Travel Tips: BOS to NYC

I hate traveling around the holidays. All transportation companies know that this is the one time that you need to travel, so they hold all the cards.

Here are the ways I like to travel between Boston (home) and NYC (close to childhood home), ranked in order of preference (best first) and lowest agony levels (to borrow a measurement tool from Hipmunk). Afterwards, I’ll share what I did.

Jet Blue

Pricing: When flights are at their cheapest, it’s around $49 each way. Right now, holiday flights are ranging around $89-$181 and higher. You knew the little voices in your head were right when they told you to book a month ago.

Time: Worst case scenario: 1 hr (travel to airport) + 1 hr (security and boarding) + 1.5 hrs (flight) + .5 hrs (deboarding) = 4 hours. But it’s broken up, so it’s not that bad.

Agony levels: Minimal. During your security and boarding time you are free to buy things and use the restroom at your leisure. And while you’re flying… you can watch live television! This is one of my favorite benefits of Jet Blue. Also, their seats are so much roomier and comfortable than other airlines.

Delay potential: Low. Usually just weather related, and then your delay is experienced in an airport, which isn’t so awful. Again—opportunity to buy stuff and use the bathroom liberally.

Amtrak

Pricing: Acela trains are around $100 bucks right now, which is decent. Not great, but OK.

Time: Not awful. Worst case scenario: 1 hours travel to South Station and boarding + 3.5 hours travel = 4.5 hours.

Agony levels: Not awful (unless you’re not on an Acela train, in which case… awful). Trains tend to have wifi and outlets, and seats are generally pretty comfy (just sometimes you have to walk a bit to find one). I usually load myself up with DVDs and a couple of snacks and I’m fine.

Delay potential: Medium low. Generally just weather. If not, it’s usually just 15 minutes here or there. But if it isn’t… then you’re stuck on a stupid train. (See above re: not taking anything besides the Acela. It’s just not worth it.)

Bus (Bolt Bus or World Wide Bus and in a pinch MegaBus)

Pricing: Dirt cheap. Usually it’s around $20 bucks (but buy in advance in case seats run out).

Timing: Average scenario: 1 hour travel to South Station (or less if I’m going to Alewife for World Wide) and boarding + 4.5 ride = 5.5 hours. For best travel time, take a very late bus—I got on a midnight Bolt Bus and was in NYC 3.5 hours later ON THE DOT. You can do anything in NYC at anytime, so why not arrive near Penn Station? It’s perfectly safe now.

Agony levels: So high. People around you stink. There’s no elbow room or foot room or computer room. There are outlets (that may or may not work) and wifi (ditto). The bathroom is small and cramped. The pit stops are always in terrible locations (seriously, has anyone ever voluntarily eaten at a Roy Rogers?) and the view is 95.

Specific-company tips:

  • World Wide Bus will sometimes give you water bottles. This is usually only from Boston TO New York, and not the other way.
  • MegaBus will sometimes let you board the bus you bought a ticket for. Sometimes not. Get there early and fight like hell.
  • Bolt will sometimes let you go standby for an earlier bus. If you bought a ticket, just wave that. If not, have $20 in cash.

Delay potential: So incredibly high. Traffic and weather can compound to create 7 or 8 hour trips (this has happened to me multiple times). DO NOT GET ON THE BUS IF IT IS GOING TO SNOW. Take an earlier or later bus until the storm has stopped. Otherwise you will spend 2 hours driving the 2 miles around the 90/84 interchange. And it will suck.

As you can probably tell, I hate the bus with an undying passion (but I also love holding onto my money). So I compromised and booked an Acela train ($101) for before Christmas and a Jet Blue ticket ($82, after taxes) for after. If it made sense to travel in more off-hours, I might’ve taken the bus. I don’t love that I just spent $183 bucks for services that I *could* have spent $50 bucks on (if I’d taken the bus), but I do love knowing that I’m less likely to spend 5+ hours feeling dead inside each way…

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Urban Dare Boston – 16th Place!

Catherine and I had a fantastic time this weekend doing Urban Dare Boston. Urban Dare is kind of like a city-wide scavenger hunt, almost like a one-day The Amazing Race.

