For the events of Saturday, May 30, 2009
8:00 AM – Got up early this morning after a great sleep on my ‘cloud’ bed all night. Loved it – but I’m really stiff today from walking around, and maybe from the way the bed supports you. I wish I could take this thing home in my carry-on, it’s awesome! Was busy working on my blog and editing pictures I’ve taken, etc. until about 9:30. Didn’t even have breakfast – wasn’t hungry for some reason. Ate 3 hamburgers last night – might have something to do with it!
9:30 AM – Walked from my hotel to the Sheraton Boston, which is about 15 minutes away. It’s an absolutely beautiful day so far – not a cloud in the sky, warm and a bit muggy but still perfect weather to be outside – not too hot yet. Walked by these really cool little tour buses called Duck Boat Tours – painted in all kinds of neat colors. The bus drives around the Freedom Trail in the historic part of Boston, then goes off the road and turns into… a little cruise boat that goes down the Charles River! These were actually amphibious boats built for the US Army in WWII – pretty ingenious little things (see picture right, click for larger).
10:00 AM – Met up with Dr. Paul Keown, my boss, as well as a few other doctors from Canada, who serve on the National Organizing Committee for the 2010 World Transplant Congress. Dr. Keown is doing a formal presentation to the Council of the Transplantation Society, the world body who “own” the Congress that we are hosting in Vancouver. We spent nearly 1.5 hours watching our boss ‘wow’ the room, who are transplant doctors from around the world – the President being the Chair of the Sydney Congress I attended in 2008. They had a lot of questions about budgets and things that I won’t bore you with – but we think it went well overall. After, we debriefed for a few minutes with Dr. Keown and the Congress organizing company we hired. We talked about next steps for a bit, and they updated me on a meeting I missed Friday because I was in the air at the time, and then we all parted and went our separate directions.
First thing I saw before heading to the more historic side of the city was a beautiful 3-storey Apple store just a few blocks from my hotel – with floor to ceiling windows on every floor – a really great design. (see picture right, click for larger).
I realized last night in looking at some maps that, though my hotel is a lot farther from the Convention Center than I would have liked (they said “5 minute walk” in the brochure for the Congress – not sure what planet they were on – it’s almost a mile away). But I’m just blocks from the historic parts of Boston, which is what I really came to see and do.
I started the afternoon with a 2 block walk down Arlington Street (which my hotel is on) to the Boston Public Garden – the first public garden in the United States, established in 1837. It’s a really beautiful park right in the heart of Boston, right beside the massive Boston Common, America’s first public park. This city has a lot of “firsts” – first public school, first library, first Sunday school, etc. etc. in America.
The Public Garden is a lot smaller than Stanley Park in Vancouver and a Central Park in NYC, but is much like the latter in the way it is smack in the middle of the city. When you add it to the Boston Common right beside it, it’s a HUGE parcel of park land right in the middle of the city, with a big river running right beside it. In other words, lots and lots of nature within walking distance of much of the cities skyscrapers, historic areas and condo developments – which is something even Vancouverites would even envy. The Garden has a small lagoon with a footbridge in the middle of it, lots of walking paths for you, your dog and/or your bike – and on this beautiful Saturday was just packed (including the grass) with tourists and Bostonians enjoying the weather and scenery. I was actually surprised at how many tourists are here before the official start of school summer – you could tell by all the cameras and blank looks at maps everywhere.
The lagoon had little boats on it with swan heads that are called Swan Boats – a small business of pedal-operated boats owned by the same family in the park since the 1920s. The history in this city really grabs you – nothing seems new here. It seems that even the Don’t Walk signs are older than me, and there are buildings actually named things like the “New State House” that are older than Canada!
I walked a bit farther into the park and saw this statue of a guy on a horse. It was kind of cool, and from a distance it seemed really dramatic, but thought at first it was really overdone. Until I read the inscription – “General George Washington“. The entire park is built around the statue, and all footpaths lead to it. As the park is in the centre of the city, it means the statue is the really the heart of the whole city.
