Whenever I would hear the name of Boston, only 3 things would come to my mind... The Boston Tea Party (boring I know), Fringe (series on telly about teleportation and existence of an alternate universe) and the much loved Boston Legal.. clearly I'm a TV buff and have the annoying habit of singing 'Been there... Done that' and gloat to my friends when they show a snippet of any place I have travelled to..
So when I was preparing to visit the glorious city I had a million things in mind, however when I plan my travel I put in a lot of time to decide where I stay but almost always never plan things to do. We all do know about the big to-dos and to-sees of every city but I don't like to see the places to visit lists. I prefer going to the place and checking with the locals and make the plan as I go along, sure there may be places I may miss but I free myself of the pressures of hitting targets on a list.
I was trying airbnb.com for the first time, for people who don't know, it's a website where people put up their rooms or homes for rent. So you could be living in the most prime locations in a city and be paying lesser and still have a homely feel. For some reason; hotel rooms have always made me feel lonely... they feel like they have seen so much that there is no emotion or life left in them... but that's just me! So I had picked each place to stay carefully and held multiple conversations with my landlords for a few days at each location I was going to be travelling.
The first place I was going to be staying at was with a lovely couple; Paul and Amy and their gorgeous dog Hazel. Definitely the most well behaved dog I had met and oh my god the cool tricks she would do were remarkable. So a little nervous and anxious I entered someone's house. I must admit, for the last couple of weeks I had been travelling with my girl-friends from college who I had met after a decade and in all the excitement of the travel and the hang-over of the memories of the reunion in New York, Niagara, Charlotte and Myrtle Beach I had been pretty pre-occupied to even think about what I was going to do and where I was heading; but it hit me hard when I entered the house and even though Paul was most warm and welcoming and hospitable, I was shaking inside. The desiness inside me was suddenly HIT by all the thoughts of a paranoid girl from Delhi entering an unknown man's house. I watched carefully while he made me a cup of coffee and explained where the basic things were for cooking. Honestly I was relieved that he was fixing a cup for himself too else my mind was screaming 'Watch carefully.. he may spike it'. we sat at the tiny table for three by the wall and I think I pretended to be relaxed and casual pretty well and praised the home and the lovely colours they had used. It truly was the most pretty, colourful small, well planned home with a little balcony. In a while I was really comfortable till I went to use the loo... ummmm no no.. it was clean and nice but... ummmm... it didn't lock!!! I came out hesitantly and inquired how do we lock this... and Paul casually said... well for us.. if the door is shut.. we know someone is in.. we leave the door open otherwise. My god knows how hard I held the door of that loo the first few times I used it... hahahahah... I was fine and safe!! Paul then told me briefly about the places I should visit and I could skip. Like I said, the locals give it to you straight.. He suggested where all I could visit, told me bus routes.. names.. locations and I meticulously took notes. I had arrived in the afternoon so decided to unpack a little, freshen up and start with my adventure.
I was going to Harvard Square, Paul had given me the bus route and bus numbers, I dressed up and simply left. Yup, no map, no internet and most importantly... no umbrella... Big mistake! I was soon going to find that out but also that these mistakes would lead me to one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Walked out of the house with a skip in my step and feeling very brave, figured the bus stop and as I waited for the bus.. it began to rain. I love rain, I think most Indians do, except rain in the west is not even close to being as pleasant as in India. It's just cold and damp and even though the streets never get messy like here in India, it's just too mucky and ummm... not nice. So here I was.. at a bus stop with no shed and waiting and getting wet. Thankfully the bus did arrive shortly.
I had cash and a travel card. So I tried to swipe my card for the tickets, like I had done before in my Europe travels, only to see the driver looking at me a little surprised and the only thing he asked was... "First time?" I reluctantly said "Is it that obvious?" and smiled. He said it's one sixty ($ 1.60), cash only. "Oh I have cash" and pulled out a twenty.. he smiled again nodding his head side to side and said, "Go on.. It's on the house. Welcome to Boston!" I smiled back embarrassed still unable to figure what had I done wrong, but carried on to get myself a seat. And just then it struck me I didn't know the name of the stop I was to get down on or how many stops away was it... frantically looked around for a stop map in the bus .. there was nothing! So I calmly asked the girl sitting next me. She was more than happy to help and educate, told me where all to walk and where to get the best coffees and shakes too.. and soon I had reached the Harvard Square.
