Category Archives: lodging

Morning in Devon, long drive to London via (Dorset) West Bay, Netherbury and Beaminster/Dorset — goodbye (for now) England 

Breakfast hamper in Devon

(a week ago…although it seems much longer…)

We hung around at the Devon farm Airbnb longer than usual, in part, because I needed wifi in order to checkin to my British Air flight 24 hours in advance and change my seat assignment, which as I suspected was a middle seat. (One of the annoying things I discovered about BA is that you can’t pick your own seat without paying $38, more than 24 hours before departing — a bit obnoxious for a round trip flight that cost over $1000…or in my case lots of credit card miles.) But I was happy to kick back, enjoy the lovely breakfast hamper that our host Sarah delivered to our cottage door with fresh homemade granary bread, multi-colored eggs from her chickens, raspberries and strawberries from the garden.

The Airbnb was deep in the countryside, north of Launceton, after a right turn at the pub in St. Giles on the Heath and a drive to the hamlet of Virginstow along another high-hedged, essentially one-lane, winding road that at times made me feel slightly claustrophobic. I generally love country lanes but the ones en this neck of the woods — literally the really wooded ones that form a tunnel, as opposed to the ones through open fields that you generally can’t see due to the hedges — were sometimes spooky, especially at night. (Maybe it’s a good thing I put off reading Daphne De Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”, a spooky book set near where we stayed in Cornwall, although now I am more interested in finishing it.)

Dirck and I wandered around the farm, past the sheep and “rescue chickens,” the fruit, veg and flowers in the garden, the wood fence and beyond, a bucolic valley of fields stretching far into the distance.

In the church cemetery across the road from our Airbnb, we found a 19th century headstone for a “Betsy,” which was surprising since I rarely see my name anywhere, let alone in England. I also had a nice chat with our 34-year-old host who recently quit city life and a city job i to buy the old farm, fix it up and start the Airbnb (which despite its remote location gets guests from Europe, South America and us Yanks).

The three Airbnbs we’ve stayed at in England were excellent! Part of it may be that I am getting pretty good at picking and I don’t go for the dirt cheap ones (if they even exist) but beyond that, the English hosts seem to be particularly good at hosting and providing a good approximation of the English country life admired by anglophiles like me.

Our drive home was longer than expected, in part because we got waylaid for an hour (argh) in and around Exeter when the nice big A motorway we were on suddenly became a town center traffic jam. We ended up getting out of it by taking another smaller A road in the wrong direction and then having to take a series of tiny no-letter/no-number/high-hedged lanes that often seemed to lead nowhere useful but eventually did. We were amazed at the variety of  roads we traveled on during a short drive and how close they were to each other, from a multi-lane motorway, to a two-lane  (barely) road to a high-hedged lane.

In Dorset, we drove in and out of West Bay, where the TV show Broadchurch is filmed, long enough to see the back of the big sandy beach cliff where some dramatic scenes were shot. Way too many tourists. Fortunately my friend Marion had mentioned a lovely little Dorset village  nearby where she stays, Netherbury, so we sought refuge there. If only it had a pub. By the time we got to the larger town of Beaminster nearby, the pubs weren’t serving lunch any more so we ended up a a little bakery cafe for a few savory tarts.

To get back to our friends’ house in Mortlake, we pulled out the “Sat Nav” which was a big help. (Most of the time I relied on an AZ book of road maps Francine kindly lent us.) Driving in residential southwest London is not easy. The windy streets are narrow and confusing but with the help of “Tracy” (our friends’ name for the Sat Nav voice) we made it to the Mortlake house and even found  a parking spot (several actually) in time to have dinner one last dinner with Una.

Mortlake meal

This morning, without Tracy’s help, we gave ourselves extra time to drive the rental car to Heathrow  and even though I’d made several screenshots of the google map to Heathrow, we still made a few wrong turns. Fortunately a woman walking her dog at 7:45 a.m on a Sunday morning helped us and we were soon out of the tangle of neighborhood streets and onto the M4, heading to sprawling Heathrow, where we eventually found rental car return signs (near terminal 4 and 5 for future reference) and gladly returned our car.

