By Carolyn Spencer Brown
Sunday, November 19, 2000
Air travel woes: Boy, do we hear 'em. Our mailbox, e-mail and phone lines are constantly clogged with readers' tales of canceled or delayed flights, rude reservation clerks, lousy (or no) meals, lost baggage. . . Multiply that by the dreaded Holiday Factor, with masses of people trying to reach their destinations at the same time, and it's enough to make you stay home. But if you want to be with your loved ones for the holidays, you just have to suffer.
Or do you?
Jim Planck, a Travel section reader from the District, came up with a retro solution: Drive rather than fly.
Planck's vacation plans were derailed last summer when he was unable to get on a flight to Manchester, N.H. Reluctantly, he and his wife decided to drive. But a funny thing happened as he began to plan the route: He realized the journey would be as much a part of the trip as the destination.
Plus, the more he planned the trip, he wrote us, "the more relieved we were that we didn't have to fly. No long lines; no cramped seats; no being treated like a criminal by surly, minimum-wage luggage checkers with portals set so sensitive that my belt buckle causes an alarm; no ridiculously overpriced airport beers while we wait for a delayed flight; no expensive fringe airport parking; no riding on foul-smelling Dulles shuttle buses and those stupid mobile 'lounges.'"
Don't hold back, Jim.
Planck's drive to New England was a big success, which inspired us a few weeks ago to issue a challenge: We asked you to tell us where you're going this holiday season – somewhere you usually fly to – and let us plan a driving route for you. You responded with unexpected enthusiasm – or maybe it was desperation. Out of the numerous entries we received, we picked five that represent a range of travelers, from families with kids, to couples with dogs, to singles in a hurry, to grandmas with lots of leisure time. We hope you'll enjoy reading about their itineraries – and we also hope you'll find some use in the routes we mapped out, to make your journeys on some of those same roads enjoyable ones.
Or inspire you to create your own.
THE DRIVE: 480 miles in about eight hours, spread over two days. Day 1, the Carpenters will cover 250 miles in about 3½ hours; Day 2, about 230 miles in four hours, not including stops.
PERSONAL PREFERENCES: "We generally prefer motels over bed-and-breakfast inns," says Ellen Carpenter, "not just because we travel with our dog but because after a day on the road, sometimes we can't face the possibility of having to be polite and converse with hosts!" The Carpenters are nature lovers and would like to visit public parks and beaches en route. Dining should be deli-style – quick and easy. "Better yet," says Carpenter, "are seafood carryouts – especially places with lobster rolls."
COMPLICATIONS: Traveling with a dog – and this is Dottie's first long trip – necessitates additional "bathroom" breaks on the road and limits sightseeing to pet-friendly outings. In addition, even motels that welcome pets require that owners not leave them alone in the room.
From Washington, take I-95 through Baltimore. At New Castle, Del., take Exit 5A (SR 141 south) and follow signs to the compact, walkable historic district. Make a pooch stop at Battery Park on the waterfront. The park, which fronts the Delaware River, has a two-mile paved walk that winds through a nature preserve. For a quick take-away lunch, walk a few blocks to Cellar Gourmet (208 Delaware St., 302-323-0999), known for its turkey club, spinach salad and soy burgers.
After crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge, get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take the Garden State Parkway (Exit 11 off the turnpike) to I-287 north (beware of the annoying 25-cent toll stops). Once past the New York state border, take 287/87 east toward Nyack.
MILE 239: Stop in Nyack, on the west coast of New York's Hudson River (just before the Tappan Zee Bridge), and head for the waterfront Memorial Park (between Depew and Piermont avenues), a peaceful respite for the road-weary.
Another diversion: Wander down South Broadway, one of Nyack's prime shopping streets, for funky, original boutiques. Among the numerous intriguing options: Liberty Crafts (13 S. Broadway, 914-358-3864)) and Hand of the Craftsman (5 S. Broadway, 914-358-3366). Take a coffee break (and sample the homemade pastries) at Runcible Spoon Bakery (37-19 N. Broadway, 914-358-9398).
