Hotels, Motels and a Wigwam

Anyone who has ever gone on any kind of trip away from home can tell you there is a little twinge of trepidation about where you will lay your head at night. Going home to see Mom and Dad? Will the bed of your youth be as comfortable as you remember? Headed off on a camping trip? Will the ground be as hard as a rock? Reservations at a swank, spa hotel? Will the bed be as comfortable as you expect?

No matter where you sleep, the goal is a good night’s rest. In every case, it’s the little things that make the difference.

When you’re on a road trip, spending the night in a different bed every night for two weeks, you are sure to face a night or two of questionable conditions.

One our Route 66 trip, we stayed in several classic motels along the Mother Road. We made reservations at three different chain hotels along the way, using points for one of the stays. We opted for a bed and breakfast at one stop and treated ourselves to a couple of upscale hotels, too. It was our way of mitigating the risk of having a bad night’s sleep every night.

It was a good thing to do. As expected, the upscale options were certainly the nicest accommodations. When it comes to comfy beds and soft sheets, you really do get what you pay for.

20170401_084202At Kimpton hotels in Beverly Hills and Chicago, the beds were just right, the pillows nestled our heads and the surroundings were clean, new and stylish. The mini bars were not just stocked, but offered incredible choices. The concierge from the Kimpton Palomar sent a note a week before our stay. The note said, “We want you to feel as comfortable as possible, so we invite you to send us one photo and we will have it framed and waiting in your room…“ It was a really nice, personal touch.

20170413_184208At the Kimpton Grey in Chicago, we were greeted by name by nearly every member of the staff we encountered. At one point, we even commented to each other that it everyone seemed incredibly friendly and helpful. The only problem with the Kimpton properties is there was no coffee in the room. Sure, you could go down in the lobby for free coffee in the morning, but in-room coffee options have become pretty standard across the hotel industry (and no one wants to see our just-out-of-bed hair-dos). Of course, the free mini-massages in the lobby during the free wine happy hour was a really nice perk.

From the LaFonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, we received an actual package…in the mail!

IMG_7821 It included a welcome letter and a book about Santa Fe so we could plan our visit. When we arrived the parking and check-in were a breeze. Our room was incredible … it even had a working fireplace! The balcony afforded us a stunning view of the nearby cathedral. We watched the sunset colors reflected off the cathedral dome in a light breeze.

The chain hotels were, for the most part, just what you would expect. The rooms were clean. The amenities were simple. The beds were comfortable. It was a safe bet we would get what we expected and we did – three good nights’ sleep, three free breakfasts.

The real wild card was the classic motels. Frankly, I was excited about the adventure of it more than I was worried about what I would find.

20170402_182338First was the Route 66 Motel in Barstow, California. The room was small, the pillows were flat, but the place was clean. The coffee maker provided a steaming cup of Joe in the morning that offset the fact that the shower ran out of hot water before I was rinsed. Greg had showered first, so at least one of us got a hot shower. The owner was a great, fun, chatty guy full of stories and information.

On night three, we checked into the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It is, by far, one of the most famous of the Route 66 motels simply because of its unique architecture. These teepee-shaped cabins were spacious and funky. The furnishings were highly-polished log furniture. It was fun even though Greg did have to get up in the middle of the night to fiddle with the heater to get it to turn on. The chair in the room was a bit saggy, but the bed wasn’t and the shower was surprisingly great. Hot coffee was available in the office.

IMG_7787The Sands Motel in Grants, New Mexico was a block off Route 66, but clearly still offered clean rooms at good prices judging by all the construction trucks in the parking lot. That’s a good sign, by the way. Workers who have to travel routinely often know the best options for a good night’s sleep on a budget. It was quiet, cozy and clean and the friendly dog in the office offered her belly for a scratch along with a welcoming tail wag as I checked in.

In Tucumcari, New Mexico. The Blue Swallow Motel is among Route 66’s most famous.  It’s neon lights brags of 100% refrigerated air for weary travelers who stop for the night. The original free-standing cabins were connected early-on in the motor court’s life with the addition of garages. Comfy chairs in front of each room offered the chance to enjoy the sunny late afternoon weather and chat with other motorists making their way along Route 66. Our two-room suite featured a clawfoot tub behind a screen, a very comfortable bed and a blissfully hot shower. The in-room fridge was a nice touch, but the working rotary dial phone was a stunning novelty. I called home just like I had done as a young girl.

IMG_8037The Route 66 Inn in Shamrock, Texas, wasn’t in any of the guidebooks we had read, but it got good marks on TripAdvisor and justifiably so. It offered clean rooms and hot showers, but the air conditioner was oddly placed high above the sink and required a chair to reach the controls.

