Friday, January 6, 2012

Boston - The Freedom trail, Derek the Geordie fan, MIT and JFK

As I was leaving Buffalo, it was bitterly, bitterly cold. The temp was about -14 Celsius, but with a string wind blowing it felt much much colder. Even as I waited for the airport bus, one or two locals were stood near me chattering and trying to keep warm. Thankfully, the bus arrived on time and after a 30 minute ride, I was all checked in an waiting at the airport for my flight to Boston. The flight was on time, even though there were blizzard like conditions outside and we arrived in Boston just before 8pm on a clear cold evening, but about 10degrees warmer than Buffalo.

I got the Silver line shuttle bus into town, but it was mentally full!! People stood on top of each other, bags everywhere and the diver refusing to move until we all moved backwards to let even more people on. It was madness, but eventually we started off and after a quick subway ride too, I was settled into the hostel by 9.30pm.

It was too early for bed, so I went out to have a look around the local area. I wandered around Fenway Park – the oldest and one of the most famous Baseball stadiums in America, home of the Boston Red Sox and I took a couple of photos before going back home and bed.

On the next morning my roomies - 2 students here for a maths conference – sounds like a lot of fun!! - were up early and so I got myself out of bed and went out exploring the city. I decided to do 'The Freedom trail', a walking route around the city that takes in some of the historical sights around Boston. I saw the cemetery where Benjamin Franklins parents are buried as wall as Sam Adams – one of the Americans who signed the declaration of independence. Plus the 5 victims of the Boston Massacre, when the British fired into a crown of people. Then later on I passed the sight where the massacre took place as well as the USS Constitution, known as old ironsides. Plus Bunker Hill, the sight of a major battle, won by the British, but due to the British losses it was a tactical victory for the Independence. There are also more recent sights, like a Holocaust memorial, where steam rises out of grates into 6 storey high glass structures with all the prisoner numbers of persecuted jews etched into the glass. A really stunning display. The a really cool memorial for dead from Iraq and Afghanistan in the form of blank dog-tags hanging from wires. Another really well done piece of remembrance.

Thats how cold it is!!

Fenway Park baseball stadium

Site of the Boston Massacre

The Holocaust memorial

State Hall

Iraq and Afghanistan memorial

Old Ironsides

Bunker Hill...

It was suddenly 4 hours after I started walking and I had really enjoyed my day, but it was spoilt by what happened next. I sat in a pub watching United get beaten 3-0 by Newcastle. A terrible display from United, but at least I was able to share the experience with a fellow football fan. A local guy named Derek, came in just before the start of the game wearing a Newcastle scarf and we sat and chatted throughout most of the game. Well done Derek, you deserved your victory and it was nice to meet you mate. I hope you don’t get in trouble from skiving off work!!!

I decided to take a further walk around the city I the dark and crossed the charles river to get a photo of the skyline, before eventually grabbing the 'T', (The local subway is called the 'T'.) and getting home to do some laundry – I am minging!!

The next morning I had a choice of visiting The Science Museum or MIT Museum (MIT is the Massachusetts Institute if Technology) The dice came down on a 3 which meant MIT. I saw that the MIT museum was only small and planned to go further along the T to Harvard afterwards and look around there too – But it didn’t work out that way!! I should have known MIT would be be good, as when I got near, the pavement announced it was 364.4 smoots and 1 ear to MIT.....

Derek enjoying the football a lot more than me!!

Boston at night

View from the Monument atop Bunker hill


Nanotechnology at the MIT


MIT itself has a massive campus and I found out that you can do a self guided tour that takes you inside the different areas and actually look through windows into laboratories and classrooms of the famous college. I watched one scientist doing something with nanotechnology and spent a while discovering about taking photos with strobe lights, that make moving objects appear still. I walked through beautiful libraries and past massive student computer labs as well as seeing lots of cool buildings and architecture. I even wandered around the area when they are working on Artificial Intelligence!

This was all before I actually made it to the museum, which whilst small is actually really really good. Lots of hands on stuff about making batteries from a harmless virus, creating video games and also pictures that look different as you move away from them – One was Einstein at 3 feet and Harry Potter at 20feet – cool!!
Then upstairs they had real robots that run, jump and swim as well as the best Holograms I have ever seen and then a display of miniature machines that were just beautiful, mind boggling and amazing – A chicken wishbone that 'walks' along a track pulling a aching behind it, a small chair that walks around on top of a rock and my favourite – a time man, sitting atop a metre high platform, just sitting but subtly looking around. Its called 'Alone'.
Look here for more about this - or search youtube for videos -

Robot head

Brilliant hologram

Chair walking on a rock!


Alone....really cool!

Cool map

By the time I had finished in the MIT museum, it had gone 2pm. It was now too late to visit Harvard and make it worth it, so I went into town and bought a ticket to visit a Theatre/comedy/improvisation whodunnit show tonight – Ill tell you how it was later. I also made a quick stop at the library, which boasts yet another stunning building and a collection of rare books and maps inside. I headed for the map section and spent a short while looking around at maps of America as seen by California (California is in the sun, the rest is all dark) and an upside down map of the world amongst a lot of others. Then I decided to rest before my night at the theatre and headed back to the hostel for a couple of hours. It has been a surprisingly tiring day -I have been on my feet for 7 hours at least. I have a choice as to visit the JFK museum or Harvard tomorrow, so the dice came out again – Evens for JFK and odds for Harvard. I threw a 4 - JFK it is!!

In the evening I went to 'Shear Madness', a comedy play that actually involves the audience. As a group you get to question the actors after a 'murder' is committed during the play and eventually decide whodunit – the end of the play then finishes with whoever you found guilty confessing. Obviously. Different audiences will find different people guilty, making a different ending. Its also got a lot of improvisation and the actors play along with the audience – even chatting amongst them during the break and then bringing some audience members into the story. Its a very clever, different and funny play and a good night out.

I was up early and arrived at the JFK museum just after 9am. Its built about 5 miles south of Boston overlooking the harbour and is a very nice building. The tour starts with a short film about JFK up until 196p when he runs for president. The rest of the museum then continues the story using press clippings, film and items from the Kennedy family themselves. Its a very understated museum, especially the part about the assassination, which is just a 2-3 minute short film of the news coverage in the hours following the shooting. The film about the Cuban missile crisis is very interesting and overall it is a great place to visit to learn a bit more about American History. I didn’t know much about JFK before this, but I have a new found interest in what was obviously a very determined but likeable president.

I headed back into the city for lunch and stumbled upon the bar that claims to have been the inspiration for 'Cheers', before I eventually got to my next destination. The Mary Baker Eddy museum and 'Mapparium',my main goal was to see the mapparium – a 10 metre high glass world globe, built in the 1930's, that you can walk inside. Being brought up on maps, I love this kind of thing and was disappointed that you only get about 15 minutes inside it. Its beautiful inside and as you talk, stood in the centre, you get real surround sound as the noise bounces off the glass walls surrounding you. The countries are all pictured in bright reds, greens and dark blues, with lights behind them to highlight them. I could have stayed inside all day wand looked at it as I traced my own journey around the world. Unfortunately, we had to leave though and as we weren’t allowed to take photos – do a google search for Mapparium and you will see all about it.

The presidential seal

Me at the JFK museum

inside the museum 

That is the end of Boston for me. I head back to New York tomorrow for a few days. But Boston has been great. A really nice, small city with friendly people and a surprising amount of history and things to do. I may have to come back here again in the summer!

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