A few weeks ago I felt the urgent, desperate need to flee New York City.
There was something about the city’s noise, its attitude, its frenetic pace that was driving me out of my mind. I felt caged in by the narrow tenement buildings of my Lower East Side streets. A taxi driver honked unnecessarily and I felt the irrepressible urge to slam on his front hood and yell “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT FOR?”
It was clear that I needed a break.
My requirements were simple: a place outside of the city where I could unwind with a good book, a fireplace and maybe a bottle of Pinot Noir. My top priority was silence.
I found what I was looking for in Cape May, New Jersey. While in the summer it’s a hotspot for vacationing tri-staters, in the winter it’s close to deserted. I recruited my boyfriend, rented a car for the three-and-a-half hour drive and booked a room at Congress Hall, a charming Victorian hotel that once served as the summer residence for presidents Pierce, Buchanan, Grant and Harrison. With a friendly yellow exterior, a tiled lobby reminiscent of Havana and a daily schedule of events, the Congress Hall had the look of a coastal resort and the feel of a grown-up summer camp.
But most importantly, in a section of the hotel called the Brown Room, Congress Hall had a fireplace and in front of that fireplace were a scattering of leather armchairs and a bar with an extensive wine list. Behold, the resting place I’d been dreaming of.
Turns out, the Brown Room and adjoining Blue Pig Tavern are among Cape May’s only hotspots during the off-season months of October-March, and by 5pm the area was bustling with locals taking advantage of happy hour. After a relaxing evening of reading, wining and dining on delicious mussels, I fell into one of the most restful sleeps I’d had in months.
The next morning, we woke early to explore the town. The streets were dead silent, except for the sounds of waves crashing on the shore. Further inland, quaint multi-colored storefronts advertised shop names from a different time: Good Scents, Just For Laughs, Whale’s Tale, the Cape May Popcorn Factory.
The only store open at 9am on a Monday was the Original Fudge Kitchen, where I picked out a selection of salt-water taffy and gulped what tasted like stale Folger’s coffee (even though it was a retreat, I am still a New Yorker, and I was desperate).
After the pit stop, we continued our stroll. The roads were deliciously devoid of cars, and only a handful of pedestrians shared the sidewalks. After ascertaining that nearly every shop had closed for the season, and that there was in fact very little to do, we made our way to the waterfront. The late winter day was fresh, and we had the beach entirely to ourselves. After tiring of splashing in the surf, we headed back to the hotel. A fireplace was waiting.
[Flickr image via Alan Kotok]