Boston and New England: Saturday: Returning Home

I flew out on Saturday. These pictures and comments document my few activities of the day.

Boston and New England: Friday: M.I.T. and Vicinity, Part II

Friday was similar to Thursday. I went to work in the morning. (This time I got there by a direct bus.) I worked. Then I disappeared to meet my friend Brian for lunch at a tasty, distinctive pizza joint, Emma's. These pictures cover my lunch experience and a few other minor items from throughout the day.

After lunch, I explored the MIT List Visual Arts Center. Its current exhibit, Sounding The Subject, has many strange, experimental short videos.

I returned to work.

Incidentally, I don't have a walking map for the day because I visited roughly the same places as the previous day and thus didn't think it worthwhile to create one.

I failed to manage to coordinate to re-meet with N, the friend I met up with the previous night.

Around 5:00pm, I cut out of work to take the train to Harvard. There I grabbed dinner with Di Yin in Dudley House and then we joined some people to head to a free concert given by Juventas at the Boston Conservatory. It was a bit too much new music for our tastes, so some of us left at intermission.

We walked all the way back across the bridge, down Mass Av to Harvard, then home. It was a cold night.

Boston and New England: Thursday: M.I.T. and Vicinity

I split Thursday between working and exploring MIT, which, although I'd visited a few times previously, had never done properly. I walked this route from the T to work to around MIT campus to work to dinner to the T. Although I documented the whole day's narrative in pictures and notes, I figure I should add a few high-level observations here.

I spent some of the day at the M.I.T. Museum. It had a number of exhibits with varying degrees of coolness:

  • advances in the biological sciences.
  • cool robots.
  • holography. Very cool. I couldn't photograph anything in this exhibit. Some holograms change as one moves one's head. For instance, in one portrait, a man scratches his nose. The effect reminded me of the magical photographs in Harry Potter.
  • kinetic sculptures by Arthur Ganson. This exhibit was awesome; I must've spent most of my time in the museum here.
  • strobe photography. Has some neat facts.
  • history of MIT education.
  • stackable, lightweight small urban cars.
  • sandscape. This small exhibit was simply a box of sand. One could push the sand around and the light projected onto the sand would change to make what appeared to be a topological map. Neat! I'm not sure how it worked. Like some other exhibits, it was not feasible to photograph.
  • hybrid illusions. These holograms looked like different people depending on the distance one stood from them. Obviously, they're impossible to photograph.

Boston and New England: Wednesday: Gardner and Fine Arts Museums

Wednesday was a full day. I planned to visit the Gardner Museum, finish exploring the third of the MFA that I didn't get to explore previously, and attend a film festival screening. I took a smattering of photos during the day. This blog post describes most of my reactions to the sights I saw. The pictures simply augment it in a few areas.

Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is eclectic. Designed by the eccentric Gardner, its collection includes chairs (scattered around the museum), tapestries, sculptures, architecture, paintings, bas relief, books, and stained glass windows. Most artwork is European, though the museum also has some pieces from Greece, from elsewhere around the Mediterranean, and from Japan.

I don't lightly call Isabel Gardner kooky. Her will still controls how the museum is run and how and where pieces are shown. Indeed, she prohibited moving any object. She also requires that mass be held in the miniature chapel in the building on her birthday. Furthermore, some of the pieces are unlabeled because Gardner never recorded where she acquired them or from whom. Art historians have been able to determine the creator of only some of these items.

I didn't like the museum and ended up only spending an hour there. One major reason is that most items are presented without commentary. (I think that's part of her will as well.) I borrowed a guide from the information desk--it helped me explore the collection, but looking things up was a pain. (Incidentally, I think all museum information desks should allow patrons to check out collection guides to carry while wandering. It's a great benefit!) The only worthwhile feature of the museum is the stunning courtyard, modeled after a Venetian palazzo. But what a feature it is! It alone made my visit and the entry fee to the museum worthwhile. Sadly, cameras were prohibited in the museum and there are no good pictures of the courtyard on the web that I could easily find.

The museum had a few empty frames, accompanied by signs about stolen paintings. I asked the information desk about them and they gave me a little binder to read. The thieves dressed as Boston police officers and made off with multiple Rembrandts and Degas, and a Manet and a Vermeer. Knowing the particulars is neat; one normally cannot learn details about art thiefs. The information desk comes through again!

