Fall Into Harvard Square

Oh how lovely to be out of the smoke choking the Sacramento Valley. Oh to be enjoying some rain.

I am visiting my son in Boston and it has been over 15 years since I’ve visited Cambridge, so while he worked at his office, Mid morning I rode the Red Line to Harvard Square. It was such a pleasure to walk 5 minutes from his South Boston apartment to the T-station. Then it was a 7 stops and about 30 minutes and a fraction of the cost of a Lyft ride.

I did a quick walk to stretch my legs to the old cemetery and Cambridge Commons. The brisk autumn air and orange and red leaves clinging to the tree branches were enjoyable in the light rain. As I walked back towards the Harvard yard a family of 5 asked where they might find something to eat. From the Commons they couldn’t see all of the restaurants or the Square a short walk away. I pointed them in the right direction and then we laughed when we realized we are all visiting from California.

I walked through the Harvard Yard and looked at the heart of the campus. It was chock full of tour groups. I was busy remembering my visit with my daughter Sarah when she was in middle school, and then the Gilmore Girls episode where they are visiting Harvard University (although I’m pretty sure it was filmed at Pomona College). I didn’t have much information so I mostly just gawked. I would have benefited from a more organized tour. I don’t want to take the spot of a potential student with one of the free campus tours offered by the University; however, there is also a self-guided tour you can utilize to learn more about the campus.

I made a beeline to Harvard Book Store, a robust independent bookstore. I also checked out the student center on Harvard Square while looking for a fountain soda. Students at Harvard only have healthy options. I ended up getting a slice of pizza at OTTO and then finding a fountain soda and a place to sit and rest for a minute.

One of my highlights, as a devoted gramma, was the Curious George children’s toy store. Upstairs they still have the sign for “Dewey, Cheatem and Howe” law firm made famous by NPR’s Car Talk guys.

It is only a few days before Thanksgiving so I wasn’t sure how many students to expect. Cambridge was buzzing with all sorts of people–groups of tourists, prospective students, grad students, groups of academics, and more. I weaved my way back across the yard to get a closer look at the Memorial Hall. The lobby was open but the theater and the freshman dining hall were closed. This is an awe-inspiring cathedral to higher learning with high timber ceilings and stained glass windows. The dining hall looked like the Hogwarts dining hall and I later learned that the filmmakers did use it as a model.

I started to make my way back to the train station. The train was much more crowded on the way to the Back Bay. I had to switch to the Green Line and was confused as to what stop I needed. When you are underground and there are no bars, you cannot ask Google. So I did it the old fashioned way: I asked for help from a kind young woman. She showed me how I could choose any of three lines to get to Hynes Center stop. I followed her ACROSS THE TRACKS. It felt so awkward but it was safe.

Boston is a charming city and a manageable size. I look forward to more adventures tomorrow.


Cambridge Welcoming Le Tour

Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour de France starts in Cambridge, England on Monday, July 7. I will be traveling with Trek Tours and going directly from Leeds to London to watch the finish. I wanted to see Cambridge again. It has been 31 years since I studied at the Cambridge International Summer School and lived in Selwyn College. So I landed earlier today at Heathrow, took the underground to Kings Cross, and hopped on a train to Cambridge.

When I looked for lodging on Booking.com the dorm room at Christ’s College caught my eye. It is basic, centrally located, and a unique experience for $91 US. Plus I get to eat breakfast in the Great Hall, ie my own Hogwarts moment.

I dropped my bags in my room at 4:00 p.m. and stretched out on my bed for a few minutes. A poor unhappy baby cried almost the entire flight from Los Angeles and so I listened to a lot of Yo Yo Ma and did not get much sleep. I kept falling asleep on the tube and the train, and the temptation was to nap. I also wanted to see Cambridge so I dragged myself into some fresh clothes and walked across the way to Station Cycles (with locations at the Grand Arcade and train station). I rented a crappy bike that did not fit very well and only cost about $10 to rent. 

My first order of business was to visit Selwyn College on the other side of the River Cam. I took a wrong turn and soon found myself caught up in gnarly rush hour traffic. Cambridge is chock a block with historic buildings so there is really few options for improving infrastructure. When buses and trucks are on the road there is scarcely any room for bicycles. Eventually I found the quieter streets and bike paths–after I bailed at Regent and Lensfield Streets and walked my bike with other pedestrians through the intersection. 

The good news is there are far more bicycles than ever in Cambridge. I have seen so many Bromptons I stopped counting or taking pictures.  After about 20 minutes of trial and error navigation and helpful directions called out from a local, I found Selwyn College. It is looking good. They are prosperous enough to refurbish Cripps Hall where I stayed so many years ago. The main college is just as lovely as I remembered it. It “only” dates back to the 1700s so it is made of brick as opposed to the stone of Christ’s or King’s College. A flood of happy memories came back–especially the hours spent talking about life in Maire Henderson’s first floor room in the old buildings.

The Porter at Selwyn was very welcoming. She and I discussed the merits of closing off the main downtown to automobiles. I shared that I only learned to appreciate Selwyn College’s founder when I lived in New Zealand. From there it was easier to find my way back into town. My memory helped me find my favorite paths to King’s College and the ice cream cart that is still parked outside the gates. I rode across the river and stopped to admire the boaters punting down the river. 

I remembered Dean Joan (USC Dean of Women) admonishing me for not having a romantic rendezvous on a punt while I was in Cambridge. Lots of different groups punt down the river and one day I will return and have that experience. There are some things better not done solo. My bike naturally found Auntie’s Tea Room where Maire and I spent very little money but a lot of time. We drank so much tea that we would be amped up on caffeine the rest of the day.

I returned the bike before closing and wandered around some more on foot. Stopped in at The Eagle pub for fish and chips and then returned to my room. Once again the siren song of sleep tempted me to rest my eyes for just a moment. Like some enchanted heroine, I napped until voices next door woke me up. I am trying to adjust to this time zone so I roused myself and write this blog to keep myself alert a little longer.

I hope to meet an amazing person each day. Today it was the man who sat across from me on the train. We did not exchange names so I will call him by his stop, Royston. He coordinates transportation logistics for television and movie productions. He was just coming home from a 6 day Downton Abbey shoot. Royston is an avid motorcycle rider who has ridden round the globe (literally) and from Cairo to Cape Town.  He originally hailed from Perth, Australia.  He worked on the movie Paddington Bear (!) and his hot tip is to buy Paddington Bear toys now because the movie will make them the HOT toy item this Christmas. You heard it here first.