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Boston

18 April 201510:42AMusa-2015travel

Ohhh boy am I behind. Okay. We've been in Boston for a couple of days now and I'm going to try and catch all the way up to approximately right now. Brace yourselves. This is going to be a whole lotta text.

It was about a four hour bus trip from New York*, and as far as bus trips go it was actually pretty pleasant. There was wifi, and I napped a fair bit. And it meant that I actually arrived in a city for once feeling not entirely awful. We're staying in an Airbnb place. It's a room in a share house - really more of a flat - in a really cool part of town, with some really interesting people and a totally rad rooftop. It's good. Barely creepy at all, once you get used to being an anonymous flatmate, and it beats the hell out of the hostel we were staying in in New York as far as space goes.

It was also pretty much the only place that was available, since it's apparently Boston Marathon weekend and pretty much the whole city is booked out. Aside from the difficulty finding accomodation and some occasional queues at breakfast places, it's actually not a bad thing. The vibe is great. I think that's partly because it's a long weekend (I want to say Patriot's Day?), but also people seem genuinely happy with the marathon itself. I'm sort of curious how much of this is because of the bombing a few years ago which everything seems to be alluding to but nobody is really mentioning. Completely by accident, we've picked a cool time to be in Boston.

So we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do after we got here, and didn't really want a repeat of the Madrid "Let's All Do Washing" saga of 2014. We ended up walking across the river to MIT, which was a place I really wanted to see. It's one of those semi-mythical cornerstones of proper old-school nerd culture, and seeing it as a real place was both comforting and kind of a letdown**. It definitely seems to retain that engineer-hacker-geek friendliness, but it's also something that you probably have to experience from the inside. I may or may not have spent the subway ride home wistfully reading their applications page.

Oh hey - Subways are a thing here. For some reason I can't put my finger on, I like them better than European metros, and even more than the Tube. Acutally, that's not hard. I hated the tube. The experience on subways is just a little bit more refined. They're a little wider, a little taller, and a lot better ventilated. All the doors open every stop, and the fares tend to be a flat system-wide entry rather than distance-based. The biggest difference, though, is that because American cities are built on a grid, their topography makes a whole lot more sense. This is especially cool in New York, where (for example) West 103rd Street tells you your subway stop, your taxi stop, your street address, and your approximate distance up the island. Boston is a bit trickier, but they have alphabetically named streets and a roughly grid-patterned subway, so it's not really bad either.

So that was Thursday. Friday we did this thing called the Freedom Trail, which is a path linking all these historical sites from early in Boston's history together. I was expecting a guidebook, but there was an actual trail - a brick pattern embedded in the footpath (sorry, "sidewalk") that winds its way across the city. That was pretty cool.

What was cooler was the guided tours of the trail that they run, done by costumed, in-character guides playing actual historical figures. Ours was one Deborah Samson, who referred to herself as "a colonial crossdresser", and is the official heroine of Massachusetts for disguising herself as a man and enlisting in the army during the American Revolution.

The overriding impression I got from the tour is that this city - this country - is old. Really old. That much is obvious from the architecture. Everything is townhouses and brown stone, (there are even a few cobbled streets in there) and you can really see why they'd call it New England. They were an established bunch of colonies fighting for their independence at about the time we were vaguely thinking about setting up Sydney. Not only that, but their history is damn cool. I'm sure at least some of this is because we got the tourist version, but it's full of Great Men, with Ideals, and Acts Of Daring And Skulduggery. They erected Public Libraries and Meeting Halls and Schools to bring Knowledge And Betterment And Freedom To Their Fellow Man. It's a brilliant story, and an actually properly important story too, and I really wish I knew more of it.

I think America gets a bad rap. Politically and ideologically, at least. We like to make fun of the whole FREEDOM thing, but especially in this part of the country, and especially further back in their history, they really did believe in it and see it as an integral part of their national identity. To this day, these guys have a tremendous amount of pride in their city and their country and its story and what it represents, and I suddenly find myself with a lot more respect for that having experienced it a bit. And I don't think you can spend time here and still take that totally eye-rolling cynical view. Anyone who really hates America obviously has never been there.

Why is it cool to hate America? America is awesome.

Frankly, I think I'm a bit of a convert.

* I'm just now realising that I've mistagged this whole travelogue. NY2015 it ain't. Whoops, sorry Boston.

** The linguistics department was pretty sweet lookin' though.

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