As I write this, it’s pouring with rain outside, the girls are snuggled up under a blanket on the sofa watching a film and it feels more like mid-November than mid-August. It’s hard to believe that a whole season has been and gone since we arrived home from our family adventure in Boston at the end of Spring and now we’re almost into Autumn already. Where is this year going?!
A Family Adventure In Boston
Last week I shared Part One of our travel diary from the first three days of our family adventure in Boston, and this post covers our final three fantastic days in the city before we moved on to the next part of our trip in Cape Cod.
Honestly, going back through all my photos and remembering what we did, the fun we had, and talking through which were our favourite parts of Boston has made me want to go back as soon as possible. We packed a lot in but there was so much more to see and do. I’ve tried to pick out one single thing that I enjoyed the most about our family adventure in Boston and I just can’t – I loved it all! It’s such a beautiful city and so family-friendly too.
Here’s what we got up to over the Memorial Day weekend…
Our Travel Diary
DAY FOUR: SATURDAY
After our long and blustery walk around Castle Island and Fort Independence yesterday, plus the excitement of Mimi’s 11th birthday, the girls weren’t too keen to have a big day of exploring. But with only limited time left for our family adventure in Boston and so much still to see and do, I was determined that we would get out and about and experience more of what this exciting city had to offer. It actually ended up being one of our busiest days of sightseeing. Oops!
It was a beautiful morning so we decided to bypass the T-line (subway) and walk from our Airbnb in South Boston into the city. Google maps suggested it would take about 45 minutes but of course it ended up taking much longer as we kept stopping to admire the architecture, to have a play on one of the many playgrounds we stumbled across, and to take photos. I love walking around a new-to-me city – getting lost, making unexpected discoveries, finding hidden corners and exploring the suburbs. It really is the best way to get to know a place. Boston is such a mix of old and new buildings and there is so much greenery and open space. I loved the plant-covered buildings, the wide avenues and the arty little coffee houses that seemed to be on every corner.
An hour (ish!) later we arrived at our first destination for the day: The Mapparium in Back Bay. I’d only read a tiny snippet about it in my trusted Lonely Planet guide book but it was enough that I knew we had to go and see it – who could resist the opportunity to step inside a three-story-high, stained glass, scale model of the globe?
The Mapparium is situated in the Mary Baker Eddy Library, which is a pretty impressive building packed with history in itself. I’d honestly expected to go in, see the Mapparium and come out again but I actually ended up learning so much more. Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of Christian Science (not Scientology – that’s something different). She believed herself to have been healed from various ailments by a faith healer and went on to develop her own system of spiritual healing which combined science, theology and medicine. As well as establishing a new religion, she also set up a publishing company, conducted extensive research and wrote several books – pretty amazing for a woman in the 1800s when you think about it!
The Mary Baker Eddy Library was once the home of the publishing company she set up and one of the staff in the Publishing House Lobby (which used to be called the ‘Hall Of Ideas’) told us about how the materials to build it were shipped in from all over Europe and Australia. It’s now a space dedicated to telling the story of Mary Baker Eddy and, as someone who is curious about all belief systems, I found it utterly and unexpectedly fascinating. The girls were less interested but seeing as I learned all of this from watching a short video in the corner of the lobby whilst we waited ten minutes for our timed tour of the Mapparium to start, they didn’t get too bored!
There were maybe about 40 of us in the group altogether and we all shuffled in together and listened to the tour guide’s detailed knowledge. Truthfully, I only took in part of what she was saying as I was too busy marvelling at our surroundings! The Mapparium is an amazing sight – almost a piece of art – and it’s actually really quite difficult to describe what it’s like to stand on a 30 foot long glass bridge, inside a giant globe, built to perfect scale from 608 panels of stained glass, looking at the world from the inside out. The Mapparium is known as a ‘whispering gallery’ because of the unusual acoustics and again, it’s something you need to experience for yourself because a written description just won’t do it justice. The light-and-music show details the changes in the world’s history, geography and politics from when the Mapparium was built in 1935 to how the world is today in 2019. The difference is phenomenal – so many countries no longer exist.
