Monday, 14 May 2012

I'm Shipping Up To Boston - Day Thirteen - Thursday 16 February

My recollection of the last day of our East Coast USA trip might be a little hazy as it has now been three months since then! Tempus fugit...

The first business of the day was the usual pre-check-out stuff: get ready, finish packing, compulsively check for any belongings left behind (more so the Yorkshireman than me) and check the heck out. Then it was back into the Cambridgeside Galleria one last time for one last everything bagel with cream cheese and a coffee for breakfast. I'd miss this little routine! Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of places in Belfast where you can grab a bagel and a latté on your way to work, but you certainly pay more for the "novelty" of it here. It cost me less in dollars each morning in the USA than it would here in pounds!

Suitably fuelled for some serious suitcase hauling, we made our way back to our old friend, Lechmere station, and waited for a green train into Boston. It took quite a while so I was starting to panic that we'd be late for the 10.30am date we'd set with the nice man at the water taxi office who had offered to hold our cases for us. A transfer over to the blue line later and we had soon arrived at the Aquarium stop and hauled ass to Rowes Wharf, as quickly as our three overloaded cases and two backpacks would allow.

Thankfully there was indeed someone there and he was happy to take our cases off our hands. We were instructed just to call a taxi from the yellow callbox down on the wharf when we were ready to go and that the captain would retrieve our bags for us when he came to pick us up. Fair enough! So, on with our day...

I can still remember all the things we got up to that day but, to be honest, I don't really remember what order they happened in! However here are some highlights:

I bought a really cute pair of preppy pumps at TJ Maxx, which the Yorkshireman ruled "not fugly" after careful consideration. Combined with the $16.99 price tag, I took that as sign enough I should treat my feet and skipped off to the cash register. I also saw an amazing collection of Le Creuset cookware which was about a quarter of the price it is here in the UK, even in TK Maxx, but even if I'd had room in my suitcase (which I didn't), I wasn't confident in my chances of getting it home in one piece (slim to none), so I waved it sadly goodbye and left it on the shelf. Maybe next time.

After our good impression the day before, we decided to revisit Quincy Market for lunch.

Food Stalls in Quincy Market in Boston

The Yorkshireman had decided he wanted to try some clam chowder (local delicacy and all that) before he left Boston so we called by Boston Chowda. I opted for the lobster bisque. Both were good and the market was interesting place to eat and people-watch, especially when we actually found a seat somewhere (no mean feat, I assure you!).

Clam Chowder from Boston Chowda in Quincy Market

We called into a CVS pharmacy somewhere along the line to stock up on snacks for the plane and some souvenir "candy" for colleagues. I procured a bag of white chocolate Hershey's Bliss for myself and tucked them away for later enjoyment on the plane when they would inevitably serve dessert and snacks containing real chocolate, which I can't eat (stupid food intolerances...). I was right and I greatly appreciated my own forethought!

Perhaps the main attraction of the day was when we headed out to the Samuel Adams Brewery for a brewery tour. Prior to coming to Boston, my only experience of Sam Adams had been the fake commercial from Family Guy, which claimed Sam Adams was the perfect way to get the taste of "weed and hooker spit" out of your mouth, so I was intrigued if nothing else!

The Brewery is actually in a residential area called Stony Brook, with a pretty little park and tiny children's playground opposite the station and lots of clapboard houses and churches, exactly like you see in movies about small-town America.

Stony Brook in Boston (sepia)

As we'd only been to the main urban areas of the cities we'd visited so far, it was an interesting change of pace for us, although I imagine the residents are pretty fed up of seeing random tourists wander past their front porches, only to stumble back a little the worse for wear a few hours later!

We arrived just on time for one of the brewery tours, which are free, although we gave donations as requested.

Samuel Adams Brewery Tour

It was actually a brilliant tour! It was very interactive, which I loved. They don't just tell you about the brewing process - they pass around handfuls of hops and the like to smell, touch and taste as they explain what part each of the ingredients plays. Then they show you all the different equipment they use before finally taking you through to the pièce de résistance, the tasting room! Here you sit on benches at long tables while they explain how to taste a beer properly (seemingly not as complicated as wine tasting and there's no spitting involved!), then they pass out small tasting glasses and jugs of various beers to sample.

