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).


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.


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.


Reveling in Cambridge

I traveled to Spain the other night. To a place called Galicia. I traveled down an ancient road, the Camino de Compostela, with the singers and dancers and actors of the Christmas Revels at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. It was my first experience with the Revels – watching and then participating, singing along with the cast and the audience, holding hands with the people next to me, and watching other audience members dance around the theater at intermission. It was fun and joyous. I will go again.


Trip taken December 2013.

Where the Beach Sings

Have you ever heard the beach sing? Not roar from a shell but really sing? There’s a beach north of Boston where the sand squeals or “sings” when bare feet walk along its shore. It’s name? Singing Beach.

Squeaky Sand

Singing Beach is a small idyllic beach located in the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea on the North Shore of Boston. Getting there is a challenge, but for many, its beauty overcomes the expense and the effort.

We visited Singing Beach most recently in July when the air was balmy, the moon was rising, and the sun was ready to set.

Singing Beach and the Moon

The beach is officially open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Lifeguards are on duty until 5 p.m. Amenities include a snack bar, restrooms, and changing areas.

Non-residents are not permitted to park in its small parking lot on the weekends. If you’re from out of town, the best way to get there is to take the commuter rail to the Manchester stop and walk the ½ mile from the center of town to the beach. Other options include looking for a 2-hour parking spot on the street or spending $25 to park in a lot in town and walking 20 minutes or so to the beach.

Finding it is easy. Just follow the stream of people carrying beach chairs up the hill. Just when you think you can’t go any farther, you’ve arrived, but know you will be charged a $5 walk-on fee.

If your schedule is flexible, try going during the week. The town opens up the beach parking lot to non-residents Monday through Thursday from June 17 through August 29. The fee to park is $25 per car. During the month of September, only residents are allowed to park there.

Whatever it costs, most beach goers believe it’s worth it.

Singing Beach and the Moon

Trip taken July 2013.

Picking Flowers at Small Farm

Looking for a quick escape from Boston? Just 30 miles west, in the small semirural town of Stow, is an organic pick-your-own farm where rows of basil, sage, and mint fragrant the air, and sunflowers, snapdragons, and zinnias color the sky.

Small Farm Sign

At Small Farm, you can surround yourself with cherry tomatoes in a mini maze, pick your own flowers by the quart, or snip your own herbs by the bag and bask in the farm’s peacefulness and tranquility.

Picking flowers at Small Farm

Butterfly at Small Farm

Organic lettuce, cucumbers, onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, beets, and sometimes corn are available for purchase as well.

Organic produce at Small Farm

You might even find local honey or jam sold by the cash register.

Small Farm Just Picked Flowers

Enjoy your bounty, and when your tomatoes are eaten, your pesto devoured, and your bouquets have faded, Small Farm will be waiting for your return, at least until after the first frost.

Trip taken: often. Photos taken August 2012.

Twist – Where Everything Tastes Good

There aren’t many restaurants where everything is gluten free … and everything tastes good.

Twist Bakery & Café in Millis, Mass., does not advertise its gluten-free qualities, but word of mouth has spread the good news. Not only can those on a gluten-free diet choose their food without thinking too much about it, they can bring their friends, too. All food is gluten free and peanut free and most items are soy free, dairy free, and nut free as well.

On a recent visit for lunch, the gluten-free and non gluten-free diners in our group were excited to choose from the extensive menu.

Twist Bakery

Hot Reuben sandwiches, turkey melts, and tuna salad on rolls, quiche, pizza, cupcakes, lemon bars. Everything we tasted was good. Nothing tasted “gluten free.”

Twist Bakery

If we could change one thing, it would be their location. While Millis is only 25 minutes from Needham and 45 minutes from Boston, it’s an hour’s drive for us. If only they were closer, we’d be there almost every day.

Trip taken November 2012.

Where Were You on April 15th?

Where were you on Patriot’s Day? The day of the Boston Marathon, the day of the bombings?

After checking into a hotel in Baltimore, I waited for the elevator, glancing up at the big screen TV hung on the wall. I don’t remember the exact words – just Boston Marathon and explosions, those words enough to grab my attention, to shock and to scare me.

Far from Boston, we ventured out for dinner. The Inner Harbor of Baltimore was eerie, the mood tense and ominous as more and more police appeared, on bike, in boat, in cars, in helicopters.

