It has 'quaint B&B' cornered

By Timothy R. Smith
Sunday, January 30, 2011; F03

When I travel, I often find myself in some state of lost. This isn't always a bad thing, mind you. But if it's snowing, as it was on a recent Saturday in Philadelphia, then things aren't so naively nice. I had been on my feet most of the day, twice gotten off at the wrong station, jumped on the wrong trolley and trudged more than a mile through the snow. I could barely feel my legs. Did I still have a face?

I needed hot coffee and a bed. After I discovered that my smartphone could navigate public transit systems (since when did it do this?) I made my way to Cornerstone Bed and Breakfast, just off the Drexel University campus.

There on the corner was a pleasant Victorian mansion with green and red trim, a broad porch and warm golden light pouring from the windows. It was straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting! Ah, my bed and breakfast.

I rang the bell, and co-owner Liz Bartelme invited me in. She operates the Cornerstone with her husband, Dennis, and her daughter and son-in-law, Jules and Chris Spaeth. It was Jules's dream to own a B&B, it turned out, but for now at least, she's living vicariously through her parents.

The Bartelmes have owned the 145-year-old mansion for just a little more than two years. The previous proprietor also ran it as a B&B - single-handedly.

"I don't know how she did that," Liz said.

Warm and inviting, the house was pleasantly scented with potpourri. Check-in was quick. Dennis and Liz gave me the bedroom key and complimentary coffee.

Each of the Cornerstone's six guest rooms has a Philadelphia-themed name. I stayed in the periwinkle-walled Franklin, named for the polymath Founding Father. Hanging on the wall was a plate featuring a Norman Rockwell painting of Ben signing the Declaration of Independence. The bureau held two books of his witticisms. Other rooms included the Philadelphian and the Frank Furness, after the architect who most influenced Philly's cityscape.

Most quaint were the family portraits on the walls: Black-and-white wedding photos, they were a genealogical slide show of the Bartelmes' parents and grandparents. In the dining room were the naturalization papers for Dennis's grandfather, who'd immigrated to Pittsburgh from Hungary.

After I'd divested myself of my gear, Dennis gave me a list of local eateries. What I really wanted was to hear some jazz, so he found a jazz cafe online and drew me a map in pencil.

After a few hours of listening to music, all I wanted was a lie-down. I put myself in bed and the thick pillows gobbled me up.

In the morning, I awoke to the sweet aroma of blueberry pancakes and sausage. At breakfast, I imbibed too much coffee. Roasted locally, it was sublime. How many cups did I have? Five, six, was it?

"You'll have to use the bathroom all day," Liz joked.

By noon I was off.

When I travel, I tend to lose things other than myself. While waiting for the subway, I got a call from Chris. I'd left my cellphone charger behind. He offered to bring it to me at the station, but I told him no problem, I'd come back and collect it.

I had to use the bathroom.

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