The start was a local bar in downtown Boston. There were over 130 teams! We checked in and got our blue t-shirts and our numbers. A brief costume contest ensued, won by Team Guinness (two men in kilts drinking Guinness, they were a shoe-in). Then they passed out the clue sheets and we were off! Winners would be the team that completed all of the clues and tasks and got back to the starting location first.

Urban Dare starting line Boston

Team #956 at the starting line!

There were 11 clues plus a bonus clue (which gave you a 10 minute bonus). One clue was a photo hunt (find three people to do “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” and get two people to reenact the famous WWII kiss from V-J day. Those were my favorite.

Our very sweet V-J Day Kiss reenactors

The other clues involved very skilled googling, which would get you a location in Boston. The real skill came in trying to figure out what order to do the clues, i.e., doing all the downtown ones, then the Back Bay ones, etc. You could take public transportation, walk, or run. No taxis.

Poor confused German tourists that I talked into doing this..

I’m delighted to say that Catherine and I came in 16th out of 137 teams! I had no idea we were that close to the top! It was lots of fun and we certainly got our exercise—we probably walked/ran about 5 miles. The winning team came in at 1:32, and we were just about 30 minutes behind them at 2:07. Not shabby!

Our only complaint was that the entrance fee of $45 per person was a bit steep. However, about a week or two before the race, there was a Groupon for 50% off. Thanks to our procrastination, we were able to take advantage of that, so that made it a lot more affordable. It would also have been miserable if the weather had been bad, but thanks to a brief lull in the wrath of the rain gods, it was an utterly gorgeous summer day.

Here are my recommendations for anyone considering doing an Urban Dare:

  • Wear sneakers and athletic clothing. In other words, dress like you’re going to the gym. There were people dressed in jeans and impractical shoes and I have no idea how they survived.
  • Bring water, but not food. Eat a good breakfast. Chances are, you won’t have any time to eat while you’re running the race. However you will get thirsty.
  • SMARTPHONE. You’ve got to have it, or some sort of access to the internet. If there is any way for both teammates to have one, you’ll be a hell of a lot faster.

Pickles Are Particularly Perfect

I was walking home from work today when I saw the Grillo’s Pickle cart that is often outside the T at Park Street. I’ve walked past it many times, but this time I stopped. For a dollar, I purchased two spears, handed to me wrapped in aluminum foil.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were fresh, crunchy, and light. Very flavorful but not too sour. Delicious! I can’t wait to hit that cart up on a really hot summer day. Who needs ice cream!?

For a more in-depth review, see this post over at Pickle Freak.

The Miracle Fruit

I remember reading about the miracle fruit last year in the New York Times. The story captivated me immediately—a small fruit that, when chewed and swished around the mouth, confuses taste buds into thinking that bitter and sour things are sweet.

Today, I read another story about it, this time on CNN.com: Lemons taste like lemonade! Hot sauce tastes like honey! Goat cheese tastes like cheese cake!

Aside from the fact that I love food, I absolutely love the idea of trying weird things. In the New York Times story, they talk about people just going crazy with wanting to try things out before the berry’s effects wore off (it lasts about 30-90 minutes):

…guests became “literally like wild animals, tearing apart everything on the table.” “It was like no holds barred in terms of what people would try to eat, so they opened my fridge and started downing Tabasco and maple syrup,” he said.

So, I’m of course DYING to try this thing! Does anyone know of any tastings in the Boston area? Kyra, do you think that your next Dinner Club could revolve around this? I would totally make the schlep down from Boston!

Truffle Love: Boston’s Terramia

It is my wont to spend New Year’s eve eating a ridiculously good meal at a price I normally couldn’t afford. I don’t like to really eat like that the rest of the year, but New Year’s is special. Plus, New Year’s often has so much hype that I like to plan something unflappably good. For me, an amazing, special meal is always a good experience.

This year, I chose Terramia, a small and cozy Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End that had solidly good reviews but that wasn’t exorbitant. (In my mind, any meal that costs more than $100 per person before drinks and tips is exorbitant.) They had a prix fixe menu of four courses, including prosecco and an amuse bouche.

