Sunday, November 9, 2014

On the Road: The Quest for Penguins


Our daughter is way into penguins.  What began as a childhood fascination is gradually evolving into a deeper interest including discussions of possible career paths.  From a book about Jane Goodall, she learned the word ethologist: one who studies animal behavior in the subject's natural environment.  It is now a life goal to see penguins in the wild.

Alas, there are no wild penguins in Vermont, though they're not as far away as I'd have thought before my daughter's interest emerged.  Nearly all penguins live in the southern hemisphere but there is one species that hangs out around the equator in the Galapagos Islands.  Still, that trip's way beyond the current family budget so it'll have to remain in the long-term plan for now.

Fortunately, there are penguins relatively nearby in captivity, including three different species at the New England Aquarium in Boston.  We've lived in New England for twelve years yet we've spent  little time in the region's largest city.  The penguins were as good an excuse as any!  Combining the penguin quest with a visit to see dear friends in Worcester made for a most enjoyable, eastern Massachusetts weekend.

The Boston excursion did not go quite as planned. We thought we were being clever by parking at the Alewife station then taking the subway into the city.  Alas, construction along the red line meant we had to first take a shuttle bus - free, thankfully - to Harvard before continuing our adventures by rail.  It was not exactly a banner day for Boston's ever-disastrous infrastructure.

That said, the aquarium was amazing.  The penguins dominate the ground floor display space: southern rockhoppers, African penguins and, the smallest species in the world, the little blue penguins.  Interestingly, none of the three is native to Antarctica.  The little blues are in pretty good shape ecologically but the rockhoppers are classified as vulnerable and the Africans are endangered.  All three are adorable and the girl was most impressed.  There's plenty more to see, including an enormous octopus, a sea turtle that's over 85 years old and California sea lions.  We were there for around three hours total, I think: plenty of time to see everything.  Great facility - I'd definitely go again.

Otherwise, I'd have to say Boston was a bit of a disappointment.  I'm not a big fan of cities in general - too many people, too much asphalt and concrete - and Boston is unusually confusing with its crazy street layout.  Even with our public transit fiasco, it was better than trying to drive.  I will concede, the average person you run into is pretty friendly, especially when compared to their counterparts in New York or Washington.  I'm sure I would learn my way around with time and patience and it's totally unfair to judge a city by such a short visit but we didn't leave keen to come back.  Montreal is more my speed - closer to us, too.

For the record, the aquarium was definitely worth the effort.  Plus, I got to sing the following on our way out of town.  My poor, suffering wife...


I can now relate to feeling trapped on the Boston transit system.

20 comments:

  1. I was in Boston once. I loved it. I have a great parking ticket story, too, that I have been meaning to write about. We saw a walrus show while we were there. It was impressive. We didn't get to see more of the aquarium than that, though.

    My kids love penguins, too, and love to see the feedings at the... bah... the name escapes me, right now.
    Fun fact: My daughter used to call them "pink ones."

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    1. There was no mention of walruses. I'd have enjoyed that!

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  2. My first trip to Boston was in grade school, then I visited again my first year of college, and then lived just outside of it, in Burlington, for about three years. I don't remember if there were penguins a quarter century ago. Probably not.

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    1. I went for the first time when my older sister was visiting colleges. My main lasting memory of that visit: a shocking lack of street signs!

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  3. One of our large department stores here in the UK (John Lewis) has just released its Christmas advert featuring a young boy and a penguin and the 'aah' factor. Your daughter might like it.
    http://www.johnlewis.com/christmas-advert-2014-montys-christmas

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    1. I'll definitely check that out. Thanks for sharing, Sally!

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  4. One of my all time favorite trips was in New England. I had to speak at a convention in Portland, Maine, and my hubby and I rented a car and traveled the coastline. The weather was perfect and we were there for Lobster Fest (accidently).

    Boston, one of the places I really wanted to visit, was the disappointment. I spent a good deal of time there but didn't get to see as much as I wanted to because we couldn't park!! I don't think I'd drive my car in to the city again, ha ha.

    And by the way - how can anyone NOT love penguins?? Your daughter is on to something.

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    1. Yes, while the subway experience was far from ideal, I'm still grateful we didn't try to drive into the city.

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  5. My daughter attends Boston University so I'm hearing you. Not a fun place to drive. She's learned her way away the subway system so once we get to her it's just a matter of going where she leads. We'll have to do the aquarium on one of our trips.

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    1. Highly recommended - well worth the hassles.

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  6. Many years ago I took the family to Boston for the Summer, or Year (?) of Sargent.
    I am a huge Sargent fan and we had tickets for the Museum and their outstanding show. Then we went all over the city to see his other art pieces. They were all over Boston and we even went to Harvard. It was like a hide and seek game. We had such fun but what a huge mess the roads and tunnel (?) was in. I took a taxi everywhere.

    We also love Penguins. Who can not ?
    Must look up the little Blue ones.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. That artwork hide and seek does sound like fun.

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  7. We went to Boston about thirty years ago. We had a great time. I especially liked visiting President Kennedy's museum and library. I'm quite fond of penguins. The Hurricane went on a school trip to the Galapagos Islands and had the time of her life. I hope your daughter will have the same good experiences.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I am quite confident that many exciting adventures await my little girl, penguin-related and otherwise.

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  8. Boston sounds like a rough place to visit, but after living in New York I'm sure it would feel familiar. Hope your daughter moves in with those penguins!

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    1. The practical beauty of New York - or at least Manhattan - is the grid layout of most of the streets. Directions to get somewhere are pretty straightforward. I lived in New York, too - a very different atmosphere from Boston, I think. NYC is a unique culture all its own.

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  9. Boston is such an amazing place. This is a really cool post to read.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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  10. Oh, he never returned...this song stuck in our heads, and we often sing it alone in our car. Alone.

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    1. It's a darn catchy song. I first learned it in summer camp oh so many years ago.

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