Pahking Ahselves in Bahsten Yahd

My Palm Pre lets me connect to the world fairly well when traveling — I can send/read email, keep up with Facebook, upload photos, etc — but it’s no substitute for a full-sized keyboard and the chance to write a leisurely travelogue. Having no opportunity while we’re gone, I’m playing catch up now.

Boston. NCS. 10th-12th graders. October 24-29, 2009

Boston merits no less than a 5-star rating in my book: friendly people, interesting city, delicious food, incredible variety, beautiful architecture, efficient public transportation, lovely fall weather, more than enough to do for 5 days with a dozen teens in tow. Being in the North again refreshed my spirit.  With apologies to my Southern friends, I’ll take the frank, candid speech of a Yank any day.  Bostonians are blunt but not unkind. I never had bad service or an unkind experience during our stay (though a few of the kids ran into some grumpy older people … funny stories, actually).

We went to Boston to find education, culture, and experience with the broader world. We found more than enough of all three. I doubt a chronological account will be very interesting. so let me pick a few themes to organize my reflections:

Unexpected

No trip ever runs perfectly. Just like “the course of true love,” student travel “never did run smooth.” Due to a mixup over one of Hunter’s luggage pieces, she and Coart were stuck in security and missed the 2:30 flight to Boston. AirTran was very helpful to me (on the other end, at the gate) and I flew with the group with all of the rest of their luggage. (The flight attendant nearly had a heart attack when I showed up at the door of the airplane loaded down with 7 carryon bags.) That sucked, to be frank, and we RElearned a few lessons we should have remembered about travel with a group. But 8 hours later, Coart and Hunter were back with us… no harm done.

Food

Maybe it’s trite, but I tend to place a high value on the quality of a city’s food when making my rankings. Boston did NOT disappoint. Our first night in town, we were out near Fenway Park looking for a sports bar showing the USC/Vanderbilt game. Unfortunately, the city sems to have an 8pm curfew for under-21’s in places that sell alcohol, and we began to worry that our entire group was out of luck unless we went to Wendy’s. We caught the winning Clemson touchdown at a sports bar (before leaving because it was already 7:15), and wandered a few feet down the street to an Irish pub.

A very friendly Irish woman (true Irish! amazing accent) and Boston native (another amazing accent! LOL) welcomed us into the Landsdowne pub, offering to consult the manager to see if we could stay a bit to watch the game. He seated us in a side room, set both TVs to the USC game, and provided us with the most amazing food we could have asked for. Our Irish waitress was literally one of the best servers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Nik bought some chocolate dessert that sent him into a sugar coma/ecstasy, and the evening was complete.

Throughout the week, Coart and I (and any kids hanging out with us at the time) enjoyed food as varied as Thai in Old Salem (so tasty!), the original Boston Cream Pie at the Parker Hotel downtown (bliss!), roasted/candied nuts from a street vendor (couldn’t resist after walking past the guy 4 times), a local burger joint on the corner near our hostel, vintage Italian pizza in Little Italy, gelato too, that amazing peach Tea which I haven’t enjoyed since the last time we were in Italy, and clam chowder/baked beans at the Union Oyster House (oldest restaurant in America!).  Best thing about a big city: the white-people food is so much more interesting, finally!!  

Architecture

Few cities (to me) are as beautiful in their old/new architecture as Boston. Home to the original “brownstone” structures and other distinctive American styles, the city is a feast for the eyes. Look around you on any corner and you’ll see wonderful brickwork, columns, amazing plasterwork, Neoclassical styles. Our hostel was right down the street from the Berklee College of Music, a great example of what greeted us everyday as we traveled around the city.

Like everyone else, we enjoyed the quaint beauty of the Old North Church with its white wood interior and box pews.

The Hancock Church and Hancock Tower bring together the old with the incredibly modern (thanks to I M Pei).

Harvard’s chapel wowed us with incredible stained glass and European-style architecture. Truly, this city is a feast for the eyes.

Getting Around

I love cities which offer clean, efficient public transportation. Boston’s subway was one of the best. The trains ran on schedule and took us pretty close to where we needed to be (most of the time).

Andrew seemed to run into cranky people on this trip. Riding the subway to the hostel our first night, he brushed past a French lady who reamed him out for bumping her. Later some old woman yelled at him for being in the way. I didn’t see it, but the kids said it was pretty funny. Malcolm also got poked by some old lady in the street in Salem, who prodded him with her cane to get out of the way. (!) Hilarious.

My main transportation gripe this time (aside from the initial debacle) centers on the Logan Airport TSA officials who — though incredibly entertaining and friendly — insisted on confiscating the kids’ snow globe for Mrs Smith and Matt’s expensive BoSox souvenir mini-bat as “dangerous.”  What?! Really? Airline security is almost silly these days. Harass enough good citizens and eventually only disgruntled businessmen and terrorists will be left to fly the friendly skies.

Hostel Life

I really enjoy the hostel concept. Recognizing that kids don’t have the money to stay in fancy hotels, hostels provide a cheap, clean, simple alternative. HI-Boston treated us very well. I was impressed from the moment I stepped into the door and met a friendly, helpful girl behind the counter (lip piercing, red hair, and black sweater). She got us checked in and sent us upstairs to 3 small but adequate rooms. I slept fine and had plenty of hot water (and water pressure).

The Boston hostel was smaller than the one we had in NY, and I missed some of the amenities like NY’s large media/TV room. (Boring people seemed to always commandeer this TV room to watch French movies in subtitle… *sigh*). But it was very conveniently located (one block from a subway station) and in a safe neighborhood. Plus, there’s nothing quite like hearing 5 foreign accents within 10 minutes. 

Coolness note: Aforementioned girl was playing BTBAM’s Alaska in the lobby one evening. Trevor & I about fell over… he had just bought the new album which came out that day. We swapped show stories and praise for the talented BTBAM guys. Small world! lol

Ridiculously Huge Museums

I think I walked off the soles of my feet. *groans*  Wednesday was the worst: We were all tired by that point, but we wanted to see the Museum of Fine Arts.  It’s huge.  And by huge, I mean HUGE.  Like…. “Ohmygosh, you mean there’s MORE?!”  … that kind of huge.

This fist-shaped drinking cup dates back to the Hittite empire!

After more than an hour of wonderful Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and European stuff, I wanted out. But I couldn’t find it!! Seriously. Took me 30 minutes to figure out how the heck to get back to the lobby. My attempt took me through the Latino, contemporary art, and Asian collections.  But I never did find the American painting gallery where Trevor discovered one of the paintings we study in my American lit book. Oh well… by that point, my feet had gone on strike. I didn’t care about art, humanities, or lofty ideals. I wanted an EXIT.  And a bench. lol

In 4 days, we saw the Old North Church, the Freedom Trail, the city itself (Duck Tour), the Harvard Natural History Museum (and chapel), Old Salem, the MIT Museum or the Aquarium, Fenway Park, and the Museum of Fine Arts…. along with the pro shop at the TD Garden (where the Bruins and Celtics play). I’m tired just writing it all down…. lol

Overall, a great trip.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of details, but my wrists are tired … this will have to do.

Photos (with captions) are up on Facebook now, and you can tackle a random NCS student for their perspective on what we consider a great trip.  Now: a long weekend break (Monday off! Woot!)… then 2nd quarter.

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