Police cars lined up near harbor

Back home, only 30 miles west of Boston, my daughter texted me to assure me she was safe. Back in our hotel room, we watched the news.

I know people who were on bikes at the Prudential Center, just a block away. I know of people who were delayed as they ran the course, realizing that the delay prevented them from crossing the finish line at 2:50 p.m. I’ve heard stories of people in my town and in neighboring towns who were dining nearby, volunteering in the medical tents; people who walked into one of the explosions.

We awoke Friday morning at home to the news and Boston’s shut down, spending the day glued to the TV, relieved when Suspect No. 2 was cornered and later apprehended.

An American flag undulated on the back of a pickup truck in front of us as my daughter and I drove into Boston on Saturday. A man walked down Newbury Street with another flag draped around his shoulders. The streets were full of red, white, and blue: families wore Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox shirts, people wore college sweatshirts –from Boston University and Boston College.

Barriers prevented us from walking down the cross streets of Exeter and Dartmouth towards Boylston Street where police and FBI gathered evidence.

Police and FBI at Exeter Street

In front of the Nike store, we joined others writing and drawing sentiments with chalk on the sidewalk.

Writing sentiments on chalk on sidewalk

We saw flowers and stuffed animals and therapy dogs at the eastern end of the Boylston Street makeshift memorial.

Flowers and people at barricade on Boylston Street

We read signs in front of cafes and stores offering free coffee and discounts to responders. We spoke to a man who lost his daughter on 9/11.

On Sunday, I ordered Boston Strong t-shirts for each member of our family. I’ve watched videos and read articles of people across the country and around the world routing for Boston, singing “Sweet Caroline,” and raising money for The One Fund Boston.

I was in Baltimore when Boston was bombed. Where were you?

Trip taken April 2013.

Visiting Colleges in Beantown

You’ve heard that Boston is a college town. You know that there are several colleges in Boston. Did you know there are 31 colleges in Boston proper? And over 50 colleges in the Boston area? With all those colleges, it’s not surprising that there are over 240,000 students living in the Boston area.

We visited only four of those colleges in February: Boston University, Northeastern University, Tufts University, and Boston College. We listened to admission counselors give hints on how to write the impending essay and watched our tour guides walk backward. Here’s what we learned.

Boston University, located near Kenmore Square, Fenway Park, and the Citgo sign, is very much an urban campus with its old and new buildings scattered along Commonwealth Avenue, just a block from the Charles River. The campus is long and linear, its 33,000 students melding with other pedestrians as they run from class to class. The school offers more than 250 programs of study, and many of BU’s 18,000 undergraduate students graduate with a dual degree. The university ranks ninth in the nation for its large contingency of international students from more than 140 countries.

Only a few blocks away, Northeastern University is in the museum district, just down the street from the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. Another urban college, Northeastern’s strategically placed buildings hide the city around it, creating more of a campus feel. Northeastern focuses on “global experiential learning,” where its 16,000 undergraduate students participate in two to three co-ops or internships in the U.S. or abroad to gain real world experience before they graduate.

Brick buildings comprise the hilltop Tufts University (founded in 1852) in Medford where you can see the Boston skyline without actually being in it. Cambridge is just a few minutes walk down the road; hop on the subway, and in less than half an hour, you’re walking along the Freedom Trail. We learned that Tuft’s 5200 undergraduate students are engaged in the search for knowledge, that they are leaders and take action in the world around them.

The million dollar steps at Boston College help keep this college’s student body in shape as they climb the hill to attend classes in the old stone buildings. BC is located in Newton, another short subway ride from Boston. At BC, students hold doors open for each other, community is important, and most of the 9100 undergraduate students go to the sports events. According to the students we spoke to, service is so important to BC students that participating in a service project can be very competitive.

Next stop, more colleges on the East Coast.

Trip taken February 2013.

All photos used under Creative Commons.

Walking Along the Brigham Pike

If you’re in Boston, when is the Pike not the Mass Pike, the section of Interstate 90 which travels across Massachusetts?

