Day 35: Sunday 16th April
Boston has somewhat of a rivalry with Philadelphia for the title of ‘most historic city in the US’ – and I mean historic not necessarily in the sense of oldest, but in the sense of where more influential and historically significant events took place. Philadelphia is where the Declaration of Independence and the US Consitution were signed and for a brief period during the Revolutionary War was the capital city of the US, but Boston played a key role in the American Revolution as well – it was the site of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party (where they threw a bunch of tea overboard as a protest at having to pay taxes on it – oh the horror! Think of all the tea waste!), and the Siege of Boston. Boston was also the home of famous American patriot Paul Revere – the one who warned everyone that the British were coming at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. So Boston and Philadelphia kind of fight over this, and having already seen a little of what Philadelphia has to offer we were keen to see what Boston could bring to the table.
We were lucky enough to know two people in Boston; Anna stayed with her old friend George who she knew from back in Berlin, while I stayed with my friend Jenn who I’d met when we were teaching English in Japan. This meant that Anna got to stay in an MIT dorm room/studio flat (technically in Cambridge, just the other side of the Charles River from Boston), and I got to stay in an intentional community – a mansion full of young people on a fellowship for some interfaith programme, or something like that.
I spent the first evening with Jenn and some of her friends, where we went to a place called Joshua Tree for some beers. Meanwhile, Anna went with her friend and a few others to Happy Lamb Hot Pot, a Mongolian restaurant specialising in – you guessed it – Mongolian hot pots. [Anna: I’d never had anything like it before and it was pretty exciting. You get a base for the hot pot – either meat, veg, or ‘spicy’ – and then order stuff to dunk in it and it cooks in the broth.]
Day 36: Monday 17th April
Somehow, we had managed to time our visit to coincide with the Boston marathon, which was starting pretty near to Jenn’s house. We went and stood at the sideline for a few minutes, joining in with the cheering, before popping into the “Japonaise bakery“, where I was very excited to get some onigiri (rice balls) and melon pan (melon-shaped sweet bread), as well as a coffee which I somehow managed to slice my finger open on (well, the cup, not the actual coffee – that would be weird).
Boston has kindly organised all its historical sights into a conveniently named and marked route called The Freedom Trail – very obliging of them, big thumbs up Boston. More cities should do this – it saves you having to look up all the historical points of interest yourself as you can just follow the trail. It takes around 3 hours to walk, allowing for a bit of time at each site.
We walked over to the Boston Common, America’s first public park (established in 1634), which is where the Freedom Trail starts. On the way, we were delighted to spot a real-life frat house, with boy-children in baseball caps partying out on the streets.
We didn’t hit all the stops on the Freedom Trail, but we did manage to see a few things:
We also attended a free talk at Faneuil Hall about its history (it was the site of America’s first town meeting and is sometimes called the cradle of free speech due to the number of famous speakers and lobbyists who have spoken there. Today it is where US citizenship ceremonies are held.) And, perhaps the coolest part was the real-life printing press, where a very knowledgeable guy in period costume explained how the Declaration of Independence came to be written, and even printed a fresh copy of it off the press. He told us that the early colonisers had believed themselves to be English, but had later found out that they were only considered British, meaning that they didn’t enjoy the same rights as full English citizens. It was fascinating to see the effort that went into publishing one document – all the letters having to be lined up precisely, the ink being brushed over them, and the paper pressed down onto it.
In the room next to it was a chocolate shop, where you could try hot chocolate in its ‘original’ form – a recipe with several spices, including chilli. The ladies in here were dressed in Colonial garb, too, although they didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic and in-character as the press guy.
After a lot of walking, we met up with Anna’s friend George at Harvard Square and went into the student part of the city for some food. To get to him, we had to ride the “T”, Boston’s name for its train/metro system. It strangely gives you your change in dollar coins, which are normally quite rare, and has the most confusing train map I’ve ever seen. Every line branches off into as many as 5 destinations, meaning you really have to pay attention to which train you get onto. George showed us around the Harvard campus, considered by many to be the best university in the world (a lot of different university rankings would agree as well – it usually comes out on top – although George being an MIT man would of course disagree).
After our Harvard tour we headed to Charlie’s Kitchen, where there was a wide selection of beers available, as well as some pretty cheap burgers and sandwiches, before continuing to the Dumpling House for some Chinese food.
