A City Unto Itself ~ Cambridge, MA

Knowledge is power ~ Francis Bacon, Philosopher, 1561-1626

I dedicate this post to my little sister, Katya, who started university in Sydney, Australia, this week.

Cambridge has been described as Boston’s Left Bank. Named after England’s University of Cambridge, the town is home to Harvard University and MIT.

If these prestigious institutions represent the town’s brain, then Harvard Square is the beating heart. A gathering place for authors, poets, publishers, printers, teachers, and students for centuries, it is pretty much that way today, albeit in a sea of storefronts.

The mix of bookstores, coffee-shops, ethnic restaurants, and bars evokes a bohemian vibe.

It’s not hard wishing yourself back to student life in these surroundings. Ahh, the good old days, when laborious assignments, looming deadlines, upcoming exams, and sleepless nights seemed like the biggest concerns in the world.

It’s only after graduating that you realise what real life is all about.

With MIT in the Northeast, and Harvard Business School to the South, revel in the student-filled atmosphere. Something has got to be said for osmosis – being surrounded by so much knowledge, so much brainpower, makes you feel smarter.

A River Runs Through It

After winding down Storrow Drive, drive over Harvard Bridge to Cambridge. From here, you can enjoy some spectacular scenes of Boston’s downtown.

A Literary Lineage

Visit Harvard Square, where history and the present merge.

Fact: The first printing press was carried across the Atlantic with the first American printer, Stephen Daye, and ended up here. The Daye Press later became the University Press.

the first published American poet, Anne Bradstreet, was a former Harvard Square resident, and American poetry greats of the 19th and 20th century – Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, T.S. Eliot and E. E. Cummings – were friends of the area too.

Once a mecca for booksellers, Harvard Book Store was established in 1932 and is one of the few independents left standing in the Square. Browse the well-stocked shelves and rifle through its bargain table. You might even be inclined to self-publish that novel you’ve kept filed away. In a nod to the science and technology so engrained in the area, the store is equipped with a book-making robot nicknamed Paige M. Gutenborg. Simply state your print run and consider yourself published! You might even get your book shelved in the store, or featured on their website, harvard.com

Definition: Gutenborg 3.0 is an end-to-end platform that optimizes your publishing process.

Around the corner, on Massachusetts Ave and Plympton Street, is the Grolier Poetry Book Shop. Located next door to one another, these two are a formidable pair. Standing like bookends, they live to tell the stories of a diminishing breed of booksellers.

Further along Massachusetts Avenue and across from Harvard Square Station stands the multilevel Harvard Co-op Book Building. Managed by Barnes and Noble, it is stacked with books and magazines, and has a token café wrapped in Harvard paraphernalia.Established in 1882, the Co-op is still one of America’s largest bookstores (it even used to sell wood in the winter). Membership rates have held steady at $1, but you need a Harvard or MIT I.D. number if you’d like to join.

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker…

Meandering through Harvard Square is fun. The paved streets and alleyways are easy to navigate. You’ll pass by the old-school stationer and Planet Records on John F Kennedy Street, as well as the next-door Raven Used Books, just below The Harvard Shop…

If it’s early, peer into the windows of sleeping restaurants and bars before wandering into the gourmet food shop, Cardullo’s, to find that yes, they do stock Earl Grey Green Tea!

It’s standing room only here, and it’s not yet 11am.

Harvard Walk

The name Harvard comes from the college’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown. Upon his death in 1638, he left his library and half his estate to the institution… by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.*

Harvard Yard is the historic centre of Harvard University. Established in 1636, it is the oldest institution of higher education in the States. You can enter  its imposing gates to access 25 acres of university sprawl (note that Harvard’s real estate holdings total 5,076 acres). The central Tercentenary Theater is surrounded by The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, Memorial Church, Emerson Hall for Philosophy, and the University’s longest-standing building, Massachusetts Hall, which was constructed in 1720.

