Roadside America: Annapolis

An Annapolis native rolls their eyes when dining out of state and they’re informed that a restaurant has “really good crab cakes.” They can tell the season by the color of a midshipman’s (Naval Academy student) uniform, and inform you that a “Johnny” is not a young boy but a student at the town’s other university, St. John’s.

So who better to tell you about this scenic state capital than a local? We can’t think of anyone either. Here’s the down and dirty on our hometown.

An easy day-trip drive from cities like Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and an equally simple overnight for those from as far away as Philadelphia and Richmond, the lure of this historic town is simple: water, water everywhere.

Want to visit Annapolis? Here’s what you need to know.

Play Tourist:

Start your trip downtown at the docks. Dubbed “Ego Alley,” the main city dock has dozens of large boats that pull up each day. It’s fun for spectating, and there’s plenty of seating for those who want to enjoy a cold beverage or ice cream cone. You can also catch a $13 waterfront cruise from City Dock, a great way to see the town by water.

Next, walk up Main Street, popping in and out of boutiques as you like – you’ll find a lot of souvenir shops but also some clothing stores, galleries and even national vendors like Sperry and Helly Hansen. When you reach the top of the street, head to the right, around Church Circle, and continue on to State Circle. You can then take a walk down Maryland Avenue, which is heavy on the design boutiques and art galleries. From here, you can reach one of the minor gates of the United States Naval Academy. During daylight hours, you can walk on to the campus by showing your ID. You can stroll the grounds, visit the chapel and stop by the Visitors center, which offers a number of free exhibits. Guided tours are available until 3 p.m. and are $9.50 for adults.
When you stroll out the front gates again, you’ll pretty much be right back where you started – and it’s time for a cocktail!

Eat:
If you’re visiting during the late spring, summer, or early fall, you absolutely must experience crabs. Make the drive to Cantler’s if you’re in search of the steamed or soft shell variety. If you’d prefer a great crab cake, try O’Learys instead.

If you’re visiting on a day trip and are enjoying just a meal and a snack, we’d prefer to satisfy our cravings while on-the-go with a quick pit stop at Annapolis Ice Cream Company, which churns out the town’s best homemade treats in flavors like Mint Oreo and Apple Pie. If you’d rather sip your calories, the famed Chick & Ruth’s Delly features a 6-pound shake on the menu (yes, you may have seen it during an episode of “Man vs. Food”).

If you’re staying overnight, you’ll find that most bars along Main and West Streets cater to a casual crowd. Feel free to come in fresh from an afternoon on the boat and order a brew at McGarvey’s (where the Navy’s Blue Angels hang out when they’re in town) or the 250-year-old Middleton Tavern (order some oysters with your cocktail). Or, head to West Street and try the local brews at Rams Head Tavern, where you can frequently catch local and national musicians playing for the evening. For a true scenic dining experience, head across the water to the Severn Inn, which offers panoramic views of the bay and downtown.

For brunch, lovers of the casual will find a locals hangout at Boatyard Bar & Grill, just across the bridge in Eastport.

Tips for Day-Trippers:

  • Plan to do some walking. Finding a parking space downtown on weekends can be tough, so you’ll want to leave it in a public garage (there’s one on Main Street) or at your hotel if you can. Downtown is pretty walk-able, but you’ll want flat, comfortable shoes for the brick sidewalks.
  • Preppy chic is the dress code of choice for most Annapolis natives – most restaurants won’t require more than a collared shirt for dinner, although a blazer wouldn’t look out of place either.

[Flickr image via jeffweese]

Birth Of A Hotel: And Then There Was One

setai new york a capella hotelCapella Hotels and Resorts will have only one United States property as of early 2013, we’ve learned. The Atlanta-based brand will lose their New York property, The Setai New York, after a sale to Great Eagle Holdings earlier this week. The $229 million purchase means that the 60-floor hotel and condo development will be rebranded under the Langham Hospitality Group in January, Hotels Magazine reports.

This isn’t an entirely shocking development. Capella’s hotels are typically much smaller than the 214-room New York property, and hotel rebrandings are a relatively common occurrence.

“Our entire team worked diligently to establish The Setai as one of the premier luxury hotels in New York City in a location that was not considered part of the traditional luxury hotel corridor,” says Horst Schulze, chairman and CEO of Capella, in a statement printed on GlobeSt.com. “Additionally, we were able to create an atmosphere and reputation that led to residential real estate sales for the owners.”

The New York property was the second Capella hotel in the United States. The $200 million Capella Telluride, which opened at the very beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, closed in 2011 and was later re-opened as Hotel Madeline Telluride.

Never fear, however. Capella is rumored to be scouting other United States locations following the opening of Capella Washington D.C., Georgetown in early 2013, as well as an additional location in a major European city.

As for NYC, Schulze says, “New York City remains a prime location for the Capella Hotel Brand” and looks forward to “announcing our return in the near future.”

Capella Washington D.C. managing partner Bruce Bradley says that he is optimistic about the growth of the brand, stating, “We’re big relationship investors … the concept [Capella has] is one that has the potential to be the leading hotel brand in the world.”

