Boston · Massachusetts · Travelling · USA

Days 85 to 89 – Boston, Massachusetts

Day 85 – New York to Boston

Spent the majority of the day travelling. Caught the 11am train to Boston. Four and half hour journey, train was pretty good compared to most in the USA, relatively quick too. Arrived at the hotel and then headed out to walk round the old part of town.

Headed up to Boston Common, past the Old State House and the new one too. It’s pretty steamy here like NYC but immediately it feels nicer. Less honking. Less screaming. Less grime. The metro works too. I have been here before, but that was in winter, and my overriding memory was never wanting to go outside so I don’t think I did very much!

Hotel is pretty cool, it’s called Citizen M and it has only been open two days. It is a ‘smart’ hotel, so you check yourself in on a computer and everything in the room is controlled by an iPad, including the heating, lighting and blinds. There’s loads of free movies too. It’s a pretty small room, good for one, but loads cheaper than most hotels in Boston, which seems to be very pricey.

Day 86 – Boston, and art

Boston is blessed with two amazing art galleries and I visited both today. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, both within five minutes walk of each other.

The Museum of Fine Arts is truly world class. They have a huge collection of Monets, some fantastic 19th and 20th century American art, some beautiful Asian pieces, all in a modern, sleek, well presented gallery space. I spent three hours there, highly recommended.

‘Study for carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’, 1885, John Singer Sargent
‘A Capriote’, 1878, John Singer Sargent
‘Edith, Lady Playfair, 1884, John Singer Sargent
‘Fishing for oysters at cincale’, 1878, John Singer Sargent
‘Still life with Azaleas and Apple Blossoms’, 1878, Charles Caryl Coleman
‘Gloucester mackerel fleet at sunset, 1884, Winslow Homer

The Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum began life from a private collection she started with her husband. They created an Italian style mansion, over four floors, which they inhabited the top floor and the rest was opened to the public, in 1901. She died in 1924, and the entire collection was left to the public, with a stipulation that nothing could be changed. The museum is very unique, unlike any I have visited. It is like you are wondering around someone’s beautiful home.

Because nothing could be moved it can be difficult to see some pieces, as they hang on the sides of walls and you have to crane your neck to see them. Also some were stolen in 1990 but as nothing can be moved the empty fames remain, as they have never been recovered. They included a beautiful Vermeer and some Rembrandts. Overall a fabulous museum!

Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, Boston
‘Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardiner’, 1888, John Singer Sargent

In the evening I stumbled across a great soul band performing outdoors (in video), so I sat and watched for an hour which was very enjoyable!

Day 87 – Salem

I jumped on the train this morning and headed north to the town of Salem, famous of course for the witch trials. I did learn however that the town was actually at times in its life the largest port and the richest town in the USA. A lot of trade from Asia came through the town. This led to the establishment of what is now the Peabody Essex Art Gallery. I had not intended to visit but I stumbled across it.

For a town the size of Salem if is remarkable to have such an amazing gallery. The focus is on both American and Asian art. Super friendly, great exhibition space, highly recommended. It never ceases to amaze me how that so many US cities have such fabulous art galleries with fabulous collections of world class art.

‘Mrs Kroll in Yellow’, 1934, Leon Kroll
‘Mrs H’, 1880, Douglas Volk
‘Grace Hoops’, 1872, Winslow Homer
‘Portrait of Sarah Lawrence Brooks’, 1890, John Singer Sargent
‘Study of a fig tree’, 1908, John Singer Sargent
‘Wonalancet Brook, Tamworth’, 1900, Ernest Lee Major

Of course the major reason for visiting the town is the witch trials, that happened here in 1692. Mass hysteria and paranoia led to many residents of the town to be accused of witchcraft, and also people living across the entire area. As you walk through the town there are many artefacts of what happened, including a graveyard and also a memorial listing each victim. There is also a tackier side, with witch this, vampire that, monster shops, etc.

Salem witches memorial
Salem witches memorial

It is actually a really nice town, compact enough to walk around, a nice harbour, a great veggie restaurant called ‘Alive’ too where I had lunch.

In the evening I saw a great film at the cinema called ‘The Farewell’. It is mainly in Mandarin, partly in English. Very interesting study of cultural Aandgenerational differences.

Day 88 – Boston

Last day here. Did some boring work things this morning, reality is looming! Then headed up to Bunker Hill, in the area of Charlestown. It is a large obelisk monument marking the Bunker Hill battle from the revolutionary war in 1775. You can climb 294 steps to the top for fabulous view across the city. I did just that and in 30 degree heat and massive humidity it almost ended me.

Bunker Hill monument, Boston
View of Boston from the top of Bunker Hill monument
View of Boston from the top of Bunker Hill monument

I also walked around the harbour area and saw the USS Constitution. Named in 1797 by George Washington, she is the oldest naval commissioned vessel still afloat.

The USS Constitution, Boston

In the afternoon I got the metro across to Back Bay, lots of posh shops here and also a Trader Joe’s my favourite shop, so I stocked up on supplies! I walked back via Boston Common to the cemetery where some of the earliest settlers of Boston are buried. This includes two co-signers of the declaration of American independence, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine, as well as that revolutionary hero on horseback, Paul Revere.

