Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day Trip: Harvard Museum of Natural History

10:25 am. We make our first stop of the day at Starbucks in the Kennebunk travel plaza along Interstate 95, 10 minutes from our house. We're off to a late start this morning, and we all need a little treat to start the trip, so we pick up coffee and tea and hit the road.
We arrive in Cambridge and find the Harvard Museum of Natural History without much trouble, and Siri efficiently leads us to a nearby Pilgrim Parking lot. From there we walk a short block and cross a busy street to enter Harvard Yard through the Johnston Gate, built in 1889.
It's hard not to be impressed walking through Harvard Yard. We love looking at all the old brick buildings, walking past students reading or talking on the lawn, under the shade of trees. Idyllic is the best word I can find for it. I feel like I could spend an entire day just marveling at the history of this place.
We leave Harvard Yard and walk in a crowd of students and visitors past the Science Center. I try to snap some pictures of the impressive Memorial Hall rising above the surrounding buildings. My family grumbles at me to keep up.
We arrive at the Museum of Natural History, pay the entrance fee, and grab a brochure with a map of the museum's rooms.
Our first stop is the large Minerals, Gems and Meteorites room. We walk past cases of amazing, vibrantly colored minerals and gems. I'm immediately surprised by how engaged my sometimes impatient 12-year-olds seem to be. 
The Arthropod room is filled with jars of intriguing specimens, and we linger for a while, wondering what it would be like to encounter some of these creatures alive. 
We are mesmerized by the Vertebrate Paleontology room, housing a breathtaking Kronosaurus skeleton that spans the entire back wall of the large room. We read the sign and learn that this creature was a 42-foot-long prehistoric marine reptile. 
The Great Mammal Hall is extraordinary in a place filled with the extraordinary. Huge mounted skeletons hang above our heads as we walk past more skeletons and mounted animals staring out at us from rows of striking, huge glass cases. We ascend a lovely old staircase at the back of the room to walk around the Bird Gallery on the balcony above.
On our way back toward the entrance we finally spot the last thing my daughters have been searching for: the big cats, fierce and formidable even mounted behind glass.
We spend a few minutes browsing around the gift shop, which is just as great as you would expect the museum at the Harvard Museum of Natural History to be. The girls each pick out a few little things to remember the trip, and we hurry down the stairs and out into the autumn afternoon with lunch on our minds.
We retrace our steps back through Harvard Yard, and out into Harvard Square in search of food.
The trusty iPhone has lead us to Mr. Bartley's Burgers, as the sign says, "A Harvard Landmark Since 1960.
We are seated at a small table in the middle of the equally small restaurant, arranged with tightly packed tables and chairs. I order The Democrat, a burger piled high with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. Delicious. 

When we head up front to pay, we realize they only take cash (which we never carry). They have a little ATM in the back, so I squeeze my way past the tables and withdraw some cash, then make my way back up front to pay. Kind of annoying, but when you have burgers this good, I guess you can do things like that.
While I deal with the ATM situation, the rest of the family walks next door to the Harvard Book Store to browse. I meet up with them there, and since mumblings of discontent are surfacing, we don't stay long.
We walk back toward Harvard Yard, past another beautiful old gate. I still haven't had enough of the beautiful and the old around here, so I stop and grab a few more pictures. 
We have a quick look at the imposing exterior of Widener Library and the students bustling by, and by now we're all ready to call it a day.
Long shadows are starting to fall across the brick sidewalks as we make our way back to our car. 

If you ever have the opportunity I highly recommend visiting the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Find out more about Mr. Bartley's Burgers, including their menu, here.
You can read a little more about Harvard Yard and Harvard Square in a nice little write-up here, and if you might be interested, learn about the University's student-led historical tours here.


  1. Thanks for the blog comment! This looks like a fun trip. I hope to make it to Cambridge one day other half is working on a renovation construction project at Harvard, so he goes up often.

  2. I love your blog! Following on FB now too :)

  3. Beautiful banner at your site as well, I am reminded of some wall paintings by the Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, such as this one You browse more murals of his at


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