The Spirit of America by Nathalie Kyrou
For a taste of New England, take a road trip down the Coast of Massachusetts and a walking tour of Boston
One evening, over bottle of wine (and don’t most good travel ideas begin in just this way?), my friends and I pull out a map of North America, excited at the thought of seeing its beautiful north-eastern coast, most commonly known as New England. Many of America’s pivotal events have been played out against the backdrop of Massachusetts, which has always been New England’s industrial and intellectual hub. It is here, in its capital city, Boston, where the seeds of democracy were first planted, where colonial leaders signed the Declaration of Independence, where the strongest roots of the American Revolution took place, blossoming into the birth of a nation, something which has forever altered the course of world history.
My first impression of Boston is that this city is, to say the least, incredibly photogenic. The distinctly Bostonesque red brick buildings, gleaming cobblestone streets, parks, ponds and abundant greenery are all crying out to be captured on film and frozen in time. I am captivated by the view from the balcony of the 24th floor of the Radisson Hotel: a spectacular panorama of Boston’s skyscrapers standing out boldly against a blue sky.
A walk later down the renown Boylston Road takes us past the famous Trinity Church to the hip and fashionable area of Newbury Street. This trendy road, surrounded by trees which will later be lit up with fairy lights, is similar to a boutique adorned neighbourhood of some fancy European city. In fact, American as it may be, Boston, with its river and old buildings, draws many similarities to the typical large European city - perhaps one of the reasons why it is so popular with tourists. We dine at ‘Stephanie’s on Newbury’, devouring our enormous burgers with appetite, washing them down with decent tasting local beer.
Much to my delight, the terrible weather predictions for the next few days prove false, and the next morning greets us with more sunshine and warm temperatures, making it the perfect day for a road trip down to Cape Cod. The two hour drive south is picturesque as we leisurely pass by New England homes which seem to have stepped right out of a story book. Framed by spring blossoms, the painted wooden houses - proudly bearing the American flag – colourfully decorate the leafy tree-lined roads along the coast.
We stop in Plymouth, a sea-side town known for the ship, The Mayflower, which brought the first Pilgrims here from the U.K. in 1620. When it set anchor here, their colony became the first permanent English settlement in North America and thus was created ‘The New World’, coining the term ‘New England’. Plymouth is a lovely town, both quaint and residential, yet with an endless crowd of tourists. The Mayflower II, a replica of the original boat, travelled here in 1957 from the U.K., and is now permanently docked by Plymouth Rock. The traditionally costumed guides give us a detailed description of life aboard the ship in that era. This type of historical lifestyle immersion is common in Massachusetts, where one can find numerous museums in the form of period villages set back in time, such as The Plymouth Plantation. These outdoor replicas of 18th century villages are great attractions for visitors to the area wishing to immerse themselves in history and tradition.
We resume our drive southward and reach Cape Cod. We leave the car and take the ferry from Woods Hole to the famous Martha’s Vineyard. This island, situated off the south coast of the Cape, is much larger than we had expected. I discover that the best way to tour it if you are in a hurry and have not brought your car over is by bus. Although the bus routes are not extensive, the day pass allows you to easily explore the island’s scenery, which contrasts sharply from region to region: inhabited towns, rugged shorelines, deserted beaches, picturesque ports and dense inland forests.
A forty five minute ferry ride brings us back to Cape Cod, but by the time we set off in the car to its northern shore, it is already dusk. At this time of the evening we are unable to see any of the beautiful scenery or take advantage of some of the area’s greatest beaches. The drive along the unlit streets of the peninsula seems never ending, and apart from the occasional rotating beam of light from a nearby lighthouse, the darkness is monotonous. We finally arrive at the tip of the peninsula called Province Town, which is now eerily deserted. The streets, with their trendy shops, art galleries and restaurants, are all already closed for the day.
Boston is lively in springtime and the streets are filled with people. The place is bustling with youth since it is graduation time and Boston is home to several universities. The most renown of these is Harvard, the oldest and most prestigious college in the nation. We decide to take the T - the Boston subway - to Harvard, which is in the town of Cambridge on the north-west side of Charles River. Harvard Square welcomes us with its crowds of students and their visiting parents, families with children, local artists and musicians. I stroll leisurely around the university grounds, pausing in Harvard Yard to take in the scenery: lush green gardens, beautiful monuments and grand architecture.
