Get a Piece of the Rock
my parents' 31st wedding anniversary
We had a small breakfast at our Hyannis hotel, then checked out, loitering in the lobby at the business-center computers looking up routes to Boston until the dealership called. They called, and we left, the last time I'd ever be in that terrible excuse for a car, the loaner Saab. As always, it barely turned over, but it got us to the dealership amid rain, wind, and cold blowing in off of the Atlantic.
Back in our car by 12:15, we rolled out of the dealership and made good time off of Cape Cod. We stopped for gas a little before 1:00, knowing that we'd likely get snarled up in traffic as we approached Boston. We'd looked at several different routes, but there was little difference in time between them - going up secondary roads or just sucking it up and going up the Interstate into Boston would get us there at the same time. As such, we just decided to go up the Interstate, which would be the most direct route.
Our first stop, however, was the town of Plymouth, site of the famous Plymouth Rock. We found some parking and got out to see the rock, which is underneath a neo-Gothic façade which keeps people from touching it yet keeps it on the beach, near its original location. While it has shrunk in size to about a third of what it was - due to tourists grabbing their own chunks, as well as the natural forces of erosion - and has been moved from its original location for display elsewhere, it's still there to see.
I wish I could say that it was impressive, but ... well, it's just a rock. There's really not a whole lot to it.
Plymouth Rock itself is in a complex also housing a replica of the Mayflower, which we would have gone to - but the weather was very bad. It threatened to rip hats off and send us flying into the air aloft on our umbrellas à la Mary Poppins. The cold - about 50 degrees - turned into a biting chill with the help of the wind, and the rain, while not hard, sliced diagonally at anyone unfortunate or insane enough to be walking around.
We made surprisingly good time out of Plymouth and onto the Interstate up to Boston. Traffic increased and there were some slower sections, but we never came to a complete stop. Along the way, the most interesting thing was a truck built to re-arrange the concrete barriers along the side of the highway. It'd roll through the lane, feed the barriers through its body, and deposit them on the other side, thus marking off the lane.
At 1:49 we crossed over the river into the Boston city limits, and a little after 2:00 we'd parked in a parking deck in Cambridge, just across from the U.S.S. Constitution. The ship - "Old Ironsides" - was our first stop of the day, although we tried to keep our time spend outside to a minimum. The Constitution was never officially decommissioned, and thus could still officially be sent into active duty - although her weaponry is over 200 years out of date.
We toured around above and below deck, saw some things, asked a few questions ... but all in all, there was nothing particularly special or mind-blowing about this ship as compared to other old ships I've been on. As far as history is concerned, the Constitution has a long and gloried one - many victories in the War of 1812, a trip around the world in the 1840s, and has sailed under her own power in 1997 and 2012.
From the Constitution, we hoofed it over to Bunker Hill. Though the celebrated Battle of Bunker Hill was a victory for the British - a fact sometimes overlooked or downplayed by jingoistic historians - the casualties for the British were immense. The American loss was due to lacking another round of ammunition for their muskets - when the ammo was out and hand-to-hand fighting commenced, the British were the only ones with bayonets.
One of the more interesting characters in the battle was Joseph Warren, a doctor who was commissioned as a Major General in the Massachusetts militia shortly before the battle began. He opted instead to enter the battle as a private, and was killed during the final British assault. His death served to spur on the movement for independence, as he was the first real martyr of the Revolutionary War.
After the battle, his mangled body was identified by none other than Paul Revere, who organized a proper Masonic burial. Despite having relatively little impact while alive, he was immortalized in statues and in town and county names across the nascent nation.
Ironically, most of the fighting at the Battle of Bunker Hill didn't actually take place on Bunker Hill, but rather on nearby Breed's Hill. While most of these hills are now taken up by quaint houses, the spot where Warren was killed now has an immense stone obelisk. We got our tickets inside the Bunker Hill museum and proceeded to walk up the hill.
For the obelisk is not a solid structure - it's hollow, with 294 granite steps to the top.
It was a long walk - one which I made much faster than my parents - but the views from the top were excellent, although the windows were rather small. After resting from the climb at the top (and looking down the grate right down the center of it), we went back all 294 steps, which was a considerably easier endeavor.
