• Travel

    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.

  • Travel

    Day 6 (ctd.) Boston. Cetacean, Customs, Chowdah.

    T is for Townshend

    After our whale-watching we hied ourselves down to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.

    Everyone has heard of the Boston Tea Party, haven’t they?  A group of brave patriots cunningly disguised themselves as Mohawk warriors and threw evil British tea into Boston Harbour as a protest against the evil British raising taxes on tea.  And did I mention how evil the British were?

    As usual in real life, the truth was a bit more nuanced than that.  

    There were a few of the tea-dumpers dressed as Mohawks, although according to some sources the disguises consisted of literally a few feathers in their hair and taking their shirts off (did I mention it was December 16th and jolly cold?) which honestly sounds about as convincing as me sticking a couple of pencils under my upper lip and claiming to be a walrus.

    The 1773 Tea Act taxes were actually a reduction on the tax rate for tea imposed by the Townshend Act taxes in 1767.  But the colonists had pretty much been ignoring those taxes and drinking smuggled tea for the last few years, so I guess the lower tax rate was actually higher than paying no tax.  Interestingly, the price of tea plus tax was lower than the smuggled price, so it wasn’t just about the price.  The issue of taxation without representation was definitely in the front of many colonist’s minds. 

    But enough history! What about the museum?

    The Museum is in the middle of Fort Point Channel, a pleasant walk south from Long Wharf where the Aquarium and harbour cruises are. Access is from the Congress Street bridge.

    The tour starts in a mini-version of the Old South Meeting House, where the visitors join in a mini-version of the meeting that led to the Tea Party. Boo taxes! Yay liberty!

    Visitors are given little cards with some biographical details of people who were present at the meeting, some of whom took part in the tea-dunking, and encouraged to take part in the Yays! and Boos!

    Then it’s down to the dock to see the replicas of two of the ships involved in the Tea Party, and some exhibits of items and replicas of dockside times in 1773 Boston.

    Then upstairs again for some more exhibits including a short film about the Minutemen and a well-stocked gift shop.

    Overall the museum is interesting and entertaining, and a pretty worthwhile way of spending a couple of hours at USD30 for adults and USD22 for urchins.

    Boston Meanz Beanz

    Our fourth day in Boston and we haven’t had beans or chowder yet, shame on us. Dinner on day 6 was dedicated to experiencing traditional Boston food.

    A little bit north of Faneuil Hall is Union Street, populated by a row of pubs and taverns. Among them is the Union Oyster House, an icon of Boston pubs which has been running as a restaurant for nearly 200 years in a Colonial-era building that is at least a hundred years older again.

    Please forgive the photos below. As you can see the lighting inside is entirely housed in extremely yellow fittings. I’ve de-yellowed the pictures as much as I can but they are still pretty average.

    Inside and upstairs, the dining room is low ceilings, heavy beams, and a mixture of tables and booths. The menu is heavy on seafood, with plenty of oysters, lobster, clams, chowder, shrimp dishes and a steak and chicken dish just in case you don’t like seafood (although vegetarians get short shrift with just a couple of salads and a vegetable side dish to choose from).

    We wanted to experience traditional Boston food so we ordered a range of classics.

    Crab cakes are always a favourite. These were pleasantly meaty.

    Boston Tea Party cocktails – iced tea with citrus vodka – went down very smoothly after a long day of whale watching and general touristing.

    Seafood platter with oysters Rockefeller, grilled clams, oysters and shrimp.

    The famous clam chowder was creamy and hearty with plenty of clams.

    Cornbread, another New England staple, was soft and fluffy, slightly sweet in the local style which to be honest is not to my personal tastes. What can I say, I like my cakes sweet and my bread not.

    Boston baked beans, at last! Again in a traditional New England style, these are hearty in a rather wet, soupy base and very lightly flavoured. A good side dish or breakfast.

    And that’s kind of the thing about New England cooking. It was born of a time and place when a quarter of a pound of salted pork belly was what you had to give a little meaty kick to a chowder which was mostly potatoes and milk and clams. It was simple, and hearty, and kept body and soul together in a long winter when there wasn’t much in the way of greens and there definitely weren’t fancy spices and artisanal vinegars piled up on the shelves of your local supermarket. Let’s appreciate it for what it is.

    Union Oyster House is an old-school food destination serving hearty time-honoured dishes in a traditional style. Not the cheapest, with our visit running USD 125 with tip, but we had a good taste of classic Boston food and few nice drinks before heading home to rest up for another long walk on the Freedom trail.

  • Travel

    Day 7. Boston. Constitution, Charlestown, Cannoli

    In which we visit Chahlestown, finish the Freedom Trail, and have some excellent Mexican food for dinner.

    Getting around Boston

    Getting around Boston as a tourist is pretty easy, as it is in most big cities these days. Just buy a Charlie Card from a bus or T stop, and they are available from some convenience stores and news stores. If you are in town for more than four days or so, a seven-day pass is $22.50 and gives you unlimited access to the subway, buses, Silver Line rapid transit buses, some ferry lines, and the heavy rail commuter trains in zone 1. Which as a tourist is all you are likely to need.

    We did most of our travel on the subway – actually mostly we walked, but when we did take transit it was mostly subway as we were right near several subway stops, with the occasional bus for variety, subway coverage being a bit thin north of the Charles River.

    Boston Navy Yard

    So on Day 7 in Boston we planned to finish the Freedom Trail, covering the parts in Charlestown and Boston Navy Yard, then walking back across the river to finish in the North End. And indeed, it was a bit of a long walk to the Navy Yard – which is north of the Charles – so we cheated and took the bus. But being on the way home is a great motivation for completing a healthy walk.

    If anyone doesn’t already know, I am a huge navy nerd. It is practically impossible for me to go past a museum, or, even better, a museum ship, without stopping to have a look around. So the Navy Yard was always going to be a visit for us. And Doreen, bless her, is almost endlessly patient with me and does a good imitation of looking interested at my constant shipsplaining.

    For over 170 years Boston Navy Yard built ships for the US Navy. Nowadays to the average tourist it is better known as the home of the USS Constitution, the oldest active service vessel in the Navy.

    The old stores admin building is now a museum dedicated to the days of sail and the building of, and life aboard, the original six frigates of the Navy. Most of the exhibits are aimed at the kiddies, but it’s interesting enough for a quick walk-through for adults. The building also has restrooms and a cafe.

