Vacationing is hard work, but fortunately, I’m good at my job.

Your Middle-East Travel Crisis (Not) Solved Here


You can't get there...

...from here.

The other night, I was at my computer at 1:30 a.m. (an occupational hazard of writing for a living) when an email arrived from a friend traveling in Israel and Jordan with her husband.

Seems they were 10 minutes away from the airport in Tel Aviv, en route to Jordan, when they got a call from their hotel in Jerusalem (which is an hour back in the direction of Jordan and until 1967 was a part of it.) Her husband had left his backpack with passport and all important documents behind. Her question was: Should she ever forgive him, or should she send him to Ramallah with a cab driver named Faisal to live out the rest of his days?

I emailed back:

Two options I can see:
Have the concierge at the hotel in Jerusalem forward it to you in Tel Aviv and catch the next flight to Amman in the a.m.
Good luck.
And always forgive but NEVER forget…especially since it’ll make good dinner party conversation.

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A Weekend Jaunt to Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington at Dusk

I have the Sunday New York Times delivered, but I don’t generally read the Travel section. Too much esoteric nonsense on places I’m not that interested in, or uninformed surface-skimming opinions about places I know well and love, have turned me off of it. So I didn’t see it on February 18th, when Bill Pennington wrote a story entitled, “In NH, Can Bretton Woods Get Gnarly?” In fact, exactly a month later, the Times sat on my front doorstep until late Sunday night, because coincidentally, I was busy finding out for myself.

Sam and I went to squeeze in one last ski weekend this season. I’m an avid but pretty average skier who’s been spoiled by places like Aspen, Tahoe, Banff and (my personal favorite) Sun Valley (though I’ve yet to ski anywhere in Europe or the Southern hemisphere). Sam’s a novice snow-boarder, just getting comfortable carving turns and exposed so far only to the kind of icy, sub-Arctic and wind-whipped conditions, paired with mediocre facilities, that constitute skiing at most New England mountains. We settled on skiing Bretton Woods only because we got a great deal at the Mount Washington Inn.

The Mount Washington Inn

Anyone who’s ever been to the White Mountains has probably seen it: a colossal white Spanish Renaissance behemoth, its red roof is visible from the tops of mountains miles away. It was built in 1902 and once attracted so many high-rollers that 50 trains a day stopped at the depot, while its guest register boasts three U.S. presidents, Thomas Edison and Babe Ruth. It’s also supposedly the model for the hotel in “The Shining.” (The most popular theory is that it’s based on The Stanley Hotel in Eustes, Co, but an acquaintance claims that at a book signing years ago—when he still did book signings—Stephen King was asked if it were true and would neither confirm nor deny it.) In any case, it’s a grand old rambling place, complete with mandatory stuffed moose over the fireplace, and for most of the past 30 years, it was known primarily as a footnote in text books because the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were formed there in 1944. Thanks to a recent facelift, however, it’s a lot spiffier and a good deal cozier than the hotel in “The Shining.” In fact, the only creepy thing about it were a few of the other guests and the windowsills in the stairwell landings, where dead flies seemed to collect (thankfully, they were eventually vacuumed up).

The Obligatory Moose

It meets all the basic requirements for a ski-luxe resort. There’s a spa, a skating rink, a huge Nordic ski center and a nightclub aptly named The Cave, built out of the old wine cellar (unfortunately, though, no hedge maze). There are stunning views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, and right across the street (and affiliated with the hotel) is Bretton Woods. New Hampshire’s largest ski area (which isn’t really saying much; Sunday River in Newry, Maine is several times its size), is a mellow cruiser of a mountain, known for its good grooming and comfy (by New England standards) prevailing weather patterns. In other words, it’s the antithesis of that New Hampshire merit badge for skiing—Tuckerman’s Ravine (which requires a four-hour hike and some serious cajones). And as it turned out, Bretton Woods was the perfect mountain for me and Sam. There were great runs where the pitch didn’t freak him out but I didn’t get bored. The conditions were as good as we could have asked for: sunny with no wind and loose granular snow. And the lodge didn’t feel (or smell) like a highway rest stop.

The Base Lodge at Bretton Woods

As for the hotel itself, it exceeded my expectations. The food at the gastro-pub Stickney’s was better than in the main dining room, but the main dining room gives it the distinction of being the only ski resort I’ve ever been to where gentlemen are required to wear jackets to dinner. The service was top-notch, and the somewhat schizophrenic wine list ranged from a 1997 Domaine Romanee Conti (for just under $400) to a more affordable Coppo Barbera D’Asti. The grounds meanwhile, turned out to be an ideal place for an after-dinner stroll to look at the celestial phenomenon known as the “Super Moon,” which took place that weekend.

In fact, if we had any complaints about the resort, they stem from exactly what gives the place its appeal, namely its age. The cramped elevator is manned and can be painfully slow, the walls are thin, and if you forget anything in your room, you have to hike back up the stairs and down the impossibly long hallways. Otherwise, The Mount Washington Inn and Bretton Woods were perfectly charming…even if Sam couldn’t resist blurting out “Redrum!” every once in a while.


San Francisco

The City By the Bay

My aunt and uncle live in San Francisco and have been inviting me to visit for years. I hadn’t in at least 20. They weren’t even married the last time I was there (it’s his third marriage, her fourth). I was way overdue, so Sam and I decided to visit on Columbus Day weekend. Our timing was perfect. The weather was un-San Franciscanly warm, and it was Fleet Week, which means the Blue Angels would put on an airshow over San Francisco Bay on both Saturday and Sunday. From the bedroom of our window in my uncle and aunt’s 1896 corner mansion in Pacific Heights (yes, they’re loaded), we had the perfect view of Alcatraz and all the Navy ships, sailboats, power yachts, working vessels and pleasure craft bobbing around in the world’s most panoramic bathtub.

Alcatraz from our bedroom window

When we finally got our act together on Saturday (after a leisurely welcome breakfast and an introduction to a crazed Havanese named Charlie Bear who likes to leave little landmines all over the Orientals), we drove to Noe Valley, thinking it would be a good place to schmy around. It might be, but parking is another story: there were no meters that lasted longer than an hour and spaces were harder to come by than Immodium during a cruise-ship flu outbreak. It was lunchtime already, so we found an outdoor café called Pomodoro that proved not all chain restaurants are soulless. Then, we tried to shop, and in fairness, the stores did have cool stuff, but with the exception of footsie pajamas for adults, almost everything was sized infant to toddler. The explanation we heard later from a friend who lives there is that Noe Valley, which used to be fairly boho, is convenient to Palo Alto, so all the Google-ites have taken over with their 2.5 children. (A pretty good premise for a sci-fi movie about a cult, if you ask me.)

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