[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]t’s only a 75-minute flight from New York, but Boston can seem like a world away. The capital of the state of Massachusetts offers a gentler pace of life, history around just about every corner and a genteelness that gives it an upper-crust feel.
Founded in 1630, it is one of the oldest cities in the United States. It was the scene of key struggles in the American Revolution highlighted on the fascinating Freedom Trail, which is a 4km walking route past historic sites that tell the story of the then fledgling nation’s fight to rid itself of British colonial rule.
If you’re in or near to Boston on business, extend your trip for a few days to get to know the city and its illustrious past.
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DOWNTON ABBEY MEETS THE BOSTONIANS
It’s a quaint irony that, in the city that saw some of the fiercest resistance to British rule during the American Revolution – like the Boston Massacre and the famous Boston Tea Party – one of its top-rate hotels has English roots.
The Langham Boston is an off shoot of the famous grande dame namesake in London, dating back to 1865 and famous for its “service with poise” – the equivalent of Downton Abbey-style, butler-quality, quietly efficient attentiveness, only updated.
You feel that old-world British elegance (minus the stiff upper lip) the minute you step into the hotel, housed in a stately building in the financial district that was once the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Vestiges of its original 1920s Renaissance Revival details pop up throughout the architecture, like 7m-high vaulted ceilings with crystal chandeliers.
The elegance extends to the 318 classically designed suites and rooms right through to the friendly, helpful staff . Modern touches include a state-of-the-art fitness centre with sizeable swimming pool and its unexpected New Age-y Chuan Spa that offers treatments inspired by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Food-wise, the hotel’s two main eateries are unapologetically contemporary. Cafe Fleuri turns out modern New England cuisine in seasonal menus featuring locally sourced ingredients, while Bond is a bar-cum-restaurant offering handcrafted cocktails and classic American fare.
The hotel’s downtown location means that it’s within easy walking distance of eateries and attractions like Faneuil Hall, a marketplace and meeting hall since 1743, with arts and crafts shops, American street food and impromptu street entertainment.
FOOD OF IMMIGRANTS
As in other American cities, Italian cuisine is hugely popular and has been integrated into the modern national diet. But Boston still has pockets of small, artisanal purveyors who still produce or import food, condiments and drinks made in old, traditional ways.
The best way to dig them out: Book a custom-designed food tour with an expert like foodie and chef Michele Topor. The energetic 70-something has lived in Boston’s Little Italy for more than 40 years, and her tours of the area – as well as Chinatown – are filled with little-known treasures, insider insights and on-the-spot tastings.
On the Little Italy tour, for example, she – or one of the seasoned guides from her Boston Food Tours company – takes you to small neighbourhood shops, from bakeries and delicatessens to liquor stores that are among the best in the city.
One of them, Maria’s Pastry Shop, run by the grumpy-looking Maria, is a pastry lover’s dream come true. Everything is authentic and made fresh that day or on-order while you wait, and some are made only on religious (read Catholic) holy days, like panettone for Christmas.
Bricco Panetteria is another gem. Tucked away behind a building and down an alley, the one-room, white-tiled, old-world bakery makes artisanal breads using only natural ingredients – unbleached flour, sea salt, natural yeast, no preservatives or additives.
And at Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop just across from the bakery, you’ll find more artisanal products like balsamic vinegar with no sugar added, extra virgin olive oil from Sicily, anchovy sauce and mozzarella made fresh three times a day.
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DIG INTO THE NATION’S ROOTS
Founded in 1870, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is the country’s fourth-largest museum and contains more than 450,000 works of art – including paintings by J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet and Jackson Pollock.
What makes it special, though, are the collections of American art from the 17th through to the 20th centuries, including Native American and Latin American art, folk and rural art, American Revolution art and American Impressionism.
Together, they tell a mini history of the early days of the country, particularly via portraits, such as the 1768 portrait of revolutionary hero Paul Revere by the great painter John Singleton Copley, as well as portraits of ordinary and society women by Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent.
There are priceless artefacts, too, like the iconic silver “Sons of Liberty bowl” handcrafted in 1768 by Paul Revere.
A national treasure, it was commissioned by the Sons of Liberty, a secret 15-member group formed in opposition to the English Crown.
The bowl is engraved with the names of 92 members of the Massachusetts Bay House of Representatives who defied a British order to dissolve the assembly, because they opposed colonial taxes on such staples as tea, glass and paper goods.
Also engraved on the bowl are Liberty caps, wreaths and other symbols evoking the Libertarian spirit of the day, as well as an inscription lauding the 92 as “undaunted by the insolent menace of Villains in Power” – referring to the bad old Brits.
AMERICA’S OLDEST RESTAURANT IS AN OYSTER BAR?
Boston and its hinterland sit right on the Atlantic coast, so seafood is a big feature on menus. And for fast food, just about as popular as the hamburger is the lobster roll – chunks of fresh, juicy lobster nestled in a bread bun and slathered with mayonnaise.
If you’re feeling adventurous, order a whole steamed lobster at James Hook and Co, a small shanty on the waterfront. Its lobster, crab and other shellfish fare – including lobster rolls – are almost legendary and attract foodies from across America and abroad.
Another iconic eatery is the Union Oyster House, established in 1826 and reputed to be America’s oldest restaurant. Since then, it has had only three owners. The current one, Joe Milano, also happens to be Boston’s honorary consul general for Thailand and is always game for a chat about his days in the Far East.
Other trivia: In 1796, Louis Philippe, future king of France, lived in exile on the second floor. It was here that the toothpick was first used in the US. John F. Kennedy was such a fan of the eatery that there’s now a “Kennedy booth” in the upstairs dining room.
Not surprisingly, the house’s menu features seafood of every sort cooked in myriad ways. Besides oysters, there’s classic Boston clam chowder, fresh scrod, lobster, mussels, butterfly shrimp, grilled swordfish, haddock, calamari and more.
Take a direct flight from Singapore to Boston via Doha on Qatar Airways. Business class on the airline’s latest Airbus A350 XWB (extra wide body) aircraft means wider seats, advanced air-conditioning technology so the cabin air is not so dry, and LED mood lighting – all meant to reduce fatigue on long flights.
In addition, seats offer various comfortable positions – from moveable foot rests to an 80-inch fully flat bed – controlled by a touchscreen panel, as well as a 17-inch high-definition screen and USB and Apple iPort sockets.
Qatar’s in-flight entertainment system, which offers up to 2,000 options, is operated via a touchscreen handset – like a mobile phone – that acts as a “second screen”. So you can have, say, the flight map on the handset while watching a movie on the main screen.
In terms of creature comforts, you get a pyjamas set in soft grey cotton – like long johns – and a Giorgio Armani personal utility pouch that includes socks, an eye mask, lip balm and mini-fragrance, as well as toiletries in the washrooms.
Food-wise, Qatar signed up Michelin-star chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia to regularly create new menus that include Western favourites, as well as Middle Eastern fare like the classic Arabic mezze platter.
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Best of all, you can order anything on the menu at any time during the flight, besides filling up at set meal times with anything from soups, appetisers and mains (the butternut squash and mascarpone ravioli is a winner!) to cheeses, fruit and desserts.