“The Birth of a Hotel” is a Gadling-exclusive series that details what happens as a hotel prepares to open. Follow along with the articles and updates at “The Birth Of A Hotel” page, here. We’d also love to hear from you, our readers. If you have a topic about hotel development or trends that you’d love to see explored, email us or leave a comment below.

Top 10 blueberry destinations

It’s blueberry season again and if you haven’t already indulged at home, there’s still time to stain your hands and face out on the road. The high bush blueberry plant is native to North America but you’d be surprised by just how many varieties are out there and all the different places they grow. You might also be surprised to learn that in the United States, there are over 40 blueberry festivals per year. Picking the top ten poses a challenge (sorry, Indiana) but you can’t go wrong with any of the following:

Maine
Wild blueberry plants carpet much of Maine’s rocky terrain with reddish leaves and tiny, nibbly fruit that locals use in just about everything. Basically, you can’t go to Maine and not eat wild blueberries because you will be standing on them. Before you go, make sure to reread the classic Blueberries for Sal, inspired by the islands of downeast Maine.

Iceland Technically, Bláber are bilberries (not blueberries), but try telling an Icelander that the blue-colored berries that grow wild all over their country (and called blueberries) are not blueberries. They’ll respond by informing you that Icelanders were calling them blueberries 500 years before America and it’s other brand of blueberries were discovered. Icelandic blueberries are small and very sweet, ranging from dark purple to indigo in color. Blueberry season runs from August to early September. Be sure and sample the traditional blueberry soup (the best bowl I ate was at the one and only restaurant in Suðureyri, West Fjords).

Québec Blueberries reign supreme in the the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region of northern Québec. So much so that the local go by the nickname “Bleuets” (Blueberries) and blueberry pie is a mainstay on every menu in every town. What’s more, village bars brew their own blueberry beer, blueberry sauce is a common condiment and gas stations sell little packets of homemade chocolate-covered blueberries. Serious cyclists can even ride the 256 km “blueberry circuit“, a fantastic bike trail (with it’s own paved bike lanes) that weaves through the heart of Canada’s blueberry country.

New Jersey If you’re American and ate blueberries this week, chances are they came from Jersey. The Garden State grows more blueberries than anywhere else in the world. Jersey fruit are known for being plump, juicy and almost cartoonishly perfect, which is why we love them so. Next time you’re dreading the drive, why not drop away from the madness of the Turnpike and go pick your own? It’s easy, given the number of blueberry patches and farms, like this one. Nova Scotia The Canadian version of Maine is home to the Wild Blueberry Fest (which is on right now) and grows a significant amount for commercial consumption.

East Texas Why do I say “East Texas” instead of just plain Texas? Because East Texas is a state unto itself, with it’s own accent and culture and agriculture, of which blueberries are a big deal. Texas blueberry season runs earlier, from mid-May through July, and locals love picking their own by the gallon and freezing them for the rest of the year. Echo Springs Blueberries (outside of Tyler) is just one of dozens of pick-your-own plantations.

Michigan Home to the National Blueberry Festival, Michigan thinks it invented the blueberry. Just play along, enjoy the fruit and watch the festival parade that marches down the street in South Haven. You know they take the berry seriously when one of their largest farms is called Rambo blueberries. Michigan is also another great state to go and pick your own.

South Korea Who would have thunk it, right? But in all of Asia, it’s the Koreans that are blue for blueberries. Victims of aggressive agro-marketing, Koreans are convinced blueberries will grant them the health and longevity of their American friends. That’s why you’ll see Koreans mashing blueberries into rice cakes and using them in all kinds of strange ways at the Korean blueberry festival.

Poland You can’t be a real blueberry connoisseur until you’ve tasted blueberry pierogi (served with cream). They’re heavenly. Poland grows an abundance of blueberries that supply the rest of Europe with their anti-oxidants. Check out the country’s biggest farms or merely travel there in the summer when blueberries are just about everywhere.

Alaska The state that’s really a country loves blueberries so much they want to marry it. Arctic Americans boast their own native plant, the Alaskan blueberry (Vaccinium alaskaense) which is quite tasty and fairly unique-looking. Try catching the Ketchikan Blueberry Festival in August or go pick your own right outside Anchorage.

Airport hotel hookup: a true story

She was very blond and very thin–probably pushing fifty but still sexy in a silver, sleeveless, summer dress that cut off mid-thigh. I had met her back in the line at Managua when they first announced that our flight was delayed . . . for six hours. We groaned in harmony and commiserated: I just wanted to sleep in my own bed that night–she had to make a meeting in Detroit.

He was maybe twenty-five: scruffy from a week of not shaving and deeply tanned from the August sun. His black-brown surfer hair was pushed behind his ears and his board shorts hung low, showing an inch-wide band of boxer briefs. He piped in his own frustrations with a vague accent–half-Latino, I guessed. We were three strangers trapped in a Latin American airport, consoling one another with testimonials of just how much the airline sucked.

