Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Travel log: Boston's North End

So last week we drove up to Boston because my oldest nephew had graduated from high school, and the family was gathering to celebrate. For the record, I don't even need a reason to visit Boston.  Or my nephews, of course. It's a great city!

The drive from Virginia to Boston is not the funnest thing in the world, but we make it manageable. Usually we get up at the butt-crack of dawn and head out, driving about 3 hours before we stop for breakfast at Cracker Barrel.  I love me some Cracker Barrel.  Who doesn't love a place where you can get a good meal, play checkers, and buy Abbot and Costello and Three Stooges DVDs for the drive in one stop?  We usually spend about an hour there.  Love it!

We also stop for lunch somewhere along the way. This time we stopped at a place called Rein's Deli in Vernon, CT.  Y'all.  If you like deli food (and who doesn't love it??), you MUST stop here.  The sandwiches are big:

That is just the regular. You can get a "fresser" which means it's double-stuffed.  The meat was really, really good.  Pictured here is the corned beef "Rachel." It's like a Reuben, but instead of sauerkraut, it has cole slaw. Also pictured are their fries and pickles. I personally preferred the double-sour pickles, although the rest of my family liked the regular pickles (pictured), which are not as salty.

Even though our main reason to go to Boston was family-related, we managed to carve some time out to do a little sight-seeing.  Initially, the plan was to take a duck tour, but turns out you have to buy tickets really early.  We got downtown around 11:30 and they were all sold out for the day. WTF? So, if you want to do a duck tour in Boston, be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time.  Our Plan B was to spend time in the New England Aquarium, but again we were foiled by our lack of pre-planning. It was a beautiful day, so A LOT of people were out and about, which meant they were also out and about at the aquarium, so we settled with a harbor walk, then headed toward the North End.

One of the cool harbor tour boats available around the Boston Harbor.

See? It was a gorgeous day! We consoled our youngest with an ice cream cone from Emack & Bolio's right at the harbor.  The ice cream was really good - at least good enough to make a nine-year old happy enough to hoof it to the North End for an afternoon of history, pastries and pizza.

First up was Paul Revere's House:

But then we needed sustenance, so off to Modern Pastry we went.  The hardest part of the day, I think, was trying to decide which pastries to buy.  In the end, this is what we got:

Chocolate Mousse Cake, a cream puff, sfogliatelle (sfogliatella?) and two cannoli.  I am happy to report that everything was delicious and I'm sorry I didn't save you anything. Well, not super sorry, because it was delicious.  But you can't go wrong if you head to Modern Pastry.  Apparently, there is a bit of a rivalry in the North End between Modern Pastry and Mike's Pastry, but unfortunately, I had already stretched the limits of my family's patience for anything pastry-related, so I'll have to save that one for the next trip.  But, as you wander around the North End, you will come upon random bakeries, and groceries.  I fell in love with this little Italian grocery with beautiful breads:

Next up, though, was some more history.  The Old North Church. You know, "One if by land, two if by see."  In all the times we'd been to Boston, I had never been in here, so I was excited.  We were fortunate that this was not that crowded:

Right next to the church is a chocolatier (Captain Jackson's Historic Chocolate Shop) and a colonial printmaker. I'm always in when it comes to chocolate.  At the chocolate shop, we learned how colonists prepared it (usually as a drink), plus we got to taste some (spoiler alert: it was delicious).

Next door is the Printing Offices of Edes & Gill. The boys got to print their own copy of the Declaration of Independence. It was really interesting and the gentleman who worked the press was extremely engaging.

One last North End site: the narrowest house in Boston. It's  only nine feet wide and you have to enter it through a narrow alley. I believe it is privately-owned, so we didn't get to see inside, unfortunately.

Completely exhausted, the boys were ready for some pizza.  As we were walking, trying to figure out where to eat, we asked a man carrying a pizza box where he got his.  He said "Ernesto's. It's the best pizza."  Then we took a look at his shirt, which carried a logo for Boston Pizza Tours. (side note: who even knew you could get a tour of pizzas in Boston? The only thing better? A beer tour. Guess what? They have those, too!)

I guess he would know, then.  Ha! Ernesto's it is!  The pizza WAS delicious:

We got the tomato and basil, cheese, and a Hawaiian. By the way, the two pieces on each plate is "one slice" according to Ernesto.  Who am I to argue?

If you are in Boston, I encourage to take a couple of hours to walk around the North End, especially on a nice day.  Even if it's not, you can hole up in a pastry shop taste-testing.  It's got history, food and architecture all in one compact spot.  What's not to like?  :-)

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