The Mapparium was a really unique and unusual experience that I highly recommend for a family adventure in Boston and I’m so glad we went to see it. It was only a 20 minute tour but it was definitely worth it. There is no photography allowed inside the Mapparium itself but there is a printed background in the lobby outside that you can pose against and get close up to (see photo below – my girls honestly thought I’d snuck in a photo whilst we were inside the globe when they saw it!).
Boston Public Library
From the Mapparium we headed for Boston Public Library, which Ella and I were really keen to see. It absolutely needs to be near the top of your list of places to visit in the city – it is just so beautiful inside and out. It looks more like a museum than a library, and feels like it too – it’s crammed with history whilst still being welcoming.
I tried to imagine actually studying or writing in there and couldn’t, even though when we stepped into the main area students were clearly hard at work on dissertations or research papers. We wandered around, open-mouthed, gazing at the incredible murals that lined the ceilings and walls, stopping to read the plaques on each of the statues we came across. I don’t think we saw even half of what there was to explore and I would love to go back and wander around some more.
Right opposite Boston Public Library is Trinity Church. This was somewhere else I wanted to visit as I love old churches. I’m not religious at all but I do find that the peacefulness and serenity of them soothes my soul a little and quietens the chatter in my head. Trinity Church is supposed to have stunning stained glass windows (which I’m also a sucker for) and an absolutely beautiful interior too.
However, when we arrived we discovered that there was a $10 fee per person just to go in and look around so we sadly declined. It wasn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things but with there being five of us it does quickly add up to quite a lot and we figured there were other things we’d rather spend $50 on during our family adventure in Boston. Such a shame. We admired it from the outside instead – it’s an incredible building.
Trinity Church originally stood at a different site, but burned to the ground in the Great Boston Fire of 1872. This current church was built where it now stands over the course of five years, reopening it’s doors in 1877. It never ceases to amaze me at how detailed the architecture is in buildings that were designed so long ago – such an impressive piece of artistry.
Memorial Day Garden of Flags, Boston Common
By now the girls were in need of some energy so we had a quick bite to eat for lunch at Starbucks and then, suitably refuelled, we made our way to Boston Common to pay a respectful visit to the Garden Of Flags. Every year, a few days before Memorial Day (a big public holiday and the unofficial start of summer), over 37,000 American flags are planted by volunteers in front of the Soldiers And Sailors Monument on Boston Common, where they remain until a few days after Memorial Day is over. Collectively the flags represent and commemorate all of the Massachusetts service men and women who have lost their lives in war and it’s quite a sight to behold. I’m really glad we went.
From the Garden of Flags we meandered through Boston Public Gardens, stopping to admire the impressive statue of George Washington on horseback and pausing for a few minutes to listen to a one-man-band playing a cheerful rendition of ‘Stand By Me’, before arriving in the Beacon Hill district. I would describe Beacon Hill as the ‘old town’ area of Boston (and also the more upmarket parts of the city). Beautifully elegant townhouses, red brick pavements, cobbled streets lined with gas lamps, privately gated square gardens… it couldn’t be more picturesque. As we wandered through the neighbourhood I half expected to see Mary Poppins or Bert the chimney sweep appear from around the next corner!
The most famous street is Acorn Street, so we headed there first. Sadly it was so packed with tourists that we had no hope of getting down there – I felt sorry for the people who actually live there and made a quiet vow to myself to continue to remain as un-intrusive as possible when capturing photographs of the places we travel to. We passed on by and discovered the much quieter Louisburg Square, who’s wisteria and ivy covered buildings standing tall like sentries were just lovely.
By this point the girls were tired. We’d walked for miles (almost 14,000 steps in total!) so we decided to call it a day after grabbing an ice cream and sitting for a while on Boston Common to people-watch in the sunshine. I love people watching – it’s one of my favourite things to do whilst travelling – wandering what stories the people I see have to tell can keep me occupied for hours. There were all sorts there: children flying kites; couples strolling hand in hand; individuals walking dogs; sightseers scrutinising maps; and families out for a Saturday afternoon stroll. It really is a lovely space to have right in the middle of the inevitable hustle and bustle of the city. We caught the T-Line back to our Airbnb, worn out and satisfied.
