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Bridget Gleeson Travel Writer

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Valentine getaway

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I know it’s a greeting-card holiday. But I decided to plan a mini-vacation for two this Valentine’s Day – in my defense, I had a very good reason.

Last year at this time, I was hospitalized in Buenos Aires for four days following a botched wisdom tooth removal (fun!) and my significant other slept on a fold-out cot next to my hospital bed. Needless to say, there were few pleasant moments while I was on a morphine drip – though he did bring me a heart-shaped sugar cookie from the cafeteria.

I wanted to make it up to him this year so I booked a quick getaway from Chicago to the small lakeside town of New Buffalo, Michigan. I don’t know anyone who’s ever been there, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Amtrak train dropped us off at our destination around 10:30AM on a Sunday, too early to check into the Harbor Grand hotel, but we went over anyway to drop off a suitcase. From this point on, almost everything about our mini-getaway impressed me.

Thanks to my job description, I’ve got a critical eye when it comes to hotels, and I’ve stayed in some of the best places for free. So why did we love the Harbor Grand? Simply put, they didn’t nickle and dime us.

For instance -
-reception took my cell phone number and called us when we could check in early (before noon, very hospitable.)
-the well-stocked DVD library is free to guests
-the outdoor fireplace and complimentary S’mores kits
-breakfast in bed, delivered to your door in a basket
Also, there’s a Ben & Jerry’s 24-hour hotline: call anytime and they’ll bring some Chunky Monkey to your room. We hiked on the surreal frozen banks of Lake Michigan, we had Belgian waffles in a local diner, we watched an ice sculptor at work. It wasn’t as freezing out as it should have been in February, and there was enough small-town Americana charm (hunting guns for sale in the pharmacy, a painting of a growling bear on the side of a tractor-trailer) to please my foreign-born boyfriend.

Note: If this had been a work trip, I’d be officially recommending Brewster’s Italian Cafe for pomegranate martinis – the bar has a crackling fireplace and sky windows exposing the bare tree branches above.

I find that anything even remotely romantic sounds better in Spanish. Feliz día de los enamorados!