Museum of Fine Arts
After the Gardner Museum, I explored more of the Museum of Fine Arts. I went through its exhibits on Egypt, Greece, Rome (which has many busts), the Himalayan region, the Medieval period, and European masters (including many religious works displaying gruesome scenes). The Roman exhibit had an interesting video about how the museum restored an old Roman courtyard mosaic. I also finished my previously started viewing of the Chinese and Japanese exhibits. These covered a variety of eras. The Japanese exhibit surprised me by the quantity of its Buddhist content; I had forgotten Buddhism was popular there.

In addition, the MFA had a special exhibit on a Berkeley professor who experimented with textiles and basket weaving. I was amused I traveled across the country to see something that came from so close to home.

Since it was Wednesday, after 4:00pm, the museum became free and many students appeared. Most sketched.

Dinner and Movies
I had a light lunch and, despite having two mid-afternoon snacks, was nonetheless hungry at dinnertime. A short walk across the Fens brought me to Brown Sugar Cafe, a Thai restaurant with a number of re-imaginings of Thai dishes. After dinner, I walked back across the Fens to finish seeing the last few rooms of the MFA. I then killed a few minutes until the Turkish Film Festival screening began. (It happened to be conveniently located at the MFA.) I saw Forsaken Paths and The Housekeeper.

Boston and New England: Tuesday: More Kittery (Maine) and Vicinity

Tuesday was clear and bright in Maine. In the morning, the wind gusted strongly. It was fun watching the leaves blow from inside the house.

In the afternoon, we saw sights; these pictures document our drives. Unlike Massachusetts, Maine's trees, aside from the evergreens, were mostly bare; the leaves on the few remaining deciduous trees with leaves were brown.

This part of Maine (and perhaps all of Maine) is very sparsely populated. It's mostly single family homes, spread widely apart. Many people refer to this type of area as the sticks.

A frustrating aspect of visiting Maine (or most places in the northern hemisphere) this time of year is the early sunset. If we start sightseeing after lunch (say, two p.m.), there's only two hours before the sun begins to set and three hours before it's completely dark.

Boston and New England: Monday: Kittery (Maine) and Vicinity

I spent most of a rainy Monday in my parent's place in Kittery (Maine). In the afternoon and early evening, we left the apartment to see sights for a bit, during which time I took a few pictures.

Boston and New England: Sunday: Beacon Hill

On Sunday, I met up with my parents again and we wandered among the bricks that make up Beacon Hill. (Practically every building and sidewalk is brick.) Beacon Hill is filled with federal-style homes. Many were done by Charles Bulfinch, a famous architect who effectively started Beacon Hill. Yet, after we saw houses designed by him, we realized many are less attractive than those designed by other people.

I led as we followed this route. I took these pictures of the day's sights.

After Beacon Hill, we headed up to my parent's newly rented condo in Maine. On the way, we passed through Portsmouth, at which time I noticed it had many major retail stores located conveniently close to the highway. Not only is it a nice town (as judged by my previous visit, it's a good shopping destination for normal shopping needs as well.

Boston and New England: Saturday: Back Bay and Chinatown

The only touristy activity I did on this Saturday was exploring Back Bay and, to some extent, Chinatown. Aside from the cold temperature, which made walking around in the evening not as pleasant as it could've been, the weather was nice: bright and clear.

These pictures somewhat describe the day's adventures. Due to the early sunset, many of the pictures were taken after dark.

I'd seen the Back Bay district a bit previously. Today we took this route through it and Chinatown. Back Bay has many churches.

Dinner after the Back Bay was in Chinatown. Chinatown was small.

Boston and New England: Friday (after Thanksgiving)

On Friday, we took the ferry across the sound and drove north, eventually returning me to Boston after a long detour to New Haven for lunch. Here are the pictures I took on the way.

Boston and New England: Thanksgiving with Cousins in Long Island

Commentary and pictures intentionally omitted.

Boston and New England: Wednesday (before Thanksgiving)

On Wednesday, my parents picked me up and we drove south through Connecticut to take a ferry to Long Island to see some cousins for Thanksgiving. We saw lots of nice fall foliage on the drive, many yellows and tans. Due to traffic, we almost missed the ferry; we arrived so close to the departure time that they canceled our reservation. Happily, they still let us on. Only four cars managed to squeeze on after us.

I took two pictures from the ferry.

