By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Sep 14, 2009 at 11:09 AM

We know you love Milwaukee. We do, too. Sometimes, though, it's good to get on plane and head out of town.

And we're happy to help. This summer and fall, is teaming up with AirTran Airways to offer six free "Recession Buster Getaways." Every two weeks, we'll preview a great destination, report on some of the bars, restaurants, shops and events that make them unique. 

All you have to do is read our guide, then write your own Readers Blog about why you deserve a trip. If we pick your submission as the best, we'll give you a pair of roundtrip tickets, a brand new netbook and a little cash to buy in-flight Wi-Fi.

The complete rules are here, but for this fifth contest, you can blog between now and Sunday, Sept. 27. 

For this destination, staff writer Molly Snyder Edler visited Boston.

BOSTON -- It’s appropriate that the 2009 North American Cycle Courier Championships were held in Boston this summer. The event, which attracts bicycle messengers from all over the country, is a regular bike race that includes package pickup and delivery. Because Boston’s streets are believed to originated as cow paths in the 17th century, they are a modern-day labyrinth of confusion and provide a challenging course for even the most savvy delivery cyclist.

Luckily for tourists, public transportation is easy to navigate.

I actually toyed with the idea of renting a car, but after multiple friends insisted that thought was just short of full-on insanity, I decided against it. Former Milwaukeean and painter Amy O’Neill, who relocated to Boston three years ago, put it best, saying, "Driving here is not tourist-friendly. It is an athletic endeavor that only locals can successfully navigate."

It turns out, you can barely throw a baked bean without hitting a subway sign featuring a white circle with a black "T" in the center.  "The T" -- short for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) -- includes the Red, Orange, Blue and Silver subway lines (as well as two trolley lines) and it was as reliable as a parent who gets a call from their teenaged kid in need of a lift home from a drinking party. I never waited more than five minutes.

Because so many people who work and / or play in Boston live just outside the limits in cities like Medford, Somerville and Brookline, solid mass transit is a must. Plus, at $1.70 per ride, the T is cheap, and -- along with a couple of bus rides to fill in the gaps -- it got me and my traveling partners to destination after destination during my three-day stay in Boston.

Day one: Don’t forget history

Before I left for Boston, I posted a blog on and Facebook, asking for insider tips and places to visit. My favorite response said, "Don’t forget about history!" I found this humorous because -- as anyone who has ever been to Boston knows -- history is unavoidable.

Founded in 1630, Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and during the 18th century, it was the setting for major American Revolution events like the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. Throw in the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Siege of Boston and the fact Boston was home to the first public school as well as the first subway system and suddenly, you’re steeped in history.

With that in mind, I started my exploration of Beantown with the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile path that leads to 16 historical landmarks. The trail starts in the Boston Common Visitor Information Center on Tremont Street and a red brick path or painted red line leads from site to site, including the Boston Common, which is America’s oldest public park, Paul Revere’s house, the USS Constitution and the open-air Faneuil Hall Marketplace, where Bostonians began their opposition to British authority. Our visit to Faneuil Hall was way less political. It included light shopping, break dancers and street magicians.

One of my Freedom Trail highlights was the Granary Burying Ground. This is the oldest cemetery in Boston and the final resting place of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, the five Boston Massacre victims, Paul Revere, Ben Franklin’s parents and my personal favorite, Mother Goose. Actually, it’s unsure if Elizabeth "Mother" Goose is buried in the marked space, and many believe she is either buried somewhere else in the cemetery or not in the vicinity at all. I left a penny in the pile surrounding her headstone, anyway, because that appeared to be the thing to do.

Another Freedom Trail peak for me was the Park Street Church. It was here, in 1931, that the song "America" -- better known as "My Country ‘Tis of Thee" -- was sang for the first time on the church stairs. Possibly giddy from my early wake-up time combined with extreme heat -- it broke 90 degrees in Boston for the first time all summer during my stay -- I agreed to sing the song on the stairs after my friend suggested it. I belted out a portion of the song, and following my spontaneous performance, a man in a tricornered hat told me I had a nice voice. I think it was my most patriotic moment of my entire life.

