This is my last entry about long ago, before the blog switches focus to the quirky places Don and I discovered recently! This memory is a silly one from my teen years.
In 1970, a 12-story Holiday Inn opened on Tennessee Street in Tallahassee. I was in 8th grade, a time when most girls were focusing on boys, makeup and popularity. But my good friend Ginnie and I were busy trying to figure out how to convince our parents (and the hotel) that two 13 year old girls should be allowed to rent a hotel room... for the fun of it. The fact that our parents said yes, tells a lot about how tame or nerdy we were. So one sunny day, Ginnie and I checked into our 11th floor room and unloaded our bags filled with snacks, teen magazines, games, candy cigarettes (for photo ops) plus formalwear for our buffet dinner in the rooftop lounge. I guess the windows must have opened because we spent a lot of time yelling out them to surprise the people on the sidewalks below. At one point, a group of "boys" hollered back that they had our room number, which meant Ginnie and I freaked and moved our supply of entertainment into the bathroom where we stayed put, until the knocking stopped. The next morning we ordered room service for breakfast and perfected a few gymnastic stunts using the two double beds as trampolines. In the elevator heading down to check out, we did one more "jump test" to see if we could detect the floor "falling".
This fine postcard (with an X on our window) is a good reminder of when I first started to enjoy the adventure of hotel/motel living! I drove through Tallahassee a couple years ago and was sad to see the old Inn has not held up well. And I'm pretty sure they never "grew" those mountains that are depicted in the postcard image!
Spring of 1969
I have fond memories of this beautiful red and green hotel from when I visited, in 1969. I also remember hating it, before I loved it. That's how I was at age 11.
By the time my family arrived in Venice, we had been living in Florence for 4 months. Those first days, adjusting to our new world in Italy, were far behind us. All 6 of us spoke some Italian... some better than others. I was used to old buildings and cheek pinching Italian grandmas and even the occasional old man, who might swat me with his cane. By May, I adored Italy and I was thrilled to be heading with my family to the city of canals, the place I had only dreamed about!
But by the time we arrived at the canal side hotel, I was as moody as I'd been those first days in Florence. The ride on the canal bus had been jolting. The stench from the murky water had me on edge, even before I started spotting trash and debris. The sight of a dead kitten floating by, did me in. When we reached our hotel, I was sulking. The room seemed dark and claustrophobic. There were no high ceilings, like everywhere else in Italy.
The Mood Lifts!
But something happened in the next few days. Venice did its magic. My siblings and I were let loose to explore on our own. If we weren't climbing up bell towers or feeding pigeons in Piazza San Marco, we were playing on the bridge in front of our hotel. (I do remember a terrifying moment, when a college student friend, teased my brother by hanging him over the canal!)
I began to love our cozy hotel room and especially the window! We kids had some fun, trying to communicate with the boy in the apartment, directly across the canal. I loved the sounds that came filled our hotel room from below... voices echoing, gondoliers singing and even the occasional splash, of trash being dumped from a window. (For some reason, this didn't alarm me)
By the time we packed up and said good-bye to Hotel Splendid, I claimed Venice was my favorite city in the world. And to this day, if I catch a whiff of a certain sewer-like smell, I sigh and proclaim, "Smells just like Venice!"
It looks like Hotel Splendid is still going strong, since our stay 50 years ago. The exterior is still brick red, but the interior has gone totally upscale. How I would love to go back and stay in one of their luxurious rooms and open the windows to watch the canal activity. The water has been cleaned up, so I wouldn't be able to enjoy my favorite smell. But, I think I'm okay with that!
Florence, Italy 1969
I was 11 in 1969, when my family lived in Florence for a half year. Pensione Ducale, was my family's home for a few days, before we found an apartment.
The only image I have that shows the hotel, is in an old postcard, showing an Easter celebration. It's one of the buildings, to the left of the exploding cart!
Memories of Pensione Ducale
I remember doing a lot of moping, in our hotel. It was January and I was always cold. The building was old and there was no pool, like Howard Johnson's. I was jet-lagged and grumpy. Mom said it was "culture shock" when I complained. The room I shared with my 3 siblings, had ridiculously high ceilings and it was drafty and dim!
At meal times in the dining room, I felt like Gretel, being fattened up for some evil purpose. The very sweet hotel hostess, kept bringing course after course. I was okay with pasta and bread, but I had no appetite for the antipasti and salad and veal with vegetables. I couldn't make her understand that all I wanted was some spaghetti. Oh what I wouldn't do for all those courses now!
