Boston Survival Guide

A CBC “Off the Beaten Track” episode in which I talk traveling to Boston for Prince Edward Islanders. Originally aired on August 18, 2000 on CBC Radio’s Mainstreet program in Prince Edward Island.

As with all of these pieces, I prepared a script for host Matthew Rainnie and me; it went like this:

Peter’s Boston Survival Guide

Introduction: It’s easy for Islanders to get to Boston.  We should do it more often.  This is the six-minute guide to getting to Boston in one piece and having fun while there.

Step One: Getting to Boston

  • The best flight to Boston is the 6:15 a.m. Air Nova flight direct from Charlottetown, which arrives in Boston 2 hours later at 9:13 a.m.
  • It costs a lot to stay in Boston – might as well maximize your time there by arriving early!
  • The earlier you reserve this flight the better – it can range anywhere from $250 to $1200.  There are usually seat sales three or four times a year.
  • As usual, it’s cheaper to fly if you stay over a Saturday night.
  • You only need 15,000 Aeroplan or Canadian Plus points to get to Boston.
  • The flight takes about ½ an hour to get to Halifax, then you have a ½ hour wait, and then it’s about an hour to get to Boston.

Step Two: In from the Airport

  • Boston’s Logan Airport is located just across Boston Harbor from downtown Boston.
  • You can take a taxi, a bus, a limousine – even a water taxi – but the best way to get to downtown Boston is by subway – known in Boston as “the T.”
  • It costs only 85 cents, and it tales about ½ an hour to get downtown.
  • Go out of the terminal building to the ground transportation area and look for the signs to “Logan Shuttle” – this is a free bus that takes you to the Airport subway station.
  • Make sure you get on the right bus – not all of them stop at the subway station, but they’re all clearly marked.
  • Once you get to the “T station” you pay your 85 cents and get on the subway – make sure you’re getting on the one going downtown – just ask the person in the toll booth.
  • About 9 minutes later, you’re downtown!

Step Three: Where to Stay?

  • Boston is a really expensive place to stay!
  • If you’re willing to stay in the suburbs you can find a good room for less than $100/night.
  • In general, the closer you are to the heart of Boston, the more you’re going to pay and to stay downtown means paying $150 to $300 (or more!) a night.
  • My picks for places to stay are:
    • Susse Chalet Boston
      • One of a chain of New England budget hotels
      • Basic accommodations, but clean and well-located
      • Make sure you stay at the Boston one, not the Cambridge one (Cambridge location is right on the highway, and very noisy!)
      • Has a pool; is next door to a bowling center; has a restaurant; Burger King is around the corner.
      • Not right on the subway, but they have a free shuttle that will take you there.
      • About $100/night.
    • Newbury Guest House and the Harborside Inn
      • Sister properties – one located on Newbury Street (the chichi shopping district of Boston) and the other located just of Quincy Market right downtown.
      • Small and friendly.
      • Clean rooms, a step up from the Susse Chalet.
      • Very nice continental breakfast is included.
      • Can’t beat the location – both are located in the heart of very interesting neighbourhoods.
      • $110 to $160/night, depending on the time of year.
    • The College Club
      • My personal favourite place to stay.
      • Located in an historic building very near Boston Common, right in the heart of the city.
      • Started life as a private club for college women; now invites the public to stay in its guest rooms.
      • The rooms are small; sometimes you have to share a bath down the hall.
      • Rooms have a lot of character – books and magazines, antique furnishings, large windows.
      • But there’s a good breakfast included, you’re in the heart of the city and a block from the subway, and the building is beautiful.
      • And the rooms go for $55 to $85/night, which is a great deal for Boston.

Step Four: What to do?

  • It’s easy to get around on foot or on the subway – there’s very little need for a car.
  • You can get a free subway map from toll collectors.
  • You could spend weeks in Boston and never run out of things to do.  
  • Here are some “must see” things:
    • Go to the top of the John Hancock Tower.  It’s a little expensive at $6 a person, but you get a great view of the entire city, and there’s an interesting presentation about the history of the city.
    • The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, right around the corner from the Museum of Fine Arts, is a fantastic building which houses the personal collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner, who was a wealthy patron of the arts.  The building is in the style of a 15th century Venetian palace, and is as interesting as the art.
    • The Nostalgia Factory in North Boston, which is the Italian district of the city, is a cramped little second-floor store, very hard to find.  They have a collection of 30,000 historic movie posters, lobby cards, photographs, books, and magazines.
    • While in North Boston, eat at Ida’s Restaurant.  Like the Nostalgia Factory, it’s cramped and hard to find, but they serve wonderful homemade Italian food.
    • Kendall Square Cinema over the Charles River in Cambridge is an “art house multiplex” and always has interesting movies playing.  It’s kind of hard to get to: you go to the Kendall ‘T’ stop, and then take a free shuttle bus to the Galleria Mall.
    • While you’re on the Cambridge side of the Charles River, you can try Fire & Ice, which is a weird sort of “make your own meal” restaurant, where you assemble a collection of meat and vegetables and spices and then have them cooked for you on a huge 8-foot diameter grill.
    • Finally, my favourite place in Boston is Filene’s Basement, which sells a motley collection of seconds, overruns and liquidated clothing at prices that gradually go down to zero as time marches on.  If you’re wily, you can buy an entire wardrobe for under $100.
    • When you’re at Filene’s, be sure to eat at Chacarero, a small Chilean takeout stand in the same building that sells a most amazing sandwich the core ingredient of which is steamed green beans.

