Hotels and inns with a cultural flair

When you just need a place to stay on your way to somewhere else, finding a comfortable bed and a clean room may be all that’s required. But for atmosphere that reflects a unique location look beyond a chain hotel, no matter how glammed up that chain hotel might be. Why stay at a hotel with an ambiance that says it could be anywhere when you can stay at a place that is influenced by its location?

Head to the hotels or inns that are independently owned where the decorator has a passion for a hotel’s setting and authenticity is key. Often a creative, clever touch is a signature trait. Whenever I have stayed in such a place, the memories I bring home with me are more vivid and my experiences more satisfying. I picked these five because of personal experience–or that they intrigued be because of their sense of place and culture.

1. Glenlaurel Inn and Cottages in the Hocking Hills of Ohio. The bag piper who stands outside the manor house (in the first photo) in the evening and plays a Scottish tune to announce that dinner is served is only one part of Scotland that’s been transplanted to the hills of Ohio. There’s also the Scottish poetry read before dinner, the complimentary homemade shortbread in each accommodation and the look of the place.

The manor house looks like it is in the highlands of Scotland instead of the highlands of Appalachia. The main feature of the terrain is the Camusfearna Gorge that the manor house, the crofts and cottages use as backdrop. Trails wind throughout the property offering waterfalls and nooks and crannies for exploring. The mist in the morning adds to the allure. Be aware that this is an adult only establishment.

2. Broadway Hotel, Philipsburg, Montana. Reflecting a love for Montana and a sense of travel adventure, this small hotel has one-of-a-kind thematic rooms. Some have a western flavor and others reflect owners’ Jim and Sue Jenners’ world travels. Overlooking downtown Philipsburg, a former mining town that is one of the prettiest painted towns in the west and on the Pintler Scenic Route, the hotel offers a place to park your car for a weekend of wandering among shops, a museum, restaurants and live theater.

If you go here, take time to hang out in The Big Cowboy Room with its upscale western decor. This is the hotel’s common lounge. If you bring a bottle of wine, there are wine glasses available for use.

3. Hotel Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Adobe stucco hotels are not uncommon in Santa Fe. It’s the look of choice. But, for a more authentic experience, try this option. Hotel Santa Fe is the only Native American-owned hotel and the decor and offerings reflect it. Here is a sense that you’ve ended up somewhere special.

Native American cuisine from other areas of the U.S. are incorporated into the hotel’s menu. There aren’t many places where you can dine in an authentic tee pee for a private meal. Native American dances, flute playing and story-telling are part of the entertainment. The Hacienda–also part of Hotel Santa Fe, offers Native American decor as well. Both hotels have a Native American package that includes pueblo tours.

4. The Saint Ann/ Marie Antoinette, New Orleans. If heading to New Orleans, stay near Bourbon Street. The French Old Quarter is made for wandering and walking. This hotel is small, elegant and captures the flavor of where it is located. It’s close to the action, however, by the description and looks, appears to be a bit of a hideaway location as well.

The courtyard and gardens caught my attention. I’ve stayed in New Orleans twice. Next time, I’d head here. I’m a sucker for creamy colors and arched windows with white trim.

5. Panama Hotel, Seattle. Located in old Japantown, the influence of this hotel is a mix between European and Japanese. Built in 1910, the hotel has the only remaining Japanese bathhouse in the United States. This Sento is still intact and can be toured, although it is not in use.

The hotel is unusual in that there are shared men and women’s bathrooms, although there are separate sinks in each room. There is also a tea house that features teas and coffees from around the world. Staying here is like staying in history.

Great American Road Trip 2009: The fly and drive combo New Mexico to Montana and back

For the past seven summers, ever since we moved back from India, we’ve embarked on a Great American Road Trip. The first was the mega version that put 10,000 miles on a new Ford Taurus station wagon in three months. Mind you, this was in 2003 with a 10 year-old and a 1 ½ year old-and without video games, computers or a DVD player.

This year’s version is a fly drive combo. Three months for tootling around between the Atlantic and Pacific is harder to come by-three weeks, doable. Without a burning desire to drive through the Midwest to get to Montana from Ohio like last year when I waxed poetic about Wisconsin’s cheese curds, we flew on Northwest Airlines (aka Delta) over those endless corn and soybean fields to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sure Albuquerque is no where near Montana, our main destination, but there’s a reason for the detour.

I used to live in Albuquerque. So did my husband. Between us, we have loads of friends we haven’t seen since that first road trip. Besides, Albuquerque is a budget destination with cheap flights to get there and inexpensive car rentals for heading out on the open road IF you rent away from the airport (more on that later).

When planning a Great American Road Trip, I highly recommend the fly then drive option. One year we flew to Denver and drove to Montana. Another year we flew to Seattle. With a limited time frame, the flight cuts out the parts you don’t necessarily want to see and provides the time to see those places that you do. If you’re going to be renting a car when you reach your main destination, why not head a few states away for the opportunity to explore the bounties in between?

For us the bounties might be a national park, the largest metal sculptures in the world, a mom and pop restaurant with regional food, or a town that a highway bypassed. Sometimes we know where we’ll stop before we head out, or one of us notices a point on a map and says, “Let’s stop here.”

In the next few weeks, as we’re traveling in a Toyota Sienna van through New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Montana, where the landscape and people have a flavor so unique I could return again and again, I’ll fill you in on the places we’ve stopped and give some Great American Road Trip how-to suggestions.

We passed by Arches National Park a week ago. It’s been a busy week. Stay tuned. Ghost towns, neon and great eats on the way.

[The first photo was taken two years ago at the parade at Flint Creek Valley Days in Philipsburg, Montana where I am now. The second photo was taken last year at the pheasant family sculpture, part of the Enchanted Highway, on the way to Regent, North Dakota.]

Garage sales and flea markets for travel bargains

Garage and yard sales are on the rise as the stock market falls. The picking through what people don’t want to find the items that you must have–even if you never thought you might want one until it was in front of you– has never been better.

Instead of donating items to charity, these days more people are selling them to make some extra cash. Unfortunately, forclosures are also adding to the bounty.

Reading this article in the New York Times about the proliferation of garage sales reminded me of the used items I’ve purchased in my travels and why garage sales are worth putting on your itinerary. Going to a garage sale (or a flea market or thift store) is one way to find items for a lot less than they would cost new, and often reflect the place where you are traveling. You may not be able to find the items back home.

This summer, for example, I bought a brown chips and salsa bowl shaped like a cowboy hat from the thrift store in Philipsburg, Montana. The indentation at the top of the hat is where the salsa goes–the brim is for the chips. It was in mint condition and something I would never buy back home. Because I was in out West, and it looked western, I had to have it. I gave to friends of mine who appreciate kitsch.

When we were in England, I headed to a “boot sale,” the British version of a flea market. There, displayed on a blanket stretched out on the ground, I found a Wedgewood child’s mug with a Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit design. What could be more British or more perfect than that? I bought it for my son who I pushed in his stroller up and down the rows of goods.

If you end up at a destination and discover you’re missing items that you ought to have with you, a garage sale may come to the rescue. A few years ago, we arrived at an A-frame cabin near Mohican State Park in Ohio for a weekend get-a-way with my husband’s brother and his family. We knew the cabin had beds, and for some reason, we thought there would be bedding. There wasn’t and we were so unprepared.

Off we headed to find a store to buy sleeping bags, but with no luck. Instead, we came upon a garage sale at a motel of all places. There on a table were sheets, pillow cases, pillows, one sleeping bag and a full-size comforter. All were clean, in great condition, and ours for $20.

Keep your eyes open. Maybe there’s a deal just around the corner waiting for you in someones yard.

Be in a parade to add to summer fun: It’s free

Back in high school I played the flute badly, but good enough to put me in my town’s parades in the marching band. Deciding that the flute was too prissy for some reason, my junior year, I took up baritone saxophone. I thought it would be swell to carry that in the St. Patrick’s Day parade one year. Not a chance. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Happily, I gave up the baritone saxophone as well, but have found myself jumping into a few parades in less taxing capacities. If you have never been in a parade, it’s not hard. Seriously, this can be a no skills endeavor and one the whole family can enjoy doing. Plus, it’s FREE.

Whenever we are in Philipsburg, Montana we are in the kid’s parade as part of Flint Creek Valley Days. My son wears the same Spider-man hat each year.

On the 4th of July, my son and I were in an art car truck in the Doo Dah Parade. I received an email from Greg Phelps who helps organize the art car movement in Columbus and beyond. He wanted people to be in the guitar truck playing toy guitars. My son has a toy guitar so what could be easier than that?

This picture was taken by Greg Phelps who was driving the truck as we were on High Street going through the Short North section of Columbus.

Since it was raining, I suggested we set up the patio umbrella in the truck bed. I kept my foot on the base to keep it from tipping. The only other people in the back of the truck with me were my son and a third grade boy. The two of them flashed peace signs and yelled, “Peace out!” in between fake guitar playing.

The fun thing about being in a parade is the view of the crowds. I saw several friends who I hadn’t seen otherwise. Greg also took this picture. That’s his art car in the front that someone else was driving. You can see downtown Columbus in the distance.

If you have a hankering to be in a parade yourself, think about a cause you believe in and see if that organization has a group who is walking in the parade. Join up with them. I’ve walked with the Human Rights Campaign in the Gay Pride Parade three different years.

You could also put on a pair of roller blades and put on a funny hat and large sunglasses. People will think you’re swell. How about putting an outfit on your pet and pulling your pet in a decorated kid’s wagon?

Of course you could become a celebrity like Kent Couch who just traveled in his balloon lawn chair 200 miles. He was in a parade in Eugene, Oregon.

My suggestion to jazz up the fun. Buy a big bag of candy to throw some out. That gives people a thrill. We didn’t have candy, but next year, I’m planning on throwing out small plastic toys to fit the art car theme.

Anniversary fireworks. Celebrating with a bang: Happy 4th and 15th

Today is my 15th anniversary, but we had the fireworks last night. Wow! A bit racy.

Actually, Columbus’s big fireworks display “Red, White and Boom” is on July 3, although there are other fireworks happenings tonight in other locations.

Last night we went down to Goodale Park where we would be able to see the display, but not be overwhelmed by the huge crowds, although Goodale was plenty hopping.

My husband does joke that the reason we got married on the 4th of July was because he wants fireworks on our anniversary. I try to oblige by figuring out where we should go. Here are six highlights for where we’ve seen fireworks that have made sweet memories.

  • Standing on 1st Avenue in Manhattan looking down towards Washington Square Park. The fireworks were framed beautifully by the buildings. I loved the communal feel and hearing the voices of people watching from the roofs of apartment buildings.
  • Sitting on the roof of a friend of ours apartment building in West Hollywood, California looking out over the city with our bird’s eye view.
  • Driving up to the cemetery Philipsburg, Montana to watch people set off their own fireworks. The cemetery is at one of the highest points above town. My son, who was three said, “This is like a fireworks festival.”
  • Twice we’ve gone to Crew Stadium in Columbus to watch on the enormous screen while the show is broadcast. You can also see the fireworks in the distance. Crew Stadium is where the professional soccer team plays. We’ve always had a gang of friends along.
  • While visiting my in-laws we’ve gone to the middle school field in Berea, Ohio to see fireworks there. This year, the fireworks are part of The Grindstone Festival that is happening this weekend.
  • The backyard of friends of my best friend from college who lives in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The one I called from my traffic hell and who I talked into the Superman Ride of Steel roller coaster at Six Flags New England last summer. Her friends set off fireworks and we all had sparklers.

Where have you seen your best fireworks? Keep it clean. I mean the fireworks display kind.