Let’s Go Exploring! Boston

Wanderer
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People call it the Boston accent. It’s not an accent. It’s a whole city of people saying most words wrong.

Louis C.K.

When we landed in Boston Logan International Airport back in 2015, I was trying to mentally prepare myself for Boston and the weird way they mispronounce every second word, and admittedly at first we did find it kind of jarring, but after about five minutes our reaction to the Bostonian accent morphed from “annoyance” to “hilarious.”

Notable examples:

Lady walking around parking lot with her husband: “Where’s the caaahhh?”

Twenty-year-old at a bar: “I go to Haaahhhvard.”

Older couple talking about politics: “Did you hear what Obaaahhhmers did today?”

I think what grew on me with Boston is the fact that rather than acting all sensitive about how they talk, they lean into it, even writing it into their signs. I spotted multiple restaurants advertising “lahbstah” on their chalkboards. They just don’t give a fuck.

And that’s when FIRECracker decided “I like these people.”

Student sublets for the win

Boston is a lot of things, but cheap ain’t one of them. Typically before we arrive in a city, we pull up AirBnb and see what the prices are of a self-contained 1 bedroom apartment. That didn’t work in Boston, as rents anywhere in the city easily topped $2200 USD a month, and this was 5 years ago.

But one of the things we love about university towns is that there’s always student housing around, and the thing about student housing is that it empties out during the summer.

When we were in university, every April in Waterloo there was always a panicky last-minute mad rush to find someone to stay in your place and offset part of the rent during the May-to-August summer months, and because there’s always way more people leaving than staying in the city, the rents would plummet into practically nothing. When we were in school, we’d be able to pick up sublets for $350-$400 a month.

Some things never change, so we made a bet on Boston that if we timed our visit there for July and deliberately didn’t secure housing using our normal methods in advance, a deal would pop up at the last minute.

And we were right!

Now, admittedly, this required a bit more work on our part, as students don’t tend to list their sublets on AirBnb. Rather, they use Kijiji or Craiglist, so you don’t have the built-in safeguards that AirBnb provides to prevent you from being scammed. To get around this, we did a virtual tour of the place to make sure it was real, and we negotiated to put down a $50 deposit to secure the place, and then promised to transfer the rest of the funds after we got there.

Now, generally when you take a student sublet, you’re going to be rooming with other students, so if you’re not OK with roommates then this isn’t going to work for you. That being said, the times we stayed with other people while we were travelling often turned out to be the most memorable, and that trend started here in Boston. We stayed for a month in a house with three other girls: one a tomboyish Harvard student studying gender studies, another a hippie flower-child who tended to walk around the place topless, and a petite but fiesty redheaded fitness freak who got annoyed when I suggested getting rid of the expired food in the fridge because I didn’t want them to “get poisoned and die.”

And remember: making friends with students is super easy. Just bring a case of beer as a welcome present on the first day. Boom. Instant BFF’s.

And in return, we managed to stay an entire month in the expensive Jamaica Plains neighborhood of Boston for $800 USD a month!

Lahbstah

Of course, no trip to Boston is complete without mentioning the food. Yes, yes, the Paul Revere trail is great and all, but let’s get real: the best part of Boston is the food.

Specifically, anything seafood-related. The lobsters were ubiquitous, and delicious.

Ditto for the oysters. If you time your visits to the right happy hour specials, you can get a dozen oysters for $1 each if you get a pint of Sam Adams to go with it. Well, if I MUST, you twisted my arm…

And it’s not just in the downtown fancy restaurants either. We were able to get a lobster roll and some really good clam chowder even in the MIT cafeteria, of all places. When’s the last time YOUR university’s cafeteria had lobster rolls?

That being said, I didn’t hit it off with everything in Boston’s food scene. Some friends of ours who lived in the area tried to introduce us to a New England staple: Bread in a can.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. Bread inexplicably stuffed into a can. You use a can opener to take off the top and the bottom lids, then you slide the cylindrical bread out of the can and slice it like a sausage. It comes in two types: regular and *shudder* raisins.

What goes on top of bread-in-a-can, you might ask? There’s the “normal” stuff like butter, jam, and the like. A New England favourite also seems to want to ladle a heaping pile of baked beans on top of it. But the topping that stuck out in my head was…marshmallow fluff.

Photo By Jot Powers @ Wikipedia

Let me ask you a question. When you were a kid, what would have happened if you took a dozen marshmallows and tossed them into a blender? Well, if you were in my house, your mom would fly in screaming at you for messing up the blender. But what if you had one of those permissive western parents that, instead of rightfully berating you, praised you for your creativity? That’s what marshmallow fluff is. A culinary mistake that somehow turned into a thing people buy.

