I once slept in a hostel type of place at the top of the highest mountain in Germany, the Zug Spitz. Sounds kind of impressive, I know, but the truth is that Germany is pretty flat and its highest mountain isn’t so very high at all. Still, it took 12 hours of not too easy work to get up it all. We started at 5am, in the dark, so as to be sure not to have to finish in the dark. The last 2 hours, meaning 10 hours into the climb, were a via ferrata. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, as I was before that day, it means iron way in Italian and refers to paths that have been built into especially treacherous stretches of mountains to make passage possible. Historically they were for military use, now us tourists do them for fun. You have to wear a harness with a bungee cord to clip into a series of wires laid out in places where falling would be simple and awful. Sometimes there’s an ancient, rusting ladder to help, or the odd metal rod in exactly the right place. It’s terrifying and highly recommended.
At the end of this day I was beat. Beat isn’t strong enough. I was in a stupor of exhaustion, knowing I needed to figure out how to eat and sleep and feeling like the logistics of those needs was almost more than I could bear.
The strange thing about the highest mountain in Germany, though, as I discovered that day, is that it’s also home to the highest beer garden in Germany. Which means that the peak that I had spent this epic day struggling my way to the top of, others had taken a little gondola ride up to. And now here we were, together, having a meal in the same restaurant, me afraid that a beer would lapse me into an unrecoverable stupor, them here mainly for the novelty of a high altitude beer, or two, or whatever the night might bring.
I suppose some version of this happens everyday at our little hotel. Maybe you fly in for a meeting, with the stressors and struggles of work on your shoulders, only to find yourself sharing the breakfast room with a gleeful family reunion, for example. The contrast, that night, for me, was jarring. Maybe sometimes it is for you too. In retrospect, though, I guess it’s nice that there’re different paths to the same place.
The eeriest hotel experience I’ve had was in Seattle. I was with a large group and we were staying for a week and we found a place that offered apartment style living. Not unlike the bungalows at our very own Grand Hotel, we thought, and how nice to have the option of cooking, especially when you’ve been on the road for a while, as we had. The photos on the internet looked cozy and inviting and we expected the week’s accommodations to be a kind of oasis.
When we arrived, unfamiliar with Seattle, we found our little hotel to be right on the border of something called Pill Hill, which, turns out to be the neighborhood where all the hospitals are. And this nice establishment that offered short to long term fully furnished apartment stays at reasonable prices turned out to almost exclusively serve patients on transplant waitlists and their families. We learned this on our first day, on meeting a woman from Iowa, or maybe Idaho, who sat smoking out front as her father waited upstairs for a new lung. She was turned out to be a constant fixture, sometimes sitting, sometimes pacing, always wanting to talk. Others we met more slowly, as the week wore on, in the elevator or the parking lot. All these people biding their time, trudging the burden of illness around to the sights of Seattle.
Perhaps all of this would have felt different if the apartments hadn’t been so severely miserable. I will remember that lumpy, springy bed as the worst I’ve ever slept on in my life. The blankets were shamefully thin and even torn, which I have never seen in any other hotel in my life. The rugs were stained. The hot water was scant. The living room furniture was ravaged and, in some cases, broken outright. Thinking of being ill in one of those beds is nearly unbearable to me, and yet those apartments were full of people stuck in exactly that position.
I guess these are the weeks of praising, again and again, our delicious beds. Really, though, the most important thing a hotel can do is to give a traveler a comfortable place to sleep. It seems so simple.
I stayed one night, one time at an exquisite bed and breakfast in the French Alps. It wasn’t grand, this place, more like minutely elegant. Everything was in a kind of ancient order of simple perfection. There were only a very few rooms and so just a few other guests, all either French or British, and all very carefully and expensively dressed. The night we arrived, we were just in time for dinner and were served six courses of the kind of food I had previously only seen in magazines. I was careful not to touch a piece of silverware, a glass or even a napkin until my companion touched his, having absolutely no idea what to do with that much cutlery.
The room, when I finally got to explore it, was like a bedroom from one of the Victorian novels I love so much. Cloth wallpaper, antique furniture. And just in front of the bed, where you normally find a television, was a window that opened out to the Alps. It was a dream, an excursion into a whole other stratosphere of wealth and comfort. Until I went to bed. Turns out the queen size bed was a fake, it was actually just two double beds shoved together, meaning there was a gap in the center. To make matters worse, the fitted sheet trying to breach the gap couldn’t handle the job and so I ended up sleeping on a bare mattress. And, on top of all of that, the beautiful lace comforter was nowhere near warm enough. My one night, then, in the most precious place I’ll likely ever stay in my life was mostly spent awake, cold and not so very comfortable.
