Help Me Do OK in Cambridge
July 23, 2009 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Advice wanted for a strange stay in Cambridge from natives, exes, current residents, former visitors, and anyone else with an opinion.

As I mentioned in a previous anonymous posting, I’ll be in the Boston area for the first two weeks of August, attending a partial hospitalization day program for depression at McLean hospital in Belmont. I have rented an apartment on Maple Avenue between and will be commuting to the hospital daily from there.

I don’t know Cambridge at all and would really appreciate your thoughts and ideas on how to make the time easier. Here are a few specific questions I had:

BICYCLES. I love to ride my bike, and think having a bike during this difficult time may be helpful for me, not least because it will give me a chance to get out of the apartment easily and get some exercise. Bikes are allowed on the commuter rail train that I would take to the hospital from Porter Square, so I could also ride there, hop on the train, and use the bike to ride from the Belmont station to the hospital.I read some of the previous threads on biking in Boston, but had some questions.

1. Any ideas or suggestions for places that rent bicycles cheaply, or for any bike share programs? I have a helmet and a front light but would need a lock, a back light, and a basket (I can’t carry weight on my back). I arrive on a Sunday so a shop that’s open then and located in Cambridge would be great. Something near the apartment would be very helpful.

2. Would it be possible, plausible, safe and/or realistic to ride my bike from the apartment to the hospital in Belmont? (Map here: I am a fairly strong (though slow) cyclist and thought that it might be nice to ride to the program instead of sitting on a train. I’ve read that there’s a bike path along the river, but it’s not clear how easy it would be to get around once I crossed over near the Mt. Auburn Cemetery area. Any ideas for suggested routes?

3. Since I will have the late afternoons and the weekend free, are there any good bike rides that I could go on from Cambridge – for example, a good route around some Boston sites that used local bike lanes, or recommendations for an accessible park that allows bikes? If I could take my bike on the train, is it possible to go to Cape Cod or another nice beach for the day?

FOOD AND EATING. Any recommendations for nearby places to eat and/or buy food? What’s the best bet for groceries? Produce? Meat and fish? Is there a local farmer’s market? Any place that has Whole Foods-style prepared meals would also be very helpful since I don’t know how much energy I’m going to have to cook. Any thoughts on good cheap restaurants? I don’t have much money and am trying to eat as healthy as possible, so ideas for places that feature salads, vegetables, and the like (vs. falafel or hamburgers) would be especially welcome.

ENTERTAINMENT. I’m thinking I’m going to be spending a lot of time engaging in mellow, relaxing activities. Is there a good video store nearby? How about a used bookstore? Any non-scene-y cafes that are quiet and pleasant and not too over-stimulating?

TRANSIT. Can I buy a multiple ride pass on the commuter rail at the Porter station, or should I do that online? Are there machines at the ticket station, or is there an agent? If there are machines, do they take credit cards?

As you can probably tell, I really know nothing about Cambridge or Boston, geography-wise and otherwise. I’m grateful for any tips and ideas.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Cambridge, MA (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You could easily bike all the way to the hospital. And you will be right around the corner from the Broadway Bicycle School who used to do rentals, I'm not sure if they still do.

the Minuteman Bikeway has maps of many of the areas bike friendly areas. Cambridge is very bike friendly. You are going to love it.

For fish shops, see Eddie or his brother at Courthouse Seafood. It's also an easy bike ride and they know what they're doing.

I wish you the best. I hope you love that city as much as I do.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2009

I don't know too much about biking other than that people definitely do bike around Cambridge, a lot. My friend lived in Belmont for a while, and commuted to Davis Square in Porter using the Minuteman Trail, which is a bike path, so you might want to look into that.

You're in a great location for this. Porter Square has a gigantic Shaw's Market that's open 24/7. Inside the Porter Exchange (right next to the T stop), there's a whole indoor marketplace type thing with little authentic Japanese restaurants. There are farmer's markets all over the place; the one in Davis is all day Wednesday, I believe. In Harvard, there are tons of restaurants, as well as Cardullo's, which is a small Italian (as in, European Italian) grocery store. It's my guilty pleasure. Seriously, just walking around Mass Ave and Harvard Square, there's no way you won't find tasty food.

