The tortoise and the hare statues in Copley Park: tributes to the world's oldest marathon footrace.
The tortoise and the hare statues in Copley Park: tributes to the world's oldest marathon footrace.

An eccentric adventure exploring the streets of Boston

ANY city that measures the length of one of its major bridges in the number of times a student will fit along it has to be quirky. That's Boston, Massachusetts, USA, for you.

The fact is, the Harvard Bridge over the Charles River linking Boston with Cambridge is exactly 364.4 smoots - yes, smoots - and one ear long.

At more than 170cm high, Oliver Smoot Jr, a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his mates decided in 1958 that it would be helpful to students walking back to the university across the bridge in snow and fog to know how far they had to go.

Smoot was measured with a piece of string and the bridge measured with it. So began the unit known still as a smoot.

For one of America's most historic, most British and most conservative of cities, and a renowned university city, Boston has some very odd and eccentric things going on.

To learn about them we're on board the iconic Boston Duck, itself an oddball, 80-minute tour of Boston city (it's Boston's most popular tour).

The iconic Boston Duck tour takes in views of the city and Cambridge from the water.
The iconic Boston Duck tour takes in views of the city and Cambridge from the water.

We're travelling in a Second World War army amphibious vehicle - and it is at home on land as it is on water.

At some point our vehicle will drive into the Charles River for a view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines.

In the meantime, our driver/guide (ConDUCKtor), is rattling off some quirky facts about Boston.

Let's start with the compass. Normally, says our guide, you can safely say east is east and west is west. But not so in Boston.

Due north of the centre of the city is the South End.

And it's not South Boston which is to the east of South End.

Then East Boston is north of South Boston. And West End is west of North End….but it's not there anymore.

And the Old South Church is north of the New Old South Church. Best to forget it and just get lost.

Among the first Englishmen to settle in Boston was an Anglican minister by the name of William Blackstone.

He had a home on swanky Beacon Hill and liked to ride nude on his white bull on nearby Boston Common.

A popular brew in Boston is Samuel Adams lager. It has a handsome face on the label - not that of Samuel Adams, who was considered too ugly, but allegedly of the handsome midnight rider Paul Revere.

In 1919 Boston had a molasses disaster. A huge tank of it blew its top, sending more than two million gallons of molasses on a sticky journey down nearby streets.

Boston's subway is America's oldest. In 1959 it gained notoriety when the Kingston Trio recorded a song called "Charlie on the MTA".

He was a man who never returned from a subway trip because he didn't have the money to pay the exit fee.

So, every day his wife would wait and hand him a bag of food.

Why didn't she just give him the money to pay his subway exit fee? Subway tickets are today known as Charlies.

Catie, this Boston hotel's canine concierge.
Catie, this Boston hotel's canine concierge.

Boston has long been a town of foot-runners.

We pause as our driver/guide urges us to collectively raise our arms in triumph as we cross the finishing line of the Boston Marathon.

It features in the Guinness Book of World Records for achieving 38,708 entrants in 1996, the centenary of the race.

Boston University is home to the largest collection of Hollywood memorabilia in the world.

The collection occupies shelves more than 10km long in two underground vaults.

It is fitting that the city which hosted the revolutionary Boston Tea Party boasts the world's biggest teapot. It now hangs over a coffee shop.

And Boston has a Museum of Burnt Food - yes, burnt food.

Where there's smoke there's Deborah Henson-Conant of Arlington.

She is the founder, curator and main contributor to the museum which celebrates culinary disasters.

It began in 1989 with a pot of apple cider on her stove.

While it was brewing she took a lengthy phone call - and the rest, as they say, is museum history.



  • Colonnade Hotel. More information at
  • Visit for visitor information on Boston CityPASS and Go Boston Card, both of which give you savings on ticket window prices.
  • The Boston public transport system, known as the "T", is a good way to get around. A day pass for visitors provides unlimited travel.
  • Boston Duck Tours operate seven days a week in the summer (weekends in spring and autumn). More information at


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