In Boston, there is a 2-1/2 mile long line that weaves through the downtown made of red brick and bronze plaques. While easily missed if you are driving around, and sometimes just tripped over if on foot; it is also the most frequented tourist attraction in the city … whether they know it or not. Of course, it mostly because it tags itself onto all the other tourist attractions, but that’s not the point. It’s not the point that all the key restaurants and bars in downtown Boston tag themselves to it as well. It’s not the point that it’s free either. None of that matters, so quit asking.
What I am talking about here is The Freedom Trail.
If you’ve been a tourist, visitor, or random individual whom got a parking ticket in Boston at some time, you probably heard of the Freedom Trail. A wandering, meandering, strangely indirect path that heads through the heart of Downtown Boston, to the North End, then across the Charles River before finishing in Charlestown. Yeah, that’s still only 2-1/2 miles, it ain’t a big place, alright? What makes the trail so popular is that it is placed so that someone on the trail will hit most of the big historical spots in Boston. Developed in 1951, it is a simple line of red bricks heading you from site to site with an occasional bronze disc, weathered sign, or tour guide dressed in period clothing to point you to what you should be looking at. The stops include the Old South Meeting House (where the famous Tea Party was planned), the Old State House (where the Boston Massacre happened), the Old North Church (as in ‘one if by land, two if by sea, three if by lost count’), Bunker Hill (site of a community college, or something), the USS Constitution (the only active US Navy Commissioned Vessel to have sunk an enemy ship – last during the War of 1812), and the most famous of stops … Ye Old Chipotle (seriously, there was a plaque in the ground that pointed me to go inside).
Today, in an effort to avoid doing work on a Sunday, I walked most of the trail — Charlestown was a long way from the subways. It was a short subway ride from my home to the start in the Boston Common, and as the sun was out with a mix of warm moments and cold air from the ocean, it was a great day for a walk.
Now if you are taking the Freedom Trail, there are a few (cynical) rules you need to follow — be warned, this list may include sarcasm:
- Don’t be surprised if someone tries to cross a street when the light says not to. Those people are called “Locals”. They are immune to getting run over, and are deaf to car horns. As a Tourist, your job is to wait until the light turns green, and then open your map and look lost.
- The guy who comes up to you and says that he needs a couple bucks to buy a Charlie Card on the T … no he doesn’t.
- Don’t get slowed down by the Starbucks, 7-Elevens, and Burrito joints early in your hike. Seriously, just walk on, Poutine Awaits.
- Taking pictures of buildings is frowned upon. Instead, you are recommended to take a video … without narration … you know, motion video of a building with no additional sound thus ruining the shot … because it may do something if you take a normal picture, or who knows, whatever, just stand there and take a damn video of a building.
- If you think the uneven pavement and the broken cement is hard to walk on, don’t let it get to you. There’s a hell of a lot of cobblestone later on to let get to you.
- When in a crowded section of narrow sidewalk, you are to do one of those things. Either stop suddenly, or slow over a short period of time as you move towards a wall blocking in someone behind you. Conversely, it is acceptable to walk directly into someone coming the other way.
- Selfie sticks are only to be used as a weapon unintentionally.
- If you are from a foreign country, yes that set of flowers hanging over the edge of window planter will kill you – the more you over react and jump away from it the better the chance the world will be saved by your actions.
All kidding aside, it really is an interesting experience and a great cross-section of Boston history and culture. There is no other place in the world that I can think of that so juxtaposes history with modern. In the massive steel jungle of the high finance world of Boston, a building of red brick that has stood nearly 300 years stands getting the attention that it deserves. Nearly every famous restaurant or bar in Boston is along the trail, and usually right at a location that becomes the only excuse you need to make a stop. It’s a simple little concept with a simple little execution. While there are a number of great ways to see the sites, this little path is a nice way for anyone to get a real taste of Boston.
If that ain’t enough, I’ll have someone give you a parking ticket. That should round out the whole experience for you.