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BOSTON 101

For students new to the area, the Globe's summer interns offer a primer of favorite things in the city and beyond

September 5, 2010

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A SEASIDE CATCH
Coming from the Midwest, I am continually shocked by how close together things are in New England. Especially from Boston, distances are short. So although my friend lives two states away in Maine, it was far from difficult to pop up to Portland for a visit. An easy two-hour drive up Interstate 95 or an equally quick train ride on Amtrak’s Downeaster will get you to this bustling and bohemian seaside city. At the heart of it all is the Old Port, with its cozy cafes, swanky boutiques, abundant seafood, and tempting consignment stores, including Shopaholics Boutique on Fore Street, where I scored an adorable and affordable knit dress.

When your stomach starts to grumble, choose from the plentiful vaunted restaurants. My friend and I ate lunch at the Merry Table Crêperie, tucked away on the cobblestones of Wharf Street. The charming spot serves a variety of sweet and salty crepes and other French comfort food.

If you tire of strolling around the port, I suggest a jaunt south of town to Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park, home to stunning sea vistas and the famed Portland Head Light. The views are so transcendent that I had trouble peeling myself away and returning to Boston.

Visitors bureau, 94 Commercial St., 207-772-5800, www.visitportland.com Portland Head Light, 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth, 207-799-2661, www.portlandheadlight.com

ABBY MCINTYRE

A SNEAKY SECRET
Just like your friendly neighborhood corner store, Bodega is packed with the essentials: toilet paper, cereal, rat traps. But it’s also got $200 sneakers. It’s a bodega and a novelty sneaker store, and you will always remember your first time there.

Four years ago, I walked into the narrow shop, puzzled about where the sneakers were. I had been led to expect that, somehow, this cramped convenience store would transform into a sneaker boutique.

Suddenly, revelation. I dare not give away the secret, but trust me that you travel through a wormhole of sorts, arriving in a showroom with bamboo floors and a chandelier. No more laundry detergent or Coca-Cola lining the walls, just shirts, jackets, caps, and rows of neon sneakers.

A few hip attendants mosey about, asking if you need help. Once you do, and they fetch your size, you realize the sneakers you picked are nowhere as cool as theirs. But it’s OK. On the outside you’ll have the exclusive kicks — Bodega stocks mostly unusual, hard-to-find sneakers. They may set you back ($45 to $3,000; no, that’s not a misprint, it’s a collector’s edition), but the toilet paper is still cheap: 75 cents.

6 Clearway St.; Boston; www.bdgastore.com

JACK NICAS

A COLD BEER AND A BIG SCREEN
College move-in season always seems to bring with it sweltering weather, at least for the past three years that I’ve had to pack my life into a few boxes, lug them to my dorm room, and then unpack them in musty discomfort. After I’m done, my first stop is any place where I can relax and appreciate the marvel of air conditioning.

In Cambridge, my place of choice is the Somerville Theater, right off the Red Line at Davis Square. Besides air conditioning, the theater offers first-run blockbusters and concessions at some of the lowest prices in town. Weekend matinees cost $7, and any evening showing is $8. The theater also hosts concerts and shows limited-release films.

Inside the auditoriums, dark, dramatic curtains flow down the walls and owl-light fixtures peer out at the audience before the lights are dimmed.

It’s a classy and casual place to go on a date or to indulge yourself post-midterms.

For those looking for a little more than moving pictures on a screen, fear not: The five-screen theater serves wine and beer. Just remember to bring identification — the staff is relentless about carding college-age folk.

55 Davis Square, Somerville; matinee prices before 6 p.m.

PATRICK G. LEE

TRENDY TREAT
By summer’s end, we have all had our fair share of ice cream. As great as the creamy treat may be, sometimes you just need something lighter and less calorie-filled, especially if you plan to preemptively fight off the freshman 15 pounds. BoYo, a fresh and fun frozen yogurt joint in the Beacon Hill area, offers the alternative. Opened last year, boYo, short for Boston Yogurt, serves great-tasting frozen yogurt, sorbet, and gelato, with a wealth of topping options, including fresh pineapple, raspberries, mango, caramel, and Nutella.

On my visit, I chose raspberry frozen yogurt topped with diced kiwis and strawberries. The sweet yogurt combined with the tart fruit for an explosion of flavor that beats soft-serve any day. Enjoy your dessert in the colorful cafe — and benefit from free Wi-Fi — or take it to go and explore the historic neighborhood. Cross Cambridge Street to the old-world streets of Beacon Hill. Discover the charming cobblestones of Acorn Street, or marvel at Louisburg Square, where Senator John F. Kerry resides. These are some of the most expensive homes in Boston, but the streets still feel welcoming. With the rich taste of boYo fresh on your palate, you may just feel right at home.

BoYo Natural Frozen Yogurt, 175 Cambridge St., Boston, 617-227-2696, www.boyofroyo.com

ABBY MCINTYRE

SCENIC BYWAY
Tucked into the suburbs northwest of Boston is an 11-mile stretch of heaven. The Minuteman Bikeway, constructed over the skeleton of train tracks built in 1846, runs from Cambridge’s Alewife Station to Depot Park in Bedford and provides a shady, relatively flat corridor for bikers, inline skaters, joggers, and couples out for a leisurely stroll.

