Eric Wechter, editor of the Fodor's guidebook to Boston, answered your questions about the city.
Eric Wechter: Hello, everyone. Eric Wechter here, signed in and ready to answer your questions about Boston. Many questions have come in already, and I'll answer as many as I can over the next hour, so let's get stahted.
Belleville, N.J.: The last time I was in Boston, I got an amazing bread-bowl of "chowda" at Quincy Market. Where's your recommendation for the best the city has to offer?
Eric Wechter: My two choices for Boston's best chowda are Turner Fisheries and Legal Seafood. By choosing a local chain (Legal) and a hotel restaurant (Turner at the Westin), instead of, say, a beloved salty-dog pub, some Bostonians may bemoan my lack of imagination. But more than likely, they'd have to concede that both these restaurants offer a flavorful, authentic bowl of Boston chowder. Turner is widely acclaimed for its traditional recipe—light on the flour, heavy on the clams and potatoes with a subtle, smoky flavor. And Legal serves a dependable bowl that consistently delights tourists and locals alike.
Philadelphia, Pa.: I hear it's a university town. But is there anything really to see in Cambridge besides taking a tour of Harvard? Is MIT too far from there?
Eric Wechter: MIT is about 2 miles from Harvard, and it's only a one- or two-stop ride on the Red Line.
Not taking a tour of Harvard, I have to say, does eliminate a number of Cambridge's highly recommended highlights including three great museums: the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, and the Arthur M. Sackler museum. All worth a visit. And although it doesn't sound like much of a departure, an alternative to a Harvard University tour could be taking in the scene at Harvard Square. It is one of the great people-watching intersections of the East Coast. Students, musicians, future politicos, and retro punks all converge at Cambridge's famous crossroads. And there is no shortage of great cafés, restaurants, and shops to enjoy.
Or for a picturesque journey (about a 3-hour walk), head West on Brattle Street strolling past the stately 1700s-era mansions, and continue all the way to the Mt. Auburn cemetery.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: Irish, here. Looking for a taste of Irish culture (can't afford trip across the pond this year)... How might I do this in Beantown?
Eric Wechter: If by "taste" you mean diving in to some tender, tangy corn-beef cabbage and washing it down with a rich pint, resplendent in its obsidian glory (mmmm...got carried away, must be lunch time!), then head to Doyle's Café in Jamaica Plain. It's been a landmark since 1882. Or check out the Burren for a night of bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and live Irish music nightly. Also check out the World Music program, which stages international, traditional dance performances such as Ireland's Mary Black at different venues throughout Boston.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Eric, what are a couple good neighborhoods to aim for when booking? I often use Hotwire and Priceline to book hotels, but I seem to end up in dull neighborhoods like the financial district. Much obliged.
Eric Wechter: Well, without knowing exactly what type of neighborhood will appeal to you (and in Boston each neighborhood is quite distinctive, with something for everyone), I'll recommend two that are decidedly not "dull like the financial district." For cozy B&B's and character-infused lodgings, try the South End. A lively neighborhood animated in large part by Boston's gay community, it has great restaurants, cafés, and boutiques, and is tempered by peaceful brownstone- and tree-lined streets. 82 Chandler Street B&B is often a good bargain in this neighborhood. For a student scene replete with a strip of college bars and nightclubs, check out Kenmore Square, where you're also right next to the mayhem that is Fenway Park as well as the tranquility that is the chain of parks known as the Emerald Necklace.
Burlington, Vt.: One of the problems I have when I visit is that I don't know where to meet the locals. There seem to be so many chain restaurants and stores. What are some places where I could rub shoulders with the locals? I went to John Harvards' brew house (pub?) once and liked it.
Eric Wechter: Ah yes, Boston, too, is not immune to the metastasis of character-crushing chains and numbing gentrification, an insidious...oh my, I seem to have reflexively launched into my anti-development rant again.... Actually, there are a number of neighborhoods in Boston that resolutely retain an old-world charm and local feel. Back Bay residents once famously staged a sit-in to prevent developers from paving over their elegant brick sidewalks, and the neighborhood today looks much like it did during the 1800s. But you want to meet some locals, so I'd say head to the North End, Boston's Little Italy, where many residents have roots three and four generations deep. Caffe Vittoria is where they go for espresso, a great selection of grappa, and conversation, which often they are happy to include strangers in on. Another good local hang happens at the weekend jazz brunch at Johnny D's Uptown in Somerville. And not too far from John Harvard's is another great student and local spot, the Plough and Stars, which has local bands, readings, and is reputed to be the place where Emerson's literature journal Ploughshares was conceived.
Providence, R.I.: Go Sox! How can I arrange to get a tour of the stadium? Is there a fee?
Eric Wechter: Tours are $12 for adults and $10 for kids 2 to 15. On game days tours are offered from 9am to 4pm. They are first-come first served. Call the Fenway Tour Office 617/226-6666.
Denver, Colo.: I hear that driving is a nightmare. But is the subway system thorough enough that a car isn't necessary?
Eric Wechter: Driving around Boston, and then driving around Boston some more in search of parking can indeed, be a nightmare—a recurring one. So yes, ditch the car and hop on the "T." It is quite thorough, covering all points of interest in the city and just beyond the city limits. More often than not there's a T stop a block or less from wherever you want to go. And for even more coverage, get an MBTA Link Pass ($9 per day $15 per week), which gives you unlimited travel on subways, buses, and inner-harbor ferries.
New York City, N.Y.: Any walking tours that are particularly memorable? Last time I did the Freedom Trail on my own I felt a little at a loss. Been a while since grade school history!
Eric Wechter: Don't count out the Freedom Trail! Sure it's a very full day to explore the whole route. And sure the rarefied historic sites may not always inspire the bald reverence you think they may deserve. But there are a number of unique and compelling treasures that are worth a re-visit (especially if it's been since grade school). Stop by the visitor center in Boston Common, and you can get a wealth of info to help you narrow your focus. A particularly scenic portion of the trail takes you across the bridge over the Charles River to a climb (about 300 stairs) to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument for beautiful views of the city.
Another memorable tour is the Black Heritage Trail. With a brochure from the Museum of Afro-American History you can take a very pleasant self-guided tour (it's about a mile and a half). Or you can arrange a highly informative ranger-guided tour.
Sun Prairie, Wisc.: We will be in Boston November 15-19. Are there any major music, art, food, or sports events going on?
Eric Wechter: At any given time there are a multitude of events in Boston. Here are just a few you might like during that timeframe: Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Hynes Convention Center, offers you the chance to browse rare books and maps and have any old books you may have appraised by experts. On November 19, The Coit Observatory at Boston University has a public open night, inviting you to stargaze through telescopes and binoculars. On Tuesday, November 18, there's the bountiful Farmers' Market on Copley Square.
Eric Wechter: Thanks, everyone for your questions. I truly enjoyed it, and I hope my responses are helpful. I apologize if I was unable to get to your question. For further research I strongly encourage you to post your questions on Fodors.com. There you'll get insight from an enormous pool of enthusiastic locals who are eager to share inside knowledge of their beloved Beantown. Don't forget to write your own review of a restaurant, hotel, or sight you visited, and keep your handy edition of Fodor's Boston 2009, which is available in bookstores, at your side. Enjoy your trip!