There are those who read to travel. You know the type. Ten pages of Thoreau, and then it’s socks and toothbrush jammed into duffle bag for a road trip to Walden Pond. Or it could be a jaunt to San Francisco to trace the steps of Ginsberg and Kerouac, a literary meandering through Ireland inspired by Joyce and company, Sylvia Beach’s bookshop in Paris, or a trek to Ithaca for those with Homer on the brain.
Pre-kids — when time, money and a certain sense of physical freedom were more bountiful — I was a devout member of this group of bookish wanderers. But since mommy-hood hit I’ve settled into armchair travel, experiencing the thrill of the open road through others.
Make Way for Ducklings changed all that. Reading this classic tale by Robert McCloskey to my two sons suddenly made me realize I’d found the perfect opportunity to introduce them to the thrill of literary adventure. I’d take them to Boston, ride in the famous Swan Boats like those in the book and instill the appreciation of two things I love most: books and travel.
But first we needed a place to stay that was hassle free and kid-friendly. The perfect solution? La Cappella Suites on North Street. Once a former chapel (hence the name), La Cappella has been expanded from its original structure built in 1941 and is now a three-story brick townhouse. Proprietor Tricia Muse and her children live on the ground floor. The top two floors have roomy guest suites with cable TV, VCRs and Internet access and either king or queen sized beds. There’s also a spacious, light-filled kitchen and dining area stocked with utensils, pans, microwave, fridge and the basics of breakfast on the go: boxes of cereal, juice, milk, coffee, sugar, etc. That said, La Cappella bills itself as a bed and breakfast, but it’s more like a pied-a-terre. If you’re looking for pampering and a leisurely, romantic brunch this isn’t the place for you. (Indeed, the guest book contained more than a few complaints from visitors who’d been expecting traditional B-and-B services).
On the other hand, if you’re independent – or you’ve got kids who wouldn’t sit through a long brunch anyway – this is the perfect place. You can, oh, fix a bottle of milk at the crack of dawn and nobody notices or even prepare a full meal if eating out with little one’s isn’t your thing. There are even washer and driers if you need them. Muse will provide child-size air mattresses for kids to camp out on and strollers for the youngest guests to get around the city.
Happily, you can do much of your site seeing by foot thanks to La Cappella’s super location in the heart of Boston’s historic North End, or “Little Italy.” The area hasn’t changed much over the years. Families spill out of the local Catholic church on Sunday morning, making their way down cobbled streets back to the big meal of the day. Old men (speaking passionate and fluent Italian naturally) meet at local coffee shops to watch soccer on the television or nurse cups of jet-black espresso. Little children press noses up to glass cases filled with indulgent pastries and gelato at various shops that are hard to pass by. One of the best: Lulu’s Bake Shop at 227 Hanover Street. Here, cupcakes take center stage. There are dozens of varieties to choose from, some slathered in rich butter cream icing, colored sprinkles and other tantalizing confections. (Our fave: a retro-version of the Hostess cupcake drenched in chocolate ganache and the infamous white squiggle icing. The shop’s funky, 1940s décor also caught our fancy and makes you feel like you’re eating at grandma’s kitchen.)
All this sugar proves the perfect pick-me-up for site seeing. Take two steps and you’re on the Freedom Trail, which winds its way through the North End and past some of the city’s most prominent historic sites including the Old North Church, where, on April, 1775, the church sexton Robert Newman held two lanterns aloft from the steeple to signal Paul Revere that the British were arriving at nearby Lexington and Concord by sea, not land. Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market are along the route, too.
But the area isn’t just about history. In recent years, a slew of trendy, independent boutiques have opened along Hanover Street – which runs through the North End – and surrounding side streets. For vintage designer threads, head over to Karma, at 26 Prince Street which has established itself as one of Boston’s best thrift shops for its high quality dresses, shoes and other accessories by Gucci, Prada and Michael Kors. At Prima Donna, you’ll find more trendy threads for the entire family – including the dog. (The “Chewy Vuitton” toy is a must-have for any pampered pooch.)
Meanwhile, the Boston Children’s Museum which had been closed over the winter as part of a $47 million expansion and renovation, has just reopened in April. Forget glass cases. Exhibits here – which are centered around big themes like health, the environment, science and culture – are hand’s on. But parents can play, too. So head over to, say, the art gallery to play with clay or make a print out of fabrics, papers and recycled goods. Or walk into a two-story silk merchant’s home from Kyoto, Japan. (Don’t forget to take your shoes off first.) There’s a construction zone, where any truck-loving 2-year-old (or 42-year-old) can ride a real Bobcat, a science lab, recycling lab and a theatrical stage.
But back to those infamous ducklings. Head over to Boston Public Garden and you may see them (or their cousins?) as you enjoy a tranquil ride on the Swan Boats that glide along the lake from mid-April until mid September. Tourists have been flocking to the attraction for some 120 years. And as long as Make Way for Ducklings remains a hit, they’ll probably continue to do so for many more.