Pathways lead to dormitories, classrooms, and more libraries (together, they house 17 million volumes!). The Faculties for Fine Art, Humanities, and Visual Studies line Harvard Yard to its east, together with a number of the university’s museums.

If you’re in need of some luck, rubbing the left foot on the statue of John Harvard in the Yard’s grounds might bring some luck. (And boy, is that boot polished! … I can’t say the same for the shoe on the other foot.)

NB: The total 2011-2012 cost of attending Harvard College without financial aid is USD36,305 for tuition. Or, USD52,652 for tuition, room, board, and fees combined.*

Food for Thought


For a reprieve, drive 10 minutes from Harvard Square to SOFRA*, an Eastern Mediterranean bakery/cafe that produces savoury pastries spiced with aleppo, and sweet ones tinged with honey, or rosewater.

Sofra comes from an ancient Arabic word meaning dining table, picnic, or kilim; it is also a synonym for generosity and hospitality.

The Spiced Lamb Pie, Fig Almond Bisteeya, Baklava, and Date Ma’amoul are highly recommended. Grab a coffee to go if you can’t snag one of the tiny, cosy tables.

Food for the Brain

The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century — whether the focus is cancer, energy, economics or literature.***

Aftercrossing the Charles River back into Boston, you should stop by the MIT Museum, borne by the masterminds who attended this institution. The interactive displays are mind-bogglingly brilliant.

Untitled Fragile Motor, 1997 ~ steel, wire, motor

You’ll meet Kismet, one of the world’s first social robots, see kinetic sculptures, and witness the most complex homemade modular electronic music synthesizer. Called the Paradiso Synthesizer, it was built by Joe Paradiso in the MIT Media Lab, mostly between 1975 and 1985.

Before you leave, buy a souvenir “Thinking Cap”, or the extended version of the Rubik’s Cube with extra rows to unpuzzle!


For an authentic Cambridge experience, we stayed at the Irving House Inn. This is a lovely B&B, run by a friendly and helpful staff. It is located on a residential street and a short walk away from Harvard Yard, adjacent to Harvard University. Surrounded by Federal Revival homes and red-brick dorm buildings, it feels as if you’re on campus.

One of the advantages of staying in Cambridge means that you can leave your car in the lodging’s parking lot and discover the neigbourhood on foot. There’s no rush, unless you have a looming deadline to contend with…


**www.sofrabakery.com ***http://web.mit.edu/aboutmit/ Note: MIT is Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Gone for 24 Hours: In Search of Snow and Ice ~ Lake Placid, NY

I had planned to road-trip it to Lake Placid for two reasons: I wanted to see snow again (yes, I know, the Aussie was in search of this year’s hard-to-come-by snow…), and since The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival wasn’t in my immediate sights, I was looking forward to seeing those of the nearby Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.

A winter getaway to Lake Placid deserves more than the 24 hours I was able to dedicate to it, yet the break is well worth the drive. Blanketed in snow and with a thermostat reading of way below 32F/0C, the town delivers an abundance of sweeping vistas from the get-go. Located deep in the Adirondacks, along the edges of Mirror Lake and those of its namesake, and set against Whiteface Mountain – Lake Placid makes for a particularly picturesque village scene. Blue skies and birches, evergreens alongside bare deciduous trees, a warm sun splaying over a cute Main Street ~ the temps may not be as cold as those of previous years, though being able to participate safely and somewhat comfortably in outdoor activities is a bonus.

Though I had traveled with two things in mind, I came back to NYC feeling refreshed for completely different reasons: for breathing in the Olympic pride so honoured by the town; for appreciating the nature-inspired interiors so influenced by their surroundings; for taking pleasure in such simple activities as reclining in a hot spa, and warming up by a fireplace; for inhaling fresh mountain air; and, for meeting lovely people all along the way.

Here’s a blueprint to enjoying Lake Placid and its surrounds in a 24-hour period.

