The Diamond Lounge at Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino was hopping for happy hour, but the bartender quickly served me the 2-for-1 special of the peach moscato that always lures me in. My companion and I had substantial FreePlay, and blew through some at Horseshoe’s not-as-ample-as-it-used-to-be-but-still-good video poker before heading to happy hour, part two, at Binion’s, one of our favorite local steakhouses, where we love to sit at the large square bar and enjoy the drink and appetizer specials that are also not as generous as they once were but still draw us in every month or so.
For me, it was the eye of the hurricane. I’d just completed the first and often worst part of the drive from my apartment in Alexandria to my parents’ house in Massachusetts and would finish up the drive the next day.
The other worst part of the drive is the lead-up to New York, but fortunately, in a way, traffic was so bad that my silver sedan Mercey’s GPS rerouted me along the Palisades Parkway, a surprisingly pretty route with a few scenic overlooks. The foliage wasn’t near peak yet, but the views were still intriguing.
And my stopping to admire them was only a minor factor to the drive taking nearly nine hours, about two hours more than on a good day.
The next morning, I woke up and realized that the foliage was late; our trees that are usually near peak by this time were just turning.
But I was meeting up with relatives to drive into New Hampshire for some quality leaf-peeping.
It was a leisurely trip with plenty of photo stops up to North Conway, where I’d last been during stick season for the 19th Annual Inn-to-Inn Holiday Cookie and Candy Tour. This time, the views were more colorful. I love October.
After spending the weekend working on the house, I loaded up Mercey on Monday morning and drove to Providence Airport–so much easier than Logan!–to pick up my travel companion for our long-way drive back to Baltimore.
First we doubled back into Massachusetts and onto the Mohawk Trail, an old Native American trading route and now one of the prettiest drives in New England, especially in October, the prettiest month of the year.
I’d had some difficulty choosing a place to spend the two days we’d planned to enjoy the Berkshires. I usually go for Hiltons or Intercontinentals, where I have frequent-traveller status, but those were sparse. Fortunately, the Hotel On North in Pittsfield was offerring a leaf-peeping special. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The HON is a 19th-century men’s haberdashery converted into a quirky lodging place with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and velvet chairs and affiliated with the Stash frequent-travel program. When we checked in at the large spare lobby, the young receptionist noted that we were there for my birthday on Wednesday and maneuvered to upgrade us. But the boutique hotel’s best suite was still being serviced, so we had a couple of glasses of wine at the bar and then sat in the lobby looking over hiking literature.
It was well worth the wait. I’ve stayed in a few sweet suites, but none like the Library Suite. Spanning 644 square feet, the corner suite features an ample sitting room, a kitchenette, a dressing room, and a spacious bathroom.
But it takes its name from the 125 lighted bookshelves covering two walls of the main room. There’s even a rolling ladder to help guests negotiate the curated collection of books, games, and objets d’art.
|Jeans: Calvin Klein. Top: Banana Republic. Ring: Shreve, Crump, & Low|
Books are a natural match for hotels, because both hold out the promise of hidden pleasures, deep, rich pleasures–melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate for the imagination. And the HON’s stellar execution gives life to Francis Ford Coppola’s observation: “Films and hotels have many aspects that are the same. For example, there is always a big vision, an idea.”
My one regret is that I didn’t have a copy of Slaying Leviathan to leave behind.
After luxuriating in our amazing suite, we walked a half-mile or so to Cim’s Tavern for dinner. The place is known for its wings, which were good, but my favorite was the fried clam bellies. I’m not usually one for fried seafood, but there’s something about fried clams done right, crispy and soft at the same time, tangy with tartar sauce, a decadent signal that I’m home in New England.
The pre-birthday surprises continued when we returned to the Library Suite.
The chocolate torte was so rich that over two days we couldn’t eat the whole thing. The prosecco, on the other hand, we had no trouble finishing.
Once you become an adult, most of the joy of holidays comes from giving to others, cooking and baking for them, finding the right gifts, welcoming them into your home. Your birthday becomes the only day all year that’s yours. It’s nice when someone makes it warm.
We spent Tuesday hiking Mount Greylock State Reservation, the commonwealth’s first wilderness park, spanning 12,500 acres across six towns. From the list of suggestions the Hotel gave us, we chose the 5.5-mile “Views and Falls” route. We didn’t see any waterfalls, but we did see the promise of Fall.
The one downer of my actual birthday was having to leave the Hotel On North and the wonderful warmth its staff gives an industrial building. But I was looking forward to the night at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Once again, I’d had trouble deciding where to stay, but settled on MSP for its iPrefer affiliation and the promised perks of a room upgrade and late check-out. A few years ago, I’d had a wonderful stay at its sister property, the Boston Park Plaza, and I was hoping to continue the good luck of the HON as we checked in.
After a few minutes in our small room, we went to get our player’s cards, complete with $20 FreePlay, and then stopped into Ruth’s Chris for a quick glass of Kim Crawford Sauvingnon Blanc, one of my favorites, before walking a few steps to Rustic Kitchen.
Dinner was wonderful. We were given a round, slightly private booth in the Tuscan-themed dining room for my birthday. The complimentary foccacia came with a Tuscan white bean dip. The arancini we ordered for an appetizer were the highlight of the meal for me–rich and light at the same time. The salmon I had was quite good, and my companion’s grilled hangar steak was excellent–moist and tender. For dessert, they brought me warm chocolate cake with vanilla gelato, worth the $9 for a special occasion.
After dinner, we blew through our FreePlay, and then some.
In the morning, check-out was easy, as we’d been given a postcard-sized form, emblazoned with an all-caps warning to be out by 11:00 or be charged extra, to fill out and drop off.
The mountain foliage was varied as we drove toward Baltimore. Still not peak, but the promise of October shone in the yellows, golds, and reds woven through the green. All together, driving time for the Boston-to-Baltimore road trip was about nine hours, the same as a bad day via I-95, but so much more pleasant that I’m going to make the long way through Pennsylvania one of my regular optional routes, even when it’s not October.