Many childhood memories are tied to this path, from hosting a lemonade stand with my brother to trying — and failing — to learn inline skating. But you don’t need to be a resident to enjoy all the scenic stops along the way. Check out Spy Pond Park in Arlington, the farmer’s market on Lexington Common every Tuesday, 183-acre Great Meadows in East Lexington, and the Freight House at the trailhead in Bedford — all without using a drop of gas.

The path isn’t only a seasonal luxury — both Arlington and Lexington plow it during the winter. It does get crowded, especially on sunny weekends, so remember your bike etiquette and warn people when you’re passing (always on the left).

If 11 miles isn’t enough, I recommend hopping on the road at the end and continuing on into Bedford. Take Route 225 four miles west into Carlisle to Kimball Farm for some of the best ice cream — and biggest portions — in Eastern Massachusetts, then bike off the calories on your way back.

To get there: Red Line to Alewife (bikes allowed on weekends and in off-peak hours on weekdays) www.minutemanbikeway.org.

NATALIE SOUTHWICK

LATE-NIGHT BROWSING
The sign high up on the building shouts “Cambridge Refrigeration Specialists,’’ but those drawn to look under the awning will find something completely different: a vendor of “useful books.’’

Lorem Ipsum Books, a resale shop named after the nonsensical dummy text used in graphic design, is a cozy hideout I often go to late at night after a rowdy romp around town. It’s open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and the post-bar crowd from nearby Bukowski’s Tavern often finds its way here.

But during the day, the Cambrige store — a 10-minute walk from the Red Line’s Central Square stop — is as quiet and calm as a library, a safe haven where you can relax with a book and while away a few hours.

Bursts of air from an overworked fan welcome you into the store, where books are organized by category. Sometimes, the ordering on the display tables gets idiosyncratic, with a David Sedaris book piled next to “Treasure Island’’ and a how-to-knit guide.

Since the books are usually priced at about half of retail value, there’s always a bargain to be found.

1299 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge; 617-497-7669, www.loremipsumbooks.com

PATRICK G. LEE

CANNOLI CULTURE
Ask a discerning gourmand to choose between the cannolis at Modern Pastry and Mike’s Pastry in the North End, and you might be treated to a 10-minute dissertation on the virtues of various pastry fillings. Located barely a block apart, these stalwarts have their loyalists — who, to be fair, are all rewarded. The shops let customers design their own cannolis, and offer gelato and other treats such as eclairs and mousse. Many Bostonians favor one shop, but for an educated opinion, you have to try both.

(And no, I won’t say which I like better. Pick your own!)

Dessert is the main attraction, and I secretly love the post-dinner lines, which often stretch down the block. Maybe it’s the vaguely European sensibility of the neighborhood, or the contagious contentment of so many well-fed diners, but the queues at Mike’s and Modern feel like a scene from a Travel Channel show, where South End foodies rub elbows with tourists from Minneapolis, and everyone is united by their common craving for a sugar fix.

Modern Pastry, 257 Hanover St., 617-523-3783, www.modernpastry.com Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover St., 617-742-3050, www.mikespastry.com

NATALIE SOUTHWICK

Parlez-vous Français?
As someone suffering from an incurable bout of Francophilia, I found my mecca at the French Cultural Center in Boston. Just a couple of blocks from Newbury Street lies the gravitational pull for the French expatriate community in the area.

Here is the country’s second-largest private collection of French books, magazines, and DVDs. Mark your calendar for book clubs, wine tastings, art exhibitions, and French Scrabble.

Don’t speak French? Pas de problème. The bilingual staff welcomes you regardless of ability and offers language courses throughout the year.

Volunteer for Bastille Day in July and admission to Boston’s celebration of the French national holiday is free.

Student membership is $70 a year. French Cultural Center, 53 Marlborough St., 617-912-0400, www.frenchculturalcenter.org

JUNE Q. WU

Contemporary cool
Museums typically take us back in time, to an era of powder wigs, traditional sumo, or hieroglyphics in stone. The Institute of Contemporary Art seems to aim for the opposite effect. With an exterior of aqua translucent glass to complement its location on the waterfront and an interior of simple vertical design, the future may very well be contemporary.

Enter the great glass elevator to reach the exhibits floor and spend some time musing existentially about a not-so-hard-to-find mind-bending piece or picking a favorite work and having your friend guess which one it is.

The ICA rotates most of it exhibits but keeps a small permanent collection ranging from Shepard Fairey’s now legendary prints to a film of sugar cubes melting in a pool of freshly poured oil.

The third floor features a media room straight out of an Apple ad that seems to lean into Boston Harbor, and after time spent seeing the art up close, spend time chilling on the steps under the massive overhang created by the top floors.

100 Northern Ave., Boston; 617-478-3100, www.icaboston.org

NICK CUNKELMAN

North Shore gem
A perfect day-trip destination an hour outside of Boston, Rockport is the quintessential New England fishing village, often overshadowed by the pristine reputation of the North Shore’s beaches.