ENTERTAINMENT. Harvard Square has lots of bookstores. The Harvard Bookstore has a big used section in its basement, but there are plenty of other bookstores around. You might also want to check out the schedule for the Brattle Theater. Harvard has a lot of small museums on campus, also... I believe some of them have certain hours when they're free?

TRANSIT. There are machines at the station. You can buy your tickets there. If you can convince a station attendant to give you a CharlieCard (a plastic debit-type ride card rather than a paper ticket), rides will be cheaper.

Cambridge is a really nice place. You'll probably enjoy just wandering around (but get a good map; this is Massachusetts, after all).
posted by oinopaponton at 11:40 AM on July 23, 2009

Your apartment is right in my neighborhood, so I have quite a bit to say about food. Foodmaster on Beacon St. is cheap. Produce isn't the greatest, and the carpeting (!!) has been around for a while, but it's definitely fine. Savenor's on Washington St. is a high end market, not cheap, but tasty. There is a farmer's market in Union Square Saturday, 9-1 that I really like and a farmer's market in Harvard Square (in front of the Charles Hotel) Sunday 10-3 (I think). There is a Whole Foods on Prospect St, and a Trader Joe's on Memorial Dr, on the river. (Near that is a public pool, Magazine St, maybe worth a look.) The New Deal Fish Market on Cambridge St. (further down, toward Lechmere/East Cambridge) has GREAT, though not cheap, fish, I love it.

Lorem Ipsum Books on Hampshire St. might interest you. Foodmaster also has a Red Box for renting DVDs. If it's nice out, reading on the lawn by the Kennedy School at Harvard, by the river, is just lovely.

Re: restaurants, maybe try City Girl Cafe on Cambridge St. 1369 on Cambridge St. is the cafe in Inman Square, good coffee, espresso, and teas.
posted by teragram at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2009

Oh, and re: healthy food, the Other Side cafe is downtown, take the 1 bus to Newbury St. and Mass Ave. Mostly veggie/vegan.
posted by teragram at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2009

(Davis Square's not in Porter. I mean Somerville. Embarrassing.)
posted by oinopaponton at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2009

I used to live right around the corner from Maple Ave and biked everywhere. You're much closer to Harvard and Inman than you are to Porter, but you can easily bike to Porter for the commuter rail (which does not use the Charlie Card, that's for the red line there) or to McLean itself. Inman Square has some of the best restaurants in the area with a wide variety of selections. Your closest grocery store will be Broadway Market, which is even more overpriced than the Whole Foods on Prospect. You can bike to the Shaw's or the less-nice Star Market on Beacon. Next to the Star Market is Petsi's Pies (which is also on Mt. Auburn). Get a scone there one day. Thank me later.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:51 AM on July 23, 2009

According to the map, your apartment is basically in Inman Square (intersections of Hampshire, Cambridge & Prospect Sts). There are many good restaurants there that you could walk to from your apartment.

There is a very small Whole Foods at 115 Prospect St, which also looks walkable from your apartment. Not sure of they have the ready made meals at that location, but there is also a larger Whole Foods on River St. That one you could probably bike to, and there might also be a bus you could catch.

There is a very small Farmer's Market on Tuesdays at Harvard (by the Science building), though I'm not sure how late in the day they are open.

There are a number of Asian restaurants in the Porter Exchange building (about 1 block up Mass Ave. from Porter Sq), including Blue Fin, which has reasonably good, cheap sushi. There's also a Shaw/Star Market grocery store in Porter Square.

(on preview, what other people said)
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2009

Is there a good video store nearby?

You will be close to two different Hollywood Express locations (a great independent not to be confused with Hollywood Video), one near Porter Square, and one near Central Square. You can rent from one and return to the other, whatever's convenient.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:01 PM on July 23, 2009

(Man, my grocery bills are going to skyrocket after reading this...)

