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 3: (Almost) meeting Obama. No really.

I was told by Reddit that you can get into part of the Harvard Law School Library without being a student. This morning, I planned to write my blog in there, just to be able to say I had. But, since it was 28℃ outside, I decided I’d write for a few hours under the shade in one of the courtyards instead. It was quite an interesting time to be in Harvard actually since it was move-in day for the Class of 2021. I could have been walking amongst future US Presidents without even knowing it.
Close to the law campus is a supermarket-cum-deli called Market in the Square. What I didn’t realise is that just around the corner is Harvard Square. You’d have thought the name would have given it away, but I was so hungry by that point that I gave in to prices way outside of my budget. Put it like this: I paid the equivalent of 7 Gregg’s sausage rolls for half a sandwich. It was, in fairness, a Philly Cheese Steak.
I booked a Hahvard tour for 3:30pm online, largely because they’re run by Harvard students. I thought I’d missed it but in the end, I somehow managed to blag a free tour. Presuming that the one I came across had just started, I slipped into its ranks as subtly as I could. As it turns out, I’d just barged my way into a private tour. The Mississippi-born tour guide called me out on it, and rightly so, but the Hawaiian tourists who’d paid fairly large amounts of money for it kindly let me stay. I learnt a fair bit in that tour. Did you know, for instance, that Harvard tuition is completely free, for all 4 years, if your household income is less than $60,000 per year? The best thing though was hearing about the Harvard students who mugged off Trump so badly that he went on to sue the university.
It was as we were grouped around the Harvard Lampoon’s office building that our tour guide suddenly pulls out her phone with a text from a friend: “OMFG! I’ve just seen Malia Obama!”. For those who didn’t know, Obama’s eldest daughter is starting at Harvard this autumn, having taken a gap year in South Africa last year. Like everyone else, she was somewhere in Harvard, moving into her dorm with her parents.  So, technically, the title is only semi-true but hey, it could have happened! I could have turned any corner and bumped into him. As it happens, I didn’t.
All Hahvard tours are valid for any time slot – you book in the morning and turn up whenever you feel like it. On the basis that I technically hadn’t used my public tour ticket yet, I decided to join the 4:30 tour, in order to see the bits I’d previously missed. My tour guide, Cormac, a rising senior i.e. he’s going into his senior year, made 70 minutes fly by and was extremely clued up on Harvard-related anecdotes. I always thought that the Naked Mile in American Pie was rooted in fiction. It’s not. Each December, as the bell chimes at midnight for the beginning of finals week, hundreds, if not thousands of Harvard students strip and run laps around the Yard, as part of a tradition known as Primal Scream. I can see why that would be good stress relief.
I think I overdid it a bit today. Walking 14km in 30℃ heat didn’t seem that bad at the time – the weather’s not particularly sticky or humid so you acclimatise relatively quickly. It does take it out of you though and I got back to Alewife and completely crashed. I think I’ll take it easy tomorrow.