Day 8. Boston. Cellphones, Cambridge, Curley

In which we discuss phones in the US, visit Hahvahd, and have an excellent burger for dinner.

Phoning it in

I don’t have any profound insights on using phones in the US. Our provider doesn’t offer affordable roaming, so we bought a couple of SIM cards to use, as I expect pretty much everyone does these days.

We bought them ahead of time, because who wants to bother with trying to find a SIM card vendor, deciding what plan to get, and installing and activating the card when you have just spent 24+ hours travelling and are in dire need of a shower and a sleep? Not us! We ordered cards from SimCorner about six weeks before departure; they arrived in a timely manner, and we activated them once we were safely arrived in New York and had them installed in our phones.

With my usual mild pessimism about provider reliability and inconsistent coverage (considering we were doing a road trip through the back-blocks of New England), we bought one card for the T-Mobile network, and one for AT&T, to have one in each phone. The only wrinkle in choosing plans was that we were going to Canada as well. American network cards work fine in Niagara Falls – it is, after all, literally right across a river from the US – but depending on the network you might get charged foreign-country roaming rates. So check the fine print for your network carefully. Depending on how long you are in Canada and how far you are going away from the border, it might be worth getting a multi-country card. They are a little bit more expensive, but in the context of an overseas holiday not so much. As it was, we had no problems using either phone in the little bit of Canada we visited, so I was probably overly cautious. Everything went fine! Well, almost everything.

The only other bit of Tourist Tip wisdom we have, is to cast your mind back to when you first got your phone and try to remember whether it requires a special tool to open/close the cover or to insert/remove cards. Doreen has a Galaxy S7; it does indeed need such a tool; and she did not think to bring it along, because, really, you use it once and then put it away in a box, who remembers things like that? Of course, we were in New York, where there is a phone vendor on every other corner, so we were able to find someone with the right tool and get the phone opened up and the card switched over in short order. Later on she discovered her earing makes a great substitute but something not to be attempted on a busy New York street.

Wicked Smaht

Ah, Harvard. Bastion of higher learning, hallowed ivy-covered halls, and a $40.9 billion endowment. And that’s in mighty US dollars, I don’t even want to think about how much it would be in feeble AUD.

So we jumped on the T and travelled out to Harvard Station to see what all the fuss was about.

There are a number of tours you can take to get an overview of the campus. We chose one given by Hahvahd Tours (see, I wasn’t just making it up) which is delivered by actual Harvard undergrads and gives a good overview of the campus with some good stories, and you can ask any questions you like. They might not answer all of them, mind you.

Looking across Hahvahd Yahd to Sever Hall. I could feel the erudition seeping in through my pores just standing there.

The famous Statue of Three Lies outside University Hall.

You can’t quite make it out in the photo, but the inscription on the base of the statue says

John Harvard



Which is a lot to get wrong in so few words.

John Harvard – well, no, this is not a statue of John Harvard. The statue was cast in 1884; John Harvard died in 1638 and there is no known likeness of him. The statue was modelled after Sherman Hoar, who was a Harvard Law School student at the time.

Founder – well, no again. Harvard was founded by the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on land near the current campus; John Harvard donated half his estate (his widow got the rest, which seems only fair) and his library of 400 volumes towards the nascent university.

1638 – do you want to guess where I’m going with this? Harvard was founded in 1636; 1638 was of course when John Harvard made his (death-bed) donation. But they named the university after him, so there’s that.

Matthews Hall, one of the freshman dorms in Harvard Yard. Matt Damon lived there!, but didn’t graduate. Kids, stay in school. Some other people lived there, like William Randolph Hearst, Chuck Schumer, Robert Rubin, Barney Frank and several Nobel laureates. But did I mention Matt Damon!

The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library holds 3.5 million books. It was built from 1913-1915 by Harry’s mother (who also dictated the architecture of the building) as a memorial. Harry was a Harvard alumnus and a great book collector; he and his father died in the Titanic sinking in 1912. There is a rumour, happily passed on by tour guides, that Mrs. Widener made it a condition of the bequest that all students would need to learn to swim before graduation, so they would not share Harry’s fate. Like all the best rumours, it is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.

Annenberg Hall holds the dining hall for freshmen. We were told that the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies was based on it. We weren’t allowed in to see, but it seems plausible.

Shouldn’t they have curley fries, then?

Dinner that night was burgers at JM Curley, a bar and restaurant in Downtown Crossing. JM Curley regularly makes it onto lists of the best burgers in Boston, so a-burgering we went.

James Michael Curley was a Boston Irish politician from the early- through the mid-20th century and a character out of legend. Coming from a poor childhood, he became an adept and famously corrupt machine politician. He was elected to Boston city council, Massachusetts state legislature, U.S. Congress, Governor of Massachusetts, and four times as Mayor of Boston. His career highs included being elected to office while under indictment by a federal grand jury, another time while actually in prison for fraud, and taxing rich Protestant Bostonians so heavily that they moved out of the city, leaving Boston poorer but a safe Irish Catholic electorate for the Democrat machine – a tactic now known as the Curley Effect. He was also the inspiration for the very fine song “The Rascal King” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, an excellent Boston ska-punk band who sadly were not performing while we were in town. If you have a spare minute, give it a watch – it’s toe-tapping fun.

So that was more than you ever wanted to know about James Michael Curley. How about the burger?

The burger was excellent. A hefty half-pound of juicy, fatty, beefy patty, cheese, onions, house-made pickles and Russian dressing that turns the richness up to 11. But in a good way! USD 17, comes with fries, which are sadly not curly.

The drinks were good too. I don’t know if this is just a New England thing, but everywhere we went on our trip we found excellent ciders. Bantam Wunderkind is a dry crisp cider finished with a touch of orange-blossom honey which gives a delightful floral character. Made in Cambridge, just across the river, I think it was about USD 7 for a 340ml can.

The downside of JM Curley is that the stereo was also turned up to 11. It was loud, darned loud, probably the loudest place we visited in our whole trip. We’re quiet folk, so we got in, ordered, ate, and scampered out as quick as we could. The burger was excellent, but maybe try it at lunchtime when hopefully noise levels are lower.

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