At the shop on Brattle Street, I buy souvenirs. The ‘Au Bon Pain’ chain of sandwich shops, popular in Boston, can also be found at the corner of Harvard Square. Outside, on the patio, sit numerous old homeless-looking men who nevertheless are enjoying themselves immensely as they play chess for money, with expertise. This memorable scene reminds me of the coffee shops in Cypriot villages, where elderly men play backgammon all day long. Later, I take a short rest by the roadside, surrounded by flower shops and street entertainers while music drifts to me from every direction. I decide that Cambridge is indeed magical and seems to me the ideal place to spend the summer.
Upon our return to Boston, we get out at Park Street and walk up Boston Common, the largest park in the city centre. The Public Gardens, with its weeping willows framing a rippling pond of glimmering waters, offer a tranquil place to rest one’s weary feet. We proceed onwards to the Massachusetts State House, its domed roof staring down at us in glittering gold. We turn right into the Government Centre, also the financial district as well as the heart of the Old City. Historical buildings, predating American Independence, are prevalent amongst the more recent skyscrapers, offering glimpses of a colonial past.
The Boston Globe Shop, one of the oldest stores in the U.S., is named after the city’s local newspaper, and is not to be missed. Inside, you will find a variety of books specialising in the city’s history, authentic dated journals displaying historical news, and striking pictures of New England taken by local photographers. After touring the historical venues, we walk all the way to Faneuil Hall and, another famous Bostonian landmark, Quincy Marketplace. The market is alive and brimming with people, colours and intoxicating smells. Seafood is advertised everywhere and our stomachs are beginning to grumble. But the powerful positive vibe spreading through the streets douses us in good spirits, and nothing - not even hunger - can spoil our enjoyment of what is apparently the city’s first day of spring.
The waterfront beckons us at the North End of Boston. We pause at the end of Long Wharf from where the view of the city is supreme. To our dismay, there are no restaurants along the water, so we continue south along the sea-front searching for an ideal spot for lunch. Boston, and New England in general, have always had excellent harbours that centuries ago gave the area access to the West Indies, Europe and farther afield, aiding to develop a maritime trade with the spices and teas of the Far East. Nearby, at Griffin’s Wharf, is located a vessel resembling the original Boston Tea Party ship. It was here that a protest occurred in 1773 involving patriots tossing bales of tea overboard. Today, on this vessel, one can take part in a re-enactment of this event.
Further along, we stop briefly at the historic Boston Harbour Hotel, one of the oldest buildings in the city. The place is adorned with intricate models of ships, ancient sea and navigation maps, as well as battle plans. As I exit, I notice that there is a strong feeling of patriotism all around us, as American flags border every building, ship and monument. Boston’s importance in American history has left it with a unique legacy of old buildings, and religious structures, unsurpassed in beauty, of which there seem to be too many to keep track of! With its wealth of sites, I become more and more aware how fascinating a city this is to explore.
Boston is impregnated with early American architectural styles, from Colonial to Greek Revival, all of which have influenced buildings across New England for many centuries. Moreover, in this delightful city, there are always surprises waiting for you around the corner. For example, as we stroll down King’s Chapel and Burial Ground to the Old State House, we suddenly find ourselves at the spot where the Declaration of Independence was first read out after its signing in 1776, which eventually led to the American Revolution. I stand there entranced with haunting images of The Boston Massacre, which also took place in this site.
For a change of scenery, a few minutes walk across Atlantic Avenue will lead you to the waterfront. We pass by the Aquarium, and though it is one of Boston’s main attractions, we are now driven by a greater force than that of curiosity: that of insatiable hunger. Luckily, when we cross Northern Ave Bridge, we find the Barking Crab Shack, where we finally settle for our long awaited lunch. Finding a seat by the water, we bask in the sunshine, absorbing the energy around us while cheerful crowds gather on long wooden benches. The smell of seafood is intense. I indulge in tasty fried clams - a dish that this region is known for - and replenish my energy by devouring an entire fresh lobster (the best I have ever tasted), served to me in a paper plate with only a rock (to smash the shell open),a tub of melted butter and lemon wedges.