I'd read a tip online beforehand to sit at the back, because there's often some beer left in the jug after everyone has poured themselves a glass, so you can often get an extra glass or two if you're at the end of the queue. Because you should obviously believe everything you read on the Interwebz (duh!) we did just that. It was actually a great tip and we did indeed get some extra - yay!

Samuel Adams Brewery Tour Tasting Glass

The only strange part of the experience was the very intense and very southern American Air Force guy who sat opposite us in the tasting room and kept showing us photos of him with his plane and of the place about 3 feet away from his bed where an IED had exploded and nearly killed him. Awesome. All Americans, regardless of their political, religious or personal leanings, seem to be all about the "soldiers are superheroes" thing, so I think he was maybe expecting us to be a little more vocal with how amazing and brave we thought he was, but alas the poor man had picked the wrong crowd. Don't get me wrong, I'm greatly appreciative of those who "fight for our freedom" and all that - some of my own family and friends have been/are in the army and have been sent to terrifying places (strange to think that not so long ago Northern Ireland would have been considered one of them!) - but I must admit I find it hard to reconcile my gratitude with my innate pacifist beliefs so I often get stumped for what to say in those situations. Other than the occasional "gosh" and "that must have been scary", I didn't really contribute much to the conversation. Sorry Air Force guy.

The best beer of the day was the Double Pumpkin Ale, a variation on one of Sam Adams' seasonal ales. I could have gotten very drunk indeed on that one but sadly their gift shop was a bit more expensive than the tour, so I left with only a memory of a taste that haunts my dreams. On the plus side they let us take the tasting glasses home. Time to test that confidence in getting breakables back home in one piece! In the meantime we'd settle for getting them back to Rowes Wharf.

Luckily we did just that, found the yellow callbox on the wharf and called for a water taxi. The captain (who I'd imagined to be some kind of Captain Birdeye type) was actually a capable young man who happily helped us retrieve our bags and get us all onboard. I have to say, water taxi is definitely the coolest way I've ever travelled to the airport. It was quick, easy, relatively cheap and our captain encouraged us to stand up and have a look at the views of Boston as we went. It was an experience to remember.

View of Boston from Water Taxi

As our captain waved us off and started ushering newly landed passengers onboard, we set about finding our way via the free airport bus to the right terminal. Again this was pretty straight-forward and we got there and checked in with no problems. This check-in was actually pretty fun because we were travelling Premium Economy baby yeah! We're usually cattle class passengers all the way but there was a seat sale on when we booked our flights and we were offered an upgrade for something like £30 each (it's usually hundreds of pounds). As the Yorkshireman is over 6' tall and I'm nearly 5' 10" myself, we considered it worthwhile for the extra legroom alone! As it turned out, with the unexpected addition of our extra bag, it was just as well we did.

We're always compulsively early when it comes to flights, much preferring to wait around at the airport for a while than risk missing check-in (clearly we've watched too many episodes of Airline), so our first stop was to find somewhere to relax. We found a strange bar and ordered two pints of blueberry beer. Given our newly-acquired experience of brewing techniques, I had imagined this would have been some kind of beer brewed with blueberries, to give it a hint of that flavour. But no, it was a pint of beer with actual blueberries floating in it! How weird!

Blueberry beer at Boston Logan Airport

If I ever start my own brewery I am so totally developing a chocolate stout that comes with chunks of Yorkie floating in it and a Flake as a stirring stick. Despite our drink/snack, we soon found ourselves at a bit of a loose end again and getting peckish. We found a restaurant close to our departure gate which sold Sam Adams and burgers. Sold! Both were delicious and it certainly filled a gap in our never-ending wait to board.

Eventually they called forward both Premium Economy passengers and those who needed extra time to board. With my crutch in hand I deemed myself eligible for both categories and on we went. I have to say I didn't really enjoy Premium Economy as much as I thought I would, although that was more to do with the woman in front of me who put her seat fully back at the first opportunity and then refused to sit up again the whole flight, even for meals, which made it an interesting experience for me, with the foot of space I had in front of me to work with (hint: my forearms alone are longer than one foot; see also previous note about tallness and legroom!).

