Boston is the hub of the universe

During the dawn of America, Boston was known as the hub of the universe.  Our country was born in the Boston area, as was First Night, the Duck Boats and Thanksgiving. Though I have traveled the world over, I always come back to Boston. So, let me give you the local’s guide to some of the most popular-and most notorious-Boston neighborhoods.

Boston is known as a city of neighborhoods. Begining with Boston Proper which is whatever is within city limits, whether actually proper or not. We’ll take a tour of Boston’s neighborhoods on the “T”, the color coded public transportation system that inspired the famous Kingston Trio hit, “Charley of the MTA.”

Since Boston is well known for its sports fanaticism as well as its historical roots, we’ll start our tour with Boston’s sports neighborhoods.

Sports neighborhoods Fenway Park

Rooting for Boston’s professional (and college) sports teams is a year round ritual. Bostonians love their sports and  are damn proud of their teams. Even if they’re cursed for 86 years or choke in the SuperBowl or can’t seem to throw a round ball through a hoop, they love ’em and theylove to hate ’em when they don’t live up to expectations.

Hop on the Green Line of Boston’s “T” (subway) and get off at either the Kenmore Square or the Fenway stop. Its a brisk five minute walk to the one of the country’s oldest and most revered baseball parks. If you want a bite to eat before the game, duck into the upscale but very crowded Boston Beer Works, where you can get a Boston style blueberry beer, a clam chowder and a burger. If you’d like to meet some locals, across the street is the more rowdy Cask and Flagon. And, if you don’t grab a bite before the game, not to worry. Get a hot dog or an Italian sausage sub (sandwich) and a cold beer or tonic (soda) inside the park. Somehow hot dogs taste better there-especially if they’re Fenway Franks.

Fenway Park is the crown jewel of Boston’s Fenway and Kenmore Square neighborhoods. On a game day, the park is a green oasis. From the GoodYear Blimp up above, the park looks like an oval bandbox nestled among city streets, hordes of fans and souvenir hawkers.

Fenway Park is also a field of dreams. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, Fenway Park will still enthrall. The drama and history of baseball’s past are etched into the park’s worn wooden seats, old fashioned green and white scoreboard (where scorekeepers still put numbers up by hand) and the winning pennants hung proudly above the bleachers. This is where Babe Ruth got his start and Ted Williams hit the final home run of his career

If you want to learn more about Fenway Park’s 96 year year history, you can come to the park early for a tour where you’ll get the chance to sit in the luxury box seats, visit the Green Monster and see vintage photos of yesteryear’s stars as well as today’s heroes. If you want to snag an autograph, get to the park a few hours before game time. During batting practice, players often sign, especially for kids.

There is also more to see and do in the Fenway area. If you take the T to the Fenway stop and walk in the opposite direction from the ball park, you can explore another section of the Fenway neighborhood. The “Fens” area was once known as a place not to to walk at night. It still may be. However, the Fens is adjacent to some of Boston’s top hospitals, schools and museums, including world renowned Childrens’ Hospital, Harvard Medical School, The Museum of Fine Art and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Located on the Fens Park, you’ll also see a community Victory Garden begun during World War II that is still planted by locals in the neighborhood today.

Sports neighborhoods Boston Garden 

To get to the Boston Garden, hop back on the Green Line and head for North Station, which is about a 15 to 20 minute ride.

This is where you”ll find the “new” Boston Garden, home of the World Champion Boston Celtics. Years ago, the Celtics and Boston’s pro hockey team, the Bruins, used to play in a a lively but run down old sports arena a stone’s throw from the new Garden. Today’s Boston Garden is rebuilt from the ground up and is as sleek and sophisticated as Fenway Park is well preserved and charming.

Basketball games at the garden are a three ring circus. The sound system blares pop music while a huge Jumbo Tron hanging over center court shows the play by play. Pre game ceremonies feature musical entertainment as does half time. Celebrities often perform for the crowds and the kids get involved with audience participation games and contests. There isn’t a bad view in the house though the cheaper tickets will have you climbing up a pretty steep tier of seats where the air can get pretty thin.

The area around Boston Garden is not prime real estate. However, a short walk away will take you one of Boston’s most beloved ethnic neighborhoods.

Ethnic neighborhoods The North End  

A ten minute walk from North Station will bring you to Boston’s North End. During the turn of the century, immigrants to America often passed through the North End enroute to the “streets of gold.” Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants all made the North End their home. Today, this neighborhood is known as the Italian section of the city. On any given weekend, throngs of tourists and Greater Bostonians come to the North End for a slice of pizza along with a slice of history. In addition to the best Italian food and pastry in Boston (Mike’s pastry and Regina’s Pizza are both very popular) the North End is home to the Paul Revere House, The Old North Church and many other historic sites on the Freedom Trail.

