Day 7: The Best Tex-Mex Food in Boston

Another lazy day today – I left the apartment at 3:30… I got up late so walked to the Trader Joe’s just round the corner to buy some food. I love that place! The really friendly bearded cashier gave me free food because it wouldn’t scan. I don’t know whether that’s company policy or whether he was just a nice guy?
Walking there, I was the coldest I’ve been in months – it was 19*C outside but that now feels like sweater weather, such is the hot weather I’ve grown accustomed to. I had goosebumps I was that cold… It got me thinking about which clothes I actually need and which I could afford to send home/sell. I can pretty much make do with 3 T-Shirts and one pair of shorts. I could keep a few more clothes but I think my main bag might be small enough to be counted as hand-luggage, at least on some airlines, which would save me a lot of time and checked baggage fees.
When I finally got into Boston, I found myself in the city centre at the same time the terrorist attacks were happening in Brussels and outside of Buckingham Palace. A few years ago I’d have freaked out but I thought about how slight the odds of anything happening here were and so carried on with my day.
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I returned to Faneuil Hall about 15 minutes before it closed, just in time to catch the last few minutes of a talk that a National Historical Park ranger was giving. Having never studied American Revolutionary history, the Freedom Trail was starting to bore me – a lot of the signs on the trail are repeating very similar information and I had no other perspective to look at things from. If you ever come to Boston, I’d recommend reading up on the Revolution first, if only on Wikipedia, as it would make the trail a lot more interesting. One thing that struck me though was how steeped in irony Faneuil Hall actually is. Built by a merchant who made his money from the slave trade, it was used in later years by dozens of abolitionists speaking out against federal laws on slavery. The centrepiece of the room is a painting of two Senators debating the Union, with the words “Liberty and union now and forever” inscribed underneath. Whilst the state abolished slavery in 1783, it was still compliant with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the courthouse around the corner housed many runaway slaves before they were returned to slavery. So much for liberty…
Around this time (5 pm) the majority of attractions in Boston close. I aimed to go Old North Church which closes at 6 but realised that, as it was quite a far walk from where I was, I wouldn’t have much time there. Instead, I walked past Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant made famous by its obnoxious waiters,  and on to see the Boston Massacre Site. Most people walk over the large memorial plaque but with the 300-year old Old State House, the site of the massacre, still standing and nestled amongst skyscrapers, it’s easy to imagine the mob surrounding the building and the ‘Incident on King Street’ unfurling.
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The Old State House
I ended up at the marina, sat on one of the piers, watching super-yachts and occasionally steamboats come and go. Street performers seem to be actively encouraged in Boston, so the sounds of a busker playing the guitar and the chatter of restaurants nearby made for a really pleasant evening.
A few hours later, I’d arranged to meet Hee Yeon and Greg at one of their favourite restaurants and so got the T back from South Station to Harvard. By this time it was, naturally, fairly busy but I was still got the feeling that I was about to be targeted by a bag snatcher. A guy in a do-rag was giving me weird looks on the platform. He got on after me and then walked back and forth, up and down the carriage. I was sitting in a seat closest to the door and, eventually, he decides to sit on the opposite side of that door, on the same side of the carriage. It wasn’t a problem; I just walked back down the train to another door when getting off so as to keep some distance from him. It did make me realise just how much of an easy target I likely am though – being a baby-faced white guy with a distinctly British accent really does mark you out.
After nipping into one of the Harvard buildings to find somewhere to fill up my water bottle, I met with Hee Yeon and Greg at the Border Cafè, which is popular with students for its Cajun/Tex-Mex food.  On a Friday night, the queues are literally out of the door but for good reason. The chicken bandera I ordered was well worth the wait, as was the chimichurri steak, although it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had. That accolade goes to Abi & Eliav, some family friends of ours. One thing you don’t get in the UK are drinks served in 32oz (1 litre) cups which are constantly being replaced, even if you only about a quarter of the way through one. It doesn’t really make sense – why allow people to fill up on water and therefore order less food? – but I guess that’s American hospitality. Another thing I don’t really understand is how a large proportion of restaurant workers end up living below the poverty line. I know their take home pay is largely composed of tips, as opposed to wages paid by the restaurant, but even with people tipping 10-20%, they still don’t earn enough. I’m sure there’s a reason for this, I just don’t know what it is.
We stopped by CVS on the way back, to get food for a hike in the Appalachians tomorrow, at which point I was freezing cold again. I think it was probably tiredness reducing my ability to control my body temperature. Hopefully, I’ll be well rested before spending a night on an overnight train and then 3 nights in a hostel in D.C. next week but we’ll see…

