On Saturday around noon, we were still contemplating what to do for the day, so "close by" seemed the operative concept. It was looking like a lovely beach day, but all the "best" beaches require a lengthy drive. On the other hand, Boston itself being on the water, there are beaches within a few miles of the city and even within the city limits. So we packed up the car and headed to Winthrop, a peninsula just northeast of Boston, which has a quiet town beach with sparse amenities but a lifeguard and a public bathroom. And, as it turns out, lovely fine sand. It's a bit tricky to get to Winthrop, a factor that tends to keep the town remarkably insular given its location bordering Boston, albeit across the harbor. Someone on the beach mistook me for a resident, asking if I lived in a particular house, and when I said I didn't live there at all he laughed and said, "what are you doing here then!"
After a few hours, we'd had enough of the beach, but before heading home I suggested checking out a park in nearby East Boston that I'd heard has great views of the city. On the way there, D remembered a shrine he'd been to atop a hill in East Boston that also has fantastic views. So we spotted the shrine and found our way up Orient Heights to the astonishing Madonna Queen National Shrine with its 35-foot statue of the Virgin Mary, apparently a replica of one at the headquarters of the Don Orione order in Rome. The views of the city, the harbor, Logan airport and all around the area from the shrine's plaza are amazing.
We had to resort to D's GPS at this point to get us down from Orient Heights over to the East Boston waterfront. Eastie, like Southie (South Boston), are neighborhoods of Boston but geographically so cut off from the city that they developed their own distinct cultures. Southie was long a working-class Irish-American enclave while Eastie was predominantly Italian after a succession of other immigrant populations (and currently a center of Latino/Hispanic immigrants). Both neighborhoods are gentrifying, particularly near the waterfronts (funny how waterfronts have gone from the roughest parts of town to the most desirable), with Southie already pricey to live in.
The Boston Harborwalk project, which is building public walkways, parks, arts exhibits and other amenities all around the harbor, is probably abetting the gentrification of many waterfront neighborhoods. D and I have walked along most of the Boston Harborwalk in pieces (except for the long stretch south of Castle Island and down through Dorchester) and it's been beautifully done. We hadn't yet been over to walk any of the East Boston sites, including Piers Park, our destination on Saturday afternoon. Though getting there took us through some iffy-looking neighborhood streets, the park turned out to be gorgeous, pristine, and filled with families enjoying the playgrounds and walkways. The park also includes a community sailing program, helping locals take advantage of its location on the harbor.
And the harbor on Saturday was beautiful. We were a couple of hours too early for sunset, and too hungry and sticky from the beach to hang around to wait, but we'll definitely be back to explore the area, including the "ugly beauty" of the East Boston Shipyard nearby.
More photos from East Boston here.