LISA16 Is in Boston—Casual Sights for Conference Downtime

LISA16 is in Boston this year, and that presents a different set of challenges for me. Most years, I plan to be away from home for the whole week. I have to arrange flights and a hotel and transportation. I spend some time researching the city to see what cultural sites or events are there. I usually find that there's a quiet morning or afternoon during the conference when I can sneak away and treat myself to something I could never see anywhere else.

I went to college in Boston at Northeastern University. I worked in Cambridge during school and for a number of years after. I rode my bike everywhere. I learned to avoid the Fenway crowds and North Station during concerts and basketball season. What's this city got to offer me as a conference venue, but an all-too-familiar downtown hotel conference center with its urban chic shops and expensive food courts? You can check out one of the typical guidebooks, but as a native I've found there are a few special things about Boston that are off the beaten path.

If you want to go for a scenic or cultural walk in Boston, there are few places better to start than the Boston Sheraton.

The first place I'd suggest is the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library.

The Mapparium is a three-story stained glass globe that you can walk into. Admission to the library is free. Guided tours of the Mapparium are $6 and run every 20 minutes from 10:20am to 4:00pm daily except Mondays. The library is part of the Christian Science Center, but is open to the general public as a research resource into a full range of topics. The Library and Mapparium are just a 3-minute walk from the Sheraton Hotel.

If you're at all of an artistic or cultural bent, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a special treat.

Only 15 minutes from the Sheraton either on foot or by the T, if you'd rather ride, the MFA is a world class art museum, with a collection that spans the ages and all styles of art. The museum is open every day, but Wednesday through Friday, it's open until 9:00pm. Admission is $25, though Wednesday night after 4:00pm, the fee is voluntary (suggested donation is still $25). If nothing else, walk through the section for art from the ancient world. The items from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Greeks are second to none.

If architecture is more to your taste, a walk in the other direction takes you to two other world-class landmarks. Leave the hotel through the Prudential Center mall and take a left to the exits on Boylston Street and turn right. Keep an eye out for a different looking yellow and blue stripe across the street. This is the Boston Marathon finish line.

On your right here is the Boston Public Library, only a 10-minute walk from the Sheraton. One of the oldest libraries in the US, the building has undergone major changes in recent years. Both interior and exterior renovations were completed this summer. The buildings are home to a varied collection of artworks from the 1940s to the 1960s, including paintings and sculptures. A special gallery on the first floor houses a rotating set of works from the library collection. The library is open Monday to Thursday, 9am to 9pm and until 5pm on weekends.

After warming up in the Library, take the exit onto Dartmouth street. You're looking across Copley Square at the Trinity Episcopal Church.

Another architectural gem of Boston, Trinity Church offers guided and self-guided tours between 10:00am and 4:30pm most days, but the schedule is variable so they recommend calling ahead to confirm the tour times. The tours cost $7. Even from the outside though, Trinity is something to see, especially near sundown when final light of the day sparks from the steeple.

That should be enough High Culture for one walk. From Copley Place, cross over Boylston Street and turn up Clarendon for one block. Now you're in the modern shopping district of Boston. This is Newbury Street. You could turn right and continue down to the Boston Common and Public Garden. They're still beautiful even in winter, but the real shine here is in the shops that line the street. Turn left and you can walk back up toward Massachusetts Avenue.

The architecture here is much less interesting to look at; it's what's inside that matters here. As you walk along you will pass stone stairs leading both up and down. Look for the small signs in the windows for a clue to what's there. From consignment shops for second-hand women's clothes, to major brand names, to the original Newbury Comics, you'll find quite a variety here. One of my favorites is the Trident Bookstore Cafe. There are a variety of high-end eateries as well—Asian, Italian, and fusion. I won't try to list them. For me, the exploration is part of the fun.

Turn right at Hereford Street and you're back at the Hynes Convention Center. You can walk back down Boylston Street to the Prudential entrance, or cross over to Dalton Street and stroll back down to the Sheraton main entrance. The walk should take no more than 45 minutes, not accounting for stops.

This is just one suggestion for a simple walk in Boston, something you can do without too much planning or hassle. If you're more adventurous, the T runs to all of the best places in Boston. Check your guidebooks and make use of the concierge at your hotel.

Boston weather in December is unpredictable. It's definitely cool, but it can range from clear sunny days to cold drizzle or freezing rain. Sunset is early, about 4:15pm EST. Light gloves and a hat will probably be comfortable. Let's hope for the best, but bring clothing for any event.

Enjoy the conference, but be sure to take some time to enjoy Boston as well.