Step Five: Coming back to PEI.

  • There’s a 6:00 p.m. flight from Boston to Charlottetown every day, which lets you still a full day in Boston after checking out of your hotel.
  • Many hotels, esp. smaller ones, have a luggage room where you can leave your things after you check out.
  • Remember that you have a $50 exemption from duty if you’re gone for 24 hours or more, a $200 exemption if you’re gone for 48 hours or more, and a $750 exemption if you’re gone for more than a week.

Marketing without advertising

Here’s Brian Sobey’s entire marketing campaign:

“Wee Haul — U Call: Hire Man and Truck for Just a Few Bucks.”
Call Brian at 892-9099 if you need stuff hauled in Charlottetown or area. He did a good job for us hauling 50 years worth of smelly old carpets to the dump today.

Water Street Houses for Sale

The owners of a row of historic townhouses on Water Street in downtown Charlottetown want to sell their properties using a website. They want control over the text and the photos. We created a simple web front-end for them to use to maintain the site: they can add and edit stories and upload and attach photos, all just using their web browser at home.

How is the Bass River Chairs website horrible?

After reading my story of a search for a simple wooden stool, which, in part, described my experiences at Bass River Chairs, the webmaster of the website sent a pleasant note, writing, in part, that their site isn’t really horrible as I suggested.
While I agree that horrible is a strong word, I stand behind my comments. Here’s why I don’t like their website:

  • There’s far too little information.. An Internet user’s thirst for information is unquenchable and no amount of [well-organized] information is too much. For example, why is there a section called Wood and the Environment which actually says nothing of value on wood or the environment? Where does Bass River Chairs get its wood? Do they buy only from ecologically sustainable forests? What kinds of wood do they use? How long will their furniture last? Web users want to know this kind of thing. Instead we get empty marketing jargon.
  • The site is much too graphically intensive for the amount of information that is there. I click on Products, for example, and I have to wait for 6 graphical headings (“Kitchen Ware,” etc.) to load? Once that wait is finished, I then click on any of the headings only to find that there’s next to no content provided. Does Bass River Chairs sell stools? You’d never know it from their website! Graphics are great when they help tell a story, but even the pictures of products are content-less feathered shots that give me little feel for their quality or design.
  • The website contains Java and JavaScript elements that add nothing to the content. And they take a long time to load. Why should I have to wait for my browser to start Java, then wait for an applet to load, then wait for the text to scroll, only to find about a “new line of Grohmann knives” after which I must then click on What’s New and then New Products and then Grohmann Oak X-tra Knives to find out more. If you want to highlight your Grohmann knives, make it easier for me to find them, and then tell me why they’re so great!
  • Typographically the site is all over the map. Graphical headers are made harder to read because they’re on a yellow mottled background; headlines on some pages are set ALL CAPS, which makes them hard to read; other heads are small and in red or large and in green; there’s a confusing combination of fonts (Times New Roman, Arial, Courier); use of white space is poor.
  • Generally, the site lacks a soul. Bass River Chairs in the “real world” has a soul — you can tell when you walk in the door. The company takes great pains with store design and merchandising to build a image of consistent quality. They have good products. They have good staff. Alas the website hides these facts, and leaves one feeling more muddled and underfed than motivated to visit the stores. That’s too bad.
  • The site loads too slowly. Try this: go to the Kodak website. It’s just as graphically intensive as Bass River Chairs’ website, but it loads in half the time. In network-geography terms I’m closer to Bass River Chairs than I am to Kodak, so it’s not a network-dependent slowness. What’s going on?
I’m constantly warning my retailer friends about the dangers of creating a web presence without the resources behind it to make it zing like the rest of their operations. Sometimes it’s better not to have a website instead of having an anemic one which doesn’t do justice to the efforts you place to build your brand elsewhere.

Linda’s: up a notch

Linda’s, a former greasy spoon in lower Charlottetown, has cleaned up and now qualifies, I think, as a bona fide diner. They’ve renovated inside. They have a much broader menu (still focused on fried X, mind you). And they seem to have cut way back on their smoking clientele, which was what had kept me away for the last two or three years. At the corner of Queen and Water Streets in Charlottetown. Open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily..