Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | December 4, 2016

How’ve You Beantown: A Mini Jaunt #1


My starfish tattoo! Now I am always a starfish dancer as long as my feet are moving!

It’s December 3, and I’m on what will likely be my last little jaunt of 2016, barring any surprise work trips between now and the new year. Of course, it is work that has made this little mini break possible, as I am sitting here writing from my hotel room in Boston, Massachusetts on my first ever trip to “Beantown”.  I did take another trip in between, but didn’t blog about it because it was a trip to Edmonton that was once again mostly family and shopping, and there’s only so much talking about Ikea and West Edmonton Mall that I think a reader would be willing to tolerate. I did, however, make a new stop while there: Shades of Grey, a comic store and associated tattoo parlour, where the amazing and talented Amy Bliska inked the starfish I’ve wanted for years onto my right foot. It’s my second tattoo and it was certainly more painful than the dragonfly on my back, but manageable. The only thing I regret (if I can even call it that) is that I wasn’t able to get it sooner!


Sunrise coming in for the Calgary leg of my flight

But back to Boston. How, you might ask, did my work make this possible? Every year I’m allocated a certain budget to take training, and this year I found a course in Ottawa that looked interesting and fell within my available time frames and my budget that my manager was supportive of, so I tagged a few holidays on since the  far from Yellowknife to Ottawa was covered and decided to go somewhere close(ish) that I’d never visited before, so I got to do a little Ottawa eating and exploring, and now I’ll do the same in part of Boston.

I didn’t spend long in Ottawa – I flew out on November 30, taking a ridiculously early morning flight (plane departed at 5:30 so I was up before 4 a.m.), and arrived at my first destination by about 4 p.m.  I stayed in the Business Inn, which I love. It’s super nice and extremely good value for the price, with kitchenettes even in the mini suites, as it often caters to longer stays by military personnel and medical travellers from the North. The location is stellar – right off Elgin Street where there are a few cute shops and lots more excellent restaurants. I ate at Pancho Villa, a Mexican place on the first night, then stopped across the street at Pure Gelato for salted butter caramel, whiskey, and dark chocolate selections.

The next two days were my fabulous course (social media for government) offered by the Centre for Excellence in Public Service Marketing, which I also recommend, fabulous meals at Kiko and La Favourita in Little Italy with my course mates (who all “oohed” at my mango with brie and caramelized onion pizza from La Favourita and I practically had to guard it with my life), a meal with other members of my work team who were in Ottawa at 3 Brewers (good food, excellent beer, but the service was not great), then on my final night, a former colleague and I venture to Upper Canada Village.


The ferris wheel was scary at first, but I do wish I’d had time to go back again and again for rides!

Upper Canada Village is one of those historical forts where Ottawa school children go and see old buildings and learn about history, one of those living history sites where people dress in period costume and I’ll bet those kids make candles and card wool like I did as a kid once in Fort Edmonton. However, for Christmas, they cover the place in lights – over a million, I overheard – and it transforms from and 1860s village to a Christmas village for December. There was no snow, which my friend Lynn lamented a little, but it was still beautiful.

We got there quite late because it’s an hour’s drive from Ottawa and Lynn needed to finish out her work day and then we grabbed a quick dinner, so we skipped the train. Instead, we did the horse drawn carriage around the village, then a walk to the church to sing carols (and warm up, as it was a bit brisk).  We rode the ferris wheel, which makes scary clanking noises and goes rather fast. The first pass was not enjoyable. “I’ve made a mistake, I hate this,” I believe I said to Lynn as we dropped speedily down and my stomach jumped. By the second revolution I’d snapped out of it, and the rest of the rounds were great fun.


The old church in Upper Canada Village alight at night.

I got a few good snapshots but not a lot, between the blurring quick ride  combined with the darkness wreaking havoc on my shutter speed, but it was well worth it. We only took the ride once because we needed to run over to catch the sound and light show, where lights flickered in time with Christmas song. “Carol of the Bells” was spectacular, and then a jazzy piece I was unfamiliar with played and was great as well, and then an Elvis song.  We’d missed Santa and things were closing down, so next we went to the little shop where I found some cute earmuffs and a few ornaments I liked.  Well, there was lots I liked, but just a few I let myself take home with me!

After that, it was back to the Inn and back to bed, because I had what I thought needed to be an early morning the next day and it was after 11 p.m when I could crawl into bed.  I booked an eight o’clock flight on Porter Airlines, connecting through Toronto. My mistake was treating it like an international flight when it was a domestic connection first.  I got up at 4:30 a.m. to be to the airport as close to 5:30 as I could, thinking I wanted 2.5-3 hours to get to my plane.  The counter to drop my bag didn’t even open until 6 o’clock and I had lots of time in the lounge. Lesson learned for next time!  On the plus side, Porter has a private lounge which was quiet and comfy, and they have free coffee and a few snacks that are complementary as well.  Also, they serve wine on the plane for free. A great experience over all, really.


My cute little room in the Omni Parker House hotel.

I napped on the plane to Toronto then again to Boston, where I waited in a long line to get through customs. I arrived at my hotel, the Omni Parker House, just before three in the afternoon. Boy howdy, is this place fancy. I booked on Priceline, so I knew it was nice, but the price was so decent I didn’t actually know how nice. I felt a bit like a scrub, arrived in my tired and disheveled state. They have porters. Like take your luggage, where fancy uniforms, porters.  My room wasn’t quite ready when I got there, so I went for a jaunt and found a little street that is closed to cars (like Sparks in Ottawa) and has lots of shops along the way. I went to Macy’s to see if there were presents for people I still need to shop for (no luck) but it wasn’t long before the hotel called my cell to let me know everything was ready to go. I was super relieved to find my room was cozy and small, which seems weird, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m richer than I am. I am just really good at finding bargains.


The Christmas tree in Boston Common, beautifully aglow. It was not yet six and yet so dark out!

I chilled in my room for a bit, then went for a quick walk to Boston Common to check out the Christmas Tree. It is a short walk from the hotel, five minutes or less, and the tree is beautiful, all lit up in the dark. The tree is given to Boston every year by the City of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, as a thank you of the help after the explosion in 1917. Thousands were killed and whole neighbourhoods destroyed when two ships, one of which was carrying explosives for the war, collided. Without even knowing the full details, the Massachusetts governor dispatched a train carrying doctors, Red Cross nurses and medical supplies the very next morning, wending its way through a blizzard to help Haligonians, and help kept coming for months. Since 1971, Halifax gives Boston their Christmas tree in gratitude.  So that Canadian connection was pretty neat.

I didn’t stay long in the Common because I was tired and it was dark (a little scary on my own) and, most importantly, I just wanted to eat in the hotel and go back to my room for an early night.  I was going to eat at The Last Hurrah, but they only serve cocktails on Saturday. They defer hungry customers to the Parker’s Bar, but that happened to be closed for a private function. My last option in house was the Parker Restaurant, but they were too busy and I knew I wasn’t being squeezed in any time soon, unfortunately. So I ordered room service, and a burger and fries at that (along with a glass of Pinot Noir).  A bit pricey for a burger and fries once all the taxes and gratuities are factored in, but seeing what quick work I made of the burger, I think it was for the best. It turns out I was hungrier than I even thought.

Now I’m going to get ready for bed, despite the early hour, so I can rise early and make the most of my daylight hours. Until tomorrow!

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