We don't make it to Cape Cod, Massachusetts some months, particularly when Thanksgiving travelers drive ticket prices through the roof in November, or when it feels like there are only twelve people there in March, or in April when we're usually traveling elsewhere. We look forward to our annual pilgrimage over President's Day Weekend. We love the quiet of winter there, but our epic journey last month tells a much more... nuanced story.
Pro Tips for Casual Travelers
- Trips to the northeast United States in the dead of winter are for travel junkies, not casual passengers. Be prepared for anything.
- Never let airline incompetence, frozen pipes, loss of heat, a police incident in your hotel, cancelled flights, driving from Boston to New York City in a blizzard, or a surprise Amtrak train ride from NYC to Washington DC when your car just can't go any further stand in your way of a good time!
- Prudence demands that when flying on the eve of a blizzard you determine if your airline is offering free flight changes to get you home before weather sets in. Earlier is better.
- Good friends, delicious food, and adventures in wine are the remedy to an otherwise miserable trip.
- When you get stuck, look for last minute hotel deals, creative transportation options, and opportunities to get points and money back from travel providers that have wronged you. Be nice, but don't be bashful!
The Epic Journey
The Friday to Monday trip actually began Thursday night, when we discovered that American Airlines is skipping rows three through seven on some of its new airplanes, leaving us without a seat and me with a superfluous late night trip to the airport to get it sorted. Worth a read. Shockingly, once we actually had real seats again, we were off with an on-time departure from Washington (DCA) to Boston. Touched down at Boston Logan International Airport's (BOS) Terminal B just in time to learn that pipes were frozen and heat was out at our final destination.
New Bedford, MA
Time for a new plan: rental car drive to the Massachusetts South Coast, which is actually home to a decent and growing wine region (another story for another time). We seized the moment to visit the Travessia Urban Winery in downtown New Bedford, where our friend Marco Montez is a true standout in mixing modern wine making with his Old World Portuguese family roots. We profiled his 2014 Vidal Blanc in our Best of February lineup. Also worth a look, Kristian Vasilev operates the beautiful Crush wine shop just across the street from Travessia. Dinner followed at the Waterfront Grill, a cozy spot right on the harbor offering a great view of the fishing boats, good food, and drinks that are often much too sweet. We spent the night at the normally respectable Fairfield Inn, where several years ago we booked family and friends attending our wedding. On this particularly night, though, we found ourselves in the middle of a police event with a domestic violence event in the room next to us, and a bunch of kids with a lot of weed in the room on the other side. The shorthanded and frazzled staff deserves credit for their handling of this, and we were quickly moved to a room on another floor and given a great many Marriott rewards points. Sleep. Finally.
On Saturday we drove out on the Cape to Provincetown, our home away from home where in the summer I am related to half the people in the neighborhood, but where in the winter many of the houses are closed. With the pipes still frozen and heat still off, we booked an incredible last minute $200 for two nights in a water view room and a bottle of surprisingly not the cheapest you can find sparkling wine deal at the quaint old-timey Provincetown Inn at the furthest reach of habitable Cape Cod. Nothing glamorous, but this place is really worth staying in for comfortable lodging and a time traveler's experience to decades long past. There's a neat thing happening in Provincetown this winter: the folks from the delicious Blackfish restaurant in the neighboring town of Truro have opened a "popup" in the also delicious but sadly closed-for-winter Local 186 restaurant. The resulting "Blackfish at Local 186" is serving an amazing menu, including the top of the line "Tuna Bolognese" that you simply must try. Between Blackfish at Local, lunch the next day at Ross' Grill, and our Valentine's Day dinner at Jimmy's Hideaway, the Provincetown restaurant scene was still going strong mid-February this year!
With the threat of more snow looming, we hit the road on Monday bound for Boston and our flight back to Washington. We had taken advantage of American's offer of free flight changes to get everyone where they needed to go (i.e. not American's problem anymore) before the weather set in, but our new noontime flight was cancelled just the same. We were automatically rebooked for 6am the next day (Tuesday) to fly from Boston to New York (LGA) to Washington (DCA), which any frequent traveler will tell you is a terrible idea. New Plan! The best choice here was to drive our rental SUV, but if you ever try this remember that the rental car companies will charge you extra if you pick up and drop off in different locations, and that extra cost multiplies for each day you had the car. Our hundreds-of-dollars-saving solution was to return the car the National in Boston, then immediately re-rent it again to drop off elsewhere using one of our free rental days we'd accrued, total transaction: $23. And we were off in a blizzard through Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.
New York, NY
We found ourselves sitting at 120th and Amsterdam after some hours driving south, with freezing rain setting in. New Plan! Drop the car at National on 44th Street near Times Square, catch a subway one stop down to Penn Station, and hop the next Amtrak to Washington. We had some time in Penn Station, a blessing because we were able to stop and visit our good friend Pascual, "wine merchant of midtown", at the Penn Wines and Spirits shop (located in the Exit Concourse of the LIRR level, between tracks 16&17). Unassuming from the outside, Penn Wines is an amazingly cozy haven inside a bustling world, filled with a brilliant selection of the world's wines at many price points, made all the better by Pascual's advice and Alex's knowledge of whisky. This visit yielded the Hesperian we also profiled in our Best of February, as well as the Hartford Court we recommended for National Drink Wine Day. A warm goodbye to Pascual, and we were off to the train where, surprisingly, our adventures came to an end as we pulled into Washington's Union Station well after 1am Tuesday having, quite literally, made it down the coast in seventeen hours.