The next stop was our B&B, The Rose Cottage in Baxter Springs, Kansas. We reserved a room in this historic midwestern, three-bedroom Victorian home in town. We were the only guests, so we had the whole house to ourselves. That was probably a good thing since every time we rolled over in bed, the old frame creaked and groaned. It was comfy, though, and our hostess, Jane, had left fresh, homemade cookies for a late-night snack and delicious apple-cinnamon muffins for breakfast.

In IMG_8141Lebanon, Missouri, we arrived at the Munger Moss Motel before dusk. The desk clerk was friendly, but clearly a heavy smoker as the office air was heavy with the odor of stale cigarettes. The room, however, was fresh and bright and lightly floral scented.
The furnishings were perfectly suited for a room in a Route 66 motel – mid-century modern. I remarked that they were either really good reproductions or must’ve been discovered tucked away in an unknown warehouse as they appeared new. IMG_8132

 

 

The bed was covered with a classic quilt and offered a delightfully restful night’s sleep. The only thing missing was the “Magic Fingers” box on the nightstand.

If you’re going to take a classic road trip, don’t cheat yourself out of the chance to stay in some of the historic motels that dot the roadways along your route. They are fun! The owners are usually in the office and always know the best places in town for dinner or breakfast. These little gems of Americana are a great way to remind yourself to slow down and enjoy the journey.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … but don’t forget, you have to sleep sometime, too.

O is for Orseolo

IMG_5967The best part of having your own plan to see the world is being able to make it fit your personal wishes. That was especially true of the “O” trip. Greg and I wanted to go somewhere romantic, European and hopefully Italian. Neither of us had ever been to Venice (well, to be fair, I spent a few hours there on a day trip once about 25 years ago), so we were looking to head to the “City of Bridges.”

IMG_5952It turns out one of the doges credited with founding the city was Pietro I Orseolo. In fact, there is a small section of the city named for him. So … “O is for Orseolo.”
To make it even more legit, we stayed at Locanda Orseolo, a fabulous boutique inn just a block and a half off St. Mark’s Square.

I knew that a trip to Venice at the end of February was a weather risk, but what the heck, you can’t make the weather, but you can adjust to it. So we packed rain stuff and enough to keep warm if it got a little cold and headed east.

We arrived in the rain … but found our hotel easily thanks to the picture perfect directions provided by the staff. What a gem of a hotel! It totally pays to do your research, read reviews and decide what you really want. We wanted small, close to the center of the city and very Venetian. We got exactly what we wanted!

Tired from travel and feeling a little jet lagged, we asked about a place close by to grab a quick, simple dinner and wandered a few tiny alleys, crossing over a couple of bridges to a small ristorante. WOW! Trust your hotel staff for their recommendations. We had incredible fresh seafood, perfect Italian wine and delightful ambiance.

IMG_6036Exhausted and full, we climbed the three flights of stairs to the Gianduja room and slept under a soft, fluffy comforter awaking to the forecast for another gray, rainy Venetian day. It was, indeed, gray, but the rain was holding off so we jumped onto a vaporetto (Venetian buses are boats!) and headed for the island of Murano to see how the famous glass is made and wander through the shops in search of a real Murano glass souvenir.

IMG_5722The glass museum posted notices that pictures are not permitted, but it’s worth a visit before you hit the shops. You learn about the island’s history and techniques used to produce the myriad of pieces you’ll see – everything from lamps and chandeliers to earrings and cufflinks. One shop sported an incredible selection of insects made of glass; another was brightly lit with ornate chandeliers. Snapping a few shots of the scenes and shopping left us craving lunch, so we stopped into a little restaurant and grabbed something to warm up after spending the morning walking around in the cool dampness of the day.

It was a quiet afternoon of wandering and sightseeing before a classically touristy dinner in a restaurant right on the main tourist street. Be aware – we ate at a place on the tourist street because we wanted to know just how “authentic” it was. After the previous night’s dinner, it was clear the “real Italian food” the man out front suggested we would get was much closer to Olive Garden or Chef Boyardee. We got exactly what we were looking for – campy, mediocre tourist food. The lesson here is: go off the beaten track. Find a place with a bit of a crowd speaking the local language. That’s where the good food is!

IMG_5779We’d scheduled a food tour for Monday mid-day and met Francesca at one of the dozens of churches in the center of Venice along with the other three people who would be taking the tour with us. We met a pair of sisters from England and a single mom from Berkeley, California and headed out to learn about Venice, Italian wines and something called ciccheti (the Italian word for tapas).  What fun! The sun flirted with us and the rain held off as we weaved our way through passageways to four different bars to try the flavors of Venice. IMG_5766We wandered past the fruit and vegetable market and marveled at the huge purple artichokes and pink cabbage. The tour was over too soon. We decided to continue on our own, discovering more hidden treasures in a city known for its challenging layout.

