Elegant Shelter: Hotel Memories

English: Banff Springs Hotel Deutsch: Das Fair...The Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada.
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this recent piece in The New York Times travel section of hotel memories. Here’s a snippet:

“… In hotels, secular miracles are routinely made to occur. The quotidian extravagances (costly, it’s true) built into life at a decent hotel are not likely part of most people’s daily existence. We dutifully make our beds and wash our dishes and clean our own tubs.

In hotels, however, we are only temporary citizens. And while I tip religiously and make efforts to leave my room in a decent state of order, I know that the smudge on the wall, the faulty plumbing, the nuisance of ownership belong to someone else. I bring my own baggage but leave the usual problems behind. At a hotel, the messy remnants of dinner can be guiltlessly pushed into a corridor.”

The essay is long and lively, with specific reminiscences of a life often spent in rooms far away from home.

It made me think of the many hotels I’ve visited. Here are some of my own favorites:

The Admiral’s Inn, English Bay, Antigua. How to forget the night, when I was perhaps seven or eight, I awoke to an odd flickering outside our second-floor windows? Fire! I woke up my mother to discover a sofa on the veranda below was alight. I returned to the hotel 20+ years later, still an elegant respite. Built in 1788, it offers historic intimate elegance, my favorite combination in a hotel.

– The Ritz, Paris. I wish! The closest I’ve gotten to staying there, and it was extraordinarily lovely, was their dark, cozy bar where Jose and I ate mini hamburgers and drank costly cocktails and watched very wealthy, languid young guests taking it all for granted. A black, round cocktail napkin, the name in gold, is framed in our kitchen as a happy souvenir of a fun evening.

— The Four Seasons, Toronto. This was the very first of what would become a legendary world-spanning chain of hotels, then founder Issy Sharp’s radical, bold move to taking a motel on a seedy Toronto street and transforming it into an urban oasis. I had my 10th. birthday party at the pool there. Heaven!

The Taos Inn, Taos, NM. This funky place is in one of my favorite towns. Founded in 1936, the hotel has small rooms with lots of character around a lovely central courtyard.

The Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta. I spent one of the happiest weeks ever here, in March 2011, alone. This gorgeous property, built in 1888 and nestled in the Rockies, blends history, warmth, style and elegance. I can’t wait to go back.

The Sylvia, Vancouver. It celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012. Named for the daughter of the man who developed the Sylvia, the hotel, for a while, was used as residential housing — and my paternal grandmother lived there for a while. Right on the beach, with simple, bright rooms, it’s an affordable place to settle in with views of mountains and the ocean. I’ve stayed twice and loved it both times.

I’ve stayed at The Algonquin, built in 1902 on West 44th St. in New York City, a few times; another of a great hotel’s charms is its consistency. The Algonquin (shriek) is about to undergo a four-month renovation…and what on earth will its new corporate owners do to it? It’s already been renovated within the past decade and there are traditionalists like me and many others who choose a hotel because we like it the way it is. Mess with our memories and expectations at your peril!

Do you have a favorite hotel (and story?)

Where In The World Have You Been?

North America - Satellite image - PlanetObserver

And yet, despite my loathing of turbulence, I live to travel.

This calendar year, so far, I’ve been to Victoria, Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C., Banff, Alberta, Toronto, D.C., Minneapolis, Peterborough (Ontario) and Chicago. In January I’ll be in Tucson and thereabouts for two weeks (while my husband teaches a photo workshop there), then go to New Orleans on the 25th to speak at a retailers’ conference.

Spoiled by years of international — i.e. off the North American continent — travel, I still have a huge jones to go somewhere, soon, they don’t speak English as a first language.

I’ve been, so far, to 37 countries, from Fiji to Turkey, Thailand to New Zealand. In 1982, I won an eight-month journalism fellowship that required (heaven!) funded solo travel on 10-day reporting trips all over Europe. I went to Denmark, England and Sicily and did an eight-day trip in a truck from Perpignan to Istanbul with a French trucker who spoke not a word of English.

Some favorites, so far, include:

the Coromandel coast of New Zealand



Corsica (nice piece in a recent New York Times travel section; here’s my fun piece about it from The Wall Street Journal)

Mexico — Oaxaca, Cuernavaca, Patzcuaro, Acapulco, Taxco, Merida, Queretaro

Ko Phi Phi and Mae Hong Son, Thailand


Savannah, Georgia

The Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta.

High on the list of places I’m eager to visit:

Argentina, Morocco, Laos, Berlin, northern Brazil, the Hebrides, Jordan, Lebanon, Mongolia. And repeat visits to Paris, London, Italy, Corsica and many others…

Where are you dying to go, and why?

What have been your favorite trips, and why?

Here’s a gorgeous blog written by a woman as enamored of world travel (and a fellow New Yorker) as I.

My Vacation — At -38 Degrees

Banff Springs Hotel, October 1929, Banff Libra...
Here it is, from a photo taken in 1929, a year after the Banff Springs Hotel was renovated. Heaven on earth! Image via Wikipedia

Not many people are eager for a vacation involving ice, snow and air so cold it hurts to breathe. Your breath freezes onto your scarf, leaving a shelf of rime. Your moist nostril hairs lock together and, as your body warmth condenses and freezes inside the lenses, your eyeglasses are useless.

But so worth it!

I’m in Banff, Alberta for another two days, a week in all, and it will be heart-wrenching to leave behind such spectacular beauty. I wake up every morning, in my little 8th. floor aerie, and peer out at the snow-capped peaks, painted pink with the dawn’s light or flirting through mist and snow squalls.

Why Banff? I’m Canadian, so it’s been part of my fantasies and visual vocabulary for years, although popular with Europeans as I hear British and Irish, French and Spanish and German accents all over town.

My father even made a film here, for Walt Disney, called “King of the Grizzlies.” Although I didn’t join him on location,  he told me how to wrangle a grizzly — jelly doughnuts (held out to entice him forward) and low-voltage wiring (to keep him on the path.)

I’ve settled into an astonishing place, built in 1888 and renovated in 1928, The Banff Springs Hotel, and have reveled in its combination of elegance, history, luxury and warmth. Tea is taken in a room whose wall of windows faces a valley. A heated pool outdoors shoots plumes of steam into the frigid air. Stained glass windows overlook a curling rink.

I feel like Eloise of the Rockies! (If you have never read the Eloise books, about Eloise, a six–year-old girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York with her nanny, her dog Weenie and her turtle, Skipperdee, they are a delight. Inspiring, too.)

The hotel is so large they hand you a map to help you locate your room, and their many amenities, from a bowling alley to the spa to the sushi restaurant to the pub in the woods. I’ve been working on a photo project involving one small, beloved white stuffed bear I’ve had forever, posing him throughout its rooms and halls; I’m calling it The Unregistered Guest.

And every day brings the distinctive clomp-clomp-clomp of skiiers trudging the hallways in their ski boots.

Today’s balmy — only -8 (Celsuis.) Off to go dog-sledding!