For a low-key summer, we slept in quite a few beds along the way. Most of these were made necessary by a week’s road trip to visit friends in Pennsylvania, a two-day drive in each direction. A two-day drive means finding a place to spend the night along Interstate 80, which pretty much guarantees an adventure in mediocrity. For years I have been searching for the “sweet point” in pricing for these forced overnight stays. My standards used to be low: clean sheets, hot water, and a towel or two. But enough bad experiences (and, full disclosure, the process of aging) have led me to raise the bar. In no particular order I now seek:
· A room that does not smell like ancient cigarettes
· Free wi-fi and a breakfast with decent coffee
· A chair you can sit in with a light you can read by (remarkably uncommon)
· A toilet whose flush does not terrify you in the middle of the night
· A hotel that is not filled with partying participants in a softball tournament
· A carpet I am not afraid to walk on barefoot
· Something resembling blessed Quiet
Budget hotels almost always guarantee a miserable night, so we opted to go mid-scale, staying in Hampton Inns in both directions. I got at least some of the things on my list, but I also got one of the things I most detest: a duvet. They are quite the thing these days. Pity the cleaning staff that has to change these monsters. And a duvet pretty much ensures that you will be either too warm or too cold all night. Just as I am waiting for “wraps” to disappear from restaurant menus, I am waiting for duvets to go the way of the water bed.
While visiting friends in Lewisburg, Pa, we stayed in a downtown Bed and Breakfast, The Tawsty Flower. I am beginning to overcome my prejudice against B and Bs. I am a slow starter in the morning, and especially hate the social obligation to chat with strangers before I have had my coffee. I was deeply scarred by my first B and B experience, where I was seated with a man who was eager to discuss doorknobs. Seriously. But we had our simple breakfast alone both mornings in Lewisburg, the room was small but comfortable, and the location was ideal. It did, however, have a duvet.
While visiting friends in Petersburg, a region of mountains, hollers, and gravel roads, we stayed at the only B and B I anticipate with eagerness, the Inn at Solvang. It is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, a mansion surrounded by glorious gardens. We had the place to ourselves, which meant we could sip a cocktail in the music room or listen to crickets and tree frogs in the gardens while gazing at the night sky. The breakfasts are spectacular – pancakes made with spelt from their own mill, drenched in maple syrup tapped from their trees, to give one example. Excellent coffee. Oh, and an on-site masseuse. Solvang is almost worth a two-day drive just to stay there. “Our” room (we have stayed in it three times) is huge, wonderfully furnished, and has – wait for it! – a blanket and bedspread instead of a duvet. It was hard to leave and head for another Hampton Inn in Indiana.
We had several overnights in Madison, one in a really lousy place (as a bonus, the hood of our car suffered overspray from a restaurant next door that was being painted) and the other in the new Hyatt Place downtown, which was so nice that Susan said, somewhat amazed, “I really like this carpeting!”
More recently, we spent two nights in Munising to check on the progress of the construction project at our cabin. We have not stayed at a motel in Munising in sixteen years. Most of them, as one friend expressed it, have a permanent smell of old snowmobile boots. We stayed at a new place, a summer-only motel, right on the shore of Lake Superior. Not much of a breakfast, but also no duvet, the room was clean, and you can’t beat the view. The manager is willing to cut me a deal on rates for the runs I will need to make up there these next two months.
So we now have good options in Munising and Madison, and places I would gladly return to in central Pennsylvania. Which leaves the problem of Interstate travel and the ghettos of chain hotels and omnipresent Applebees. I would be grateful for suggestions.