RP O’Donnell says it is hard to find anywhere better than Boston to show your family a great time as he returns to a city he used to call home
I’m not a great flier, I never have been. I can’t even fly kites: I get dizzy looking up at a height.
But long ago, when I moved from Boston to the Midwest United States, I decided that flying was unavoidable if I wanted to see my family regularly; I accepted it as something I was just going to have to do.
I didn’t have a choice, so if anything bad happened, it was fate. Which was comforting.
It was also comforting that I was young and single and I could drink my shirt off before each flight.
Now that I live in Ireland, across the ocean from my family in Boston, this stoic philosophy serves doubly.
Well, the first part at least; I am no longer single (and although I’m still young, I often find myself loudly complaining about the price of cashews and wondering if there aren’t more stairs in the world these days).
As my partner and I set out for a trip to Boston for Easter this April, we had our two children in tow: a five-year-old and an eight-month old.
Which meant that we were no longer travelling—we were travelling with children. We were earnest and thought of ourselves as smart and capable parents, so we made a decision, a fateful error: we tried to get clever.
I’ve travelled a lot over the years, and my one rule has always been, don’t get clever.
What this means is, don’t think that you can foresee anything. Obviously, put a structure into place, but then leave wide room for improvisation.
Things will go wrong: roll with the punches.
This should have been doubly true for travelling with children. Children are inherently unpredictable; they brush their teeth with chaos and cut their hair with …well … sometimes they go into the bathroom to brush their teeth and come out having cut their fringe off. It’s bedlam.
Our pre-flight structure was sound — instead of driving to Shannon from West Cork at 3am the morning of the flight, we drove up the night before and stayed over in the Shannon Airport Hotel.
But when they offered a breakfast, at €11 per person, we got clever. We spent the money and congratulated ourselves for saving money on an overpriced bagel at the airport, as well as the time saved in airport cafe queues.
The next morning, however, I found myself at the breakfast table with one child still too full from last night, the other throwing spoons and Cheerios at passersby, and my partner—another nervous flyer—too nervous to eat.
I stuffed my pockets full of scrambled eggs to recoup the losses, but found myself an hour later (when everyone announced that they were actually starving) waiting with soggy pockets in an airport cafe queue.
We got so clever, in fact, that we had taken the bus from Cork City to Shannon—this was a concession to the eight-month-old; we wouldn’t have to stop for feeds and she wouldn’t be stuck in a car seat.
On those terms, it was a rousing success. Unfortunately, Bus Éireann haven’t recognised the existence of babies yet, at least within the context of their buses.
(They must think that babies are home-bound, or too cheap to pay the bus fare.)
Our middle-aged bus driver was practicing to become a teenage rally driver, and on the corners, we argued against centripetal force and clung to our baby, while trying to remain seated ourselves.
Aer Lingus also seems to be genuinely puzzled about the transit of babies, despite the ‘babies crying on a plane’ trope giving continual hope to millions of awful stand-up comedians everywhere.
We paid a lot of money for an infant ticket, enough to reasonably expect a seat, or at least a modicum of accommodation for her. Unfortunately, we were told that was just tax, not a seat.
Fair enough — Aer Lingus have always been exceptionally nice to us — so we asked if there was an empty seat available, to give her some room.
The check-in attendants told us to ask the attendant at the gate, who told us to ask the attendant on the plane, who was the same attendant from the check-in but now told us that we had to ask before we got on the plane, and, unfortunately, there were no empty seats.
We pointed out eight empty seats, including the rows immediately behind and in front of us, and got a shrug. A middle-aged man, fully able and independent, gave out that he was across the aisle from his wife and the attendants switched around the seats for him.
The general situation wasn’t Aer Lingus’s —or at least, not entirely. Why do airlines not have any sort of accommodation, even a single row, for parents traveling with babies?
Even tiny restaurants have high chairs. Of course babies cry on planes, they’re up in their parents’ arms for half a day—it’s a small wonder that the parents don’t as well.
But because my partner and I are exceptional parents and raised our children so well … no. I actually have no idea why they were so good, but they really were.
Our oldest is still young enough that reasoning only enters into the equation if he doesn’t like our reasoning. But I take all credit, wholly unearned and unqualified, for their wonderful conduct.
We all made it to Boston.
If you want to have a great time with your children in an American city, it’s hard to find a better place to go than Boston.
It’s a major metropolis, but feels almost European at times. With its (relatively) small size and (relatively) great subway, it’s incredibly manageable.
Areas like Cambridge and Beacon Hill are full of history and birdsong and green spaces.
We took our kids to the New England Aquarium, one of my favorite places on earth. When you walk through the front door, a massive 200,000 gallon tank rises in front of you, with a large walkway spiraling up around it.
It’s filled with giant turtles, sharks, rays, and all sorts of other coral reef fish.
Better yet, the tanks is surrounded by the penguin tanks, so as you rise to the ceiling in the company of fish, you can look back down on the rock-hopping penguins. Plan for two hours, and head to the iMAX theater for a show.
If you go during the school year, make sure you go after school hours for the shortest queues.We didn’t take our kids to the Museum of Science, but I wish we had.
I practically grew up there—it had air conditioning in the summer. It’s a rare breed—a museum that’s not only aimed at kids, but actually wants them to be excited about its subject.
There’s an electricity show that you really have to see to believe, featuring the world’s largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator.
(I’ll admit, I had to look up the name of that; I just remember that a man stood in a birdcage and shot out mad-scientist-level bolts of electricity.)
They have loads of other exhibits, on nearly everything science and math related: dinosaurs, engineering, butterflies, etc. And they have musical stairs —you run up and down and the stairs are the keys of a piano.
But there is more to Boston than just Boston itself. Take the commuter rail — or on a summer day, the ferry — for a pleasant 40 minute journey and you’ll find yourself on the South Shore, in a town called Hingham.
Hingham is the quintessential New England small town; Eleanor Roosevelt named its Main Street the most beautiful Main Street in America. It hasn’t changed since.
The town centre is small and quaint, filled with enormous white churches and high end shops. The Old Ship Church was built in 1681 by the Puritans, and still holds services.
When you walk through Hingham, you can see the beginnings of America —and they look an awful lot like a posh Irish village.
The Snug is a brilliant pub, with dark, creaking wood and well-poured pints. But more people are talking about the Wahlbergs’ restaurants.
Hingham is where Mark Wahlberg and his brothers opened their first Wahlburger’s. The food is amazing and I’ve never once seen Jenny McCarthy there.
(I didn’t find any anti-vax conspiracies scribbled on the napkins either.)
Alma Nova is another of theirs—it has the best Old Fashioned cocktail anywhere.
Take the train back into Boston. And spend a day on foot, wandering around without any plan.
You’ll find fun. It’s that kind of city.