I also spent some time eavesdropping through the wall. I couldn't understand much Italian, but I loved the dramatic hollering of the young woman, who must have been on the phone. There were lots of Mama Mias and that made me laugh!
Back to The Pensione
I may have grumbled about the Pensione, during those first few days in Italy. But, I had nothing but praise a few months later, when we returned to our guest room on Easter morning. The gracious hotel hostess invited our family, to enjoy the most spectacular view of the annual festivities. Once again we looked down from those grand windows. This time we were entertained by the crowds, music, flags and finally, the dramatic explosion of the Easter cart!
45 Years Ago
It's been many years since I sat in that dark hotel, trying to adjust to Italy. I returned to Florence in 2003 with Don and our two teenagers. I had hoped to stay in the old Pensione, but we couldn't figure out where it was.
I've added a photo from the internet, after learning that the Pensione is now a B&B! Thank you to Ken, who shared his memory in the comment below. I hope to return one day to Florence and stay at the old Pensione... now called, Palazzo Ruspoli!
Summers 1968 and 1969
This dandy getaway on the bay in Sarasota, has surely been replaced with retirement high-rises by now. But for a couple of summers, this motel was home to FSU faculty and acting students involved in the Asolo Repertory Theatre. It also was home to my family of 6 since my dad was directing shows at Asolo during the summers. My memories of this place are a crazy mix of gray-haired folks on the shuffleboard courts and fishing dock... and very entertaining and extroverted acting students hanging around the pool. My top pool memories are playing Weeki Wachee Mermaids with my sister, Jenni and grumbling over the sign that reminded women to wear swim caps. This was very unfair, because there were numerous male college students who had longer hair than mine.
What do I remember about the motel rooms? Very little, since we spent as little time as possible inside. Luckily our family only had one summer in the motel efficiency. I remember my brothers sleeping on couches and a lot of bickering with siblings.
Panama City Beach, Florida (1967 and 1968)
My family was pretty thrilled when we moved from Iowa to Florida in 1967. We suddenly could play in white sand instead of white snow. On a couple of rare occasions, our neighbors convinced our family to join theirs for a weekend at this beachside motel. I think the only time the kids got out of the pool or ocean was to eat or sleep. That many hours in the sun meant that most of the time our swimsuits were covered in long tee shirts. Decent sunscreen hadn't been invented yet.
We spent hours playing Marco Polo and floating on air mattresses. I remember the corny beach décor in the lobby and a stone seahorse statue in the front. As I recall, my younger brother climbed that seahorse once and fell hard. I think there were stitches involved, but I'm not sure. What I do not remember is anything about the rooms. Very little time was spent inside.
The Sandpiper still exists, but it looks nothing like it once did. It is a multi-level complex which caters to the beer drinking, spring break crowd. Only the name and location is the same. This is what I found about 10 years ago, when I dared to stop by early morning, when the spring breakers were still sleeping. Got to love that sea breeze... mixed with stale beer!
My family of 6 didn't "vacation" often when I was growing up. But if we were lucky enough to have an overnight stay on our way to a destination we usually stayed at one of these two fine places. I remember the giddy feeling of approaching our motel and seeing the flashy Holiday Inn sign or the orange roof of Howard Johnson's. I would strain to be first to spot the pool and there might even be a playground. There was always a coffee shop/restaurant with kiddie menus. And once we reached our room, (that the 6 of us often shared) I would pounce on the miniature soap near the sink and the postcard in the drawer! Free souvenirs!
Adventures at The Plaza
It wasn't as if I grew up, unaware of what I was missing in the ritzy hotel world. One of my favorite book characters was Kay Thompson's, Eloise who taught me all about the ridiculously silly adventures one could have if one was a little girl living in the Plaza Hotel. Luckily I got to at least step foot in the hotel years later, as an adult.
But what I did learn from my childhood is that your overnight lodging is as fun and adventurous or boring and bland as you make it. I was lucky that I grew up in a family I enjoyed. When we traveled we did it with flexibility and humor. Now as an adult I'm grateful to have a husband who is curious and open to the surprises that come when you're brave enough stay in a motel shaped like a teepee or a 125 year old hotel with gun holes in the wallpaper.
I will begin my list of Notable Nights with 5 memories from long ago...and then turn the focus to recent adventures!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!