I know Maine is called “Vacation Land,” but I need a city fix to unwind. Nature can be too harsh. In late February my coastal paradise was glazed in ice and buried under two feet of melting snow. (It still is.) Harvard Square is only two and a half hours south . . . well, six hours if it’s stormy on the way back.
It was still worth a return to my old home. After growing up in NYC, I went to college and graduate school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My husband and I met at Harvard (left), and our two kids were born in Boston. Our teenaged daughter must have inherited my urban genes because she loved our trip to Harvard Square. Her brother stayed back to compete in the Maine State Championship in Nordic Skiing, and her sad dad had to work. It was a girls-only vacation.
We stayed at the Charles Hotel. Our room overlooked Harvard University and the Boston skyline. Henrietta’s Table served the best Belgian waffles and fresh tropical fruit. There’s a glass-encased lap pool and an outdoor skating rink in this luxurious hotel. We were well pampered, but we didn’t spend too much time in our comfortable room.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History has the most amazing exhibit of glass flowers (above.) They were made in 1887-1936 by a father and son team in Germany and have been used ever since to teach botany. My daughter, who inherited my glass animal collection, could not believe the flowers were not real. We also loved the gorgeous gemstone exhibit. I got nostalgic walking around campus, but my daughter is too young to be thinking much about college yet. If you ask her, she'll say she wants to go to Oxford University in England after our sabbatical there. Oxford was also her dad's alma mater.
Catering to many international students, Harvard Square has a broad selection of affordable ethnic food. We had lunch at Chutneys (right) in The Garage Shopping Center. A nanini (nan bread+panini+curry+rice) is the best idea ever! The paratha wrap was tasty too. Our meals with samosas and a fresh mango lassi came to less than $10/person. It was not so much fast food as good food fast.
My beloved Herrell's had just shut, but a friend recommended Lizzy's and JP Licks for homemade ice cream. Steve Herrell founded Steve's ice cream in 1973 and sold his first name chain. He then reopened under his last name on a smaller scale. Both local chains still exist but not in Harvard Square. My daughter liked JP Licks, but it wasn't the same as sitting inside an old bank valt painted like a fish tank while spooning salty-sweet malted vanilla ice cream with Heath Bar - Reese's smoosh-ins, laughing with a friend. That was the flavor of college for me.
For dinner we had delicious Korean and Japanese food at Shabu Ya (above), the former Shilla. Their specialty is Shabu Shabu, a one-pot meal of thinly cut beef and vegetables that you cook in a savory broth at your table. It was a good sign that most of the clients were Asian. Another good sign: my husband and I have been dining there for over two decades. Two locations ago, Henry first met my parents for dinner there. My parents also met and fell in love in Cambridge 50-something years ago. It's a special place for me.
Café Algiers (left), another old college haunt of mine. At the table beside us, two women were chatting in French. Sipping fresh mint tea and nibbling baklava, we felt transported to Algeria. It has the best atmosphere if not the best tea. Still, nobody rushes you and it's quiet, a great place to catch up with an old friend.
Afterwards, we found terrific sales on clothing and browsed in bookstores. The Harvard Book Store, featuring new and used books, has been there since my college days. Several other independent bookstores were long gone, sadly. The adorable Curious George store is all that’s left of the old WordsWorth. Tween/teen chapter books were in the basement along with some adult crossover fiction. I was pleased to spot Ellen Booraem’s Small Persons with Wings sparkling (silver glitter letters!) on a display shelf.
We ran out of time to do everything on our list, like making earrings at the Boston Bead Company, sipping hot chocolate at Burdick's or scoffing cupcakes at Sweet. Sure beats mud season in Maine.
Happiness Watch: The 2010 Gallup poll rated American congressional districts by national well-being, looking at indicators such as emotional status, work satisfaction, eating habits, illness, stress etc. The NYT reporting last Sunday, tracked down "America's Happiest Man" and shared a fascinating map of national happiness.
Al Miller at the Theater Project in Brunswick, Maine has adapted Shift by Charlotte Agell to the stage. I'll be attending the opening on Friday night, March 11th. The play runs on weekends through March 20th. Charlotte has been advising this teen production based on her dystopian novel for young adults.
Lots of Shakespeare in NYC this spring.