The One With a Reading Week in Boston

It’s been just over two weeks since Emily and I ran away from our reading and responsibilities for a 5 day trip to the states and I am here to tell you was it EVER worth it.

Reading weeks are an important time for the year-abroader. There are a treasured week or so of scheduled freedom, a break from classes and deadlines and readings, where our fellow Canadians go home to see family or go camp-out in the library while our fellow internationals (at least in our case) jet off to Cuba or New York. Emily and I are both due to go to New York and Washington later on this year, but were keen to plan something fun to keep us motivated through the dreariness that is January. Last semester saw us taking a 5 hour train up to Quebec City which we loved, and we wanted another city break but perhaps one that was a little more ambitious. With Toronto and Montreal under our belt, we stretched our horizons to across the border.

Boston, which looks deceptively close on Google Maps, seemed like a good option. A busy, cultural, historical and Instagram-worthy city, that could be properly explored in several days and wasn’t too far. Plus, it seemed like a ‘gentle’ enough American city for a good first experience for me in the U S of A. BONUS PLUS: it just so happened my very, very good friend Ellie (who I coincidentally met on her year abroad in Exeter in my first year) would be in Boston too for some of the days, and bearing in mind I hadn’t seen her for over two years, this seemed like a fantastic opportunity to do so.

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And here she is! It’s been far too long Ellie ❤

With all this Valid Reasoning justifying us depleting our savings accounts yet again, we booked our flights and hostel before Christmas, and put the date on our countdown apps. The trip served as a great motivator through the stress of deadlines and midterms, and honestly, the fact we’re no longer working and that the weather was so gorgeous would probably have been enough for us. But as it was, Boston is also a very cool city, and I thought I’d give a rundown of our highlights and thoughts here: 

Accomodation

Having logged optimistically onto AirBnB and then pretty rapidly logging back out when we saw the prices, hostelling was the way to go. Hostelling in general isn’t as big a ‘thing’ in North America as it is home in Europe, but fortunately Boston is blessed with a large, well-established chain of hostels that I had previous experience with. HI Boston  is a centrally located standard hostel, with dorm rooms, a classy reception area and an enormous communal kitchen. There is something to be said for smaller more intimate hostels, but the benefits of big chains are clear; breakfast included, lockers, regular towel changes, elevators, multiple reception staff who Know Their Stuff, communal events like bar crawls and karaoke nights, bonuses like a TV, pool table and piano – I can’t really fault it to be honest. We were surrounded by Brits it seemed, (and met a lovely Scot who we despaired with over Fox News) but all in all it was a very safe, comfortable and young feeling hostel; which is about all you need. Special shout out to Aaron (I believe?) who was BEYOND helpful after our slightly frosty welcoming, and gave us an incredible range of recommendations – most of which I am about to pass on now.

Foodie Recommendations

  • Tatte Bakery and Café

A little gem of a café tucked away in the beautiful Beacon Hill neighbourhood – we went here for lunch but could honestly have had an amazing breakfast/brunch too. All freshly baked cakes and warm roasted vegetable sandwiches and beautiful coffee art; just what you want in a Bostonian backstreet bakery.

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  • The North End

THE place for Italian options; I had some incredibly delicious (if somewhat over-priced) butternut squash ravioli, and we went back again for a fab pizza dinner another night too.

  • Veggie Galaxy

A super cool space-themed vegetarian diner – the food wasn’t particularly ground-breaking in terms of vegetarian cuisine, but I am beginning to realise I’ve been thoroughly spoilt at this point. Nonetheless, always lovely to have such a large choice of veggie options (so many burgers!!) and the shakes and breakfast options looked fab too, in a true American diner sort of way.