That evening, most of us are still full from our late lunch, so instead of dining we decide to walk up Beacon Hill, where we discover one of the most beautiful areas of Boston. Charles Street is the shopping area, home to wine and cheese shops, delicatessens, unique boutiques and antique dealers – a neighbourhood, reminiscent of a time long gone. The old but well preserved town “mansions” line the narrow cobblestoned streets, forming an elite and nostalgic village scene. Unforgettable are the ivy covered walls; the expensively furnished and warmly lit interiors; the cosy, romantic restaurants whose cellars pose as dining rooms, their private courtyards immersed in inviting candlelight, luring visitors in with mellow music.
At the bottom of the hill we walk west along Beacon Street to the original Bull and Finch pub which inspired the sitcom series ‘Cheers’. Then, in the mood for dessert, we make our way to a patisserie called ‘Finale’. Here, the chefs are performers who display their pastry skills to the public as they work on sweet creative delicacies which are minuscule but rich and delicately decorated. The place is both elegant and busy, and we have to wait a while for a table, but the expensive and decadent culinary experience is worth the wait.
The next morning, the subway from Arlington takes us on the Green Line all the way to Haymarket, where the streets, wet and glistening from the rain, remind me of some old parts of London, England. In the centre of this area is located the outdoor Holocaust museum, which consists of a single walkway along which have been erected several glass towers on which are engraved the prisoner numbers of all the Holocaust victims. The tall transparent towers, each representing a concentration camp, are etched with tiny figures indicating the millions of prisoners. As the numbered dead loom up and fade into the grey sky, the breathtakingly horrific scene is mesmerizingly tragic.
Nearby lies Boston’s ‘Little Italy’. It is hard to decide which place to lunch at since there are so many little restaurants, clay-oven pizzerias and cafes to choose from along Salem and Hanover Streets. This part of Boston is famous for several reasons, one of which is Paul Revere, an American hero who made a memorable ride on horseback from the city to the countryside in order to warn the locals that the British were on their way to attack. Paul lived in what is now considered the oldest house in Boston. Behind his statue on horseback (which can be found in the nearby Paul Revere Mall), one can see the spire of the Old North Church - second oldest in the city - with its pristine white interior and traditional box pews.
It is this site which separates the two halves of the Freedom Trail, a walking route that weaves its way through the city, one of the highlights of Boston and more directly linked to the American Revolution than anything else in the country. This discovery trail takes you on a journey through all the important landmarks and sites relating to the Revolution and other freedoms gained by Bostonians. Running for miles from south to north, marked by red lines painted on the pavement, it is a tour of the past in a city that established among its many attributes: literacy, ingenuity, religion, politics and more importantly, freedom. In this birthplace of influential heroes and powerful minds, there are marks of genius all over the place, as well as an indescribable spirit of courage lingering in the air. I find my heart swells with tremendous emotion in these surroundings, and I suddenly fully understand why the licence plates of this state declare Massachusetts as the ‘Spirit of America’.
We ride the subway all the way back to Copley Square, where can be found the famous Boston Public Library; apart from the great works of literature housed there, its inspiring interior and captivating exterior are majestic works of art, worth viewing alone. We take refuge from the incessant rain at Copley Mall, which is filled with designer shops targeted to an artistic, wealthy market.
Although our trip to New England is over too soon, the enticing image of Boston in the springtime is still fresh in my mind. What I have seen of this city and its surrounding coast-line, I have loved. It is not an exaggeration to say that I am inspired. Boston, quintessential birthplace of America, and home to intellectuals, writers and poets for centuries, is a haven for artists who continue to take inspiration for their most incredible works from these equally fascinating surroundings. Surpassing all of this is the feeling that wherever you come from and whatever your tastes may be, once you have visited Massachusetts, New England, you will feel a sense of belonging, and once you leave - if you do - the impact of this place will leave you changed forever.
Copyright © Nathalie Kyrou 2009
- A few words by Nathalie Kyrou...
- I am a Writer, Artist, Musician and Philosopher who believes the reason to be alive is to learn, experience, grow, influence and if you're lucky, inspire.
I've created this blog to introduce my own literature to the rest of the world in the hope that it will - and I will - in some way, make a difference.
There is a quote by a Greek philosopher, Epictetus, which I love: First Learn the Meaning of What You Say and then Speak. I believe in making life as meaningful as possible, and that is why everything you find here was created with meaning which I believe, in turn, gives it the power to inspire.
I hope you will enjoy reading my writing and be sure to check out my website at www.kyrou.com for samples of my artwork, photography and music.
From Inspiration to Creation...