Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 25, 2021
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Abuzz in Boston

A parents’ guide to an action-packed long weekend in Beantown

It’s not only that fabulous fall foliage that makes Massachusetts’ capital (tel: 888-733-2678; such a colourful place. After all, this family-friendly city is known for Redcoats, Blue Men, even a Green Monster — and, with some careful planning, your gang can experience the lot of them in just 72 hours.


10am: Walk of Ages

The four-kilometre Freedom Trail (tel: 617-357-8300;, Boston’s star attraction, is laid out as a line rather than a loop. Most of the three million visitors who walk it each year set out from the southern end in Boston Common, proceeding in rough chronological order through the trail’s 16 designated historic sites.

This seems logical enough, considering that the Common has been recognized as the heart of the city — both geographically and historically — since the Puritans first began grazing their cows on it in the early 17th century.

However, when you’re tackling the trail with children (particularly Canadian ones who, unlike their American counterparts, haven’t been taught to revere Revere or sign their John Hancock) you run the risk of their losing interest before you reach the route’s half-way mark.

That’s why I suggest kicking things off in Charlestown (tel: 617-242-5642;, on the northern end, where kids are guaranteed to be engaged from the get-go. The “wow factor” here is supplied by the USS Constitution (aka Old Ironsides): the world’s oldest commissioned warship, launched in 1797.

Even little landlubbers will be impressed by the frigate’s towering masts, plentiful cannons and below-deck quarters — all of which can be seen on informative, free tours led by active-duty Navy Sailors. Because entry to the USS Constitution Museum (tel: 617-426-1812; is also complimentary, your crew can bone up on the boat’s back story through its family-oriented exhibits and rotating daily programs. There’s one that showcases 19th-century naval medicine and includes blood-letting bowls, antique trephines and other show-and-tell surgical tools.

From the museum, you can fast forward through time with a free tour of the USS Cassin Young (a WWII destroyer); then hit rewind at the Bunker Hill Monument (tel: 617-242-5641;, built to commemorate a pivotal battle in the American War of Independence. But be warned: the granite obelisk’s 294 spiralling steps are tough for wee legs to climb, so the youngest members of your party will probably be happier crossing the street to gape at cool military dioramas in the new, no-cost Bunker Hill Museum.

Noon: Freedom Fries

Next follow the trail into the North End (Boston’s “Little Italy”) to combine an easy-to-digest history lesson at Paul Revere’s House (tel: 617-523-2338;; adults $3, children five to 17, $1) with lunch at a local pizza parlour.

Hankering for something more traditional? Continue downtown to Faneuil Hall Marketplace (tel: 617-523-1300; where hot topics were once debated, and hot dishes like baked beans and “chowdah” are now served.

2pm: Swanning Around

Once you’ve browsed the surrounding shops, you can breeze by the rest of the Freedom Trail sites en route to Boston Common.

Upon arriving, parents will immediately recognize the other advantage of doing the redbrick road in reverse: the Common’s wide open spaces seem tailor-made for unwinding at the end of a long walk.

The same can be said for the Public Garden, directly across from it. While those beloved Swan Boats don’t circle the lagoon this late in the year, your offspring can still clamber over statues of the quaking Mallard clan made famous in Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. Re-reading the classic 1941 bedtime book is an ideal way to close your busy first day.


10am: Waterworld

Having immersed yourselves in history yesterday, shift your focus to the waterfront today by visiting the venerable New England Aquarium (tel: 617-973-5200;; adults $19.95; children three to 11, $11.95). Playful Atlantic Harbour Seals, housed outside the main entrance, set the tone for a morning of fun with aquatic critters.

Inside, touch tanks give you a real feel for marine life and a 570,000-litre penguin exhibit lets you get your Happy Feet fix. The showstopper, though, is the four-storey Giant Ocean Tank filled with hundreds of fish, sharks, rays, eels and a 250-kilo sea turtle named Myrtle. Divers enter the tank to hand feed her during one of the aquarium’s many daily activities.

Noon: Chow in Chinatown

Most aquarium activities are free, but there are additional extra-price offerings that older kids would enjoy devoting the afternoon to such as IMAX movies, junior trainer programs and various behind-the-scenes tours. From April through October, whale-watching excursions to Stellwagen Bank are available as well.

