Through the storm

Driving through downtown Boston was a blessed relief after 5 1/2 hours of piloting through a storm.  Normally if my destination is a large metropolis there is always a little tweak of nerves as I imagine turning down a one way street only to realize that I am of course going the wrong way.  Or perhaps I have to stop and ask directions, something that goes against the grain of every man, and someone is impatiently waiting behind me as I completely block the road while the confused slow talker tries to work out how to get me to where I asked to go.  “Just tell me you don’t know, man!  Stop pretending you’re working out the best way for me to go”.

Our journey begins before the sun even rises

Of course, neither of those two things happened, (well one might of), and I am getting a little ahead of myself.  Let’s rewind to the start of the day when the alarm (set to chirping crickets in an attempt to make the morning reveille a little less jarring) jolted me from my very deep sleep.  This is the one morning that it didn’t take me a long time to get up: I was excited.  A road trip with the family to Boston was on the cards, and not only that but we had a rental car (why we did is another story altogether) and like all guys I find driving a car that is not the one I use every day something to look forward to.  Daft, really, because it’s just a Mazda 3 and not the Bugatti Veyron I asked for, but nonetheless it has that new car smell still vaguely intact and who can resist that?

Once I had the surprisingly spacious boot all packed (each of us has their own suitcase, don’t you know!) the four of us piled into the car and set off for our road trip breakfast stop of Tom Hortons.  Shortly after, we were happily settled in and stuffing our faces with breakfast sandwiches and either tea, coffee or hot chocolate.  All the while I was trying to convince myself that the light tapping sound of frozen pellets bouncing off the windscreen was nothing to be worried about and we would have a smooth drive down to Bean Town.  Thankfully I was not entirely wrong, but the weather didn’t play nice the whole way.

Let me start by saying it was windy, very windy.  It was also in the perfect temperature window that fosters a chameleon like behaviour that takes you from light snow, to freezing rain, to rain and back again, all within the space of a few kilometres.  One minute the tarmac was clearly visible and the worst you had to contend with was the rooster tail of spray being thrown up by the car ahead of you, the next you were suddenly aware that the car was not completely attached to the ground anymore.  A closer inspection confirmed that you were riding on sheer ice.  Don’t turn the wheel, don’t make any sudden movements, don’t slam the brakes on.  Every movement has got to be slow and deliberate.  Don’t even sneeze.  It’ll be one thing that is sure to send the car careening into the median.  I counted at least six people who had not been able to prevent a sneeze and had ended up in various states of ‘stuckness’ in the snow.  One such incident happened right in front of us.  I had just moved into the slow lane, which was travelling slowly at no more than 60 kph, when a large Texas-size pick up went barreling past.  I say barreling, but its all relative, isn’t it?  He was probably only doing 80 kph, but given the road conditions (we were in one of those ice stretches) it was too fast.  About 100 yards, or three cars, up from us, said truck attempted to get back into the slow lane and suddenly found itself facing the wrong way on the highway and torpedoed tail first into the snow bank that lined the road.  We were immediately next to the truck and slowed down to see if there was anything we could do or if the driver needed help.  He was quick to give us the thumbs up, and no doubt running on a high dose of adrenaline he seemed to be repeatedly planting his foot to the floor to get the truck out of its snug anchor.  The wheels spun furiously, and I am sure if we’d stuck around we’d have seen a successful, extraction, but the bloke behind me who had to slow down when I slowed down had other plans and began to get a little frustrated that we had done what I believed to be the decent thing and make sure that no-one was hurt.  His incessant honking signalled that doing good was not on his to-do list for the day, so we moved off and rejoined the madness on the road.

The Eliot Hotel in Boston. Luxuriously old world.

The rain kept up all the way into town and pulling up in front of the Eliot Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue, (or Comm Av as it is known locally), allowed us all to let out a huge sigh.  The hotel did not disappoint.  Old world enough to take you back to the ’30s, but not so much that you felt like you were really there.  A wonderful welcome at reception and to Marie’s enormous delight the sheets that she had ordered online were waiting for us.  The room presented onto Comm Av and the view of Boston’s architecture is visible from the bedroom window.

Having settled in, the first order of the day was clearly to eat lunch.  We had the car parked by the valet (at a whopping $36/day) and set off on foot to explore the immediate surroundings.  Within a couple of blocks we were rewarded with the discovery of a small Greek restaurant that held the promise of home-cooked meals.  It lived up to expectations and dessert was just down the road at Pinkberry, the frozen yoghurt emporium.  If you’ve not been here and you’re a fan of cold treats, you really have to make it a stop on your next excursion to the US.

So first impressions of Boston are of a very friendly city that is very confusing to get around.  It’s not built on the ‘grid’ system that many of us are more familiar with in large cities.  In fact, streets seem to sheer off in any direction they like without a word of warning.  This brings a certain charm to the city and if you’re on foot it does not complicate things at all.  I suspect that driving through the town would be a different story altogether.

We ended our day with dinner at the Asian fusion restaurant Myers & Chang.  A short cab ride from the hotel, the ambience was modern and fun, with a very US diner feel despite the delicious and very genuine Asian food that arrived hot at our tables as it was prepared.  Their style of service is ‘bring it to the customer as soon as it is ready’, and so different plates arrive and the best way to eat is be prepared to share all the dishes.  Our taxi driver for the return trip was a proud Bostonian who informed us that of all the major metropolis’s in the US, Boston has the lowest crime rate.  When we informed him we were from Canada, he laughed out loud and said “You guys are more liked than any other country!  You always rank highest on the ‘Best Places to Live’ list.  It’s all thanks to Pierre Trudeau: he was very loved by everyone”.

Thanks for the warm welcome Boston.  Here’s to the next few days of exploring your magnificent city!

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