Travel Tuesdays Walks Boston Harbor!

© CavalleriGreetings, desk chair wayfarers! I’m currently editing the expanded text for our Boston Travel Guide iPhone app, and because September strikes me as a particularly fine time to visit the city of my birth, I thought I’d share a few personal recommendations for any Boston-bound readers. Shall we sally forth?

I love the old parts of the city dearly—the Georgian and Federal-style townhouses, the windows of which have purpled with age, and the historic burying grounds with graves featuring deeply puzzling epitaphs—but my favorite place to wander is the HarborWalk. It winds its way around Boston Harbor’s many wharves, offering sometimes-panoramic views of watercraft breezing by. Sailboats race on weeknights all summer (quite a sight under the setting sun), and most Saturdays in the fall and winter. Placards detailing Boston’s colorful maritime history dot the waterfront. An oddly picturesque iron chain runs along the oceanside edge of the boardwalk, not necessarily preventing anyone from leaping in, but providing a gentle reminder that it might be inadvisable. You’ll sometimes see seagulls swoop down from the wharf pilings, snag an unwary crab, and essentially peck it to death in a struggle both primal and hilarious.

On one notable occasion I spotted a translucent shape undulating in the water, familiar cloverlike markings at its center. “Hey,” I said to one of my companions. “Is that a moon jelly?”

My almost-invariably-correct cynical friend sighed. “It’s a plastic bag. I also see a clump of seaweed that looks like the pope if you squint, and what appears to be a shoe.”

Still, I dragged our little group around a nearby pier for a better look. “It is one,” I insisted. “Actually, it’s . . . two? Three? Seven? Oh, goodness.”

There were in fact thousands of moon jellies floating in on the tide like an army of ghosts. We walked up and down the boardwalk, watching them glow in the sunset and eventually fade from view as the light dimmed.

I later found out that the jellies take up residence in the harbor for two or three weeks every summer, and cause mariners no end of aggravation. (They're apparently around the rest of the year, too, but less visible as they aren't yet in their adult form. Fun fact: the adult form of a jellyfish is called a "medusa." How fitting!) Still, they’re something to behold.

Because I have family in the North End, I mostly meander the stretch of boardwalk between the New England Aquarium and Battery Wharf. Many of the HarborWalk’s finest sights, however, lie farther afield. Continuing southeast past the aquarium and across the Northern Ave. bridge will bring you to the cantilevered glass Institute of Contemporary Art. The theater on its upper floors juts out above the harbor, walled in glass. Smaller but perhaps even more striking is the suspended Poss Family Mediatheque beneath it, which angles sharply downward and ends in a window onto the water, creating the impression that one is about to plunge in.

In the other direction and across the Charlestown Bridge lies that perennial kids’ favorite, the U.S.S. Constitution. Built in 1797 as one of the original six ships in the U.S. Navy, it’s the oldest naval ship still afloat. It hasn’t seen combat since 1815, but is still staffed by Navy personnel. Once a year, it makes a circuit of Boston Harbor that’s open to the public by lottery. It sits docked for the rest of the year, open for free to all comers. On-duty Navy members conduct regular tours that highlight the ship’s firepower and battle prowess. The vessel, as I mentioned, is popular with kids. The guides know their audience.

The Constitution’s shipyard is also one end of the Freedom Trail, and a fine place to start that venerable trek if you don't mind walking "in reverse." When I last visited the ship, my six-year-old cousin managed to pry up one of the bricks marking the Freedom Trail’s path, and carried it some distance before any of the adults present noticed. We eventually convinced him (with the help of entreaties in funny voices and other distracting enticements) that it was not in fact his brick, and put it back where we were pretty sure it had come from. He was a bit put out until he got onboard the ship and spotted cannons.

Peering through an 18th-century vessel’s rigging onto a harbor filled with sleek leisure craft and hulking cargo boats is a little disconcerting, but also sort of glorious. It’s nearly as much fun to watch the expressions of people as they first climb up to the deck and feel the wind on their faces. Almost everyone smiles.©