Alternately, teens and tweens might stroll west to the Beach Street area where they can chow down on chow mein while savouring the sights and sounds of America’s third largest Chinatown.

2pm: Mini Me

If, on the other hand, your brood falls into the under-11 category, the afternoon activity is a no-brainer. Just take the HarborWalk path to the Boston Children’s Museum (tel: 617-426-8855; www.bostonkids. org; adults $10; children two to 15, $8). Established in 1913, it is one of the oldest such facilities.

It happens to be one of the best too, especially following last year’s $45-million expansion. In fact, this museum is so enticing that the reason I recommend leaving it until later in the day is that once your kids get in, it can be nearly impossible to get them back out again.

Truthfully, it can be hard to merely move them past the lobby with its irresistible (and visually arresting) climbing “sculpture.” Highlights for those who make it further, however, include art and performance studios, a full-size replica of Arthur the Aardvark’s cartoon realm, a Lilliputian construction zone and a massive model of Boston’s bustling Four Point Channel that lets mini mariners launch boats and contend with currents.

Before calling it quits, be sure to drop by Airplay. The temporary exhibit, on until January 4, 2009, encourages guests to – you guessed it – play with air.

8pm: True Blue

Produced in collaboration with the Blue Man Group, Airplay also provides a nice segue for tonight’s entertainment: a performance by the brilliant blue trio at the Charles Playhouse. Although it has been running here since 1995, the Blue Man Group’s (tel: 617-931-2787;; $48 to $58) signature mix of mime and music still eludes description.

Suffice it to say that the show — deemed suitable for theatre-goers aged five and older — involves splattering paint, don’t-try-this-at-home marshmallow lobbing and a lifetime supply of paper towels.


10am: Mad Professors

Get your final day rolling with a “eureka” moment at the superlative Museum of Science (tel: 617-723-2500;; adults $19; children three to 11, $16). MOS displays, many of them health-related, are always inventive and the live demos are over the top (think lightening bolts manufactured in the world’s largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator). Nevertheless, the hands-on opportunities are the true pièces de résistance. If your progeny has ever wanted to inflate formaldehyde-soaked sheep’s lungs or assemble an animal skeleton, here’s their chance!

1pm: Ivory Towers

After re-fueling in an on-site eatery, everyone will be up for more museum hopping; because the MOS sits astride the Charles River Dam, you’re well positioned to explore university-affiliated venues over the bridge in Cambridge.

Top choices are the Harvard Natural History Museum (tel: 617-495-3045;; adults $7.50, children five to17, $3), replete with dinosaur bones, gemstones and dazzling displays of taxidermy; and the MIT Museum (tel: 617-253-5927; edu/museum; adults $9; children three to 18, $6), which boasts an Innovation Gallery and Robot Exhibit.

Of course, it is fascinating to simply soak up Cambridge’s campus life. For a taste of the ivory tower (without paying the savings-sapping tuition fees), consider joining a student-led tour. Harvard (tel: 617-495-1573; and MIT (tel: 617-253-4795; offer them free of charge on a regular basis. If your kids, conversely, are more interested in athletics than academics, another option is to remain on the Boston side of the bridge, taking the subway one stop east from the Museum of Science to the TD Banknorth Garden sports arena.

3pm: Play Ball

Here’s the site of the Sports Museum (tel: 617-624-1237;; adults $6, children six to 17, $4) which, not surprisingly, gives resident Bruins and Celtics a home advantage. Popular exhibits, for example, include a penalty box from the original Garden and Larry Bird’s old locker.

The Red Sox — Boston’s curse-breaking icons — are also represented. But fans who really want to cover all the bases should take a separate Fenway Park tour (tel: 617-226-6666;; adults $11; children $10) for up-close views of the Green Monster, Pesky’s Pole and more.

8pm: The Tip Off

While the Sox don’t suit up this time of year, the Bruins (tel: 617-624-2327; and 2008 NBA world champion Celtics (tel: 866-423-5849; do, with the former lacing up for their home opener October 20 and the latter tipping off October 28.

Over in suburban Foxborough, the New England Patriots (tel: 800-543-1776; prove they’ve got game too by chasing a fourth Super Bowl title at Gillette Stadium.

Clearly this winning city has more than its fair share of winning teams — there is, perhaps, no more appropriate way to cap your trip than by spending the last evening watching one of them play.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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