From Nyack, get back on 287/87 and follow signs for the Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson. Take Exit 8 (I-287 east) and the Cross Westchester Expressway to White Plains and turn off at Exit 1 (Route 119, Saw Mill Parkway north). Follow signs to Elmsford, N.Y.
MILE 247: Overnight at Elmsford's pet-friendly Hampton Inn (540 Saw Mill River Rd., 800-426-7866, www.hampton-inn.com). Room rate is $149; there's no additional fee for Dottie.
For dinner, get takeout from Elmsford's Spadaccia's Deli (52 N. Central Ave., 914-592-6487). Next morning, grab coffee and bagels from Dessert Oasis Bakery (8 E. Main St., 914-347-2107).
From Elmsford, follow I-287 toward Port Chester and go north on I-95; in Connecticut, turn off at Exit 62 for a pooch stop at Hammonasset Beach (203-245-2785) on Route 1 in Madison, Conn., with 919 acres of salt marsh, field and beach. The beach, about two miles long, fronts Long Island Sound. It's a great birding spot, with hawks, snowy egrets and great blue herons.
Back on I-95, continue on toward Providence, R.I. (take the I-195 bypass) and then, across the Massachusetts border, past Falls River and New Bedford, toward Buzzard's Bay. I-195 connects with 495 near Wareham. Take the Route 28 exit to Falmouth.
MILE 480: Falmouth, Mass. Get that lobster roll at the Falmouth Fish Market (157 Teaticket Highway, East Falmouth; 800-628-0045); they're made on the spot, traditional style, with lobster, mayonnaise, celery and black pepper, served on a plain ol' hot dog roll, for $9.98. Add a bag of Cape Cod chips and a root beer.
THE DRIVE: 545 miles in about nine hours, spread over two days. Day 1 is the longer drive, covering 320 miles in about five hours. Day 2 is lighter, about 225 miles in 3¾ hours, not including stops.
PERSONAL PREFERENCES: The Benedeks want a no-nonsense, get-us-there-in-two-days itinerary, but also want to have some fun along the way. They'd like to avoid the mountainous Pennsylvania Turnpike if possible (they worry about dicey winter driving conditions). And they'd prefer to overnight in a turnpike-convenient hotel near family-style restaurants in the Pittsburgh vicinity.
COMPLICATIONS: Keeping the kids fed and watered en route (Cindy brings snacks). Stopping every two hours or so for bathroom breaks.
From the Beltway, take the I-270 spur to Frederick, which turns into I-70; head west, toward Hagerstown. Pick up I-68, continuing west.
Stop for lunch outside Cumberland, Md., at Mason's Barn Family Restaurant (Exit 46 off I-68, 301-722-6155), a classic (since 1942) institution for travelers and locals alike; it's known for its "frosty mug root beer." Back on I-68, continue west toward Morgantown and take I-79 north across the Pennsylvania border. Just above Pittsburgh, I-79 connects with the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76); but at the Ohio border, the road becomes I-76/I-80, or the Ohio Turnpike. When the two interstates split, head north on I-80 toward Youngstown.
MILE 305: Follow signs for I-80 (it splits off I-76) and take Exit 227 off I-80. Overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in North Youngstown (135 Highland Terrace Blvd., 800-HOLIDAY), a good family choice with its indoor heated pool, whirlpool, fitness center, game room, morning breakfast bar – and great promotional rate of $79 for a room with two beds. Have dinner nearby at Perkins, a family-style restaurant chain.
After breakfast at the motel – free for the parents; kids are charged on an a¼ la carte basis – get back on I-80 west, drive 1½ hours to Route 42/I-71. Take I-71 north and follow the signs to Cleveland.
MILE 381: Spend the morning at Cleveland's kid-friendly Great Lakes Science Center (601 Erieside Ave., 216-694-2000, www.glsc.org), with more than 340 hands-on exhibits. Check out the "Bridge of Fire," a hair-raising exercise involving 200,000 volts of electricity; the glow-in-the-dark shadow room; and the indoor tornado simulation (that last exhibit may be too scary for the little ones). Admission is $7.95 for adults, $5.95 for kids.