    Dry dock Number 2 once built and repaired ships by the dozen. Now … well, it has seen better days.

    As indeed has much of the heavy machinery left as a memorial to the days of industry.

    USS Constitution was laid down in 1794 in Boston, not at the Navy Yards which weren’t founded until about 1800, but just across the river in North Boston where the Coast Guard base is now.

    She had a storied history, fighting Barbary corsairs and winning separate frigate-to-frigate battles against HMS Guerriere and HMS Java during the war of 1812. If you are after a good source with more detail, I recently read “Six Frigates” by Ian Toll, a history of the early US Navy and heartily recommend it.

    Nowadays she is preserved, mainly as a museum ship but technically an active service vessel, as every July 4th she sails out into the estuary to fire a salute as part of Boston’s celebrations.

    Cannon on the upper deck of USS Constitution.

    The main deck is clean, light and airy now. It would have been a different matter battened down in a North Atlantic storm with a couple of hundred unwashed sailors swaying and snoring in their hammocks after a hearty meal of salt beef, hard tack and dried peas.

    Beside the Constitution was possibly the cutest little utility tender in the Navy.

    Also at the Navy Yard is the USS Cassin Young, a Fletcher-class destroyer from WWII also preserved as a museum ship. She served in the Pacific in WWII and in the Atlantic and Mediterranean until 1960. Only mildly modernised, she is in great condition and is well worth spending an hour going over.

    Depth charge racks on USS Cassin Young.

    USS Cassin Young from the dock. With those sleek lines you can see why destroyers were called the greyhounds of the sea.

    Back on the Trail

    From the Navy Yard we made our way back to the Freedom Trail as it led up to Bunker Hill. It’s a pleasant walk through the almost village-like suburb of Bunker Hill up to the park and memorial on the hill itself.

    Looking down Soley Street towards Boston from the lower end of Bunker Hill park. Just over a mile from downtown Boston, Bunker Hill is on the other side of the river on a small peninsula and is a quiet, less built-up urban oasis.

    Looking down Monument Avenue from the park. The statue is of Colonel William Prescott, who commanded the American militia forces at the battle. He is the source of the famous order “Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes”, given because of the militia’s shortage of ammunition during the battle.

    The memorial obelisk and the front of the Lodge, which holds exhibits about the battle and some interesting portraits and maps.

    The Battle of Bunker Hill, as is so often the case with these things, did not take place on Bunker Hill where the park and memorial are. Rather it was on Breed’s Hill, a few hundred yards to the south-east. Why the different name? I have no idea.

    Another view of the obelisk.

    The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on June 17, 1775 when British forces attempted to close on Boston from the north and the south and crush the barely-begun rebellion. American militia forces hurriedly fortified Breed’s Hill on the Charlestown peninsula to resist the attack from the north. After a day of vicious combat with three frontal attacks by the British, the American forces retreated in good order due to lack of ammunition, leaving the British with the field and heavy casualties. The battle showed that American militia forces were able to match British regulars in pitched combat, and the British losses instilled a sense of caution which may have slowed them crucially in the coming campaigns.

    The Freedom Trail path ends at the top of Bunker Hill. It’s a long walk for a little cow with short legs.

    Walking back to downtown Boston from Bunker Hill you can cross the North Washington St bridge. In a city of gleaming skyscrapers, elegant art deco and simple classic colonial architecture, I find a pleasant contrast in the grit and texture of a rough, functional, piece of industrial engineering. They’ll probably rip it down soon and replace it with something that an architect gets an award for.

    One if by land, two if by sea

    So far we had been through the parts of the Freedom trail near the Common and Downtown, and of course the morning had seen us in Charlestown. The remainder of the trail is in the inner north-east part of town known as North End.

    Old North Church (properly speaking Christ Church in Boston), built in 1723, is the oldest church standing in Boston today. It is famous as the place where Thomas Newman, then the sexton of the church, shone two lanterns on the night of April 18, 1775, signifying that British troops were moving by sea on their way to intercept American militia at what would be the battle of Lexington and Concord. The warning conveyed by Paul Revere and William Dawes allowed the militia to be alert for the first battle of the war.

    The church itself is a handsome brick building based on a picture of a London church designed by Sir Christopher Wren. I must confess we did not go inside, probably due to a combination of it having been a long day’s walk with more to go and an admission fee of $8 per person.

    The spire of Old North Church seen from Copp’s Hill Burial Ground.

    In use since 1660, Copp’s Hill was at one time almost at the shoreline of Boston Harbour but thanks to a couple of centuries of landfill it is now set well back.

    The neat paths, lawns and rows of headstones are a relatively recent practice. Originally graves were placed pretty much anywhere that was free, with plots being re-used as necessary and headstones moved around similarly. In the early 19th century a trend arose for city parks with paths and lawns as a place for residents to promenade in a healthy and respectable manner. In cities like Boston, though, land was limited by being surrounded by the harbour and river, and every scrap was already in use with the only open space being burial grounds (which had already been filled several times over). What to do? Could we … line up the headstones neatly and put in some lawns and paths? And if there are too many headstones, could we just … overlap them, to save space?

    Yes. Yes we could. So, if you’re in a burial ground in Boston in sections with burials earlier than about 1830, don’t be worried about standing on a grave. You probably already are, and you can’t avoid it because they are everywhere.

    On a slightly less morbid note, the North End is also home to Boston’s famous Spite House. Local history holds that the land was owned by two brothers, one of whom built a large house on most of the land while the other was serving in the military. On his return the other brother built the spite house on what was left to deprive his sibling of a carriageway, because … well, because he could, I guess.

    Further on in the North End is the Paul Revere House. Leaving aside the somewhat mythologised story of his midnight ride, Revere was a remarkable man. A spy for the Sons of Liberty, he was famously a silversmith and also a serial entrepeneur, who

    • crafted false teeth then branched out to become a dentist, installing them
    • set up a gunpowder mill that helped to supply the American militia in the early days of the Revolutionary War
    • served in the war as a lieutenant-colonel of militia, commanding engineering and artillery troops
    • innovated using technologically advanced rolling-mill production of sheet metal (remember the Capital dome from before?) and mass-production methods

    It’s almost a shame that we didn’t get Revere! the musical instead of Hamilton!, but Revere lived a long successful life, had sixteen children, and died of old age at 83. Which I guess is not as exciting a story, somehow.

