Freedom Trail, Sailors and Soooooooooore Feet

Well I didn’t make it to the ex-pat event last night after all – I looked up the address again and worked out that to get to it I’d have to walk through the financial district, which is totally fine in the day, but after hours it’s almost deserted.  Which would probably have been totally fine, but being a bit new to the city I wussed out and had another quiet one.  Which led to me not waking up until 7.30am today – result!

 

After a healthy (yes, you read it right, HEALTHY) breakfast of cornflakes, I pottered off into North End.  The Trolley tour tickets are valid for 48 hours, and there are a fair few areas they can’t get into (Boston is not overly car friendly…. but then the drivers aren’t very friendly either so it works both ways!) so I thought I would wander through North End, then across the bridge to Charlestown and pick up the trolley at that point on the tour.  Essentially I was following part of the Freedom Trail, which is one of Boston’s best free tourist attractions – it’s a red line which is either painted or bricked into the sidewalks (sorry, pavements) and takes you around a lot of the major tourist sites, including the Bunker Hill Monument, USS Constitution, Old North Church, Quincy Market, Old State House, and Boston Common to name a few.  It’s not that long (under 3 miles) but once you’ve stopped to take all the pictures you want, and to wander round the attractions en route, it can feel like a marathon!

 

North End is gorgeous – tons of Italian restaurants, and some of the most amazing food shops I’ve seen!  “Depasquale’s Homemade Pasta Shoppe” was the most impressive, with loads of fresh pasta on sale (including about 10 types of ravioli!). The Freedom Trail runs right through North End, so I stuck to that for the most part (stopping off at Mike’s Pastry on the way through – I had a pistachio cannoli and a coffee, which was astonishing (the cannoli, not the coffee.  The coffee was good too, but not astonishingly so!), as shown below:

 

Mmmmmmm

 

And no, Mum, I didn’t finish it.  No-where near.  I was pretty impressed, actually – one of the most popular bakeries in North End, which isn’t cheap, and the above with a cup of coffee set me back under $7 – in the UK I imagine it would’ve been about £8 for that…

 

Anyhew, I used my sugar and caffine related energy (now I curse it – you will see why later…) to carry on along the Freedom Trail – I stopped off in the Old North Church, which is where two lanterns were hung from the steeple as a signal that the British were going to march on Lexington and Concord via the sea route.  So it says in my guide book, anyway…  It’s a lovely church, and there was a really poignant memorial outside to the US soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq – it’s the tags from each soldier hung up together in rows: when the wind blows they knock together and chime very softly, and it’s surprisingly moving.

 

From Old North Church, the Freedom Trail takes you to the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground – the second-oldest cemetary in the city (they are terribly proud that it dates back to 1660 – bless).  It should be a quiet place to reflect, but it was rather overrun with Japanese tourists when I went in, so I left sharpish!  It’s the last tourist point in North End, so the next step is over the bridge to Charlestown (scariest road bridge I’ve ever encountered – the middle part is like a grille, so you can see straight through to the water below!!!  Not a fan…).

 

It was at this point that my suger and caffine related energy caused me some problems.  The sensible thing at this point, with the temperatures rising significantly (it was 35 degrees today, or very high 90s for non-metrics…)  and the time getting closer to midday would have been to look at the Bunker Hill Monument from a nice comfortable distance, and then go and do the USS Constitution tour with the lovely sailors.  But no.  That little part of my brain that tends to stay quiet unless aggravated, piped up and said “Let’s go to the monument and walk up it – we’ve not done that before”.  So off I went, up to the base of the monument, past the signs saying “Do NOT attempt to climb if you have any health issues or are unfit” and merrily started to climb the steps.  All 297 of them.

