Trip Start Jun 29, 2010
Trip End Apr 07, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Thursday, July 15, 2010

This morning was a bit of a late start as Chris had set the alarm for 7.30pm rather than 7.30am. thankfully he's still an early bird because if it had been left to Annabelle we’d probably still be in bed now.  So after getting up and missing the continental breakfast (please no more bagels...) we had a few calls to make before jumping on the red line tube at Alewife.  We already had our Charlie Cards from when we arrived in Boston so headed to top them up, at this point we received our first shiny US $1 coins as part of our change!

Our first stop of the day was Harvard, and our plan was to take the official free tour of the campus.  But as soon as we emerged from the tube station, we were pounced on by a rather loud Bostonian wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with Hahvahd – we were not sure of this was a dyslexic student or part of a weird cult.  Turns out she was a tour guide for the unofficial tour, also free but this one was leaving straight away.  So we jumped in and started the tour.

Some interesting facts we learnt from the tour;

-           Harvard was established in 1636, though it didn’t start teaching classes until 1638 – when the University had only 10 students and 1 professor.

-          Now there are 6500 undergrads and 12000 post grads

-          It costs a cool $51,000 per year as an undergrad, but 60% of students are funded by the university support system, via grants.  If a family earns less than $60,000 the tuition is free. 

-          Until WWII, Harvard was a male only institution, with the women studying at Radcliffe college, 20 minutes walk away.  This came full circle when a female was made University President and the graduation class of 2010 had a larger percentage of women than men. 

-          It took its name from John Harvard a huge benefactor – whom upon his death donated 200 books which was the beginning of the library collection.

-          Upon entering Harvard Yard we didn’t walk through the huge Johnston Gates, but the smaller side gate.  We were told this was because there was a superstition that undergraduates are only allowed to go through the main gates twice, once when entering as a freshman and once when they leave as a graduate.

-          In the Yard, the buildings were built in a clockwise fashion, with the oldest now home to the offices to the President of the University and select freshman who are said to be the quiet studious types.   

-          Some famous faces to pass through the Harvard Experience are numerous US Presidents including J. F. Kennedy, US Politicians and some actors. 

-          We were told that when you are a freshman, you fill out a room application specifying the kind of person you want to share with, but ultimately it a game of chance.  One famous pairing was Tommy Lee Jones (of Men in Black fame) and Al Gore (Politician).  They roomed together for the full 4 years and apparently still friends now.  

-          Some famous people to drop out include Bill Gates and Matt Damon – a decision we’re sure neither regret. 

-          Last year the youngest undergrad was 14, whilst the oldest was 24. 

-          Harvard is also the second richest institution in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church.  Apparently they like to joke that the only person richer than them is God. 

We walked to the area where the Graduation ceremony takes place – it’s basically a large area of grass in a quad.  We couldn’t believe it when they said it housed 12,000 chairs for spectators as it really didn’t look that big.  Past guest speakers have included, Martin Luther King, Bill Clinton and Borat (apparently Borat had been banned for offending people).  On the other side of the quad was the Widener Library.  This had quite a nice story.  Basically Henry Widener graduated from Harvard in 1907 and headed out to Europe to continue his passion – collecting rare books.  When he found scripts in Southampton, UK to was so eager to get back home hopped aboard the Titanic and headed for the US.  As we all know that journey didn’t end well for most, but Widener had a first class ticket. It was when he was sat in the life boat he remembered he had left the scripts back in his room.  So he left the lifeboat, never to be seen again.  His mother was so distraught, she contacted Harvard and said she wanted to donate $3.5 million for a library to be built in his memory and  honour.  She was also aware that they could potentially pull down the library in future years so set three conditions to the donation which if not met, the library would become property of the city of Cambridge.  The first condition was that no brick, stone or mortar could be removed from the building.  Secondly, a reading room had to be built which had to house a portrait of Henry Widener and daily fresh flowers (they now have a greenhouse on site for the sole purpose of supplying these flowers).  And thirdly, before graduating all students must complete a 100 yard swim and the mother believed if Henry had been able to swim he would have survived.  This rule was only recently abolished on the introduction of the disability act ruled it as being unconstitutional.  The library has obviously grown in volume – it started with 4000 books and now homes  5million.  They have had to dig down 6 stories to house these books – leaving the original building exactly the same.  Harvard has over 80 libraries on campus which hold over 15 million books, making it the largest library in the US after the Library of Congress.