By then I had become used to the chill and dampness and chose to keep walking in any direction my feet took me, so I walked just aimlessly till I reached a beautiful bridge. Only later did I realise I was on the Charles River. Asked some people to take pictures of me while they were in a hurry to get out of the rain and I stood there like it was nothing; smiling and posing. I was cold by now and my clothes were pretty damp, I needed a hot hot hot coffee and soon and I was very head strong that I didn't wanna go to another Starbucks, so I kept walking till I saw this quaint and warm looking coffee shop beyond a little garden patch called the Winthrop Square with the pretty rot iron benches. It was perfect with its ambience and the lovely warm lights and staff. So I got me a coffee and stepped outside for a smoke, shared a smile with a very tattooed and groovy looking girl while she borrowed my lighter and spoke to her friend on the phone and I just sat there to breathe it all in. A fellow from inside the shop seemed to have followed me outside while he smiled and tried to talk about the weather. He wasn't dressed like the rest of us, he was wearing a cream coloured three piece suit and I instinctively didn't want to encourage him. So I smiled and looked away. Went back inside to avoid more conversation only to realise he was sitting right next to me moments later. He had even left his stuff there. So now there was no escape, I really wanted to finish my coffee n get warm, so I decided to suck it up and be assertive. Soon enough he asked me where I was from and I proudly said India, what came next was something I just wasn't prepared for. Now this was May 2014, and his next question was "What do you think about Narendra Modi?" I couldn't believe my ears and I said "I'm sorry what?" he said "Narendra Modi, your new President oh sorry Prime Minister?" I was both in shock and awe, so I said "I have high hopes from him, why what do you think about him?" and then we sat there for long talking about the world's politics. Mitch Hampton was a pianist and a musician and wonderful company ofcourse! We both educated each other about perspectives on world events and politics and agreed easily with each other. And just like that.. I had made a friend already. I soon walked out smiling at what had just happened. I think the world is full of wonderful people and even though we are on the social medias with hundreds of friends we all are a little lonely and love a good conversation. No he wasn't hitting on me, we didn't even talk about our personal lives. We just talked.. :)
As I walked back to the bus stop I had been educated that I needed to have two one dollar bills to pay the bus fare, but by the time I reached the bus stop it was raining pretty hard and I had to run the last bit. There were only a couple of us at the stop so I asked a young guy for some change for my twenty dollar bill, he checked his pockets but was running short and just like that without hesitation said, "I'll go get some from the shop across, I need some water anyway" before I could say, I'll come with you he was already gone, running through the rain and soon came back and gave me the change, so I handed him the note expecting his to give me the exact amount back and he just shrugged away and said "It's ok".
It's ok?? What did that even mean?? So I insisted n said "Please take this, I'm not poor, I can afford this" ... Ya don't ask me where that came from ... maybe I just wasn't ok with people paying my bus fare and drivers let me travel for free, but here I was.. asking this absolute stranger to not give me money... and what he said next.. rocked my entire view on so many things.. he shrugged smiling and said.. 'It's ok, it's only paper.."
"It's only paper??? People kill and do crimes for this paper.. what do you even mean???" and he just shrugged again in his casual demeanour..
The bus came in and he went and sat away, I was just so dumbstruck, that I chose to go sit on the seat in-front of his and said, "You just said the most wonderful thing and I will remember it forever". George Romeo Chichirau was from Romania and was in Boston working on solar panels something.. I had been HIT.. with the sheer beauty of this place, it's people and glorious moments of serendipity at every turn in this wonderful city so far.