Boston and New England: Tuesday: More Cambridge Odds and Ends

I didn't do much on Tuesday. What I did, these pictures and comments express quite well.

Boston and New England: Monday: Musem of Fine Arts

I spent most of the day at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was great: a world-class museum. (This surprised me; I had assumed the museum would be a mere shadow of the Met, two hours away.) Not only were there good explanations of the paintings, objects, etc., the museum was quite large, covering a huge expanse. I only made it through 60% of the museum in the three and a half hours I was there before it closed.

This day, I saw the museum's sections devoted to

  • Japanese paintings (which I liked, and I usually do not like them).
  • Japanese prints of sumo wrestlers. Feeling less technically sophisticated, I found them less appealing that the paintings in the first exhibit, which actually happened to be older.
  • Japanese kimonos.
  • Korean and Japanese pottery.
  • Southeast Asian art.
  • Indian sculptures. Some were not unlike what I saw in India. Yet, the density of high quality objects in the room dwarfed similar sights in India.
  • Islamic manuscripts and pottery.
  • Egyptian pieces.
  • Greek pieces, including an impressive collection of coins.
  • Etruscan pieces.
  • American art, mainly pieces from New England, especially focused on portraits of America's founding fathers.
  • musical instruments, including some I'd never heard of, let alone heard, before.
  • jewelry, including some eclectic and novel designs, certainly unlike the pieces one would find a jewelry store.
  • a modern art exhibit that included Japanese art and German photography.
  • a special exhibit, Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis, which is difficult to describe. This exhibit had three pieces I liked:
    • Judy Kensley McKie's funky glass table, Chase Table, held up by two dogs biting each other's tail. (picture)
    • John McQueen's life-sized statue of a man made from willow sticks, Mire, joined together with plastic clasps ("bundle ties"). (flickr picture)
    • Tomas Hlavicka's Claire, a glass canoe with metal embedded. (flickr picture)
I also saw a fraction of the museum's collection of European artwork. In one room, my first reaction was "holy crap, that's a lot of Monets." Then I noticed a wall of van Goghs next to them. I came across Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas, and Renoir. And then I spotted even more Monets! The sight made me laugh out loud.

These pictures document in detail many of the interesting, beautiful, or creative pieces of art I saw. They also document what I ate for lunch and dinner, and neat things that happened while heading to the museum.

The day was a cold 38 degrees. I'm glad I spent most of it indoors. And I'm glad I brought my down jacket on this trip.

Boston and New England: Sunday: Cambridge Odds and Ends

I didn't do much on Sunday. What I did, these pictures and comments express quite well.

Boston and New England: Saturday: Flying

My plane flight to Boston was fairly unremarkable. As my plane boarded and landed around the same time as on my last trip to Boston (1:30pm, 10:30pm), I decided to try the same eating strategy: a bowl for soup for lunch from the San Francisco Soup Company, and a sandwich for dinner around 8:30pm via take-out from Boudin Bakery.

My Mexican chicken tortilla soup was thicker and more opaque than I expected. As the person was serving my soup, another woman asked me, "What is that?" I replied, "It's supposedly chicken tortilla." It was marked low fat, a fact I found surprising until I realized they just add the fat on top later (tortilla chips, shredded cheese). In any case, it was fairly good. Sadly, it lacked avocado.

My sandwich, a turkey and avocado on croissant, wasn't very good, much worse than my previous trip's sandwich. This one was mostly sliced turkey without much avocado and hence was quite dry. I miss Stuffed Inn, the sandwich joint in Berkeley that makes great turkey and avocado sandwiches.

The rest of the day was also uneventful. In the morning, I found myself trying to find ways to kill time until it was time to catch the bus to the airport. It's sad when you're bored before you board the plane because it implies future boredom to come.

Boston and New England: Thanksgiving Trip Overview

I spent two weeks, from November 17, 2007, to December 1, 2007, in New England for a multitude of purposes: visiting friends in Boston and Cambridge, reconnecting with relatives in New York for Thanksgiving, and seeing my parents and their new place in Maine.

I don't have much in the way of summary statements to make about this trip. Boston and Cambridge felt the same as on my previous trip, only colder.

Kosher Hollywood: Jews, Food and Film

On Sunday, November 11, 2007, I went to a lecture on "Kosher Hollywood: Jews, Food and Film" by a UC-Davis professor, given as part of the Contra Costa Jewish Book & Arts Festival. It was neat. The audience questions were generally pretty intelligent too. I'm not going to bother to type up my notes. Ask me about it (when I have the notes around) if you want more details.

