Tuesday, January 07, 2014

New Year's week in Providence and Boston

The highlight of our last week of holiday vacation -- the French Tarte closed in expectation of going to Michigan and I was on holiday for two weeks -- was our day trip to Boston to soothe our souls.

The Monday before New Year’s was clear, cold, and sunny when we took our short road trip north to Boston. Our objective was to see the exhibitions of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors then underway at the Museum of Fine Arts and the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Now, the last time we visited the MFA, back in June of 2013, we found parking right on the street a couple of blocks from the museum -- but with freezing temps and the wind blowing, I opted for a garage on Museum Road just across from the MFA. It's not cheap but certainly convenient to both museums.

So, after dashing through traffic we headed for the main entrance to the MFA and then inside. We bought our tickets (one adult and one senior, thank you very much) and then it was off in search of the restrooms.

Apparently one of the things they forgot to add when designing the building were restrooms anywhere near the entrance -- we had to go into the central atrium, where one of the cafes is located, and then halfway down a flight of stairs to the bathrooms.

One of the benefits of the bathroom stop, though, was we got to skip waiting in the (first) line for the Sargent exhibition.

1st line, waiting to go downstairs (just out of frame to the upper left)
Feeling relieved, we made our way downstairs to the (second) line waiting to enter the exhibition rooms. It was certainly worth the wait; if you like John Singer Sargent and are in Boston this month you should go. But you'll need to hurry: the exhibition ends January 20.

Before heading out we popped into to pay a visit to several of our impressionist favorites:

The French Tarte avec le Danseur by Degas - oh, and try to ignore the gentleman taking a bath
out the Fenway entrance to the Gardner

outside the Fenway entrance
Keeping our heads down in the wind but enjoying the fresh air and bright sun we walked the three blocks to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

This was our first trip to the Gardner and from the outside the main entrance looked impressive, all glass and metal. After getting our tickets -- it should be pointed out that there is a slight reciprocity with the MFA -- we headed straight inside and our eye caught sight of our next priority: lunch.

the main building, called the palace, is just to the right out of frame

Although located at street level, the sheer amount of glass surrounding the cafe is incredible, giving the dining spaces a feeling of both openness and intimacy at the same time.

The food was good and the menu impressive with reasonable prices; comparable to Providence restaurant prices we thought. But it was in the quality of service that the restaurant really shined. If you're doing the MFA and the Gardner skip eating at the MFA -- we've done that, too -- and wait until you get to the Gardner. It's more intimate, much friendlier and the food is better.

chicken salad with chips
pork taco (hard shell)
hazelnut and apple clafouti with vanilla ice cream
After lunch we made our way through the glass tunnel into the museum proper. Once inside the palace, the main building however, it was a totally different world; you can see why so many people consider the Gardner "a jewel."

The palace is some four stories high, rectangular with a center garden atrium open to the roof which terminates in a massive skylight. The ground, 2nd and 3rd floors are the galleries; the top floor, which was Isabella's living quarters, is closed to the public. There is a wonderfully informative photographic timeline just opposite the bathrooms on the ground floor.

Like the architecture -- strikingly exotic to be sure -- the bulk of the collection in the Gardner seems to lan toward Italianate, although there is the Dutch room, the Gothic room, etc. The views overlooking the central atrium are fantastic, of course, and some of the rooms themselves are truly impressive; I'm thinking the Tapestry Room for one.

Still, the managed darkness of the upper galleries we thought too distracting; in fact, it was often difficult to appreciate much of the artwork. The ground level rooms were much better lit but almost claustrophobic. Interpretation was through wall-specific handouts -- a bit clunky but informative.

The Sargent exhibition, on the ground floor was quite small (6 items) but worth the price of admission. Or maybe half of the admission. . .

And speaking of admission fees, the cost to get in is significantly less than the MFA, but then they are really two very different museums. In simple terms, the MFA has much, much more to offer. Still, you get a slight discount at the Gardner if you present your MFA admission ticket. Not a bad deal.

Bathrooms are available on the ground floor just inside the main building.

Note that photography is not allowed inside at all and you must either wear your coat or check it in the cloakroom; you cannot carry it.

The rest of the New Year's week was spent just relaxing at home, catching up on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (season 4 for me), "Damages," "The Killing," and "Justified" (for us) and just thinking, not so much about returning to our formerly "normal" schedules as about England in April and Michigan in August.

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