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Mohonk Mountain House

My family took many car trips when I was a child, including the one I wrote about in The Surrey With the Fringe On Top, but I have no recollection of where we stayed on any of those trips. Thinking back I can visualize Howard Johnson Motor Lodges, with their orange roofs, which were so common on the highways we traveled, but I can only remember that we ate there. I loved their fried clams and their 28 flavors of ice cream, of which my favorite was mocha chip. It’s possible we also stayed in their rooms overnight, I just don’t know.

The most memorable hotel I have ever stayed at is Mohonk Mountain House, for its architecture, comfort, and -yes- food.

When I traveled in Europe during and after college, I generally stayed in student hostels. I don’t have any pictures of those, unfortunately. Did I even carry a camera back then? Probably not! The hostels were cheap, and generally clean, and there were always interesting people to meet and swap travel stories with. I wouldn’t do it now, but it was great back then!

In my thirties when I went to Europe, I no longer stayed in hostels, but would get lodgings from the kiosk by the train station when I arrived in a new city. Sometimes those were charming little hotels, sometimes just a room in someone’s home. In Budapest we made the mistake of listening to a guy outside the kiosk, who said he had a wonderful place and we would have the whole apartment to ourselves. Since there were four of us, that sounded ideal. It was wonderful, but somehow after the first night we figured out that it didn’t belong to him, and we decided to beat a hasty retreat before the real owners showed up!

On my more recent trips abroad, with husband and one or more kids, we have planned the itinerary and made the reservations before going, unlike in earlier days. Of course this is much easier to do now that we have the internet. We have generally stayed at bed and breakfasts, which were popular in Europe long before they caught on in the US.

Arrandale Lodge, Norwich

In 2011, Ed, Molly, Ben and I went to England to visit Sabrina while she was studying at the University of East Anglia. We stayed at Arrandale Lodge, a charming B&B right near the University. The room was lovely, and big enough for four of us comfortably, with little alcoves so it almost felt like separate rooms. The breakfasts were so enormous that we didn’t need to eat lunch! A full English breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, and potatoes, and we managed to consume all those things. In the breakfast room, the hosts had placed flags of every country from which their guests had come. It was impressive to see how many different flags they had.

Almanii B&B, Dublin

We went on to Ireland, where Sabrina joined us, and stayed at a couple of different B&Bs which had comfortable rooms and also provided us with amazing breakfasts. A full Irish breakfast, in addition to all the components of an English breakfast listed above, also has black pudding or white pudding, sometimes both, which are not actually puddings at all, but more like a flat sausage. I don’t think any of us ate very much of the black or white pudding, but we at least tried. (I just learned that what makes the black pudding black is that it has pigs’ blood in it. Glad I didn’t know that at the time.)

Parador de Santillana del Mar

When we went to Spain in 2016 – once again to visit Sabrina, because by then that’s where she was living – I actually had a travel agent plan the trip for us because I was overwhelmed with too many choices. It turned out to be a great decision. There was no charge for his services, because he got his commission from the hotels and restaurants he booked for us, but we did stay at more extravagant places than we would have if I had been doing it myself. It was fun to travel in luxury though, so I didn’t regret it for a minute. One of the places we stayed was a parador. According to the dictionary, a parador is a “government-operated hostelry found especially in Spain.” Wikipedia more accurately describes it as “a kind of luxury hotel, usually located in a converted historic building such as a monastery or castle. . . .” There are 94 paradors in Spain, all run by the government. Here’s the one we stayed at, in a place called Santillana del Mar, which Sartre called the prettiest village in Spain.

Irving House

In the US, Irving House is the B&B where I like to go when I am in Cambridge. I have stayed there for a couple of college reunions when they were held in the fall so we couldn’t get housing on campus, and I will be there again in June for the week after my reunion. Their breakfast is much more modest than the European ones, and you serve yourself rather than being waited on, but they have lovely quiches and other egg dishes, as well as muffins and pastries and fruit and cereal. And lots of orange juice and coffee, which are the most important ingredients of a breakfast as far as I’m concerned.

As far as hotels go, probably the most memorable hotel I have ever stayed at is Mohonk Mountain House, in New Paltz, New York, for its architecture, comfort, and -yes- food. As you can see from the featured image, it is a hodge-podge of architectural styles caused by different wings being added at different times. The website calls it “a Victorian castle resort,” which I think is a good way to describe it. Our extended family went there for the first time in 1993 for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We only spent a long weekend that time, but we loved it so much that we have been back numerous times over the years since then, staying a week each time. The rooms are lovely, the grounds are amazing, and you get three meals a day that are so fabulous (and so endless) that I gain about ten pounds each time we go there, even though I am physically active the whole time. There is boating on the lake, many hiking trails and rock scrambles, horseback riding, golf, tennis, croquet, and a kids’ program that our kids really enjoyed when they were young. In the evenings they have entertainment, often with well-known performers like PDQ Bach and Peter Yarrow. Altogether a perfect destination resort.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Airbnb, which started in 2008 in San Francisco, and has become immensely popular internationally. The name is, of course, a misnomer, because you don’t actually get breakfast, you only get a bed, so it should just be called AirB. But I realize that would not be nearly as catchy. I have rented places through Airbnb a few times, with varying degrees of success. The very first time I got an Airbnb, which was in Los Angeles, it turned out not to have a kitchen, it just had a walk-in closet with a microwave and a mini-fridge, and dishes, glasses, and silverware on the shelves. The only sink was in the bathroom, so we had to wash our dishes there. And it wasn’t a sink with a counter, it was an old-fashioned pedestal sink, so there was no place to put the dishes before OR after washing them except on the floor. It was not a happy experience! That taught me to scrutinize the photos very carefully, because although they had shown something that was labeled a kitchen, if you looked closely you would see that there was no sink! On the other hand, we have also gotten some fabulous houses for family reunions this way, so sometimes it works well. You just have to be careful.

