Taking Greyhound: A Gadling blogger’s thumbs up experience (mostly)

As airline fares go up, or your favorite route gets canceled, don’t push aside the possibility of taking Greyhound. I’m serious. This summer, due to high airfare costs, I traveled with my six year-old son to New York from Cleveland, Ohio on the train. (see post) We bused it back to Columbus because that was more convenient.

Although the train had a bit of panache, and felt like a grand excursion, (it doesn’t take much to please me), the bus was good enough for getting home. Fun even.

For my son, Greyhound was an adventure that was almost as wondrous as the train. Our one-way tickets from New Paltz, New York to Columbus cost $180 total. (Children’s tickets are 40% of adult fares.)

Advantage of bus travel:

  • I didn’t need to know our exact travel date or departure location until last minute. Although buying a bus ticket early can save a few bucks, it’s not so much money that you need to plan ahead. I shuffled our travel plans a few times and enjoyed the flexibility instead of being held to a travel date and time.
  • We took loads of snacks and drinks on the bus without problems.
  • There wasn’t a fee for the first checked bag for each of us. I carried our bags to the bus myself so there wasn’t a chance of our luggage going to the wrong destination or being left behind.
  • Upon arrival we didn’t need to wait at baggage claim, but snagged our suitcases right as we got off the bus.
  • My husband could meet us right at the bus so he was able to help carry our bags, a big help since our son had fallen asleep and had wobbly legs.
  • I was able to read to my son, read my own books, and enjoy my son’s company.
  • There were three rest stops and one dinner stop which broke up the journey. Rest stops were about every three hours.
  • The service plazas where the bus stopped had a variety of food, generally much less expensive than airport eateries. We bought lunch to eat on the bus at one service stop and ate dinner at the Pittsburgh bus station. The meatball sub was actually pretty good.
  • We could watch the scenery go by. Granted there’s not a lot of variation with highway travel, but there is a sense of movement.
  • We did not have to go through security.

Disadvantage of bus travel:

  • It took us 12 ½ hours. If we flew it may have been half that long, but then again, with a delay or a canceled flight, it could have been the same.
  • Changing buses in Port Authority in New York City is a pain if you don’t know what you’re doing. In general, airport signage is easier to follow. (Part 2 tomorrow.)
  • Bus stations are not as snazzy as airports.

Tips for bus travel:

  • Because there are various route options, check carefully beforehand so you don’t end up arriving later than you want, or making unnecessary detours. We were almost routed through Cleveland which would have been STUPID. Very STUPID.
  • If you can purchase priority seating, do. For $5 extra for each ticket, we were able to board the bus first at Port Authority in New York City. This meant we were able to get first dibs on the seats. This option is not available at all stations.
  • Sit close to the front of the bus. If you sit too far back, you’ll notice the bus’s movement more. Also, sitting close to the front meant we could look out the bus’s front window.
  • Bring a lightweight jacket, sweater, shawl or some sort of cover-up. The air-conditioning can feel nippy.
  • A neck pillow can help you sleep more easily.
  • Wear slip-on shoes. Taking shoes off when seated feels more comfortable than leaving them on.
  • When you get off at a rest stop or for dinner, leave your belongings on the bus in order to save your seat.

What we didn’t have which I didn’t miss, but would bring the next time just in case:

Something to listen to music.

What we did have that lasted just long enough:

A laptop so my son could watch a DVD until the battery became too low.

What my son played with most:

Silly Putty

The ghost of Minnewaska: Glory days gone by

The post about the eight abandoned hotels reminded me of the glory days gone by hotel where I worked one summer during college. Wildmere was a wondrous expansive wooden hotel that first opened in 1887.

Perched on the top of the limestone cliffs of Lake Minnewaska in upstate New York near New Paltz, it was a regal testament to monied folk.

When it was in its prime, the hotel gleamed white from fresh paint. When I worked there, it was at the tail end of fading. As with the hotels in the abandoned hotel post at ProTraveller, as the economy shifts, keeping up with beauty is not easy.

Paint flaked. Dripping pipes in the basement created puddles one had to gingerly step through on the way to the laundry room.

