was worth doing, to see the beautifully clean streets which look like the most grand merchant areas of Manchester and Liverpool. They were mostly flats now, but they were all immaculate. No peeling paint, no scruffy steps and no litter anywhere. Funnily enough, there were no ‘for sale’ signs either. This may be a local byelaw, but it could also be that people never sell them.

Cheers Bar is in the Beacon Hill district and is actually a bar called the Bull and Finch Pub. In truth it looks slightly tired, but we didn’t get to see inside as we arrived a good while before they open at 11am.

Er, the closed Cheers Pub - or as it's real name is, the Bull and Finch pub
Er, the closed Cheers Pub - or as it's real name is, the Bull and Finch pub

It’s interesting though that whilst I was never a particular fan of Cheers and haven’t seen sight nor sound of it on TV in years, I was still pleased to be able to see it.

Cheers, The Pub from the TV series in the lovely Beacon Hill District of Town
Cheers, The Pub from the TV series in the lovely Beacon Hill District of Town

With our own Trip to Jerusalem pub, we have one of the (if not the) oldest pubs in the world and I wonder whether we actually make enough of it as a tourist attraction. I know when we did some research about what people knew about the City, what it stood for and what made it stand out, it was rarely if every mentioned in the 768 responses we got back from the extremely broad sample we poled. I understand it’s a commercial venture and a licensed commercial venture at that, but this place needs to be used far more centrally in the marketing of the city.

As we have seen with the USS Constitution being the oldest boat afloat and the Pilgrim hall being the oldest museum being the oldest museum that’s operated continually as a museum, we have to find its angle even if it is a little contrived. If we can mark it out as clear and demonstrably different, then people will come, just to be seen at the oldest inn in Britain.

After Cheers, Adela and I kept walking towards the Museum of Science, which is huge, has its own IMAX cinema and began life in 1830 as the Boston Society of Natural History.

Museum of Science, Boston
Museum of Science, Boston

The walk there was quite a tough one for quite a few reasons. Firstly there is no signage at all for a pedestrian. Considering this place has been around for such a long time and it is quite so huge, it would seem logical to me, that they include even a few signs for how to get there.

Secondly, even without the signs, there is no logical way to walk. You are constantly crossing, recrossing and doubling back in order to get to an area that is anything other than along the side of a freeway. And that water. You can see it from certain places, but you can’t walk along the side of it to get there. In the two l=miles we walked from Cheers to MOS, there could not have been more than 100 metres of waterside walk. It makes me appreciate what a great job they’ve done on the side of the Thames and how little we make of our riverside.

And thirdly, there are too many commercial ventures to protect. At the side of the Museum is a huge queue of ducks dragging people in for $30 a time for tours around the city. They are a hop on, hop off event and there are loads of them. Boston had more walkers than other US cities, but there still weren’t many of them, so between the duck companies and the controlling authorities they seem to have ‘tied’ the market up.

Maybe you can't really walk there because the city tourism is run by the 'ducks'
Maybe you can't really walk there because the city tourism is run by the 'ducks'

Inside the museum, there were a few brilliant things. The Foucault clock was slow, and mesmerising and could be watched for hours (if you weren’t rushing)

The Foucault Pendulum at the Museum of Science, Boston
The Foucault Pendulum at the Museum of Science, Boston

But my favourite bit and sorry for the quality of the pic, but it was all behind glass and not brilliantly lt for photography, was at the back of the IMAX, where the projection room was part of the display. For a geek like me, who loves this type of machinery, to get to see the working projection room was priceless.

The IMAX projection equipment is part of the display
The IMAX projection equipment is part of the display

Anyway, its off to the hotel, via the most tortured Subway system I have ever seen and then off to New York.

Firstly though, Tim Garratt and Nick Hammond did the Freedom Trail around Boston, a sort of walking trail through some of its historical regions and Tim has kindly written me a guest blog, which is here below.

Guest blog – Tim Garratt – 15 September 2009

Billed as “The Freedom Trail”, Boston has a historic walk which runs for 2 ½ miles and takes in 16 sites.

It starts at a Visitor Center on the edge of Boston Common (a sort of Central Park thing) – and then weaves through the old part of the town.

You have a choice of DIY or escorted. Both follow a red brick or painted line in the pavement and eat each interest point there is a brass plaque set in the pavement where you stop and take in the sight.