    Revere owned the house on North Square from 1770 to 1800 and lived in it with his family probably in the 1770s. The house was rebuilt and used over the years as many things including shops and tenements, then bought in 1902 to be restored as a museum and memorial. It is a mix of reproduction and original, and a very interesting window on the life and times of Revere and his family in those days. Well worth a visit and an hour or so of your time.

    Just around the corner is the Paul Revere Mall. Sadly there is no Macy’s.

    The North End is the area of Boston nearest the port and as such has historically been the home to new migrants as they arrive. Irish in the mid-19th century, Italians in the late-19th century and since, and sailors, bars and ladies of the night all the time.

    Nowadays it’s definitely an Italian district, with some beautiful ornate building facades and many a cafe and trattoria.

    And while in Boston’s Little Italy, it’s hard not to stop and enjoy a pastry. But what should we get, and from where?

    When it is literally what you get when you Google, it’s hard to go past Mike’s.

    We had an amaretto-flavoured cannoli; I can faithfully say that the shell was crisp, the filling was smooth and sweet and tasty, and it was pleasantly messy to eat. Tourist tip – keep some wet wipes in your day pack for when cannoli strike!

    Mexican in Boston?

    Sure, why not? Like pretty much any big American city, Boston has had plenty of immigration from Latin America. It’s pretty impossible to get authentic Mexican food in Melbourne, especially at a decent price, so we set out to take advantage of the opportunity.

    Angela’s Cafe is located across the river in East Boston. From downtown it is a short T trip to the Airport station and then a ten or twelve minute walk through quiet, mostly residential streets. It’s been a local fixture since 2007; although sadly Angela herself passed away in July 2020 the cafe is still there as of writing this.

    From the outside the cafe is a plain building with tiny signage; but inside it is bright and lively with cheery staff and happy local customers (and, tonight, a couple of foreign tourists).

    Tortilla chips with green and red salsa are a treat, but also a trap for young players. We wanted to taste as many dishes as possible so we snacked sparingly on them while sipping our lime margaritas.

    Embracing the theme, I next tried a michelada. Which is kind of a Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka, I guess? Beer, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, in a salt-and-spice rimmed glass. It was hearty and refreshing and probably full of vitamin C, and I can see on a hot day in the sun they would go down very smoothly. But I didn’t feel the need for another one just then.

    Wanting to taste as wide a range as possible, we split the tasting plate of chicken mole gordita (pastry stuffed with chicken in a chili and chocolate sauce), tinga tostada (shredded chicken in a chipotle-tomato sauce), taco árabe (pork shawarma taco, created by middle eastern immigrants to Mexico), ceviche tostada (fresh fish marinated in lime juice with chili and salsa) and taco al pastor (another middle eastern import, marinated pork grilled with pineapple of all things). All were fresh and delicious.

    These next two dishes were what I really came to try. Mexican feast food is a world away from the Tex-Mex and street food dishes that most of us are familiar with. Complex sauces can be made up of a half dozen different types of chili, each carefully included for a specific aspect of heat or smoke or fruitiness, rich stock bases, a dozen different spices, carefully ground nuts, and often tomatoes or tomatillos. Choice cuts of meat are simmered in the sauces which are often finished with fresh pureed herbs. I’ve made some of them at home but never eaten an authentic version.

    Pork loin in a mole sauce. Mole rojo is a chili and tomato based sauce thickened with masa or almond meal and finished with just a touch of bitter chocolate. It is rich, smooth, complex, smoky from chipotle peppers and well tasty. Angela’s version has hints of sweetness from raisins and banana.

    Chicken breast in pipian verde. The sauce is made from green tomatillos, chicken broth, pureed spinach and parsley (I use coriander when making it at home) and enriched with ground sesame seeds which bring a nuttiness to the tangy herbiness.

    As usual the serves were generous to the point that we got almost half the meal boxed to take home and have for lunch later – another reminder of how good it is to have an apartment with a fridge and kitchen instead of a crampy hotel room when staying in one place for more than a few days.

    So that’s much more than you ever probably wanted to know about Mexican feast food, even though we just scratched the surface. The good news is that my home-made Australian versions tasted almost exactly like the real thing, and that if you are in Boston you can go to Angela’s and try it for yourself.

  • Travel

    Day 6. Boston. Cetacean, Customs, Chowdah.

    In which we go in search of whales, do not have an excellent sandwich for lunch, find out what was going on with that tea thing, and try some classic Boston delicacies.

    Call me Ishmael

    And so, with the seas much smoother and our yum cha craving satisfied (for now), we walked down to Boston Harbor. Boston Harbor Cruises (I keep typing “Harbour” and keep getting corrected by the spellchecker. Wacky American spelling!) run ferries, harbour (it’s not a proper noun here so I’m spelling it as it should be) cruises, water taxis and many other things, among them whale watching cruises. The cruises board right by the New England Aquarium in case you were wondering.

    Trips run about 3-4 hours long; the catamarans are large, pretty stable, and have plenty of viewing spots. Tickets are not refundable but are transferable to a later cruise (if they are not booked out), so consider planning your whale watching for early in your Boston visit, just in case the weather is poor and you want to reschedule.  Food and drink are available, and rather than try to pack something for lunch we bought some sandwiches on board, which were perfectly okay but not worth blogging about.


    Mr Cow showing off his sea legs in front of one of the whale-watching catamarans.

    Harbour cities are often very striking from the sea. Boston is no exception. Motoring out through Boston Harbor into Massachusetts Bay out towards Stellwagen Bank, the eager whale watcher can enjoy views of the city and surrounding areas.

    Boston Light on Little Brewster Island is nicely picturesque. Tours are available, but we had only so many days in Boston.

    But what about the whales?

    Usually there is always someone looking bored and disinterested but not on this trip.  During the journey out you could feel the anticipation simmering away.  Then we saw our first WHALE!  The excitement reached a cresendo over the entire ship and stayed there as a buzz throughout numerous sightings.  There was shouts and laughter people pointing out some detail to their neighbor.  No one was stationary for long, we crossed sides  back and forth as we watched and waited for the next plume of spray, fin or flipper to appear. 

    I’m not a huge fan of synchronized swimming, but with this mother and child it was a beautiful sight to behold.

