Boston (Both Ways)
There are two versions of every big city: the one people call home, and the one tourists visit. A longtime Bostonian searches for common ground.
Afterward, we walk out into the seats and take pictures of each other in front of the Green Monster, Fenway's famously high left-field wall. The tour visits different spots in the park depending on when you go; the only truly off-limits area is the field's sacred grass. "I've been working here a year," says our tour guide, "and I've never even stepped on it." That might seem extreme, but then again, Fenway is such a shrine that fans build small models of it and wear them as hats. Seriously.
Fenway my way
If you have managed to score a pair of tickets to a game, the next challenge is food. My advice: Pick up an Italian sausage with peppers and onions from the sidewalk cart of the famed Sausage King, parked outside Gate E for many games. But if you haven't gotten tickets, all is not lost: Walk along the Lansdowne Street wall of the ballpark and look for The Bleacher Bar. It's a hopping sports pub actually built into the left-center-field wall—its ceiling is the underside of the stadium seats, and a garage-door-size window looks straight onto the field. A few blocks away, Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks offers a more stylish setting; the airy restaurant and lounge is best known for its craft cocktails like the whiskey smash and the Sazerac, served at a long marble-topped bar.
Boston's first shopping mall
I have been a tourist in Boston for a week before I steel myself for Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the Revolutionary-era mall at the heart of downtown. On some level I think of Faneuil Hall as the most bogus thing in Boston—a kind of colonial-brick flypaper that attracts school groups and visiting uncles so the rest of us can have the city to ourselves.
The actual Historic Faneuil Hall is a real colonial meeting house, but if you see only the first-floor shops, it's easy to imagine that you've been sent to some kind of tourist hell of postcards, candy-by-weight, and a Ben Franklin impersonator with fake colonial buckles strapped to his shoes. I head outside, pull open the building's middle door, and ascend to an entirely different realm: a quiet, balconied meeting hall with portrait busts and a billboard-size painting of Daniel Webster. The hall was used by fist-pounding revolutionaries in the 1700s and still draws audiences—how many rooms in the world have hosted both George Washington and the Dalai Lama?
Back outside, I plunge into the center of the beehive: Quincy Market, a long indoor passageway framed by classical columns and holding dozens of food stalls—a food court in fancy clothing. I buy a cup of surprisingly good clam chowder, climb the stairs in the building's rotunda, and just sit. Above me is a magnificent oval dome of cream and robin's egg blue; sunlight streams through the oculus in the middle. Why have I never noticed this before?
The area is ringed by chain stores, but there are some local curiosities as well. Across the street, the large outdoor food bazaar known as the Haymarket puts on its chaotic show every Friday and Saturday. And then, of course, there is Durgin-Park. The restaurant, established in 1826, is famous for its rude waitresses, but I feel like I can detect real warmth in the way mine clangs the silverware down on the red-and-white-checked tablecloth. The food is thick and old-fashioned—the baked beans are sweet enough to be dessert, and the actual dessert is Indian pudding, an oddball dish of warm, molasses-flavored cornmeal with a scoop of ice cream. I wouldn't want to eat here every day, or even every month, but it's fun to be reminded of what "Boston" used to mean to cooks.
Shopping Boston my way
Though it has entertainment value, I would never send relatives to do any shopping in or around Faneuil Hall. To shop where Boston shops, head to the city's commercial center: Copley Square, flanked by Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. Then walk up Newbury Street to see local landmarks like Newbury Comics, art galleries selling portraits of Boston's founding families, and designer boutiques alongside consignment shops. Or cross Boston Public Garden to Charles Street for an eclectic mix of shops like Good, which stocks home accessories and handmade jewelry and glassware, and Period Furniture Hardware, where you can dress up your old colonial with hard-to-find antique-style trimmings.
The world's oldest warship
Toward the far end of the Freedom Trail—and I do mean far; it takes me 20 minutes to walk across the bridge to Charlestown—the 211-year-old black hulk of the USS Constitution rises out of the water. This is the world's oldest warship still afloat, a three-masted frigate that has survived wars and Barbary pirates. When I get there, though, the first thing I think is: Old Ironsides is broken. The deck is covered with a temporary roof, and the ship's towering masts, normally 200 feet high, look like they've been snapped off.