Memorial Drive is the main drag on the Cambridge side of the Charles river, and during the summer months it's closed to traffic Sundays from Mt. Auburn Hospital all the way to Central Square (I think that's Western Ave.). It's short-ish for a bike ride, but it's nice to not have to fight pedestrians for the walkway. There is a bike path that follows the Charles beyond Mt. Auburn, into Watertown and beyond.

There's not a whole lot restaurant-wise in Porter, but Sugar and Spice is pretty good for Thai food. Porter Square Books is in that shopping center with the Shaw's, and the used bookstore McIntyre and Moore is down Mass Ave. about a hundred yards or so. There's also a Hollywood Express for your video rental needs (the Blockbuster is closing soon).
posted by backseatpilot at 12:13 PM on July 23, 2009

Regarding your commuter rail question, I don't think you'll be able to buy at the station. I don't know what Porter's CR station is like but most CR stations are unmanned outposts where the train stops and nothing more. I'm not sure if you could buy CR passes at the Red Line portion of the Porter stop, though again I'm not very familiar with that specific station so I may be wrong. Most CR transactions take
place at the major hubs (North/South Station) or you can buy monthly passes usually from local retailers, though a monthly is probably wastefully expensive for you. The T website has a search form that allows you to look up sales locations. You can buy tickets directly on the train from the conductor, but it is always more expensive than buying it from one of the usual vendors. If I were you, I'd probably just go to North Station and buy however many multirides I needed. Red Line inbound to Park, then walk or switch to the Green heading to N. Station.
posted by Kosh at 12:25 PM on July 23, 2009

I don't know your size/gender/age obviously but I have a few sturdy but unexciting bicycles (+locks) that have accumulated, and occasionally loan them out to friends/visitors. If you memail me maybe we can sort something out. I recently found a basket too. I live in Cambridge.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2009

You can buy commuter rail tickets from the Charlie machines at Porter or any other station that has machines; I buy commuter rail tickets there regularly. Look up your zone in advance (Porter to Belmont is zone 1, $4.25 one way), since there isn't always a zone map nearby. You cannot use a CharlieCard (plastic card) on the commuter rail; you need to have a CharlieTicket (paper). Your best bet is probably a 12-ride card, since a monthly pass is overkill for two weeks, and they probably won't check for tickets every time you're on the train anyway.
posted by nonane at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2009

Kosh, your info is a couple of years out of date; nonane's info is correct. You can buy commuter rail tickets from the machines in the Porter Square station.

The Prospect Street Whole Foods (which was the original Bread and Circus store) does have prepared meals. The sandwiches and pastries at Carberry's across the street are good.

There are some really good restaurants in Central Square. I recommend Rendezvous for a splurge.

The Minuteman Bikeway website is a good resource for finding bike paths, etc.

There are a lot of free movies in the greater Cambridge area--MIT has a popular series, for instance.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:58 PM on July 23, 2009

This is kind of an oblique non-answer, sorry, but: I visiting a close friend while she was in the middle of the program you're entering. I took her grocery shopping at the Shaw's of which the comments here speak, and she bought: bottled water, and TV dinners. Then we went back to her place, and she was pretty much done for the day.

She is a high-energy person generally (when she isn't ill), and a good, healthy cook, but man, she was spent at the end of every day there.

She didn't exactly enjoy it while she was there, but it helped her immensely, and now, four years later, she's in a very good place, whereas she was in bad shape when she started the program. She uses things she learned there every day.

I know you mentioned you weren't sure how much energy you'd have to cook, but I just wanted to make sure you're not pressuring yourself, and to raise the possibility that you might not even have the energy to shop carefully, or eat anything other than the easiest thing that provides the number of calories that will get you through the day. And that's okay; it might mean that, like my friend, you're getting so much out of this program that it's taking all your energy, and the other stuff -- biking, shopping and cooking healthfully, even visiting Cambridge as a tourist someday -- will wait a few weeks.

