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How? Where? What? Which?

Boston, the city in which I lay my hat, is a major tourist destination. Much like the sunny beaches of Florida, there is never a real “down-time” for visitors to my fair city, but there is a “peak season”, and this weekend marks the beginning of said season with runners and spectators from all over the world converging for the 120th annual Boston Marathon. (Personally, I only run when chased, but a lot of other people seem to enjoy it, including the over 30,000 people taking part.)

Boston, Marathon, tourists, guide

And they’re off – the race begins in Hopkinton

As I type this, the race has just gotten underway, but the runners and their entourages have been in town since at least Friday with nothing but time on their hands, waiting for the big “carbo-load”

Boston Herald photo by Chris Christo

Boston Herald photo by Chris Christo

and the sound of the starter’s pistol. Armed with cameras and guide-books, they take to the streets.   While I’m usually trying to get around them as they stand in the middle of the sidewalk consulting their maps and street signs, it never ceases to amaze me how often I am approached while waiting for a walk signal at a corner or down in the depths of the transit system and asked for directions, even restaurant recommendations, by complete strangers. Apparently I look like I know where I’m going and where to find food.

It happens so often, that I’ve developed a litany: “ If you like Italian, you must go to the North End and frankly there aren’t a lot of bad places there, so take your pick.  After dinner you’ll probably want to go to Mike’s Pastry. (Carrying a ubiquitous white and blue box tied with string is the sure mark of a tourist. The locals know Modern Pastry is better.) Be prepared to wait in line. And bring cash. Cafe Vittoria is the place for cappuccino.”

Depending on how the conversation proceeds from here, I might let them in on a North End “hidden gem”. Next to Café Vittoria is a door that leads down a steep flight of steps to a cigar bar in which Lucky Lucciano or Tony Soprano would feel right at home.  Seriously. The first time I went there, the waitress – who looked like an extra from the first season of “Mad Men” – told us we were at the owner’s table and if he came in, we’d have to move. Sure enough about 45 minutes later, a dapper gentleman (muscle? Consigliere?) came by to let us know “the boss” was on his way. We decided to call it a night. But I digress.

If they want seafood, I point to the page in their book that lists the Union Oyster House as the oldest restaurant in America.  Then I tell them about No Name out on the Fish Pier. It’s a relative newcomer. They’ve only been in business since 1917.

Since I live within a stone’s throw of Fenway Park, I get a lot of people coming from a Red Sox game, usually with children in tow. There are tons of places in and around the ball park to eat and drink but they’ll all be mobbed. I send them as far away as they’re willing to go, usually Jacob Wirth’s in the Theater District. It’s been there about 100 years specializing in German food and the kids can get a hot dog.

As for what they should do or see, I always recommend an organized tour, either the Duck Boats (if one doesn’t mind being asked to quack their way through the city), or one of the Trolley Tours. I occasionally get skeptical looks, as if they’re wondering whether or not I work for these places, but the tours really are worth it. You can get on and off whenever you want to and see all of the sights in the guidebook and then some. I’ve lived here for a bazillion years and I still enjoy them. I do, however, draw the line at quacking.

If it’s nice I tell them they will definitely want to spend time in the Public Garden and on the Common (a favorite place I’ve mentioned before).

Boston Common, sign, tourists, guide

(Once again, it is The Common – singular. Not even Alex Trebek will accept “Commons”). The Swan Boats run three seasons and up near Beacon Hill (where the Bull & Finch – the inspiration for “Cheers” – is located), you can see the bronze ducklings that commemorate Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings”.  The ducks have an extensive wardrobe, courtesy of some anonymous fashion-minded residents.

Depending on the time of year, they may have Bruins or Celtics tickets and need to know how to get downtown to the Garden (and it is The Garden – no matter what corporation currently has their name on the building).

I tell them how to get to Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market, and Newbury Street (often while standing a few feet away) for shopping and people watching and lots of good restaurants. I tell them how to take the train to Harvard Square in Cambridge for more of the same.  I give them advice for getting a deal on theater tickets at the ½ price kiosks around town and how to get to the Prudential Center and John Hancock tower skywalks.

Sometimes there are language barriers and a great deal of pointing and sign language is involved. Just last week I drew a map with written instructions (mostly in English) for a German couple trying to find their way back to their hotel on foot.  I honestly don’t mind doing any of this, in fact I enjoy both showing off my city and my knowledge of it.

That said, you might be wondering if there’s a special place where I’ll watch the race and cheer on the runners.  There is: my living room. The finish line is only a few blocks from my apartment, but I’ll watch it on television.  I’m not going outside today, are you kidding me? Too many tourists.

How about you? Do you enjoy playing tour guide when visitors come to town? Do you part with your “secrets” or let them do the 50 cent tour on their own?

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