Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Busy In Boston

Hey everybody!

So I went to Boston this week. I went with my mom and little brother, and we were there for five days and four nights. I took lots of photos while we were there, which makes for the longest blog post I've published to date. Grab a drink or snack, this is going to be a long one.

Day One - Saturday
Technically, this day doesn't really count. I didn't take any photos because we flew into Boston in the evening. By then, we were actually pretty tired. I honestly didn't think I'd be too tired, since I'm used to flying for long durations of time, as well as all of the fun things that come with flying internationally, like customs. It turns out flying domestically can be just as draining. We had to fly from San Antonio to Chicago, then from Chicago to Boston. Overall, it was a pretty uneventful voyage, which I always appreciate. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we searched for food. I loved staying at the Hampton Inn Boston Cambridge, but there is a catch: there's no room service. So, we were kind of forced to go out and find food for ourselves. We found Chipotle inside of a very amazing mall, so it was for the best. After eating, we went back to the hotel room to prepare for the next day.

Day Two - Sunday
I don't even think I've explained the trip yet. We took this excursion out to beautiful Boston to check out a few of the top universities/colleges in the area. I am a rising high school senior, and a homeschooled one at that, so it's imperative that I visit a few schools before applying. Unfortunately there are no college fairs for homeschoolers [at least, that I know of] so I have to take a more hands-on approach. In this case, it means actually flying out to Boston. I'm not complaining.

The first school we stopped by was Harvard College. We walked all the way to Harvard and it was lovely. Firstly, the weather was pretty great. It never got into the 90s F, which is something I think Dubai should take after. Secondly, the scenery was gorgeous. All of the houses were quaint and cute. Plus, the city is so green and clean! I couldn't help but creepily snap a photo of these pretty houses.

After a brisk two mile adventure that included stopping for sandwiches [prosciutto + caprese = yum], we arrived at Harvard College. Let me tell you, it's impressive.  The buildings are stately and historical. I couldn't help but look up at all of the towering edifices. I honestly could have spent hours photographing all of the arches, columns, and windows. Unfortunately, student led tours ended the day prior to our arrival in Boston, so I didn't get a chance to see if the buildings are beautiful on the inside, too. I'm sure they are.

Isaiah stopped for some churro - flavored ice cream. The ice cream was made in a truck with liquid nitrogen. It was pretty cool to watch! I didn't try any [damn you, food allergies] but from Isaiah's enthusiastic face, it seems like it was very good. So, if you're in the Cambridge area and want some awesome ice cream, check out this place.

Since we couldn't catch a tour, we mostly meandered about the campus, including Hahvahd Yahd [I am so, so sorry]. In all seriousness, I loved the campus because it was vibrant, diverse, and not too overwhelming. I never felt like it was easy to get lost here [although knowing me, I would get lost.] If you're interested, the campus is said to be around 380 acres. It's certainly sizable, but manageable on a bike.

There's also a very large church on campus that's dedicated to the Harvard alumni who gave their lives during the World Wars.  It's pretty ridiculous how grand this church is. It's so pretty, I'd probably sit in it for hours.

Before we headed out to Harvard Square, we passed by this piece of art. I... I don't know what it is. I forgot to read the inscription. I thought maybe it spelled out a word, but I don't think it does [no English words, that is]. In any case, it's pretty interesting and just one of many sculptures that can be found around campus.  Harvard is so artsy.

As I mentioned before, the campus is easy to navigate by bike. However, there are places where you need to walk your bicycle instead. I imagine that lots of students walk around with their noses in their books or laptops, and cyclists on the rush are probably not the safest people to have around.

Okay, story time.  I took my large camera for this trip, which is the Canon Eos Rebel T3i. It's a substantial camera with lots of lovely dials and buttons that I've finally mastered. Nobody else in my family really gets how to work it, [which is understandable, because it has an intimidating body] and that means I take lots of self portrait photos [yes, selfies.] I was walking and attempting to take a selfie with my arms outstretched when a nice older gentleman asked, "Would you like me to take your picture?" I laughed and accepted the offer, even though I was pretty embarrassed to have been caught mid-selfie. It turns out, he had a great eye and captured a really excellent photo. I'm even in focus! I know in Texas, people like to talk about southern hospitality with pride, but this man and many other people on the trip proved that there are nice people almost anywhere you go.

So we did some shopping in Harvard Square, including the Harvard Book Store where I picked up a fun new book to read called Alif the Unseen. It was a struggle to pick just one book, but I really didn't want to carry around several pounds of paper. Plus, we didn't check in any luggage and my carry-on space was limited. So one book was my limit.