    We were informed there are three types of whales which can be spotted in these waters; Humpback, Finback and Minke. I’m no whale expert (so please correct me if I am wrong ) these are Humpbacks and this is because of their small dorsal fin and long pectoral flippers. If you watch the video you will notice the black and white pattern which is unique to each whale.


  • Travel

    Day 5. Boston. Hurricane, Har Gau, Hall

    In which we consider natural disasters, do not eat an excellent sandwich for lunch, and go for a walk.


    So, here are some snips of news headlines from the last several years. What do they have in common?

    Well, yes, they are all natural disasters. More personally, they are natural disasters that happened while we were on holiday in those locations.

    I’m not saying we are cursed. But it has definitely occurred to me that we could probably phone the Chamber of Commerce at pretty much any popular holiday destination, threaten to visit them at peak season, and expect a generous payoff for not turning up.

    Okay. Want to guess where I’m going with this?

    Yep. Got it in one. I mean, I did kind of foreshadow it with the heading and all.

    Truth to tell none of the disasters worked out too horribly, as natural disasters go.

    Hurricane Madeline weakened significantly before it hit Hawaii and had very heavy rain but no huge damage; we had to cancel our trip to Big Island because all the flights were grounded, but we stayed an extra five days at a very nice resort in Maui which was no hardship.

    Mount Agung didn’t erupt while we were there (although it did some months later, killing over a thousand people). Flights were grounded for a while because of the ash, but we left Bali as scheduled before the groundings.

    The earthquake in Vanuatu actually occurred the morning of the day that we arrived in the afternoon, so I’m stretching things a little bit by including it. Again, no great damage was done although we did get to experience a fairly exciting aftershock that evening.

    And Hurricane Dorian also weakened considerably before it hit. There was heavy rain and winds around Cape Cod but Boston only got some pretty mild rain.

    It did, however, make the seas rather energetic for a day or two. As a result of which we delayed the whale-watching trip we had booked for this day. And good on Boston Harbour Cruises for making the tickets transferable and being quite frank about what the seas were going to be like. We decided that even if the weather was going to be … okay … today, it was going to be better tomorrow.

    So, there we were at about 11am on a Sunday, at Boston Harbour, and nothing to do for a few hours. How to fill in the time?

    Yum Cha!

    I mentioned last post that one of the things we like to experience in different cities is yum cha. So far we have found it to be an extremely consistent experience wherever we have gone, but there are often some specialties local to the city or just to that restaurant to discover, and there is a comfort to the similarities.

    Having done extensive research about the Boston yum cha scene, the smart money appeared to be on China Pearl. Let’s play yum cha bingo.

    Located in Chinatown? Check.

    Families queueing to get in? Check.

    Located at the top of awkwardly high stairs? That’s a bonus point!

    Huge internal space with decor that looks like it’s from the ’70s? Check and check!

    Prawn dumplings – thin, supple pastry and juicy prawns. Check.

    Deep fried prawn and chive dumplings – crispy and chivey.

    Shao mai – densely porky and chewy.

    Turnip cakes – firm, slightly charred.

    Check, check, check.

    Vegetarian pocket dumplings – sorry to say these were a miss. The pastry was thick and stodgy, the filling sparse and lacking flavour. No check here.

    Crab claw dumplings – crispy shell and generous amounts of crab and prawn mince filling. Definitely a check.

    And, egg tarts, because you have to have egg tarts – light flaky pastry, rich slightly sweet filling. Check.

    So overall China Pearl was a good, classic yum cha experience. No special or unique menu items that we saw; but it did have a steam table with fried and steamed dishes on it as well as the usual trolleys navigating speedily around the room, which is not something I’ve seen elsewhere.

    It’s pronounced Fan-ewe-il.

    So, a bit more of a holiday history ramble.

    The first time I visited Washington D.C., we went to the Mall, as you do. Everyone knows the reflecting pool, right? Lincoln memorial at one end, Washington Monument at the other, beautiful reflected vista in between. You know, this one.

    Well, when I was there, it was drained for maintenance. It was a long, shallow trough with a bunch of dead algae and pond scum at the bottom. Inspirational, not so much.

    The next time I was in D.C. we went to revisit the Jefferson Memorial. Founding father (Lisa Simpson’s favourite!), key writer of the constitution, third POTUS, and yes, he had a complicated relationship with slavery (to put it mildly). It was … not closed for maintenance, but was completely covered in scaffolding and draped with cloths for maintenance. The beautiful classical architecture of columns and dome was obscured.

    It seemed like every other American icon that I visited was going to be closed or obscured. I swear, when I went the the Grand Canyon I half expected the whole jolly thing to be covered with painter’s cloths with a “Thank you for your patience” sign.

    Faneuil Hall is a Boston icon. Built in the 18th century and rebuilt and expanded in the 19th, it has been a market (on the ground floor) and a meeting hall (on the upper floors) for several centuries and change. Nowadays it is part of a market district, a museum and gallery in the basement, and the upstairs hall is still used for functions.

    But you are smart people. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

    Yep. The whole darn thing was swaddled in scaffolding and mesh. Everything was going on inside as usual – it’s a bit of a tourist trap, to be honest, but hey, if you’re a tourist, embrace the traps, right? There are plenty of things to eat and souvenirs to buy. If you want a hat in the form of a lobster, this is the place to find it!

    And how is it pronounced really? I completely failed to ask a Boston native. Based on my pretty rudimentary French I would have said Fen-ewe-ay. Googling it I get video clips saying Fan-el and Fan-youl. I guess it’s a mystery for the ages.

    Tomorrow – whale watching. For sure, this time!

  • Travel

    Day 4. Boston. Sneaker, Shirts, Steak

    In which we take care of some tasks necessary for all travellers (shopping!), have an excellent sandwich for lunch, and dine out on some delightful steak.


    One of the (many, many) fun things to do on holiday is shopping. Buying some stuff that is new, interesting, impossible to get at home or much cheaper to get where you are (art supplies in New York compared to Melbourne! We came back with a ton of paper, paint and pencils) or just different. Yay shopping!

    One of the most annoying things to do on holiday is shopping. Away on holiday and you need to get something mundane but necessary. Maybe you forgot to pack it (I never, ever remember to pack a hat when travelling, which actually works out fine as baseball caps are readily available and make fine mementos), maybe you lost something important (somewhere in Arizona in 2003 I left my razor plugged in charging when we checked out of the motel), maybe something just broke or ran out. And then you have to take time away from your precious holiday activities, navigate strange foreign ways (How can I be sure the toothpaste will taste the same?) and after all that you are just back where you started in the first place. Boo, shopping!

