As non-Americans it is so easy to go along with the stereotype that all Americans are loud and interfering and man, can’t they just mind their own business? Once again, our experience in this city has exploded that stereotype apart. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it has highlighted a somewhat unpleasant characteristic that I always knew to be true about Montreal, but I have always tried to ignore, not wanting to think anything ill of my beloved home town. The truth is, a tourist in Montreal is going to face an uphill struggle to be understood, and every time you ask for help you’re going to feel as if you’re bothering someone, especially if you’re asking in, oh no!, English. Here, on the other hand, everyone, and I mean everyone, is so open and friendly and genuinely proud to be sharing their city with you. It’s truly warming.
I’ll give you a very poignant example, at least it struck a chord with me. Marie and I were down on Boylston Sreet doing a little shopping. We needed to pop into the pharmacy to get some cough drops for Emma, and on the way in there was a gentleman of no fixed abode holding out his styrofoam cup and asking if we could help him. I took the time in the store to pick out a couple of dollars from my wallet so that I would be ready to give them to him on the way out. My father-in-law taught me, through Marie as I never actually met him, that “we’re too wealthy to not give a dollar or two to someone in need”. We come out onto the street and our friend is still there, and as I come towards him to drop my contribution into his weathered Dunkin Donuts cup, he spots Marie opening up her pack of Wrigleys Double Mint gum. “May I have a piece of gum, miss?” he inquires. I can’t help but chuckle to myself. Something so small as a piece of gum, when you don’t have easy and free access to it, can really be all that you’re craving. Marie gave him a piece and I dropped the two dollars into his cup, along with a cheery “Have a super afternoon!” or something like that. He immediately picked up on the accent, or perhaps the Nikon camera around my neck screamed “I’m a tourist” enough for him, and he said as we walked away, “Welcome to Boston!” We do feel welcome, so thank you!
Emma gets sick about once a year. Certainly no more than that and not necessarily every year. When she does get hit with something, it’s usually a doozy, and this time is no exception. She has been hit by a vile sore throat-making, nose-stuffing, headache-inducing cold that you could imagine and she feels simply awful. So much so that this morning it was quickly apparent that she was not going to be heading out anywhere, and so we had to adjust our plans. Sadly, this meant Marie staying at the hotel this morning to look after Em, while I took Ollie out to the Natural History Museum at Harvard. I won’t pretend that I didn’t get the best deal here. A father-son morning was something I was looking forward to enormously, and so was Ollie. I did feel terrible for Marie, but promised an afternoon of shopping on Newbury Street as a reward for playing Florence Nightingale to poor little Em.
Like two explorers, Ollie and I headed off into the unknown. Well, it was hardly too uncivilized, although we did have to tackle the Boston subway, which I have to say was a very pleasant experience. I struggled a bit with the ticket dispensing machine. Fortunately my ten year old son was able to easily navigate the multiple screens that guided us to the right options, and before you could say ‘Beantown is where its at‘ we were standing on the platform waiting for the train. Arriving in Harvard Square, now in Cambridge, just across the Charles River, we exited our subterranean existence to be greeted by bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies. According to my GPS it was only a six minute walk to the museum. It immediately became obvious that this was an understatement as I got lost in the impressively formal grounds of Harvard University. We did finally make it and spent close to two glorious hours exploring the ancient world of dinosaurs and underwater creatures from eras long gone. There is nothing quite like the look of uncensored amazement on your child’s face as he or she sees something truly awesome for the first time. Every new room we went into Ollie’s face would break into the broadest smile and he would stare in wonder at whatever relic was nailed into the display case.
Another fine example of Bostonian hospitality was delivered when I stopped a stranger in the street to ask them where Otto’s Pizzeria was. He looked at me and said, “It’s just around the corner here, but the pizza’s only aw-ight. If you’re looking for the best pizza in town, you wanna go to The Upper Crust, just down the road here to the right.” Well OK then! One thing I have learned is that the locals always know best and you’d be foolish not to take their advice. He did not steer us wrong. We had quite possibly the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life.
Ollie and I, intrepid Boston explorers, made it back to the hotel just after one, with a couple of slices of pizza in hand for our lady folk. As soon as we walked into the room I smelled the tell tale sign of room service and sure enough the girls were tucking into a feast. The morning’s work of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich had brought about an appetite that could only be quaffed by a fine sandwich and miso soup for the sick one. I was reminded as to the crazy margins that hotels make on room service, but it was well worth it to see the happy smiles on their faces, and God knows they deserved a treat after being in the room all morning.
Our afternoon was a rare treat in spoiling ourselves, just the two of us. Ollie was all tuckered out after his morning at the museum, and Emma was still in recovery mode, so the kids were happy to camp out in the room for a couple of hours while Marie and I practiced that ancient art of retail therapy. We did, by way of a small bribe, suggest that we may bring them back a Pinkberry frozen yogurt, and this fact was not forgotten as Em called us twice and texted three times during the afternoon asking when they could expect their delivery. Boylston and Newbury streets provided us with more than a couple of hours of magnificent window shopping and some not so window shopping as it became quite obvious via the collection of large impressive looking shopping bags that we were getting slightly out of control. Fortunately we ran out of time before any major damage could be inflicted and we were finally all a family once again for dinner at the Island Creek Oyster Bar on Commonwealth Avenue. Only a ten minute walk from the hotel, we walked up the avenue and gazed admiringly into the very ‘Upstairs, Downstairs‘ looking town houses, at times mesmerized by the brightness of the bejewelled crystal chandeliers hanging from the 18’ ceilings that seemed to be the standard in all the homes we passed.
Boston, you have outdone yourself on day two. What do you have in store for us tomorrow?