Here at this little hotel we do not offer views of the Alps out of our bedroom windows. Our food is laid out buffet style in the morning, and then again in the evening. Your fellow guests will just as likely be wandering around in sweatpants and flip-flops. But our beds are insanely comfortable with plush pillow top mattresses, too many pillows and luxurious down comforters. There’s really no comparison.
The best hotel bathroom experience that I ever had was in Bankok. Pure bliss, I tell you, in its cool whiteness. It’s tiles were so perfect and clean, its water so plentifully hot. This, as you can maybe tell, is a story about relativity. The previous three weeks had been spent in a tiny hut on the beach of a tiny island. Super idyllic, almost tritely romantic. I was very young and it was my first chance to experience the extreme simplicity of actual human necessity. The bathroom, however, was the biggest test of my dependence on suburban luxury. It consisted of a concrete floor, a squat toilet and a hose that ran only cold and served the double function of shower and toilet flusher. I had to give myself a pep talk every single time I went in there.
This beautiful memory of the Bankok bathroom, then, is actually the memory of a Motel 6 kind of a bathroom. All the basics were represented, period. The lights were harsh fluorescents and there wasn’t even soap. But there was toilet paper! And there was the comfort and security of warm water. Most wonderful of all, though, was the gentle ease of taking a seat again.
Imagine what I would have done if that Bankok bathroom had been like one of ours here at this hotel. I may have fallen into a state of shock. A bathtub with jets after three weeks of cold hose-water? That seems like too much for the nervous system to process. I may have just stayed, on accident, unable to get past the pleasure.
You, though, we trust to appreciate the work we’ve put into making our bathrooms a kind of luxurious respite from the world, and then move on. A nice bathroom is a great place to be, and ours are very nice indeed, but please remember to leave each morning and go to your job.
The last time I was in Germany, I stayed at a hotel with a sauna, steam room and pool on its basement floor. Amazing, right? I was with a large group and we took full advantage of it, some of us preferring to go first thing in the morning, others of us liking it better just before bed, and a few of us thinking twice a day was the obvious choice. There was one complication, though. No one could quite decide if we should be wearing bathing suits or not. Germans don’t wear them, or, at least, the German men who were in there on our first trip down were not. We, then, were the prudish, clothed Americans. Next time, in an attempt to fit in, we eschewed them, only to find soaking herself an elderly German woman in a full-coverage one-piece. Yikes!
This is, of course, a story about Americans in Germany and not a story about Germans and their opinions about our spa choices. The Germans, ultimately, do not care whether we wear bathing suits or not. For us Americans, though, nudity is not a neutral subject. Mine was not a shy group, and yet we couldn’t get a grasp on the social convention around nakedness in a co-ed hotel spa and so nothing we did felt totally comfortable. Ambiguity is one of the exciting parts of travel, but relaxing it is not, which is too bad when you’re hanging out in a sauna.
Thank goodness for the simplicity of this hotel of ours. Our pool and hot tub are outdoors. You must wear a bathing suit. And in that bathing suit it’s possible to relax completely, knowing for sure that the facilities are there for your enjoyment and you are enjoying them in exactly the way you are meant to.
This year, rather than making resolutions, I’ve decided to take a couple of actions. That is, I’ve made a couple of changes to bring with me into the new year. Doing this feels better than making the standard long-term promise to myself that’s inevitably based on some kind of guilty comfort that I wish I were big enough to give up. Every January becomes some kind of exercise in self-torture, impatiently waiting until enough time has passed for me to believe that whatever this uncomfortable new behavior, I could keep it if I wanted to. This time around I decided that I was not going in for all that. Still, it’s a new year and it does feel like an opportunity, so I decided to add a couple of fun new things into my life. It feels like I’m enriching rather than starving myself and I feel excited, actually.
I’m telling you all about this because, I’m sorry to say, I’m assuming that a lot of you are following the old model. I’m guessing that you’re now just about two weeks into some unpleasant diet. Maybe you haven’t had a drink since your New Year’s toast. I don’t even want to keep imagining into all the iterations of self-deprivation you’re going through, and I apologize again for this pessimism, but I suppose that some of you will be falling off the wagon kind of soon-ish. Maybe you’ll feel some disappointment, with the comfy old habits waiting there to suck you just a little bit deeper. If this is happening to you, I have a solution! Chinese New Year is just around the corner, which means you can have a do-over. Take my advice and bring some new thing, or things, into the new new year. I think it’s really the way to go.
And, just in case anyone’s curious, the two new objects in my life are a landline and an alarm clock that’s not attached to my iPhone. Unbundling my technology, a friend said. I’m looking forward to a return to long, soul searching phone calls and not checking my email the moment I open my eyes in 2014.
