When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

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Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

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Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

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On the Road: Looking for a Burger

You’re in unfamiliar territory. You’re driving (or flying) for miles, and you need a burger. Or at least someone in the backseat does. Besides the obvious and familiar chains, where do you find a good and quick burger when you’re far from home? Here are a few places we’ve found while driving up and down the West and East Coasts.

The West Coast, South West, and Texas

In-N-Out Burger: The menu at In-N-Out is simple and old fashioned: just burgers (made with 100% beef), fries (fried in vegetable oil), shakes (made with real ice cream), and beverages. If someone in the family doesn’t eat meat, they can order a grilled cheese. If you’re gluten-free, be sure to order the “Protein Burger,” a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of a bun. Messy but yummy.

IN-N-OUT BURGER

All Over (Almost)

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: We first discovered this burger place on a trip to Florida only to learn there was a location close to home. With another simple menu, Five Guys Burgers and Fries specializes in burgers and hot dogs with your choice of a plethora of toppings. And the fries are good and plentiful. But don’t come here if you’re allergic to peanuts. Five guys uses peanut oil and offers peanuts to customers as they wait for their burger. If you’re gluten free, just get a burger without the bun. The burger is gluten free, even if the bun isn’t. Five Guys is located in 47 states. If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, or South Dakota, you’ll just have to travel.

Five Guys

New England

A small New England burger chain, Wild Willy’s has only six locations in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. While its burgers are made with certified Angus, all natural beef or even bison, Wild Willy’s offers more than specialty burgers. There you can get a grilled chicken or steak sandwich, or salad with fries or onion rings and a shake. If you’re gluten free, make sure to ask for a gluten-free bun, and check to see if the fries or onion rings are fried in a dedicated deep fryer. Last time we checked, both were gluten free at the Worcester, Mass. location.

Washington, D.C.

While traveling in DC in April, we discovered another simple and fast burger joint, just off the highway, Burger 7. Burger 7 offers a healthy alternative to those who crave a burger but are trying to eat healthy at the same time. The menu includes grass fed hot dogs and hormone free beef, turkey burgers and veggie burgers, whole wheat buns and lettuce leaf wraps, potato fries and sweet potato fries both cooked in olive oil, plus shakes made with organic milk. Burger 7 has three locations in the DC area, but we ate at the one in Tyson’s Corner.

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Where else can you get a burger? Do some sleuthing on the internet if you’re visiting a particular place or check out these links for favorite burger joints in Los Angeles,  Boston, the Midwest, in South Carolina, and across the U.S.

Who serves your favorite burger?

Trip taken 2012 and 2013.

In-N-Out photo used under Creative Commons from whatleydude.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries photo used under Creative Commons from kennejima.

How Clean Are Those Motel Sheets?

After 5 nights of camping in Acadia National Park, we spontaneously decided to spend one more night in Bar Harbor, the touristy, trendy town abutting the park. “Spider Web,” an Agatha Christy mystery, was playing at the local theater, and a room was available at a simple motel on the main strip. We left our luggage in the room, ate a quick dinner and headed to the theater where local talent entertained and exceeded our expectations.

It was late when we returned to the motel. With three beds, two doubles and a twin, the room was perfect for our family of four. As we took turns brushing our teeth and getting ready for bed, it was my son who discovered something first. “There’s an ear plug in my bed!” he exclaimed. No doubt about it. That was an ear plug. And it wasn’t brand new.

I turned back the covers on my bed. Human hair laced my pillow and crumbs added texture to the cotton sheets. My daughter found additional hairs on her bed as well.

Ewwww! How could we sleep in these sheets? We contemplated getting our sleeping bags from the car but reminded ourselves we were paying $100 for the privilege of staying here.

By now it was 11:30 p.m., but my husband left to wake the owners. Living in a small house connected to the motel, the owners hadn’t yet gone to bed and when told about the condition of the sheets were suitably mortified and blamed it on the cleaning service. Although they offered to make the bed themselves, my husband said no thank you. He just asked for the sheets since it was late, and we were all in our pajamas.

Two years later, we decided to stay in one of those places with single room log cabins while driving up to Vermont. Breakfast was included at this good size lodging, complete with a pool, playground and fire pit. With our own front porch and a sitting area, we discovered games and books in our cabin in addition to the usual bed and bath. But as we got into bed, I turned back my sheet in horror. A black hair lay diagonally across the pillow case, and another one on the light blue sheet below.

After a trip to the office for clean sheets, we decided the dryer must be to blame. Although we enjoyed staying at these privately owned motels, it will be chain motels or hotels for us in the future, complete with industrial size dryers and, we hope, no extraneous human hair.

Trips taken 2007 and 2009.

Surmounting the Beehive

Should we climb the Beehive? My 11-year old son wanted to; my 9-year old daughter was game. But my husband and I weren’t too sure. We read the Acadia National Park’s book of hiking trails’ description. We talked to a ranger and examined her photographs. Through binoculars we watched from below as little bits of color moved along the edge of the mountain. We knew there were iron rungs and exposure, rocky ledges and an iron bridge. The kids insisted they could do it. We decided to go for it.

We began to walk up the trail, pausing to read the sign. “Caution!” it warned. My husband and I looked at each other. Were we doing the right thing? We took a photo of the sign and continued as the trail turned from an easy meander to rock scrambling, boulder stepping, and hand grasping. The trail wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I followed my son with my daughter behind me, occasionally catching glimpses of my husband’s worried face below.  The kids were doing fine and seemed to enjoy the challenge of the mountain. We crossed the narrow iron rung bridge climbing the iron rungs up the pink granite as we would a ladder. Only 30 minutes later, we stood at the top, ready to take our photo with the town newspaper, my husband visibly relieved that it was over, I amused that the elevation was only 542 feet.

That evening, after more hiking, a walk out to some tide pools, and a lobster dinner, we stopped at our campground’s store for some ice cream.  As we licked our ice cream, preparing to play a game of Uno, I noticed a laminated newspaper article posted on a map of Acadia on the store’s bulletin board. The headline read, “Man Dies In 200 Foot Fall Off Beehive.” We laughed knowing we never would have climbed the Beehive if we’d seen that article the night before.