Hawaii (Maui)

My group at work got the magnificent reward of a four day trip to Hawaii, November 12th to 15th, 2007. It was great! I went consciously intending not to attempt to fill my days exploring. Indeed, unlike nearly every other trip I go on, for this trip I didn't research sights, hotels, or restaurants. I nary had to make any decision about what to do each day. Those days on which I had free time, I decided to not make a decision (and certainly not do any research) and instead lay on the beach by the resort, relaxing, reading, listening to my iPod, and occasionally swimming, wading, or running.

I took only a few pictures during this trip, mostly snapping photographs that captured the feel of being in Maui. I took so few pictures partially because my batteries kept dying, partially because I decided I didn't want to spend much time thinking about which pictures to take and what I would caption them, and partially because I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures at company events. Besides, I trusted others, all wandering around with fancy cameras, to fill up albums of our group’s trip to Hawaii. Sorry, but nearly all of these albums are private/password protected.

The temperature in Maui was comfortably warm except for when clouds blocked the sun. This happened more of the time than I’d prefer; often, it seemed as if the clouds weren't moving. For hours, at times, it’d be on the cooler side. Nonetheless, the water, especially when the sun was out, was delightful. The constant hint of humidity made the weather quite a contrast to India’s dryness.

On Monday, the day I arrived, we had a buffet dinner outdoors at the resort. I particularly liked the papaya seed salad dressing and the honey roasted chicken.

Tuesday I didn't really do anything. I met some coworkers for lunch at a restaurant in the resort. Near the end of the day, I had some pent-up energy so I went running down a path adjacent to the beach. I ran past many resorts similar in size and design to ours. On the way back, the sun came out--it was cloudy for most of the day--and I ran to my room to grab my camera to snap a few more pictures. In the evening, we had dinner of pizza and salad and a team building activity, which turned out to be much more fun than I expected.

Wednesday was busier. I chose snorkeling as my morning activity. A boat took us out to two snorkeling spots, one with lots of fish (some that practically disappeared when they turned sideways), and one with fewer fish, some coral, and a few turtles. I only saw the turtles from the boat, not while in the water. I enjoyed the first spot, Boomerang Island, more.

It was fun to be snorkeling for the first time in half a decade or so. I still find it difficult to pace my breathing when underwater. (It tends to change a bit, probably because I keep thinking, “oh my god, I’m breathing underwater.”) On my last snorkeling trip, it took me a few days to get used to it; I only had one day this time.

The snorkeling boat served burgers, mai tais, and white chocolate chip cookies: pretty pleasing stuff, and satisfying given the temperature and the exercise. It also provided breakfast snacks when we left the dock around 7:30am.

Once back at the resort, I went swimming a bit more, then relaxed on the beach.

In the evening, we were bussed to the Old Lahaina Luau for some Polynesian entertainment. Our group made up only a fraction of the people at the Luau. Judging by the hands that were raised in answer to the M.C.’s question, half the people there were on their honeymoon or celebrating an anniversary.

The luau mainly consisted of watching hula dancers, listening to drumming, and eating from a massive buffet. The hula performances were reasonably pleasant to watch, but I kept being disturbed by the women’s smiles. They appeared forced, immobile, and standardized, as if plastered on. As for the food, there were too many items to even list. I drank a number of funky cocktails, ate myself silly, then had four desserts, topped with a few snacks at the after-party. No wonder I wasn't hungry until mid-afternoon the next day.

Tangentially, I wouldn't recommend the resort for reasons of cleanliness. It’s not the silverfish in the bathroom (that’s not a big deal); rather, it’s the roach I spotted on one of the dessert platters at Monday night’s buffet and the piece of plastic wrap I found in my lunch on Tuesday.

On Thursday I flew home. Despite my complaints about United's food, I was hungry enough that I bought a chicken wrap on the flight. I was surprised to be decently happy with it.

Cardboard Tube Fighting League

On Sunday afternoon, October 28, 2007, I swung by the Cardboard Tube Fighting League in Justin Herman Plaza for an hour or two to watch the excitement. It was fun watching the participants--a variety of ages from ten to forty--, some in cool costumes, have at it with cardboard tubes. The rules were simple: if your cardboard tube breaks (as judged by a dramatic bending or splitting), you lose. Some people used complex strategies, dancing around their opponent in an attempt to keep their own body between the opponents weapon and their own tube. Sometimes fights like this lasted several minutes, until the warriors realized they weren't getting anywhere, turned, and whacked like mad.

