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For wonderful surprises, let your friends lead the way on your next vacation

September 28, 2018

The villa is a marvel. Built on what was once marshland in Boston’s Fenway, the building designed after an Italian palace awed me. The courtyard brims with plants surrounding a mosaic of ancient Roman origin. Its walls hold so many paintings that they are two and three deep in some places. And where a Vermeer, a Rembrandt and other paintings were cut out and stolen in 1990, empty frames remain as a ghostly reminder of the treasures lost.

Chances are, I would have missed a morning at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum if not for my friend Lizzie.

During a fun mothers-daughters weekend in Boston, she raised the idea of a morning spent at the quirky museum that still reflects the curatorial vision of its namesake founder. Then she quietly went about researching hours and tickets and willing us there.

After a morning of viewing Raphaels, a Spanish chapel, carved antique furniture and other wonders, we slowly wound our way back to the condo where we were staying.

On Boston’s famous shopping avenue of Newbury Street, our friend Ann drew us into Cos. She had discovered this affordable, stylish clothing store during a trip to Brussels, and we would have passed it by if she weren’t at our sides.

Then, just as we were running out of energy, Susan — the instigator and host of the trip — ushered us into the Four Seasons Hotel. She knew that the bar there overlooks the iconic Public Garden, right next to the even more iconic Boston Common. Turns out that her selected watering hole was the perfect place to refresh ourselves. We sat in plush chairs, sipping various drinks, drinking in the air conditioning, and gazing out at a gorgeous green expanse on a sunny day.

I usually arrive at a place with ideas and plans. In Boston, I happily followed my friends’ leads — right into delights I would have missed without their guidance.

Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.

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