Walking through the North End you’ll be transported to the streets of Italy. You’ll hear Italian spoken in the alleyways and see Italian soccer games playing on TVs in local sports cafes. Each weekend during the summer, the North End hosts one of a series of festivals for the patron saints of the Catholic Church. Though the origins are religious, in essence the festivals are just an excuse for a good old fashioned block party. Two of the best known festivals are the Feast of St. Anthony and the Madonna or Fisherman’s Feast. Locals parade through the streets holding aloft images of the saints while food booths lining the sidewalks sell everything from squid to cannoli and street musicians serenade the crowds.

If you’re looking for more of a tourist’s perspective of Boston, Quincy Market and the Fanueil Hall Marketplace are just a five to ten minute walk from the North End. This area is not a residential neighborhood per se. However, it does offer great local restaurants, bars and shops. Inside the Fanueil Hall Marketplace, you can browse in the high dome ceilinged Grand Hall that is a re-creation of Colonial Boston. Where once the great patriots of America came to speak to the people, you’ll find row upon row of food stalls with New England and ethnic delicacies like clams on the half shell and Greek gyro plates. Its fun to go from stall to stall to sample the offerings.

Ethnic neighborhoods China Town  

Take the Green Line back “in town” and get off at Boylston Street. Chinatown is located here in what used to be called Boston’s Combat Zone. Why was it called the Combat Zone? Once upon a time this was Boston’s Red Light District. Though most of the seedier establishments have long since disappeared, there are a few remnants.

Boston’s Chinatown is quite small compared to those in Manhattan and San Francisco, but it is still an active and lively community. Most of Greater Boston’s established ethnic Chinese population lives in the suburbs these days. But Chinatown is home to many new immigrants who live in the four or five block neighborhood. Chinatown boasts both spartan and deluxe local restaurants as well as shops, services and cultural activities.

Ethnic neighborhoods Beacon Hill

The Puritans settled Massachusetts and the Brahmins settled Boston. Many of Boston’s Brahmins live on Beacon Hill. Perhaps calling them an ethnic group is a stretch since 99.9% are Caucasian. Nonetheless, they are a group.

To get to Beacon Hill take the Red Line to the Charles Street Station. Walk up classy Charles Street and window shop for antiques and such for a bit. On either side of this avenue you will see steep side streets lined with elegant brownstones. This is Beacon Hill, where “The Cabots talk only to the Lodges and the Lodges talk only to God”, as the saying goes. In other words, these quiet streets are home to some of the most wealthy and powerful people in Boston.

Beacon Hill is also a bastion of history and politics. The Massachusetts State House is located here, its golden dome rising above the city like a beacon, hence the name of the neighborhood. Few people know that Beacon Hill was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, though many people do know that the bar made famous in the hit TV show Cheers is just down the hill from the State House.

Ethnic neighborhoods South and East Boston 

Boston is a very parochial city. The Irish and Italians were among the first groups to settle in Boston. They still carry on the fight over which group got to Boston first and which one is superior., Everyone  knows that neither one is, but the battle continues. In Boston, each new ethnic group undergoes a kind of “new kid on the block” hazing before being accepted, These days the new kids are more likely to be from Third World countries.

South Boston is known as home to many members of Boston’s second and third generation Irish community and East Boston is known as home to the many second and third generation Italians But, these demographics are changing as new ethnic groups move in.

Neither neighborhood is easy to find by public transportation so I will dispense with the directions. “Southie” and “Eastie” are down to earth, working class neighborhoods. Think Matt Damon in “Goodwill Hunting” -where triple decker house are packed tightly together and the locals congregate on the street corners.

Each community is tightly knit, bound by common ancestry, religion, personal struggle and sacrifice. But Southie and Eastie also know how to celebrate. The annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade is well attended by politicians and the public alike. Eastie lights up for Christmas with extravagant holiday displays that are rivaled by none.

These two neighborhoods also share in Boston’s colorful and often notorious history. Southie was once home to Boston’s Most Wanted Criminal, James “Whitey” Bulger. Mr Bulger, brother of the former Massachusetts State Senate President Billy Bulger, is on the FBI’s most wanted list and has been on the lam for years. There have been “Whitey sightings” all over the world, but he seems to have a knack for eluding the authorities. East Boston has also seen its share of unsavory citizens. Crime bosses and kingpins are alleged to have ruled the streets. Eastie also ha a major horse racing venue which attracts its fare share of colorful characters, which may add to its image of a checkered past.

Boston is a city of diverse and interesting neighborhoods that never get old. Residents are proud of their neighborhoods and that fact keeps them popular.