Convincing my sister to enjoy living in Boston

For Californians displaced to Boston, the change can be a rude awakening. My sister still cringes when she talks about the place. On a week-long visit, we sampled the history, food, and leisurely spots of Boston and tried to convince her that the town’s really not so bad.


Convincing my sister to enjoy living in Boston

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Dennis Ko on August 11, 2005

Three years ago, my sister moved out to Boston because her boyfriend was starting medical school at Tufts. Coming from the San Francisco Bay area and having lived in California her entire life, she was less than enthusiastic about the move. Nothing over the last 3 years has persuaded her otherwise. Along with my other sister and 20-month-old nephew, we set out to spend a week with her in Boston and to try to convince her that Boston isn’t the evil place she’s made it out to be.

We stayed in her Jamaica Plain’s apartment. Jamaica Plain is the slightly "granola-cruncher" suburb of Boston. It’s right along the T orange line and the route no. 39 bus line, though, so it’s easily accessible. Though it does have more of an earthy feel to it, Jamaica Plain is by no means Berkeley, and it’s just a little less J Crew and Abercrombie and Fitch than the rest of Boston.

Highlights of the trip included:
1) Boston Public Gardens, with its various water fowl in real, sculpture, and boat form
2) A walk through colonial history along the Freedom Trail
3) Shopping at Boston Public Market
4) A boat tour of the harbor, including a stop at the USS Constitution
5) Several great restaurant samplings, including great seafood pasta with a whole lobster from Giacomo’s and Taiwanese brunch at Chung Shin Yuan ${QuickSuggestions} ${BestWay} Public transportation in Boston is really great. The underground train system (the T) is inexpensive, $1.25, and takes you throughout the metropolitan area, while buses ($0.90) fill in the other parts of the city. The MBTA website (http://trip.mbta.com/cgi-bin/itin_page_dhtml.pl) will actually tell you the best way (shortest, least walking, or least expensive) between any two addresses, including all necessary transfers and walking directions once you get off the bus.


Giacomo's (South End)

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dennis Ko on August 12, 2005

If all else fails, good food can certainly change someone's opinion of a place. How can anyone not like the delicious seafood in Boston? We had dinner at Giacomo’s, an Italian restaurant with seafood specialties.

A word of warning: Giacomo’s does not accept credit cards, so make sure you bring enough cash to foot the bill!

We arrived a little after 6pm and were seated without any wait. The place does fill up fast though, and on her last visit to this restaurant, my sister had to wait about an hour to get a table when they arrived at 8pm. The ambience is that of a trattoria, with the kitchen partially visible in the rear.

While perusing the menu, our waiter brought us some crusty bread complemented with olive oil. The menu has a lot of options, but the most popular is probably the seafood pasta. You can choose fettuccini with clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, scallops, or various permutations of these combinations. Then you have your choice of several sauces. We chose the zuppa di pesce with spicy fra diavolo sauce. The zuppa di pesce includes all the seafood mentioned above, along with a whole lobster! It was really quite delicious and nicely arranged on a huge platter. It’s priced at $39.95 for two people, but in reality, this dish by itself would have been enough to feed all four of us. As it happened, we ordered the lobster ravioli as well, had some leftovers, and left with no room for desert. The consensus at the table was that the ravioli was absolutely the best we’ve ever had, with large pieces of lobster within each bite and a delicious cream sauce.

Overall, we couldn't have been happier with the food and service. And even my sister had to admit that Boston didn't seem so bad that night.

Giacomo's Restaurant
431 Columbus Ave.
Boston, Massachusetts, 02116
(617) 536-5723

Chung Shin Yuan

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Dennis Ko on August 12, 2005

Having had some good luck with Boston restaurants, we decided to be a little more adventurous for our last day. We ventured just outside Boston to the town of Newton for a delicious Taiwanese brunch at Chung Shin Yuan.

The brunch is only offered on the weekend and during the week they offer more of a traditional Chinese menu. Be forewarned that the wait for this restaurant can be quite long so it’s good go get there early. We arrived at around noon and had to wait an hour for our table. Luckily, there’s a McDonald’s right next door, so we ate some Dollar Menu apple pies and fruit and yoghurt parfaits to tide us over. The apple pies aren’t as good as they used to be when they were deep-fried, but I guess that’s for a different review.

Once seated, there is very little wait for service. Taiwanese brunch is similar to dim sum in that the food is usually fried or steamed and provided in smaller portions where everyone gets a taste. Each of the menu items is just a few dollars so you can order a wide variety of things to try. We ordered several items and they were quickly brought to us as each was ready.

Favorites included the sweet soy milk and fried dough—it’s kind of like the Chinese equivalent of a long donut. The scallion pancakes were probably the tastiest that I’ve had though slightly greasy. The spicy beef noodle soup was delicious and HOT (you’ll need to fill that glass of water often), and the beef was exquisitely tender and juicy. The pork steamed buns were good though nothing special.

So if you’re interested in trying something different near Boston, try the Taiwanese brunch at Chung Shin Yuan.

After staying with her a week and sampling what Boston has to offer, I'm not sure how much my sister's opinion of the city has changed, but at least we've had some great food and made some lasting memories.