The tour guide told us about the issues between Harvard and the city of Cambridge which surrounds it.  There are political and economical issues that go back many man years.  Back when the city of Cambridge wanted to built a fire department on Harvard’s land, Harvard set so many parameters on its size, appearance and ultimately made it very expensive and awkward.  This however backfired when in 1956 a fire broke out in the clock tower of the huge, church like building next door to the fire station.  It took the fire department over 30 minutes to start to tackle the fire.  When they were ordered to explain themselves, the fire chief said the cost of the station had been so huge they couldn’t afford large enough ladders to tackle the blaze, therefore had to allow the fire to burn down to a manageable height. The clock tower was never replaced, and now the building is the memorial hall to students who died in conflict.  In addition to this memorial, it s also home to the freshman dining hall – we didn’t get to see inside as only freshman are allowed to enter but the guide said it was really like the Great Hall in Hogwarts, minus the owls and cloaks.

We ended our tour at the John Harvard statue, which the students call the statue of three lies.  It states that John Harvard was the founder of the University in 1638, when actually he was only a benefactor and it was founded in 1636 as our history lesson blog explained earlier.  The third lie is that the statue isn’t actually of John Harvard as all pictures f him were destroyed in a fire.  The rumour/myth is that it is actually a by passer  used as a model or it’s a dedication to past University president Hawe (to rhyme with oar) as usually they have a house named after them but didn’t feel it was appropriate to have a Hawe House in Harvard.      Regardless of this, the John Harvard Statue is the third most photographed statue in the States, after Abraham Lincoln in DC and the Statue of Liberty in NYC.  When being photographed with the statue people rub the foot as it’s meant to bring good luck, but the guide told us she wouldn’t advise it as students find it amusing to cover the foot in a certain bodily waste fluid (they call it 'Going to the John’) and watch as everyone rubs their hands, face, small children over it.  Needless to say we didn’t touch him. 

The last story the guide told us was about Primal Scream.  This takes place on the last night of Reading Week before finals.  At this point everyone is tired, stressed, run down and generally not on form.  Everyone meets in the Yard at 12am to release all the stress before their exams.  Everyone gets together and take part in a huge war cry, starting off very low and getting higher and higher.  When scream it at full pelt, the madness really kicks in and people start running around naked.  Not everyone gets naked – those who don’t tend to have great fun continuing the scream and watching the individuals running around getting more affected by the very cold temperatures – need we say more?!?!

As you can tell we were loving the Harvard vibe, ands a 1 hour tour wasn’t fulfilling our thirst for knowledge, we then went on the official Harvard Tour – which was another hour of the same information, but we enjoyed it all the same.  $200 in the gift shop later, we were both kitted out in our Harvard apparel and needed a rest, so off to Peet’s Coffee and Tea for a well earned rest ... this education malarkey really takes it out of you! 

4 hours of photo uploading and blog writing later – the sun had gone in and the cranks had come out.  We were sat in Market Square a few blocks away from the Yard, where it seemed all the undesirables liked to congregate.  When a woman started shouting at herself and throwing her arms in the air – we took that as a good indication it was time to move on.  A quick stop at a lovely Indian take away shop for a nanini – chicken tikka in a nan cooked in a Panini oven – genius!  Cheap and easy just how we like it!
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Geraldine on

I'm loving your travelogue - Michael Palin will have to look to his laurels !!! Glad to see you are both having a brilliant time - hope it continues though I am a little concerned at your diet - no mention of cakes or muffins???

Kerry on

I'm so jealous guys!
I've been reading the blog on my lunch breaks at work whilst looking out at the miserable grey weather that has set in over here for the last couple of weeks.
On the plus side, we've booked our hols for next month. 8 days in Belfast with the in-laws. Yippee!

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