I'm not going to write more because the Chronicle's coverage of the tournament summarizes the event well.

I didn't bother taking pictures because I saw many photographers. The Chronicle article has some nice pictures and a good video, and many more pictures are available from the cardboard tube fighting league flickr stream.

Boston Day 6: Travel

Traveling home was pretty uneventful with the exception of the adventure of getting me and my luggage to the train station, as expressed by these photos and anecdote.

The train to the airport shuttle to the airplane to the bus home was straightforward. Only one feature of the whole trip surprised me. In Boston, the silver line runs from a train station to the airport. Although it runs through a tunnel, it's a bus. It feels like they've built another train line, stations and all, but forgot to lay down the tracks. The bus runs on a narrow single lane road, perfect for a train.

I can understand why they don't run a train. After a few stops, the bus goes on surface streets. It has to obey stop lights. And, despite the bus having only two cars, it wasn't very full. And this was at rush hour.

Boston Day 5: Harvard and Cambridge

Tuesday was mainly dedicated to exploring Cambridge and especially Harvard. My guide book warned me:

"Today ... the institution's accumulated wealth--architectural, archaeological, artistic, literary, and historic--makes a brief tour of its campus and museum impossible. Allow several hours, days, or years."
Fodor's Massachusetts 2003, p. 89
by Patricia Harris, David Lyon,
Anna Mundow, and Lisa Oppenheimer
I walked this route during the daytime. This blog entry is short because these pictures document the trip exceptionally well.

Early in the day I attended the class International Financial History, 1700 to the Present (password protected). I was told, correctly, that the instructor, Professor Ferguson, is an interesting speaker: entertaining, and pompous (in an humorous way). Although it was the third lecture of the class, I could easily follow it. I liked the material and presentation style, and wish I could take the class.

I'm not going to include my notes from the class in this blog post--that would be silly. Nevertheless, I will include some of the amusing comments the professor made; they reflect his personality. To read/hear the flavor of these remarks, you ought to know the professor has a British accent.
  • Ferguson was proud that the class had 180 people, much more than 30 people originally expected. Every lecture thus far had been in ever larger lecture halls. In reflecting on this constant movement, he said, the class will have been on a "tour of Harvard Yard" before it's through.
  • As new course packets were being printed, he said they're "felling tar tracks in the Amazon."
  • He remarked on some trouble with the course packets, saying he was involved in "complex, not to say obscure, arguments about copyright."
  • Regarding students' ability to purchase his book, one of the course's textbooks, he wondered "whether there are sufficient copies in Cambridge, let alone the country."
  • He said owning the textbook would be "as useful to you as financially lucrative to me." Hmmm...
  • During the lecture, he asked students to take out a dollar bill to examine. That is, "unless Harvard students don't carry such small currency."
  • He said he "asked [now ex-]President [of Harvard] Summers [when being hired] if [he] could hedge [his] contract ... and be paid in Euros."
  • Commenting on another book used in the class, he said, "one of the things I like about [X]'s book .. is the tweedy, stuffy Oxford air. You can almost smell the snuff in the sitting room."
After the lecture, we grabbed lunch, partially from Darwin's deli, and had a picnic. Dessert came from Burdick Chocolate. I explored Cambridge and Harvard after lunch.

During my wanderings, I visited the Fogg Museum. Although I didn't finish exploring it, I saw enough to be impressed in the 35 minutes I was there: it contains pieces from famous painters, including Monet, Munch, Whistler, Degas, Picasso, Miro, Pollock, Pissaro, Van Gogh, Renoir, Mondrian, and Bierstadt. Harvard certainly has resources.

While exploring, I ran into Noam Elkies, a sharp mathematician I met at a conference in Banff. He made enough of an impression on me that I remembered him. He didn't remember me. :)

Just before dinner, I got snuck into Widener, Harvard's main library. It's a fairly standard, nice main university library.

After dark, I took a shuttle to Inman Square, ate at the Brazilian restaurant Muqueca, walked back to the Harvard-MIT data center, then walked home. None of this is part of the route map.