Armed with ten-dollar food vouchers, we hunted lunch in a Managua food court. I got mine to go but the two of them found a table and offered to watch one another’s bags. Isn’t it funny how only after a bit of conversation we’ll gladly entrust our stuff with a person who only minutes ago was a perfect stranger?

We eventually made it onto the plane, then sat on the runway for another hour before taking off. At the ding of the seat belt sign, that blonde woman was up again, hovering down the aisle and leaning over his seat, spilling her neckline wide open and flashing her white teeth inside a moving frame of soft pink lipstick. Every ninety seconds or so, she tossed back a burst of long and shiny hair before letting loose with laughter that was as much lighthearted as it was rehearsed. The surfer guy mumbled back his approval, like a hunkier version of Charlie Brown’s unseen teacher.Wait–were they, like, together? I wondered. I often miss these things even as I’m watching them unfold in front of me. They had to be together–this mismatched pair seemed so comfortable and so into each other–but no, they were clearly traveling alone when we were checking in. I remembered them trading their stories early on, asking, “So where are you from?” and, “Where did you stay?” I stared long enough to feel just a little embarrassed before burying myself back into my book. There is such a thing as people watching but there is also such a thing as peeping, stalking, staring and just being a creep. I pretended to mind my own business in the back of the plane but couldn’t help feeling their chatty warmth.

It was midnight in Miami when we landed. At least two hundred passengers were prodded into a line by a sourpuss schoolmarm disguised as a surly airline employee. Most airports feel like refugee camps, even more so when you wait for an hour in line for two bits of card-stock promising food and shelter–in my case a voucher for Holiday Inn.

Surfer dude carried Blondie’s bags out to the curb. Watching the two of them was like watching magnets dancing–pushing then pulling away from one another without ever actually touching. In the glow of an airport shuttle sign, she seemed blonder and he seemed tanner–she kept giggling while he pretended to protest with his giant surfer smile. Their flirting was overt, consensual, and unabashed. It was also fun. For me, the play-acting offered a kind of cheap late-night entertainment after a long day that had failed to entertain. This was better than hotel TV and without any dumb commercials.

I checked in sleepily and asked for a 5 AM wake-up call. As I wheeled my suitcase squeakily across the just-mopped floor, I caught the two of them at it again, huddled in the lobby sharing the world’s biggest secret; still not touching while perusing day-old pastries at the bar. It was one in the morning and they were sipping espressos. What was that about?

Wait. Were they gonna, you know–do it? Beneath the fatigue of air travel and the depression that follows so many long delays, I felt a spark of sultry intrigue towards my fellow travelers. Was it possible? Did that happen? Could two random people just meet up on a plane and then go off and mate? Exhaustion made me more naïve than normal, but I couldn’t stop thinking of those two.

I slid my key card into the slot and then pushed, taking in my sterile but comfy room with a view of a street-lit parking lot. I brushed my teeth and confronted my droopy face in the bathroom mirror, feeling sad and alone in an airport hotel. Of course it happens–all the time. I considered my two fellows travelers in a sexual situation: the half-Latin surfer with curly black chest hair; the blonde MILF who looked like she could be a newscaster on some local affiliate. I considered all the children conceived from these travel exchanges, both real and potential. Human lives that sprung up from chance meetings in airport hotels–during blizzards, breakdowns, strikes and long delays. I wondered about the front desk and what they saw; the secrets that housekeeping never tell.

We joke about the mile high club but what about the casual layover club? Back in the days of passenger ships, port cities had a reputation for that sort of thing–I’m thinking New Orleans, San Francisco, Rio and Bombay. Airports play the same role and airport hotels make it that much easier. Obviously, sex happens everywhere but it’s the travel element that I find so intriguing: that two people’s missed connections offer the chance for another kind of connection.

We were a random group of travelers that night: business people, vacationers, families, and flight crews. Everyday we all live separate lives at disparate addresses but for that moment, we were all bedding down in the same spot for a few hours of rest before our next transit. This was Miami but surely every night, the scenario gets reproduced in hundreds of airport hotels all around the world. Random sexual encounters enlivened by the randomness of air travel today.

The wake up call worked too well. I showered and dressed, then waited alone on the curb to go back to the airport and start the process all over again–the long lines, the taking off and putting on shoes, a disappointing breakfast. Airports are awful.

From the darkness, the blonde emerged with a face full of fresh makeup that spelled out her determination to get home. She sighed when she saw me, then fiddled with her purse. Behind her walked the young man–a man at least half her age, I thought. He wore the same clothes as the night before, except for a baseball cap that was flung backwards on his head.

There was no way anything happened. I chided myself for being so dirty-minded–a typical male with sex on the brain. I explained the last night’s events away: the two of them had merely hit it off. They probably spent much of the night talking at the bar, sharing their innermost feelings, finding some common bond and having the kind of memorable travel moment one has out on the road.

And then there it was, like a morning newspaper headline. I saw it clearly, despite the darkness of a pre-dawn shuttle back to the terminal: the over-dyed blonde lady brushing her French tip nails across the small of surfer dude’s lower back, secretly, knowingly.

They totally hooked up. I knew it.