The brass plaque of the freedom Trail
The brass plaque of the freedom Trail

We picked up a $3 map and guide – which is badly laid out and reminds you of the old paper origami maps – easy to take apart but impossible to put back together! Fortunately it wasn’t raining – we would have had a soggy mush to help us along.

The first stop was very impressive Massachusetts State House – complete with real 23ct gold topped roof. Not sure Nottingham is ready for this! It cost $133,000 in 1798 – five times over budget.

The Statehouse with it's 23 Carat Gold roof - is Nottingham ready for this?
The Statehouse with it's 23 Carat Gold roof - is Nottingham ready for this?

We then meandered through the ancient streets until we happened upon the Kings Chapel – built originally in 1749. Inside it houses the oldest pulpit in the USA, but the best feature were the individual pew boxes – which were sold to wealthy families! Washington came here in 1789.

The Kings Chapel

Back on the Street we continued towards the USS Constitution and stopped by the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770. The site is marked by a stone circle – we were somewhat underwhelmed by the monument. It’s a traffic island!

The stone circle to mark the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770
The stone circle to mark the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770

Out of time we opted out of the tour at this point and headed back into town. So our impression. It’s a great idea – and the pathway is something that can transfer. But the destinations are mixed and we walked past a few. At the Kings Chapel we were invited to part with cash; so if you do this at each tour stop it can be quite expensive. The guide was expensive and rubbish – it would have been a liability in rain. It also very clearly marked us a tourists and I couldn’t help but wonder about being targets as we concentrated on finding things. If I am really honest we got bored. I (as a surveyor) found interest in the buildings but the story seemed a bit disjointed. Perhaps we would have been better with the uniformed tour guide.


13 thoughts on “The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part Thirteen – Boston to New York

  1. John – you might be interested to know that there is a brilliant Foucalt Pendulum in Buxton – at the University of Derby’s Devonshire Royal Campus. It was ‘started’ when Prince Charles opened the building three years ago.

  2. As a Bostonian, I have to say, Boston is a very walkable city! Most Bostonians walk, take the T, or bike for the majority of their travels. It seems kinda evident you guys were a bit lost/didn’t have a good map, which I’m sure was part of the problem.

    As far as tour guides go, I usually say to try to find a local who’s willing to show you around a bit. (find ahead of time, not on the street). You guys have a blog, evidently, maybe you could ask for a volunteer to lead you in NYC?

    I am confused as to how you got turned around on the Freedom Trail when there’s a red line you follow throughout though…….

    1. Hi Wolfshowl, I didn’t suggest we got turned around – if we are honest we lost interest! The actual walk is a great idea, the maps are a rip off and not terribly good! Thanks for the comments though!

      1. Next time, come to 15 State Street first…it is a National Park Service Visitor Center and the maps are better in 2 ways, 1) they are logically laid out and marked on the map and 2) they are free.

        I’m confused as to why they tried to get your money at King’s Chapel since it is a free site…any more info you can pass along on that?

      2. not surprising, it’s commonly known among local schoolchildren as “The Boredom Trail.” But there is so much more to Boston than old bricks and Paul Revere’s underwear. Look us up if you come back!

  3. Next time you’re in our fair Hub, visit the National Park Service office across from the Old State House – they give free tours of the Freedom Trail.

    Also, Cheers? Seriously? It’s just as well it was closed because the bar looks absolutely nothing like the TV show set.

    And, hmm, not sure how you missed the Esplanade, but it’s a continuous strip of parkland along the Charles River, from the Science Museum, to, well, you could walk all the way to the Watertown line, about five miles away (there’s a similar, if narrower, stretch on the Cambridge side, where you get great views of the Boston skyline). Yes, there’s “a parkway” that runs alongside it, but it’s not that hard to get to.

    1. Indeed, right around the corner from Cheers is the Arthur Fielder Footbridge, which takes pedestrians over Storrow Drive (the highway that runs alongside the Charles River), and right into the Esplanade, near the Hatch Shell, which is where the Boston Pops plays its outdoor concerts. You could have had a very pleasant walk from there, along the river, to the museum.

    2. Thanks Adam. I didn’t even want to go in, i’m not that into drinking before 10am. My Colleague wanted to see it on the way to the MOS. We saw it, we moved on, job done. Cheers!. John

  4. Well guys you got picked up by Universal Hub or home town blog review. So you will be getting lots of hits, and comments from the Boston Community.

