And away they went

By James Reed, Globe Staff
March 21, 2010

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I knew the floating bed was going to eat up most of my budget, but I also knew the hot dogs for lunch would set me back only about a buck apiece. High brow, meet low. And with my colleague Meredith heading north, I decided to go west, exploring all the unassuming detours that dotted our leisurely jaunt along Route 2 straight into the eye of a snowstorm.

Here’s the thing about a $300 budget for an overnight trip in Massachusetts: It’s easier to spend than you think. The floating bed (more on that shortly) compelled me to book a night at the Topia Inn, an eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast in Adams, but it ended up costing nearly $185.

When I realized this, suddenly I was scrimping like an anxious Great Depression grandmother, meticulously jotting down our plans and corresponding prices. With bloodshot eyes at 1 a.m. Saturday morning, I e-mailed my partner, Jascha, with a link to an online coupon. I crowed like a proud peacock: For $22.99, we were going to have a gourmet pizza dinner — a “family feast,’’ as the special offer boasted, replete with salad and asiago breadsticks (!) — at Hot Tomatoes in Williamstown.

Promising he would also bring his “dumpster-diving gloves,’’ Jascha printed out the coupon, but when he picked me up at 10 a.m., it was apparent my bargain hunting had spooked him. As he handed me the coupon, he pointed to a baguette in the backseat, “just in case I get hungry on this trip.’’

Truth be told, we never went hungry, starting with our first pit stop at Freight House Antiques in the little town of Erving. Escaping the pretty snowfall that would eventually blow my budget out of the water, we ducked inside to browse everything from glassware to jewelry to bins of dusty vinyl records. With the scent of freshly baked cookies thick in the air, we ordered a light lunch at the diner-style counter. I was relieved that our grilled cheese sandwich, which we split, and drinks, plus two records and a cookie for the road, came to $15.19.

From there, we made our way to Montague Bookmill, one of Western Massachusetts’s hidden gems that seems to get busier each time I visit. It peddles used books you don’t need in a place you can’t find, as the store’s motto goes, but it also has comfy chairs and couches perfect for sinking into and it’s perched on a picturesque bank of the Sawmill River. After perusing for a half-hour and filling up on hot tea from the adjoining cafe, we left empty-handed, but I couldn’t resist popping into Turn It Up! a boutique music store next door where I snatched up a vinyl copy of country star Skeeter Davis’s “Skeeter Sings Dolly’’ for $5.

En route to Mass MoCA, we took our time along the Mohawk Trail, a fitting name for a stretch full of kitschy Native American trading posts hawking moccasins, dream catchers, and bumper stickers that flip the bird to political correctness (“This car guarded by pitbull with AIDS’’). In search of maple candies, we darted into Gould’s Maple Sugarhouse in Shelburne. No dice, but we found something even better: maple ice cream cones for 25 cents a pop. My inner Ebenezer Scrooge was loving this.

No trip to the Berkshires is complete without a stop at Mass MoCA, and we were glad to catch the retrospective of Sol LeWitt’s eye-popping wall drawings that, up close, can make the head spin. Also on display was Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s “Gravity Is a Force to Be Reckoned With,’’ a hulking and spectacular installation suspended upside down.

When we finally checked into the Topia Inn, my anticipation was high, only to be quelled by the house rules, starting with a shoes-off policy at the door. I knew beforehand from the website that the owners request you not bring any chemical fragrances “in order to ensure that the pure environment we worked so hard to create stays pure.’’ Instead, they provide “nontoxic’’ toiletries, and our tub had “chromatherapy,’’ which is a designer word to describe a series of colored lights that illuminated it.

We couldn’t shake the feeling that, in pursuit of a spa-like serenity, the Topia experience often bordered on sterile. At least our room, the Aloha, was warm, and I had chosen it specifically because I was fascinated by the aforementioned floating bed. Literally a circular bed that dangles from the ceiling, it was a bit like sleeping in a hammock aboard a ship, but with much better support and more room.

For dinner, we drove to Hot Tomatoes in Williamstown to redeem that “family feast’’ coupon, but something was missing, namely an actual dining room. I decided we should have a proper meal, so we backtracked up the road to Mezze, a sleek bistro and bar that had come highly recommended. I issued strict orders — one drink each, no appetizer, no dessert. Jascha got a hamburger, cooked perfectly medium, and I opted for an equally delicious parpardelle pasta. The damage? Forty-three dollars.

“So where’s a good nightspot around here?,’’ we asked our waitress, who responded with a sentence that has probably never been uttered before or since. “If you want some real night life, you have to go to Pittsfield.’’

Really? Really.

So we made our way there, only to find the tapas bar Mission, featuring a singer-songwriter whose voice emanated from the front window, already at capacity. Instead, we ended up at Brix Wine Bar, a casual spot with a late-night French brasserie vibe and a lengthy list of vino. By 10:45, the scene was already winding down, but then again, so were we.

Sunday morning started on a frugal note, thanks to the inn’s free breakfast of granola French toast, fruit, yogurt, and assorted beverages. We said goodbye to the floating bed and the courtesy toothpaste powder, ready to pollute the environment again with our dirty feet and toxic toiletries.

With our own snowshoes in the backseat, next to the baguette, we headed to a trail in the nearby Mount Greylock State Reservation. We passed a parking lot of cars and came to the end of a gravel road full of trucks with four-wheel drive. Uh-oh. Sure enough, we got stuck on the snowy road, and no amount of pushing helped before we could smell the clutch burning. As Jascha made several calls for a tow truck, another foul odor came to mind: the smell of defeat.

Grousing about how Meredith had lucked out with the previous weekend’s nice weather, I immediately fired off a text message. “You’ll love this: We’re stuck on a snowy road, and the tow truck puts me $60 over my budget. You win again, Goldstein!’’ Accompanied, I suspected, by a cackle, her response was: “That can’t possibly count.’’

But it did, and suddenly my grand total had ballooned to $358.98. That meant the rest of our day’s budget was tight as Tupperware. In Pittsfield, we ventured off the beaten path to Teo’s Hot Dogs, a down-home restaurant that time obviously forgot around 1978 (and I’m referring to both the decor and the prices). With a NASCAR race on the flat screen over the bar, we ordered a skimpy cheeseburger and three tasty hot dogs smothered in chili, onions, and mustard. Jascha wanted to know if he could splurge on a $1.50 bottle of Bud. I obliged, partly because our next destination was completely gratis.

I knew from my research that the majestic Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield was hosting a free concert, featuring choral performances by students from Westfield State College. As rousing as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic’’ was, we decided it wasn’t our cup of tea and stopped at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge for a cup of tea before heading back east.

The snow had finally subsided, and as I sulked on the car ride home, I recapped all the things we had done on our overnight adventure. Just as I had done before we left, I rattled off a list of stats: six towns, two restaurants, one museum, one bookstore, one antiques shop, one theater, one mountain trail, one wine bar, etc.

I knew Meredith had probably beaten me on the budget, but I still relished the thought of how she would answer this question: Did your bed float, Meredith? I didn’t think so.

James Reed can be reached at

If You Go


Where James stayed

Topia Inn

10 Pleasant St., Adams


Where he ate


16 Water St., Williamstown


Teo’s Hot Dogs

1410 East St., Pittsfield


Brix Wine Bar

40 West St., Pittsfield


What he did

Freight House Antiques

11 East Main St., Erving


Montague Bookmill

440 Greenfield Road Montague


Mass MoCA

87 Marshall St., North Adams


Colonial Theatre

111 South St., Pittsfield