This is long. Get yourself a cuppa cawfee.
I had a bad morning one day in June. Nothing life-altering. Just a woke-up-late, no-clean-laundry, dropped-my-phone-in-my-coffee-cup type of bad morning. And so I booked a trip to Boston.
Thinking back, that may have been an overreaction. I’m still working out that whole “impulse control” thing.
Regardless, I had a bad morning one day in June so I booked a trip to Boston in October because didn’t that just sound lovely and crisp and distant and idyllic and as far away from the monotony as I could get for the cost of a reasonably-priced American Airlines Economy ticket?
Ah, and it was.
Things I didn’t anticipate that morning in June: beginning an American Sign Language Interpreter Training program in August, moving in with my boyfriend in September, getting engaged in January, simultaneously planning a wedding while working full-time and taking classes part-time. So now it’s February. And I took a trip to Boston in October. Because I had a bad morning one day in June. And this is what I remember.
I had my first solo trip under my belt. I had successfully flown myself across the country, spent a day speed-walking the streets of San Fransisco, and rode an Amtrak through the mountains, canyons, and plains of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. Certainly flying into one city and just staying put for a few days would be much easier. Certainly packing would be much simpler as I wouldn’t have to haul a week’s worth of my belongings around the city of San Fransisco all day, no? Less to worry about, right? Less anxiety-provoking…
It was when I called out to my boyfriend in the living room to come lay, literally dead weight pressure, on top of me in bed to help me ground my nerves the evening before my flight that I realized I was still a little green regarding this whole “solo travel” thing.
Oh, but the excitement is in the anticipation. And I was, truly, excited about my second adventure.
I made it to the airport with an appropriate amount of time to spare this go-around. I was checked in, through security, at my gate forcing down a protein bar and some coffee and pretending to read my book (does anybody get any actual reading done in airports?) for the better part of an hour before I boarded the plane and was off on my first flight: DAY→LGA.
Arriving in La Guardia was an unexpected treat to begin my trip. Sitting on the left side of the plane I had an incredible view of Lower Manhattan: Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Empire State Building all in one-fell-swoop as we descended to landing. Back on the ground, my phone immediately lit up with emails and alerts telling me that my flight second flight – LGA→BOS – had been cancelled. I briefly panicked, briefly considered re-routing my trip entirely and spending the next 5 days in New York City recalling the view I had on the plane, and quickly made my way to what was supposed to be my next gate where I found they had already placed my on the next flight out. A short set-back. New York would have to wait. (More on that later…)
I grabbed another coffee (because I like spending 20% the cost of a night in a hostel on an 8oz. airport Americano) and waited. My plane arrived. I got on. And we flew up the jagged east coastline to Boston Logan.
After landing I gathered my things, de-boarded (un-boarded? de-planed?) and started for the exit as one does in an airport – as through a labyrinth. I had done a bit of research preparing for the trip and so I knew I could take the Silver Line to South Station for free from the airport. This would put me within about a half-mile walking distance from my hostel. And such began my first experience on the T – loud, a little scary, but not entirely unpleasant. It was also kind enough to let me know that it would be switching between gas and electric about halfway through the trip. And soon enough we were at South Station. I seem to have a knack for ascending from underground public transit, worse-for-wear from travel, into the heart of a city’s financial district during lunch hour. Silently cursing myself for not working for a start-up or owning even a single pair of Tieks, I tightened my grip on my duffle bag and waddled as quickly as I could through the Financial District into Chinatown and came to stop between Chinatown and the Theater District at my hostel.
If you ever need a cheap place to stay in Boston. If you ever want to have the experience of staying in a hostel. If you want your first experience of hostels to set your expectations so high that you’ll forever be disappointed with any other hostel you stay in, stay in Hosteling International’s Boston Hostel. It’s huge and bright and clean and beautiful. And it captured my heart with its nod to the hostel I stayed in while in San Fransisco.
I got into my room, unpacked, freshened up, and set out for the evening. My first goal was dinner. My second goal was free entertainment. After about a mile walk, having passed approximately three dozen Dunkin’ Donuts – give or take – I ended up at Flour Bakery off of Congress Street. It was cooling down outside and a bit misty and so stepping into the cozy, warm bakery was a welcome home. I got a roasted turkey sandwich, some eggplant parmesan soup to help me warm up, and a cookie for later. I stayed there a while, sitting, and reading, and be-ing. A funny thing about being inside a place like that – it doesn’t feel much different from home. I could be in Dayton or Boston or Australia. Sitting and drinking coffee and reading with quiet conversation bubbling in the background – the familiarity itself becomes disorienting. A funny thing about spending time alone – the more you do it, the less aware you become of your alone-ness.