    Sneakers & Shirts

    Which is to say that after a very busy day of walking, I discovered that the orthotic inserts in my sneakers were absolutely fine for a couple of hours casual strolling and even for a fair old workout at the gym. But after six or eight hours of pavement pounding, it turns out that chunks of firm plastic positioned to keep your arches up and your feet from splaying out like a distressed duck get quite sore and even a bit blistery. So first order of business was to find some nice soft gel inserts.

    Which is, to be honest, not what you want to hear about. Enough to say that three different sports-shoe shops in downtown Boston didn’t have sneaker inserts but we found them at a pharmacy, and spent most of the rest of the day gently wandering around buying some nice shirts (I’m wearing one of them right now!) and a few other bits and bobs.

    Speaking of wandering around Boston, here is a view of the Custom House Tower, an elegant early skyscraper dating from 1915. In the foreground is part of a linear park created on the grounds of an old railway line, now studded with greenery, art, water features and nice places to sit, relax and have a pleasant drink.

    Tourist tip – make sure you have comfy, worn-in shoes for your holiday. I mean, everyone knows that, but holiday walking isn’t always the same as at-home walking.

    It was a rock lobster (roll)

    Our excellent sandwich today was a lobster roll from Luke’s Lobster.

    A lobster roll at its simplest is some good fresh lobster, lightly bound in mayonnaise, served in a hot-dog bun that has been split from the top down, buttered and lightly grilled. There are fancy versions with all kinds of toppings (we’ll see some of those when we get to Portland) but Luke’s serves the classic style with just a sprinkle of seasoned salt on top.

    The meat was fresh, sweet, succulent and delicious. The slaw was fresh and crisp, lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, and perky with poppy-seeds. Even the soda was delicious!

    Steak – Smith and Wollensky

    So, one of the things we like to do when we travel is compare things. Compare things that are similar, compare things that are different, just as long as they are comparable they are fair game. It’s interesting, it’s fun, and it makes you think.

    Another thing we like to do when we travel is eat. I know, I said I wouldn’t dissect every single meal we ate. But unless you want to see pictures of the shirts, there’s not much else to talk about this day. And bear with me, there’s a theme gently rolling into sight.

    So put the two together. What are some things that are similar enough to compare, different enough to contrast, and common enough to reliably find?

    I mean, yes, art, architecture, local throat-singing techniques. And also yum cha, burgers, and steaks. They’re everywhere!

    Smith and Wollensky is a chain of steakhouses, technically an international chain with restaurants in London and Taipai, but most of them in the US. We love a plucky local hero of a restaurant, fueled by the love and passion of the owners. They can be unique, creative, and brilliant. But a chain can bring plenty of good things too – good staff training, good managers, deep corporate pockets for a high-end fit-out and a great wine list, and organisational buying power to source quality ingredients.

    The Atlantic Wharf branch is a steakhouse in the old school mould – dark panelling, cozy booths and banquettes, a great big marble-topped bar, and staff dressed up in waistcoats and ties, very natty indeed.

    The menu is also classic steakhouse. Classic cuts of beef, classic sauces. classic sides. Not a ton of creativity on display in the menu, and that’s okay – there’s definitely a place for the classics.

    I’m not sure if it’s still available, but when we visited we had the After Eight menu – three courses from a slightly reduced menu and unlimited wine from a choice of four (a Spanish cava, a Chilean chardonnay, and Californian pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon the night we were there, all very nice). At $80 per person it’s an excellent deal.

    Tuna “poke” – really a tartar, with pickled watermelon radish, charred avocado, lotus root crisps and a wasabi emulsion.

    Bacon salad. I have to admit I was surprised by this. By bacon salad I was expecting some greens and some slices of lovely crispy bacon. What arrived was a huge slab of truly excellent belly bacon, with a complex burnt-caramel, orange and bourbon gastrique and some completely anomalous sprigs of Thai basil. This is manly steakhouse food taken to the next level.

    Eye fillet, gorgonzola sauce, applewood smoked bacon. Cooked to an accurate medium rare, perfectly tender as eye fillet should be, the sauce was heftily blue-cheesy without being overpowering.

    Eye fillet again, with a coffee rub and a pleasantly warm ancho butter drizzle and topped with a giant pile of crispy onion strips. I haven’t seen that much fried alium as a garnish since the ’90s, I think. It was a retro joy to go through.

    We had side dishes of grilled mushrooms (simple, classic, delicious) and hash browns (sadly rather soggy and the least exciting dish of the meal. We should probably have gone with the fries, but were trying to eat things we couldn’t get at home, hence hash browns.). And with that we were quite full.

    Unable to fit dessert, our excellent waitress insisted that it be packed for us to take home.

    A very nice chocolate cake with a Bailey’s flavoured chcolate mousse filling and chocolate ganache. Mr. Cow was impressed.

    Overall it was a classic steakhouse experience. Really good beef, well cooked, tasty sauces, very nice surrounds and excellent service.

  • Travel


    So. obviously I haven’t posted anything for months and months.

    It seemed … weird, at least, maybe even tasteless, to be posting about all the fun things we did on our holidays when all the things that are going on, are going on. But I’m going to get back to it. Because it was a fun holiday. And a lot of things have changed, and more will change, but I want to memorialise all the things we did before they fade out of my memory altogether.

    So to all the people who made our holidays great – running restaurants, and tours, and hotels, and Air B’n’Bs, and Broadway shows, and everything – thank you. I have confidence in (this may sound tacky) the human spirit that whatever new normal we end up at will be at least as good as the old one.

  • Travel

    Day 3 – Boston. Capitol, Cemetery, Church

    For our first full day in Boston we started with an orientation ride around town on the hop-on, hop-off bus, had an excellent sandwich for lunch, and started our long and gradual walk along Boston’s famous Freedom Trail.

    The wheels on the bus

    The hop-on, hop-off bus tour is an institution. There are some places where it is a terrible idea – in London in 2012 we spent about twenty minutes traversing a single block somewhere near Oxford Street, I think, at which point we hopped off the bus and never hopped back on. But in general they are pretty good.

