This is the second of three posts about our trip to New York, Boston and Cape Cod in September 2018.
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Getting to Boston
We took the Amtrak train from New York to Boston. Penn Station has certainly been modernised since we lived in New Jersey in the 1990s, but you still have to go down into the bowels of the earth to get on the train which is in a tunnel for some time after it leaves.
It was a pleasant journey, for most of the time, passing many inlets with boat marinas in Connecticut.
When we got nearer to Boston it became very dark and the heavens opened. It was also clear that the train was going to arrive late, in fact about 40 minutes late – British trains aren’t the only ones that are late. It had just about stopped raining when we arrived and we soon found a taxi even though there did not appear to be an official taxi rank and dispatcher at Boston South Station.
Staying in the other Cambridge
We were right in the rush hour and it took a while to get to Irving House at Harvard, our B&B in Cambridge. This was a nice B&B with help yourself breakfast, and tea, coffee and cake available all day.
We were, however, on the top floor which required four flights of stairs to the basement eating area. They told us that it would be difficult install a lift in an old building.
We were close to Harvard University and soon found a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I had looked for the Indian restaurant where I had a great meal with some digital humanities people in the 1990s, but it seemed to have disappeared. There were plenty of fast food outlets, all full of students. After dinner we had a good browse in Harvard University bookstore and managed to only buy 2 books.
A day in Boston
The Boston subway is called the T and the next day (a Friday) we took the T from Harvard Square to downtown. It was still quite warm, although nothing like it was earlier in the week. It was also somewhat cloudy.
Our first stop was the AAA as we needed some more information and maps about Cape Cod. Very fortunately we had spotted that they are not open at weekends.
After lunch we took the hop-on hop-off Old Town Trolley (open-sided bus) tour around Boston.
This was excellent with the driver/guide pointing out many places of interest. Boston has more history than almost anywhere else in the US and it soon became clear that the British were the baddies for most of the time – it’s really illuminating to get another country’s view of its interactions with the British.
We first went north by the harbour, ten close to the house of Paul Revere whose midnight ride alerted patriots to the arrival of the British forces. Next was the Charlestown Navy Yard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with its huge modern buildings. Then it was on through the lovely old houses on Beacon Hill and along the Back Bay, where I stayed the last time I was in Boston for the very last meeting I went to in North America before I came back to the UK from Canada.
We hopped off at the Prudential Center which is the highest tower that you can now go up in Boston – the viewing deck on the Hancock Tower, which I went up once in the 1990s, has been closed since 9/11. The viewing area gave an excellent view all round, including planes landing at Logan airport which is very close.
There was also an excellent exhibition on immigration to the Boston area. Perhaps some of our politicians (and tabloids) could take note of this quote:
“The economic lesson here is that countries needn’t worry about too many foreign workers entering their labor markets. The time to worry is when the immigrants stop coming”
(J. Riley, Wall Street Journal 2014)
We hopped back on the trolley and went past Copley Square where we stayed on our first visit to Boston in 1977, then along by Boston Common and back to the Aquarium through the old town past the Omni Parker House Hotel where JKF proposed to Jackie, Faneuil Hall, which was built as a meeting place in 1740-1742, and finally past the site of the Boston Tea Party.
Back near Harvard we had a pub type meal sitting outside and then browsed in another large bookstore.
Another day in Boston
Saturday was a bit warmer. We took the T downtown to the Aquarium again and then a 45 minute boat tour around the harbour where it was easier to see how much of the city is on reclaimed land. We managed to get a sandwich lunch at Quincy Market which was very crowded indeed.
Next was a 10 minute local ferry ride to Charlestown to visit the USS Constitution, a navy vessel launched in 1797, which last sailed in 2012.
The ship and the museum next to it chart US naval history and modern day members of the US Navy are on hand to give talks answer questions. Martin disappeared down the very steep steps to see the decks below where there was little headroom, but I passed on this.
Back in town we walked some of the Freedom Trail. This route passes many of the places of historical interest in Boston. There is plenty of tourist information about it but you can’t get lost as there’s a red line on the pavement all the way. We joined more crowds in Boston Common, which is the oldest city park in the US, before dinner at Bean Deck and back to Irving House.
We looked round Harvard a bit more on the way to the T to pick up our rental car on Sunday morning. The architecture is quite different from Oxford. Most of the buildings surround a huge area called Harvard Yard and almost all them are red brick. Most imposing is the front of the Widener Library with steps leading up to a row of Corinthian columns.
I ought to be able to remember, but don’t, which building I was in when I gave a professional development talk to a group of librarians and others at Harvard in 1992.
Harvard’s endowent is larger than that of any other university. The number of undergraduate students is about 6700, very small by UK standards. There are just over 15000 graduate students. Most students get generous financial aid and pay little if no fees which is perhaps as well as tuition, room, board and fees come to over $65,000 per year.