Tourist Things We Done Did

  • Freedom Trail – because we’re history students!! I originally thought it was about freedom in terms of slavery. But no, more along the vibe of freedom from the Evil British Imperialists. Definitely a must in Boston, and much more fun in lovely weather. Old North Church was a highlight, and we took the tour into the crypt and learnt about how many times the tower had fallen off (read: quite a few).
  • State House – We kinda half-heartedly followed a tour guide around leading a group of 6 year olds, but in general just had a good nosey. Super pretty, Ottawa should feel a little ashamed that Massachusetts State House is almost prettier than Parliament.
  • Harvard – So. Not to totally down on Harvard but I don’t think it necessarily looks its best in February, and I also think that coming from the UK a lot of the ‘beautiful old buildings’ just look… a bit familiar? As in, you see them around town, or have seen fancy schools with similar architecture. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful neighbourhood and we thoroughly enjoying trying to blend in with the student populace when classes changed and surreptitiously trying to avoid using our maps. On the way back we swung by MIT and felt significantly less at ease in blending into the student stereotype.
  • Beacon Hill – Ahhh Beacon Hill. Just a quick stroll up from Boston Common and a collection of some of the most beautiful Victorian homes I have ever seen. Dread to think how much they cost; loved admiring each and every one of them. We had great fun strolling along the cobbles and feeling very much like we’d walked into a Dickens novel. Can also recommend Commonwealth Avenue if lovely strolling is your thing; watch out for the fab monument to famous feminists in the centre of the boulevard.
  • Bunker Hill Monument – Monument to some battle the Americans technically lost to the Brits but choose not to remember it that way. Alternatively: 294 steps for a helluva good view of the city.
  • Boston Public Library – NOT TO BE MISSED! We went on the one of the free tours which was fun but honestly just look around yourself; the building is beautiful, the reading room like it’s been taken from a Harry Potter film set, and the central courtyard is a little patch of peace and quiet in the middle of the city.
  • Quincy Hall – very cool and very touristy market hall full of foodie options and bagels and fish. For actual food though, I’d have to recommend in its place the Boston Public Market which was just INCREDIBLE. I bought some delicious honey-roasted cashew nuts as an enormous salad for lunch, while Ellie had fresh baguette and a slab of goats cheese from a deli.
  • The Waterfront – In retrospect this perhaps would have been better in the day, but we enjoyed meandering along at night nonetheless. As it was a balmy Friday there were lots of business types in suits and heels sipping wine on outside seating, and with the lights twinkling in the water it was generally a very lovely vibe.

Highlights

  • Emily and I somehow managing to get stuck in the lift for the SkyWalk Observatory and having to go up and down literally 6 times. (I kid you not, and it was 52 floors in about 10 seconds and the first time I got out I nearly fell over I felt so dizzy, then we had to go through it all AGAIN. SIX TIMES.)
  • Our first experience of the wonder that is The Cheesecake Factory, and eating far too much of it with the NBA playing on a tv in the background and Deep Chats about life and sexuality with Ellie.
  • The weather. BY GOSH was it warm. 20 degrees warm. In February. We spent most our time wandering around saying exactly that. “How is this February? Seriously?”/”Emily I forgot what it’s like to feel the outside air on my arms”/”The sUN THOUGH.”
  • Me getting away with buying a really incredibly large glass of white wine even though technically I’m not legal in the US yet – but hey, she didn’t ask for ID so I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity. I think I have my accent to thank for that.
  • Beautiful big shiny glass office blocks towering over tiny little historical buildings. I will always love this contrast.
  • Wandering around the beautiful neighbourhood that is Beacon Hill and taking a gazillion photos of attractive doors and John Kerry’s house and peaking through windows and trying to frame instagram shots around annoying lorries and vans.
  • The nice man in the ice cream shop who told me my accent was really cute and seemed to be really flattered on behalf of his city when I gushed how much we loved Boston.
  • Mooching around Harvard and being asked for directions by someone who clearly noted our preppy outfits (chosen very deliberately) and assumed we were students. Bit of a highlight.
  • Our ferry trip back from Charlestown, the sun setting through the streets of Boston and a suitably obnoxious American flag flying in the wind on the bow of the boat.
  • The DOGS. I’m not sure if they were just all out making the most of the weather, but my goodness I have never stopped to ask to pet someone’s dog so many times in my life. Highlight was a tiny puppy husky called Blitzen ❤
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