DAY FIVE: SUNDAY
Somewhere else that we were all keen to visit on our family adventure to Boston was the iconic and world-renowned Harvard University. America’s version of England’s Oxford or Cambridge, Harvard is synonymous with being the best of the best and, having never been to university myself, I was really interested to pay it a visit.
Harvard is north of the city so we spent a little longer on the T-line to get there but it was a super-easy journey and really interesting to see different parts of Boston as we sped through the overground sections of the trip.
As we visited on a Sunday I knew there wouldn’t be any of the free student-led guided tours running but we were fairly content to meander around by ourselves. I have to say, it wasn’t quite what I expected! At least in the first instance. I had imagined it being more…impressive. Which sounds silly now as I’m typing this because actually, it really was impressive.
We’d happened to visit on a day where a fairly major event (‘Senior Sunday’) was taking place so the usually neatly manicured lawns were covered in rows and rows of plastic chairs, there was a huge stage set up in Harvard Yard itself and event team members were scurrying about like ants making sure everything was in place. It directly opposed the visions I’d had of an all-encompassing atmosphere of serenity and studiousness (is that a word?).
But, as we explored the campus further, it started to match up with the images I’d had in my head of what Harvard University would look like: tall, pillared buildings titled with things like ‘Philosophy’ and quotes such as ‘Enter, to grow in wisdom’; enormous, elaborately decorated doors; tree-lined walkways and an air of non-judgmental confidence and importance.
There was so much more that we could have seen and explored there that we just didn’t leave enough time to do. It was also getting hotter as the morning wore on and the girls were flagging a bit. I think if we were to go back we would make sure it wasn’t a Sunday so we could take advantage of the free tour and we would definitely leave enough time to be able to do all the parts we missed.
We couldn’t leave without visiting the Harvard Book Store and popping into a couple of the souvenir shops, so we had a quick wander through Harvard Square on our way back to the station as well. Definitely go to the bookshop – it was excellent and I could have stayed for ages browsing the travel section.
After lunch and a few hours of much-needed downtime to read and relax back in the cool air conditioning of the Airbnb (today was the hottest day of our family adventure in Boston, a scorching 31 degrees Celcius) we headed back out again for a last wander around the city, knowing that we wouldn’t get the chance tomorrow. We all wanted to re-visit the incredible street art mural at the southern end of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, plus the girls had a bit of holiday spending money burning a hole in their pockets. We bought some small souvenirs, watched some street performers and spent a short while admiring the boats on the harbour waterfront.
We mostly eat our evening meals at ‘home’ (ie: the Airbnb) whilst travelling, but we do try and go out for a family meal at least once so we booked to go out for dinner this evening as a belated birthday treat for Mimi. There were so many places we could have chosen to eat, of every kind of food imaginable – it was almost overwhelming. In the end we decided on the Hard Rock Café – partly for it’s novelty factor (I’d been to one before many, many moons ago in London but the husband and girls had never been and I knew they’d love it) and partly because I knew there was something on the menu that everyone would eat, which, when travelling with kids, makes a big difference to how successful and enjoyable the evening is.
We had a really good meal there. The girls all had pizza and chips followed by oreo milkshakes and an ice cream sundae. The husband opted for an epic burger with chips and all the trimmings, and I chose a delicious dish of salmon, mash and veg. No photos I’m afraid – it all got scoffed too quickly!
DAY SIX: MONDAY
The final day of our family adventure in Boston turned out to be a rather special one. When I originally booked our trip nine months earlier, I immediately contacted my lovely friend and incredibly talented photographer Amy Murgatroyd as I really wanted us to have a family photoshoot and knew that she was the person I wanted to capture us. It’s been years since we had one: the most recent family photoshoot we had was in the summer of 2017 with the insanely creative Steve Gerrard, just my girls and I. Before that was a studio shoot in lieu of the engagement shoot included in our package when we got married five years ago. I wanted some more up-to-date photos that included the husband as well, I wanted them to be shot outdoors in nature, and I wanted a tangible memento of our family adventure in Boston. I just love Amy’s work – she pours her heart and soul into every single image and it comes across in all aspects of what she does and who she is. She’s also an amazing videographer and the family films she creates (whether for her clients or when she’s documenting her own family’s precious moments) never fail to bring me to tears with how beautiful they are and the emotions they evoke.