At this point we’ve visited well over 40 countries, and we’ve had the privilege of trying all sorts of food. I’ve eaten intestines, fish eyeballs, pig innards, you name it. All fine. But when I took a bite of sliced bread-in-a-can topped with marshmallow fluff? It was like my entire nervous system went into overdrive sending the message “THAT WASN’T FOOD. ABORT ABORT ABORT!”

I’m actually gagging as I write this just thinking about what that tasted like. It tasted like the Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters jizzed on a coaster.

Ugh. Not a fan.

Nerd Paradise

But enough about the food, what else is special about Boston? Again, there’s the touristy stuff, but we’re not really tourists anymore. We’re expats/digital nomads. And when you’re a digital nomad, it becomes important to find a place to go get some work done.

Normally, we’d just go to a coffee shop and leave it at that. But Boston really stood out for us because of something people usually don’t think about when visiting a city: their library.

I don’t know what the history is, but Boston has some of the most beautiful public libraries I’ve ever seen. Specifically, Bates Hall.

With its massive vaulted ceilings, classical art, and the smell of leather bound books hanging in the air, it’s like a nerdy Versailles.

There are some places where you almost feel like a writer just sitting there, and Bates Hall was definitely one of those places. They even rent the hall out for weddings! If we had known that was possibility when we were getting married, we so would have opted to get married in a library. So writerly!

The other place we spent a lot of time tapping away on our laptops was the famed Massachusett’s Institute of Technology, or MIT.

Photo By John Phelan @ Wikipedia

I mean, don’t get me wrong, Harvard’s campus is gorgeous, but on any given weekday it’s filled with buses of tiger parents doing tours hoping to get their soon-to-be-traumatized kids noticed by the Dean of Admissions. MIT, on the other hand, is much more low key, and you can just walk into one of the many public areas on campus, plop down, and start tapping away on your laptop.

That being said, we still went to Harvard and found this. Here’s me trying (and failing) to contain my fan-girling next to the first computer ever built on US soil.

At the time, we were volunteering and building an app for a non-profit named We Need Diverse Books, and I have to say that coding away on our laptops on the MIT campus was my highlight of that entire experience.

This was written on one of the blackboards. If you can solve it, you are officially a nerd.

Sideshow: Worcester, Massachusett

As part of our visit, we also got out to a suburb of Boston named Worcester, about an hour away by car. It’s a pretty nice place to visit on a day trip, but the thing I remember most about Worcester is that if you try to pronouce the name of the city the way it’s spelled, they get really annoyed at you. The way they pronounce it is more like WOOS-tuh. So make sure you get that right if you don’t want a can of bread hucked at your face.

The second thing I remember about Worcester is that they are weirdly proud of their diners. Diners, you might recall, are the places you go to when you’re drunk at 3 AM and everything else is closed. Apparently, Worcester invented them and they really REALLY want you to know it. So there’s that!

Photo By Improbcat @ Wikipedia

Also, I learned a new word: Massholes. The word refers to every person in Massachusetts that drives like a maniac, so basically every person in Massachusetts. Here is how it’s used in a sentence. *screech* *honk* HEY WATCH IT, YOU F*CKING MASSHOLE! I heard that multiple times because our friend screamed it at multiple cars as they were driving us from Boston. And I thought New Yorkers were high strung…

Our Spending

Overall, we enjoyed our time in Boston, despite the Marshmallow Fluff and Massholes. Even though Boston is a place known for emptying your wallet, we didn’t end up spending much money at all. Here’s how much we spent (these are 2015 prices by the way. We haven’t been to Boston recently, but I wrote this post a while time ago and never got a chance to post it until now):

CategoryCost in USD/Couple per dayCost in CAD/Couple per dayNotes
Accomodations$25.80$31.80Student sublet, baby!
Groceries$17.80$21.94Even though we spent way more time than we should have at Trader Joe’s, our grocery bill didn’t turn out to be too bad. But that mostly because…
Restaurants$39.20$48.31We ate out a lot. A LOT.
Transportation$6.71$8.27We flew into Boston with frequent flier miles. The only transportation costs we incurred were for subway passes.
Miscellaneous$6.61$8.15Clothes, toiletries, and cell phone data.
Total$96.12$118.47We didn’t really spend anything on entertainment, because the historical attractions were all free. The food was our entertainment. We regret nothing.

What do you think of Boston? Have you been there? Did you ever try marshmellow fluff or bread in a can?

