Irish for the Weekend

I celebrated St Patrick’s Day for the first time in my life this year. With my Irish-American best friend. In Boston. Among the nation’s proudest Irishmen and women. Oh, and Conor McGregor was there too. Not bad for my first time. The idea first came to light when weekend plans for a get-as-far-away-from-work-as-possible trip to Chicago fell through last November. My friend and I were brainstorming over the phone on the drive home from our overnight shift. We both agreed on Boston and I suggested St Paddy’s weekend for the famous festivities. She immediately said yes and thus, flight and hotel were booked early one gray January morning.

The way our schedules fell, we both worked the night before our trip. I spent Thursday morning running around my house, doing last minute packing and worrying if my hair would frizz on the drive to the airport. I’d had zero sleep in over 20 hours. As I munched on Chick-fil-A after we’d checked our bags and ventured through security, I planned on catching some sleep during the hour and a half flight. Instead, I spent the entire flight to Boston Logan watching Bohemian Rhapsody for the 10th time on my friend’s screen and listening to the soundtrack with my own headphones. My eyelids may have protested but it was worth it.

During the Uber ride to the hotel, we both pressed our faces to the window taking in every glimpse of Boston’s historic scenery. We checked into our room with a balcony view of Back Bay, washed our faces to wake up, and headed right back outside. Starbucks coffee in hand, we wandered around the Public Garden and the Commons, happy we were finally here after weeks of planning. We took in the brownstones, old oak trees, and Washington’s monument with tourist eyes but traveler minds. The people-watching was fascinating. Everyone seemed so young. The only hiccup we ran into was getting lost in Chinatown just past dark. We had foolishly thought the city would be similar to New York, where the streets are like grids and easy to maneuver through. An old neighbor of mine relocated to Boston a couple years ago and I made plans to meet her for dinner at a trendy Asian restaurant in the South End. Getting lost had not been a bullet point on our itinerary and time was ticking away as we wandered past streets that looked increasingly similar in the dark. Uber saved us again, and we vowed to use the subway the next morning.

Friday’s brunch was spent at the Cheers bar on Beacon Hill. Being children of the ‘90s, we were familiar with the beloved sitcom thanks to Nic@Nite re-runs. Sipping Boston Breezes and munching on potato skins, we took a multitude of photos and spent far too much on souvenirs in the gift shop. Later, we ventured on the subway (called the T) and spent the rest of the day in the North End. We hit many landmarks: the Old State House, Faneuil Marketplace, Paul Revere’s house, the Boston Harbor, St Leonard’s Church, Hanover Street. Dinner was at Monica’s Trattoria followed by Boston cream pies from Mike’s Pastry. By the end of the night, we felt like official honorary Bostonians, proud that we were exploring a new city on our own.

Saturday morning was beautiful and we happily walked to the South End to have brunch with a very dear old friend of mine and her fiancé at the Beehive on Tremont Street. After many hugs and lively conversation, we parted ways (she had an afternoon eye appointment) and we walked the neighborhood, enchanted by the paved sidewalks and neat apartment houses. We went to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, entering through the chapel since the church itself was under construction. We met a friendly elderly priest who welcomed us graciously to Boston, claiming he had family in Michigan so he was familiar with our respective hometowns. The chapel was decorated in green for St Patrick, a large presence in the city that weekend. After we said goodbye, we walked to the Public Library. I was awed by the marble and light and could have sat on the main steps forever. A European-style courtyard was centered in the middle of the older building and its modern counterpart. We marveled over the fact that Bostonians could check-out books from such a grand library over bowls of falafel and rice down the street. We went back to the hotel to change for the Bruins game, taking the T to the Garden with many other hockey fans adorned in black and yellow. Sipping Coronas and enjoying our view from 15 rows up, the arena erupted when MMA fighter Conor McGregor walked out for the ceremonial puck drop. Boston won the game in overtime and we walked the few blocks to Regina’s Pizzeria in the North End in agreement that Boston fans take their sports very seriously.

Sunday. The Lord’s Day. But this weekend it was also St Patrick’s Day, which pretty much resembled a national holiday in the city. Thanks to my friend’s suggestion on our first night, we took the T to South Boston for the parade. And by parade, I mean a three-hour long party where veterans rubbed elbows with Elmo, who walked with Harley Quinn and Batman, who led the way for McGregor’s entourage, followed by the very handsome and rugged Bostonian firefighters. Streets were closed off to cars, beer replaced water, police directed pedestrians and subway traffic, and crowds of people all ages emerged from everywhere. Wearing our Patriots and Bruins hats, we fit right in. Seeing the long lines outside Shenanigans and L Street Tavern, we opted instead to ride the T back to Back Bay and visit the pub we saw the night before. We stayed there a few hours, drinking Guinness and Irish mules and enjoying the music from the live band. And the fact that Michigan State won the Big Ten title added to the merriment. St Paddy’s Day came to a glorious end at Ben and Jerry’s on Newbury Street over double cups of chocolate fudge brownie.

Monday morning was rather somber. After check out, we visited the Prudential Center to do a bit of serious shopping for those family members we had thus far neglected in the souvenir department. We stopped in the Old South Church and hailed the heroics of famous parishioner Sam Adams. Lunch was once again at Cheers, with a couple rounds of Boston Breezes and animated photo taking. We walked past the Massachusetts State House and again through the Commons before picking up our luggage at the hotel and hailing an Uber to Logan airport. It was sitting in Terminal A, watching travelers returning home after the weekend’s festivities, that we concluded this trip had been one of the very best and Boston held new prestige in our minds. At no point during our five days did we ever feel overwhelmed or unsafe or unwelcome. As we passed through our gate and took our assigned seats and watched the city grow smaller from the sky, we simultaneously agreed that we would be returning sooner rather than later.

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