    They drive from one main attraction to the next, and being hop-on hop-off you can of course stop and look at the things you want to see, then get back on later and get taken to the next thing you want to see.

    We have a slightly different take on these tours. We tend to do the whole loop in one go. You get to drive around the main parts of town, a sense of the layout of the city and of where the main tourist attractions are that you may want to see. You might discover some things you didn’t pick up on in your initial research of things to do in the town. And you get at least one glimpse of all the main attractions even if you don’t follow up and look at them in detail later.

    Case in point – Cheers. Originally The Bull and Finch, this Beacon Hill neighbourhood pub was the inspiration for the pub in the famous sitcom and the location for the exterior shots. The name was changed in 2002 and the pub continues to boom on the popularity of fans. We probably wouldn’t have sought it out on our own – truth to tell it was not even on my mind as a thing to do in Boston – but having rolled past and taken a happy-snap, I’m perfectly pleased that we did.

    Back Bay. Historically tidal flats, in the early 18th century the area was dammed off from the rest of the Charles River estuary to create a mill-dam that would harvest tidal power. Unfortunately the engineering specs were a bit off and the project was a failure, creating a fair old expanse of brackish water and trapped sewage just a couple of hundred yards from Boston Common.

    Making a good thing out of bad, another major project was launched to infill the space within the mill-dam and create land for a new residential district. While Boston has a mixed history of major project implementation, (cough Big Dig cough) this one went well and now Back Bay is one of Boston’s premier residential districts, renowned for its stately rows of elegant brownstone houses. Tom Brady lives there! The guide pointed out his house but I did not get a photo.

    The Boston Public Library is the third largest public library in the United States. Completed in 1895 it is opposite Copley Square and is a truly epic building. I kind of wish we had visited there as 19th century libraries are always worth a look, but we were busy in Boston and just whizzed on by on our bus.

    Just across Copley Square from the library is Trinity Church. Another granite edifice, it is notable for being Romanesque revival in its architecture. It stands out in Boston where it is more common to see Colonial (especially in the inner-city churches), Greek revival or Classical revival architecture. And of course these days lots and lots of steel-framed glass-fronted skyscrapers.

    Speaking of Greek revival, we hopped off the bus for the last time opposite the Massachusetts State House. The building was completed in 1798; the dome was originally made of wood, then covered in rolled copper in 1802 by Paul Revere’s copper company (Revere got around!), and finally in gold leaf in 1874 because … I mean, if you could have a giant gold dome on top of your capitol, why wouldn’t you?

    Sandwich Time

    In between the bus tour and exploring the Freedom Trail we stopped for lunch. Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely passionate about food, and Doreen is very good at indulging me (within reason). Don’t worry – these posts will not be a blow-by-blow description of every meal we had , with a forensic deconstruction of ingredients and technique. But we will share some meals with you, especially when they are a dish that is especially distinctive, local to the area, or just really darn good. Also when they have to do with steak, yum cha or burgers (but more on that later).

    Which brings us to deli sandwiches. I really do love me a deli sandwich. Copious amounts of meat – some may say excessive – piled high inside good bread; savoury dressings, mustard, mayo, Russian dressing, also piled on to enhance the flavour and contribute to the sense of glorious excess. And they come with a pickle.

    But they are rare and expensive outside of large American cities, so mostly they are an occasional treat to be enjoyed on holiday. And we split one between us, we’re not greedy.

    The Shop : Sam LaGrassa’s

    Sam LaGrassa’s is a family run sandwich shop with over 50 years in business. They are located near the Common and the sight of office workers sitting on the grass enjoying a sandwich is a pleasing one.

    It’s a busy shop, with a long counter, plenty of seats, and a thriving take-out and delivery trade as well. Service was quick even at lunchtime, we ordered at the take-out counter and had our sandwich in our hands in about three or four minutes.

    The sandwich : Cubano

    Roast pork, honey-glazed ham, sliced pickle, chipotle mayo, jack cheese, on an Italian roll, pressed and toasted. Not a traditional Cubano, which would normally have Dijon mustard and Swiss rather than jack cheese. We didn’t mind, we ate it all down. Very good sandwich.

    Pickle Quality : Very good. Sour and salty, not sweet, crisp texture.

    The Freedom Trail

    The Freedom Trail is a collection of places of historical interest related to the American Revolution. It starts at Boston Common (at the tourist centre – you can get a free brochure with a map and some basic facts or pay a few dollars to get a more comprehensive booklet, we did) and winds its way through Downtown, up through the North End, across the river to Charlestown and ends up at the Boston Navy Yard.

    I mean, if you want to get reductionist about it, the Freedom Trail is a red line on the pavement that you follow to get from one point of historical interest to the next. Mostly it is inlaid bricks with a few sections of painted red lines, and there are plaques to let you know you have arrived at the next interesting bit.

    If you really push it you could walk it in half a day, but at that speed you would do little more than stroll past everything. Amid the various other things we did in Boston, we spent two half-days on the trail on the Boston side and then a full day on the Charlestown side. While we stopped and had a good look at everything on the trail, we didn’t go inside every building, for example, or look at every point of interest in every cemetery (there are a lot of cemeteries!), so you could certainly spend three days on it if you wanted to take your time.

    Granary Burying Ground is just half a block from the north-east corner of the Common. It was first used as a cemetery in 1660 and contains the remains of three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Paul Revere, and the five victims of the Boston Massacre (of which more later).

    Ben Franklin is of course buried in Philadelphia. But he a was born and raised in Boston (more on that later) and his parents were buried here. The honking great obelisk in their memory was erected by a group of Boston citizens in 1827, well after Franklin’s death. A modest man, I’m not entirely sure he would have approved.

    Yes – that Sam Adams. Sadly the beer, while quite pleasant, was dreamed up in the 1980s as a marketing angle and has no direct relationship to the famous Founding Father (whose family were in fact maltsters, making the malted wheat and barley from which beer was brewed, rather than brewers themselves).

    And while we’re here, let’s spend a moment on colonial New England funerary art.

    Let’s get it right out there – Death’s heads are everywhere. What today would look like the cover of a heavy metal album was, back in the 17th and 18th centuries, a reminder that death was a part of the cycle of life. In a time when life was often short, the Puritans of New England saw the end of earthly flesh and passage to the afterlife as something to be, if not celebrated, then at least commemorated.

    Here’s a close-up of the centre-piece of the gravestone above.