    If your looking for the ‘CHEERS’ bar, there is one in Haymarket that looks just like the tv show. Complete with cutouts of the different characters for people to pose with. It does not open until 11am.

    The city and state tourism bureaus don’t help private concerns with advertising. As you set up a tourism agency in your own city you might want to do things differently, but in the great scheme of things, pushing a single bar, just because of it’s connection to an old tv show would make no sense. Not when Boston is chock a block with real history.

    Sorry that you missed the Children’s Museum, The Old State House (as a geek you would have loved the display on how the subway system impacts the building)

    I hope you get a chance to visit again, and for more than just a few hours. If you do, please grant me pleasure of showing you around all the sites the Greater Boston area has to share. From the first public school, to the first public beach. Boston has the greatest concentration of college students in the world – okay we don’t always enjoy that part. Frederick Law Olmsted created an emerald necklace, you might have loved walking through, there is so much you did not see. So much I wish you had seen.

  5. I too am a native of Boston and i also arrived via universal hub, but being married to a Brit and having been a dozen or so times to almost every fine county in Britain as well as several in Scotland and Wales I feel uniquely qualified to agree or disagree with your commentary. As an addendum, in those 12 years of visits I have only been to London once. In fact, I consider the best of Britain to reside north of Birmingham on either side of the Pennines, with me slanting towards the East, oh Yorkshire how I adore you, and he a native of Chorley, Coppull partial to the West, but I digress.
    Husband has often since his arrival 12 years ago lamented the incredible lack of signage present in this Commonwealth. Massachusetts in general somehow expects everyone to have learned the navigation of the paved over cow paths by instinct alone. If anyone needed the training the black cab drivers of London receive it is the poor lamentable cab drivers that arrive over here from countries far and wide. Good luck getting in a cab if you can’t direct the driver to your location.
    Having also been to many towns with lovely rivers snaking though the town/village center i can agree that we are more than lacking in direct access to the waterfront. In fact, that lack of access often extends to our oceans as well. If you don’t have loads of cash or some private property the access to touching the water is rather limited. Many an afternoon walking along a tow path in towns and villages has made me realise how lacking we are in that department.
    But lordie. CHEERS! Just say no please. Whenever we go back my goal at all costs is to find the local real pub. The one with good food and no slot machines the pub with the farmer who brought his dog down to have a pint. The one where your B&B proprietress has to ring to get you a seat on Sunday or you can forget having tea. There were many more places that would have been worthy of your time than that tourist trap. Drop me a line next time before you come and I’ll tell you what to try.
    There was, of course, so many things you missed, but a good start for now!

    He, being an mechanical design engineer by trade was impressed with the MOS as well. It is pretty unique and all across the UK I have never found a museum as unique and hands on.

  6. hi John,

    I too am visiting from Uhub (Hello Jo, comment above mine… she’s a good friend).

    I do not disagree with your comments. Boston is sometimes hard to get around, especially with crap maps that just don’t show you the way. Signs for walkers AND drivers are infamously bad here in the city.

    I left the comment on the Uhub entry, but should you ever head back this way — do drop a line. Would be glad to show you the way around, kind of be your fixer for the day as it were. I work in Salem MA, which you can’t walk to from boston but there is a ferry and you can come up and walk this town and see all the crazy history (hawthorne novel settings and witches and other historical subjects abound).

    Meeting the locals and getting to people who have a clue is much better than relying on shoddy maps. We hope you recognize that and give our fair burgh another chance. We’d steer you away from place like “Cheers” and the Hard Rock Cafe though. No touristy overrated crap on our tours… and no duckboats (although they do save time, they’re stupid expensive and aren’t as good as a kayak for enjoying the view from the water)…

    And if you’re ever here in the summertime, I work with a shakespeare theatre … for kids. We do four productions in july and august… and while we’re not Stratford, our initials are RSC, just like the real deal in the UK.

    good to make your acquaintance, sir.

  7. My wife and I visited England and Wales 30 years ago — and couldn’t have been treated more kindly. A number of cities and towns had programs where one could meet local people — which allowed one to get some good advice on what to see and where to eat (assuming one stayed in a place at least a couple of days). As far as I know, no such program exists here (sadly).

    It is too bad that Boston (and environs) does not distribute free (good quality) maps (and guides), the way most other tourist destinations do.

    It is too bad that you did not first stop at the Old State House first. The Freedon Trail walk would have been far more interesting if done with a knowledgeable guide.

    Glad to know you had a (mostly) good time.

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