Boston- Food, Fenway, Friendship, and METAL!

This was certainly not my first foray to Bean town. It’s a city that thanks to one of my best friends Brian Haley I’ve explored multiple times. One of the many things I like about Boston is that it has so much to offer but is not so large it becomes daunting. It has history, great restaurants, and a great public transportation system that allows you to easily go all over the city. This was one of those three day whirlwind trips (not my first) Brian and I planned out many months ago centered around seeing one of our favorite metal bands, Anthrax. As usual, there was much more than just the concert.

My train arrived at 1:15pm on a Saturday and Brian was there to meet me at South Station. Our hotel, The Verb, was close by and we were quickly checked. Definitely a different hotel. The hotel has a music theme to it. A small area of great music memorabilia and a small record library available to guests as each room is furnished with a record player. If you are looking for something like the Four Seasons, this may not be the place for you. Parking is a flat fee of $48.00 (not nightly/daily) which for city parking is phenomenal per my friend Brian. It is also located right next to Fenway and around the block from House of Blues where Anthrax was playing making things quite convenient. If you are looking for a place that is a lot of fun with friendly, helpful staff, and you don’t mind a sign with a large guy who looks like Chris Barron from the Spin Doctors, then this maybe right up your alley.

Being the gentleman that Brian is, we had a couple rounds of McCallan that he brought for the weekend. We quickly headed out and started an unplanned bar crawl of the Fenway area bars. Unfortunately, we neglected to pace ourselves not acknowledging we are no longer in our early twenties. After a brief break back at the hotel, we decided to hit The Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar. I rarely say “no” to oysters. The darkly lit but warm decor was perfect for our last stop of the night. The food was excellent with a wide selection of savory choices but nothing too out of the ordinary. After starting with a round of oysters, I went with the safe choice of their cheeseburger. It was quite good despite being a common menu item. Flavorful, juicy, and cooked to order. We rounded out the meal by sharing some bread pudding, as any hardcore heavy metal fans would do. However, the star of the evening was their Manhattan (hopefully you are not sensing a pattern to my blog articles). I’m quite a fan of both Gin Martinis and Manhattans and this was by far the best cocktail of that ilk I’ve had. I simply let the waiter surprise me with his choice of bourbon from their vast selection and viola, perfection. His choice was Basil Hayden’s small batch bourbon from Clermont Kentucky. It was the perfect balance of sweet combined with the slight bite of bourbon.

The next day, after breakfast, we decided to take a tour of Fenway Park. I highly recommend this if you have the chance. Even if you are not a baseball fan, there is a lot of history here. Some well known, some not so much. While they have replaced many of the original seats, there are still sections under the 2nd level that still have the original seats from when it first opened in 1912. The view from the seats atop The Green Monster is quite good and to me is worth a return trip to see a game from up there. You have the lone red seat commemorating when unsuspecting fan Joseph A. Boucher survived Ted William’s record 502 foot dinger.  The prior owner’s Thomas A. Yawkey and Jean R. Yawkey names in Morse Code on the left field scoreboard which is where they used to have picnics and listen to the Red Sox away games. It was also a great surprise to see that they have created Fenway Farms where they grow produce on the roof to supply the stadium food services.  A very well done and informative tour.

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Before we knew it, it was time to get to the show. We arrived early as I had surprised Brian by getting the VIP meet and greet before the show. It is something I’ve wanted to do and I knew Brian being an even bigger fan that I would enjoy it. One might get exaggerated images of backstage passes and partying with the band but that is not the case. There was a pretty large group who had gotten the package and it was well organized for the most part. It was also pretty quick but I think it rather had to be. I can only imagine how many fans they meet and sign autographs for before each show and this was the last show of their American tour. Even still, they were very down to earth, very appreciative of their fans. In particular, Joey Belladonna seem to really light up when I told him how great it was to see him back with the band.

Anthrax shared co-billing with Killswitch Engage and they had two opening bands in The Devil Wears Prada and Code Orange. All the bands put on a great show and put out their all.  However, Brian and I were there to see Anthrax and we were not disappointed. Their set was intense and they played a great mix of old and new songs. Joey’s vocals are still amazing after all these years and their energy has not diminished one bit. It’s been 26 years since I first saw them and they still do not let down their fans. The mosh pits were still fierce and despite some minor aches and pains post show, I was please to know I could still hang in the pit. And just when you thought the intensity could not get any higher, they hit the war dance part of “Cry for the Indians”, their closing song, and the floor went insane. Just of sea of bodies moving like a tidal wave. Thankfully I had the big man Brian to help keep me vertical. It was great to see that even though those in the pits are much younger than Brian and I, they are still very cool and maintain proper pit etiquette, helping up those who fall to the ground, and not making intentional moves to hurt people. On the funny end, I’ve always known I’m not as heavy as I look and it was once again confirmed here. In my still successful run at crowd surfing, Brian and the guy who tried to get me up dropped me and the security guard who got me at the front of the stage collapsed under me. Oops. Still quite a rush.

Boston. Just go there. You will have a great time no matter what you do. If you have the chance, take the Fenway tour if not take in a game. If you are fan of Metal, go see Anthrax. They put on a phenomenal show. You probably still have plenty of time but why wait?