Day 37: Tuesday 18th April
We decided to head out of the city for a day trip to Cape Cod. It was a good 2-hour drive, but we went all the way to Provincetown, which is right at the tip of Cape Cod. One of the reasons we wanted to visit was that it’s meant to be one of the most LGBT-friendly towns in America (surprising, right?), and we were pleased to see a lot of same-sex couples walking around, as well as rainbow flags, sex shops and T-shirts with lots of gay-friendly slogans:
It’s a cute little seaside town and has everything you’d imagine from a seaside town – gift shops, fudge, and even fish and chips. We stopped for lunch at The Canteen – the fish and chips looked good but I opted instead for some kind of fish wrap. They had lots of reasonably priced things there, including some vegan options.
We wandered around a little, but it was pretty windy, so our visit to the beach more or less involved walking on a bit of sand, saying “oh, that’s nice”, taking a quick photo and running somewhere warm. We saw this old Provincetown theatre sign though, which is apparently famous:
We then ventured into a saltwater taffy shop and were told that we were allowed to sample the flavours by just helping ourselves. There were so many flavours – shelves and shelves of them, all wrapped in different coloured paper – and it felt somehow wrong to just walk around helping ourselves to different flavours. Still, we tried a couple – saltwater or salted caramel or something – and bought a few. Then, we spotted a fudge shop on our way back to the car and ended up buying a cheeky bit of fudge, too.
Driving back, we all felt sick like the foolish gluttons we are, and decided to stop at a few points along the way. I’m not entirely sure where we ended up, but there were some beaches, which were quite pretty (although it was still rather cold). [Anna: one was the National Seashore and I’m not sure about the other one, but we were looking for some kind of lighthouse that we thought had been promised by a road sign but never materialised.]
The way back also brought us via Plymouth Rock – the famous landing site of the Pilgrims, and a guaranteed way to make me start singing Anything Goes. I was quite amused to see that there is actually a small rock there, surrounded by some kind of… shrine?
We didn’t stick around too long, although apparently the town of Plymouth does have a living museum where you can step back in time, as it were, to the age of the Pilgrims.
It was the night before Anna’s birthday, so we went out for some food. We went to the Giggling Rice Thai, which was more of a take-away than a restaurant but it had some tables – and a free dish of chicken fried rice when you spent over $40! We ordered a load of stuff, including some delicious mango chicken curry, and ended up with far more food than we needed. Still, it was really good! We went to the Sunset Cantina for drinks afterwards, Anna had a couple of margharitas, and saw her birthday in crossing over the Boston University Bridge back to Cambridge.
Day 38: Wednesday 19th April
On our way up to Maine, we planned a stop in Salem. I want to mention that Walden Pond is also just outside Boston – the place where Henry David Thoreau spent two years in his cabin in the woods, learning simplicity and living with the rhythms of nature. We didn’t make it there, although I would have loved to check it out given more time.
Salem, as you probably know, is famous for the Salem Witch Trials – that horrible series of trials and prosecutions in 1692-93, where 20 people were accused of witchcraft and executed. It is from this period in history that we get the term “witch hunt”, used to describe any mass hysteria where an increasing number of people are accused of the sins of the current time (e.g. Communism, terrorism) – you probably know that, but just in case you didn’t, there you go. We felt a little strange visiting a town whose claim to fame is the religiously-motivated murder of innocent people, but were curious to see what was there.
Of course, Salem has really milked its murky heritage – with a Witch Museum, a Witch
House, a Witch Trials Memorial, a Witch Dungeon museum (which promises “witch trial reenactments”) and a Witch Village. I’m not sure whether the residents feel any shame or embarrassment over the trials – it seems as if they are perhaps a little proud. Then again, it might be that morally questionable entrepreneurs have set up shop everywhere, while disgruntled locals roll their eyes and try to fight their way to the shops through crowds of tourists posing in stocks (see right). It was pretty cold and windy when we got out of the car, and it was hard to find parking, so we walked around for a while but didn’t really have the enthusiasm to look at too much – especially after I read this on Wikipedia: “despite being generally known as the Salem Witch Trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in several towns: Salem Village (now Danvers), Salem Town, Ipswich, and Andover. The most infamous trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town” – and felt that Salem was hogging all of the limelight. Also, we wandered into the Witch House and didn’t feel like parting with the $8 for the entry fee ;).
However, we were hungry, and we found a cool, vegan café called Life Alive – their healthy salad bowls were a great injection of green food, as it can often be hard to get your five a day on the road! After that, it was time to keep driving north, to Portland, Maine!