I ran off to Boston for Fall Break. 99.9% of the reason was to visit my girlfriend, but a part of me wanted to analyze what gives Boston its reputation as the “best college town” and if it is actually better than the city that I’ve enjoyed so much in the past two years.
The immediate impression was great. I made it to Cambridge from the airport in 45 minutes, with one transfer from the bus to the subway, all for free. You can’t say that about BWI, even if the net time is a bit shorter. I was fond of the public transportation system in general: the subway system, rather lovingly called “The T,” extends to almost all corners of the city and the buses fill in the gaps that the subway leaves. Sometimes there is a good 10-minute wait for trains and buses, but they generally arrive reliably. Boston is infamous for its terrible infrastructure, but that’s less of a concern for college students, most of whom don’t drive or have the need to.
One of the main themes of this trip was food, and we definitely ate our way around the city, from all-you-can-eat hotpot in Chinatown to comforting Korean Seolleongtang (ox bone soup) to a quirky brunch spot in Cambridge. I was especially impressed by the number of pastry shops and boba stores around Chinatown — there was literally one on every corner. It was fun browsing each one and looking for their specialties. Although I enjoyed every single meal there, I didn’t find the overall food scene to be much superior to that in Baltimore. We have our specialty in crabs and also have a plethora of options ranging from all cultures and traditions if you are willing to explore them.
COURTESY OF MINGYUAN SONG
For all the calories we ate, we burned off by walking. Boston surprised me by how walkable it was, for all the infrastructure jokes I’ve heard, anyway. On one excursion to Boston Common (the main city park), we spontaneously got off the T a few stops short of our destination and found ourselves across the Charles River. We could have used a little less rain and wind, but the walk on the cobblestone paths and along beautiful red brick buildings went by in a blink.
One thing I would’ve loved to try was the city bikes that were everywhere. The paved bike paths looked smooth and safe. Curiously, I found more runners on those paths than cyclists, which isn’t entirely surprising given the amazing reputation Boston has for its running community. If I ever move to Boston one day, it would probably be for the running.
We didn’t end up in Boston Common that day; instead, we landed along a strip of shops on Newbury Street. Being the broke college students that we are, we bought very few things. But it was still fun to browse and see the stores I couldn’t find in Baltimore, namely Uniqlo. I do still enjoy the alternate shopping scene that Baltimore offers, where you can find more small businesses and antique stores, like those that line the sidewalks of Fells Point and Hampden. But maybe I just haven’t found those places in Boston. More reasons to go back.
In the end, the things I got to do in Boston were fairly ordinary: going to Chinatown for food, shopping and walking around a public park. But it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. It really didn’t matter where I was since it was with someone I loved. Even waiting for the subway was fun. I see Baltimore the same way. While I could find neighborhoods similar to Inner Harbor, Federal Hill or Mount Vernon in other cities, the memories I make exploring those neighborhoods with my friends in my college years can’t be replaced.
There is one thing, though. I was incredibly jealous of the high concentration of Trader Joe’s, H-Mart and Target stores. Baltimore could definitely learn a thing or two from that.