Save some time for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (East Ninth Street at Lake Erie, 888-764-ROCK, www.rockhall.com) – heck, it's right next door. Actually, the museum offers a couple of diversions for children, too, including a teen pop-icon exhibit featuring Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and the Backstreet Boys. Other highlights include a new exhibit, "Lennon: His Life and Work," and a Jimi Hendrix surround-sound theater. Admission is $15 for adults, $11.50 for ages 9 to 11, and free for kids 8 and under.
For lunch, hit the cafe at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids and salads and sandwiches for the adults.
Back on I-80, drive about 1½ hours until you reach the Toledo area, where you pick up I-280. Take Exit 75 to downtown Toledo.
MILE 500: If the kids liked Cleveland's Great Lakes Science Center, there's another chance to do the interactive-science thing at COSI Toledo (1 Discovery Way, 419-244-2674, www.cositoledo.org). Kidspace is devoted to kindergartners and the even younger set; highlights include a larger-than-life tree house, an indoor water play area consisting of four pools with running water and a waterfall, and an ambulance and hospital area where they can suit up and put Mom and Dad on the scales. For older folks, fun exhibits include a high-wire bicycle mounted on a one-inch cable that people 54 inches and over can ride, and a simulated luge ride. Admission: $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for kids 3 to 18, and free for those under 3.
Departing Toledo for Ann Arbor, follow signs downtown to I-75 and go north. Take Exit 204 (I-475 west) to Sylvania/Ann Arbor and U.S. 23, then get off at Exit 14 (U.S. 23 north) to Sylvania/Ann Arbor. From there, Ann Arbor is a 40-mile straight shot.
THE DRIVE: 860 miles in 14 hours, spread over three days. Day 1, from Washington to Latta, S.C., will cover 385 miles and take 6
hours. Day 2, from Latta to Charleston, she'll cover 160 miles in about three hours. Day 3 is a 5-hour, 320-mile stretch marathon from Charleston to Ormond Beach.
PERSONAL PREFERENCES: Dean is a fan of scenic roads and prefers B&B-style accommodations over chain hostelries.
COMPLICATIONS: Does driving a Porsche Boxter count? Plus, Dean specified that she'd like to make a stop at Lake Lure, N.C., an outdoorsy resort destination in western North Carolina – which, alas, is a six-hour (one-way) detour. We thought that was impractical and suggested a trip through South Carolina's Low Country.
Take I-95 south through Virginia and North Carolina. Stop in Rocky Mount to sample some North Carolina barbecue – the city, right off I-95, claims more than 60 barbecue joints, including Gardner's Barbeque Restaurant (1331 N. Wesleyan Blvd., 252-446-2983), Brown's Chicken & Barbecue (1200 E. Highland Ave., 252-442-7456) and Woody's Bar-B-Que (125 S. Winstead Ave., 252-443-3799).
MILE 368: Just 10 miles past the South Carolina border, take Exit 181 for Latta, S.C., and spend the night at Abingdon Manor Inn (307 Church St., 888-752-5090, www.abingdonmanor.com), a grand five-room country inn five miles east of I-95. Innkeepers Michael and Patty Griffey greet weary travelers with a cocktail and then offer a four-course gourmet dinner ($35 per person, guests only) that could include such house specialties as rack of lamb, coq au vin or yellowfin tuna. A gourmet breakfast is included in the rate, but the Griffeys are happy to prepare brown-bag breakfasts for travelers anxious to get back on the road. Rates start at $105.
From Abingdon Manor, Route 501 is just a block away. Follow it to Route 17 east (take the bypass around Myrtle Beach), passing through such charming Low Country towns as Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach and Georgetown, and admiring the region's salt marsh inlets and coastal towns.