After the trail, we wandered to the Union Oyster House, 41 Union St., which is the oldest restaurant in Boston, established in 1826. Once there, we gobbled massive hunks of free cornbread, a large plate of "native oysters," cups of chowder (pronounced "chowda" by the Bostonians) and pints of Harpoon IPA.

My friend explained that Harpoon was the "Lakefront Brewery of Boston," and that was enough of an endorsement for me to drink it almost exclusively -- with the exception of a Sam Adams or two -- for the rest of the trip. Harpoon’s UFO Hefeweizen quickly became my favorite.

After our classic Boston meal, we opted for pop culture kitsch and checked out the Bull & Finch Pub, 84 Beacon St., where exterior shots for the television series "Cheers" were filmed. There are two locations, the original on Beacon Street and a replica in the Faneuil Hall. 

The bar and restaurant has two floors, both offering food and drink, but the upstairs area is a recreation of the bar as seen on the TV show. There’s also a gift shop selling everything from baby onesies saying "I Don’t Even Know My Name" to replicas of Sam Malone’s "Little Black Book." The shop features multiple televisions playing classic episodes of the show.

We walked from Cheers to Newbury Street, which is like a large-scale Brady Street in the Back Bay area of Boston. On the way, I marveled at the beautiful, classic brownstones adorned with perfect, little gardens. My favorite was a well manicured green space with a garden stone reading "Don’t piss off the fairies."

Newbury Street boasts a range of shops from the super chic Ann Taylor, Burberry, Cartier, Brooks Brothers and Giorgio Armani to indie dwellings like Trident Booksellers and Second Time Around, a vintage clothing shop where my two traveling companions and I found three lime green flowered dresses in exactly our sizes. We tried them on and thought about all of the places we could go in such get-ups, but ultimately decided the $120 price tag was too much of an investment. Not buying the dresses is my only Boston regret.

Newbury Street is also home to L’Aroma Cafe, 85 Newbury St., a great European-style cafe with authentic espresso, panini, cannoli, gelato and biscotti. An reader recommended this place, and it was a great suggestion. The patio is ideal for watching passers-by that range from hipster to filthy rich, and as if that wasn’t delicious enough, I ate a homemade fruit tart that was Garden-of-Eden good.

Later that evening, we took the T to Davis Square in Somerville and stopped in another cafe, Diesel Cafe, 257 Elm St., complete with pool tables, a photo booth and good coffee. However, our real reason for traveling to this part of the Boston area was to check out Redbones Barbecue, 55 Chester St., an authentic Southern barbecue that serves up Memphis and baby back ribs, pulled pork, grilled fish, vegetarian options and more. This was one of the best parts of my trip, thanks to the orgasmic pulled pork sandwich served with four different dipping sauces.

I was also fond of Redbone’s "wheel of beer" that allows adventurous drinkers to let fate decide their brew of choice with a single spin. Redbones is a favorite among local bicyclists due to the avid bikers on staff and the food delivery service via bicycle.

The restaurant is two floors, and both are lively and artistic, but the downstairs -- referred to as "Underbones" -- has even more ambiance and included, quite possibly, the coolest server I have ever met in my life. And it’s not just because she gave us a free "white trash sundae" at the end of our meal, but that didn’t hurt my opinion of her.

We closed out Day 1 with a visit to Cambridge’s Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., a small bar / restaurant venue where Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega started their careers. I felt particularly welcome during my trip to the ladies’ room where I spotted posters announcing upcoming shows for Milwaukee-based musicians Peter Mulvey and Willy Porter.

Day two: Wall wounds and smart people

We started the day early, with a trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway. Prior to my visit, I asked the aforementioned Amy O’Neill where she thought I should go in Boston, and this was her first suggestion. And a great suggestion it was.

