You can learn a lot about an area through Google Maps; so much, in fact, that you can fool yourself into believing that you really know a place. However, my recent trip to Chelsea, MA taught me that you need to actually visit an area to know what it’s really like.
While I like taking trips around the greater Boston area, Chelsea was never really on my list of mini-excursions. Although Chelsea is right across the river from Boston, it’s not at all touristy. Regardless, I did visit this commuter home base as a result of a very exciting and highly-anticipated opportunity —my COVID vaccination appointment 🙂
Traveling to Chelsea from downtown Boston is easy even without a car. Conveniently, Chelsea is the first stop on Boston’s Commuter Rail from North Station on the Newburyport/ Rockport line. Similarly, from South Station, one can travel along the Silver Line (SL3) bus route to Chelsea for the same price and have access to two more in-city destinations.
In preparation for my vaccination appointment, I decided to learn a little bit more about Chelsea. According to Wikipedia (the starting point of all of my “research”), Chelsea at only 2.21 square miles is the smallest city by area and the second most densely populated city in Massachusetts. Additionally, 45.4% of Chelsea residents are foreign born, which is about 3.3 times the national average. Many of these immigrants come from Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. From online images, Chelsea is a pretty urban peninsula framed by the Mystic River, Chelsea Creek, and Mill Creek.
I won’t say that the internet lies… but Chelsea’s online profile picture is prettier than Chelsea IRL (in real life). Because I’m a cheap-o, I visited Chelsea by bus and walked about a half mile to my appointment, which allowed me to see more of the city. It was a beautiful day; the water sparkled as we crossed the bridge by bus into Chelsea. Like much of Boston and its surrounding parts, the architecture in Chelsea is a mixed style with rows of red brick buildings as well as shingle-styled properties. As I stepped off the bus, however, it became clear to me that Chelsea is… complicated.
An upscale apartment complex sits right near the bus station. The lawn there was manicured and was actually being pruned by landscape workers as I walked by. However, perhaps this area of Chelsea is just a small slice of the pie as the rest of what I saw was, well… not that. The first thing that struck me about walking through downtown Chelsea was the litter. There were smashed paper cups in the bushes, used paper products plastered to the sidewalks, and old, worn clothing literally hanging from trees. Needless to say the disorder of it all did not leave me with a great impression of things.
Another observation was the vast amount of construction projects. There were at least three construction zones restricting traffic during my visit. Apparently, these efforts are a part of a major reconstruction project to replace water/ sewer infrastructure as well as improve roadways. Fortunately, it seems that this project will be a great benefit to all residents; however, unfortunately, it is not expected to be completed until 2025.
With the trash and construction, even on this beautiful day, the streets of Chelsea were disenchanting. The lay of the land can tell you a lot about a place There are neighborhoods that are filled with yoga studios, smoothie shops, and cafes. Chelsea, on the contrary, is filled with small convenience stores with barred windows, laundromats, businesses advertising money-wiring services, and a diversity of food joints that will ravage your arteries. In short, Chelsea just does not have a ‘take a load off and stay awhile’ sort of vibe. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I saw two men on a street corner transferring some chalky substance from their hands into their bodies via their nostrils. Not sure what that was about, but I crossed the street, just to be safe.
If you live in Chelsea, I’m sure you see a more holistic picture of the city than my one-time ramble down a few streets. However, if you’re looking for some Boston-area excursions, well, I hope I could at least help you narrow down your search.