Chung Shin Yuan
183 California St
Boston, Massachusetts
617-964-0111

The Public Garden

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Dennis Ko on August 11, 2005

One thing we thought might convince my sister of the goodness of Boston was to spend some time at one of Boston’s parks. The Boston Public Garden is a lovely spot nestled right in the city that’s perfect for lazing the day away in the hot summer weather. The garden really caters to children, and how can someone have a negative view of a city with so many cute kids around?

The garden is arranged around a small lake. A paved walking trail surrounds the lake and is perfect for strollers or even toddlers without the best coordination. Numerous benches are found along the path for people-watching or enjoying a cool Italian ice. Numerous ducks, including little fuzzy ducklings and two white swans, can be seen along the lake.

For $2.50, adults can take a ride on a human-powered swan boat around the lake (children older than 2 are $1). The ride is really quite brief, just several minutes long, and if you’re busy trying to get your child to sit down in these boats without side rails, you may find that it’s over before you’ve had a chance to relax.

The statues in the garden are all impressive in their own way. Several fountains attract birds looking for a drink or some shade. George Washington on his horse stands majestic in the middle of the garden. If you’re traveling with kids, probably the most fun will be had with the "Make Way for Ducklings" statues—eight ducklings following their mother are a great photo-op as children climb all over the metal sculptures.

Boston Public Garden
Adjacent to Boston Common
Boston, Massachusetts
(617) 522-1966

Boston Public Market

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Dennis Ko on August 11, 2005

We thought that perhaps seeing what the local farmer’s markets had to offer would help my sister appreciate Boston more. The first two attempts at this failed pretty miserably. The Jamaica Plain farmer’s market seems to be supplied by a single farm, with nothing beyond a few vegetables to offer. We also went to the Jamaica Plain Antique Market (across from the 3rd Street station) and found that their definition of "antiques" encompassed any old junk.

On the other hand, the Boston Public Market was a wonderful place to spend an hour or so. It’s a fairly new nonprofit endeavor started to support local farmers. Currently, it’s only open July through November and Mondays and Thursdays from 11:30am to 7pm. The market is set up as a series of stands on the old Northern Avenue Bridge near Rowes Wharf. We were impressed by the selection of delicious fruits and vegetables, all at reasonable prices. The corn we purchased was sweet and tender. The market also offers dairy products and baked goods. We enjoyed the Reese’s Pieces ice cream and apple-cider donuts (though they didn’t taste very "appley" to me). We also bought some fresh-baked rolls that went well with a seafood stew for dinner that night.

We would also be negligent not to mention the live entertainment. A folk singer strummed some lovely tunes while we perused everything the market had to offer. He sang "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to my nephew, but he didn’t know "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," so he may not be able to take all your requests.

Boston Public Market
Northern Avenue Bridge on Fort Point Channel
Boston, Massachusetts
(781) 893-8222

Boston Harbor Tour

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Dennis Ko on August 12, 2005

We thought seeing Boston from a different perspective might change my sister’s opinion of this city. A Boston Harbor Tour is a relaxing, inexpensive way to see the city from the water. Even if it didn’t cause my sister to suddenly love this town, at least it’s an enjoyable way to leave the city streets for a couple hours.

Tickets for the tour can be purchased from Massachusetts Bay Lines at 60 Rowes Wharf, very close to Boston Public Market. The cost of the tour, which can be 1 or 2 hours long, depending on whether or not you disembark, is $11.95 for adults or $8.95 for children. This is a good deal considering that Duck Tours and trolley tours around town are about the same duration, but cost upwards of $25.

The tours run every hour until 5pm. We came in the late afternoon and found that our group of four was sharing the ship with only four other people. Our ship, the Nantascot, looked a little worn and not exactly like the "replica steamer" they advertise on the website. Some shade on the deck would have been appreciated.

The actual time on the water is 1 hour. During this time, the tour guide over a loudspeaker points out various points of interest, ranging from Trinity Church to Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge to worthwhile restaurants along the harbor. The tour guides themselves aren’t the best—they’re probably high-school or college kids working for the summer—but they still do a fairly decent job. There was excessive use of the exclamation "Kazaa!" but I guess they have to keep things interesting for themselves somehow.

About 40 minutes into the tour, you’ll stop at the USS Constitution and USS Cassin Young. You can disembark here if you’d like, visit these two ships, and then catch the next ship back to Rowes Wharf, which is what we did. Alternatively, this is one end of the Freedom Trail, so you can continue with that instead of returning to Rowes Wharf.

The USS Constitution, or "Old Ironsides" as it is affectionately called, is the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy. After going through security, you can either walk around the deck of this ship built in 1797 or get a chance to go below deck with a tour (every 30 minutes until 3:30pm). It’s a beautiful ship with tall masts and cannons still at the ready. Adjacent to the USS Constitution is the USS Cassin Young, a World War II destroyer. You can walk throughout the deck of this ship and see everything, from the Combat Information Center to the kitchen. The large guns on the ship are impressive, and there’s also a partially dismantled torpedo that’s worth a look.

We still had some time before the hour was up, so I purchased fresh-squeezed lemonade and waited at the pier for the Nantascot. It was a short 20 minutes back to Rowes Wharf.

Massachusetts Bay Lines
60 Rowes Wharf
Boston, Massachusetts, 02110
(617) 542-8000

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