Eventually I cleaned up my table and set out for the Institute of Contemporary Art. The museum is free from 5pm to close every Thursday and I’m so glad I took advantage of the opportunity to drop in. After taking in the view of the Harbor from the expansive back steps of the building, the first, and most worthwhile installation I saw was Nalini Malani’s “In Search of Vanished Blood”. I’ll borrow a photo from the Boston Globe to post here.
“The work comprises six 11-minute video projections streamed around the room through five clear Mylar cylinders, hand-painted with a variety of cultural and historical iconography, which hang in the center of the room. As the Mylar cylinders rotate, the colorful and layered imagery is projected onto the walls, creating a magical environment reminiscent of lantern slide presentations and other proto-cinema experiments in the 18th and 19th centuries.” You can read more about it on the ICA’s website. The piece was hauntingly beautiful, strikingly painful, immersive, mesmerizing. Interestingly, the video ends with ASL finger-spelled letters flashing with increasing speed and intensity. I spoke with a docent about the artist’s connection to the Deaf community. The docent wasn’t aware of any direct connection, that the artist had used that imagery to represent women’s oppression and silence. I do wonder how much the artist knows about the Deaf community’s own history of oppression, and how they would view their language representing “silence”.
After winding my way through the museum, I started out to return to the hostel for the night. It was beyond dusk by then and beginning to spit rain. By the time I made it back to South Station it was pouring. I went inside to buy and umbrella and, finding none, wandered around the shops there until either the rain stopped or I stopped waiting for it to stop – I can’t recall – and walked/ran/scurried the rest of the way back to the hostel, stopping only for a small cup of Dunkin’ Decaf to go with my leftover cookie from Flour, and settled in for the night.
Friday was Freedom Trail day. On the way to begin the Freedom Trail I stumbled upon the cutest outdoor used bookstore called Brattle Book Shop. (I would visit at least 3-4 more used bookstores over the next few days). I was browsing through the shelves when I came across Anne Lamott’s “Bird By Bird”. I’d be surprised to learn of a more well-loved book about writing. I’ve borrowed this book before – from friends, from libraries – and I finally have a copy of my own to keep. I just had to fly to Boston to find it.
No one is allowed to visit Boston without doing the Freedom Trail, and if you don’t they throw you in olde-timey-jail, or so I am told. You can pay for a tour guide in a costume to prance around Boston with you or you can do what I did: pin-drop all the Freedom Trail sites into your Maps app in order, sip on your coffee, and listen to some music through your earbuds while the app tells you exactly where to walk. You look like you know where you’re going, nobody is any wiser to your ploy, and you can conspicuously listen in on the tours as you please. The Freedom Trail is a couple mile walk through Boston that includes some pretty cool historical sites. I ate a bowl of New England clam chowder at Quincy Market which I suppose seems significant enough to include here. I saw a lot of really old things, and took a lot of pictures of things other people were also taking pictures of. Here are some of those.
I reached the USS Constitution – the end of the line as far as the Freedom Trail is concerned – and hopped on a ferry back to Long Wharf, not too terribly far from where I’d been at the ICA the night before, and trekked back once more to the hostel.
Just before reaching my destination I stopped at a grimy pizza place on the corner adjacent to the hostel. This would, in fact, be the first of three times I would frequent this corner shop during my trip. Even now, months later, I still think about this pizza on a near-daily basis.
I took some time to veg at the hostel. I tried to take a nap, but was too restless. I’m learning I have a really difficult time resting on these solo trips. I feel such enormous pressure to take advantage of my time, to “see it all” and make many vivid memories for myself, which doesn’t allow for a lot of sitting and relaxing. I finally showered and got ready to go out for the night. I had bought a cheap ticket to see some local stand-up at a nearby theater but didn’t have the patience to wait around the hostel until showtime. Instead I took a long, winding walk through Boston Common and Boston Public Garden. The sun was setting and the moon was magnificent and I briefly followed an older, distinguished looking grey-haired woman who looked to be with her two daughters walking around the Common. The way she said the word “beautiful” was so endearing – Minnesotan – “byootiful”. I heard her impart to them that she would never forget that night. I have no idea what made that night so special for the three, but hearing her share that that was, well “byootiful”.
