Thursday, April 24, 2014

Looking Down

It’s amazing what stares back up at you when you peer down at a city.

Guess where I went today? I finally, finally got to the top of the Marriott Customs House. You know that clock tower by Quincy Market? Yes, that’s the one. It has an observation deck on the 29th floor that I had been wanting to visit for a long time now.

The view is quite spectacular, and well worth the $4 it costs to get to the top. Options are limited, though, if you’d like to visit. Don’t forget that the Customs Tower is a functioning hotel (yes, really), so foot traffic to its peak is limited to one daytime tour at 2pm. My best recommendation would be to take a quick trip the next time you have a day off. I would also advise giving the Marriott a call ahead of time to make sure the observation deck will be open that day. (As a general rule of thumb, if the Hancock Tower's spire is beaming blue, it's a good day to visit. Anything else, and it's worth the phone call.) If you’d prefer a twilight visit, well, they offer that too for a few dollars more ($7). If you'd like a cocktail with that evening visit, just bring an I.D. and double the price.

Once you're up there, though, the first thing you'll notice is a change in your perception of the city. Navigating Boston at street level can be confusing enough, but seeing it from above can really pull things out of perspective. Just take a look at these cross streets (below left). There are six cross walks on this street – a street that goes more or less straight - and a curvy sidewalk thrown in for good measure. These constantly changing courses, interesting sights, and sense of adventure are why I love walking in Boston… and they're also why people don’t really enjoy driving in Boston.

In fact, it is so disorienting looking from above at a city you know from foot-level that it makes me doubt whole portions of my childhood. Remember that show Lois and Clark? Remember how Dean Cain would run off into a phone booth, emerge clad as Superman, and fly off to save Metropolisites in mortal danger? I used to watch that same scene play out in different forms every Sunday night (dreaming of the day I’d grow up to marry Teri Hatcher, aka Lois Lane), eyes nearly popped out of my head at the thought of flying over the whole city.

Well, news to me – it’s a wonder Superman ever found those imperiled citizens (and I never married Teri Hatcher). From above, the city is a different animal. Whole streets are lost to the single shadow of a long city block, an easily recognizable building becomes a distortion of the architecture you thought you knew, and things that were life size at eye level become minuscule. Not to mention all of the distracting things that collect on the tops of roofs - from your comfortable sidewalk you'd never guess that there were so many fans up there.

It's all so different you'd expect that Superman would fly around this city like an out-of-towner following Apple Maps. On a Segway. In a bike lane.

Unless they have family or friends visiting, residents don’t often do these types of tourist attractions. Mostly for fear of looking like Superman on a Segway in a bike lane, I would think. Still, I would recommend it.

In all likelihood, you’ve been to the top of the Prudential, but the viewing platform atop this clock tower is a unique experience. While the views from the Pru are incredible, you’d be hard-pressed to get a good look at the activity in Government Center, the North End, and the Financial District.

And it’s only four bucks. What do you have to lose?

Til next time!

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