Harvard Square is a fun little place to shop around. There are coffee shops and restaurants and stores to see. Pretty much every single store had the word "Harvard" in it. Hell, I'm sure there's a sign for "Harvard Bathroom" lurking somewhere. I will say that Harvard Square was one of the more crowded places that we visited. It seemed like there were people everywhere, and they were all a hustlin' and a bustlin'. I usually wouldn't mind, but I had my giant backpack with me and I'm sure I hit many people with it [on accident.]

This is the spot where we hailed a taxi to take us to our hotel. The driver was rather impressed that we had walked so far from our hotel. I was really glad he felt that way, otherwise I would've felt a little embarrassed at how much my back and feet ached. To be fair, we did a lot of walking and shopping. There was a super cool Urban Outfitters store in the area, where I actually picked up my outfit for the next day. I overestimated how cold I'd be, and needed a fun dress instead of jeans. Luckily, Urban Outfitters didn't disappoint!

For dinner, we headed back to the Galleria mall for some Cheesecake Factory food. The mall overlooks part of the Charles River, which you can see here. I was surprised at how much I liked the shopping center. I'll be honest, I'm a bit of a mall snob. After years of living in Dubai, I'm used to seeing marvels like indoor ski resorts and aquariums with sharks inside in the middle of the mall. While the Galleria wasn't that crazy, it had an amazing selection of stores that puts most of the malls here in San Antonio to shame. I picked up goodies at Sephora and late night snacks at CVS, then we headed home.

Day Three - Monday
This day was dedicated to exploring and touring the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The hotel provided complimentary breakfast, and for me, that meant a banana and coffee. After breakfast, we took the Boston subway for the first time in order to get there, and that proved simple enough, with only one transfer.

The actual campus was pretty large and modern, though smaller than Harvard at about 170 acres. The architecture was wildly different than that of Harvard's. Where Harvard had tradition, MIT had innovation. Where Harvard had red bricks and mortar, MIT had an architect with an affinity for abundant acute angles. So while they are physically very close, they are very different schools.

This is the seal inside the main building at MIT. It's where we met for the student-led campus tour. The tours were free for all to go, no reservations needed. However, that meant that it was first come, first serve and I definitely pushed aside elderly Asian women to get to the front [just kidding.] What's funny is that over time, our group actually grew as visitors slowly joined the tour. As for the tour itself, it was extremely informative and our lovely tour guide provided lots of her own insight and experience.

This is another view of the incredibly angular buildings. Luckily, not all of the buildings are shaped like this. In fact, many are very practical looking. That's a good thing, because I can't imagine how the floor layout works in some of those areas.

This is the MIT Dome. From what I learned, many of the students at MIT are fond of pranks, which is called hacking, here. One prank many years ago involved putting together a car on top of the dome, and painting it like a cop car in retaliation against the many parking tickets students received. The car is actually still on campus, it's just not on the dome anymore [obviously.]

Overall, the tour at MIT was great. I learned interesting things about campus life, school scheduling, dorms, and so much more. What's great is that the school is in a safe place, and it seems like there are lots of resources for student help. I'd ideally like to attend a school that really cares for its students [who wouldn't?]

We  worked up quite the appetite after walking around the MIT campus. Nearby was this small restaurant called The Black Sheep. Their slogan is "sophisticated dining kept simple" and it certainly felt that way. I just had a sandwich and chips, but it felt very fancy. We sat near the open doors and could see all the busy passersby. Here's the thing about Boston. Lots of places don't have air conditioning. As someone who lives in San Antonio and Dubai, the words "no A/C" incite lots of internal panic. As it turns out, we generally didn't need air conditioning during the trip, except after fast-walking during peak heat hours. So it was okay.

 After visiting MIT, we headed back on the subway toward Newbury Street. It's a street with lots of amazing shops on it. The subway system of Boston reminded me a lot of the subway in New York. Tons of people use it, and the people are incredibly diverse. On one cart alone, you could see people from all different walks of life, with equally different destinations.

After arriving near Newbury Street, we saw this giant church right outside the subway station. It's pretty amazing seeing so much great architecture everywhere. I'm a sucker for a great archway, and I was never disappointed.

I also forced Isaiah to take a photo of me here.  There are so many cute places to take photos on Newbury Street, especially because lots of areas are green and floral. I wish I could have taken outfit photos here! The weather was great, too. Overcast days are actually perfect for taking photos, because you won't have any harsh shadows [I learned that in photography class.]

I don't think it's possible to love a street as much as I love this street.  They have a Madewell, a Brandy Mellville, a Forever 21, and an Urban Outfitters all within a few blocks of each other. Not even Dubai can boast that [yet.] Plus, there's more than one Starbucks nearby for whenever you need to quench your thirst [I recommend the blackberry mojito tea lemonade or an ice caramel macchiato.] What I really love about walking around in Boston is the diversity. I know I've mentioned it before, but seriously Boston is pretty freakin' diverse. Within a quarter hour, I must have heard 5 or 6 different languages being spoken. I must have looked pretty nosy trying to listen, but it was all so interesting.

