Fish, Trains, and Automobiles: Our Big Adventure

Fish, Trains, and Automobiles: Our Big Adventure

After months of talking about it and making plans for it, we finally went to the New England Aquarium today. Isabella has always been crazy about fish, ever since the days when Melanie would take the 2-year-old Bella to her OB’s office where they had a gigantic fish pond (it was really too big to be a tank) in the middle of the lobby. She’d stand on the edge and call to the fish: “Fishy, fishy, fishy.” And in all things, Sophia follows her big sister in her interests and desires. Of course, a second reason for the trip was to fulfill the kids’ wish to ride on a train. Oh boy, do they get excited by trains whenever we see them.

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So I was determined that during my vacation, we would take a day and we’d all go into Boston together and see the Aquarium. Honestly, I was as interested as the kids. The Aquarium has been one of my favorite attractions in Boston since I was a kid and I hadn’t been there in ages. Probably not since I was a kid. Some things haven’t changed at all: The seal lions outside the front entrance so anyone can see them without buying a ticket; the penguin pool on the bottom floor inside, the giant ocean tank in the middle, that pleasant fishy smell that hits you as you walk in. (And it is pleasant. Otherwise my very queasy, morning-sick wife would have gagged and she didn’t.) So much has changed as well: The big permanently docked floating auditorium out back is gone. Now there’s a very modern indoor-outdoor marine mammal center. The old barge used to hold the seal shows and the dolphin shows. The dolphins are long gone now; I suppose it’s now politically incorrect to keep them in captivity. Or maybe just too expensive.

Anyway, back to the beginning. We got a relatively early start, but not too early. I wanted to wait until after rush hour. We found a spot in the garage at the Braintree MBTA station, which is about 10 minutes from our house. Unfortunately, the garage is not stroller- or handicapped-friendly. We had to hoist the stroller down a dozen steps and then walk down a ramp to get into the station. After that, it was a smooth trip to the subway trains. We’d briefly considered taking one of the “real” trains from the commuter rail station in Holbrook, but they run on a more sporadic schedule and we didn’t want to be trapped in Boston, waiting hours for the next train home. It turned out to be a good decision, because at the time we left, there would have been such a gap in the schedule. And the kids didn’t notice any difference. In fact, they were completely enamored of the ride and it was almost as much a part of the adventure of the day as the Aquarium itself was.

We took the subway to the South Station stop. We could have gone to Downtown Crossing, transferred to the Orange Line for one stop to State Street, and then taken the Blue Line one stop to Aquarium, but, well, you can see how ridiculous that seems. Instead we elected to walk on this beautiful summer day from South Station to the Aquarium. Ten years ago that would be a noxious experience, sucking fumes from cars and trucks on the surface streets as well as the elevated Central Artery, not to mention being deafened by the noise. But today, in post-Big Dig Boston, it’s a pleasant stroll along the new Rose Kennedy Greenway, an emerald necklace of parks that connect the downtown to the waterfront. Sure, those surface roads are still there, but they seem less crowded than they once were and further away now that you can walk in the middle of the park areas. There’s lots of public art and well-kept flower beds and benches and chairs to sit in. There’s even a temporary installation of a perhaps record-breaking hammock large enough to hold 15 people at once. In all it was a nice 20-minute walk at the pace set by Isabella, who by the way was a real trooper who did not complain once about having to walk the whole way, even on the way back to the station when she was tired and wanted to go home.

The Aquarium itself was lots of fun. It was a great day. Not perfect, mind you, but great. Lunch in the cafeteria was … a trial. Not one, but two separate spilled milks; a lot of money for a bunch of mediocre food the kids hardly ate; crammed quarters like hammocks on sailing ship. But thankfully lunch was only a small part of the day.

Isabella had fun running from exhibit to exhibit, pointing at all the fish and asking what they are. Sophia was somewhat more sedate, content most of the time to view things from the front seat of the stroller. I think Benedict mostly didn’t care about the whole thing, instead staring at all the people and eventually falling asleep in the midst of the noise and chaos, only to wake very cranky in the cafeteria, adding his screaming to the ambiance of lunch. Bella especially loved the giant sea turtle and the sharks. And the penguins, too.

But she’s a sensible girl who knows her limits and even before lunch, after about 2-1/2 hours at the Aquarium, she was already telling us she’d like to go home.

So we gathered ourselves together, walked back through the lovely greenway parks, and made our way to the subway. A quick ride outbound to our car and we were home in time that we could still naps, albeit abbreviated.

At bedtime, during our prayers, we were thanking God for our special day. I prayed: “Thank you God for all the variety of fish and animals and birds that you have created for us to admire. And thank you for the Aquarium where we could see it all.” And Bella piped up: “And Bass Pro Shop.” Yes, Bella, Bass Pro Shop too, with its stuffed animals and fish tank. I guess I wouldn’t have put that in the same category as the Aquarium, but that’s the beauty of a child’s view of the world.