The twinkle lights came into view before I saw the city itself.
Cambridge, Massachusetts was ready for the holidays and I was ready for Cambridge. I had booked the trip on a whim, needing a quick break before the holidays, got an amazing rate from the Twitter-savvy marketing team at the Charles Hotel, packed my car and left. Harvard Square was exactly as I imagined it to be: squat brick buildings and pebbled side streets teeming with walking stacks of books formerly known as students, enjoying the chilly break. Dimly lit bookstores packed with bespectacled readers holding tightly to coffee cups. Engaging protesters occupying Harvard in brightly colored tents between centuries-old school buildings.
I quickly fell head over heels for this side of the city, enjoying the refuge of intimate boutiques like Black Ink and drowning in cupcakes at Crema Cafe. For such a small city, I was surprised how much Cambridge around the holidays feels like New York Fifth Avenue, shopping bags rustling together strung on arms and non-disposable coffee cups clinking in hands, yet peaceful, and serene, and all together the picture postcard of New England winter.
As if it needed a nudge to feel more collegiate, Harvard Square boasts Leavitt & Peirce, a tobacco shop with a wooden Native American totem pole greeting you at the doorway, cases and cases of hand crafted pipes and tobaccos in jars, meticulously crafted shaving sets for the discerning man in your life, and a small selection of leather bound notebooks in a container by the door; an afterthought for some man in tweed, no doubt. I laughed at the stereotypical nature of the shop I was enveloped in, sniffing the musky scent of old world money, but this too, made my heart dance. It was quaint and adorably what you’d expect, and comforting in that way. I passed an older man shopping for pipes as I left the store and I stopped to imagine the gentleman pushing his round glasses up on his nose in front of his hearth, flipping pages in a first edition manuscript and filling his carved pipe with his favorite vice.
One icy covered block up, I walked straight into students in orderly line waiting at the door of an eatery that had seen better days. “Mr. Bartley’s” the sign announced, “since 1950.” Well that explained it, and I queued up to sample a taste of the popular student fair, but left not too much after, the whiny victim of a seriously long, slow line on a frost bitten evening.
My hotel fit the Cambridge bill as well. The Charles Hotel, tucked just outside of the very center of Harvard Square, warmed guests with a cozy lobby of overstuffed chairs and a wall lined with books, free for borrow to hotel guests. I passed, because I had brought serious reading material of my own for #hpbookclub, and walked the steps of the minimalist and modern building to my room, honestly preparing for disappointment. A modern building in this city? Isn’t that a crime? It was, and it is, and that’s probably why the Charles Hotel chose to veer away from that measure once I opened the door to my room. Sure, a simple space greeted me and a television scared the daylights out of me when I entered the bathroom and looked in the mirror, but on the darkened wood table, a mug. On the bed, a thick patchwork blanket. Out the window, a thicket of trees strung up with those inviting twinkle lights against an agate shimmering sky. On the dressing table, a copy of The Atlantic, my favorite magazine and one I can easy spend hours flipping through, attached to a mug of green tea and wrapped like a cocoon in a blanket. Yes, I opted for a quick and yummy organic dinner at the hotel’s own Henrietta’s Table (pro tip: get the cheese plate and a martini and spend an hour of your life in complete food ecstasy!) and hurried back to spend a deliciously sinful night in with reading material.
I woke up the following day to the sounds of birds and students chirping outside my window, both of them obviously in mating season, and lazily pulled on my sweater for a completely different kind of day. Because the other side of Cambridge is a different world, in a more mentally stimulating kind of way.
Into the car and across town I went, pulling into a parking spot on a quiet block that both Foursquare and Yelp promised was teeming with MIT energy. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus spread a few blocks wide across this more sparsely populated section of Cambridge. I shuffled across the empty Sunday streets and into the MIT museum, enjoying the benefit of free Sunday admission, available from 10am through noon every week.
After spending a good 30 minutes swaying back and forth down the hallway of the holography exhibit, and another hour or two exploring the fantastic world of robots (and learning more than I’ve ever wanted to know about robots that perform surgery), I had worked up a fierce appetite. I followed the growl of my stomach, which was running on completely empty a few hours after the most amazing homemade granola I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, via the Charles Hotel, and walked a few blocks down Massachusetts Avenue until reaching the Miracle of Science bar and grill. This tiny dive boasts dark walls, sticky tables, and a chalkboard menu painted in the style of the periodic table of elements. Bring your glasses, lest you sit directly under the menu, and nurse a veggie burger and a drink while admiring the ultra-nerdy conversations permeating around you and in the brains of the next crop of technical geniuses.
After a drive through a few local gardens and by the water, my trip was over. I was refreshed and enthralled with the reading material I had purchased, and I entered a four-hour drive back to New York with a more optimistic view. Get out of New England when the weather gets a little chilly? I wouldn’t dream of it.