Home Sweet Home?

Small Town, Big City Feels @ St. Paul Hotel – Wooster

You know when you’ve been traveling a lot and although you’ve seen incredible things, experienced new adventures and tasted fantastic new food, you sometimes find yourself sighing in relief as you pull into your driveway, thinking, “Ahhh, Home Sweet Home”  … well, I didn’t get a chance to do that.  As soon as TJ and I returned from our European adventure, I was thrown deep into the trenches of work travel with two back to back weeks of travel. We’re going to take a brief, one-week hiatus before diving back into Europe for the French leg of our trip to showcase one of my new favorite spots – the St. Paul Hotel in Wooster, OH.

Although I couldn’t quite sigh in relief of being home, I felt as close as I could get.  Wooster is 10 minutes from my hometown of Orrville, OH and the team at the St. Paul Hotel was gracious enough to host me for an overnight before a work meeting at the property the following day. On a gorgeous Ohio spring Sunday afternoon (a nice contrast to the chilly rain Paris chased us out of the country with), I drove to Wooster with a week’s worth of clothes and meeting materials.  I was tired before I left my house and was so fortunate to be swept up by the staff at the St. Paul.  The girl that greeted me upon arrival could perhaps sense my exhaustion, because after the quickest of check-ins she walked me to my room, a long lost art of small hotels. I arrived in one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve stepped foot in in a long time, the Grand Suite. Not only is this room unique and made with local hands and materials, but it comes equipped with a fantastic shower, cozy living area and a private deck and hot tub. If I couldn’t relax at home after a long cross country trip, this was definitely the next best thing.

I want to take a moment to walk you through some of the highlights of this hotel, because if you don’t have the time to stop and discover, you might have missed some of the cool history behind the front doors. In the lobby, you find yourself next to a beautiful fireplace.  The wood portion of the fireplace is reclaimed wood from a devastating possible tornado that ripped through the area in 2010 destroying portions of the nearby Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (OSU ATI). If the fireplace hasn’t caught your eye, then you’re probably looking up at the original tin ceiling, something you certainly don’t see much anymore!

In my guestroom, the living and sleeping areas are separated by a large sliding metal door.  These doors were originally fire doors from the former Freedlander Department Store of downtown Wooster.  This local business touched the lives of nearly everyone in Wooster and the surrounding communities.  I fondly remember shopping for Father’s Day there when I was little. I was always amazed that the clerks working in the men’s section not only knew my mom, but had a little pocket sized notebook with all of my dad’s measurements. How much easier would life be if you could go into a store and not guess your partner’s sizes? In the business of customer service, this is something I so wish we still maintained.  Sadly, Freedlander Department store operated as an independent, family owned department store for 105 years (1884-1989) and it finally closed its doors in 2009. The building was recently torn down.

In contrast to the re-purposed metal fire doors in the room, there is exemplary woodwork, with custom made pieces by The Schantz Organ Company of neighboring Orrville, OH. Many other items throughout the room were sourced by local businesses and the property built by local contractors and Amish workers.  The hotel recently expanded and now has 16 guestrooms!

After a thorough tour of the property, I was ready to eat!  Fortunately, the St. Paul Hotel is in the best location for stretching your legs, located just two blocks south of the square. Surrounding the hotel are great places to eat and shop, including H2 Wine Merchants, roomScapes (shameless plug for my family’s business!), Today’s Kitchen Store and one of our family’s favorites – City Square Steakhouse, which is where I was headed!

After a great dinner and a long day, I was ready to pack it in, BUT WAIT! There’s a hot tub!  How glorious.

The next day I made my way down to the gym.  If you didn’t already see this coming, you haven’t been paying attention, I love food and fitness. I have high expectations for gyms – it’s 2017!  Luckily, this little hotel delivered. With full equipment and exposed brick, I felt like I was transplanted into a swanky NYC hotel. Hungry, after a long workout, I’m reminded of one of the best things about small operations – they are forced to get creative with breakfast.  You either don’t serve it or you come up with something awesome. Perhaps you remember from a long time ago, the breakfast in a basket concept at the Bolling Wilson Hotel in Virginia? Anyway, I returned from the gym to find my pre-ordered continental breakfast waiting for me.  This is so ideal when you’re traveling for business. I can multi-task by eating, checking email and getting ready for my day in the comforts of my own room!