MILE 431: Just a few miles south of Murrells Inlet is Brookgreen Gardens (U.S. Highway 17, south of Murrells Inlet, 800-849-1931, www.brookgreen.com), America's largest sculpture garden. The preserve, which stretches from the South Carolina rice fields to the Atlantic coast, is centered on a 300-acre sculpture garden with more than 500 works from some of the country's best-known artists, including Frederic Remington, Carl Milles and Anna Hyatt Huntington. The sculptures are set in a variety of gardens that feature dogwoods, magnolias and palmetto trees along with seasonal blooms (in winter, poinsettias and spruce). At Keepsakes, the on-site shop, you can find everything from sculptures to handmade jewelry. And the cafe there is a great lunch stop. admission is $8.50.
Then, head to Huntington Beach State Park (16148 Ocean Highway Murrells Inlet, 843-237-4440), just across Highway 17 from the gardens. Huntington offers a pristine 3-mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean beach, plus a boardwalk that leads you through its salt marshes. There are nature trails (easy half-mile and two-mile loops for the time-impaired) and a freshwater lagoon; Huntington is considered one of the best bird-watching spots on the East Coast. Admission: $4.
Follow Route 17 into Charleston, S.C., and explore.
Looking for holiday-centric activities? Charleston gets in the mood with its 11th annual Holiday Festival of Lights (James Island, Nov. 10-Jan. 1). The event, a three-mile driving tour about 10 minutes from the city center, features more than 100 light displays (using some 600,000 lights) that include shapes like an octopus and toyland. Info: 843-762-2172, www.ccprc.com.
At the elegant Charleston Place Hotel (205 Meeting St., 843-722-4900), a Christmas tree festival includes 25 spruces, decorated by local artists, whose themes will vary from aromatherapy to origami. More traditionally, the hotel also trims a 20-foot tree, and an Orient Express model train will run on tracks circling the tree.
For unique holiday gifts, check out Charleston's boutiques. King Street is the main retail drag, with a combination of upscale chain stores and specialized shops; interesting boutiques are also located on nearby streets in this very walkable city. Highlights include Christian Michi (220 King St., 843-723-0575), which sells everything from Harari floral silk ensembles to Mariposa pastel china; Gates of Charleston (73 Broad St., 843-958-0040), for garden and household items; Homage (287 E. Bay St., 843-723-3535), for feng shui accouterments; and the City Market (40 N. Market St.) for sweetgrass baskets, one of the oldest art forms of African origin and made on the spot.
Overnight in Charleston and indulge – it's Christmas Eve, why not? – with a night at the John Rutledge House Inn (116 Broad St., 800-476-9741). Named after John Rutledge, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, the antebellum home is in the heart of the historic district. Amenities include afternoon tea and sherry, continental breakfast, evening turn-down service and that most precious of Charleston amenities, on-site parking. A 24-hour concierge can point you to restaurants that are open during the holiday season. Rates start at $185 per night.
After a leisurely breakfast at the inn, take Route 17 south to I-95, through Georgia – and eventually into Florida. Stop for lunch in St. Marys, on the border, about 4 hours south of Charleston. Best known as the launching point for Cumberland Island National Seashore, it's a charming coastal village in its own right. To get there, take Exit 3, GA-40, to St. Marys. Follow signs to the waterfront. Lunch at the Riverside Cafe (106 W. St. Marys St., 912-882-3466), then wander around the historic district.
Pass around Jacksonville, about 85 miles north of Ormond Beach, and take Exit 95, which leads to SR-16, at St. Augustine Beach; follow SR-16 east for five miles until it connects with A1A, which leads right to Ormond Beach.
PERSONAL PREFERENCES: Eicke favors inexpensive B&Bs (up to $70 a night; private bathrooms a must) and local restaurants with anything but chain food. Other preferences: "gorgeous scenery" and local handicrafts.
COMPLICATIONS: Eicke's under-$70-a-night B&B parameters were tough, particularly in scenic destinations. We suggested a $100 ceiling, and she agreed. Her requirement for beautiful scenery was difficult, too, since winter is not peak nature time. We directed her to scenic roads where possible, but primarily concentrated on indoor diversions.