It hit me that it didn’t say “President Washington”. I put two and two together and realized that Washington himself actually walked through these streets, sat in the pews of these churches, shopped in some of these stores and ate in some of these restaurants – and some of the buildings that he saw are still here! He was an army general of course, defending the Colonies in the American Revolution against the British – long before they made him President. In fact, my hotel is just a 5-10 minute walk to where he had his first military camp, and the first bullet to start the American Revolution was fired just 3 blocks from where I was standing. He’s so much larger than life today, but it’s a good reminder that he started as a soldier in a war that no one thought he could win – and he did. And the whole world is different today because of it. And all this from (at that time) a little city out in the middle of nowhere.
Just 2 blocks away from the Public Gardens is the world headquarters, the ‘first’ First Church of Christ, Scientist, started by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. While I don’t agree with Christian Science church teachings, it was because of the work of guys like George Washington that we even have freedom of religion in North America such as this. It really is a magnificent place – reminds you of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The Old Mother Church is over 115 years old, and has a massive plaza with fountains, and a 3-storey stained glass globe of the world (called the Mapparium) that is really stunning in broad daylight.
I decided to start making my way back to the hotel. It’s getting really hot out, I’d been outside for over an hour in the Gardens and walking down a nice lane called Commonwealth Avenue looking at old townhouses. Though this was an unexpectedly great day of touring, I had a craving for Burger King, and was worried I was going to get a sunburn or sunstroke, so I started heading for BK on the way to my hotel.
Just as I was walking the last 3 blocks to BK, I walked by the magnificent Trinity Church. Like the Old Mother Church above, it really hits you because it’s surrounded by…nothing. A big open park with no man-made development other than cement walkways – to showcase it better, I believe. This city really seems to care about it’s old churches!
I admit I almost walked right by it, thinking “just another nice old building” when I glanced at the sign outside the building, and I stopped. The congregation was founded…. in 1733! For those of you quick with math, this Church has existed in this city for over 275 years – that’s 43 years before America even became a country. Any organization or order that can exist that long deserved a second look. I had my tour book of Boston with me, and I looked it up.
This was obviously not the first church building – it started pretty humbly, but this ‘most recent’ church sanctuary for the congregation was finished in 1877 – when Canada was 10 years old! It’s consistently been voted in the top 10 finest buildings in the country.
I thought ‘OK, nice place, but I don’t want to spend time going inside there today – my feet hurt and I’m starving’. So grabbed my Burger King and was walking back down a different street on the way back to the hotel – and walked by one more little church that I almost ignored – Arlington Street Church. Nothing impressive, except it’s pretty, a nice colonial little church. I did notice it was actually started 4 years before Trinity, and thought, ‘oh cool’, and just about walked away anyway – until I read the last line of the church’s sign.
In this little unassuming building, on (probably) a cold night in February 1788, they ratified the Constitution of the United States! You don’t have to be an American to be in a bit of awe about that. A humble little church that probably seats less than 200 – not a cathedral, not a public square, not a court, or a legislature – was where they voted to approve the system of laws that America is governed by today! And right across the street from the church, in front of the Boston Public Garden (where I first started), and just one block from the statue of George Washington, they have honored this little church by having a statue of it’s first pastor in such a public place! I was really moved by that. In an age where pastors are made fun of in the media all the time, here was a country that was funded on the actions of pastors, and they were honored in the same way as Presidents!
3:30 PM – Got back to my hotel and had my hamburgers. It was getting WAY too hot outside – about 25C, not a cloud in the sky, and really muggy. Hard to complain about it though after my great afternoon. When I got back to the hotel, I turned on the TV to hear that there was some more cool/rainy weather on its way in the next few days, and I was almost tempted to go back outside and keep touring. However, only have a bit of time before I have to do some ‘work’ tonight, and didn’t want to be worn out, so worked on blog for a bit, watched some TV and then had a nap – great way to spend the afternoon.