Day One

10am – 4pm: The Drive

It’s a pretty straightforward drive from NYC to Lake Placid. Travel a few hours along an evergreen lined Interstate 87 and the icy-rock-faced High Peaks Scenic Route 73, and you’re pretty much there. Enjoy as a brilliant sun sets slowly behind tall Adirondack Mountain peaks.

4.30pm: Lights, Cameras, Antlers

Be prepared to take a multitude of photos whilst checking-in at The Whiteface Lodge, located at the corner of Saranac Ave/NY-86W and Whiteface Inn Lane. Handcrafted antler chandeliers and cast iron pine cone light fixtures outfitted with rawhide lampshades illuminate the lobby, where a hefty George Jacques-built tabletop with a gnarled tree trunk base makes for a bold statement. Rustic-inspired floral arrangements add a touch of lightness.

The Whiteface Lodge was developed by Joe Barile, a former Olympic luger, and built in 2005. After three years of planning, the evidence is in the lodge’s details: from the wood paneled walls of its corridors, to the stairways’ log balustrades. The property employs a local artist, who is responsible for all the custom wooden accents throughout the Lodge. Dark leather couches and decorative Persian rugs exude an old-fashioned richness within the Adirondack-style lodge based on the Grand Camps of the wealthy in the 1800’s.

5pm: The Suite Life

There’s no choice at The Whiteface Lodge but to stay in a suite ~ which means a jet spa bath as well as a room with a view. Here, huge chocolate chip cookies at the bedside are the new chocolate on the pillow.

7pm: Icy Aliens

Before the temps get to a barely tolerable freeze, drive a few minutes along NY State Route 86 in the direction of the village of Saranac Lake to view its winter festival; the Alien Invasion themed ice castle and sculptures were built by community volunteers and placed along the Lake Flower’s shoreline (Lower Saranac Lake is actually located a ½ mile west of the village).

The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, Feb. 3-12, 2012 is the longest-running event of its kind in the eastern U.S. …the Carnival began as a one-day event to break the monotony of the long Adirondack winter and has grown into a 10-day festival that includes sports, dances, performances, two parades and two sets of spectacular fireworks above the world-famous Ice Palace.*

The festival has run for 115 years, and whilst previous years may have exhibited larger constructions (the warmer temps have not been kind this year), you’ll appreciate the effort behind such an installation. Lake harvested ice-bricked palatial walls and aliens carved out of frozen blocks are illuminated by neon lights in greens, blues, purples and reds. Allocate about thirty minutes here: any longer and your fingers may become beyond-numb, and your feet – somewhat of the frozen variety.

Fun fact: Beginning in 1936, Albert Einstein had a summer home in Saranac Lake that he rented from a local architect.**

8pm: S’mores Break

Gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate sandwiched between two Graham crackers ~ need I say more? The Whiteface Lodge offers this Made-in-America treat every evening until 9:30 PM inside their Clubhouse Terrace. Though if you’d prefer to warm up with a pre-dinner aperitif of the alcoholic variety, head to the plush leather and wooded interiors of the Kanu Lounge.

9pm: Surf n Turf by the Fireplace

Grand opulence. The hotel’s Kanu restaurant takes size to another dimension. Its expanse is defined by a high wood-beamed ceiling, accentuated with an enormous cast iron chandelier. The dining room is watched over by a number of mounted moose heads.

The Modern American menu follows the farm-to-table trend. Indulge. Order the crab cakes – two robust patties made of jumbo lump crab meat accompanied by mash; and the braised pork cheeks – so tender, served atop a bed of root vegetables. Don’t let the healthy course sizes deter you from dessert. Recommended finale: Crème Brulee accompanied by a glass of prosecco.

10.30pm: Nightcap

If you can fit it in – well, that’s up to you. The lounge is open until 11pm and the cocktails are good.

Day Two

9am: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

That’s how you’ll feel when waking up to a snow covered view. You’ll be itching to get outside; to feel the crunch of snow underneath your boots. Fill up on a big breakfast – coffee, omelet & toast, granola – whilst gazing at the view of Whiteface Mountain.