 

When they say you need to be in good physical condition to make the climb, they mean it.  Seriously.  There is a bench at the very top, which is constantly covered by very VERY sweaty people trying to regain their equilibrium.  And then looking a tad hard done by when they realise that not only are there thick windows between them and the ‘best views in Boston’, but that some git who was here before has scratched the glass, making it quite hard to get good photos.  When I was capable of speech again, I took some photos (see album: http://www.helengoestoboston.com/photos/main.php?g2_itemId=538) and then started down again.  I must admit feeling quite smug when, on meeting people coming up the way, they asked me if they were nearly at the top yet.  “You’re just coming up to about half way”, I told them, and laughed inside as their faces fell.  Exercise doesn’t agree with me….  Although I get the feeling that if I did the climb once a week for the next 18 months, I would end up much fitter for it…  That isn’t in any way a binding statement, however!

 

From there it was off to the Naval Yard, for my tour of the USS Constitution – nicknamed ‘Old Iron Sides’ from when a British ship attacked, and the cannonballs just bounced off the sides.  The Americans then broke the British ship, who surrendered (this was in the War of Independence, obviously, not last Thursday)  Entertaingly enough, the sailor showing us around (not in an officer’s uniform this time, sadly – I shall have to time things better next time) then mentioned that there was an English representative in the crowd (me!) and that obviously they were very sorry about it.  So I just got the Americans to apologise for the War of Independence…. does this mean we can have it back?!

 

I picked up the trolley tour outside the naval yard and sat tight until we got to the Prudential Centre, where I grabbed some lunch.  By that point (about 3pm) my feet were starting to hurt like hell (if you are doing the Freedom Trail, or anywhere in Boston, wear sensible shoes.  I have been wearing Hush Puppies flip flops, which are very comfortable most of the time, but frankly aren’t up to the task of this much walking – trainers tomorrow!) so I thought I’d head back to the apartment for a bit of a rest.  Wandered along Boylston Street, and through part of the Common – all very lovely, but next time I’ll do it in sensible shoes!

 

Anywho, now I’m back at the apartment for a bit of a recover before dinner – I think I’m going to try for Legals tonight, as I haven’t had a fix of clam chowder yet!  Although as it’s a Friday night it might be best to get take-out rather than queuing for a table for just me.  The apartment is very lovely, and I’ll still be able to get out and grab some food and wine!  I’ve got some meetings set up for next week to see apartments with a view to renting rooms – it’s a bit scary to be looking at sharing with someone after so long living alone, but I think it’ll be good for me, and I hope I’m not too set in my ways!  Fingers crossed…

Sunshine, Red Sox and Ice Cream

So after a take-out burrito dinner in the apartment last night, I thought I would watch TV in my lovely apartment bedroom.  At 9pm, I thought I would watch some of the travel channel (Man VS Food, actually)…. and I then woke up shortly after midnight having passed out, still holding the remove control.  Anyhew, much more sleep last night than on my first night in Boston, so I woke up feeling a lot more human!

 

Today was generic exploring day – after pancakes at Quincy Market (not as good as Cracker Barrel pancakes, for those in the know – the most exciting part of breakfast was watching a tour group of Japanese tourists eating lobster rolls at 10am… I couldn’t) I went to join the Old Town Trolley tour of the city – it’s a really good tour, and takes in Charlestown, North End, the harbour area, the West End, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, the Theatre District, the Common, Copley/Prudential, Fenway and Cambridge.  For the price, you get a lot, plus it’s hop on/hop off, AND I got an included harbour cruise and Fenway Park tour.  All for under $50.

 

The Fenway Park tour was pretty cool.  I took a lot of photos (linked here: http://www.helengoestoboston.com/photos/main.php?g2_itemId=137 ), but I would definitely recommend the tour to anyone, even if you know nothing at all about baseball (or rounders, as I shall blatently refer to it at some point!).  There was the standard grossly overpriced merchandise ($40 for a t-shirt – I think not!) and people trying to sell photos of yourself taken in front of a greenscreen at the start of the tour, but the guides were very clear, with lots of tidbits to share, and I can now honestly say that I know much much more about the Red Sox and Fenway Park (and, in fact, baseball in general) than I knew before.  Although that really wouldn’t be hard, now would it…

 

That done, I reboarded the trolley and headed back to pick up my harbour cruise.  Which was lovely, if involving being followed through the queue by the grumpiest American couple I’ve ever encountered.  But hey ho, I was having fun.  I’m sure the ‘oh wow you’re British’ thing will get old soon (the ‘oh wow you’re Australian/Scottish’ thing has already got very old) but it’s still good for mileage at the moment.  Sadly I ended up with a headache from all the sunshine, so I (for therapy, obviously) bought some of that Red Velvet Cake ice cream to cool things down.  I am now sitting in the apartment, without a headache – ergo it obviously worked, so it’s a fail-safe plan for the next one!