Tuesday we took a side trip to Florence, which left Wednesday for us to see and do everything we had missed earlier. We declared a photo day and headed out to see what incredible views we could find as the sun blazed brightly for the first time during our visit.

We snapped pics of little churches on hidden piazzas, gondolas gliding along the canals, architectural oddities and sights familiar to anyone who’s ever seen images of the famous Venetian landmarks. We grabbed a pizza in a little pizzeria tucked into an alley in the “artists” section of the city. IMG_5832We snapped a shot of a father and his daughter walking near a church. We found the scene depicted in a painting we have in our home and tried to recreate it in a photograph.

Thursday came all-to-soon and we packed our belongings and made our way back to the airport (once again in the rain) for the flight home.IMG_5970

Venice lives up to its reputation as a charming, romantic city with great food and a fascinating culture unique to a city with no roads, just waterways. If you get a chance, this is one of those places you should try to see. Despite its fame, you can still soak up the culture without being assaulted by “tourist traps,” although there are places that define the phrase.IMG_5808

So what are you waiting for? Book a flight, pack your bags and go! Even if it’s not Venice, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored.

Pied-à-Terre

Literally, pied-à-terre is French for “a foot on the ground,” but Wikipedia says the phrase implies usage as a temporary second residence (but not a vacation home), either for part of the year or part of the work week, by a reasonably wealthy person.IMG_6146

I’d love to say I am “reasonably” wealthy, but my husband and I are just a typical professional couple doing our jobs and living for our next trip to anywhere. So when we finally bought a home together, we decided to think of it as a pied-à-terre. It’s where we live while we save up and plan our next getaway.

IMG_6149Of course, our home is where we live MOST of the time. It’s where we spend the work weeks and every weekend we can’t get away to somewhere. So it really is a permanent home, not a temporary second residence. That said, walking around it, we hope our visitors get a sense of our desire to see the world. We decorated it with maps and globes and compass roses that evoke travel.

IMG_6147The walls are canvases where we showcase images we have captured on our vacations. The food we serve to our guests gives an insight into the flavors we’ve discovered in hidden corners of cities and towns across the globe.

Like many homes we’ve seen in other countries, we decided ours should have more than an address so we named it “Contrail’s End.” The name, carefully chosen, speaks to our love of flying and the place where we are when we land. To us, it says “home.”

We are always learning and exploring wherever we are. That includes our hometown. Just last week we learned that a new poll says ours is the “Best Downtown in America” and we agree. IMG_4706Not only is our town walkable, there is so much to see and do. It’s full of interesting architecture, museums, restaurants, bars, shops and more. Not only that, but our little neighborhood is like the neighborhoods of my youth. Young couples hang out and chat while their children play on the cul-de-sacs. Slightly older kids ride their bikes and scooters along the paths that encircle the neighborhood, winding their way to a huge city park nearby. Friends and strangers smile and exchange hellos as they wander those same pathways, some with dogs happily trotting along.

It’s all a lesson. Live where you want to be. Find a place to call home, but use it as a jumping off point to see the world. There’s a great big world out there just waiting to be explored.

Diversion: Take the Upgrade

What do you do with an extra week of vacation? I recently reached a milestone work anniversary and now earn an extra week of vacation every year. Greg is a few years behind me, so that leaves me with a week to use that he doesn’t have. The trouble is, I really prefer traveling with him. In fact, since we’ve been together, I just don’t even want to travel alone anymore like I used to because Greg is so much fun. So when I found out he had to go to New Orleans for a week for a conference, why not spend that extra week in the Big Easy? While he’s listening to keynotes and participating in plenaries, I can spend a week exploring the sights, sounds and flavors of the town.  At night, I can even swing a couple of dinners at a jazz club with my husband instead of staying home alone.

Why am I telling you this? Well … sometimes a trip like this deserves an upgrade. Looking forward to a whole week of relaxation and fun, why not spend the cost of a nice meal to give yourself a treat? I mean, who among us hasn’t walked onto a flight envying those comfy, beverage-wielding passengers looking all relaxed and polished in their front-of-the-plane seats while we shuffle back to coach to cram into a seat that leaves us shoulder to shoulder with our seat mates? As we checked in online for our flight, the airline offered a First Class upgrade for just $90.  We had to spend $25 each anyway to check a bag, so the upgrade was really only going to cost $65 because it included those checked bags.

I could hear my dad’s voice in my head. When I was young, he always used to joke, “It only costs a nickle more to go first class.” For the cost of a decent pair of shoes, we could enjoy a complimentary breakfast served on china, drinks in glass, loads of leg room, and bags checked with priority delivery when we landed. For a three-hour ride, the leg room alone might be worth it. We got to the airport the next morning, cruised onto the flight with the first boarding group and ordered a pre-flight drink. This vacation (well, a vacation for me anyway) was starting out with a little bit of extravagance.

