The Freedom Trail, Various Wildlife Refuges, and Three Pieces of Performance Art

This entry is just a collection of random stuff I have experienced recently. In no particular order:

The Freedom Trail

Bunker Hill MonumentThe Freedom Trail is a self-guided walk that winds through central Boston, passing various sites of historical interest on the way. Boston is very proud of its history, being the site of the American Revolution (boo hiss) and the abolitionist movement (better late than never) and its role in the American civil war (hooray).

About 40% of the sites on the trail are connected to Paul Revere, I was pretty sick of hearing about him by the end.

At the end of The Freedom Trail is the Bunker Hill Monument. Technically (and confusingly) not on Bunker Hill, the monument commemorates The Battle of Bunker Hill (which was also not actually on Bunker Hill). In any case, you can climb to the top of the monument (294 steps!) for a cramped, hot, and majestic view of the city. This picture is looking vaguely west along the Charles River in the background.
Boston from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument

4th of July

The fourth of July is one of the important holidays, and one Boston celebrates with gusto. The public celebration was brought forward one day because of the bad weather forecast for the 4th, so I went down to the Charles River Esplanade to see how things were done. It was basically like Symphony Under the Stars in Auckland but with more security (and armed police wandering around). We were treated to various patriotic songs by the Boston Pops Orchestra and some hits from a Beach Boy. The crowd had a very lucky escape when Joey McIntyre couldn’t make the rescheduled event.

I learnt that nobody really knows the words to the America national anthem, and fewer people actually have the range to sing it. I also learnt that Americans get annoyed if you sing the correct lyrics My Country, Tis of Thee, which more properly begin “God save our gracious Queen.”

The concert was cut short due to the encroaching rain, and we were treated to the best fireworks display I have seen. It must have been visible from most of the city. The best part were the shells that exploded into reasonable attempts at a giant smily faces.

5 minutes after the fireworks ended, the thunder storm took over the skies. Boston gets proper summer storms, the lightning lasted for over an hour and for a while you could almost read by it, so frequent were the flashes.

Sharknado

I don’t really have much to say about this. Sharknado is a (terrible) made-for-TV film that became a minor hit a while ago. This was a special presentation by the guys behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000 which consisted of them playing the film in its entirety, but making jokes over the top. Despite being fairly inept, Sharknado is quite entertaining, and with added jokes makes for a good evening’s entertainment.

My only other observation is that in America, a small coke at the theatre is approximately 1 litres worth.

The Phantom of the Opera

The tragic story of a hideous man who sits backstage playing the keyboard all-the-while lusting over a beautiful actress he will never have. Wherever does Andrew Lloyd Webber get his ideas from? </old joke>

This was a lavish production, with pyrotechnics and all sorts of stage trickery. It turns out I had completely misinterpreted the story, so the ending was a complete surprise to me. The Boston Opera house is pretty amazing just by itself. It is a little like the Civic is Auckland but about twice the size. This photo doesn’t really do it justice.
Boston Opera House (from the cheap seats)

Ipswich River and Great Meadows Lake Wildlife Sanctuaries

Finally some photos from two wildlife sanctuaries I have visited in the last few weeks.

Beaver Dam at Ipswich Wildlife RefugeThis is a beaver dam (the pile of sticks, not the bridge – beavers are neat but not that good at building). I have seen several of these constructions in various parks, but no beavers as yet.

Lillypads at Ipswich River ReserveThis pond was absolutely filled with turtles of various sizes. American ponds seem a lot more alive than back in New Zealand, with frogs, insects and small mammals all vying for space. The lilypads are nice as well.

Triple Feature – All Three Transformers Films

Red Letter Media is a company that produces humorous film reviews. I have linked to these guys before, when they released the amazing takedown of The Phantom Menace.

Here is something different. A little film called Transformers 4 : Age of Extinction is coming out soon, and what better way to celebrate this milestone than to watch the first three films? Simultaneously.

Personally, I have only seen the first Transformers. It was terrible.

Epic Rap Battles of History

My current obsession is the Epic Rap Battles of History youtube channel. What could have been a stupid idea is redeemed by clever editing, well produced music, and just a whiff of actual research. They also somehow managed to get some pretty big guest names to play some of the characters.

They also show clear signs of improving with each season. Season 3 is currently being released, but they already have a large back-catelogue of good material.

Here is my favorite so far:

Some others I like:
Hulk Hogan vs Kim Jong-il
Bruce Lee vs Clint Eastwood
Gandhi vs Martin Luther King Jr.
Mozart vs Skrillex
And finally, Rasputin vs Stalin, quite possibly the best summary of Russian history since Boney M.

Laura’s Tower and Ice Glen

There are only so many days of summer, and in Massachusetts you really have to make the most of the non-freezing months. Last weekend I went out to Stockbridge in the region called The Berkshires in the Western part of the state, about 2 hours away by car. I was hoping for a change of scenery but the whole of New England seems to pretty much look the same. Nevertheless The Berkshires have their charms.

Laura's Tower - Stockbridge, MAThe region is mostly rural, dotted with small towns trying very hard to be quaint. Norman Rockwell lived in Stockbridge so you know what to expect. On this warm summer’s day it reminded me a little of Hawkes Bay.

At Stockbridge I went to see Laura’s Tower and the Ice Glen, both located on the same hill. I had heard that Laura’s Tower affords fantastic views over New England, but it is disappointing short and I literally could not see the forests for the trees. Perhaps the view is better in winter when the trees die back a little, but I wouldn’t want to climb up that ladder in the cold.

On the other hand, the Ice Glen more than lived up to its name. A narrow valley of broken granite chunks, it somehow still has crannies filled with ice on a hot June afternoon. The cool air in the glen was very welcome after the climb up the hill, and the moist soil is home to all sorts of interesting mushrooms and creepy crawlies to uncover.
Ice Glen trail, Stockbridge MA
Fungus on tree, Ice Glen, Stockbridge MA

Mount Monadnock

New England is pretty flat, scraped bare by glaciers, but there are places where the granite was a little bit harder and managed to stand up to weathering. Mount Monadnock is one such place, lying 60 miles north west of Boston and just inside New Hampshire.

Mount Monadnock from about halfwayIt is a very cool place. Many trails of varying degrees of difficulty converge on the peak, but they are all pretty steep. The top of the mountain was deforested hundreds of years ago and never recovered, so for much of the time you are scrambling up bare granite, which can get pretty slippery if it gets wet. At least that is what I am blaming the embarrassing fall I took on the way down on.

Because Monadnock is a lonely mountain the views from the top are like a cover of a fantasy novel, with bright green forests cut by serpentine rivers stretching as far as you can see. It also affords a excellent opportunity to see rock-wetting rain drifting closer (on the right of this picture).

Mount Monadnock Summit Panorama

It is a pretty busy place, but the summit is flat and large enough for all the groups climbing to sit and eat before heading back down. Our group was pretty slow but it took us just over 2 hours to get up and maybe 3 to reach the car park again. Well worth the $5 park fees.