The museum features the art collection of Isabella Gardner,  a wealthy woman who collected art in the 1890s. She co-designed the museum -- which is also called Fenway Court -- and the space houses 2,500 works of American, European and Asian art including paintings, sculptures, tapestries and decorative arts. The most spectacular aspect of the museum --- which feels more like a private home -- is a lush garden courtyard with a glass ceiling located in the center of the mansion. The Gardner has an air of Milwaukee’s Villa Terrace.

In 1990, thieves dressed as police officers stole 13 pieces from the museum, valued at more than $500 million, including a series of drawings by Degas and three pieces by Rembrandt, one of which was his only seascape. The art heist is considered the largest in history, and the museum displays the empty frames on the walls because Gardner’s will requires that the collection stay unchanged. The empty frames are bold, eerie reminders of the unsolved crime and, as O’Neill put it, look like "wounds on the wall."

After the Gardner, we headed to the North End for lunch. The North End is Boston’s oldest neighborhood and the city’s "Little Italy." There are more than 100 Italian restaurants and cafes, most of which looked appealing, so I randomly chose Cantina Italiana, 346 Hanover St., because the sidewalk specials board read "homemade sangria" and the retro sign reminded me of what Buca di Beppo tried to capture with its knock-off version. The snappy servers in matching blue shirts inspired me to dine there, too.

It turns out that Cantina Italiana -- which opened in 1931 -- is the oldest restaurant in the North End and serves traditional Italian food. The dark wood and massive booths, which are large enough to sit six people, provide proverbial old world charm.

We started our meal with glasses of the sweet, fruity sangria and bantered with the servers. I ordered linguine allo scoglio ($21) because it had the most seafood: shrimps, clams and mussels. It was delicious, but so filling that after the meal I was unable to indulge in a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover St., even though it's known for amazing sweets.

After lunch, we drove to Harvard Square in Cambridge where we walked around Harvard Yard, which is 25 acres of campus green space. Summer school was over, but a few students still walked around with backpacks, some of whom I looked at and thought, "Wow, you got an acceptance letter from Harvard. What did THAT feel like?!"

While in the area, we popped into numerous bookshops including the Harvard Co-op Book Store, 1400 Massachusetts Ave., shopped at the unique Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, 6 Brattle St., where I bought my sons bacon and cheddar crickets just because I knew they would find them completely gross, and ended up at Crema Cafe, 27 Brattle St., where I had my best caffeine experience during my trip. Crema features java roasted by the local company George Howell Coffee Company (GHCC) and the beans were as rich and flavorful as Milwaukee’s Alterra Coffee.

Then, we cruised through the South End neighborhood, which my friend described as being filled with "beautiful gay people and brownstones" and I made a promise to myself that on the next trip to Boston I would have brunch or cocktails at neighborhood establishments like The Beehive, 541 Tremon St., and catch a jazz set or two at the iconic hole-in-the-wall, Wally's Cafe, 427 Massachusetts Ave.

We made a quick stop in Chinatown, which looked and smelled like the Chinatown in New York City and San Francisco, and I sampled the fruit rambutan for the first time. My friend haggled with a street vendor and bought a bag of them for $5. They appeared like little red, hairy creatures, but once the tentacled skin was pealed off, the fruit was similar to a large grape.

Boston is home to a plethora of music venues, large and small, which is why so many musicians move to the area, including former Milwaukeeans Pamela Means and my hosts, Irish music duo Matt and Shannon Heaton. So, in the spirit of the raging music scene, we finished the day with a little tour of music venues by car. Truth be told, I was too exhausted at this point to do much else then slump in the back seat and occasionally say, "Nice." I do remember catching glimpses of the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Massachusetts Ave., Toad, 1920 Massachusetts Ave., and The Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Ave.

That night, I slept like Snow White after she munched the witch's apple.