THE DRIVE: 750 miles, 12-plus hours, spread over four days. Day 1, Washington to Charlottesville, will take about 2¼ hours (120 miles) On Day 2, Eicke heads to Asheville, a 6½-hour journey that covers about 370 miles. She spends two nights in Asheville. Day 4, she heads south to Atlanta for a relatively short, 3½-hour ride – about 210 miles – via interstate highways. Her return, a straight shot from Atlanta to D.C., is a 10½-hour drive covering 650 miles.
Take the Beltway to Route I-66 west; exit at Route 29 south to Charlottesville.
MILE 170: In Charlottesville, start by visiting Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's palatial home (804-984-9822, www.monticello.org). Take Route 29 to I-64, then Exit 121 (if traveling westbound) or 121-A (eastbound) to Route 20 south. Follow signs to the Monticello Visitors Center. The winter tour, "The Revolution of 1800: Jefferson, Politics and Presidency" begins Dec. 1. Admission is $11.
Eicke expressed an interest in quality crafts, and downtown Charlottesville has lots of nifty antiques stores, craft shops and boutiques. Check out Quilts Unlimited for handicrafts (118 W. Main St., 804-979-0025); Sun Bow Trading Company for nomadic textiles (108 Fourth St. NE, Downtown Mall, 804-293-8821); and Jordan, a shop with elegant accessories (506 E. Main St., 804-295-0030).
Overnight in downtown Charlottesville at the 1817 Historic Bed and Breakfast (1211 W. Main St., 800-730-7443), which has an on-site antiques store. The B&B was built by James Dinsmore, Thomas Jefferson's master craftsman. Rates from $89 per night.
Take Route 29 south from Charlottesville to Greensboro, N.C., where it intersects with I-40. Follow I-40 south into Asheville.
MILE 520: The famed 255-room Biltmore Estate (1 Lodge St., 800-543-2961, www.biltmore.com), with its original collection of 50,000 furnishings, artwork and antiques, and gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is Eicke's main reason for visiting Asheville. And what great timing she has! The Biltmore Estate embraces the holidays with fervor. The daytime holiday celebration (Nov. 7-Jan. 2) includes decorated trees, fresh wreaths and evergreen valances as well as musical performances. On Candlelight Christmas Evenings (Nov. 7-Jan. 1), the mansion glows and music from the Banquet Hall's 1916 Skinner pipe organ alternates with performances by choirs and ensembles. Tickets for the daytime celebrations are $34; there are no advance reservations. For the Candlelight Christmas Evenings, tickets are $36 (Sunday-Thursday) and $39 (Friday-Saturday); reservations are essential. At other times of the year, daytime entrance fees are $32; hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dinner? That's an easy one: Several Biltmore Estate restaurants are offering special holiday menus; the Stable Cafe and Deerpark Restaurant are open to ticket-holders only. The cost for dining is additional and reservations are required.
Spend the night at the eight-room Flint Street Inns (116 Flint St., 800-234-8172, www.flintstreetinns.com), which not only fit Eicke's moderate budget but are located in Asheville's historic Montford neighborhood. Rates are $75 for singles, $110 for doubles.
Continue exploring Asheville. The town is an epicenter for fine arts and crafts. Among the musts are Biltmore Village, just outside the estate entrance, and downtown Asheville, where craft, clothing and antiques shops abound within easy walking distance. A little bit out of the way – but worth the 15-minute drive – is the Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Rd., 828-253-7651), which showcases fine American arts and crafts.
Dine this evening at one of Asheville's casual downtown cafes.
From Asheville, take I-40 west to I-26 southeast; at Spartanburg, S.C., pick up I-85 to Atlanta, where Eicke will arrive in time for lunch with her family.
THE DRIVE: The Palmisanis' route to Boston will cover about 460 miles, a 7½-hour drive if they went straight through. We divided the trip into two days. They spend more time on the road on Day 1, when they cover 311 miles in approximately six hours. Day 2 is an easy 150 miles in about 2½ hours, depending on Boston traffic.
PERSONAL PREFERENCES: "While we prefer bed-and-breakfast inns," Cindy Palmisani says, "when traveling as a family we prefer suite-like places that have activities for the kids." They like "awesome breakfasts," anything seafood and are big fans of putt-putt golf. Mom likes to shop.