 

It’s 5.45pm here now, and I’m meant to be going to an InterNations even tonight – it’s for ex-pats in different cities and it’s at a roof-top bar (fancy), so I think it’s worth a visit.  I probably won’t stay too long based on last night’s sleepiness, but at least if I’m out I’m unlikely to fall asleep in a corner… you would think, anyway…

Social Security, Banking and Sunshine

Firstly, I would like to point out that jet lag is nobody’s friend.  It isn’t funny or clever.  And therefore I’ve practically got my head on my (lavishly decorated) dining table while I’m typing this, and it’s only 4.30pm local time.  At least it’s not 2.30 I suppose…

 

So after a rather annoying night of getting woken up by my air conditioner (which sounds a bit like a jet engine taking off, and switches on and off as the apartment temperature fluctuates – it wouldn’t have woken me up if my brain hadn’t thought it was already time to be doing things!!!), I ended up completely unpacked, showered, dressed and Skyping by about 7.15am.  Unheard of, historically.  But probably a good thing as this morning was ‘social security’ morning…  Que scary music…

 

The Boston office for applying for social security is on Causeway Street – it’s just north of Beacon Hill, and is near the government centres.  Being a government building unrelated to State legislature, it is naturally a deeply unattractive building.  I wasn’t quite sure if I was on the right track initially – there is another concrete monstrosity which homes the mental health side of the health board, but then I spotted the appropriate building (actually, to be honest, not as bad as it could’ve been.  Not far off, but not as bad).

 

Being a government building there is a security checkpoint.  I managed not to set anything off, and was asked where exactly in Scotland I was from…  Hmmmm!  Anyhew, I picked up my ticket and sat down to wait.  Having been told about the epic proportions of the queues and the wait times, I had printed off my forms to complete in advance (you can do this online – if you go to http://www.ssa.gov/ssnumber/ss5.htm you can print it off in advance and complete it) and had as much identity information as I could lay my hands on.  The website specifies you need to provide proof of age, identity and eligibility to work, and you can do this in no less than 2 documents – I have a UK passport with US Visa, but it wasn’t clear on whether this was 1 or 2 documents, so I had my birth certificate on standby (if you’re interested, the passport/visa combo DOES count as 2 items, so I didn’t need the birth certificate after all!).

 

Half an hour later, I had a 5 minute chat with a woman behind the desk, and was given a receipt for my application.  I won’t get the card/number for about 4 weeks because my paperwork from the airport hasn’t caught up yet (they advise waiting 2 weeks before applying for a social security number, but my firm was insistent that I get in early for some reason!), but I have a document to use in the meantime, and at 9.35 I was out of the office.  So much for the long waits!

 

What could I do but pop to Whole Foods to get some supplies.  I would like to point out at this stage that I was quite restrained – I bought some veggies, some bread, milk, pasta and some teabags.  It was touch and go when I passed the ‘ready meal’ section (i.e. meals which have been cooked and prepared freshly and will be boxed up for you to take home – it’s amazing!!!) but I managed.  I also have thus far managed to resist the lure of Ben and Jerrys – I had forgotten how many flavours they have over here, but have been taken aback so far by Smores, and Red Velvet Cake flavours.  Bets on how long I will hold off?!

 

With the rest of the day to kill, I thought I’d try sorting out my local bank account – again, much easier than I expected!  Within about 10 minutes of chatting to a very friendly representative of Bank of America, I had a checking and saving account set up, plus a debit card to use temporarily, and internet banking!  He even took me to the cash machine to show me how it works (I think when I asked whether they had direct debits over here he decided that it was worth taking me through things very step by step….).  But I’ve got it all set up and ready to go!  The only annoying thing is that I’m going to have to have a secured credit card – even with a perfect credit rating in the UK (gnashes teeth in irritation) it doesn’t transfer, so I’m starting again from zero.  Still, I can build up some credit over the next year and will hopefully be able to get something better in a while – probably just before I head back to the UK!

