Boston & Providence

When I think back to my reasons for coming to the USA for the first time, it was primarily for the universities. I had this grand dream that I could graduate in the UK and then go on to do a PhD Stateside, but now travel is what dominates my dreams practically on a daily basis and let’s face it travel is a far more practical (and certainly cheaper!) option. But when I was dreaming of USA study, I thought it would be good to go and see some of the best universities not only in the USA but also the World. So I choose to fly into Boston to see Harvard, MIT and then I could pop over to Brown in Providence and Yale in New Haven before going down to New York for NYU and Columbia so that’s just what I did.

BOSTON
I remember my first impressions of Boston and thus the USA being somewhat negative. Although the sun was shining and on the whole people were friendly there was something that I couldn’t quite place. It took a while but eventually I realized that of all the places I had been too and all the things I had seen, this country had some serious money thrown at it and you either had it or you didn’t. Those that did were something important and those that didn’t, well… by comparison they’re not. Money means things in the US more so than it does back home in the UK, at least that’s how it came across to me at any rate. This was something that I got used to over time and to be honest I’m not entirely sure what I was really expecting. Perhaps I thought that the USA was some exotic country that was vastly different to the UK and I wasn’t seeing it so I got disappointed. I guess that is true in a sense, it is vastly different and yet very similar and the country itself is huge so it will obviously vary from coast to coast. I just hadn’t seen it yet. Although the reliance on wealth and the disparity of it was disheartening, I came to accept that I couldn’t judge the entire country and it’s pros and cons on one tiny corner of it. My first, if you will, of my life travel lessons that I have learnt.So in Boston the weather was glorious and myself and the mate I was travelling with decided to walk most places. Mainly due to the fact that I am seriously tight with spending money. Unless it’s on beer 🙂 Trying to navigate the transit system was interesting. If you arrive at Boston’s Logan International, there are free (I think) or at least very cheap buses to the metro where you can purchase a Charlie card similar to a Oyster card here in London. The first day we ended up on Boston Common where we chilled for a while before heading out and walking as far as Harvard University via MIT. This was a longer walk than anticipated but it did mean we got to enjoy the weather and build up an appetite. MIT as a university I wasn’t too impressed with. I had had impressions of old red brick buildings with steeples and big bold libraries. Basically I was thinking of Harvard. MIT did have its quirks and to be fair if you want to see some interesting buildings and sculptures then look no further, but if you want a classic American Redbrick University then head to Harvard. It was everything I had imagined and I was genuinely excited about the prospect that some day I may be applying to an American university just like it for myself. If you do go then take some time to chill and people watch. It’s one of my favourite past-times. We choose the steps of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. You could see students giving open day tours and various societies at their meets. I recently found out the pleasant green area which sits before the Library covers several floors of books below it. Harvard isn’t a world top 3 for nothing! If you’re feeling up to it there are tours that explore the university, but I can’t comment on how good they are as tours aren’t really my thing as I learnt in India.The second day was spent exploring the Liberty or Freedom Trail. Boston is an important city for Modern America. There is a path mapped out on the road that leads from the State House (look for a big golden dome) through the city to all the landmarks of significance for independence. Take your time with it as it’s a nice walk and you really do get to see some cool sites such as the Holocaust Memorial, Benjamin Franklin’s grave, the Old State House where the Constitution was signed, Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution, a bonus being most of it is free. Apparently, there is a bar where it is the only place in the world where you can look at Samuel Adam’s grave while drinking the beer named after him. The walk also meant that we got to explore Little Italy. Here we got a taste of our first proper hearty American meal. Meatball sandwiches – outrageously delicious but in the words of George Takei “oh my!” There were way way way too filling! We may as well have got one between us and then perhaps we would have finished it! If you do the walk, take some time to explore the Old North Church and the graveyard. It is a bit of peace and quiet within the city but mainly to work off that beast of a lunch or perhaps lose yourself in the market just off of the main city square. Either way follow on to Bunker Hill across the water, which resembles a miniature version of the Washington Monument in DC. You can go up, but we decided against it due to a large group of school kids ascending at that time. After our quiet walk, punctuated only by a demonstration of old Civil War weaponry we headed back to Downtown Boston. When we went it was not long after the Boston Bombings and our walk back to town took us along one of the main thoroughfares of the city (Boylston Street). Next to Trinity Church there was an amazing collection of tributes and donations titled “We Are Boston Strong”. There was at the time, a huge sense of community spirit which