    Death, scythe propped up in the background, is holding time’s arrow in one hand while snuffing out the candle of the decedent. That is a whole lot of symbology in one small panel, and I haven’t even got to the fact there is an ilithid in the background (or possibly Great Cthulhu, because after all we are just a few hours down the road from Arkham University).

    More Deaths, this time reclining with what appears to be a quizzical expression on their faces. “What’s it to you, buddy?”, they seem to be asking. Perhaps I am overthinking this.

    Next on the trail is King’s Chapel. The building dates from 1749, when it was erected around the outside of a smaller wooden chapel that was built there in 1687. As an Anglican church it was seen as a constant reminder of the “popery” and religious corruption that the Puritans had left England to avoid. At the time of the Revolution, the rector Dr. Henry Caner was advocating for for the establishment of a Bishop in Boston. This would further strengthen the English structure of Church and politics in the colonies, possibly threatening freedom of religion, and was a great cause of resentment among the colonists. King’s Chapel was where the British colonial officials and army and navy officers would attend church; when the British Army evacuated Boston in 1776, over half the congregation of King’s Chapel evacuated with them.

    Next to the chapel is King’s Chapel burying ground (I told you there were a lot of cemeteries) – a misnomer actually, as the chapel post-dates the burying ground and was built on land seized from the cemetery some fifty years after the cemetery started. It is the oldest burying ground in Boston, dating from 1630. Grave sites were re-used frequently for the 150 or so years the cemetery was in use, and there may be as many as twenty burials for every headstone visible today.

    At one corner of the graveyard is an octagonal metal structure. Does anyone want to guess what it is?

    No, Buffy fans, it’s not the entrance to a tomb. It’s a vent for the Boston underground railway, which in 1898 was the first in America.

    Next along the trail is a rather colourful mosaic set into the sidewalk (look at me, all American with my “sidewalk”. We all know it’s a footpath). The mosaic commemorates the location of the first public school in America, the Boston Latin School. The school was started in 1635, just five years after the settlement of Boston, and was unique in being open to all students (as long as you were male) and charging no tuition (although students were required to “donate” firewood and other things to support the schoolmaster, so if your parents were really poor you were kind of out of luck). Among the most famous dropouts of the school were Ben Franklin and Louis Farrakhan. The mosaic was created in 1983 by Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg and evokes a hopscotch grid.

    The school is long gone, of course. In its place now stands the old Boston City Hall, a rather elegant structure built in the 1860s. I didn’t get a good shot of it for some reason (but Google Streetview is pretty good) but you can see details of the east wing in the shot below (behind the statue of Josiah Quincy who was Boston’s second mayor).

    In the 1960s the Boston city government decided it was too elegant for them, I guess, and moved to the new city hall which is a hideous brutalist lump a few blocks away. Old City Hall was going to be torn down, but local groups lobbied for it to retained and it became one of the earlier examples of urban adaptive re-use. “Adaptive re-use” is, as far as I can tell, code for “put a bar in it”.

    Sometimes a bar just doesn’t do it, though, and you have to go full steakhouse.

    Speaking of adaptive re-use, on “Parnassus Corner” (the corner of School and Washington streets, just a block from the old Latin School site) is a historic building that in the colonial period was an apothecary store. In the 19th century it was home to Ticknor and Fields, at the time one of the leading publishers in the United States. Frequented by authors such as Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dickens and Thackeray, it was at the heart of the literary flowering of New England. Now it has been adaptively re-used.

    This might be sacrilege, but I can really imagine Dickens chowing down on a carnitas bowl

    Just across from Chipotle, sorry I mean the old corner book store of course, is the Old South Meeting House. Meeting house is code for a church; it was built in 1729-30 and the plain architecture reflects the Congregational Puritan view that the sermon was much more important than the venue.

    It became an important part of Revolutionary history for the simple reason that it was the largest meeting hall in Boston. If you wanted to stir up a mob, Old South Meeting House is where you wanted to be. Famous meetings here included the response to the Boston Massacre in 1770, when thousands met to demand the removal of British regiments from town (they left, but returned later), and the meeting in 1773 that led to the Boston Tea Party. When the British occupied Boston in 1775 they removed all the furniture, filled the floor with soil and used it as a riding-school. When the Congregational church moved in 1872 the Old South Meeting House was preserved as a historic site and museum.

    And just another block down the road is the Old State House. Notably more ornate than the Old South Meeting House, it was built in 1712-13 and was the seat of government in colonial Massachusetts. It was the office of the Governor and appointed officials, and also the meeting place of the elected Massachusetts General Court (which was a legislature, of course, not a court in the more common sense). In the 1770s when the General Court met the gallery was full of fiery Boston political types who would loudly heckle any legislature member who dared to vote in line with the British government’s plans.

    The balcony on the second floor (first floor to non-Americans) was used by the royal governors to read pronouncements to the populace. In entirely conscious symbolism, a copy of the Declaration of Independence was read out to a lively crowd in 1776.

    And that is quite enough for one day. Actually we went out that evening to Sculler’s Jazz Club, located all the way out in Allston, which is quite difficult to get to by public transport. The venue was nice with very good service, the food was quite good, and the music was not really to my taste, which is always a risk with a young jazz artist, who do tend to change their style a lot. So I won’t bother you with that.

  • Travel

    Day 2 – New York to Boston

    It’s morning in America – and the breakfasts are big!

    The sun rose bright and shiny on New York City that day, and we rose early too (rather more jet-lag addled than bright and shiny) for our first full day in-country.

    Okay, the weather was slightly hazy. But so were we.

    Just on the far side of Penn Station is the Tick Tock Diner, a big venue with plenty of neon, laminate and stainless steel serving big breakfasts (that almost always come with hash browns).

    I feel obliged to say that we do not normally eat breakfasts this big – we often don’t eat dinners this big – but we were planning on skipping lunch because of being on the train, and also, if you’re going to do a diner breakfast, go large or go home. In truth the food was huge and okay but kind of bland. Good coffee though – I love American style coffee, dark and strong robusta in a heavy bottomless mug.

    Or in this case, go large and go home. “The Chicken or The Egg”, fried chicken, fried egg, bacon, tomato, pimento cheese on a toasted bun.
    Italian omelette – sausage, peppers, mushroom, tomato, mozzarella, probably four eggs I think. And it came with a giant hash brown and extra toast because why not?

