Thursday, January 12, 2012

The post where I reminisce about dodgy hotel rooms I've known...

This blog post got me happily reminiscing this week. Not only thinking about what a brilliant and insightful writer Witold Rybczynksi is (I love his book Home, about the history of the concept of home) and how he doesn't update his blog often enough, but about the topic of this post. He writes very aptly about how for him the most memorable hotels he's ever stayed in are the dodgy ones.

The Philippines: with this kind of scenery who cares about the hotel
Goes for me, too. When I think back about memorable trips, it's always the adventures of roughing it that come more quickly to mind: a tiny mint green room in Manila that had geckos crawling all over the walls, a single fluorescent light, and a wobbly ceiling fan which kept me awake, worrying it would pop off its attachment and come slicing down onto my face in the middle of the night. Needless to say I didn't sleep well.

Once in Costa Rica, I stayed in this hotel suite that looked like some super swanky 70s Vegas lounge singer had designed it and then dropped dead so not a single thing had changed in 35 years. It was top of the line (in its heyday), smoky mirrors, shaggy brown carpeting, macrames of sunsets on the walls, but utterly frozen in time, like an apocalypse had taken the singer and his entire family in one instant. It was a three bedroom suite (I was staying with two friends) with almost no windows (even the view of the pool was totally blocked out) and each night we'd change rooms just so we had a chance to take in as much of the 70s vibe as we could while we were there, comparing detailed notes about the subtleties of that groovy style.  Why were browns, rusts and oranges (and BULKY and HEAVY furniture) so de rigueur in that decade?

Beehive of backpackers, watchmakers, sari exporters and camera shoppes
For years when I was younger, I'd stay in Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong, this amazing maze of tiny backpackers hostels in this massive beehive of a building along Nathan Road in Kowloon. The rooms would often be literally 4 feet wide by 6 feet long, just wide enough to get in a small bed and absolutely nothing else except a tiny TV crammed into a corner above the bed. You'd slide your backpack under the bed or on a shelf above it, and literally, once you were in your room, you were in your bed. Once you stayed there, you never forgot it. But it was fun: I'd meet other backpackers from all over the world and always end up doing something exciting and even slightly dangerous...

The only "nice" room that really stands out is a room I splurged and paid for after roughing it in NE China for two weeks (train traveling with friends, etc.). I was so sick of boiling water for noodles and drinking lukewarm tea. Once we arrived in Dalian, I booked a room in the nicest hotel in town (at the time, I think it was a Marriott back in those days) and just reveled in the thick terrycloth bathtub, room service (with real Western dishes), a bathtub and HBO. I literally didn't leave the room for three days.

Rybczynski's travels are much more exotic than mine but his post gave me a short few moments of happy memories this week in the thick of the January rush. Things coming together and sometimes it's good to not think about books for a few hours!

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