With some light left, we headed back out into Boston itself - technically these first two stops were in Cambridge - along the Freedom Trail, a link between historical sites in and around Boston denoted by red bricks in the pavement. Getting to Boston meant walking over a bridge. The walking surface was a massive grate, which meant that one could look down all the way into the water below ...
(At the beginning of the bridge, there's a spray-painted sign on the ground: "Acrophobia Friendly Zone." I don't think they're kidding.)
Once across the bridge, we decided - a little on the spur of the moment - to eat in an Italian restaurant. It was exceptionally authentic - I'm pretty sure our server was the owner and a first-generation Italian-American. I got a dish of calamari (tentacles and all - yum!) served with a rich tomato sauce over linguine. My parents got the same thing, some sort of crab-farfalle concoction which was a little bit of a let-down. Despite this, we enjoyed the authenticity, appreciated a little time away from the bustle of Boston, and really came to appreciate the quick service.
We got to the Old North Church five minutes before they closed up. It's still in use today, and you can tell that they've kept it up - the pews are boxed off and rented out to families, who could, historically, do what they wanted to do with regards to decorating them. The pulpit was accessible by spiral staircase, the week's hymns were put on a board for all to see, and the place, in general, looked simply divine - pun intended.
Leaving the Old North Church, we continued along the trail to Paul Revere's house. We got there just a few minutes before it closed as well, and were able to have enough time to leisurely work our way through the four rooms of the house open on the tour and pick the brains of the two ladies who served there as tour guides.
We learned interesting information on the production of accidental stained glass, the fate of Paul Revere's manufacturing company, his immense family, and architectural trends of different periods, as the downstairs was decorated like the 1690s, when the structure was built, and the upstairs like the 1790s, when the Reveres lived there.
Working our way back, we noticed something - we were in Little Italy. We heard Italian spoken on street corners, saw dozens of Italian restaurants, and saw three shady-looking characters dressed in all black, loitering outside a building. I generally like to assume the best in people, but I'd honestly be surprised if those guys weren't involved in some kind of black-market dealings. They were simply too stereotypical.
With the wind and rain having long since stopped, we worked our way back through the quaint and surprisingly quiet little neighborhoods, then back out over the bridge and finally to the car. We'd managed to do everything we'd come to do in a little less than four hours.
At 6:00 we left the parking garage and began worming our way out of Boston. This was insane, mainly because we had to go through a traffic circle. Now, traffic circles are generally not that bad. In fact, for most low-traffic intersections, I'd like to see more traffic circles. But this one had about a million people in it, a million people trying to get off of it, a thousand people cutting a thousand other people off, and exactly zero demarcated lanes.
You read that right - there were none of those handy dashed lines to mark off the lanes, which turned the traffic circle into a road-rage-fueled free-for-all. After getting through this mess, we were confronted with even more roads without lane markings, until we finally were back on the Interstate, with the same start-stop traffic as earlier.
After a few interchanges, we made it to the hotel.
Now, most hotels are generally built as a solid block, with the lobby, amenities, and maybe a few rooms on the first floor, with the upper floors devoted exclusively to rooms. This hotel is built nothing like that - it's sprawling, spreading its wings and floors out to fifteen different counties and three time zones. It took ten minutes of walking to get to a room only a floor above the lobby.
After a long day of walking - not to mention up and down those 294 steps - we really weren't looking forward to walking anywhere, but we were still hungry and we knew we had to. With the traffic of the day, it was an easy decision to eat at the hotel. My parents split a lobster roll, and I got the second-largest sandwich that I've ever seen, which consisted of a massive hunk of fried cod, garnished with massive slices of vegetables - but, despite the immenseness of both tomato and lettuce, they just seemed puny when compared with the enormousness of the fish.
I ate it all.
We finished it off with a cheesecake garnished like a turtle - caramel and chocolate sauce over the top, with three chunks of walnut over that.
Tomorrow: more history at Concord and Lexington before heading north to New Hampshire. The second leg of this trip is about to begin.