Transplanted journalist offers tips on getting around Boston, things to see #ahcj13

A look at some of the issues, sessions and ideas to keep in mind for those planning to attend Health Journalism 2013, the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

When I moved to Boston in September, I quickly learned how easy it is to get lost in the city’s crazy tangle of streets. The shortest path between points seldom takes a straight line. A “square” is any place where five or six roads collide. Streets just change names without warning.

But it wasn’t so intimidating once I realized that the dense packing of 18th and 19th Century buildings and paths makes it easy to get around Boston on foot. The T, Boston’s subway and light rail system, runs pretty smoothly most of the time, zipping people between neighborhoods.

So if your brain needs a break from sponging up health policy expertise at the AHCJ meeting, Boston shouldn’t disappoint.  I found tons of interesting stuff going on within walking distance of the conference hotel.  Much more is just a short T ride away.  Below is my short list, in order of distance from the Seaport Boston Hotel:

The Institute Of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Avenue
ICA’s new building on the waterfront, completed in 2006, looks like a massive folded ribbon of steel. Upper floors cantilever over the water and frame stunning views of the harbor through walls of glass. One of the coolest things on exhibit now is a video installation by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. You are surrounded by wall-sized projections of five synchronized videos that compose a disfigured country music song recorded outdoors during a snowstorm in the Canadian Rockies.

Harpoon Brewery
306 Northern Avenue
Harpoon was among the pioneers of craft beer in Boston when it opened in 1986. Keeping up with the times, the brewery in February opened a comfy new beer hall, a convivial gathering place with giant communal tables custom-built from salvaged planks. The hall keeps 20 beers on tap – but pretzels are the only food. You can tour the beer-making operation on most days. The beer hall is open until 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday but closes at 7 p.m. other days.

The North End
The North End’s labyrinth of narrow streets dates to the 1630s, making it Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood. The streets now are lined with Italian restaurants, cafes, and pastry shops. You can walk there from the conference hotel in less than 10 minutes. My wife’s favorite North End restaurant is Taranta (210 Hanover St.), offering a felicitous blending of cuisines from Southern Italy and Peru. It’s on the spendy side, but the service, atmosphere and food are commensurate with the price. Just down the street, you can grab a cannoli or sfogliatella (lobster tail) at Mike’s Pastry (300 Hanover St.).

Boston Public Library
700 Boylston St.
Enclosed by book-lined walls and soaring vaulted ceilings, you can almost feel the brain wave amplification in the reading room of the old Boston Public Library, the first city library in the United States made free and open to the public.  It moved to its Copley Square home in 1895. Fantastic murals cover walls and ceilings on three floors of this “palace for the people.”  An absorbing exhibit now on display relates Boston’s Gilded Age history through rare maps and map-related artifacts. I was blown away by a meticulous and staggering panorama of the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1872 (which obliterated 65 acres of downtown Boston). The Green Line T train stops at Copley Square.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
280 Fenway
Boston has no shortage of world-class art museums, but none so unique as the Stewart Gardner. Works by Degas, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt and other masters are housed in a Venetian-style palace with galleries wrapped around a glassed-in courtyard full of blooming plants. If you’ve been here before, it’s worth visiting again to see the new wing, designed by the heavyweight architect Renzo Piano, that opened in January 2012.

A few words on getting around

The most direct link from Logan Airport to the meeting venue is City Water Taxi, and the boat ride across the harbor is a nice way to meet the city. The most recently posted fare is $10 one way, $17 roundtrip.

The Silver Line bus station on World Trade Center Avenue at Congress Street is the closest mass transit hub. Buses link to Logan Airport and South Station.

South Station is the main hub for Amtrak trains and interstate buses. It’s also where you can catch Red Line subway trains, the line that goes to Harvard and MIT. The walk to South Station from the conference hotel takes about 15 to 20 minutes.

I’ve plotted a few more highlights on this interactive map.

View AHCJ in a larger map

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