Boston is America's largest college town. Within Boston proper alone, there are a whopping 35 different universities, each more prestigious than the next. And in the Greater Boston Area, there are many, many more. Included on Boston's resume of academia are such institutions as Berklee, Boston College, Boston University, Emerson, Tufts, MIT, and Harvard, to name a few. There are (roughly) a combined 152,000 students who attend the many schools in Boston, making up a disproportionate percentage of the population. Somebody once told me that the population of Boston decreases by about half during winter break, and 100% believe it. Think about how many more people there are in Boston who are employed by all these universities or are recent college graduates who go home to visit family over the holidays. Come Christmas, tumble weeds are drifting over the snow banks, and the streets strangely and beautifully peaceful.
How do I know this?
Because I was one of those 152,000 college students living in Boston.
I started Peter's Big Adventure when I moved to Vietnam in 2014. However, prior to this move, I had been living in Boston for a few months north of 4 years. I have often thought how it's such a shame that I started this website after I left Boston. It's arguably the most beautiful city in America, and it definitely has one of the strongest and most distinct cultures. It's got a special place in my heart, and though I have been back to visit a few separate times in the years since my graduation, this is the first time I have brought my camera with me.
Like America's other favorite megacities (NYC, LA, Chicago, etc), Boston has far too much happening to see in a single weekend, let alone blog about in a single article. This place is alive and ever-changing. However, there are some pieces of the Bostonian puzzle that are quintessential, and eternal. No matter what's going on around them, somehow, they never seem to change. Today I'm going to single out a couple of those places: Back Bay and Beacon Hill.
Shout out to Nik & Mika for putting me up for the weekend 😘
Back Bay is one of those unchanging places.
Granted, it's come a long way. Today it is constantly awash with college students, buzzing with languages from every corner of the world, and has a resumé of modern storefronts that is in constant flux. All this can make you forget where you are, but as soon as you take your eyes off your latte and look around, it's easy to see that the heart of Bay Bay is still the same as it has always been. In all my years living in Boston, there never came a time that I grew tired of walking past the endless rows of Victorian brownstones.
Here's a fun fact: I'm the 3rd generation of my family to spend significant time in Boston. Growing up, we often road-tripped to Boston to visit my grandparents and Back Bay was frequently the setting of stories they told from their past lives as young people. As a result, it's hard for me to walk through this neighborhood without reflecting on how the scenery has hardly changed in the past 100-odd years (give or a take a few sky scrapers).
Here's a map to give you a sense of what part of Boston you're about to see:
If you're not familiar with this area, the "street to meet" is Newbury Street. This is where all the restaurants, bars, shops, etc are located. It runs from Hynes Convention Center to the Boston Common (which is Boston's version of Central Park). Most other stretches of Back Bay are residential, ranging from privately owned homes to student housing for various universities, including Boston University and Fisher College.
I grabbed a quick coffee on Newbury, but after that we were quick to jump to a less crowded street in Back Bay to begin our walk. It was the first cold-snap of the year, and word around town was that it was the coldest recorded temperature for day of the year, ever. So when you look at the pictures below, think of the crisp autumn air, and an icy Atlantic breeze.
Moving eastward towards the Common and Beacon Hill, here are a few favorite photos I took...
After walking the length of Back Bay, things get REALLY pretty. Welcome to Beacon Hill.
Beacon Hill first became a thing all the way back in the early 1600s. Development continued through the 1700s, and in 1803, construction began on the gorgeous brick homes that this neighborhood is now famous for. Fast-forward a few centuries, and things haven't changed much. The streets are paved with cobblestone and brick, and illuminated with gas lanterns. On larger streets there is pavement that has been laid down, but for the most part, when you step into Beacon Hill, you are stepping into the 1800s.
Much like Back Bay, Beacon Hill sits in the shadow of downtown Boston's towering skyscrapers. The juxtaposition between 1803 and 2017 is intense. Here's a map to show you just how "in the middle of things" Beacon Hill really is...
When we entered Beacon Hill, the bright November sun was beginning its early retreat towards the horizon line, casting dramatic shadows everywhere. This made photography a bit more challenging, but I think I snapped a few keepers.
Most of the buildings pictured below are people's homes. That's right—this is not some inaccessible historical site—people LIVE here! While there are a maze of alleyways to explore and photograph, you can actually walk the length of Beacon Hill is about 10 minutes. It's not a large neighborhood. However, the official population is just a little over 9,000, which makes it a very densely populated area. And it's easy to see why so many people want to live here—it's definitely not a bad place to wake up every morning!
Yes, many of these homes are very expensive, but it's not only for rich people. Even at the ripe, old age of 25 I already have friends who are affording to rent apartments here, which—let me tell you—are always gorgeous.
Which is fine. I'm not jealous. It's fine.
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite shots from Beacon Hill. However, this only shows a small piece of the story. If you want to see the rest for yourself, you'll have to get a ticket to visit Boston yourself. Fall of 2017 is over, but Beacon Hill is beautiful in any type of weather—especially the snow.
That's all from this trip to Boston! There will be plenty more of them in the future, but in the mean time, for all you non-Bostonians out there, I hope this has gotten your gears turning, thinking about coming to visit the ol' Bean. ("The Bean" is a nick name for Boston—I have no idea why). The next time I visit, I'll have neighborhoods like Southie, Cambridge, and the North End on the docket, but for now, it's time to move on. It's always hard for me to leave this place, but there's a lot in store for 2018, so stay tuned for my next big "travel plans" post.
Now let's finish with the track of the day, from my main man, John Mayer, who (fun fact) attended Berklee so briefly that the school's administration decided to lower the minimum attendance required to be considered "alumni" to just a single semester. So now John Mayer is, officially, a Berklee alumnus after spending just 1 semester there. Pretty sneaky Berklee. 👍