    Then back to the Stewart to get our luggage, and back across to Penn Station in plenty of time to catch the 11:00 Amtrak to Boston.

    Take the A(mtrak) Train

    Taking the train is almost a no-brainer in the north-east corridor compared to taking a plane. By the time you allow for taxi fares to and from airports, the train is cheaper, even in business class, and the time taken is about the same. Maybe the train was a little longer, we were about five hours door-to-door versus I reckon about four to four-and-a-half for flying (after allowing for taxi time, security, collecting luggage and all that guff). But hey, you don’t have to take off your belt and shoes to go on a train.

    Tourist tip – on Amtrak consider buying business class seats. They are not much more expensive than regular, you get extra leg room, just a handful of inches but it makes a difference – and the extra legroom converts into extra luggage space too, which is often in short supply on a long intercity trip. There is wi-fi, power outlets and cup-holders too (these are all available in Coach seating).

    Mister Cow always appreciates the extra legroom.

    It’s a pleasant train trip too, trundling along the coast of Connecticut and Rhode Island with some nice views (of which we took absolutely zero pictures) before cutting inland through southern Massachusetts to Boston.

    The Best Thing About Our Holiday #1

    We left the train at South Station and had a not at all difficult walk of about ten minutes to our Airbnb-rented apartment (which was located downtown, convenient to Boston Common, several T (the subway network, as distinct from the commuter rail network) stations, Roche Bros. supermarket and really just about anything a tourist could want.

    When you come back from a big holiday people almost always ask “What was the best thing about the trip?”. A month away really has too many excellent things to pick on just one, but there was one thing I can point to that set this trip apart from others we have have done in the past.

    And that is that for our long stays in Boston and NYC we rented apartments to stay in instead of hotel rooms. I hadn’t anticipated it but the difference in comfort and pleasantness and quality of life was more than just extra room to spread out (although that certainly helps). It was things like having a fridge to store breakfast makings in (or leftovers), and a little kitchen to prep them in, instead of eating breakfast out every day. Having a couch to sit instead of perching on a bed. Having access to Netflix or Amazon Prime instead of a sad bundle of cheap cable stations. Not having to worry about housekeeping coming in if you wanted a bit of a lounge about in the morning instead of hitting the tourist tracks. Having a washer/dryer, instead of spending a fortune on hotel laundry or losing half a day or more to find and use a laundromat. My maximum endurance for a holiday is normally about three weeks; after that I get really sick of living out of a suitcase, staying in cramped quarters, and not having a normal life. This time it felt like we were coming home to an almost normal evening. At the end of this thirty day holiday I was still going strong and raring for more!

    Burger, Beer, Boston

    By the time we settled in and bought some provisions there was just time for a quick orienting stroll up to the Common and around downtown before dinner.

    Part of Boston Common – a very pleasant place to sit and eat a sandwich
    And a nice place for a stroll. Doreen did a few morning runs there.

    Democracy Brewing is a worker-owned brewpub in downtown Boston. They make some excellent beer and fine burgers, delivered with great service too.

    Two four-beer tasting flights and you cover pretty much the whole menu.
    Each beer was 5 oz which is 150 ml or about half a normal Australian pot.

    All the beer was good – gladly they do not buy into the current fad for ridiculously bitter pale ales – but we especially enjoyed the blueberry kettle sour and the Fighting 54th saison.

    Taking the beer theme to the extreme, the Beerger includes hopped pickles and beer mayo as well as all the usuals, and is meaty, juicy and delicious.

    And so off to sleep for a big day tomorrow hitting the Freedom Trail!

  • Travel

    Day 1 – Flying to America

    Overthinking the Route

    So flying with Qantas there are two main ways to get from Melbourne to New York. QF93 MEL- LAX followed by QF11 LAX-JFK leaves at 9am and arrives at 4:40pm New York time. That’s not bad, you have to get out of bed at about 5am to be at the airport in time, but then you can have dinner in New York and settle in for a decent night’s rest.

    The night-time version is QF49 MEL-SFO and then QF3177 SFO-JFK. This leaves at 20:55 Melbourne time and arrives in NY at 06:32 local. If you can sleep on a plane (I can’t) this is pretty good because you don’t have to get up early, and you have a full day in NY when you get there. The downside is that QF3177 is a code-share with American Airlines (less Qantas points and credits), and if you can’t sleep then you are at fair risk of getting seriously out of circadian whack and crashing straight into bed in NY and missing a whole day.

    A rather outside-the box approach is to fly to Sydney first (QF410 at 07:00 MEL-SYD) then catch QF11 (SYD-LAX, LAX-JFK). It leaves Melbourne at the same time as QF93 and because it is an extra flight leg you get about 10% more Qantas points and 15% more status credits. The downside is that you have a very rushed transit in Sydney during which you have to go through border control; but Qantas is used to these things and is very organised indeed at getting people through in time for their connecting flights. So that is what we did.

    Mister … Cow?

    Meet Mr. Cow, our travel mascot. He has been with us to Thailand, the USA and many other places. Here he is enjoying the ambience of the Qantas lounge at about 06:15 on the morning of our flight.

    So on with the flight, already!

    Well, it was an airline flight, you know? Lots of sitting around looking at a tiny screen and waiting for time to pass so you can get on with your life.

    Just about to pushback from MEL.
    Mr Cow likes his coffee frothy
    The view is quite nice sometimes, actually.

    I don’t remember what movies I watched, I don’t remember the transit at LAX at all, I don’t remember what books I read. Long-distance air travel is a blur, and possibly thankfully so.

    New York, New York, it’s a Koreatown

    Eventually we arrived at JFK and taxied into town. Tourist tip – if your flights give you a choice of going to any of the other airports near New York, choose JFK. It’s more modern, nicer, and there is a fixed-price taxi fare from JFK to Manhattan ($52.50 as of writing) that is not available from the others.

    We checked in to our hotel for the night. The Stewart Hotel was … okay, I guess. Not fancy, but we were just staying one night before catching the train up to Boston the next day, and the Stewart is very convenient to Penn Station. A bit of wandering around found us eating Korean Fried Chicken at Turntable in Koreatown.

    The food was crispy and spicy, and had been cooked to order instead of reheated, the beer frosted the outside of the glass, we were off the plane breathing fresh air and able to walk more than twenty metres in one direction.

    Clearly it was time to go to bed.