Take I-95 through Baltimore. Just before the Delaware Memorial Bridge, take Exit 1A and follow the signs to Mike's Famous Roadside (2160 New Castle Ave., Route 9, New Castle, Del., 800-FAMOUS-HD, www.mikesfamous.com). Mike's, somewhat of a Harley-Davidson theme park, raises the level of roadside cuisine from rest-stop burgers to Caesar salads, nachos, buffalo wings and chili. After lunch, go next door to the Harley dealership and Museum of the American Road, where you can ogle bikes, watch work in progress and drop some cash on motorcycle clothing and accessories.
Get back on I-95 and follow signs to the New Jersey Turnpike. At the end of the turnpike, merge onto I-95. Exit 72 leads you to 9W, which turns into the Palisades Parkway; follow that north to the New York State Thruway (I-87/287). Cross the Tappan Zee Bridge to 684 northeast, then to I-84. Pass through Danbury, Conn., to your overnight stop in Southbury, Conn. – about a 20-minute distance.
MILE 312: Overnight at the Heritage (522 Heritage Rd., Southbury, Conn., 800-932-3466), a family-friendly resort that offers a $129 "bed-and-breakfast" package; kids stay free (breakfast is free for the parents but kids have to pay; $6.95 apiece for a full breakfast buffet). There's an indoor pool, racquetball, fitness center, basketball court, game room, restaurant and pub.
From Southbury, Boston is just a 2½-hour drive – which gives the Palmisanis time for sightseeing. We routed them through historic Hartford (40 minutes north of Southbury), which has numerous attractions, such as the Science Center of Connecticut (Trout Brook Drive, 860-231-2824, www.sciencecenterct.org) in West Hartford. The hot attraction is Kid Power, a laser show where the music of 98 Degrees, 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys is synchronized with laser light. Other exhibits include Lego Invention Adventure, with Lego robots, and an animal sanctuary with more than 35 species, ranging from blue-tongued skinks to mountain lions. The center, off I-84's Exit 43, charges $6 for adults (laser show another $3) and $5 for kids (laser show is $2).
An alternative attraction is the Mark Twain House (351 Farmington Ave., 860-247-0998), which from Nov. 24 to Dec. 23 is festooned with holiday decorations in the style of the Twain (Samuel Clemens) family. You can tour the 19-room mansion, where Twain lived and wrote (he penned "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" here) for 17 years in the late 19th century. Take Exit 46 off of I-84 and follow signs to the museum. Admission: $9 for adults, $7 for ages 13 to 18, $5 for 6 to 12.
For lunch, walk three blocks to the Hog River Grill (267 Farmington Ave., 860-524-8626), which serves Cajun fare as well as all-American burgers and sandwiches in an old-timey diner setting.
MILE 350: Since Cindy likes to shop, head for West Hartford (take Exit 43, Park Road/West Hartford, and follow the signs), home to some unusual stores. Check out Japanalia (990 Farmington Ave., 860-523-7722), where Dan and Eiko Blow design fashions that blend Japanese influences with contemporary style, and Agneta's Books & Things (998 Farmington Ave., 860-233-0768), with everything from self-help books and incense to aromatherapy oils and artwork.
Get back on I-84 north. At I-90, just beyond Sturbridge, Mass., head east toward Boston. I-90 goes directly into Boston.
Connecticut: Connecticut Office of Tourism, 800-282-6863, www.ctbound.org.
Florida: Florida Division of Tourism, 888-735-2872, www.flausa.com
Georgia: Georgia Tourism, 800-847-4842, www.georgia.org
Maryland: Maryland Office of Tourism Development, 800-634-7386,www.mdisfun.org.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, 800-447-6277,www.massvacation.com
New Jersey: New Jersey Travel and Tourism, 800-847-4865, www.visitnj.com.
New York: New York State Division of Tourism, 800-225-5697, www.iloveny.state.ny.us.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island Office of Travel, Tourism and Film Production,800-556-2484, www.visitrhodeisland.com
South Carolina: South Carolina Department of Tourism, 800-346-3634, www.travelsc.com