Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hotel hunger

San Francisco

Recently, a friend was asking around about hotel recommendations for the area where she was going for a short getaway. One of her specifications - "Must be luxury" - got me thinking.

I love staying in hotels, and I'm not picky about the star ratings. Sure, luxury is nice (although where luxury is concerned, I speak from very limited experience) but for me, there is so much more to the hotel experience than how fancy it is.

Our most recent little jaunt up the Californian coast confirmed this. We stayed at a Best Western with two queen-sized beds for the four of us - in other words, modest quarters - but the shower was the best one I'd had in years. The circumference of the shower spray was wide and enveloped my whole body with the perfect water pressure. Never underestimate the simple joy of a great shower.

And hotel beds. I love hotel beds. Sliding into crisp sheets, pillows that always seem to be fluffed up perfectly, and surrendering to sleep on a firm mattress (I prefer firm to soft). If only my own bed could live up to these standards, night after night... but I'm far too lazy to be changing sheets every day.

Over the years, I've stayed in wide range of hotels, but most of them have been of the average garden variety. Comfortable enough, not too frilly, not too posh. The fanciest hotel I've ever stayed at was in Barcelona, on our honeymoon - when we could justify that sort of cost - and it was dizzyingly wonderful. It was a stark contrast to my previous accommodation experiences around Europe. The bulk of my travel back then was done solo and on a shoe-string budget, so backpacker hostels were essential. I had some great times in those cities but I can honestly say I'm happy that I no longer have to consider sleeping in a mixed dorm with twenty other people - especially like the time I was in Munich, and most my 'room mates' had been downing steins of lager all night long at the HofbrÀuhaus. You can imagine what that does for one's snoring.

I suppose that kind of accommodation is one I won't be embracing anymore, but generally I'm more than okay with basic hotels, even hostels. When J and I visited Gothenburg, we stayed in a hostel but it was the most civilised hostel ever, with young families also staying there. It inspired us so much that we hope to go back - kids in tow - to that corner of the world one day, knowing that we won't need to spend a fortune on accommodation for the four of us when such nice hostels are the norm. Our trip to Encinitas, two summers ago, was spent in a three-star hotel on a main road, and we had a brilliant little holiday. Okay, so we only really used our room as a base for sleeping, while we went out all day, but nonetheless I got a kick out of watching the Faery's excitement as she explored the room.

Hotels, to me, represent freedom and possibilities. Adventure.

Sometimes the adventure is food-related. Should we splurge on room service? Gorge ourselves silly on the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet? Pocket more 'snacks' to keep in our bag for later? Or head out and eat at one of the local places?

Mostly though, it's the unknown of a new city, especially if it was a night-time arrival. Waking up in the morning, blinking in sunshine from a different angle, and knowing there's a whole new bunch of spaces waiting for you to see. Virgin exploration. I love it.

First impressions, too. I remember stepping out of our hostel in Vancouver and inhaling lungfuls of cold, pine-scented mountain air. Before that first morning, I'd had no idea that a city could smell so damn good. Like Vancouver, Los Angeles was also an evening arrival. When we stepped out from the hotel the next morning, and my head swivelled north, I was immediately in awe of the nearby Verdugo Mountains - they seemed so close! Another city, another feature I'd had no idea about.

If it's an afternoon check-in, once we've seen our room and dumped our bags, it's just a question of how long until we head outside and start walking, exploring. J has usually wants to relax for a bit before venturing out - especially if our journey there has been epic - but I tend to receive a hit of adrenaline that won't settle for hotel-chilling until I've been for a walk and acquainted myself with the surroundings. New sights, new smells, new sounds, new food... this is what I hunger for.

Some friends from Australia recently moved to Seattle, and we've been tossing about the idea of a trip up north this year. It's extra tempting because Portland - home to some other close friends - is only three hours south of Seattle. Although I'm generally not a fan of cold weather, I do love the Pacific Northwest. It's the pine-scented air. We've been to Seattle before but that was over ten years ago and I'm keen to revisit. If we go, we'll be staying in a completely different area and you know what that means: more exploring. Nothing is planned, and the trip may not happen, but if I allow myself to think about the new places to discover (not to mention the prospect of decent coffee), a tingle of anticipation begins to build.

Luxury accommodation definitely won't be an option but that would be wasted on small kids anyway. Besides, I happen to love the little travel companions we have now. With them, new places are still an adventure - just in a slightly different sense.

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This post was a combination of what's been in my head lately, and the writing prompt "Explore", from MamaKatsLosinIt.

Click here for more prompts


  1. A good post it was too!

    Something else we have in common is the desire to immediately get out and acquaint ourselves with the new surroundings. You've been to some pretty amazing places by the sound of it.

    I have limited experience of hotels really. The most expensive one was a honeymoon night stay. Otherwise, my tastes are fairly basic and funnily enough, quite similar to yours. =)

    Agreed that a good shower is truly memorable. One place we stayed at in Hawaii (and it was only an average kind of joint) had the best damn shower I've ever used. I stood under it for ages.

    Come to think of it, the shower in the honeymoon hotel wasn't anywhere near as good. Not what you'd expect, huh?

    1. It's funny how memorable a really good shower can be, isn't it? Aside from some great hotel showers, I'll also never forget my first shower after giving birth - both times. Best shower(s) ever!

      Good showers and clean bed sheets = two of my favourite things in life. That would explain part of my love affair with hotels.

      I've yet to see Hawaii - lucky you! Hopefully we'll manage it sooner than later, with one of our cross-Pacific trips :)

  2. I sooo got your comment about a good shower (and shower head). All my adult life I have lived in old houses. By choice, but we have never had the money to really redo any of the bathrooms. I LOVE when I travel and get to experience a nice hot, full spray shower. Heck I love it at the county department Aquatics Center after a swim.

    1. I've lived in my fair share of old homes too, believe me! I know exactly what you mean.

      Thanks for stopping by! :)

  3. We are budget travelers too :). There's a Best Western in our favorite ski town (2 hours' drive from Seattle -- our home!) that is no-frills, but it's got the most wonderful showers to warm you up after a day on a cold mountain.

    Portland's a favorite city of ours to visit -- and there's always something new to discover if you go looking. We're counting on making it a more regular road trip destination for family getaways in the nearer future, when flying will be less convenient with a lap child.

    Glad to have found your blog!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad to have found yours, too.

      We visited our friends in Portland back in 2010, and fell in love with the city - it could not be more different from LA! Been dying to go back ever since, and I'm looking very forward to possibly exploring more of the NW this year.

  4. What an enjoyable post to read! I, too, love to explore and see new sights, eat new foods. With my husband in the military, we can explore and have great accommodation most anywhere in the world. On post or base housing is one of the great perks of military life. You definitely need to visit Seattle. You won't be disappointed.

    1. Thanks, Carol! Things are looking as though we may be heading to Seattle for a visit within the next few months. Looking forward to it :)

  5. Madeleine, you are seriously itching my traveling spot with your descriptions of places you stayed! I have been in hostels, but that doesn't mix well with being a light sleeper. Also, I am more a camping in a tent gal - been camping since I was 12. It is a lot to carry, but so much fun to live without walls! I even camped a week in the rain with a friend. We saw every coffee shop and cafe in town :-)

    1. I envy people who enjoy camping. I'm not exactly a princess, but I do like some of my creature comforts (ie bathrooms and flushing toilets!) a little too much to ever fully get into the swing of the great outdoors. It's been a long time, though, so maybe I need to give it another shot ;)