I arrived at the theater and after realizing that I was not, in fact, the only one in attendance, that my Diet Coke had not been spiked with any questionable drugs, and that I was not indeed going to be killed in the basement of the club, the comedy show was actually pretty great. They were all local comedians and so I got a bit of insight into the culture. On the way home I stopped into Jaho Coffee & Tea for some drinking chocolate, which was not a regrettable decision.
The next day I had another big day planned. This, of course, included more walking which was important because of all the calories I would be consuming participating in Boston Chocolate’s Cupcake Crawl! I joined a group for a walking tour of bakeries throughout the Back Bay area of Boston. We serendipitously made a stop at another Flour Bakery location as well as CuppaCoffee (where I tasted a lamington for the first time) and the famous Georgetown Cupcakes.
The tour ended a short distance from Copley Square which includes such sites as Trinity Church, the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and Boston Public Library. I happened to stumble upon the Boston Book Festival taking place at Copley that day and so after wandering through the sprawling rooms and hallways of the Public Library, I grabbed some lunch from Bon Me food truck and sat down curbside to listen to some local music and do some quality people watching.
That night I had tickets to a show called Shear Madness which is a comedy murder whodunit that takes place in a hair salon. The theater was very intimate which was perfect for the interactive nature of the show. It was a highlight of the trip and made for the perfect Saturday night. I honestly laughed until my stomach hurt and would recommend the show to anyone.
The following day was Sunday – my last full day in Boston. I had another full day planned beginning with a fall foliage riverboat tour up the St. Charles river past MIT, Boston University, and Harvard. I was also planning on spending the afternoon and evening in Cambridge. I had a pretty long walk in the morning to get to the starting place of the riverboat cruise, but it was only a small bother because the walk was through the gorgeous brickstreet-laeden Beacon Hill area of Boston. I stopped at yet another bakery – Tatte Bakery & Cafe. Having been a patron at a majority of Boston’s bakeries at this point, I can easily say that Tatte was the most beautiful. Their display cases are overflowing with oversized pastries. It was impossible to choose which to try. I ended up with some sort of spinach and cream cheese danish and a pistachio “nut box”. Neither proved disappointing.
I reached the St. Charles river and boarded the small riverboat. The tour was actually pretty engaging and informative and we were able to glimpse some beautiful shots of Boston and Cambridge and the changing fall colors.
By the time the cruise was over I was feeling… not right. Not the fault of the boat – I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten seasick – just… not right. I couldn’t bring myself to make the trip afternoon to Cambridge. It seemed too far away and too stressful, for whatever reason, at the time. I was forced to give into my body and my emotional state, and maybe my instinct, and instead of an evening out in Cambridge, I picked up some cheese and olives and crackers at a deli in Beacon Hill (that sold Jeni’s Ice Cream! Shout out, to Columbus!) on the way back to the hostel. I relaxed in my bunk and watched some Netflix and ate my snacks. Later that night I went out again – to do a bit of shopping at Primark – but I took it easy. Instead, exchanging the sights of the big city for conversation with two women bunking across the room from me. They were retired teachers who now travel together frequently and were in the middle of a month-or-so long trip. Surprisingly, they had lived in Cincinnati and were very familiar with the Dayton area. To say it’s a small world is not a cliche – it is in fact a beautiful truth – and it seems to become more true with each journey I take. I’m glad I stayed in that night. Quiet and connection and conversation were what I needed.
Having been re-feuled by the previous night, I decided to take a lightning quick trip over to Cambridge to see Harvard in the morning before leaving for my flight. I’m happy I did go, if only just to see that Miami University is still “the most beautiful campus there ever was”.
I hopped on the T to return one last time to the hostel, gathered my belongings and set out on foot to South Station where I would board the Silver Line T to Logan and fly home.
I think I’ll go to Boston
I think that I’m just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind
I think I need a sunrise, I’m tired of the sunset
I hear its nice in the summer, some snow would be nice
Boston, where no one knows my name
Next up: New York, New York. September 2017.