Again, sorry for the non-answer; would have emailed a throwaway address or memailed if possible. Also sorry if you know all this already.
posted by palliser at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2009

Something with Whole Food-style prepared food? There are two Whole Foods in Cambridge - a big one on River Street near Mem. Drive, and a smaller one on Prospect Street which is right down the street from your place. I don't think Trader Joes does prepared food but Shaws certainly does.

Cambridge is pretty bike-friendly with bike lanes on almost every major street. In fact, you'll see people biking 24 hours a day. You couldn't be in a better place. The sidewalks along both sides of the Charles River are tedious, though, for biking because of all the joggers, walkers, and inline skaters. You're actually better off using the streets.

According to Google maps, it's about 6 miles from Maple Avenue to McLean Hospital in Belmont. I've done that ride and it's pretty flat. The ride is very possible and probably quicker than riding to Porter Square and taking the train. You'd be biking a little out of your way to go down by the river. Take Mt. Auburn Street out past the cemetery and onto Trapelo Road which is just past the Star Market. McLean is off Trapelo after Waverly Square and Belmont Wheelworks.

Belmont Wheelworks is one of the best bike stores in the Boston area. I don't know if they do rentals but they would definitely know where to send you. You can get any bike supplies (lights, etc.) at Wheelworks and you can trust these guys with other bike questions.
posted by birdwatcher at 1:19 PM on July 23, 2009

This is one case where I'm glad my info is wrong, as the way things are now is far more convenient than in the past. Disregard what I said and good luck with the program, anon.
posted by Kosh at 1:23 PM on July 23, 2009

ATA rents bikes and is open on Sundays.
Cambridge Bicycle rents and is open on Sundays.
Quad Bikes sells refurbed bikes and is a non-profit, if you roll that way.

I haven't read through the answers above so forgive it if this is redundant, but the ride from Maple St. to McLean is about 6 miles. I consider it doable, but most of that will be on busy city streets. Depending on your energy level you may or may not feel like that every day.

Here's a list of Cambridge Farmers' Markets. I think the Harvard one would be closest to you.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:00 PM on July 23, 2009

Hey Anon - there's a lot of good answers here, and I can't really add anything else since I'm a fairly new resident of the area myself. You are very close to Inman Square, which has a lot of stuff to check out and isn't very scene-y. I think you'll like it there.

I remember your previous questions and haven't had much to offer in the way of advice, but I'm glad to see things are shaping up for you and I'm hoping things will work out well for you. I live not too far away from where you're staying, and if you ever need to get out and talk to someone who isn't a McLean doc while you're there, I'd be happy to grab coffee or lunch with you. MeMail me or post a throwaway email address if you're up for it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:04 PM on July 23, 2009

You also asked about Cape Cod and/or a nice beach. You could take the Provincetown Ferry with your bike--around 90 mins. In P'town you could be on the beach or in a really happening seaside town.

Here's a bit about taking your bike on the T to local beaches.

If after the hospital (or before) you're looking for food--Andros Diner on Trapelo Rd is good, classic Greek diner kind of food.
posted by jdl at 3:26 PM on July 23, 2009

By the way, when the weather is lousy, there is an MBTA bus that goes from Harvard Square to Waverly Square in Belmont. See Bus route 73 map for details. You can't take your bike on the bus but, hey, you can get there when it rains.
posted by birdwatcher at 1:42 AM on July 24, 2009

In terms of restaurants near Porter, 2nding Sugar and Spice for good, inexpensive Thai. We locals also love Anna's Taqueria in the Porter Square Mall -- they make grilled veggie burritos and quesadillas.

And in Inman, Olecito is a great fresh takeout Mexican food place. Punjabi Dhabi is my favorite for Indian food.

Also, FYI, there's a hardware store (called Tags) and a 24-hour CVS Pharmacy in Porter. The Shaws is sometimes lacking in selection for life/household things like shampoo.
posted by supramarginal at 8:08 PM on July 24, 2009

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