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11.20.07: Hotel Congress Hall, I Do!

Unless you knew better, the words "Jersey Shore" could conjure up little more than that decrepit, down on it's luck Sin City of the East, Atlantic City, or some version of the Turnpike as a coastal byway.

But you should know better. The Jersey Shore actually keeps a number of delicious little secrets to itself, one of these being the uber-Victorian sea resort of Cape May. If you enjoy a painted lady in the way that I do, this place is primo. Now, much unlike the painted ladies one might find up the coast lounging in front of one of Trump's boarded up investments, these painted ladies exude the charm and leisure that can only come from the bygone well-to-do. Gingerbread trim ornamenting wrap around porches that never end, towering gables and turrets all painted in eye-popping contrasts. If these are the painted ladies, their sophisticated older sisters are the inns. Ranging from quaint b&b's to turn of the century behemouth hotels with their rambling verandas manned by fleets of rocking chairs facing the ocean--Cape May wants you to come and stay a while.

And of course, there is the beach. Cape May diamonds, the fool's quartz of this stretch of shore, can be searched for and found along the beach in a small cove guarded by the rusting wreck of a WW2 vessel misguidedly manufactured out of...concrete? Yes, it was one of a small number of these ships made at the time. Surprisingly, it capsized just minutes of its maiden launch. The long stretch of vacationers beach is not the most pristine Atlantic coastline, but it will do.

I had a table-sized bowl of clam chowder at the Blue Pig in the Congress Hall Hotel and came back later that night for (several of) their berry mojitos. There was a lovely wedding in this grandest of the grand old hotels, and the Catholic priest who officiated smoked cigarettes and swore like a sailor. J and I watched surfers in the nor'easter sized waves, slept aloft in an almost seaside third floor gable and felt the beds actually move a few inches in the middle of the night as the winds really picked up, giggled nervously at a ghostly rocking chair on the porch (so still in the strongest gusts) on a late night walk home down the beach from beers at the Ugly Mug, and took back roads almost the whole way home in a Mustang with the top down.

Driving through a little town a few minutes from the Delaware line, we passed a little store that sold outdoor gear. An employee was outside putting letters into the new message on their roadside sign. He'd gotten as far as "STAY." Now, I'm sure it was going to say something like "STAY WARM" or "STAY DRY" with whatever their sale product du jour was, but it was unrepentantly trite and perfect. So I liked it.

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