Tomb of Paul Revere, Boston
Grave of Samuel Adams, signer of the Declaration of American Independence

I have enjoyed Boston, lots to do here, nice people, easy to walk around, great art galleries, come visit!

It is my last full day in the US today, flying back to Europe from NYC tomorrow. Have been in the US since I entered into Honolulu way back on 19 June! I always love visiting these lands, and have enjoyed getting to know new parts like Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Til we meet again… See you in Helsinki.





New York · Philadelphia · Travelling · USA

Days 79 to 84 – Philadelphia and New York City

Day 79 – Seattle to Philadelphia

Not much to report today almost entire day was spent travelling. Jumped ahead three hours. Staying in cool rented apartment with a separate lounge, washing machine and everything.

Day 80 – Philly

I headed out early to get to the Philadelphia Art Museum as it opened at 10am. Before you go in you walk up the famous ‘Rocky’ steps’. If you haven’t see the 1980s film it is where old Sly does a thing where he runs up and cheers or something. Can’t remember. There’s even a statue to him here as well! Bit OTT. Loads of tourists posing for photos impersonating him outside.

I love Philly

Well. What can I say about this museum. Fantastic! I spent three and a half hours perusing their collection and I loved it. Apparently they are expanding the museum in conjunction with a design by Frank Gehry. The bulk of the collection is European, Asian and American. They also had an impressionist exhibition on, all from their own collection, pretty amazing to see all in one place, including some beautiful Monets.

Monet and Van Gogh at the Philadelphia Art Museum

I particularly love Chinese, Korean and Japanese art and the gallery has some fabulous buddhas and early Chinese sculptures. They even had some Chinese tomb guardians that were virtually identical to a pair I saw in Tokyo. The American art collection was great too, particularly some fine portraits by Whistler and Singer Sergent. I am off to New York tomorrow and have already planned the four galleries I am going to see, so excited!

Asian art from the Philadelphia Art Museum

In the afternoon I visited the oldest part of the city. This included the Liberty Bell. I knew it was famous. I just didn’t know why. A guide explained they think it was rung after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but was not called the Liberty Bell then. It was more around the time of the civil war, when abolitionists used the symbol of the bell as a rallying cry against slavery that it more popularly became known by the name we use today. As for the crack, it happened about 150 years ago and has never been rung since. Next to the bell hall is Independence Hall, where the declaration was signed in 1776.

The Liberty Bell, Philadelphia

The other place I visited was the Museum of the American Revolution. It was very interesting and I learnt lots about the war that I had not known. For example, I did not know that it was the alliances with France, Spain and other European countries that ultimately won America the war. Before those countries became involved, Britain was close to defeating them. It was interesting seeing some of the oldest US flags ever made, learning about why the colonists had such a disagreement with the British and how a nation was ultimately formed. Great museum.

I ended the day treating myself to a great vegan meal at a restaurant called ‘Vedge’, highly recommended if you are ever in Philly!

Day 81 – NYC, Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Art Museum

Started the day by taking a train north to Penn Station in New York, pretty quick journey at 1 hour 20 minutes. Expensive though at $78, and considering the poor state of American trains and train services.

I opted to stay over in Williamsburg, next to Brooklyn, I last was here six years ago and stayed in Manhattan but fancied a new area to explore. Williamsburg is what you might call ‘up-and-coming’ or ‘in the process of gentrification’. Walk down the street and it is vegan bakery, drug den, macrobiotic greengrocers, brothel, locally-sourced shoe shop etc, you get the idea. My hotel is just to the north of the gentrification and is what I would call a ‘seedy’ area, but seems safe enough.

In the afternoon I explored the Brooklyn Art Museum. All museums here seems pricey to get in, think this one was $16 but I guess coming from a country where nearly all museums are free it would seem like that. The gallery is pretty modern and has some great pieces in its collection, including some nice Monets, a few Singer Sargents and a Picasso or two. As it is off the tourist trail it was also mercifully quiet.

‘The Houses of Parliament’, 1903, Monet
‘Dolce far niente’, 1907, John Singer Sargent
‘A morning snow’, 1925, George Wesley Bellows

In the evening I explored Williamsburg, heading down to the regenerated waterfront and watch the sun set. You can see some great views of the Manhattan skyline, it was a great way to end my first day here.

Manhattan skyline

Day 82 – NYC, The Met and Central Park

As was yesterday, it was baking hot and hideously humid today. The NYC metro is NOT the place to be on a hot day. It is like Satan’s lair. Add to the fact that the whole network needs about $1 billion invested in it, it is a pretty horrendous experience using it quite frankly. Plus there was engineering works!

Anyway, I did end up getting the ‘L’ to Manhattan and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). It is quite a collection, it rivals the National Gallery in London or the Louvre in Paris for its diversity and depth. Again pretty pricey at $25 but you can use the ticket for three days running. Not that you probably would want to face the queues again! It is VERY popular.