Also, if you think you know the answer that that math riddle, click here to find out if you got it!


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16 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Boston”

  1. Is that equation snippet some sort of ideal gas law variant? I don’t know man, my music degree did not prepare me for this. My last physics class was in 1996.

    Why you gotta malign marshmallow fluff? The fluffernutter sandwich — PB & fluff on plain boring white bread — is legendary. You got your sugar, your protein, your booze-sopping carbs. It’s everything for any occasion: a night on the town, a mountain bike race, whatever. Classic. Add honey for extra kick.

    Thanks for the Boston update! We enjoyed a day trip there with family from Westminster in 2012 – the great aunt who offered me a gin & tonic when I visited at the ripe old age of 17, and the great uncle whose ancestors showed up in the 1600s and who enjoys a nice glass of gin and ice. I love New England.

    1. I find this one harder than the MIT one… mass * acceleration is either F(orce) or N(ewtons) – since it’s using units.
      F/a remains M(ass) and PV/nR remains T(emp)…
      so NMT or FMT.
      Did you go to New Mexico Tech?

  2. 1. I’ve lived in Massachusetts my whole life and I never heard of bread in a can until reading this article.

    2. Is fluff not a thing everywhere? I gotta get out more…

    3. You’re the first person I’ve heard refer to Worcester as a suburb of Boston

    1. I think fluff is everywhere, I live on the other side of the world, my supermarket has fluff in the American section of the ethnic food aisle

  3. We live in Cambridge and would love to meet up with you if you ever visit Boston again! However, I am sorry to point out that your photo with the computer was taken at Harvard, in their Science Center (big “B” above the lecture hall entrance gave it away, confirmed further by the “Harvard” in the explanatory text below the computer.)

    😉

  4. Ahhh, memories. Grew up in the Boston area 30+ years ago and completely forgot about canned bread until I read this post! So sorry to hear you were raised without “fluff” as a staple in your diet.

  5. Oh my GOD, I’m cackling at the lack of descriptors in the title. Other places get “Land of a Thousand Smiles” and “An Undiscovered Paradise”. Boston just gets: “Boston”.

    (Admittedly Boston is neither known for smiles or being a paradise, but still.)

    And you two could’ve visited ANYWHERE else in New England outside of Boston – Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, even Rhode Island – and you picked Worcester?? Who hated you enough to suggest an outing there???

    I want to contribute to this article now after being here for 8+ years. There’s some cool/hilarious parts of the city that hold a special place in my heart that are free to check out. Cool places include the Arnold Arboretum (botanical forest-like place Harvard maintains, easy to get to from Jamaica Plain) and the free tours at the State House (if you’re into history/architecture/sacred cods) and/or the Sam Adams brewery (if you’re into fun). There are a ton of museums that you can get free/discounted passes for at the library (including the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and the Larz Anderson Auto Museum).

    Y’all need to come back just so you can check out the *really* nice parts you missed out on the first time. Absolutely can’t get over the potato memorial, that’s the best ever. And the Museum of Bad Art? Absolutely “transcendent” with “masterpieces”. Yes, the quotes are intentional.

    Also, re the food: yeahhhh, Boston is definitely not well known as a foodie paradise (hello, we have zero Michelin stars for a reason). You have to be around here for long enough to know where the must-try dishes are, like the kimchi fries at Coreanos or literally anything at Flour Bakery. Really, Boston should be known for its bakeries. And in case this is a dealbreaker: you’ll be happy to note I have yet to find a bakery offer something with fluff in it. Their standards are clearly higher than that.

  6. I found many tasty ice cream places in Boston. Although difficult to source in Toronto, one might consider attempting to make a fluffernutter (in a comment above). Although not necessarily a high brow culinary experience, I recall it being a tasty pleasure in my university years. I would think that the addition of a plain potato chip would add a nice element of crunch that my broke self did not consider 😊😉 Happy trails!

  7. The Mapparium is the best attraction in Boston, located in the Mary Baker Eddy Library. It is a three story high stained glass globe that you view from the inside as you walk through it.

    Brown bread (canned bread) is an accompaniment to a traditional dinner of baked beans and hot dogs or ham. You would eat it sliced, warmed, and spread with butter. Brown bread is more like a steamed plum pudding that regular bread. If you drive north of Portland, Me on I295 you will pass the B&M Baked Bean Co. that produces the brown bread and baked beans.

  8. Huh. Lived there for 6 years and had an office at the Stata Center on campus but didn’t even know about the cheap oysters. Definitely the MIT campus used to be more grungy than the Harvard campus.

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