Boston Day 4: Freedom Trail (Downtown Boston)

I allocated Monday to walking and exploring everything along Boston's walking trail, the Freedom Trail, which winds past many historic sights. I dressed as lightly as I could--it was a warm but still comfortable day--and got going at 11am, much later than I'd hoped. As I walked to the Harvard T stop to take the train to my starting point, I could smell the lack of California vehicle emission standards. (During most of the rest of my visit to Boston, this effect wasn't so noticeable.) I didn't photograph anything while walking through Harvard because I knew I'd be back to explore it properly.

I walked this route along the Freedom Trail, taking these pictures along the way. The rest of this blog post only mentions things not mentioned in photo captions. The captions have much more detail and involve observations more interesting than those mentioned here (that, implicitly, I didn't think worthy of a picture).

Once in Boston Common, the start of the trail, I grabbed a bagel from across the street at Finagle a Bagel. Boston Common is like every city's traditional green open space, though a bit smaller than average. I was surprised that I didn't see people engaging in athletic activities.

The Massachusetts State House, the next stop of the tour, was probably the highlight of the trail. Besides amazing architecture (see the pictures), it has many interesting museum exhibits.

Later on the trail, I passed a store with a sign "Old Money Wanted." I know what they mean, but the second meaning, not inappropriate for the northeast, is amusing.

As I walked, I noticed Boston has a reasonable number of people on the streets, similar in quantity to some towns I was in on Sunday. Admittedly, Boston has more cars on the road than those small towns, yet nowhere near as many as New York or San Francisco.

Around two or three pm, I found myself at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Faneuil Hall, a historic building, is a tourist destination/trap, filled with stores selling kitsch. Quincy Market houses a large food court which surprised me by how decent everything looked. Surrounding Quincy Market are longer buildings with many stores. Despite the high prevalence of chain retailers, the area feels classy. In the market, I spotted Durgin Park, a place I mention because of its sign: "est. before you were born." I also spotted a replica of the Cheers bar. After scouting the food court, I bought lunch--I always planned to get lunch from the market, though my late start delayed my lunch substantially past lunchtime--and walked to a park to eat.

Eventually (see pictures for sights skipped in this narrative), the trail brought me through the North End, a predominately Italian district that my parents would like due to the atmosphere and lack of cars, then lead me across the bridge into Charleston. The pedestrian walkway on the bridge is a simple metal grating, allowing one to see water beneath one's feet.

The USS Constitution Museum in the Charleston Navy Yard is quite cool. Technically it's made for kids, but that just implies the writing is clear and easy to read. Exhibits included diplomacy and war with Tripoli (and the barbary war in general), the war of 1812, assorted other historical events, and the life of a sailor. One placard describes how the USS Constitution had, at one point, a figurehead of Andrew Jackson. It was illegally cut off under the cover of darkness and given to a friend of the person who cut it off. It then disappeared for 166 years, reappeared in France, and is now in the Museum of New York. What a story of provenance.

Also, I like museums with entry by donation. (Yes, I donated.)

At the end of the day, I walked back to Boston and took a train to Cambridge, where I shared some fairly respectable pizzas at Veggie Planet.

Boston Day 3: Amesbury, Newburyport, and Portsmouth

I spent Sunday with my parents. Mostly, they showed me cute, small towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire that they liked.

I have no route map of our travels for the day, though I did take many pictures.

We started the day by visiting Clear Flour, a bakery west of Boston that came highly recommended. After selecting our goods, we hunted for a place to sit, eventually deciding (after entering it and leaving it once) to eat in the cafe part of Wild Harvest Market. Our chocolate croissant was perfect, easily on par with the best we had in Montreal. The apple tart was similarly terrific. We especially loved the crust. The morning bun and Gruyere cheese croissant were also pretty good. My mom was surprised she liked the latter. The scone was fine enough, like an ordinary corn muffin.

After breakfast, my parents drove me quickly through Beacon Hill, a neighborhood of Boston with which they are familiar from when they lived nearby. Beacon Hill has lovely narrow streets framed by brick buildings with big bay windows. I should see it at a more reasonable pace sometime.

I navigated when we drove in Boston--not an easy feat because of Boston's irregular street layout.

Heading north, we drove on route one past many miles of chain stores.

The first town my parents showed me was Amesbury. As we entered, we saw really great views of the river, including a condo building on an island. From Amesbury, we could see a well-forested state park. My parents tell me it was created by a rich man who donated a large chunk of land for precisely this purpose.