With a full belly and a great night’s rest, I headed downstairs. The St. Paul Hotel hosted myself and 9 other meeting attendees, all visiting from other unique properties around the state. The boardroom on site was perfect. Catering was handled by nearby Spoon Market and the sandwiches were to die for.

I can’t thank the team from the St. Paul Hotel enough for a wonderful stay, a great meeting venue and one of the most exemplary displays of guest service I’ve experienced in a long time. For a girl that hadn’t seen her own bed in over 2 weeks, this was the perfect place to feel like I was in a Home Away from Home.


“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck



Mangia! Mangia! Part II

If you aren’t already dreaming of Italy from last week’s post, you will be after today.  After a full 3 days in Venice, we hopped our first train to Vernazza, Italy, with a quick stop over in Florence.  Florence had been on our list of contenders, but we had settled on Venice and the Cinque Terre. Since it’s located conveniently in between, we thought we’d take advantage of the train transfer and grab lunch and stretch our legs. We had a lunch recommendation from a friend, Osteria Santo Spirito, and were not disappointed with some of the best gnocchi we’ve ever had. It was our first “hot” day that we had and lugging 20 pound backpacks around took care of that pasta real fast! We set out to find Piazzale Michaelangelo, where we were assured to find the best view of Florence.  What we didn’t put together was the best view = the most steps…hundreds of them… but we made it, sweating and out of breath to one of the best views of our trip.

We grabbed the next train to one of the highlights of our trip – the Cinque Terre. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, it’s probably because what you’re seeing and what you’ve heard are different… Cinque Terre is pronounced (Chink-wa Tair-a). This cliffside string of five towns located on the coast of the Riviera and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Try Googling it – you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.  Before tourists discovered the Cinque Terre, these little villages were connected by walking paths.  Now, all of them allow at least delivery trucks into the town centers, but they’re still just as magical.  We decided to stay in the town of Vernazza which we much preferred over the bustling main tourist stop of Monterosso.  We got off the train in the evening and thought for sure Google Maps could find our inn – it could not. This is when we knew we had found the holy grail of off-road adventures.  We called our host who said he would pick us up.  Good thing because we followed him along winding paths up the hillside to find our little room at Camere Giuliano Basso, tucked away off the main (pedestrian) drag.  Our room was perfect and hand built by Giuliano himself.  After sharing with Giuliano that we were starving he suggested we follow him down to his family’s restaurant where we had one of our other top pasta meals of the trip.  The Cinque Terre is known for its pesto.  Served over handmade pasta with a little cheese – that’s really all a girl needs.

The next day we strapped on our tennis shoes and hiking gear – we followed Rick Steve’s suggested itinerary for tackling the Cinque Terre.  We caught the train to the first town, Riomaggiore where we learned our first lesson of travel. Don’t count on the accuracy of a travel book over a year old. Intending to catch the picturesque, coastal trail Via dell’Amore (trail of love) between Riomaggiore and the neighboring town of Manarola, we were told by a local shopkeeper it had closed do to landslides.  She pointed us towards an alternate path, warning us it would take almost two hours to traverse (compared to a 25min paved path we were planning for).  But guys, we’re fit, we’re young, and we had bellies full of pasta – so we set off towards the trail. We should have listened. This was a local farmer/winekeeper trail that steeply ran up the side of a mountain and definitely wouldn’t have passed any US safety codes. At its peak, however, we were rewarded with beautiful sweeping