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Montreal had been one of the cities on our wish list, so when my girlfriend Teena (an avid runner) saw that they were hosting the Rock & Roll Marathon, we couldn’t say no. After a lengthy and comfortable train ride up (more on that in another post), we had arrived. Overall the weather in late September was perfect for me. Sunny, blue skies, with a bit of chilly breeze. However once you get moving and in the Sun, it warms up enough. We had a late dinner at the Bier Markt. While it certainly had the appearance of a chain, they have a great beer and food selection. We were advised by our waiter to use use Rue Sherbrooke and Boul Saint Laurent, which intersect each other, as reference points for the city. He further mentioned that some like to walk the four kilometer stretch of Saint Laurent which goes through all the ethnic sections of the city, to sample food from the various restaurants. Should we want something closer to our hotel, he also recommended Rue Crescent.

We set out on our first full day (day 2) and after using our respective map apps, it appears most of the places we wanted to go were within a half hour walk. As cities go, it wasn’t too unique. Appearance wise, aside from the traffic signs in French, it looks like most small cities we’ve all been to. The people are very nice and even though we heard a great deal of French, as we did on our recent trip to France, provided to you make the attempt to speak their language, most were more than happy to converse in English once they realized it was our primary language. We spent that first day pretty much walking around the downtown area getting acclimated to our surroundings, eating, drinking, and picking up Teena’s race packet. We quickly deduced that if you like to shop, the portion of Rue Sainte-Catherine near Mont Royal, is where to go. Great Dr. Martin’s store there, but I decided not to partake in an new pair. While we did not do the four kilometers of Boul Saint-Laurent, we did wander over to Rue Crescent and glad we did. After checking our several bill of fares, we happened upon L’Autre Saison which turned out to be the happiest of accidents (more on this in a separate entry). Post dinner, we walked back down img_0584Crescent in the direction of our hotel for a mini bar crawl. OK, two bars. Being forty three years old, I can’t bar crawl like I used to. First we hit Ziggy’s, a small bar located underneath another establishment. Definitely a local watering hole dedicate to all things related to The Montreal Canadians down to the seats from the old Montreal Forum. Of the many conversations taking place there, none involved us. They gladly took our money for in exchange for our drinks, but I got the feeling we were the foreigners… because we were. Next stop was Brutopia. This was definitely more my speed. A multi level bar with live local music and their own brewed on site beer selection. The band was good, the beer was good, and the patrons next to us more friendly and talkative.

Our next full day was spent walking… a lot. Another recommendation from our waiter on the first night was Mont Royal. Noted to be the remnants of an extinct volcano it sits among the city a short walk northwest of Rue Sherbrooke. It really is a great part of the city. It has multiple winding trails that lead up to the summit and chalet which overlooks the downtown area.img_0563

The residents are luck to have it as it provides a break from the concrete city and offers a source of exercise whether it be walking/hiking, running, or cycling. The official high point is listed at 233 meters / 764ft. It has a mix of dirt trails and packed gravel with stairs in some areas. Great exercise and great view from the chalet. The one downer is the summit is rather anticlimactic as it has a cell tower. Afterwards we awarded ourselves with poutine and more beer at Les 3 Brasseurs (another chain from appearances) followed by a nap. img_0572Poutine which is basically fries, cheese curd, and a beef gravy sometimes with meat or other ingredients is a staple in Canada as it was for us on the trip. It’s classic comfort food that rivals anything you’ve had here in the states. After our nap, we head out to dinner. We decided to try an Anthony Bourdain recommendation, Joe Beef (likewise, more in a separate post). Despite reading one had to reserve a table a month in advance, we were actually able to get in. It was located in a more residential area and across from the beautifully renovated (at least exteriorly) Théâtre Corona, currently being used as a music venue. Definitely something that looks worth checking out even though we did not have the opportunity.

Day 4 was the day of the marathon. As such, I slept in for bit while Teena was running. I then availed myself the public bike share. It’s pretty easy to use, credit card only. The bike I got was in decent shape unless you take into account the balding tires and less than useful breaks. It was a beautiful day for img_0585a ride made only more picturesque by the man urinating in public on my way to Parc La Fontaine where the marathon was ending. I have to say, I wished the marathon was a bit better organized from a spectator standpoint. Most of the security people could not give me any information as I asked them questions about where the nearest bike share was so I could return it or where the finish line was. What info I got was not that accurate. Finally, once I got to the finish line, I was separate from it by about 30 feet by a fence. It was disappointed as I could not watch Teena cross the finish line or get a picture. It was equally difficult to find her afterwards as the fencing went around for quite some distance. Regardless, we found each other, took the Metro back to the hotel, had our final meal back at the Bier Market, and fell asleep quite early. Out trip near the end as we were headed back home the next day.

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My stellar view of the finish line

Overall, I greatly enjoyed Montreal for the food, libations, people, and how favorable they are to walking and biking. Again the city is like most cities with the exception of significant hills here and there though not quite as steep as San Francisco. It has its share of graffiti but the parking kiosks seem to be more the target than buildings. Another negative was our hotel, Hotel Espresso. While conveniently located, our room was meh. The hardwood floor was coming up, the bathroom plumbing was not well installed resulting in a leak from around the toilet base, and our key cards had to be recoded at least four times. Additionally, there seemed to always be large groups of people in the lobby that did not appear to be staying there (i.e. no luggage). We weren’t sure if it was due to the restaurant, the casino listed as being part of the hotel, or the fact that we were across from the police station.

Overall, I would definitely say check it out if you have the chance but don’t move it to the top of your list.