© 2015 Stacy Rollins

by Stacy Rollins

This summer, my domestic partner Evan and I had vague plans to spend a week in England–so vague that I had our hotel selected and I knew which pubs I wanted to visit in the Cotswolds—with another couple. It would have been my first trip abroad, which is shameful for a 38-year old, but anticipation certainly crescendos with all that waiting. We wound up not being able to go because airfare for flights from NYC at the end of June was criminal and he was between jobs. Our friends still made the trip; as a result, they became engaged.

I set about making substitute vacation plans that would satisfy my yen for a bucolic setting among verdant hills—one that would require only a rental car (or friends with a car to do my bidding), minimal lodging, and sunny skies. Since Evan and I are Rennies (people who love renaissance and medieval faires, and usually go in costume) and faire season in the northeast is in full swing from August-October, I figured we could easily make the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, situated at Mount Hope Estate & Winery and one of the largest faires in our region, a focal point. (If you’d like tips on how to make cool renfair costumes for couples on a budget, check this article out.)

Travel time from our home in Park Slope to the grounds in Manheim, PA could range anywhere from 3 – 4 hours, depending on traffic, well within our comfort zone for road trips. And although car rentals in our area tend to be exorbitant, if one is willing to forego the refinements of customer service and XM Sirius Radio, Speedy Rent a Car is a viable option: we were paired with a Hyundai that cost $276 for the entire weekend and demanded a scant amount of gas.

renfair pa 2014

Eastern PA is a verdant wonderland in the summer. Evan and I used to visit New Hope annually until the economic downturn starved our favorite antique/artisan/gothic clothing stores to death. Jim Thorpe, the “Switzerland of America,” is exactly what just appeared in your mind’s eye, and going there completely displaces all the neurotic thought patterns wrought by NY subways and their inhabitant germs and hate pollution that breeds with delays and nasty blue-checkered shirts commuting to offices. We’d been to Manheim for the PA Faire five years prior, but at that time, I was going through protracted withdrawal from Valium I’d used to palliate my insomnia and I was mostly concerned with whether or not I a panic attack was about to strike rather than what was going on around me. But I did, however, have especially fond memories of our night at Manheim Manor (please see my review here,) which is about two miles from the faire and wanted to relive it. The price of admission to the faire for tickets purchased in advance was $24.95 and the Emeralds and Evergreen room at our B&B was $129.00 plus $10 for a roll-away, necessary for us since I’m such a light sleeper and Evan’s legs shake at night.

We left Brooklyn at 9:00 a.m., arrived at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire around 12:30 p.m., and spent about six hours there. It was far more enchanting than I had pieced together from the detritus of my mental scrap book: thoughtfully landscaped not only in terms of flowers and foliage, but the parking situation–often unbearable at faires, especially the NY Renaissance Faire and Maryland Renaissance Festival—was singularly convenient.

PA Ren2

© 2015 Stacy Rollins

Approaching the gates, guests wander through a beautiful courtyard, of sorts, where the winery is stationed. Free tastings of all their unique wines and fruity meads afford a mild pre-party buzz. Tastings are available on the grounds, as well, and—get this—the price of a generously-sized cup of Mount Hope’s mead is $8, plastic souvenir sippy cup/tumbler included. (At NYRF, $7.50 gets you a urine sample cup-size of cloying Carroll’s Mead.) I purchased two bottles for myself later in the day, not realizing they don’t ship outside of PA, which makes a great case for buying a case.

Tumbler of Mead

© 2015 Stacy Rollins

It happened to be Celtic Fling weekend, so a soundtrack of bagpipes and drums permeated the scene, the Renaissance rock and roll rhythms of Tartanic being the highlight. Merchants offered a mighty dose of mystical wares, well-priced weapons, period garb, scented candles and soaps—all the usual refinements. I was especially taken with the vintage parasols and walking sticks at Canes Enable.

Outside the winery at PA Ren Faire

© 2015 Stacy Rollins

After a decent night’s sleep and a heavenly spinach and goat cheese frittata prepared by our gracious hosts at Manheim Manor, we drove through Dutch Country, which wasn’t nearly as scenic as some of the country drives I’ve taken in upstate NY. Next on our agenda was a tour of Crystal Cave ($13.50 for adult admission), where Victorians used to hold parties by candlelight despite the rock formations’ numerous deadly drops into Earth’s core. The tour lasted about an hour. I liked it. Bring a jacket if you go.

Fonthill Castle2

© 2015 Stacy Rollins

Around 1:00 pm, we drove to Doylestown to tour Fonthill Castle ($14 admission), the former home of tile maker Henry Mercer. He built the castle, which includes 55 exhibit rooms/alcoves, entirely out of concrete over the span of three years starting in 1907. It showcases brightly-colored, decorative ceramic tiles from all over the world, in addition to his own, along with several thousand art prints and ancient artifacts, some dating back to ~10,000 B.C. It’s an eccentric, curiously-compelling place that’s the opposite of cozy, and certainly one-of-a-kind.

Fonthill Castle

© 2015 Stacy Rollins

Breakfast seemed to be made of concrete, as well, due to its high protein and fat content, the boon of egg dishes, and we weren’t hungry until a little before 5:00 pm. Jules Thin Crust on Main Street in Doylestown was the obvious dinner winner in the area according to Yelp and Evan’s gluten-free dining specificity. I think I spent around $6 for the two varieties of pre-made pizza I tried. They were okay, but we both loved “Kim’s Pie,” a chicken, portobello mushroom, caramelized onion, mozzarella and balsamic BBQ sauce concoction that Evan asked them to make fresh.

New Hope2 (1)

© 2015 Stacy Rollins

After that, I wanted to explore Doylestown some more because the magic hour was beginning to gild the trees and imbue the air with a sense of eternity. Evan had his cranky driver face on and was not seduced. We set the GPS for home, not realizing that New Hope was so easily accessed from the road we’d taken until we passed a sign indicating as much. I demanded that we turn around so we could take a stroll through town and I produced an argument for doing so that could not be gainsaid, especially by someone who holds a special fondness for the Delaware River and might even be inclined towards fleeting moments of nostalgia. We were able to park without a great deal of frustration right by the towpath, we supplied the parking meter with enough quarters to stay for an hour and twenty minutes, monitored our tarrying, checked in with the witch shops and art galleries we’d loved a decade ago that still remained, and watched the bikers coming and going in contrast with the lush plant life and quaint gardens glowing with lanterns and the setting sun.


© 2015 Stacy Rollins

Then it was all toll booths and tunnels. Although we reached our section of Park Slope by 8:10 pm, it took another 45 minutes to park. So that’s 36 hours. Minus the mead and Moroccan spice soaps I bought at the faire, the approximate cost of our jaunt was $300 minus per person, a bargain for the glimmering jewel of my whole summer.

Have you had any romantic weekends in spite of being on a budget? Tell us about it.

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