However, that aside I spent over four hours there. The American galleries are superb with some fantastic John Singer Sargent portraits. There are also a series of rooms from houses across the last couple of centuries, showcasing the extravagant homes Americans built for themselves. The highlight was a lounge designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a home in Minnesota from the 1920s, it was simply stunning.

The European collection is vast, with a number of Van Goghs, Monets, Turners and more. The Egyptian, Roman and Greek galleries are very popular too. It really is a fabulous place to see the development of world art, from many hundreds of years ‘BC’ right up to the present day.

‘Roses’, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
‘Bridge over a pond of water lilies’, 1899, Monet
‘Water lilies’, 1919, Monet
‘Mrs Hugh Hammersley’ (right) and ‘Lady with the rose’ by John Singer Sargent
‘Madame X’ (right) and ‘Mr and Mrs I.N. Phelps Stokes’ by John Singer Sargent

The other gallery I visited was the ‘Neue Gallerie’ just up the road on Fifth Avenue. It has a focus on German and Austrian art, and on paper it looked good, as I visited an Austrian art exhibition in Japan and loved it. The gallery, not so much. Expensive, brief, uninspiring. No.

Central park lake

After all the art I needed to rest headed to nearby Central Park. I strolled along by the joggers round the lake and chilled on the Great lawn before heading with to the WB.

Not the real statue….

One thing I really dislike about NYC I am afraid are the people. It is the rudest most impatient city I have even visited and it drives me mad! People working in shops, cafes, restaurants are surly, rude and don’t smile. Drivers constantly honking their horns and screaming at each other. Why is everyone so unhappy? I’d genuinely like to know! I’ve spent time in other big US cities like LA and Chicago and it nothing like this.

Day 83 – Battery Park, the UN, Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, Freedom Tower

Still not loving NYC but bits of it are good! Still boiling, everyone still grumpy and rude. Decided to look around the UN building as I read they do tours. But not on Sunday apparently. It’s Sunday. Wondered around what I think is ‘mid-town’ saw the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station, well the first two just from the distance. It’s quite hard to see them as there is always another skyscraper in the way!

World Trade Centre
Empire State
Chrysler Building

Headed down to Battery Park, right on the southern tip of Manhattan. I was living my Madonna in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ fantasy! I went to where they filmed the scene where Roseanna Arquette knocks her head and loses her memory. That film was such a big part of my young life, I watched it countless times and it was part of my growing obsession with Madonna. I used to be be such a big fan I cannot even tell you! Down at the southern end of Manhattan you can also see the new ‘Freedom Tower’ which replaced the WTC after 9/11. I am not visiting the memorial as have done that before and was a pretty harsh experience.

The volume of tourists there however was astonishing, all queuing to get on both to see the Statue of Liberty. I just watched from afar. Back to the museums tomorrow, planning on visiting the Guggenheim and the Museum of New York, hopefully will be on safer and familiar territory there!

Day 84 – The Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, New York Central Library

Back on more familiar territory today with art and that makes me happy. Got to the Guggenheim at 10am so was pretty quiet looking around. It really is a stunning building. Opened in 1959 and designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it is one of the most famous galleries in the world.

I read the best way to view the art was to get the lift to the top floor and work your way down. It really is the easiest gallery to navigate, as you walk down one massive spiral staircase all the way to the bottom. I was a little apprehensive that I would not enjoy the art, as it nearly all post-1950 and I struggle with abstract and surrealist art. However I actually really liked it. They had a great Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, some beautiful Kandinskys and a fantastic Francis Bacon triptych.

Triptych, ‘Crucifixion’, Francis Bacon
‘Jeanne Hebuterne’, 1918, by Ameddo Modigliani
‘Landscape with rolling hills’, 1910, by Kandinsky
‘Dominant curve’, 1936, by Kandinsky
‘Josh’, 2007, by Catherine Opie

Afterwards I headed to the Museum of the City of New York. I found out lots about the history of the city. Starting in the early 16th century, Manhattan was settled by the Dutch, and was called New Amsterdam. It was claimed for the Dutch East India company by explorer Henry Hudson (who the Hudson River and Hudson Bay were named after). However, in 1664 the Brits rocked up and said, ‘er we’ll have that thanks’ and just took it over! How bold.

It was then renamed New York, after the Duke of York. It is a very interesting museum, exploring in separate exhibitions subjects such as the history of activism in NYC and the Stonewall riots. New York rapidly became the second biggest city in the world, after London, and then proceeded the build innovative skyscrapers, building the Empire State Building which beacame the tallest building in the world for forty years.

New York Public Library

I also headed to midtown and looked round some shops, then looked around the New York Public Library, made famous by Ghostbusters! I generally had a better day today, party because more people smiled and were nice to me! Maybe the weekend people were just having a bad day. Ended the day watching the sunset back in Williamsburg on the river.

Manhattan sunset

My last day in New York today, moving on to Boston tomorrow. Had quite a weird time here, some great highlights in amongst some boiling weather and horrendous transport. Wouldn’t rush back here but would recommend the art galleries!