Later that night I went to check out the music scene of the city as Bostonians pride themselves for some remarkable contributions to music like the group Boston (not very creative with the name), the legendary Aerosmith, New Kids on the Block and many more. So I went to Cambridge Commons and even though the band there sang their own songs mostly which I had never heard before, I found myself grooving easily and enjoying the quality of music and lyrics simply.
The next morning I got up early and made my way to the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Paul had suggested it, and Amy had said I could visit places around also. So the over enthusiastic me got there by 9 am without checking things and timings online as usual only to get there and realise it was going to open at 11am. I had seen a cop handling traffic on my way so I decided I'll go ask him what to do and so I did, and he asked me to spend time and maybe even take a tour at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and then later walk along the Emerald necklace and see the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The knowledge of a coffee shop in there made it irresistible.
Met some wonderful women at the college who gave me so much encouragement for my travels that I felt all the more driven to continue doing what I was doing. Walked around the place, grabbed a coffee and made my way back to the Gardener Museum. Isabella Stewart was an incredible woman with an eye for art and passion for nature. The garden in the middle of her house was indescribable and out of a fairy tale in the midst of a castle like house of stone. The garden could be seen from every room in the house and is etched in my brain even though I could not rather was not allowed to take pictures of it. Each floor and each room of her house was full of memorabilia and artefacts and paintings from all over the world which she has lovingly collected through many years during her travels. Now the interesting thing about this place was that unlike museums where art pieces are either catalogued by eras or countries in her house Isabella had placed each piece according to her taste and place of dining or reading or getting dressed. For instance in the dining area there was this chair put almost out of place abruptly about in-front of the window; I was later told that it was actually placed there for her to enjoy one of her favourite paintings and she would sit in-front of it for hours.
I was full of zest to see more art post Isabella's and walked through the Emerald Necklace to the Museum of Fine Arts. Its grand and has a very very large collection of art. Ummm... my advice? Unless you are a huge art lover... or can spend a whole day here... or have a list of areas you just don't wanna miss... this place can be a bit over whelming. They do have maps for you to hit the hot spots but can definitely do better with the signs.
Next stop was the Faneuil Hall; took a tram to get there. Took directions from an old shop keeper who had a great sense of direction and humour! He told me it was beyond the worst looking building in all of USA, their Community Centre, and he sure was right! The building was quite an eye sore in the beautiful Boston! The Faneuil Hall is a very important place in history, most of the presidents have given speeches there and the structure has been kept intact. There is not much literature but if you are lucky you may meet Adolphus Bailey; he is in-charge of the security and is a well educated man who knows his facts and Boston's history really well and is also a fabulous story teller. Right outside the hall is a lovely Market place with local stuff and souvenir kiosks and street performers. You must walk over to the Waterfront Park and have a coffee. Boston was really wet the days I was there but the places and people were so warm that nothing could have dampened my spirit.
Walked to the Hard Rock Cafe from there and met an old friend Shivkant, he was actually my professor in college but barely a few years elder to us and he and I had been close. I was meeting him almost after 14 years and we both hadn't changed a bit. He drove me around and showed me many important laces of Boston but most importantly took me to the Public Gardens along the Beacon Street and o the spot he got married. It was right next to the lake filled with swans and weeping willows falling over the lake. The setting was picture perfect; so I asked him to take me to the exact spot where he had said 'I Do' and I found myself standing right at that spot wishing my love was with me. A truly romantic moment!
He then took me to the place one must go to, Cheers!. An old restaurant which also was inspired the sitcom named.. well.. 'Cheers!' Their tagline is "Where everybody knows your name". It's a warm place and somehow everyone is kind of easy to talk to.. just comfortable.
As I came home after Shivkant dropped me, I slept with a smile knowing that I had had so many firsts in this wonderful city and with each human interaction I had begun to accept that people were nicer than we imagine them to be, if we just let our guards down for a bit.
I am a committed woman and unlike what we think, not everyone who talks to us as a stranger is out to get something from us. Sometimes all people want is to talk.. And here in Boston... I had talked... I had listened... I had been blown over by the kindness in people from a bus driver to random strangers.