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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Peeking at Duke

We just peeked in at Duke University on our way out of North Carolina, and not knowing much about the campus at the time, we only visited the university’s West Campus where Duke Chapel dominates the setting.

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After our visit, we learned that Duke University spreads its students (6,500 undergrads, 8,000 grad students) among three campus (East, West, and Central) and 9,000 acres in Durham, North Carolina plus a marine lab in Beaufort. All freshmen live and attend classes on the oldest of Duke’s campuses, the 97-acre East Campus known for its stately Georgian architecture. After freshman year, students move to West or Central Campus.

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Just 1.5 miles away, Duke’s West Campus or main campus covers 720 acres. Here is where the majority of learning and living take place. With its tall trees and 1920s’ Gothic architecture, the campus has a fairy tale like appearance. All students are required to live on campus, and over 1,000 undergrads live on Duke’s nearly 200-acre Central Campus.

While Duke has over 46 arts and science majors and four engineering majors and 49 minors, the top five include biology, public policy studies, economics, psychology, and biomedical engineering.

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Have you added up the acreage and wondered, like I did, about the remaining 7,000 acres? At 7,000 acres in size, Duke Forest, located west of West Campus, is the largest private research forest in North Carolina and one of the largest in the country.

Duke’s mission statement emphasizes leadership, and community contribution in addition to engagement of the mind and elevation of the spirit. Its motto is “Eruditio et Religio” in Latin or “knowledge and religion” in English.

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Trip taken December 2013.

Glimpsing Elon University

As we drove through North Carolina, we learned that in many ways this state is similar to Massachusetts (e.g., mountains to the west, ocean to the east), if a tad bit warmer or at least more temperate. Many high school graduates must agree, as 10 percent of the students at Elon University hail from Massachusetts, second only in numbers to North Carolina itself. The rest of the student body is from another 46 states, D.C., and 47 nations. Located in the town of Elon, the campus is just 25 minutes from Greensboro and another 40 minutes to Chapel Hill.

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Once on Elon’s campus, we parked the car and walked around noting the new buildings and construction interspersed among older buildings on the 620-acre historic campus (Elon was founded in 1889). Though quiet when we visited (just days after Christmas), the campus accommodates 5,500 undergrads and 700 graduate students.

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Elon emphasizes community service and sends many of its students abroad while offering over 60 undergraduate majors in the areas of arts and sciences; education; health sciences; and law in addition to dual degrees in business and engineering.

At Elon, there are 17 intercollegiate sports (NCAA Division I), 40 intramural and club sports, over 200 student organizations, and 23 international fraternities and sororities. While its students are active, Elon stresses its academic environment.

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According to Elon’s mission statement, the school “embraces its founders vision of an academic community that transforms mind, body and spirit and encourages freedom of thought and liberty of conscience.”

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Trip taken December 2013.

Driving By James Madison University

We did not intend for our winter southern road trip to be a college tour, even so, with teenagers in the car, we made a point to drive by a few college campuses. We were curious enough to want to catch a glimpse and close enough that the detours did not interfere with our ambitious schedule. James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania, was our first drive by.

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Disclaimer – we did not take a campus tour or sit in on an information session. The schools were quiet; their students home for winter break.

Situated in the Shenandoah Valley, James Madison’s 640-acre campus is surrounded by mountains and farmland and is conveniently located off Interstate 81, just 2 hours south of D.C. Its slightly less than 20,000 students (1,800 of them are grad students) have a choice of 71 majors and 34 masters in the areas of business; communications; education; health and behavioral studies; humanities and social sciences; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and visual and performing arts.

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James Madison has a Division I football team and according to an alumni survey, homecoming and football are among the top 10 things about the school.

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According to its website, James Madison University is about “spirit, tradition, community,” while “changing the world one person at a time.”

Trip taken December 2013.

Quick Stop in Asheville

According to Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss, Asheville, North Carolina, is the happiest city in the U.S. Coincidentally, just after reading his book, I read Serena, a fictional tale of a timber empire in the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville. So, on our recent trip through North Carolina, it seemed logical to stop in Asheville. No matter how brief.