Heathrow was packed thanks to the start of the school holidays so I was glad to have 2.5 hours of time. BA flight attendants were on strike, which affected our service  (no second meal although the first one included a surprisingly edible Chicken Tikka, scant ice for the drinks, a non-functioning computer map and iffy movie reception).  A few nice touches — free newspapers available before stepping onto the plane so I loaded up on the Times and the Mail (The Observer wasn’t offered but fortunately I’d already bought one.) Goodbye England. I’ll be back.

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Filed under air mileage, b&b, England, lodging

Air bnbs in Utah and Wyoming: Pros and a few cons

SLC air bnb 1st street

SLC air bnb 1st street

This was our first trip relying on air bnb lodging and overall, a very positive experience. Kind of takes me back to staying at B and Bs in England in the early 1980s, when they were an affordable spare room in someone’s house rather than a pricey  inn experience with sometimes uncomfortable shared breakfast dining with other guests.

At their best, the air bnbs are not only affordable and interesting accommodation but offer a slight glimpse into how life is lived in the place you’re visiting, which is what I like the most about them. You get to talk to people, find out what life is like, the politics, schools, neighborhood concerns. And you get great tips on where to hike and eat and shop,  what to see.

SLC 1901 bnb

SLC 1901 bnb

The two places we stayed in Salt Lake City were each run by attractive single women who each seemed to have helpful boyfriends and a strong fixer upper mentality and design sense  (which may be a functioning of what I look for when thumbing through the listings). Both were in leafy old neighborhoods revived by young people, in early 1900’s homes, with old wood, glass, brick,  but also contemporary art and furnishings (except for the claw foot tubes, which are charming but tricky for older folks in particular to get in and out of.) Both were about the same price $84/$75 for a room for two. WHile the first one had lots of antiques and walls filled with paintings (the owner paints) the second one was very spare with mostly white walls, muslin curtains, earth-toned nubby hall liners, very Scandinavian (the owner is from Sweden). The first one gave us free reign of her kitchen and refrigerator for breakfast; the second one didn’t offer any food  (but there was a good coffee house, the red moose, a block away.) With each, we had lots of freedom and no overbearing hosts, just the opposite. It was sort of amazing that both hosts left while we were there. pretty trusting considering that we were total strangers. (Although I guess we didn’t look too dodgy, and “discriminating” hosts can decline guests, which I gather can cause discrimination issues and charges of racism, sexism, other isms.)

Kelly air bnb

Kelly air bnb

A few downsides: for older or physically limited travelers, hauling suitcases up steep wooden staircases can be challenging; then there is the aforementioned claw foot bathtubs. And at our second SLC bnb, there was a rather dangerous (in the dark) sheer drop staircase at the end of the hall next to the bathroom. One false step during an evening bathroom run could lead to a tumble. (I would have been particularly worried if Traveling with a young child.)

Kelly deck

Kelly deck

Our third experience in Kelly was a whole other ballgame, since we rented an entire house for a family vacation rather than a room for two. It wasn’t particularly cheap and was not unlike other rentals we have done through VRBO and HomeAway and way back in the widespread pre-Internet 1990s, through newspaper classified listings. But we got to know the owners and their kids and they had tons of great suggestions and when we left, we felt like we were saying goodbye to friends (unlike the SLC digs where we never really said goodbye, we just let ourselves out in the morning and left the key behind).

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Filed under lodging, Salt Lake City, wyoming

Boutique hostels in Chicago and beyond

We’re staying at what I gather is called a boutique hostel  in Lisbon. Come to find out they’re all over, including in Chicago. When I was a youngster roaming around Europe, I became a big fan of youth hostels – because they provided not only a cheap place to stay (often in surprisingly great locations) but lots of new friends to travel with. Never understood why they didn’t take off as much in the U.S. (I did stay at a few in Colorado – and have heard good things about the one in downtown chicago.) Now that I’m a bit older, a “boutique hostel” sounds just about right! More here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/travel/boutique-hostels-are-giving-travelers-new-options.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad

The new world of upscale hostels, bridging the gap between backpacker basic and four-star chic, are in prime spots, offering affordable rooms with amenities.

