Last Friday I flew to Boston to start a 2 week long training/shadowing/meet and greet thing at my company’s head office. The trip there consisted of 3 Planes, 4 countries, and 15 hours. Berlin to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Keflavík, Keflavík to Boston. I was taking Iceland Air the entire trip. Their planes are named after volcanoes and other natural features in Iceland and they put neat little trivia on their napkins:
Cool travel hack: Iceland Air is one of the last airlines that allows you to take 2 checked bags for free! This was great because I had loaded up one bag with a case of special beer, club-mate, and chocolate. I needed the other bag for clothes. (Priorities)
I was really excited to hit Copenhagen and Keflavík in particular. I had come close to Copenhagen before, but never visited. (Though I can imagine the airport of a place doesn’t really count as having actually visited a place) Nonetheless, Copenhagen’s airport was really swank:
The airport felt more like a trendy mall then an airport. There were lots of nice shops and eateries and the decor really put Tegel to shame. (Though just about everywhere puts Tegel to shame)
One cool feature at Copenhagen was that on the arrival/departure displays it told you how long it would take to walk to any given terminal:
The airport staff also had these really cool push scooters with baskets that they used to glide around the airport.
One thing I never really understood was grocery stores in airports:
They have a lot of cold & frozen items like steaks, fish fillets, cheese, milch, etc, that you would normally buy at a regular grocery store and then drive home. Who buys this stuff in an airport? I assume you have a connecting flight? Otherwise wouldn’t you just leave the airport and go home? Who is on a 1 or 2 hour layover and thinks “Oh, I should buy some salmon fillets for dinner” You then have to carry the now not refrigerated salmon fillets on the plane for what I’m assuming is, at the very least, a 45 minute flight but more likely longer.
Oh well. At least the bathrooms had a place for me to deposit my used drug needles:
Getting on the next plane to Keflavík I noticed something really cool about the cabin. One of Iceland’s big tourism selling points is the island’s natural beauty and the lights above the seats were done in a way to mimic the northern lights you can see in Iceland:
While you definitely benefit from being able to carry on 2 bags for free on Iceland Air, they get you back a little with the food prices:
As part of the in-flight videos, Iceland Air has a whole section of videos aimed at welcoming people to Iceland and orienting on how things work in the country. I decided to watch the animated video on driving in Iceland. The video revolved around a family of tourists driving in Iceland and an Icelandic heavy-metal elf named “Elfvis” who wore a Metalica t-shirt and explained to the family, sometimes sarcastically, how to drive safely in Iceland:
Flying into Iceland you could see the place was fairly volcanic, it looked really cool from the air:
Keflavík airport wasn’t as fancy as Copenhagen, but it did have a fluffy horse:
What was really strange was that there was an entirely separate section of the airport for flights going to the US and Canada. For me, as someone who feels very much like they escaped the US, it’s interesting how hard they make getting back in. We had to go through a passport check to get into the special section of the airport and a border control guard questioned me as to where I was coming from, how long I had been there, and where I was going. Afterwards you could rate your experience with a smiley button:
Our flight was delayed a bit and everyone lined up to get into the gate, which was pretty crowded:
This was the longest leg of the journey, about 6 hours. While flying over Maine I saw the town of Berlin on the map which made me chuckle. They put these random shipwrecks on the map and I have no idea why or who chose to put those particular ships on the map because there are plenty of other ships wrecks they could have chosen to point out. The Titanic I can understand since everybody knows about that, but the HMS Colossus that sank in 1789? It’s a mystery to me why and who chose these particular ships to include in the map.
Before we landed in the airport, the flight attendants passed out the custom forums you must fill out every time you try and enter the US:
I hate these damn things. I also didn’t know if I was supposed to put myself down as a resident or a visitor because it was unclear. They used citizen and resident interchangeably, while I’m still a citizen, I’m a resident of Berlin, so I just checked that I was a visitor.
At passport control they now have these automated machines where you have to scan your passport and they snap a photo of you, most likely to be added to an NSA database as a recent image of you for searching purposes. I was about to make an ugly face just to spite them, but the camera flashed too soon. It printed out a ticket with a big X though my face and name, which made me worried.
