A Family Adventure in Boston, USA (Part One)

Writing this, wistfully remembering our family adventure in Boston in May half term, got me thinking back about our holidays over the years.  When the girls were small, we couldn’t afford to travel.  My therapy business was still in the very early stages as I emerged from maternity leave with three babies aged 3 and under.  We were renting.  The husband had changed jobs several times.  Nursery fees were extortionate and we were barely staying afloat money-wise.  We satisfied ourselves with an annual visit to Cornwall to stay with my Aunt and a very occasional holiday to Spain to stay in my Stepdad’s villa, booking budget flights and cheap car hire to keep costs as low as possible.

Now the girls are older and at school full time (no more childcare fees, hooray!), things are different.  My business is well established; the husband has settled in a job and worked hard to make his way up to the top of the ladder; we own our home; our mortgage payments are currently less than we used to pay for our rented house each month (though that will change if we eventually manage to move house); and we’re able to save.  Every spare penny I earn after paying the bills and putting enough money aside for tax goes into a dedicated travel fund.

We now try and take one ‘big trip’ each year if we can, alternating between somewhere in Europe and venturing further afield.  I am so grateful that we are able to do this – travelling is such a huge passion of mine (alongside photography) and I want to explore everywhere and document it all.  2018 saw us travelling to Lake Maggiore in northern Italy.  In 2017 we had the holiday of a lifetime to Walt Disney World in Florida, having saved up for years and years to be able to do it.  2016 was a week-long trip to the beautiful island of Jersey.  Wondering (and dreaming about, planning and researching) where we’re going to go next is never very far from my mind.

This year we chose to have our family adventure in Boston, Massachusetts on the eastern coast of the USA.

Why did we choose to have a family adventure in Boston?

Truthfully I’m not entirely sure exactly why we decided to have our family adventure in Boston.  It was a combination of different factors I think.

>  I’ve always wanted to go to New York – it’s been high up on my list of ‘must-see’ places since I was little and I think perhaps I had the naïve idea that maybe a family adventure in Boston would be a similar-but-slightly-less-expensive-and-overwhelming alternative?  Of course you can’t really compare the two: they’re completely unique, independent cities.  And whilst I’m still yet to visit New York, Boston was in no means an ‘alternative’ to the Big Apple – it’s definitely a destination in it’s own right!

>  Whilst on a photography retreat in Colorado in 2017 I’d connected with Amy Murgatroyd, an incredibly talented photographer and all round beautiful human being, and we became firm friends. She lives in Boston and I really wanted to re-connect with her properly after catching up with her all-too-briefly in London last June for just a couple of hours when she had a flying visit during her own summer family travels throughout Europe.

Amy and I in London last year. It was so great to see her!

>  I also had the idea of combining our first ever proper family city break with a few days of downtime at the beach on Cape Cod, which I’d heard was beautiful.  A trip of two halves I guess.  It’s been a fairly recent realisation of mine (after fifteen years together!) that the husband and I have very different ideas when it comes to our family adventures.  He prefers to ‘go on holiday’ (think: pool; beach; doing nothing) whereas I prefer to travel (see the sights; explore off the beaten track; discover something new every day).  So now I’m trying to make sure that all of our trips have aspects that suit us both.

>  I’m becoming more than a little bit fascinated with the USA: it’s history; every State being so different to the next in terms of it’s geography; the people… I wanted to learn more about the place that played such an important part of shaping America.

In short, the more I looked into it as a possibility and the more research I did, the more I wanted to go.

Travel plan for our family adventure in Boston

I was very patient and waited for the Virgin Atlantic sale to start before I booked our flights.  We decided to go for ten days in total during May half term.  Of course half term is usually only a week long so yes, we did take the girls out of school for three days (the Wed/Thurs/Fri before they broke up).  It’s something we always consider very, very carefully before we make that choice.  We’ve never been fined before but this time, with Ella being in high school, we did get a £120 fine for her (though not for the other two, who were still in primary school).

The original plan was to spend five days in Boston and then five days in Cape Cod, though it did end up changing to six and four respectively.  One thing we all really wanted to do whilst on our family adventure in Boston was to watch a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park, the oldest baseball park in America.  The only home game happened to fall on the sixth day of our trip, so we jiggled our arrangements around a bit, managed to snag some tickets to the game and stayed in Boston for the extra day.  I’m so glad we were able to be flexible as it was a fantastic experience!  More about that in my next blog post.