When my husband and I entered Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for preoperative surgery meetings, we were directed to the “Pike,” a long corridor on the second floor of the hospital. “Take exit 6 off the Pike,” the woman at the information desk said. Curious, we followed her directions to the second floor and onto the Pike where signs direct the traveler to various departments (neurology, phlebotomy) and to bridges connecting the hospital to other area hospitals via above ground passageways. You can shop on the Pike, access the cafeteria, and pick up your prescriptions at the pharmacy.

As my husband prepared, endured, and recovered from hip replacement surgery, we traveled from rural suburbia into the city of Boston’s medical maze, where several big name hospitals care for patients while teaching future doctors in what is called the Longwood Medical Area.  Beth Israel Deaconess, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center, New England Baptist, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital are all within a few blocks, not too far from Fenway Park, Simmons College, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Two weeks later, I was back at the Brigham, this time, avoiding the Pike. After leaving my husband at 7:30 a.m. in the preoperative staging area, I checked in at the Robert and Ronnie Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families (Bretholtz Center) where I was given a buzzer (just like the ones restaurants give you while you wait for a table). I found a cozy chair in an unoccupied alcove and waited while the doctors worked, reading a book by Dennis Lehane. Complete with a library, computers and printers, knitting, games, and TVs, I found the Bretholtz Center a comfortable and comforting place to wait. I was told when surgery was complete and soon received a phone call from the doctor to hear the details. All went well.

I was back at the hospital the next day, just for a visit I thought, but 2 hours later, we were driving home, my husband, his new hip, and me.

Hurricane Sandy West of Boston

We hunkered down in our small town of Stow, 30 miles west of Boston, bracing for whatever Hurricane Sandy would bring. School was canceled. The kids were home. The cabinets were full of food and the basement with bottled water. (We have a well and if the electricity goes out, so does the water.) We replaced batteries in flashlights, did the laundry, and waited. It wasn’t until late afternoon that the winds picked up. We sat in our sunroom watching the big pine trees around our house bending over in the high winds, the sliding glass door bulging as the wind hit it just right. Pine branches flew past the windows on the first and second floors and rain pelted the glass.

When the lights finally did go out, we lit candles and started playing a game, but the power was only out for about 45 minutes.

Would school be canceled another day? My kids checked the school website continuously as erroneous postings on Facebook raised and lowered their hopes of another day at home. Finally, the school appeared on the list of closings but only for a delayed start. I wondered how anyone could make a decision before daylight. Five minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive, school was canceled for the day. Wires and trees were down, and roads were closed.

I left the kids at home and ventured out and down roads littered with leaves and debris.

Yellow and red leaves still clung to a few of the trees in spite of the powerful winds the night before.

I saw a few downed trees and fallen structures and took my turn at an intersection where the traffic lights didn’t work.

At home, I picked up branches and righted and replanted a small fallen tree. Halloween was canceled in our town for the second year in a row (last year we had snow!) and rescheduled for Sunday. But we’re not complaining. The storm changed path, and this time we were lucky.

Seaweed and Lobsters

Have you ever been to a New England clambake? Not just a lobster boil or a barbeque, but a real clambake where lobsters and clams are steamed by seaweed sitting on very hot rocks. In case you haven’t been lucky enough to have the experience, here’s how it works:

First you dig a big pit.

Next you add some large rocks, about the size of a basketball, along the bottom of the pit.  Then place wood on top of the rocks and  start a fire. The idea is to heat up the rocks so they are very, very hot.  This means the fire has to burn for several hours.

Meanwhile, soak the wooden baskets which will contain the lobsters so they won’t burn.

When the stones are good and hot, it’s time to start the cooking. Cover the entire pit with seaweed.

Add the live lobsters and steamers to the water soaked baskets and set them in the pit on top of the seaweed. Add potatoes or corn on the cob (in their husks) if desired, though in our experience, corn often takes on the flavor of the seaweed.

Cover the seaweed with one or two tarps to keep in the steam. And start counting.

According to our experts, it takes 47 minutes and 30 seconds to steam the lobsters.

Carefully, remove the tarps and uncover the baskets. The seafood is now ready to eat.

Be sure to serve the lobsters and steamers with melted butter, lemon, crackers and picks. Additional food items often include: potatoes, corn on the cob, clam chowder, corn bread, cole slaw or green salad. Serve with the beverage of your choice. For dessert, we like to follow our lobster with s’mores over a separate campfire (not over the pit!).