“Do not go
where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tightly packed brick buildings. Narrow, curving and arbitrary streets. Courtyards made of brick and cobblestone surrounded by walls a charcoal red and overgrown with ivy. And not to forget that elevated, dilapidated, and antiquated cemetery. This was Boston I remembered, the area that stuck out most in my mind from when I had come here before. This is the North End.
When I had come here at 13, I had no orientation to the different locales of the city, and while I loved nearly everyplace we went, I was simply following my parents’ lead to these places. There is something immensely satisfying about rediscovering someplace that you remember in what is likely such an embellished visual memory, only to have it live up to everything you expected.
Three things will immediately stand out as you walk through the North End.
The first is the bricks. Everything is made of a nearly monochrome brick construction, down to and including some of the sidewalks and streets. This also includes many faded red brick parks and plazas.
The second is how tightly everything is constructed. Streets are one-way out of necessity. After visiting Boston at thirteen, it became my template by which I analyzed other cities. Cities like Seattle, Vancouver, etc., have their city centers, but are inherently more spread out than anything I have ever encountered along the East Coast, which still have visible traces from their old European settlement from an age before cars. This led to a number of very vocal and coarse Bostonian screaming matches regarding people moving their cars and/or utility vehicles (as well as some very detailed suggestions on where they could put said vehicles) in the streets, which I had the unexpected pleasure of overhearing.
The third is the Italian influence. Ranging from Italian restaurants to gelato stands to signs for Italian restaurants next to other Italian restaurants, there is an undeniable influence of Italian culture in what was quite obviously originally part of the original English settlement, something I find very curious.
There is a tourist walking trail called the Freedom Trail that zigzags through what are thought to be the highlights of the North End. Rather than following it, I ended up just going down random streets that I thought might look interesting and crossed paths and overlapped with the Freedom Trail often.
The brick plazas that dot the neighborhood vary in size, though the Paul Revere Park next to the Old North Church is certainly something to behold. Going on between two long residential buildings and ending at the Old North Church, it seemed a popular enough. When I was here at 13, I saw an “Apartment for Rent” sign in a window overlooking this plaza, and convinced myself then that was the sort of place I would live if I ever moved to Boston (Long ago, and far from taking financial accountabilities into mind).
I’ve never been one to spend much time in churches, but because this was Boston, and one of the oldest churches (the name give it away?) in Boston, I decided to take a peek inside the Old North Church.
Walking in, the immediate thing to notice to any modern viewer is that the room is divided into small, essentially family cubicles for worship. Each one had a family name on the door and a set of bibles being held inside.
Returning to the exterior and following it around while covering my ears from the chiming bells, I found the Church’s own set of brick courtyards, complete with concrete benches and an impressively engraved, though non-operational fountain.
Leaving the crowds of the Freedom Trail at the Church, I took the larger of the surrounding streets past several more Italian restaurants, and buying a small cup of orange gelato along the way, until I came to the North End’s waterfront. Whether a product of the Big Dig, the expanding shoreline, or simply good planning on the city’s part, this part of the shore remains free of heavy development. There are a few city and government buildings (US Coast Guard, etc.) but the vast majority remains a multi-purpose park running most the length of the shore, complete with a paved trail and railing hugging the waterline itself.
The high-end residential development that would usually gobble up this prime real estate instead remains across the street, well within view of the water, but leaving the land for the use of all.
A ways down the waterfront path, a terraced park with stairs led up to one of Boston’s visibly oldest cemeteries, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. With cracked and decaying tombstones, many broken or on the verge of collapse, it is quite a sight to behold. There are warnings posted to not take etchings of the stones, as it would only hasten the wear on the engravings.
Another curious point about this cemetery is that it is at the highest point in the North End, giving quite the panorama of the surrounding area, even over some of the relatively shorter buildings of the neighborhood.
After a good amount of time reading the various inscriptions and trying to figure out what some of the pictures on the stones meant, I returned to the road and began heading out of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, my camera had its last shot in the cemetery, so I was left with only my iPhone if I wanted to take pictures for the rest of the day.
Heading back in the direction of the TD Garden, I came across the Freedom Trail again, and this time followed it across a bridge into Charlestown. A quarter mile to the right of the bridge is an old U.S. Navy shipyard that has since been turned into a historical park. It is also home to the U.S.S. Constitution; the oldest commissioned active ship in the Navy, meaning it has a full time crew and could hypothetically be called to service if needed.
Charlestown is quite obviously an upscale neighborhood full of beautiful old houses and parks that all work their way up a hill which peaks at the Bunker Hill Memorial monument, which is curiously enough actually on Breed’s Hill. I sat at the base of the monument, a large, granite obelisk and took a rest for a few moments. I had climbed to the top with my dad back when I was 13 and one of the things that stood out in my memory was that the view, while a good one, was through such small windows that it hardly seemed worth looking out.
I decided to forgo climbing to the top this time, and instead began looking for the nearest subway entrance to get back to the hostel. The path took me into the commercial strip of Charlestown, complete with strip mall, supermarket, and past the local community college.
One annoyance of subways that I come across every now and then is that once you leave ground level, the subterranean station can sometimes disorient you on which direction you are facing. Unfamiliar line and stop names don’t tend to help this cause. This happened to me once I boarded the T here. Although the TD Garden was only a couple stops away on the other side of the Charles River, I somehow boarded the train going further out of the city center.
I realized this quickly and it was easily rectified by getting off and simply crossing to the other side of the track. Still, as said, it can be an annoyance.
Back on the right track to the hostel, I got off in the Back Bay area, and fulfilled a craving for a chili dog I had been having for a while at Spike’s Junkyard Dogs, a restaurant right around the corner from the HI Boston.