America is 238 years old this year. But from the youthful squeals of glee that fill Boston on July 4, you wouldn’t know it.
“People in Boston are very proud of their city,” a young marine biologist tells me, as she wildly waves an American flag.
Certainly, there is a sense of togetherness here on the most patriotic day in the American calendar.
July 4, or Independence Day, is America’s annual celebration of the Declaration of Independence, which marked the end of British reign. Over by the Old State House, crowds stop for photographs by the balcony where the act was first read out to the state of Massachusetts.
The fact that a Brit should be joining in the jollities brings a wry smile to the faces of the hospitable Americans who I meet. But there’s no time for old grudges here.
“July 4 is the perfect chance to meet up with old friends and family,” says Mary, who has travelled from Maryland to join in the celebrations. “It’s usually hot, so most people go to the beach for a picnic or have a barbecue, and then finish the evening watching fireworks on TV or in town.”
I join a big crowd heading in the direction of the Charles River Esplanade, where the 40th Boston Pops firework display will be held. Fusing classical music and pyrotechnics, the display attracts 500,000 revellers.
“July 4 couldn’t have come at a better time!” laughs a retired fire officer I chat to in Boston Common. “It’s the warmest summer we’ve had in seven years but it’s not too hot for me to get down to the river.”
Gangs of teenage girls fashion US flags into shawls, to cover their shoulders from the blistering heat, while grown men tip their felt Uncle Sam-style hats at people passing by.
In pubs such as The Seven Ale House on Charles Street, locals discuss their plans for the four-day weekend and raise glasses of malty Samuel Adams beer. As the ale is named after one of America’s founding fathers, a born and bred Boston man, it would be rude not to.
Outside, people jostle for the perfect position to watch the fireworks display.
As the last embers fizzle out, it’s time to head back to Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, where resident ‘canine ambassador’ Catie, an 11-year-old black Labrador, is peacefully asleep in the lobby.
After the excitement of the celebrations in Boston, I head to the island of Nantucket, a mere three hours away from the city, for some relaxation.
Long overlooked in favour of better-known beach destinations Martha’s Vineyard and John F Kennedy’s old bayside bolthole Hyannis Point, Nantucket has recently become more accessible thanks to the CapeFLYER train service which launched last year.
The double decker train, which runs from May-September, leisurely rolls through Massachusetts and past the Cape Cod Canal. After reaching Hyannis, we take a one-hour boat trip to Nantucket, an island immortalised in Herman Melville’s famous whaling novel Moby-Dick, with the line: “Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies.”
As we pull into port, rows of blue, grey and brown cedar-tiled homes decked out with US flags come into view.
Even though the 14-mile island, which historically made its money from whaling, swells from a population of 10,000 to 70,000 people during the summer, there is still enough room here to find solitude.
Families splash around in the children’s beach, while hungry crowds gather outside The Juice Bar for cones of ice cream. Yet the Brant Point Lighthouse, a short stroll from my hotel The White Elephant, is a peaceful spot to admire the views.
From the centre of town, it’s only 15 minutes to the vast sand dunes towards Great Point.
While Boston baked on July 4, residents of sleepy Nantucket got their hoses, water pistols and fire trucks at the ready and cooled off with a good soaking. Water fights might not be to everyone’s liking, but luckily there’s still plenty to uncover for those who prefer to stay dry.
A number of famous celebrities and politicians are fans of Nantucket, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, meaning a stay in this quaint town can be fairly pricey. But with plentiful beaches, gorgeous architecture and energetic bike rides, it makes for a pleasant weekend getaway from Boston.
As Melville wrote in Moby-Dick: “My mind was made up to sail in no other than a Nantucket craft, because there was a fine, boisterous something about everything connected with that famous old island, which amazingly pleased me.”