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 6: $10k to have a baby?!

I woke up to find quite a weird text from my brother. He seemed to think that I was considering marching for the KKK as opposed to against them. I’m not really a big fan of bigotry so I’d just like to emphasise the word countermarch here, in case anyone thought I was a closeted racist.

I wasn’t that hungry for most of the day, so kept nipping into supermarkets to buy snacks, as opposed to buying lunch somewhere. I was led to believe that the food here is considerably cheaper than in the U.K. which is weird because almost everything I found on the shelves seemed to be $5.99 or higher. I thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that everything probably is cheaper. The prices only seem higher because food tends to be sold in packets 2 or 3 times larger than the UK equivalent. I’m curious to know why that is. Is it because people eat more, or do they have larger families, or go food shopping less often?

I’ve got a habit of looking at Google Maps, going “Yeah. Yeah. I know where I’m going”, putting my phone away and then ending up in completely the wrong place. Oftentimes it’s a bad idea but occasionally it pays off. I stumbled across the Reading Room of Boston Public Library, which it turns out is a really nice place to write in. The wifi’s a decent speed and the air-con’s not on at a stupidly cold temperature. More importantly though, the room feels like it could be used as a location for films like Harry Potter and the Riot Club – it’s got those green desk lamps that you only really see in old libraries.

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I kept getting distracted so it took me about 4 hours to write 800 words but I finally got it posted. About a 10-minute ride on the T from the library is Faneuil Hall, one of the main attractions in Boston, so I thought I’d take a look. I instantly regretted it. Not because it was overhyped or boring but because I didn’t realise that it’s split into two parts. The whole of the ground floor consists solely of souvenir shops. That closes at 9. The, arguably more interesting, Great Hall upstairs closes at 5. I arrived at 5:25 so all I could do was endeavour to come back another day. Quincy Market’s next door but it wasn’t really anything special – it’s just food you can get elsewhere but with inflated prices. Personally, I wouldn’t even bother but hey, who am I to say?

 

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Just a sign outside Quincy Market. Poor monks.

 

Later on, I met Greg at Porter Square and headed to a ‘cookout’ with some of his old MIT friends. I’ll be honest, these guys (and girls) were ridiculously clever; like Big Bang Theory kind of clever. When large chunks of the conversation are on doctorate-level conditional probability, all you can really do is smile and nod. I did get some really useful advice though: because I’m only 18, I’m too young to get bar work here in Massachusetts, where the minimum age to do so is 21. In Pennsylvania, however, I’m old enough. I can serve alcohol but not legally drink it, which is a bit silly really. It’s never a bad thing to know where you can find work though. I spoke to a guy who’s taking a Post Baccalaureate in neuroscience, which is essentially a two-year course taken in preparation for grad school. Apparently, in America, it’s perfectly normal to declare your major at end of your sophomore year. So, unlike in the UK, where you know in advance which degree you’ll come out with, you don’t need to know here. You just need to be accepted into a college. To me, that seems like a better system.

Speaking to Hee Yeon on the way back, I learnt quite a lot about the American healthcare system and really got a sense of the sheer cost of being ill. Just seeing a doctor for an initial consultation is about $175. If you’re ever considering having a baby, don’t do it in America – the cost of it, when you factor in prenatal and postpartum care is about $10,000. Sure, your insurance will cover a lot of that, but I was told that you still have to pay a deductible before any claims will be paid. For a lot of people, that’s about $2,000 a year. It really does add up! Like most Brits who’ve visited America, I’m now just so, so grateful that we have access to a nationalised health service.