My first job out of graduate school was located in a State Street building between Quincy Market and the Custom House (clock tower), two prominent landmarks along Boston’s famed Freedom Trail. I frequently dodged tour groups accompanied by a costumed guide on my lunch hour and wondered what it must be like to see this place with fresh, relaxed eyes.
So there I was with my three girlfriends doing the tourist thing last week during our two days in Boston. Any historical highlights along the Freedom Trail were more by chance that design. We basically parked our bags at the Mariner House in the North End and set off on foot to explore, beginning with lunch at one of my former meal hangouts, El Panini Express, right in the heart of Boston’s version of Little Italy. From there we hit the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market complex and then I lead us on a circular tour of Downtown Crossing before finally finding Brimfield Street, on which the City Sports Basement can be found. I bought a pair of running shorts for half price before we headed up to the Granary cemetery, where several big names are buried, and Boston Common – but not before watching an argument over two allegedly stolen ice creams escalate into a 911 call, and so quickly.
I decided we should head back to the hotel via Beacon Hill, a neighborhood I’d voyaristically walked during many a lunch break. It also is the start of the fall Tufts 10k, a race I loved to do when I lived much closer.
Once back in the North End, we freshened up and headed around the corner to Café Francesca before an evening at The Comedy Connection, where numerous jokes would be made at our expense. Café Francesca is one of those intimate restaurants with open windows, and we lucked out with a sidewalk-facing table and excellent selections in wine. For dessert, we ordered cannoli, prepared by our server at the table. From the first bite, ecstatic moans erupted from each of us, with an occasional “oh my God” -- said with such conviction -- no doubt mistaken by anyone within earshot. We giggled; we gobbled. We vowed to have the passion-inducing pastry again...and again.
That meant the next morning we had cappuccino and cannoli (me, the non-coffee drinker had tea) at a tiny cafe. Later we discussed different cannoli shapes and sizes because, despite what you might have heard, size does matter. Walking down Hanover Street while the air was still cool, we passed rows of Italian restaurants bracing for another day of brisk business. One elderly, amorous man called out as we strolled by his place. His exact words escape me but they sounded something like: “Whatsa four beautiful women doing without a men? You come backa for dinner and I show you a good food and wine.”
We took him up on it hours later, having a thoroughly excellent meal (mine of antipasto salad) at his restaurant, La Dolce Vita. This was after another day of walking and me taking many photos of The Public Gardens and my personal favorite, The Esplanade along the southern bank of the Charles River. I used to credit this place with my near-perfect GPA at BU. Here’s where I contemplated course assignments, teaching assistantships, my long commute to the Cape and, of course, my future. I used to run at least twice a week from BU to the Longfellow Bridge and back, opting for the dirt paths if weather permitted. When it didn’t, I settled for a cleared bike path, comforted on desolate days by the stream of cars humming along adjacent Storrow Drive.
Before we knew it, it was time to head to Connecticut in Tracy’s car. Among the suitcases, shopping bags and cameras was a Modern Pastry box holding more cannoli, this time to go. I don’t know about the others, but the creamy confection was never far from my mind the rest of the trip. It was that good.
Coming Up: Losing a few clams and making up for it in lobsters.