Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Road Trip: Biking to Boston's North End for Dinner

September will be our month of road trips! We will take the opportunity to chronicle a summer's worth of travel that started around Memorial Day. To kick off the month, we start with some local adventures and then use the remainder of the month to document East Brother's epic 4,600+ mile road trip across the US. We hope you enjoy the adventures!

Boston is a city with a rich history and individual sections of the city carry their own unique stories. The North End, a region of the city that butts up against Battery Wharf and the financial district, has its own distinct history. By 1890, the North End had come to be known as Boston's Little Italy with a large population of Italian immigrants. Today, the tradition continues with a huge selection of shops, delis, and restaurants all tied to the regions Italian heritage. With friends in town for the Memorial Day holiday, we decided to meet them in the North End for a nice dinner with the potential for some excellent Italian desserts to follow.

Of course, with traffic in Boston as atrocious as ever, especially with the huge number of tourists in town for the holiday weekend, my wife and I decided that, given the nice weather the area was experiencing this weekend, we would take our bikes instead and ride the 10-miles between our home and the city.

We planned a route to maximize the use of bike lanes in Cambridge and Boston. With the recent boon in bike infrastructure in the area, we had plenty of options to choose from and plenty of routes offered a combination of off-street bike lanes and marked bike lanes with a minimum of shared streets. Still, even with all of this infrastructure, biking in Boston can take some getting used to. Drivers are often inattentive and the roads, battered by the exceptionally long winter this year, felt extraordinarily bumpy.

Crossing through Union Square in Cambridge, we proceed south towards the city, crossing under the MBTA's Green line along the way and down towards the Charles River. From there, we transition from the roads onto a series of bike paths through North Point Park, passing underneath the Zakim bridge. Normally, when crossing into the city, I drive over the bridge, so this was a very different perspective and really shows off the suspension bridges unique design. Crossing over the Charles River Dam and into Paul Revere Park, we are able to turn onto Washington St and head straight for the North End.

With the holiday weekend, the streets were packed with more people than normal, cars struggling to move down the street as pedestrian queued up at every intersection, oftentimes ignoring the traffic signals and creating chaos. We parked our bikes along the fence at St. Leonard's Church and continued on foot, having agreed to meet our friends at the Daily Catch, one of the best places for great seafood and pasta in a neighborhood filled with excellent restaurants. Of course, the line out front was in its usual ridiculous form, so rather than waiting the hour and a half, we opted to explore some of the other options in the area, finally settling on Maurizio's, a lovely little place that specializes in Sardinian cuisine. We enjoyed a lovely meal with some excellent pastas and a decent Sardinian red wine.

Afterwards, we wandered around the North End, enjoying the cool evening air and continuing our conversation from dinner. The streets had cleared significantly and music, coming from a nearby outdoor concert, could be heard in the distance. Mike's Pastry, a North End mainstay for cannolis, still had a line out the door and down the block to the corner while most of the restaurants were clearing of patrons, who had all congregated around the many coffee and gelato shops dotting the neighborhood. The slight brininess of the cool evening breeze reminded us we were close the water and we headed towards Battery Wharf. Of course, before we could get there, it had gotten late enough that we needed to turn back so we parted ways with our friends and returned to St. Leonard's for our bikes.

The return ride, our lights piercing the darkness, as we threaded our way back towards our home. A night ride through Cambridge, without the benefit of daylight, is increasingly challenging. The cover of darkness seems to encourage even more terrible behavior from the drivers and the lack of visibility only makes the roads feel that much worse. Still, our bellies still full from the meal and the wind in our faces was enough to make us forget it all. Just the warm feeling of a great night out with friends and a nice evening ride remained.