 

With those sorted before lunchtime, I had a bit of a wander around Quincy Market (discovered seafood mac and cheese – it is the most amazing thing!!!  Lobster, giant prawn and crab-meat in the mac and cheese – seriously un-Weight Watchers friendly, but good grief it’s AMAZING!!!!) and booked some touristy stuff to do over the next few days – I figured that it’s best to keep busy rather than having too much time to think at this stage, so I’m going to do a trolley tour (hop on hop off) and explore new areas of Boston I’ve not seen much of before.  It also comes with a harbour cruise and a tour of Fenway Park included, so that’ll be fun!

 

Then I had a wander along the harbour-front.  It’s gorgeous in the sunshine (see gallery, link: http://www.helengoestoboston.com/photos/main.php?g2_itemId=33  – not quite sure I’ll go near it past November – it’ll be freezing!!!), but I’m shattered now.  Jet lag kicking in big-style.  I’m thinking I’ll get something take-out tonight for dinner and just veg out in front of the bad American TV (or try to find who is showing the paralympic openining ceremony), then try to actually get some proper sleep.  Last night it was a matter of find PJs (they were in a very convenient place, by the way, I just was trying to locate them with the brain-power of a small cucumber…) and collapse (having strewn clothes all over the floor – tidying this morning was a bit epic!), but tonight I’m hoping it’ll be a bit better.

 

Missing everybody a lot, although I’m trying to keep busy.  Really glad that there are all these technological do-whats (technical term, I used to be a physicist you know…) so I can keep in touch with people – Skype is brilliant, with being able to see Mum and Dad, and Whatsapp has been fantastic with being able to text people without breaking the bank whenever I can get a WiFi signal!

 

Anyway, I digress.  Best sign off and stop rambling.  Night All!

The Apartment

First things first, my darling sister has requested photos of the apartment.  Dutifully, I have taken these photos forthwith, and attach them below:

 

 

The main issue (well, the only issue really) is the fact that it doesn’t have a kettle.  I have managed to find some PROPER teabags, and am going to have to resort to a saucepan to  boil any water….  Ho hum.

Jet Lag…

So after 5 years of counting down with BDO, and 12 years of going on about it, I’ve finally landed in Boston for my secondment. The plane flew in right past the waterfront, which is actually a picture that I have had on my bedroom wall in the flat for the past 20 months – so 5 days ago I was looking at a canvas of downtown Boston. Now I’m sitting in an apartment in it. It’s a tad surreal. And scary. And a lot of other things that I’m not going to think about until the jet lag wears off a bit.

The flight was ok – the farewells have been brutal, and I’m already missing everyone like crazy, but the flight was complete with films, overly keen flight attendants and a child who seemed to think screaming was the next Olympic sport (he’d have got a gold – although my lovely noise cancelling headphones dealt with it soon enough – premium economy!). Even the immigration side of things went smoothly (although the guy looked deeply confused to see my visa, I now have a big tick in my passport with permission to remain which I’m told is a good thing).

And now it’s the first evening in Boston – not that it really counts, I don’t think… I spent a lot of today either crying, on planes or in airports, but I’m now firmly set up in my Oakwood Apartment, penthouse floor (well, the top floor, but I can call it that!) with a lot of stuff to unpack… I am mildly concerned that if I unpack for the next 30 days, I will never be able to get all my stuff back into the cases to move into somewhere permanent, but I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

And now it’s 10pm local time. The time I have told myself that it is OK to give up and go to bed. At 3am tomorrow UK time, I’ve been up for 21 hours – hmm let’s not think about that too much, as I feel a headache coming!

So I’m going to take myself off to bed, and update further on the subject of ‘how to get a social security number’ tomorrow. Provided I can work out where I packed my PJs…