Day three: Salem

Salem is only 40 minutes from Boston, and definitely worth a day trip if you appreciate the kitsch, the creepy and / or "The Crucible." It is also, quite possibly, the Pagan capitol of the country, so don't forget to wear your pentagram.

In the late 17th century, a mass hysteria broke out in Salem and 14 men and six women were accused of being "witches." Chances are, they were herbal healers, not witches, but the residents were already wrought with unjustified fear of Native Americans and needed another scapegoat. So, the men and women were unfairly tried, convicted and either hanged or "pressed" with layers of heavy stones. 

Today, more than 300 years after the Salem Witch Trials, the small city (there are fewer than 50,000 people living there) still honors the historical tragedy respectfully and playfully. Salem’s big claim to fame is the witch trials -- and therefor is the setting of Arthur Miller’s famous play "The Crucible"  -- but it does not minimize what happened in 1692. All of the museums and the literature focus on the town’s ignorance, fear and racism that allowed the "witches" to be accused in the first place.

But Salem dwellers have cauldrons of fun with their history, too.

Police cars are adorned with a witch logo, the high school football team is called the Salem Witches and one of the neighborhoods is named Witchcraft Heights. It is also home to a lighthearted and controversial statue of Samantha Stevens from the television series "Bewitched."

The Samantha statue was erected in 2005 and is similar to Milwaukee's statue of The Fonz from "Happy Days." Both are bronze and both conjured mixed reactions from the locals. Some natives feel the witch image pigeonholes the town and creates a tourism season restricted to Halloween instead of all year 'round. Plus, some Wiccans feel the statue trivializes their religion. 

In any case, sitting on Samantha's broomstick was a fun and unusual way to start my tour of Witch City.

After a brief photo shoot with Sam the statue, we checked out the Witch Trials Memorial, a serene courtyard next to a cemetery featuring 20 large, granite benches. Each bench is etched with the accused witch's name and the means and date of their execution, like "Giles Corey, 1692, Pressed To Death."

Shopping is a key part of the Salem experience. In 1890, local jeweler Daniel Low sold silver spoons with witches on them and this was the start of Salem capitalizing on its notorious history. Later, Parker Brothers manufactured Ouija Boards in the town for many years.

Today, there are Wiccan boutiques featuring everything from handmade brooms to sexy leather attire and Halloween-themed shops with spooky trinkets. I enjoyed visiting Artemisia Botanicals and Witch Weed, 102 Wharf St., because it had an amazing selection of hand-poured candles and a self-serve magical pantry stocked with jars of herbs that are sold in bulk by the ounce. Unfortunately, they were out of newt tail.

We had coffee at the Witch’s Brew Cafe, 156 Derby St., but all I could think of at that point was, "How did I manage three days in Boston without buying a single cup of coffee from a Dunkin’ Donuts?" (Dunkin’ Donuts was founded in Massachusetts and they are seemingly ubiquitous throughout the state.)

During our four hours in Salem, we checked out the Salem Witch Museum, 19 1/2 Washing Square North, the Salem Wax Museum, 282 Derby St., and the Witch History Museum, 197-201 Essex St.

The museums are cheesy, usually include a bunch of mannequins or wax figures and are in need of a facelift, but the tour guides were funny and informative, making a visit worthwhile. I loved the kitsch factor and I appreciated picking up little whiskers of trivia like the irony that Salem -- the town best known for the hanging and pressing of wrongly accused people -- was named after "Jerusalem" which means "The City of Peace."

There’s a lot more than just witchy stuff in Salem, too. There’s a pirate museum as well as the exact location where Nathaniel Hawthorne penned "The Scarlet Letter." Plus, I learned of many female suffragists, abolitionists, preservationists, authors, educators, business owners and philanthropists from Salem.

This was particularly striking because I was traveling and reconnecting with my two female friends -- both such strong and vibrant women -- and for three days, we trail blazed our very own freedom trail through the city of Boston and beyond.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.