In economy class the cabin crew would have had none of that nonsense and would have told her to sit up right away, but clearly in the land of Premium Economy such things are verboten. Presumably that's because it's full of arrogant people who can't quite afford First Class but yet feel entitled to do whatever the hell they like because they're paying more dammit, so it's probably not worth the hassle to even try and argue with them. Whatever. I'm clearly an economy class girl at heart, although if anyone wanted to buy me first class seats to New York any time soon, I wouldn't turn them down... Anyone..?

Weirdo reclining lady aside, it was a quick and easy flight back to the UK. Having watched so much Daily Show and Colbert Report of late, I was in a political mood and I decided to watch that movie with Ryan Gosling and George Clooney in it... hang on a tick... The Ides of March, that's the one! Yeah, the descripion sounds better than the film actually was, plus there was a disappointing lack of his Clooneyness in it for my liking. Woe.

So then I watched the first episode of Boss with Kelsey Grammer, which was disturbing on so many levels (OMG the ear!) but I think I would actually series link it if I caught it starting from scratch on TV sometime because the plot intrigues me. It seemed like a dark version of The West Wing.

By the end of that lot I was in the mood for some Glee or The Simpsons to lighten me up a bit, but alas it was time to land instead. That said, at least I didn't watch the same movie as the Yorkshireman, The Skin I Live In - he described it to me and I've read about it on IMDB but my only reaction remains, WTF dude?!

Suitably depressed we landed in London Heathrow and made our way to immigration. Because of my crutch, a lovely lady ushered us to the front of the queue (I could have kissed her), so we were back on home soil with no muss and no fuss. We retrieved our luggage and made our weary way through the mazes of moving walkways to the central bus station. No straight-forward connection from Heathrow to Belfast for us, oh no. Our first flight of preference sold out before we got the chance to book it, whilst the price of our second went up by about 1000% in the week before we booked. The only feasible alternative was a National Express coach to Gatwick and a return flight to Belfast from there.

The Yorkshireman napped on the coach ride, while I caught up on Twitter and Facebook and marvelled at how much faster 3G is in the south of England compared to Belfast. At Gatwick we checked in quickly and easily and then found somewhere to settle our weary bodies until it was time to board. Thankfully Gatwick has recently been renovated and they have lots of weird and wonderful seating configurations for tired travellers to utilise while they wait. The most awesome, squishy-looking ones were all taken but we soon found some strange recliner style seats and pounced (well, stumbled and fell more than anything).

Eventually our gate was announced and before we knew it we'd boarded, dozed through the short flight across the Irish Sea, and landed in Belfast City Airport, where mother dearest was kindly waiting to take us home. When we arrived, sister dearest and not-so-little brother (well, probably sister dearest really) had made us a good old fashioned cup of tea to welcome our return. We thought it only right to return the favour with gifts.

Out of the suitcase came the hard-won red Converse and utterly baraginous Hollister hoody, the impossible-to-find Take 5 bars and unnecessary tourist box of Hersheys, the t-shirts from the Macy's One Day Sale and JC Penney, the long-deliberated-over hardback book (which, of course, mother dearest already had), as well as her requested Butterfingers bars (in various sizes) and cornbread muffin mix.

It was like reliving our trip one souvenir at a time. Maybe it was just because I was jet-lagged, but it was actually a wee bit emotional. I was glad to be home, with my own bed and pillow upstairs waiting for me, and I loved playing Stateside Santa Claus with my family, but I was already missing the now-familiar streets of New York, the excitement of exploring somewhere like Boston for the first time, or that giant suite at the Helix in Washington DC. Also I really wanted to show my family all these things first-hand, so they would really know why it all made me so giddy. Yes, the travel bug had bitten me hard and even as I lay down in bed and my mind lost its fight to stay awake, I was already working out where I wanted to go next. Then I closed my eyes and allowed my imagination to float off, along the East River, across Boston Harbour and on into dreamland.

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