Unlike Texas, space in a place like Boston is pretty limited. That means that property is expensive, and shops and apartments alike will be jam packed. I was surprised to see coffee shops and stores in what looked like basements. If you're ever looking for a specific place here, it's important to look down, not just up.

 Many parts of Boston were very fun from a photography sense. I loved how the windows of this building reflected the skies and clouds. It's kind of like the sky never ends. I like taking pictures of buildings because they never blink or sneeze or make other sudden movements. People are more fun, but also frustrating to photograph.

This was the last building I saw before getting back on the subway to head to the hotel room. It's striking amidst the red brick and mortar buildings. After spending the afternoon on Newbury Street, we dropped off our bags [I had several] at the hotel room and ate dinner at PF Changs. It's one of the lovely restaurants at the amazing Galleria mall, which I could not get enough of. After dinner, we walked around some more inside the mall [I may or may not have made a second run to Sephora] and picked up a few snacks. Then we walked back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

Day Four - Tuesday
Today was dedicated to touring Boston University. We woke up to take advantage of the complimentary breakfast. For me, this meant eating four slices of bread with jam. I don't think it was very nutritious. Anyway, we took the subway again to the university, and it was still pretty easy. The campus itself is absolutely beautiful. It's 1.3 miles long, and overlooks the Charles River.

The architecture here was just as breathtaking as many of the other wonderful buildings throughout Boston. In order to get a better feel for the university, we took a scheduled student-led tour that was incredibly insightful. We first watched a presentation all about the diversity and opportunities at BU. They had some great charts and diagrams, which I love.

 The tour itself was also great. Our tour guide had lots to say, and answered all of my questions before I even had a chance to ask them. We were taken inside to see one of the main libraries, the inside of a dorm, and a few of the college buildings. Shown here are some the student residences. Isn't it incredibly pretty? The dorm rooms are tiny, of course, but it's still very aesthetically pleasing.

Despite sounding very large on paper, the campus seemed easily navigable. I think it's long, but not too wide. At around 130 acres, it was actually the smallest school we visited on this trip. It was also reassuring to hear that there are lots of option with BU. I'm fairly certain I'd like to major in biomedical engineering, but there are many opportunities to change majors or add on by pursuing a double/dual major. I also liked hearing about the study abroad programs, as that's something I've considered doing during my undergraduate years.

 The tour ran a little long, but that was fine because we learned a lot from our tour guide. There are lots of little spots like this around the campus, where students and visitors can sit down and people watch or read. According to our tour guide, there's even a place called "The BU Beach" where people go to study or sunbathe [or both.] It's said that the noise of the cars driving buy mimics the crashing of sea waves.

After touring, we were all starving and we stopped by a little place right outside of the university for some pizza. The owner was Greek, and not only was the pizza amazing, we also talked to him about Greece, Cyprus, and the decline of Europe [ha ha.] He was extremely nice to us [as most people of Boston were] and spoke fondly of the time he visited Austin. It was a real bonding moment. It also explained why there were Greek flyers strewn about the place.

After that amazing lunch, we somehow found ourselves back on Newbury Street [what? how'd I get here? with all of these stores???] and walked around some more. We found this fence with locks on them, similar to the one in Paris. If I remember correctly, the idea is that a couple places a lock on the fence together, as a token of their love. I took a photo in front of it because... self love is important? Either way, it was a pretty neat thing to stumble across.

Also while walking, we saw this and I thought it was pretty cool. It's a police station turned restaurant. I like how instead of rebuilding the place, the restaurant owners embraced the older style of architecture. I think it adds character. To the right, there was also a fire station turned architectural school.

After walking around a bit, we found the Prudential Mall which was a small shopping center hidden between buildings. We did some last minute shopping, and also picked up dinner to take back to the hotel. We got food at the first Wagamama I've ever seen in the United States. My favorite dish is the cha han fried rice. It's amazing, and they're very good about accommodating food allergies, which I appreciate. So we took our dinner and rode home on the subway. We had to turn in a bit early this day, because we had an early morning flight. With the carry on bags all packed up, we tried to get some sleep. 

Day Five - Wednesday
Like day one, this doesn't count as a fun, full day in Boston. We got up at a quarter past three in the morning and got ready to head to the airport. It's never fun leaving a great city, especially so early in the morning. Luckily, we had an early start on the ride to the airport. The head start came in handy because many of the highway tolls were closed, and so we had to take little streets to get to the airport. Other than that, the flights home were uneventful and everything went smoothly. And that concludes our journey to Boston!

I hope you enjoyed this post! I've never done anything like it before, and it was much longer than I expected. I hope it felt like you were on the trip with me! Much love,

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