We flew to Boston Logan International from Heathrow.  If we’d have flown out just three days later we would have been able to go from Manchester instead, thereby saving ourselves a 2 1/2 hour car journey just to get to and from the airport.  Annoying, but we didn’t know they were going to release that particular flight path and there was nothing we could do about it so we just got on with it – it all adds to the adventure, right?!

We decided not to hire a car whilst we were in Boston.  There really is no need – it’s a very walkable city and the T-line (the subway) is well connected and efficient.  We pre-booked a hire car for the final four days of our trip so we could get to Cape Cod without any hassle and were able to explore whilst we were there.  It definitely saved us a ton of money doing it that way.

We stayed in an Airbnb in South Boston.  It can be tricky finding somewhere big enough for all of us that’s in a good location and isn’t ridiculously expensive so sometimes we compromise and two of the girls share a bed or we stay a little further away from where all the main attractions are.  The one I chose was clean and comfortable and although there were no teaspoons (have you ever tried eating a yoghurt or making a cup of tea with a giant dessert spoon?) it was absolutely fine for us to use as a base to explore the city from, with the nearest subway station being just a 10-15 minute walk away.  I actually kind of love it when funny little things like that happen as they become part of our travel stories and something we’ll remember forever.

Our funny little Airbnb in South Boston

Our nearest T-line (subway) station was Broadway, a 10-15 minute walk away from our Airbnb

This blog covers the first three days of our family adventure in Boston.  The next post will cover our last three days in the city, and there will be Cape Cod blogs and a vlog to follow too.

 

Our Travel Diary

DAY ONE: WEDNESDAY

Travel day.  I absolutely love travelling and actually quite enjoy the journey to get somewhere but I do get incredibly anxious too – mostly about one of the girls getting travel sick or losing them in the airport.  So travel days are always full of mixed emotions for me.  Of course I needn’t have worried.  The girls did brilliantly both in the airport and on the plane, and the flight itself was fine with minimal turbulence and only seven hours in the air.

We caught an Uber to our accommodation (the first time I’ve ever used one) but it wasn’t quite ready.  The cleaner was still there and she let us leave our bags in a corner of the lounge whilst we went out to explore our new neighbourhood, stretch our legs and get a bit of fresh air.  We discovered a playground and spent a bit of time there, then picked up some supplies from the local supermarket and headed back to get settled in.  A quick and easy dinner, some quiet time and an early night was on the cards – I think we were all in bed by 8pm!

We left the house at 3.30am, arriving at Heathrow airport at 6am. Our reward for our super early start was seeing this gorgeous sunrise as we drove down the motorway.

At the airport, heading to the check-in desks

Lola gets a little nervous on take-off and landing, bless her

Arrived safe and sound at Boston Logan International Airport.

Found a cool playground to stretch their legs and get some fresh air after travelling for so long.

I was absolutely thrilled to spot a row of iconic yellow school buses!

 

DAY TWO: THURSDAY

I try and involve the girls as much as possible in planning our ‘itinerary’ (I use this word loosely – it’s impossible to set a schedule with our three and we’ve learned over the years to be as flexible as possible with regards to how much we try and squeeze into each day).  I make a list of all the things we could potentially see and do and together we work out the ‘definites’, the ‘maybes’ and the ‘if we have time’ things to put on our list.  The Freedom Trail was one of the ‘definites’ – I knew it would be a good way to get our bearings, see a lot of the city and I hoped that the girls would learn something interesting history-wise too.

We opted to follow the trail ourselves rather than join a tour group.  They did look really fun (the tour guide assumes the guise of a historical character, is dressed in costume and shares interesting facts along the way) and I’m sure we would have learned a lot more doing it that way but budget-wise it was a little bit of a stretch with some of the other things we had planned plus I knew there was a chance we wouldn’t make it the whole way round because of jet lag and overwhelm.  It turns out I was right – we made it halfway and then called it a day.

The sights we did see along the way were brilliant: Massachusetts State House, topped with it’s impressive golden dome; the Granary Burial Ground where we found the graves of Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin’s parents; Old City Hall; and the Boston Massacre Site in front of the Old State House (which is where the first blood was shed in the fight for American independence).