 

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Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Great collection of travel memories and different styles of lodgings through the years, Suzy. I am impressed that your family was able to consume a “full English “! That is so much food! We just learned about it while in London last December and never attempted the feat.

    The Mohonk Mountain Resort sounds particularly appealing for everyone involved. I’m sure your entire family had great vacations there. We’ve never tried AirBnB, though friends who joined us in Carmel are continuing on to SF where their son, DIL and two granddaughters reside. They’ve taken one for two weeks so I’ll hear more about their stay soon. I know lots of people who love it and have a Vineyard friend who lists her home with the company. As you point out, if you read the listing carefully, you can have a good outcome.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I have to admit that I don’t really remember whether we finished those “full English” breakfasts or not. They were certainly delicious though. I think most young people these days use Airbnb rather than even looking at hotels, because they are so much cheaper.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Just a really fascinating collection of anecdotes of the many places you’ve stayed — and, it would seem, quite happily so (other than that “kitchen” thing). That said, I need to get into Airbnb; really behind the curve on that. And a perfect title for your story, though I had never heard of the song despite the fact (I now learn) it was by the Stones. And much better than if you had had to choose “Heartbreak Hotel.”

    The only overlap I’ve had with these is Mohonk, where we went about a decade ago for a family gathering for my sister-in-law’s birthday. We really loved it, too. Amusingly, the only problem with all of its quaintness was that we were there the weekend of the Yale-Harvard game and, as you may remember, Mohonk does not have TV’s in its rooms. I finally found a room downstairs — I think it was the billiards room — which had a TV and I commandeered it to watch the game. (Great game, too; it went into overtime and, becasue they had yet to put lights in Yale Bowl, it was pretty much pitch black when the game ended. The Ivy League required lights the next season.)

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I guess I have generally had good experiences with accommodations – couldn’t think of any horror stories while I was writing this. And no heartbreaks in any hotel, I had all my heartbreaks at home. 🙂

      Glad you have experienced Mohonk too, and of course there are no televisions in the rooms! However, I AM shocked that you referred to The Game as the Y-H game instead of H-Y – I almost corrected it, but restrained myself.

      • John Shutkin says:

        Of course, I should have correctly referred to it as simply “The Game.” But, growing up in New Haven, one does get used to hearing and saying Y before H. And I still have to think about whether I am talking about the Coop or the Co-op.

  3. Suzy, Love hearing about Sabrina’s international sojourns and all your wonderful family trips and reunions.

    We treasure the few we’ve had because we both come from relatively small families, and now our parents’ generation is gone, and I’ve lost my only sibling and three beloved cousins.

    I’m glad travel is relatively safe once again and we can plan to visit the far-flung family we still have and miss! Seize the day!

  4. Marian says:

    Love the Mohonk Mountain Resort in particular, Suzy. I believe when you get three meals it’s called a European plan. This place sounds very similar to a lodge on Lac Tremblant in Quebec where we stayed during two different summers in the late 1960s. Terrific meals, beautiful lake views, and swimming and rowing on the lake. Super vacation. I’ve come close to trying AirB&B but then COVID hit and didn’t do it. Would love to experience those real B&Bs in the UK and Ireland, minus that pig’s blood, though.

    • Suzy says:

      Actually, when three meals are included it’s called the American plan, even though this feature may not be that common any more in American hotels. On the European plan, the price is generally just for the room (unless it’s a B&B, in which case, by definition, it includes breakfast). I have checked several sites to make sure I was right about that.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for reminding me of HoJo’s fried clams, Suzy. They were awesome. Seriously, I am amazed by the wonderful accommodations you have found in your travels over the years. The B&Bs we stayed in on visits to Cambridge and Boston were nowhere near as nice as yours. In one, the owner, a man, didn’t talk to us beyond grunting and telling us the time for breakfast, which was far from amazing.

    • Suzy says:

      I guess I’ve been lucky, judging by the horror stories you and others have shared. However, if you ever want a place to stay in Cambridge, I strongly recommend The Irving House!

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    Mohonk Mountain House sort of reminds me of The Balsams in Dixville Notch, NH (where we stayed once for a few nights long ago).

    Or maybe the Overlook Inn. Their room rates, even with the inclusions, are pretty scary!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Some great memories in those places you have stayed! I smiled at the descriptions of the full breakfast in the UK—I once had a similar experience and it was fabulous, but impossible to eat it all. Not that it stopped me from trying.

    • Suzy says:

      When I said we managed to consume all those things in the full English breakfast, I didn’t necessarily mean that we cleaned our plates – that would have been hard to do, except maybe for my then-23-year-old son. But we did have at least some of everything

  8. What a gorgeous set of travel memories! We hike at Mohonk, and love the sheer nerve of the builders, and the magic of the spot. Something about the cliffs, the deep water, and the quiet. And I share with you the need to examine AirB’s photos. Is that a pull-out bed or a real one? I never thought to look for the sink! I feel so refreshed, reading of your travels. It makes me remember how much I miss it! Profound thanks!

  9. Betty and I also stayed at the Irving House B & B for our most recent reunion (or perhaps it was for the celebration of the occupation of University Hall). We liked it a lot and I still use the water bottle with their name on it, that they gave out as a free amenity.
    I am envious that you stayed in a parador. We looked longingly at a couple of them during our honeymoon in 1999, but they were high-priced and we were aiming at one and two-star hotels mostly.

    • Suzy says:

      I never got an Irving House water bottle. I’ll have to see about that this time. The parador was wonderful. With a travel agent making the reservations for us, we stayed in several luxury accommodations in Spain, unlike my usual style of traveling.

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