We started at the ocean…

views of the ocean and a steady downhill descent. Seeking a much needed break, we caught the train from Manarola to the third town of Corniglia where we found ourselves a fantastic seafood lunch at A Cantina de Mananan.  The restaurant was quaint and we’re guessing a family owned joint.  It was just what we needed after that hike!  We set off for the next town, our basecamp, Vernazza. We read that this was one of the best trails and we weren’t disappointed.  Along this path we came across metal tracks running up and down the mountains.  We later learned these are for farmers to transport goods in little boxes up and down the mountainside – genius! Once arriving in Vernazza, we decided to tackle the last town, Monterosso, by train. Monterosso used to be the only place you could stay if visiting the Cinque Terre. A larger town than the others by far, it attracts those with large suitcases and a need for vehicular transport.  Between you and me, we were glad we weren’t staying there! On our final morning, we set off for one final exploration – the Belforte Tower of the ruined Doria castle.  From here, we captured the best picture of the trip. Enjoy!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck



Mangia! Mangia! Part I

TJ and I have been married for one year (already! Which means InnLove is closing in on its first year of travel posts!!) and we decided to mark the occasion with a trip to Europe, a first for both of us. The hardest part was deciding where to go. We had so many opinions, some good, some bad. Finally, we decided – one week in Italy and one week in France. Let the planning begin!

After a few reads by Rick Steves I knew we had three goals – hike the Cinque Terre, eat a lot and don’t pack too much in. A wise man (my dad) once said, travel like you plan to return. So we did. Join us on our first stop… Venice, Italy.

After a very long day of planes, trains and auto… vaporettos, we finally made it to the island of Lido, where we checked in to our amazing hotel the Grand Hotel Ausonia & Hungaria. This place is like taking a fabulous step back in time. Lido is the beach vacation island of Venice, so had you been visiting this hotel in August, it would be packed with beach-goers. For us, it was quiet and perfect.

Our first day in Venice we went on a tour, but not just any tour… I was a not raised in a tour-goer family, so this was a little strange for me. I stumbled upon a company called Urban Adventures, which specializes in off-the-beaten-path “locals” tours. This particular one was ranked among the best of the best of tours around the world and we found out why. We joined our small group (very important) of fellow tourists and we set off, discovering Venice with the eyes of “locals” lead by our fearless guide, Claire. We rode a gondola, but the Venician kind – standing, packed in like sardines, crossing the canal. We tasted 6 glasses of wine, paired with 6 cicchetti (Italian tapas) at small tucked away locals pubs around the city. After our tour, Claire spent some time with us discussing what we wanted to do with the rest of our time in Venice, which I’m glad we did because she led us to one of my favorite parts of our entire trip…

The next day, TJ and I set off for Burano. No, no. Not Murano…where they make some of the worlds most beautiful glass. BURANO, Murano’s neighboring island. I cannot give this island justice through words. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. The colors of the buildings are enough, but that mixed with the little boats moored to the door steps, the hand made lace (the islands specialty) fluttering in the breeze out of windows and on store displays….it’s almost too much to handle. I could have spent my entire day there, despite the island being fairly small. Per Claire’s suggestion, we headed straight to the Gatto Nero to make a lunch reservation… another choice we couldn’t have been more thankful for. We eventually settled in for one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. ENTIRE trip, people. Venice is not known for its food. Keep in mind we were heading to Paris… Michelin territory. This little foodie oasis in Burano was the opposite of everything one might have expected. The service was on point, the wine affordable and delicious, but the seafood risotto… OUT OF THIS WORLD. Truly a meal that will never be forgotten.

We did a lot of touristy things in Venice too – went to Harry’s Bar (where the Bellini was invented), visited St. Mark’s Square, etc. but those things were not what made this trip one for which we would return to Venice. I’ll give myself credit for two things – finding our hotel (booked as a member of TravelZoo) and finding our tour with Claire. Everything else, I give Claire full credit for. And in the end, isn’t that more than a city could ask for? A local that impacts a tourist so much they want to return? And for all of you day dreamers and visual learners, don’t forget to check out the 2017 Visual Adventure Gallery, because combined we took 800 pictures… I narrowed them down for you, but there is so much more I couldn’t squeeze into this post.