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Filed under chicago, lodging

Juliet’s in Joliet

The downside (or among the downsides) of having a famous prison in your town is that this is what the town becomes synonymous with. When we heard our nephew and his star baseball team would be playing in the Illinois state high school championship in Joliet, the first thing that came to mind was “prison.” (The second thing was “Blues Brothers” — the movie that features The prison.)
turns out Joliet has a few other things including a casino (which we didn’t visit) and the silver cross ballpark, a pleasant minor league size stadium with real seats and cup holders, and Juliet’s, a warm and cozy bar that serves decent food in an old building with red brick walls, burnished wood and high stamped tin ceilings. The town (once you get in the old part, east of the nondescript sprawl near I 55) has some charming old buildings and looks like the typical struggling town that has hidden gems here and there, if you are willing to explore. Which we were.
For the record: the comfort inn in east moline was much better than the comfort inn in moline. Room didn’t smell. Mattress and pillows comfortable. Odd decor (wall art here and there, each time featuring two of the same image, hanging side by side or one atop the other. Huh?)

At Juliet's

At Juliet’s

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Filed under chicago, Dining, Illinois, lodging

Comfort in(n) LeClaire Iowa

Horrible drive last night on I 80 from Des Moines east to Le Claire, with nonstop rain and episodic bursts of rain so intense we could hardly see the road. Then there were the trucks, oblivious to the ordinary driver’s challenges, zooming past us in a blur of metal and water, spraying even more water onto our already challenged windshield wipers. Enough. We aborted plans to arrive in Chicago in time for our son’s commencement ceremony this morning and checked into a brand new Comfort Inn on a bluff above the Mississippi. Now we are on the road with better, if not totally clear, skies and will meet our son for lunch snd tomorrow’s convocation, the real event where he walks across the stage. (Today’s is the full university and some speeches and celebrities honored (Stevie wonder, Des Moines native Cloris Leachman. Would have liked to be there but glad we stopped.)

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Last minute scramble for a hotel room in NYC – argh

NYLO Hotels - 4300 Marsh Ridge Road, Suite 110 Carrollton, TX 75010So my carefully laid plans have collapsed (twice….long story) and I’m now scrambling to find a hotel room in NYC’s Upper West side the Sunday after thanksgiving – as in this Sunday night. Not my favorite position to be in but at least it’s not the Thursday of Thanksgiving (let’s hope that plan doesn’t collapse…) I’ve stumbled upon the NYLO hotel at 77th and Broadway which is surprisingly affordable ($150 including tax) but the affordability has me a little suspicious. I’ve looked it up on Trip advisor and Yelp, for what that’s worth and I’ve tried to find out if it’s listed on any recent bed bug reports and so far nothing alarming has cropped up so guess we’ll give it a go. It’s only for one night (famous last words)…. (What does NYLO stand for?)

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when next in Omaha/council bluffs …where to eat

State of Nebraska
Flag of Nebraska State seal of Nebraska
Flag Seal
Nickname(s): Cornhusker State
Motto(s): Equality Before the Law
Map of the United States with Nebraska highlighted
Official language English
Demonym Nebraskan

Will Forte, a star of the new film “Nebraska” had some interesting restaurant suggestions  after shooting the film in Omaha. So for the record, he told the NYTimes he liked The Boiler Room in Omaha and Dixie Quicks for breakfast in Council Bluffs. He liked staying at the Magnolia Hotel in Omaha and also recommended the Occidental Hotel in buffalo, Wyoming which we also liked when we stayed there (it is supposedly where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stayed when in town…Will didn’t mention another good place in Buffalo…Tom’s Main Street Diner on, you guessed it, Main Street.

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Filed under Dining, Iowa, lodging, omaha, wyoming