was pretty uplifting to see and experience. I have to hand it to the Americans, in the face of adversity they do unite.As the days passed and I settled into the American way of doing things, I came to enjoy Boston immensely. It certainly has a British vibe about it and I guess in part that is why the region it is in is called New England. One thing I came to love was the buildings. The suburban sprawl of the city was rather quaint. Similar to that of Greenwich Village in New York. This experience was in part helped by meeting some decent people at our hostel. We stayed at the Hi Hostel International located on Stuart Street. It is centrally located, decently priced and has a range of amenities to make for an entertaining stay. It was and still is one of the best places I’ve stayed in. Seriously top notch. Look out for food nights and organised events. A great one is the bar crawl. Of course there are other events for those of you who don’t drink but we met quite a few people on the crawl with individuals from as far away as South America, Asia and Europe. It was an eclectic mix and it really was a great night out. It reminded me a bit of being back at university. The nightlife in Boston is pretty good. In fact we spent more nights out in Boston than we did in New York City! Naturally the free buffet breakfast offered by the hostel can cure the worst of hangovers, but don’t forget to try food outside. The meatball sandwich from Little Italy was excellent but there are an assortment to satisfy all tastes. I can’t remember which eatery we were in but it did have a mural of Vesuvius erupting so perhaps if you’re there you can keep an eye (or two) out for it. Check out China Town or perhaps the “Food Experience” located somewhere downtown for more options. I forget now where exactly but there’s more choices of food that you can take in and we settled for an excellent potion of thai curry. I’d say use the decent weather to check out some of the sites. The Holocaust memorial near the city center is simple yet profound. Being made of glass it looks rather beautiful in the sunlight; but make sure you study the glass up close it’s not as plain as you/d first expect; you’ll know what I mean when you see it. Also take a walk to Fenway park, just don’t get run over on the freeways. It can be a bit of a maze navigating them. Lastly enjoy the parks and commons. Boston Common (the oldest public park in the USA) plays host to all manner of people; dog walkers, buskers, sports people, and those dressed up in costume ready to take guests through the history of this young but vastly important city. Heck you might even photobomb a few prom photos like we did!PROVIDENCE
The state capital of Rhode Island. Providence is home to Brown University and what I came to call Student Mile. The city itself is small and the bus journey is not particularly strenuous. It can easily be done in a single day from Boston. Though do be careful which depot your bus leaves from and at what time. For us, it did not correspond to what was on the ticket. That said we arrived pretty early and as had been the norm since arriving Stateside the sun was shining. We used this decent weather to explore the State House and walk part of the Independence Trail. Similar to the one in Boston, it takes you around the city past many of the important monuments and brings you back to the center of town. We had crisscrossed this path many times in the day and when we were told that the next bus was in three hours we decided to walk it from start to finish. We saw the oldest Baptist Church in the United States, came across a student party/BBQ which was very difficult not to ask if we could join in and eventually it brought us back to Burns Park near the center of town. Although the city is small, it is quite hilly so be prepared for some steep ascents if you do walk the the Trail. Ultimately the highlight for me was Brown university. It was very like Harvard, only smaller in stature and possessed far fewer steeples. It did however, join my favourite street of the trip – Student Mile. It was basically a single long stretch of street full of student bars, eateries and shops. Bright colours, flags and dressed down students are everywhere to be seen. Again it was like being back at university in England. Only with a lot more sunshine! This was an excellent place to partake in one of my favourite pastimes while eating homemade burgers – people watching. What’s not to love? Burgers, people and sunshine.I’m sure that something similar to Student Mile would have existed in New Haven. However, I never made it there. Sadly the bus fare to New York via New Haven was a little more than I was willing to pay. Sorry Yale, another time perhaps? Oh one last thing look out for the murals painted on brick walls around the town. They’re pretty darn cool.
I have to say although not hugely eventful locations (at least in comparison to NYC) I really did end up enjoying both cities, they had a laid back charm to them that I have yet to find anywhere else. If you have a spare few days it is totally worth going to visit them. Naturally being a bigger city, Boston has more to offer, and for the history buffs there are no doubt plenty of museums. This was frankly a rather large oversight of mine, not visiting any while I was there. As such I cannot say what they are like. That said, enjoy walking the streets as I believe it’s the best way to explore and for those of you who haven’t been to London, Boston is the closest example I’ve found that is similar outside of the UK. Perhaps that’s why I felt so at home. It was like being in a sunnier, greener version of home. As always

Jon

Cover Photo: A random glove and ball at one of the many baseball parks around the city.

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