Slice of the City: To the heart of American independence in Boston
Chris Coplans sets off with a canine companion to explore one of the oldest cities in the US
Sunday 03 February 2013
I've always aspired to have a girl in every port. In Boston my sweetheart is Catie Copley, a girl with a thing for licking people. But hold on … Catie is a dog and a dog with a job – she's the Canine Ambassador of the historic Fairmont Copley Plaza, which recently celebrated its centenary.
Catie is an 11-year-old Rubenesque black labrador who was trained as a guide dog but now lives at the hotel. She has become something of a Boston celebrity, with two books under her collar. When not greeting guests in the Fairmont's opulent lobby, she accompanies them for walks.
So what better way to see the city that promotes itself as "America's Walking City" than with Catie? Boston is awash with historic sites, most of which are located in a relatively compact area of often-cobbled streets – lined with gorgeous colonial-era architecture – that are a delight to walk.
We set off from the Fairmont, located in the Back Bay neighbourhood and designed by Henry Hardenberg, who masterminded some of New York's most iconic hotels, including the Plaza and the Waldorf Astoria. It sits on the corner of Copley Square, an architectural treat whose centrepiece is the majestic Trinity Church, a flamboyant French-Romanesque masterpiece built in 1877. Opposite is the renaissance-style Boston Library and towering above Trinity Church is the shimmering 1,127ft-tall John Hancock Tower.
We walked one block and turned right on to Newbury Street, lined with exclusive stores and fashionable restaurants such as Joe's American Bar & Grill at No 181. We turned left and then right on to Commonwealth Avenue, a majestic boulevard, shaded by elm trees and which Winston Churchill described as one of the world's finest streets.
We sauntered through the charming Boston Public Garden, passing the imposing bronze statue of George Washington, then crossed Charles Street on to the magnificent 50-acre Boston Common. Established in 1634, and America's oldest public park, the common is drenched in colonial and revolutionary history. It is the starting point of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile walking tour through some of Boston's oldest neighbourhoods. Marked by double rows of red sidewalk bricks or a painted red line, it includes 16 historic sites linked to the American Revolution. At the Visitor Center at 168 Tremont Street, on the edge of the Common, you can pick up a Freedom Trail brochure or audio tour for a self-guided tour.
We followed the red-brick road across the Common to the New State House – which was, in fact, completed in 1798. From here, we took a quick detour to see Boston's most picturesque and affluent neighbourhood, Beacon Hill, which borders the common. Walking down Mount Vernon Street, we passed elegant 19th-century townhouses, antiquated gaslights, and courtyards, taking a peek down tiny, cobbled Acorn Street and Louisburg Square.
Doubling back on Mount Vernon, we turned down Walnut Street to rejoin Beacon Street, and pick up the Freedom Trail again on Park Street. We passed the exquisite 1809 Park Street Church – the site of the old town granary – and continued to bustling School Street and the Parker House Hotel.
It was here that the deliciously decadent Boston cream pie – a cake filled with custard or cream and topped with chocolate icing – and the Parker House roll, a rich buttery puffy bread roll, were invented. The hotel is steeped in history: Charles Dickens stayed there while rehearsing A Christmas Carol; Ho Chi Minh, who trained under Escoffier in Paris, was a pastry chef here, before he returned to wrestle Vietnam from the French and Americans; and Malcolm X, cut from a very different type of revolutionary cloth, did a stint as a busboy. In the restaurant, I sampled the cream pie – OK, the Parker House roll as well – at the same table (No 40) where JFK proposed to Jackie.
We continued on the Freedom Trail to Court Street, where we are dwarfed by gleaming skyscrapers, and arrive at the Old State House. The elegant brick building was built in 1713 and it was from the small balcony that the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776.
Directly in front of the building, encircled by cobblestones, is the spot where the Boston massacre took place in 1770. British troops opened fire on an angry mob of protesters, killing five people. At this point, we left the Freedom Trail and ambled down State Street, ending up on the bustling waterfront at the mouth of the Charles River. Here, in 1773, is where the infamous Boston Tea Party took place, when a group of tax-avoiding colonists, disguised as Mohawk Indians, committed treason by dumping 342 chests of tea into the harbour.
We returned to the Fairmont on Boston's excellent subway, known locally as the "T". As I made my way to the elevator, I glanced back at Catie, now relaxing in her basket in the opulent lobby and being pampered by passing guests. It's a dog's life at the Copley Plaza.
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum (001 617 338 1773; bostonteapartyship.com) reopened last summer, having doubled in size. The space offers exhibits, video presentations and living history programmes, all of which tell the story of the Boston Tea Party.
Two additional tall ships, the Dartmouth and the Eleanor, have been added to the Beaver. These replicas represent the full complement of ships that took part in the original Boston Tea Party.
Getting and staying there
Chris Coplans travelled with Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859; virginholidays.co.uk), which offers three nights' room only at the Fairmont Copley Plaza (001 617 267 5300; fairmont.com/copleyplaza) from £739, with Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow.
Other airlines serving Boston from Heathrow include British Airways, Delta and American Airlines.
Joe's American Bar & Grill (001 617 536 4200; joesamerican.com).
Parker House Hotel (001 617 227 8600; omnihotels.com).
Freedom Trail (thefreedomtrail.org). There are up to 12 guided tours every day, starting at $13 (£8) per person. You can also download an audio tour from the website ($15/£9.40) and there are a number of free apps.
A walk with Catie the labrador can be booked free of charge for Fairmont guests only. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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