Until next time, Venice…

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck


New York, New York

As you know, TJ and I recently embarked on our first European adventure – my first time to Europe and TJ’s first time crossing the pond, we were definitely in for the ride of our lives.  Before we set our sights on Venice, Italy, our first stop on our trip, we spent two full days in New York City, exploring and eating our way around Manhattan.  I love NYC.  I know many people who say they tried it and didn’t like it or even crazier people who say they have no interest in going.  I find that sad, because NYC really is a great place to visit and each time I go, I find something new to discover.  A few years ago, I took TJ to NYC for his birthday – his first trip to the Big Apple.  And he fell inn love.  Of our entire itinerary for our anniversary trip – he only had one request, “can we spend time in New York?” If you haven’t been or you are planning to go soon, take some of our tips here- from hotels, to food (!) to Broadway.

On our first day in NYC, we had an early morning goal in mind – get to DO.  I certainly hope you know what I’m talking about, but I suppose there is a chance you don’t…if you’ve been living under a rock!  NYC recently acquired a new store that has all the bloggers, news channels and TV stations talking. DO is a raw cookie dough store located in Chelsea.  I’ve been keeping my eye on DO for a while, because one of my college classmates is its founder.  We arrived in Chelsea and were confronted with quite a line.  Sadly, it was topping out at 18 degrees and this line was certainly 30 minutes long.  But that’s OK, because I love dessert and I’m only in NYC every few years!  The line moved pretty quickly despite the chill in the morning air and we were rewarded by a fabulous prize – heaping scoops of edible, safe raw cookie dough in all kinds of flavors.  The store itself is BEAUTIFUL – full of bright colors, smiling faces and the sweet sweet smell of sugar. I tried the Cookie DO Sandwich – raw cookie dough packed tight with ice cream. TJ went old school with cake batter dough Both were out of this world and both products were fit for travel, so we took our DO out the door and headed to South Street Seaport. We were destined for the Tkts Tkts booth to find a pair of tickets for TJ’s first Broadway show where we scooped up two tickets to School of Rock.  We rounded out the trip of Manhattan with a quick self-guided tour of the World Trade Center memorial.  Every time I’ve been, it’s been in different stages of completion, so it was nice to finally see the nearly finished product.

You know one of the best things about NYC?  Your step count.  After hours of walking and miles of steps, we finally were ready for dinner.  Last time we visited NYC, we literally stumbled upon a restaurant called the Bluebell Cafe.  I remember it was pouring, pouring down rain and we quickly ducked into the first place we found.  Fortunately for us, it became one of our favorite NYC restaurants. We had a fantastic dinner and finished it off with a signature dessert- Red Velvet cake.

The next day we were set on two things – great brunch and Broadway.  We found a fantastic breakfast place called Meme.  The menu offers up Mediterranean breakfast specialties including a breakfast taco which was one of our favorites. With full bellies – we were ready for TJ’s Broadway debut.  We found our way to the Winter Theater and settled in for the best Broadway show I’ve seen. If you haven’t seen School of Rock, I don’t care how old you are, it is one of the best shows you will ever see. The music is lively and makes you want to dance and the talent of the children is inspiring. After the show, we made our way to one more meal before we headed to the airport. We specifically searched for best NYC burgers (the list was endless) and found a great spot called Dutch Fred’s.  I had a lavender (!) beer and a bison burger and TJ went with the traditional beef.  For a Sunday night, late, this place was hopping!

But before we leave the States, what would an InnLove post be without the skinny on a fab NYC hotel?  Which let me just tell you, was one of my best NYC hotel experiences.  We were staying at the Algonquin, one of Manhattan’s oldest, most famous hotels. The Algonquin opened in 1902 and quickly became a writer’s haven.  Now, it is operated as an Autograph Collection by Marriott, but still has the boutique, artistic flare of a place frequented by the Algonquin Roundtable:

My favorite feature of the Algonquin is the resident cat – Matilda.  She finally came out for some pets on our way to the airport!

And with some final pets and the flash of that NYC Yellow Cab at the door, we were off to Europe. For two weeks of fun, food and wine…And, we’re off to Venice…


“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck