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Boston, Italian-style

Alan Behr, Tribune News Service on

Published in Travel News

A clear sky stretched over Boston Harbor like a taut, blue canvas, the sea air warming under the midday sun. The water was a smooth highway through which our water taxi skimmed toward moored sailboats. A white schooner sailed in fine trim off our port bow. "That's what I want next," said George Morton as he pointed out the schooner. Gray-haired and convivial, Captain George, as he prefers to be known, had picked me up from the dock at the end of the No. 66 bus -- a free shuttle from Logan Airport -- and was taking me to my hotel, the Battery Wharf, a concierge for which had suggested this very agreeable way to arrive. "In a few more years, I hope to have the money," said Captain George, pointing to more sailboats moored in the harbor. "That's sailing as I know it." He dropped off a couple at the waterfront Marriott and next pulled up to the dock at the Battery Wharf and I rolled my suitcases to the front desk.

I had come again for the international legal conference I attend annually with 11,000 of my dearest colleagues. Boston was the location this year, and as with meetings past, I avoided the large hotels near the convention venue as diligently as I would miss an opportunity to contract influenza. The Battery Wharf meets my standards, which is to say, it would carry five stars as they are granted to hotels in Europe. Spread over four low buildings connected by tunnels, it is as quiet as the convention is raucous; guests have access to a large fitness room, and the business center is conveniently at hand.

As she does each year, my secretary, known to me as Ms. Moneypenny, had chosen a Starbucks on which Axel, my friend from Potsdam and fellow conferencegoer, could converge with me in a caffeine-seeking pincer movement. I placed our simple order, first for Axel and then for me: "And I'll have a plain bagel and a grande skim cappuccino," I said.

The young woman at the register looked at me as if she suspected a trick question. "Do you want whipped cream on your cappuccino?" she asked.

"You don't put whipped cream on a cappuccino," I replied. Surprised by the news, she rang up my order. "You forgot the bagel," I said.

Her eyes fixed on me in a final attempt at comprehension, she asked, "Do you want whipped cream on your bagel?"

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Large conferences offer excursions, and along with about two dozen others, I chose whale watching. We boarded a catamaran that the operator, Boston Harbor Cruises, boasts can do close to 35 knots -- about the pace of a destroyer. We were soon pitching and slamming at high speed into undulating waves, at last arriving at Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary. The amplified voice of the youthful onboard marine conservationist filled the main cabin with good cheer for aquatic mammals everywhere. Soon, four whales took turns bobbing close enough to the surface of a rough, rain-splattered sea to offer glimpses of flukes, massive pectoral fins that rose from the depths like the trident of Neptune and then slapped the petulant waves, and blowholes that shot mist into the air.

The whales had cute names such as Spoon and Bungie. Passengers were awed until about 40% became visibly, painfully seasick. Perhaps sensing the lack of attention, the whales put on an even mightier display but, save for a worthy few crowded onlookers along the bow, Bungie and friends got only respectful attention. Inside the main cabin and along the railings, breakfasts were sacrificed. The interior was dotted with hunched figures too ill to stand. The young and uniformly hardy crew members pretended nothing was amiss as they handed out vomit bags like ushers dispensing theater programs. After what seemed like a voyage of 40 days, the captain turned the vessel back toward port.

Although I can get motion sickness from looking at an iPhone screen on a bus, I had been hardly discomforted throughout. (The trick is to avoid focusing on close objects and to flex your legs with the roll of the ship in order to keep your torso vertical.) Just the same, this was a siren call to rethink the visit. As when, in the past, things were not going as they should have, there seemed only one logical choice to make it right: head to Italy.

It was no accident, that is, that I had chosen the Battery Wharf. It is the only luxury hotel on Boston's North End, which is to say, a neighborhood known as Italian and therefore as one splendid place to find a good meal -- or several good meals, as the days wore on.

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