Day 5: Inside the Massachusetts State House

I was on the T, reading that copy of the Havard Lampoon I picked up yesterday when I realised something. It’s often said that ‘Americans don’t get British humour’ but from what I read, I don’t get American humour. Bits of the magazine were genuinely funny but others just made no sense at all, at least to me. It was almost as if the editors had got high, written the stories and then just decided to go with whatever their frenzied minds had thought up. Here’s a link – does anyone else agree?
Four days after arriving, I finally felt like seeing a bit of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile route through the city stopping at 16 sites significant to the American Revolution. I didn’t feel like rushing through things so decided to skip the walking tour and make use of the booklet I found on the internet, which I’m presuming is the exact same one they charge $13 for? It’s possible to do the entire trail in a day but since I’m here for another four, I thought I’d space it out.
The trail starts on the Boston Common, the oldest public park in America and the place where, over the years, dozens of pirates and ‘witches’ met their end. Martin Luther King Jr. also held a civil rights demonstration there back in the ‘60s. That all sounds good but it was hot and touristy so I left pretty quickly.
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What I mistook for the golden dome of a mosque a few days ago was actually the Massachusetts State House. I was told that tours needed to be pre-booked but found that you could just walk in through the unfortunately named General Hooker Gates and simply just join one.
Tourists seem to have free rein over the majority of the building. The office doors of Senators and Representatives are often left often, to counteract the heat of the New England summer and the Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo’s office is in a publicly accessible corridor. In theory, anyone could just knock and enter. That would almost be the same as me strolling into Parliament and turning up on John Bercow’s doorstep…  Whilst such a way of doing things will undoubtedly be politically motivated, as it’s an easy means of proving transparency, it’s quite surprising just how open state politics here is or at least seems to be.
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This same logic applies to the Massachusetts’ political process itself, or at least in the House of Representatives. There’s no division system, as is the case in British politics: Representatives press a button on their desk to vote and their voting intention is instantly made visible, to all those present, on an electronic voting board. It seems there’s no way for them to hide their vote from their constituents or parties.
Having studied US politics last year, the 30-40 minute tour was extremely interesting. You begin by getting up close to the portrait of Lincoln on which the $5 bill is based. You then move through to Nurses Hall. Murals above you depict James Otis, a lawyer who, in 1761, argued against the British Writs of Assistance in a British court – those writs allowed English soldiers to enter private homes/shops in search of smuggled goods and subsequently seize anything they felt like seizing. Whilst Otis was inevitably unsuccessful in his plea, his case was hugely influential in both the triggering of the American Revolution and, later, in the creation of the 4th Amendment, which protects US citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures.
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Just down the road is the Old Granary Burial Ground which, surprisingly, isn’t as dead as it seems. Waiting outside the gates is a man named Jimmy Cole, a local historian, who lets anyone who’s interested borrow a guide he’s put together. All he asks is that you return it and pay a donation towards his daily living expenses, if you so wish. Looking at faded gravestones is never particularly exciting but I found it worth thinking about how much the people buried here have shaped US history. We’re talking Samuel Adams’ (one of the Founding Fathers’) and Paul Revere (an organiser of the Boston Tea Party and the man whose famous “Midnight Ride” marked the start of the Revolution) as well as the parents of Benjamin Franklin. I’d definitely recommend going, if only for a quick visit.
That was really the end of my day. The next site on the trail was Faneuil Hall but I was exhausted by that stage so decided to go back home and get some food.
You know when you’re so hungry that you’d eat anything despite knowing how bad it is for you? I was feeling like that so threw a pizza in the oven. “No worries. It’s quick, it’s easy!”. Whilst it was cooking I looked at the box. 2,280 calories. So if you fasted for an entire day and then ate just one 12” American pizza, you’d still be going over your recommended calorie intake. No wonder America’s got an obesity problem…