I know some people don’t like prix fixe menus, but they appeals to me in two ways. One, I know from working in a restaurant that prix fixe meals make things a lot easier on staff, which I feel pretty good about on a holiday that everyone celebrates. Secondly, I like being surprised! There are always things on a prix fixe menu that I wouldn’t choose for myself, but I tend to like almost anything, and I like the idea that the chef has given thought to exciting combinations for me.

In the case of Terramia, many of the courses had a choice, so my date and I swore solemnly that we would not order any of the same things, so as to be able to taste as many options as possible. It made choosing the wine tricky, but the meal was phenomenal.

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Boston Clam Chowdah

To celebrate the end of graduate school, I was treated to a delicious dinner in downtown Boston at The Barking Crab. The drinks were strong, the atmosphere was celebratory, and the crab legs were fantastic. (Though really, there aren’t too many things that you can dip in butter and not enjoy.)

2599095821_afd623ae7bBut beyond anything else, it was the clam chowder that was spectacular. It was a cold night in December, but the soup was warm, flavorful, and unapologetically creamy. (There were lots of clams in it, too.) Seven bucks for a bowl that will cure any all-nighter.

The Boston location of The Barking Crab is on the water, and I imagine that in the summer, there’s nothing better there than a cold beer and a plate of freshly shucked oysters.

But in the winter? I’ll take the chowdah.

Study Guide

I’m one of those people who has a hard time concentrating at home. And if I’m going to leave the house, there’d better be caffeination at my destination. So, after two semesters, here are the best cafes for studying in the Porter Square-ish area, with or without your computer:

Zing (inside Porter Square Books)
You’ll love it for…
their quirky, cheerful staff, Equal Exchange coffee, addictive Vietnamese soft rolls, scones from Petsi Pies, and oversized mugs.
Best time to go: Around 5 pm on weekdays. The working crowd is usually on its way out by then, and you’ll beat the rush on the free wireless internet (comes on at 6 pm). Stick around til closing (usually 8 or 9 pm) and you’ll probably walk out with some free baked goods.
You should know, though, that the location is tiny and it can be hard to get a seat (though turnover is usually pretty good if you’re willing to wait it out). And make sure to bring cash, because the cafe doesn’t take plastic. Also, those addictive Vietnamese soft rolls? Gone by 2 pm.

Simon’s Coffee (1736 Massachusetts Ave, between Harvard & Porter)
You’ll love it for… the excellent taste in overhead music, expertly-pulled coffee, oddly-shaped layout, and decent choice of food items (for when coffee’s not enough).
Best time to go: Early on a weekend morning or almost anytime during the week. The tables by the window offer the best chance of picking up an outside wireless signal. (Simon’s offers wireless, but for a fee. That said, it’s super reliable.)
You should know, though, that it’s a small place. That said, it’s open til 9 or 10 pm (except during the winter), so it’s a great choice for all hours of the day.

True Grounds (Ball Square at Broadway & Willow)
You’ll love it for… the comfy couches, free wireless, cozy atmosphere, and good selection of both coffee and food. And the fact that there’s always an outlet for when your battery dies!
Best time to go: Whenever college students are unlikely to be there– so, early mornings or Mondays.
You should know, though, that it’s kind of a schlep (15 minute walk) from the Davis or Porter T-stops.

Diesel Cafe (Davis Square)
You’ll love it for… the hipster atmosphere, the people watching, and the tasty sandwiches and baked goods. There’s a fairly studious vibe in the back, but it’s also a good place to meet a friend and catch up. Outlets are generally available.
Best time to go: weekdays.
You should know, though, that it tends to be crowded. Also, the drinks tend to be a little pricey. Not suitable for group work unless you can finagle a coveted booth.

Petsi Pies (285 Beacon Street, near Star Market)
You’ll love it for… the amazing array of baked goods, and the open wifi signals you can pick up from the surrounding neighborhood.
Best time to go: weekends.
You should know, though, that the four tables they have are usually taken on a weekday morning. But your roommates will love you if you bring home some pie!