Luckily I passed through customs without an issue. I came out the other side and someone asked what flight we were on and where we were coming from. I told her Iceland and she said “Oh, welcome home!” That struck me a slightly interesting. This isn’t my home. Not anymore. “Welcome home” assumes you just left this place for a little while for “some place else, some place other” and now you’re back. I know she only meant something nice by it, and that 99% of the time that’s usually the case for people returning to the US, but I thought the underlying assumptions were interesting.
Apparently this time of year is also the time of year that all the college students return to campus. I got picked up by an uber driver who explained that the line for the other taxi’s was 20 minutes long because of all the students.
It was a little strange, I had never been picked up by an uber driver before and the whole thing didn’t really feel as official and legit as normal taxis. The guy had his wife in the passenger seat with him and he explained that the two of them would be picking people up until 3am. He also told me a price for my destination up front. We got in his car and started to make our way to my destination.
It was interesting to me to hear the radio in English again. When you spend every day in an environment where the language is not your native one, everything can easily become background noise if you want it to. All you have to do is stop paying attention and it just becomes sounds, white noise. That’s not the case with your native language. You can’t turn it off, you just automatically understand and process everything, the world suddenly seems more busy and noisy.
The wife was insistent on listening to the news, something I’m actively trying to avoid while here. There was some news story on about two teenagers who had had sex and one was accusing the other of rape. The jury found the accused innocent of rape, but guilty of other minor sexual crimes and now they would have to be registered as a sex offender for the rest of their life. I know nothing of the case or what happened, but it reminded my just how obsessed with sex and “sexual scandals” the US is…
We got to my apartment and I drafted into the building behind someone who was already staying there. At this point it was 8pm local time, but 2am for me. I was exhausted to say the least. Since I’m staying for 2 weeks, my company put me up in this corporate apartment building. It’s like a swanky place for business types who will be staying at a location for longer than is reasonable for a hotel, but short enough that it doesn’t make sense to get a more serious place. The room is actually pretty nice:
The first thing that struck me when I walked in was “OMG! Air conditioning! It’s cold as balls in here! That’s amazing!” I could make the room pretty cold and curl up under the warm blankets which felt wonderful. There was also an ice maker in the freezer, so I could have as much ice in my drinks whenever I wanted! Little luxuries you don’t really have in Berlin…
I dropped off my stuff and checked to see if all my bottles made it safely in my suitcase, they had. I learned a lesson last time I flew home for Christmas to pack my bottles in a hard box, as some previously shattered.
I first stopped by the bank to get some cash. I was a little worried because I didn’t know how easily I would be able to take out cash, or if my chip credit card would work, but thankfully they both do and Deutsche Bank has a peer agreement with Bank of America. I’ve only been here for 2 days now, and there are Whole Foods, CVS, Dunkin Donuts, and 7-11’s everywhere! I think it’s because I’m in a really nice part of town, but I can’t find any super cheap grocery stores. Man has Berlin spoiled me with cheap prices on food, alcohol, and cigars! A bottle of whiskey that I would get in Berlin for 23 euros is 50 dollars here! Cigars are also double the price of what I would normally pay and they’re not Cuban. I get my Cuban Partagas cigars for about 4.50, here a Dominican Partagas is 10-15 dollars for the same size. Speaking of size, everything is huge! All the default soda sizes are 2 liters!
It was hard shopping for things because I’m only going to be here for 2 weeks, and I’m only shopping for me. I don’t need a gallon of ketchup, just a little. I’m also terrified I’m going to gain a million pounds just looking at all the food. Oh god, and Five Guys Burgers and Fries is just around the corner…and Cold Stone Creamery…. I want to continue my keto diet, but it’s really difficult when I know people are going to want to take me out for beers while I’m here.
I got back to my place, made a little to eat, and crashed. When I woke up I was feeling ready to go out and explore. I opened up my windows to see the city and…oh yeah…jet lag. It was 4am local time, 10 am in my head:
So I took my time cooking breakfast and seeing what I might want to do for the day. The wifi in my apartment doesn’t work, but thankfully, I brought a networking cable just in case. I’m able to plug straight into my router and access the internet. This is normally something I could troubleshoot myself, but it’s a router that is locked down by the apartment complex and so I can’t just log into it and see what’s wrong. I’ve emailed them to see if they can fix it, but they probably won’t read that until Monday, and by then the SIM card I ordered for my trip will be here.