Saunter through Bearskin Neck — a quaint stretch of old fisherman shacks turned tourist-grazing area. Look through the Floating Lotus for colorful scarves. Stop by Ray Moore Lobster Co. for cheap and fresh over-the-counter seafood or the Fish Shack for a nice sit-down meal.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a double scoop of Purple Cow at The Ice Cream Store. Exchange the change in your pocket for saltwater taffy pieces of every flavor imaginable. Walk down to the docks to enjoy a picturesque sunset over a backdrop of fishing boats and rocky shorelines.

Feeling adventurous? Rent a kayak from the North Shore Kayak Outdoor Center or sail with the Pirate Ship Charters on Tuna Wharf.

Accessible by MBTA Commuter Rail on the Newburyport/ Rockport line.

JUNE Q. WU

Telling ghost stories
Whether you need an escape from the Boston bubble or you want a trip back in time, 14 bucks and a T ride to downtown Boston is all it takes.

Armed with a sweatshirt and a flashlight, I headed to Long Wharf and bought a round-trip ferry ticket to Georges Island. I picked a seat on the boat’s top deck as we traveled seven miles away from the city to the serene (and at times eerie) home of Fort Warren, a preserved Civil War fort that had held 2,200 Confederate prisoners.

Once there, I stopped by the visitors center for a self-guided tour pamphlet and headed off into the 1800s.

I had heard about the ghost of the Lady in Black — a woman said to have gone to the island to free her husband only to be hanged as a spy while wearing black robes — and I entered her supposedly haunted corridor soon after I arrived. Following a ranger from the Department of Recreation and Conservation, I forgot about my flashlight and reached for the wall to find my way. Outside, it was hot and humid; inside, cold and damp. I didn’t linger and was glad to get out.

Ranger Lawrence Walsh said the ghost story came from the fertile mind of Edward Rowe Snow, an author and historian who loved the island so much he made up stories to draw crowds.

People ask about the Lady in Black every day, Walsh said.

The Georges Island ferry runs April to October.

SYDNEY LUPKIN

Library of treasures
The Boston Athenaeum is a trip into history on a road open to the public. The 203-year-old downtown library, one of the oldest independent libraries in the country, is trying to draw more young people by offering lower membership rates for those under 41 ($115 per year) and organizing regular tours. The Athenaeum invites the public to attend noontime concerts and most lectures during the day, and to view its art exhibitions and rooms on the first floor.

Like the Athenaeum itself — easy to miss in a walk down Beacon Street — there are hidden treasures in every corner. In the trustees’ room, you can see most of George Washington’s book collection. Sculptures and paintings include busts from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello mansion. Plush red chairs populate the library, a harpsichord sits in the newspaper reading room, and the stacks extend 12 floors.

Students from nearby Suffolk University and others escape to the Athenaeum to avoid crowded libraries during finals. “This is silent, and that’s why I’m here,’’ said Brian Johnson, 30, a geography student at Indiana University who was writing his doctoral dissertation in the main reading room.

Besides the fee, two personal references are required for membership.

10 1/2 Beacon St., 617-227-0270, www.bostonathenaeum.org

BONNIE KAVOUSSI

Dinner with a side of jazz
Music is good for the soul. So is fresh air. Why not combine them in a short trip west of the city to take in the sounds and scents of the Acton Jazz Cafe. With a menu covering seafood to scrumptious desserts, the best approach is to try to match your dinner with the tunes.

If it’s an R&B band, go with the BLT rollup. For funk, order the spicy turkey chili. Classic big bands open up an array of options, best among them the vegetarian lasagna or chicken stir-fry. And when it’s jazz, that real good jazz, dig into some smooth chocolate mousse.

On Tuesday nights, high school and college-age bands swing the joint as part of “Next Generation AJC,’’ and there is a dance area. Check online to see the performance schedule, and if you’re a musician, bring your chops to the Thursday evening blues jam.

But perhaps the best parts of the cafe are the little things: the triangle-shaped sound insulation tessellating the ceiling, or the TV in the corner that seems tuned to an endless loop of “Planet Earth.’’ Deep down, you can already feel the rhythms.

452 Great Road, Acton, 978-263-6161, www.actonjazzcafe.com

NICK CUNKELMAN

Salsa in the squares
Bring your dancing shoes and head to Conga Tapas Bar in Harvard Square or the Havana Club in Central Square for a night of Latin dance. A restaurant by day, Conga clears its tables in the evening to make room for salsa, merengue, bachata — you name it. Come with friends or in pairs, but be prepared to swap dance partners all night. Don’t know how to salsa? Arrive an hour early for lessons. Dancers of all levels welcome. Full bar available.

Conga Tapas Bar, 1 Eliot St., Cambridge. Lessons at 9 p.m. Open salsa 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday (cover charge $10) Havana Club, 288 Green St., Cambridge. Lessons at 9 p.m. Open salsa from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday (cover charge $12)

JUNE Q. WU