We drove through Amesbury's cute downtown. Within Amesbury, my parents showed me an old mill facing the river that's being converted into condos, and an old hat factory doing the same. The latter had lovely balconies. They both looked like decent places to live.

Then came Newburyport. We first drove down High Street and glanced at its many, fairly nice single family houses. They reminded me a bit of Atlanta, but these houses weren't as big or elaborate as Atlanta's. Perhaps I saw a similarity because both locations have houses flying US flags, often with thirteen stars.

We stopped and strolled in Newburyport's downtown. It is similar to Amesbury's with one notable exception: it was more crowded, and thus has a livelier atmosphere. It's not obvious to me why more people go here than there. Perhaps it's because everyone else goes here too? Or perhaps it's because the merchants have more decorative flowers in front of their shops? (But maybe those came simply because the merchants here bring in more income and therefore have more to invest in appearances.)

Before leaving Newburyport, we gawked briefly at a run-down synagogue (paint peeling) in the middle of a pretty neighborhood. I wonder why it's not better maintained.

From Newburyport, we took highway 95 to Portsmouth. 95's greenery was a nice contrast to highway 1's retail outlets.

Portsmouth is bigger than Newburyport. Its downtown is great, with many stores, some quirky, some ritzy, some elegant. The streets are dense with restaurants, including many overlooking the nearby water.

While wandering, we found a cool park with clusters of flowers of different varieties. For instance, it had a section devoted to all the types of coleus, another for peppers, another for begonias, and another for fluffy grasses. It's neat to see the wide range of appearances within each category.

We also spotted an old car: an Auburn Cord Dousenberg. I found it surprising, as in Amesbury we spotted a model T. I wonder if this area has a high density of old car fanatics.

After Portsmouth, my parents drove me along route 1B at sunset, passing many great water views, and then through New Castle. The town's narrow roads with closely knit houses make one naturally slow down while driving. Near New Castle, we saw some tremendous sunset views of water.

Hungry, we chose Portsmouth Brewery for dinner. For an appetizer, we shared a Caesar salad. Although my parent's didn't appreciate it, I simply thought it was light on the dressing. I tried some of my dad's Smuttynose Portsmouth lager; it was good. As for my entree, the chicken in my chicken pesto sandwich was slightly burnt, but I loved the focaccia. The fries were salty and good and hit the spot.

After dinner, we drove back to the Boston area and had ice cream at Christina's.

Boston Day 2: Lexington, Concord, Walden Pond, and Boston's Back Bay District

On Saturday, I met some friends (Di Yin, Brian, and Emily: all academics :>) and we took a trip to historic Lexington and Concord. These pictures document the day; in the text below, I'm only going to present the outline of our activities--the pictures don't convey well how we got where when--and a few details that aren't represented by a picture. Sorry, I don’t have a map that displays where we traveled.

Lexington is a fairly cute town, filled with many single family houses. Although filled with multiple antique buildings and houses that offered tours, we decided to only explore the most famous one, Buckman Tavern.

The tour, at just under an hour, surprisingly long for a house with fewer than half a dozen rooms, was nevertheless fun because the guide knew his history. As photography was prohibited, here's, in writing, some of my observations and some things he mentioned:

  • He described a dirty, nasty drink the tavern served, made with various alcohols, a heated steel rod, and a raw egg.
  • He pointed out how the owners chose the dimension of the floorboards due to how the British taxed them. The different tax treatment came about because the British wanted to ensure large lumber was available for building its navy. I forget the details, and can’t easily find additional information on the web.
  • When cooking in the tavern's brick oven, the cook puts "baker's cake" (cracker) flour underneath the other food to prevent the other food from burning. One could eat the crackers later, if one so desired.
  • We spotted a hefty sausage squeezer.
  • The beds have a "sleep tight" rope nailed to the wood. Its purpose was to prevent the mattresses from falling into the hay, hence avoiding bed bugs.
  • He repeated an often alleged relationship between the expression "mind your Ps and Qs" and the bartender keeping a tally of how many drinks of each size a patron drank. I know, however, many other stories of this expression’s origin exist, and there’s not much historical evidence with which to decide what’s true and what’s false. Here’s more information.
After the tour, we strolled around the green, then jumped in the car to head to our lunch destination, Nashoba Brook Bakery & Cafe. It was farther than I expected given the guidebook description, and surprisingly obscure/hard to find. I'm afraid I made people unhappy because lunch was so late. I think, however, that they forgave me because the place was satisfying, cute, and good. I can’t remember exactly what we ate, but I do recall at least a pretty tasty roast beef with cheddar sandwich, and a grilled vegetables with hummus sandwich. There was also a grapefruit, accompanied by a discussion about how to eat it.