Once, the dishwasher broke down in the middle of dinner creating a predicament for the wait staff who were serving five-course meals.

There were holes in table cloths, so placing the vase of handpicked wildflowers in just the right place was a strategic necessity.

When the large industrial sized toaster broke during breakfast one morning, we fought over the four-slice toaster. I remember one waiter throwing a piece of toast at another waiter in a fit of frustration.

The staff was so disgruntled with the management that people stole items to make up for the bad treatment. Someone stole a grandfather clock out of the hallway, for example.

I can’t imagine what the guests thought. Once described in a review as elegance fading into shabbiness, for awhile, the hotel was able to hide its secrets with a garnish of a slow pace, glimpses of a Great Gatsby-like life and the spectacular setting.

In their heyday, these two hotels were jewels of the Shawangunk Mountains at the foothill of the Catskill Mountains. Wealthy people from New York City would come up for the weekends or longer for a vacation of pampering.

The wooden wrap-around porches were perfect for rocking on, and you’ve never seen a more beautiful lake. The water is the most gorgeous blue. When the sun is shining the limestone gleams bright. People could boat, swim and take carriage rides around it.

Eventually, stemming the tide of a dying hotel was futile. The hotel burned to the ground one night after it had already been closed for good. Interestingly, this was the same fate of the other hotel that once stood on the property. Cliff House, Wildmere’s companion was the first to open. It was built on another side of Lake Minnewaska, but burned well before my summer of waitressing.

I’m not sure exactly why each burned, but the circumstances were mysterious. In all honesty, wooden hotels up on a mountain miles from a fire station are no match for a fire, even in the best of circumstances. I felt bad for the owners since they always did right by me, and it must have been awful to lose such splendor, however down-trodden.

Even when it was getting ready to close, you could almost picture women in big hats drinking lemonade while watching their children play croquet on the lawn. It was that kind of place.

After the hotels burned and the family was out of options, the state of New York bought the land. Now called Minnewaska State Preserve, it is open to the public. I try to head up here every summer. There is one section for swimming in the lake. Back when, we swam off the rocks on the opposite end.

The carriage road still goes around the lake which makes for a pleasant walk. Whenever I’m at Minnewaska, I look at the expanse of green and rock where Wildmere used to be and feel a bit nostalgic for the good old days where guests rocked on the porch and the wait staff threw toast.

For more photographs and information about the history of Minnewaska, check out the Lake Minnewaska Web site. It is filled with details. I really did love the place, thinking back.

Pies to Drive For

There are some pies worth driving for. The chess pie at the Inn in Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky comes to mind. So does the strawberry rhubarb pie at Wallkill View Farm Market in New Paltz, New York. Then there are the apple pies of the tiny restaurants along the Annapurna trek in Nepal. (Those pies you have to walk to.)

Tonight I sampled four pieces of pie heaven at Henry’s in West Jefferson, Ohio. Set next to Highway 40, (the historic National Road) across from a cornfield not far from town, this place looks more like a 1950s gas station than a restaurant . The reason it looks like a gas station is because it used to be one–and a diner when this stretch of highway was a hopping scene. Now, I-70 to the north takes the big traffic with it.

Still, Henry’s has a place on the U.S. pie circuit. The waitress told us about one Irish rock band that makes Henry’s a stop on when they tour even though it’s miles out of their way. Recently she’s noticed more people she hasn’t seen before pop in for a home-cooked meal and the pie that’s kept Henry’s on the map. I popped in with my family after my daughter’s soccer game since her team played West Jefferson’s, thus our trip there. I knew about this pie because of Tom Barlow’s post about it on the now retired Blogging Ohio. (Tom is now blogging at BloggingStocks) Another person I know drives her mother here once a month for coconut cream pie. Here’s a map from Tom’s post to help you find it.

We had black cherry, peanut butter, lemon and custard pie. We ordered our slices before we ordered dinner. Good thing because there were only a few types left when we arrived at 7 pm. Dinner, by the way was also great–and cheap. I won’t need a soccer game to pull me there the next time. (Here are more photos of Henry’s by Micheal Stern at RoadFood.com)