The rain and winter evening skies prevented us from seeing what must be beautiful views of the Great Smoky Mountains on our drive from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Asheville. As we drove, I read about the Biltmore, George Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre estate and tourist attraction located just south of Asheville. With its size and opulence, the Biltmore sounds like a southern version of one of the East Coast’s Newport mansions or the West Coast’s Hearst Castle.

We arrived late in the evening, in time to sleep at a nondescript hotel before catching a glimpse of Asheville on our way out of town the next morning. It was Sunday, our hotel did not provide breakfast, and we were hungry. My son and I checked out Yelp. We chose the restaurant with the highest ratings, the earliest opening, and a few gluten-free options. We were not disappointed.

Sunny Point Cafe is located in West Asheville, just a few miles from downtown. Although we arrived when it opened, at 8:30 a.m., there was already a line out the door. We waited our turn on the protected and heated outdoor patio (it was 20 degrees outside), before being seated at the last inside table. Within minutes, even the tables on the patio were full, and the line stretched around the building outside. This place must be good.

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Healthy yet trendy with a southern flair, Sunny Point’s menu includes grits and biscuits alongside its tofu or local bacon options. We pondered our choices. Steak and potato hash. Creamy chipotle cheese grits or biscuits.

I chose the breakfast salad, leaves of arugula tossed with honey hemp vinaigrette provided the bed for maple black pepper bacon, a poached egg, warm herb tossed potatoes, and tomatoes.

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Other choices included oatmeal or cornmeal hot cakes, huevos rancheros, or omelets. The gluten-free diner? She was happy with her Mighty Good Breakfast (MGB): two free range eggs, local nitrate free sausage, potatoes, and the chipotle grits.

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We all shared a side of the gluten-free organic cornmeal hot cakes.

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Our tummies full, we drove through Asheville slowly, noticing the mountain feel, the lack of chain stores, the small but inviting downtown with plenty of shops to peruse. We read about the seasonal outdoor pursuits, including zip lining and hiking and kayaking, and the Asheville’s proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Trail. Asheville looks like our kind of place. We’ll have to make it a destination. And next time, we’ll allow plenty of time to tour the Biltmore.

Ribs, Hushpuppies, and Fried Okra

On our trip down south, we ate a lot of barbecue. After all, that’s what the south is known for, right? We tried the local spot, Smokey’s BBQ, in Madison, Alabama, and the chain restaurant, Sticky Fingers, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Pulled pork, roasted chicken, country style ribs, cole slaw, baked beans, and corn bread. Smoky, sweet, vinegar, and mustardy sauces. Our party tried them all. And except for the corn bread, everything was gluten free.

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Combo Plate: Sticky Fingers Carolina Sweet

But while everyone else ate the ribs and pulled pork, I tried the Brunswick Stew. At Smokey’s, sweet strings of pulled pork competed with potato and peppers in the warm and mildly spicy broth. The stew was not thick but chunky. The meat distinct from the potatoes.

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Brunswick Stew

I ordered fried okra. Dipped in a batter and deep fried, cooked okra has an unusual texture, somewhat slimy between the crispy fried outer later. Definitely not for all. Because we were there at closing time, our party was served the restaurant’s leftover peach cobbler and corn bread. Both yummy.

I ordered Brunswick Stew again when we dined at Sticky Fingers in Chattanooga. Though the ingredients were similar, the Brunswick stew was thicker, its meat strewn throughout the stew, its pieces less distinct from the other ingredients. We liked the sauces so much at Sticky Fingers, we bought a sampling of their barbecue sauces (the Memphis Original sauce is particularly good). Both restaurants offer stuffed potatoes: a baked potato filled with pulled pork. Huge and satisfying.

Though it’s atmosphere was unassuming (looking more like the inside of the fast food place it is), the food at Smokey’s relies less on its sauces than Sticky Fingers. The pulled pork and the ribs, were flavorful on their own. But don’t get me wrong. I’ll go back to Sticky Fingers next time I’m in town or to one of its other locations (there are Sticky Fingers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida).

If you’re hankering for hushpuppies or catfish with your barbecue, you might want to check out the Old Greenbriar Restaurant located in Madison, between Decatur and Huntsville, Alabama. Unlike Smokey’s and Sticky Fingers, the Greenbriar Restaurant is rustic and full of local atmosphere.

Trip taken December 2013.