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Ugly Walks

Off Campus | September 23, 2013

Well, school has started. Commence the late nights in Tisch, the bustle of extra-curriculars, and the hazy swoon of this morning’s latté mixed with last night’s tequila shots. Most of it is fun, but it’s certainly draining.

That’s why I like to take walks. What simpler way to escape the scramble of student life than putting one foot in front of the other for an hour or two?

Now, there are lots of beautiful walks in the area—the Middlesex Fells, the Mystic Lakes, and so on. But I’m not going to write about them. You probably already know them, and if you don’t, Google can tell you more than I can.

I’d rather share with you three of the outstanding ‘ugly’ walks I’ve taken through our cityscape.

Why these ‘ugly’ walks? Because you can find unexpected treasures when you leave the beaten path. We live in this city, so let us explore all of its urban sprawl. Leave behind for a while Boston’s leafy parks and tidy suburbs; instead, strap on some sneakers and take one of these ‘ugly’ walks through concrete and rubble.

Tufts to Sullivan Square

Credit: Alison Graham

Few Tufts students ever take Broadway farther east than Soundbites. How could we pass up those pancakes? But once you clean the syrup from your face, an hour’s walk east will take you through some of Somerville’s best ugliness, culminating in Sullivan Square.

A few minutes from Ball Square, you’ll find Magoun Square: a cluster of little shops with tacky awnings.Several pizzerias and Chinese joints buzz with the hiss of grills. Inside, a melange of Portuguese, Spanish, Creole, and Boston accents floats in the air. There are even some bars, if you’d prefer to walk a little wobbly.

Leaving Magoun and entering Winter Hill, Broadway passes by storefronts with chipped paint and old brick. The sidewalk gradually decays and turns to dirt, apparently for some construction that’s not really happening.

Along the way, you’ll stumble on a sign reading Mercearia Brasileira. Then another. Then another. These small Brazilian and Latin American markets dot Broadway for quite a stretch. Add to that a few rather good hole-in-the-walls. Get the soup at Mamma Lisa’s near Temple St, or some Ethiopian food at Fasika.

Finally, Broadway ends in the concrete chaos of Sullivan Square. Go to the T station. Directly above, on massive grey pillars, I-93 throbs with traffic. Behind, the T rails sing and screech with passing trains. Before is a huge rotary, a whirlpool of jostling cars. Over all towers a power plant, its chimneys bellowing white smoke. And farther off, the Boston skyline. It is arresting, the bigness and busyness of the place.

Tufts to Mystic River Reservation

Credit: Alison Graham

Here’s a forty-minute walk from Tufts, to the Mystic River Reservation, a lovely but little known riverside park. It’s hidden in a maze of run-down strips and busy thoroughfares, but well worth the trip.

From Tufts, start going south down Boston Ave. After gazing on the dingy windows of a tall warehouse, hang a left on Harvard St. and pass under the railroad bridge. Continue through the residential blocs of Medford; when you hit Main St, check out Oasis for some Brazilian barbeque.

Keep going down Harvard until you reach Mystic Ave. Take in the odd beauty of its ramshackle auto-shops. Savor its visual feast of billboards and LED placards, the windmill spinning in the distance. Then cross the road and keep going straight on the Mystic Valley Parkway into the shade of a highway overpass.

You’ll reach a bridge over the Mystic River. On it, the juxtaposition of the winding, lily-padded waters with the traffic’s furious roar is strangely pleasing. Take it in for a bit.

On the other side, there is the Meadow Glen Mall. It’s a funky place, where old men sit in the tacky food court and crack jokes. Local tweens roam the shops on nervous first dates. Pop in if you’d like; otherwise keep right on the Mystic Valley Parkway.

You’ll see some paths dart off the sidewalk into a wall of trees. This is the Mystic River Reservation. Go in and lie on its wide fields of lush grass, contemplate the swaying willows, the reedy riverbanks and meandering ways. You’ll be surprised that all that ugly urban sprawl could surround such a pretty park.

South Station to Castle Island

This one’s a trek from Tufts, but the hour walk features some prime ugliness snuggled between exciting downtown Boston and beautiful Castle Island.

Take the T down to South Station. Then go north on Atlantic Ave until you hit Seaport Blvd and hang right. Notice the beautiful rust of the old bridge nearby, and look over your shoulder at the perfect view of Boston’s skyscrapers.

You’ll notice Seaport Blvd is not so ugly. There’s the Institute of Contemporary Art and some great restaurants and bars overlooking the harbor. As you go down Seaport, you get deeper and deeper into the marine park. Great warehouses populate this commercial complex. Walk by the Boston Design Center, a warehouse that rises eight stories over the water. Or take a stroll along Summer St, and pass over the man-made inlet that serves as a cruise ship terminal. Once you’ve crossed over, go east on 1st St.

On 1st St, you’ll be right next to a massive maritime shipping yard, with stacks upon stacks of huge freight containers from all over the world. I would certainly not suggest you sneak in and wander about these great metallic mountains; that would be illegal. Of course I would never do anything illegal.

Continue along 1st St until you hit Castle Island Park (not really an island). It’s a beautiful fort from Boston’s bygone years transformed into a park. It offers a great view of the mouth of Boston harbor and the islands beyond. Sit there a bit and watch the ferries go by.

There is no public transport from Castle Island, so you’ll have to walk back where you came from and jump on a bus.

Those are just three of this city’s many ‘ugly’ walks. There are many more; veer from the well-worn path yourself, and see what other hidden beauty you can find.