I was a little nervous going out into Boston without a working cell phone to find my way home, but then I remembered “Hey, I did this in Germany and I didn’t even speak the language.” I looked on the map what subway station was my home station and off I went.
I decided to stop by my company’s headquarters to see if I could pick up my ID badge. It’s in this really ritzy mall building. The bottom 2 levels are luxury shops and the top floors are offices. I got lost and asked a guard who showed me how to get to the front desk, but nobody was in the office at the time so I left. Ah, America the free, home of perpetual rules…
It was then that I decided to venture to the subway system. No offense to anyone from Boston, but the subway system here is ridiculous.
Without any explanation there are “inbound” and “outbound” trains. Inbound to where? It was only later that I was told that inbound and outbound are in relation to Park Street Station, the arbitrary center of the system. Sometimes you’ll walk into a station to find that it’s only trains going one direction from this station. There is also often no real indication of when the next train is coming, and sometimes it’s longer than a 5 minute wait. Here too Berlin has spoiled me. The Berlin U-bahn system is super easy to navigate, fast, and reliable. Every station has trains going both directions, they usually come every 3 to 5 minutes, and they’re quick to get to the next station.
The very first station I walked into was on the Green line. I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently this is the trolley line that also doubles as a subway line. It was my first experience with the Boston subway system and I was assuming all the lines are like this; thankfully they’re not.
First thing I noticed was the track and the platform were on the same level. The train, as it approached was really slow and looked pretty beat up. The paint was chipping off and it was fairly rusted.
On the plus side, the cars are air conditioned, which they’re not in Berlin. The subway ticket machines are pretty complicated though:
There’s also a barrier to entry. In Berlin you can just walk on, but then there are random patrols to check if you have a ticket. I kept expecting to have to show my ticket at any moment.
I also noticed that every station has an American flag. This always stands out as funny to me now. There are flags everywhere, like you can’t be allowed to forget where you are. I know it’s “normal” here and just part of the background, but in the rest of the world this kind of nationalism/patriotism stands out.
I didn’t have any where in particular that I was trying to go to. I wanted to go towards the bay, so I just started heading in that direction. When I came out of the subway I found a “Little Italy” festival and so I walked along there for a while.
The festival was just lots of food and music and trinkets. I did find a cigar tent though and picked up a small A Fuente for about 3 times what I would pay in Berlin. I then started to make my way though back streets to the water.
Saw this sign on the way out, made me laugh. Isn’t just about every where under 24 hour surveillance? Ah the security state….
The water was nice though:
An old warship! It was only about 2 miles away so I walked over the bridge to go find it. Walking places seems so much further here in Boston, though I’m used to walking longer distances now.
As I got closer to the old warship, I discovered I had stumbled upon an even older warship. I found the home of the USS Constitution. She was built in 1797, fought in several battles and wars, and sailed around the world. Yet to board we had to go though a security checkpoint. I found this hilarious. I needed to go though the TSA to get on a dry docked ship…
(I later found out it wasn’t the TSA, but that this park/museum was also an active naval base, hence the security…)
The ship right behind the USS Constitution is the USS Cassin Young. She fought in the Pacific during WWII and was struck by kamikaze pilots.
After checking out the ships I continued up to the monument at Bunker Hill.
While checking out a map I over heard some Germans ask a park ranger for directions to get to the ship museum. To my (and their) surprise, the park ranger spoke German and immediately switched and told them how to get there auf Deutsch.
The architecture here is pretty nice. I like the brick town homes.
What’s really useful are these street maps all around the place:
As you’re walking around Boston, you’ll see a lot of amphibious vehicles. There are “Duck tours” here that are pretty popular. They are special buses that can go on land and water:
After wandering around a bit more I made my way back towards home, stopped at a grocery store, picked up some food for dinner and relaxed.
Later in the evening I meet up with one of Insa’s friends who lives here in Boston. It was a straight shot on 1 bus, but the bus stop I had to go to had no information on what bus stop it was and when the bus was coming, so I had to ask some locals. We ended up going to a blues bar which was a lot of fun. The cheap beers are $5 though, which is crazy to me. I didn’t stay out too long though as I was still really jetlagged and had been up since 4am local time. Today I might go check out a museum, but otherwise I’m just taking it easy today, per German tradition on Sunday, and not really doing much.