After lunch, we went to Concord. Concord's downtown is definitely cuter than Lexington's, though I can't comment on it much because we only drove through it on our way to Concord's most famous site, the North Bridge (part of Minute Man National Historic Park). We looked at the bridge and wandered around the vicinity, then drove south to Walden Pond.

Walden Pond was quite crowded: not with tourists, but rather with beach-goers. Not only does the pond have a beach and allow swimming, it also has the associated amenities such as an ice cream stand. Many people took advantage of the beach knowing that this was likely the season's last gasp at summer.

After Walden Pond, we returned to Cambridge. Di Yin and I had been given tickets to the performance of the China National Peking (Beijing) Opera Company. We got in the T and immediately headed to it. Here’s the route we took this evening, starting from where we got off the subway.

The show was analogous to how the SF Opera does promotional performances: a series of excerpts from famous works. I enjoyed the show. Admittedly, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more if I understood what the singers were saying. (There were no subtitles.) I’m told that, for many songs, due to the type of language used and the way words and sounds are elongated when sung, even native speakers do not understand what is being said.

Some singers were tremendous. Some were still in training. Even without understanding the words, I could easily identify the variation in quality. The best singers were world-class.

The audience was mostly old Chinese people. It was clear the opera company is a government agency reaching out to this populace. Near the end of the show, they sang “I am a citizen of China” and encouraged people to visit the new China (with the changes that are taking place due to the Olympics). Incidentally, the show was presented in a large auditorium that felt like it belonged in a high school.

After the opera, we ambulated for an hour through the Back Bay and Cambridge, passing MIT, until we made it to Punjabi Dhaba, a cute Indian restaurant, for a very late dinner/snack. We then headed to a famous ice cream place for dessert but were disappointed to find it closed. This wasn't a major loss: I got to try it on another day.

Boston Day 1: Arrival

Before boarding my flight to Boston, I grabbed a cup of soup at the airport from the San Francisco Soup Company. However, I mis-estimated my timing, and needed to eat it so fast I burned my tongue. Ah, well.

My timing was off because I took time to buy a sandwich to eat for dinner later on the plane. This strategy worked out well--I should do it again--, allowing me to avoid United's horrid wraps. The turkey cranberry sandwich I chose from Boudin survived well until I was ready to eat it.

Other than being slightly uncomfortable because a big guy was in the seat next to me (not obese, just naturally large), the flight was pretty uneventful. Upon landing, I had a long trek of bus to train to (short) walk to shuttle to get to where I was staying the night.

Boston Impressions Summary

I visited the Boston area from Friday, September 21, 2007, to Wednesday, September 26, 2007.

I got to explore a sizable portion of the Boston-Cambridge area, more than I expected. That's not because I had more time for sightseeing or was remarkably efficient, but rather because Boston had less to see than I thought. I feel like it's an easier city to come to understand than larger cities such as San Francisco or New York. It’s a substantial city with a smaller town feel.

Perhaps the feel comes from the ease with which one can get anywhere. Not only is the city very walkable, but the metro system is both efficient and reaches every part of the city (or at least every part of the city to which I wanted to go).

Furthermore, Boston has a walking trail, The Freedom Trail, which, at several miles long, passes by many of Boston’s historic sights. It’s clearly marked. More cities should have such trails! Not only does it help guide tourists, it also makes one feel as if one truly understands what a city believes is important about itself. All this, with less than one day of sightseeing.

In addition to Boston’s transportation system and compact feel, the quantity and quality of its food choices appealed to me. The restaurant scene’s competitiveness and diversity, spanning the culinary spectrum, is due, I’m sure, in no small part to all the students with taste and a limited budget.

Incidentally, the northeast seemed to be packed full of Dunkin’ Donuts. What’s up with that?

During this trip, the northeast, if anything, was a tad too warm (mostly 80s, warmer than the bay area!), a bit surprising given it was September. Still, hints of fall appeared. Some trees’ leaves were turning. Overall, it was a great time to visit.