Sometimes we all deserve a little treat …especially when heading off to check out some new destination.

After all … there’s a whole world world out there just waiting to be explored, why not go see it in style?

H is for Hindustan?

Taj Mahal - Me and Mom

OK, I admit it … H is for Hindustan is a bit of a stretch, but my mom was living in India and how could I pass up a chance to travel there? The trouble is, I was only on H … and she wouldn’t be there by the time I got to “I” so … H is for Hindustan.

First let me say that long flights in coach can be miserable or not, depending on if you do it right. Now, here’s the trick: Flying is dehydrating. What’s a great way to re-hydrate (besides the obvious “drink more water”)? A SHOWER! I lucked out and found a way to have a 4 hour layover in Amsterdam. Schipol Airport in one of the nicest on Earth! I paid a fee and got access to the first class lounge. It offers free drinks and snacks and a sparkling clean, all-amenities-provided shower.
First Class Lounge - Schipol

OK, back to the trip. Mom lived in Mumbai and had arranged to take some time off so we could be tourists for a few days. India is startlingly different than anywhere I had been before. I wanted to try to blend a little, so the first stop was to a tailor shop mom used to get a couple of salwars … the loose pants and long tunic-like shirtdress with a matching scarf. Dressing like a native and being polite really does make a difference!
Me at the water palace

Then, we were off to see India’s treasures
Fatehpur Sikri – It’s an ancient city that served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585. Just seeing these ornately carved fortifications is an adventure.
Fatepuhr Sikri 3

Agra – of course, there’s not a chance I was going to go to India and not see the Taj Mahal … AT SUNRISE!

Taj Mahal - reflection

Jaipur – the pink city. It really is mostly pink.

Jaipur - detail of summer gate                                              Jaipur - Wind Palace 2

and the food … oh, the delicious food

Crawford Market - Veggies    Crawford Market - Spice Shop 1   Crawford Market - more fruit

All I can say is find a way to go to India once in your life. There is so much to see that will stun and amaze you.

To Pack or Not to Pack

By Judy:
Several of you have asked for more details about not packing and taking an empty suitcase. Here’s what we did: First, you have to know that when I was younger I lived in Germany and Italy so I know a little about shopping in Europe and I appreciate how the clothes there fit my body. That said, I usually plan to buy clothes and shoes in Europe anyway. In this case, we talked about that idea and decided that carrying nothing on the plane (well, except my purse) would be a great way to move about unencumbered. We packed our own U.S. underwear. I have a theory that once you find the knickers that fit, stick with them. We also took jeans. There’s no way you’re going to get a good deal on Levi’s, Lee or Wranglers overseas! Finally, we packed a change of shirt so we would have something to change into the first day. (There’s nothing worse than a day-old, funky, I’ve-been-traveling-all-night shirt).

Since we arrived rather late on the first day, we showered off the travel funk and put on our clean shirts for dinner, then wandered around Krakow a bit just to stretch our legs and get acclimated. Our first full day meant re-wearing that shirt from the night before, but it was still clean (just don’t spill dinner on it). After some morning sightseeing, we popped over to the local shopping area and ended up in an actual mall. The goal was to get at least two changes of clothes each here and see how that got us through, then possibly buy more clothes when we got to Germany.

Remember versatility is key. Buy clothes that are all mix and match … as if you were packing for a trip since you are, after all, ON a trip. Two sweaters for me and a couple of t’s for underneath, we got two sweaters for Greg, too. Heavy gloves and hats for the cold weather were also on the list. That’s good for the time being.

In Germany, where I am much more familiar with my options, I snagged two pair of pants, three skirts and three pair of shoes. Greg picked up two pair of pants, a fabulous, useful-for-anywhere blazer, and some t’s. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it was more than enough to get us through the rest of the trip and, in the end, nicely fill the extra suitcase without overfilling it.

Here’s where we ended up: The big suitcase was comfortably packed (not FULL), the two carry-on size bags were each comfortably packed so we could carry one on the flight home, if need be. We mailed a few small boxes home with Christmas gifts. It’s worth pointing out that the big suitcase also carried a pretty good-sized pile of toys for the grandkids.

It was a great, EASY way to get around, although if I had it to do over again I might go backwards so that the train trips at the end didn’t involve three suitcases, rather the two we started out with. The fabulous Lufthansa clerk at check-in on the way home, offered to check our third bag for free since the flight was full and there would be limited space for carry-ons. Score one for us! That was a great option!!

We’ve already decided packing super light is the way to go and will try other options in the future. Stay tuned.