Amy chose Arnold Arboretum as the location and it couldn’t have been more perfect for us – the lilacs were still in bloom, there was tons of space to explore and little secret pockets of light that filtered down through the trees in hidden clearings. It had been on my list of places I would have liked to visit if we had time so it actually worked really well – I only wish we’d had more time to explore.
I feel very at home behind the camera, but being on the other side of the lens is never a comfortable experience for me. I was absolutely determined to be in some photographs (beyond the occasional silly selfie) with my girls though, so I dug dep for some courage and got in the frame with them and I am SO glad I did. It’s really important to me and I’m immensely grateful that we were able to coordinate our diaries and make it happen. It was fascinating watching Amy work and I definitely picked up a few tips for the way I work with photography clients along the way too as an added bonus.
I’ll be sharing my favourite photographs that Amy captured in an upcoming blog post and honestly, it’s going to be so hard to narrow it down to a select few images because I love them all!
After our shoot we met up with Amy’s husband and daughters and all had brunch together. The five girls were instant friends, the two husbands talked baseball (Neil wanted to be brought up to speed on the rules in order to get ready for the Red Sox game we were heading to later this evening) and Amy and I chatted easily about anything and everything from photography, to motherhood, to travelling, to moving house, and much more besides. It was absolutely wonderful to catch up with her and I’m forever grateful that she came into my life when she did. It was a wrench saying goodbye – isn’t it funny how deeply you can connect with someone you’ve only spent a handful of hours with?
Top of our list of things we wanted to do on our family adventure in Boston was to go to a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park – home to the iconic Red Sox and the oldest ballpark in America. I’d planned ahead, checking when the Sox would be playing at home and had managed to snag reasonably priced tickets in decent seats on the day they were released a couple of months before our trip.
We were to watch Boston Red Sox vs Cleveland Indians and I knew it was going to be a very special afternoon/evening. The game started at 4pm, though we made sure to get there a bit early so we could find our seats and get our bearings a bit. There was a long lead up to the start of the game because of it being Memorial Day and it was quite something to hear the National Anthem being sung at top volume.
We had no clue whatsoever what was going on at all during the first three innings! Eventually we got the hang of the rules properly and really started to get into the game, cheering on home runs, joining in with the multiple Mexican waves that flowed around the stadium, watching the score line gradually increase in the Red Sox’ favour. Tradition dictates that in the 8th innings the entire crowd sings ‘Sweet Caroline’, so we made sure to join in with that and I think it was the girls’ favourite part of the whole game.
The Red Sox won (of course!) with the game ending at around 7.30pm. The Red Sox are the current World Series Champions, so it was good to see them take victory at a home game on Memorial Day – the camaraderie and energy was definitely amplified. It was energetic, loud, busy and long, the girls did get a tiny bit bored during the middle part of the game, and I forgot to take my glasses to couldn’t see properly what was actually going on, but it was totally worth it for the experience. I would definitely recommend going to a game if you ever get the opportunity.
The Red Sox game was a pretty epic way to end our family adventure in Boston and I’m so glad we were able to get tickets and go. It was definitely an experience that we’ll all remember forever. We didn’t get back to our Airbnb until about 9pm so the girls headed off to bed whilst we stayed up and packed, ready to check out of our accommodation early the next morning to pick up our hire car from the airport and head off on the next stage of our adventure: Cape Cod!
There will be blogs about our experiences on Cape Cod to come in the next couple of weeks (hopefully!) and a vlog as well. In the meantime, here’s my video all about the fun we had during our family adventure in Boston. I know I say it every time but I really do love putting these together and watching our memories back over and over. I get so much joy from documenting our trips in this way and I hope the girls watch them again and again when they’re older.
(Joining in with Fearless Family Travel)