This is my fourteenth post about our family's visit to New England. I recommend reading the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth posts from the trip before this one. Because I blog about educational travel, I was given admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits for some of the places we visited during our trip. Some places are free for everyone; we paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm share is something that I recommend without hesitation. If you see any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love that particular attraction, restaurant, or hotel enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay.
Lexington, Cambridge, and Boston, Massachusetts
It was drizzling in Lexington in the morning on Saturday, June 24. Fortunately, our first activity, the Liberty Ride Trolley Tour, kept us sheltered most of the time.
Our costumed guide took us to important historical sites in Lexington and Concord... most of which we'd visited the previous day when we visited Minute Man NHP on our own. It wasn't necessarily bad to return to place we'd already seen, as our guide was very knowledgable and a great storyteller.
But if I'd known what to expect at our next destination, we would have skipped the trolley and headed directly to Cambridge, home of Harvard University.
Remember what I said about driving in Salem being a nightmare? It turns out driving in Cambridge is even worse. The drive from Lexington to Cambridge is 9 miles, but it took 40 minutes. The problem is not on the Lexington side. It’s mostly fine. Driving in Cambridge is awful. And once we arrived, we had a snafu with our parking. Long story short, you can’t buy parking passes at parking garages in Cambridge. You have to get them online ahead of time. I'd done my research and knew that was the case on weekdays, but the website said that on weekends you can buy passes at the museum. What I didn't realize is that you can't park, or even stop, to go into the museum and buy said parking pass. We eventually found an empty loading zone a few miles away and hoped no one would show up while we bought a parking pass online via my phone. It was super stressful and annoying. Just like in Salem, we should have made a day trip to Cambridge from Boston via public transportation instead of attempting to drive and park there. Learn from my mistake!
Fortunately, once we successfully parked in Cambridge, the rest of our time there was great. We looked around the campus a bit, then grabbed lunch from the food trucks that were parked at Science Center Plaza (fortunately, we don't melt in the rain). And then we went to The Harvard Museums, Specifically, we visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Cue choir of angels.
I expected Harvard's museums to be impressive. World class, even. And they are. The Glass Flowers (more properly called the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants) are reason enough to drop what you're doing, fly to Boston, and take public transportation to Cambridge to see them (if you drive, don't say I didn't warn you). The Glass Flowers are world famous for a reason.
There are 4300 glass models of 780 different plant species. They were made by a Czech father and son team between 1886 and 1936. They are stunning.
Even after reading about how they were made, it's hard to believe they're made of glass.
But that's not all. Before the Blashkas made their glass plant models, they made invertebrate models from glass. There are 60 on permanent display.
It's hard to describe how amazing the Harvard Museum of Natural History is. It feels less like a museum and more like a library of scientifically important items. Between the lighting and the crowds, it was hard to get decent photos. So imagine this, times a million.
If I had to describe the museum in a single word, I'd use "encyclopedic." While other museums might have a sign about hummingbird diversity and illustrate that with a few examples of the extremes, Harvard displays ALL the hummingbirds.
It feels like you could walk into the museum and have access to all of Earth's flora and fauna, rocks and minerals in one place. That probably isn't the case, but it feels like it.
The Peabody Museum was also fantastic. It wasn't as crowded (with either people or exhibits), which allowed us to better soak in what was there.
The time at the Harvard Museums flew by. We could have happily spent all day there enjoying all the treasures on display. And these are just two of the many museums on campus. If you're a museum person and haven't been to Harvard, it's time for a pilgrimage.
Harvard is located 4.5 miles from Boston. How long would you allow to drive less than 5 miles on a Saturday afternoon? If you're from the Boston area, you know the answer is a minimum of 30 and more likely 45 minutes. As if the traffic weren't enough, the drivers are crazy and navigation is difficult. I live near San Francisco. I know bad traffic. Boston traffic is not merely bad. It is insane.
I cannot stress this enough: Do not drive in Salem. Do not drive in Cambridge. Do not drive in Boston.
We intentionally splurged on a nice hotel in Boston that was walking distance to everything we wanted to see. Staying at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf was an excellent decision and the convenience was worth every extra penny. I have never been so glad to turn in a rental car!
We walked to the end of Long Wharf and then back around the other side of the hotel, seeing what there was to see and getting the lay of the land.
We walked past Quincy Market, which was a madhouse, and continued on to the highly-rated Saus. It's a small counter-service place with excellent food. It was just what we wanted.
We popped into Faneuil Hall and looked at the exhibits that were open, then walked back to the hotel via a section of the Freedom Trail.
I snapped a picture of the view out our window right when we got back, then again when we were ready for bed.
We had another full day of activities ahead of us. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.