11am: Snow capped vistas

One of the best views of Whiteface Mountain is at the end of Whiteface Inn Lane, along the fringes of Lake Placid. At the end of the road (it’s a few minutes drive) you’ll come to the Lake Placid Inn. Descend the stairs to enjoy a panoramic view of the frozen lake and that snow capped mountain. Serene beauty – this is winter’s decadent offering. From this vantage point, images of Japan’s Mount Fuji come to mind.

12pm: Jumper-time

The town of Lake Placid is probably best known for its connections to the Winter Olympics; the town hosted the Games twice, in 1932 and 1980, and their legacy lives on. Many activities centre on those Olympic facilities, and make sure to take advantage of them. (Time may be a factor in having the ability to visit them all).

One of the coolest spots to experience pure adrenalin is atop the 26-storey, 120 foot high ski jump at The Olympic Jumping Complex. Located about 15 minutes from the centre of the town, prepare to be exasperated by the sheer velocity of it all. A chair lift ride and elevator ascent later, you’ll be standing on an open air viewing platform looking down the steepest incline ever…  A fear of heights gives way to shock & awe as you put yourself in the skis of those brave athletes; this is the site of their launch before veering off into the air, spanning the length of a football field! You’ll be able to take some overhead shots of the town and Adirondack Mountains from here.

These days, the site hosts year-round international ski jumping and aerial freestyle skiing competitions.

2pm: Snack time

Head back to the center’s Main Street, lined with boutiques, a cinema, library and mom ‘n’ pop shops. No fear, there’s a GAP outlet too. After you’ve dropped into the resident Starbucks or local café for a large hot chocolate and sweet snack, stroll to the water’s edge and watch life as it happens along a frozen Mirror Lake, noticing dog walkers and sledders. There are some great vantage points from which to take photographs, as noted to me by the passers-by, who were only happy to show their top spots.

NB: it’s all paid street parking here though spots are not hard to come by.

Apparently a good spot from which to take a photo

3.30pm: Miracle on Ice

A few minutes walk away from the retail strip is the Olympic Center. This is where the triumphant hockey game of 1980 happened between the less seasoned US team and their mighty Soviet rivals; Team USA went on to win gold, against Finland. The USA-USSR game went down as one of the finest in American sports history; it was a stunning win for the country and an inspiration for sport-enthusiasts all over. The movie Miracle, starring Kurt Russell, was released in 2004 to further cement this moment. These days, the indoor rink is grazed and razored by the US/CAN hockey teams, and pirouetted over during figure skating championships. Sit and enjoy the ambience… don’t mind its sweaty locker room smell. It’s part of the charm.

4pm: Amassed memorabilia

The Olympic Museum is a large room filled floor to ceiling with any association to the Winter Olympics of 1932 and 1980. Vintage posters; old New Yorker covers; team jerseys; newspaper cutouts; a wall outfitted with Olympic torches from every Winter hosting city; medals of various sizes, proportions and metal colours. History was made in this town and continues on within these walls, where the front desk staff is only too happy to chat even further.

5pm: Night driving

Surprisingly, you may find that the road home is slightly quicker than the drive in. There’s less gawking when it is pitch black outside, though you’ll be too exhausted and rested from the fresh air to even care.

(Read: I wasn’t the driver on this trip.)

OPTION: feel free to substitute all of the above afternoon activities with a long relaxing soak in the hotel’s hot tub.

For more photos, see my previous post: Into the Wild: Lake Placid, Upstate New York


In my preliminary research on Lake Placid, I came across this piece of information:

In 2010, U.S. News & World Report rated Lake Placid as one of the “6 Forgotten Vacation Spots” in North America.**

What are you waiting for – get out to Lake Placid and create some memories! Meanwhile, I’m planning to report on it again in spring/summer!


Getting There

If driving isn’t an option, Amtrak stops at Westport Depot – located approx. 40 minutes from the centre of Lake Placid. You may arrange for shuttle transportation if the hotel doesn’t provide it.