Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A snowy trip to New York City and Boston

Our trip to New York and Boston earlier this year came at a pretty chaotic time - flights were being cancelled and rescheduled all over the place due to major snowstorms all along the east coast, and ours was one of the few to leave relatively on-time.

I've stayed at Pod 51 a couple of times - it's basic and getting a bit frayed round the edges, but for somewhere central and cheap to stay, it's ideal. The rooms are basic and some have shared bathroom facilities, but if you really only need somewhere to crash after a busy day, it's fine. We'd previously stayed at the Edison and the Wellington which were around the same price range but poky and dated - next time I'd investigate staying outside of Manhattan, but if you're new to NYC or want to be near the obvious attractions, the Pod is great.

Another benefit is the amount of great bars and eateries in the area. Just a moment round the corner is The Smith, which is a great place for breakfast, and Blockheads Burritos who serve the best Mexican food (and frozen margaritas) I've had in years.

This was my fourth time in New York City so I was fairly familiar with the neighbourhoods fit together, but previously I've taken various great walking and bike tours which give you a great sense of where you are and how each area of town slots together. My favourite was the Brooklyn Bike Tour by Get Up and Ride, which zips you all over Brooklyn with plenty of stops for photos, snacks and trivia from a local guide. It's a really different way to spend a morning and a unique way to see this great part of the city. Another highlight was a free walking tour of Harlem, an area I'd never considered visiting but turned out to be fascinating, particularly as a social history nerd. It's free - just tip the guide at the end.

Back to Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Flea has found a new location at 1000 Dean Street. I love this place. Not quite as visually impressive as the former Williamsburg Bank where it was sited the last time I paid a visit, but the new location provides a vast amount of space for hundreds of stalls of handmade items, antiques, furniture and food and drink. There are plenty of unique souvenirs to be had - I met a favourite illustrator, Claudia Pearson, and came away with one of her great Brooklyn Brownstone prints, You could easily spend most of a day here.

Take some time, while you're in the area, to wander the streets of Park Slope and up to Williamsburg. There are so many great little shops and bars - and the atmosphere is so much calmer than Manhattan - that it's worth dedicating at least a day to exploring. For food, check out Sea Thai and the appropriately named Best Pizza, both in Williamsburg.

Back to Manhattan, and no trip to NYC would be complete without a trip to Marie's Crisis Cafe, which I'm slightly reluctant to tell you about lest it become suddenly too busy to take away its charm. Be warned - if crowds of people singing show-tunes en masse isn't your thing, stay away. If you like an unpredictable night with the booze flowing, you'll enjoy. Nearby is The Little Owl, a great, tiny restaurant (make a reservation and try the sliders) and the famous Stonewall Inn, the site of the riots which kicked off a sea-change in LBGT rights.

This was a brief trip to New York, but my list of favourite places to visit in the city has expanded again. Other places I'd recommend include:
- Five Napkin Burger and Dinosaur BBQ - some of the biggest, juiciest, meatiest burgers you'll ever have.
- The High Line (above) is a great, atmospheric walk along a disused railway line which is now a high-level park, winding around the Manhattan skyscrapers.
- 230 Fifth serves great cocktails on the roof of a skyscraper looking downtown over the Empire State Building. Grab a blanket and enjoy the views as the sun sets.

So off we went to Boston. Narrowly avoiding a long list of cancelled trains courtesy of the snow, we luckily boarded the Amtrak at Penn Station and set off on the beautifully scenic route to Back Bay station in Boston. The journey really is stunning, and takes you right along the coastline through a series of beautiful seaside towns. Sit on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. American trains are great - they're less fussy than their British counterparts and zoom along to their destination with no messing about.

We arrived in Boston in the midst of a blizzard, accepting it wouldn't be the most action-packed holiday (as everything was pretty much closed) but also quite happy that we basically had the snowy streets of the city to ourselves. We checked in at Hotel 140, which is perfectly located for the station and watched the slightly eerie sight of the town being silently snowed in.

Wrapped in several layers, we explored nearby Boston Common (again, beautiful in the snow) and prepared for an event that generally passes most Brits by - the Super Bowl! The local team New England Patriots were playing - the promised crowds in bars were pretty thin as everyone was watching at home in the warm, but there was a fun atmosphere nonetheless and it was exciting when the Patriots won. No idea what was going on, but Go Patriots!

Next day, more snow, and a great walking tour with a brilliant local chap called Alan who had braved the slush to meet us (and only us) for a wander along the famous Freedom Trail, taking in all of the historical landmarks concentrated in the city centre - and there are many. The most interesting part for me was the neighbourhood of Beacon Hill - tightly packed rows of houses which had rocketed in value over the years, made all the more picturesque by the weather. We essentially skated our way around!

A couple of hours and a pair of replacement boots later and we headed over to Harvard. Harvard is set in Cambridge, just north of the city, and really feels like a mini version of its British namesake. The college gates are open and you're free to wander the beautiful campus and wonder how it must feel to actually study there. The students had also created a gigantic snow mound for an impromptu sledging session.

Next, we headed south to the Samuel Adams brewery. The tour is free and really interesting, although it essentially takes place on a set as very little beer is actually brewed here. The guides are enthusiastic and really like their beer, and there are plenty of samples to be had. You even get to keep the souvenir glass. Worth taking the short subway trip to visit.

We finished the day with a great meal at the Atlantic Fish Company, close to the Boston Marathon finish line.

Next day, we woke up to discover even more snow had fallen. Icicles draped along the top of our window and the ground floor windows of the hotel were almost totally covered. Faces smothered under several scarves, we set out on to the deserted roads to find breakfast. Very few people were out on the roads, other than a few brave workers with snow shovels trying to clear routes. The snow drifts were so high that we had to walk through high-walled valleys that had been carved through them - definitely the most snow we'd ever seen. We eventually found great, cheap breakfast at Thorntons, who served up the biggest plate of eggs known to man as giant clumps of snow slowly slid off the roof.

We decided to take an impromptu trip to Salem, around 20 minutes away by train. A slightly risky plan, given the weather and the fact trains were being cancelled left, right and centre, but we were both keen to go and take a look at the infamous town. Reminded several times that everything would be deserted and everything closed, we threw caution to the wind and headed off. The town was indeed deserted and everything was indeed closed, but it was great. We had the entire place to ourselves and, despite the snow whipping our faces, Salem was a very picturesque spot. We didn't miss much along the main street - mainly witchy gift shops - and we eventually found somewhere open! Trampling ice into the beautiful Hawthorne Hotel, we warmed up with soup and wine in their restaurant, the Tavern on the Green, by a very welcoming roaring fire.

Luckily we managed to catch a train back to Boston before the lines were closed down and we settled into a neighbourhood bar with a giant glass of Samuel Adams before our late flight which, despite the apocalyptic weather conditions, departed on time.

Overall, a fantastic and fun trip to Boston and a great return to New York. I'd definitely love to revisit Boston and the surrounding area in nicer weather with more to do, but the snow really did provide a beautiful backdrop to explore a city packed with interesting history.

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to have any complaints about venues in San Francisco. It's easy to get a drink since they actually keep enough bartenders working at once, and you'll almost always find a place to sit. I love the vibe, the area, the people and the food at this place.