Walking the Freedom Trail

Heading to the first stop on the Freedom Trail through Boston Common

Massachusetts State House

Paul Revere was famous for his midnight ride to warn patriots that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord

Paul Revere’s grave

Old City Hall (the site of the first Public School in America) on the Freedom Trail

We wandered through Quincy Market with it’s plethora of enticing food stalls (though we actually ended up grabbing lunch in a Starbucks) before heading back to the subway station via the Rose Kennedy Greenway.  The Rose Kennedy Greenway is a small oasis of calm in the middle of the busy city.  It curves it’s way between two major roads, parallel to the waterfront and is well worth a visit if you’re travelling with kids and they’re finding the noise and busyness of the city a bit much.

It offers a little sanctuary of peace and quiet away from the traffic as you meander past a labyrinth, a carousel, fountains, nature gardens full of beautiful plants (we even saw some wild bunny rabbits!), and eventually ending up in Dewey Square Park – an open space filled with food trucks and markets plus an incredible piece of street art that left us with wide eyes and mouths open in astonishment.

Walking back towards South Station via the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The girls loved this fun little maze

Boston is situated right on Boston Harbour so when we spotted this giant flag on the waterfront we took a little detour and went to look at all the boats.  Look how tiny Ella is standing looking up at it!

The Rose Kennedy Greenway was such a gorgeous space to walk through – literally metres from the hustle and bustle of busy city roads but it felt more like being in the leafy suburbs

We stumbled on this INCREDIBLE piece of street art at the end of the Rose Kennedy Greenway opposite South Station. It was huge and so beautifully detailed. There were lots of funky food stalls in the area too – it was clearly a favourite place for locals to come and relax in the sunshine after work.

DAY THREE: FRIDAY

Mimi’s birthday falls at the end of May and so she’s celebrated a few of her birthdays away from home.  So far she’s had birthdays in Cornwall, Spain and now Boston!  This year she turned 11 and I wanted to make it special for her.  I’d managed to sneak all her presents and cards (and, of course, the birthday glasses!) into the suitcases and we surprised her with balloons when she woke up.  I’d managed to get hold of some delicious cupcakes too.

Eleven today!

The birthday girl with her sisters

Birthday cupcakes!

Having spent all day in the hustle and bustle of the city yesterday, I figured it would be a good idea to get out into the fresh air and explore what else the Boston area had to offer.  I’d read a teeny tiny snippet in my Lonely Planet guidebook about a place called Castle Island & Fort Independence and thought it sounded like somewhere the girls would love to explore.  Fortunately, it wasn’t too far from our Airbnb.  We could have got the bus there but opted to walk instead as it was such a beautiful morning.  It ended up being a bit further than I’d anticipated but it didn’t matter – it was interesting seeing some of the suburbs and walking past all the houses and imagining who lived there.

Walking through the suburbs to Castle Island and Fort Independence

I love this photo of my little tribe

Taking a moment to rest

Castle Island isn’t actually an island.  It’s 22 acres of parkland that edges a huge bay called Pleasure Bay, south-east of the city.  The open mouth of the bay has been connected with a bridge so you can do a circular walk on a paved pathway right the way around the whole bay – it’s pretty cool.  We walked anti-clockwise around it.  The scenery was beautiful, though it was incredibly windy!  You can also see the aeroplanes taking off and landing from Boston Logan Airport in the near distance.  Fort Independence (built in the 1800s) sits on the peninsula and is really quite impressive from the outside.  I bet it’s just as interesting inside too.

On the circular walk around Castle Island. Pleasure Bay is on the left of the photo and Boston Harbour is on the right.  This was on the bridge part that connects the two sides of the bay.

Stopping to take a photo

Looking back to where we came from

Off the bridge and back on the peninsula itself, working our way around to Fort Independence

Looking out to Boston Harbour

The views really were special. Those clouds didn’t look real!

Heading back home after stopping to play at the adventure playground

Back where we started

Mimi’s final birthday request was to go and get some doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts, so after a rest back at our Airbnb we headed back out again to fulfil her wish.

I think it’s safe to say we packed a lot into our first few days in Boston!  I’ll cover what we got up to over the next three days of our trip in my next blog post.  In the meantime, here’s a video documenting our whole family adventure in Boston.  They take me forever to put together but it’s totally worth the effort involved – the girls and I love watching them back and remembering everything we got up to.

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