Hello from the center of the holiday season. The solstice, along with all the different cultural iterations of celebrating it, has passed. Every day for the next six months will be lighter than the one that preceded it. We’re on the precipice of 2014. By the end of the week we’ll all be out jogging, biking, doing crunches, lifting weights, many of us with brand spanking new gym memberships. Kale smoothies for breakfast, followed by quinoa and unadorned chicken breasts for dinner are going to make us all feel so clean and good in just a couple of days. But for now, we’re still in the sweet spot. Cookies and cocktails and pies and pancakes are our just desserts, if you’ll forgive the pun, for this one little moment of global celebration of the return of the light. I hope you all are enjoying it as much as we are here at this little hotel.
Don’t forget, if generosity, charity or giving back in any form ends up on your list of New Year’s resolutions, our canned food drive is in action through January 10. Not that putting a single can of beans in our little collection vessel will allow you to check “be more giving” off your list, but it’s a step in the right direction. Ten cans might qualify as a little hop. Ten a day for the length of your next stay here, now that might really get you somewhere.
And if you feel like you’re generous enough, or like you need to focus on other things in this year’s resolutions, remember that we’re giving away one drink ticket per can brought in. Unlimited.
Happy New Year everyone! We look forward to taking this next spin around the sun with you all!
Jeff Bezos is such a tease. For weeks I kept being told that Amazon was starting to use drones to deliver packages. At first I thought it was a joke, some kind of internet hoax. I wasn’t coming across any articles about it, just hearing from friends that they had heard it from one place or another. It sounded too outlandish, too much like science fiction and so I dismissed it. Then, one day, someone referenced it on NPR, just one little sentence, and my ears perked up. If it’s on NPR, maybe it’s for real. Amazon is going to start delivering packages by drone!
I pictured myself ordering a silk scarf and then hanging my head out the window of my second story apartment to catch it as it was dropped from the sky. I got emotionally prepared to go back to reading real books, since the reason that I read so many e-books these days is that kindle offers me the ability to be reading a thing as soon as I have the idea that I might want to. And what a beautiful scene: great literature raining down from above. Gifts would maybe be the best, though. How much better would any little trifle be if it fell into the receiver’s hands from the heavens? Not to mention the Hunger Games angle. For those one or two of you who are unfamiliar with that reference, there is a contest called the Hunger Games within the books and movies of that name, and in that contest it is possible to have a life saving supply parachuted down to a contestant at just the moment when that thing is most needed. Imagine, then, going on a long hike and, instead of carrying heavy jugs of water, having bottles dropped at certain landmarks along the path instead.
Finally, wondering whether this system was going to be operational in time to have all my packages swooped in on Christmas morning, I went looking for the real story. It’s true enough, I guess. Amazon is planning to make deliveries by drone. Jeff Bezos says it’ll hopefully be up and running in four or five YEARS.
And so I say to you, my techie friends, don’t do things like that to us laymen. The disappointment I felt when I learned that this was a story about the distant future made me feel like I had been swindled. I felt like Amazon had given me something and then snatched it away. Be careful with our delicate hearts.
The best minds in the world are writing and speaking about Nelson Mandela this week. This humble hotel can’t pass up the opportunity to pay respect to the man, who blew apart so many ideas of what it’s possible to do with one small lifetime, but nor can we think of adding anything significant to all that’s being said. So, instead, here’s one more place to find Mandela himself speaking to us from, as Obama said, the ages.
• I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
• For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
• I came to accept that I have no right whatsoever to judge others in terms of my own customs.
• It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.
• There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
• Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
May he rest in peace.
Next week, as we all know, is Thanksgiving. Some of us will have big family dinners; for others it will be more intimate. Some of us will spend hours in a kitchen; others will choose to go out. Some of us will enjoy the festivities; others of us will show up bearing the heavy weight of obligation. One nearly universal truth about next week, though, is that on Friday morning we will wake up feeling overindulged. We here at this little hotel have two little amenities for you to keep in mind when that feeling comes for you.
Number one is the exercise balls you now find in your room when you’re here with us. It’s amazing what a few crunches first thing in the morning will do for your general sense of fitness and willingness to take care of yourself. Never mind that a handful of sit-ups are not quite the anecdote for eating an entire pie alone. It’s peace of mind you need to strive for in the immediate aftermath of the chaos of Thanksgiving. Christmas, after all, is just around the corner, so you may as well not bother shooting for perfection just yet.
Number two is our canned food drive. A giant feast is really nice, and a day designed especially to give thanks for all we have is great, but when all that you have contrasts so sharply with what some of those around you do not have, feelings can get a little conflicted. Bring the canned version of your favorite Thanksgiving foods in to us. Share your bounty.
First, though, you get to do the indulging. Enjoy!