The Old Spanish City in Florida
Finding Our Way In
Check-In at the Window
This must have been a lovely house back in the day. I'm pretty sure the original owners wouldn't have had a framed photo of Marilyn Monroe above the fireplace.
We headed towards the glowing window where we checked in and got our key to room 5. I was excited to be in the Main House, since the inn has expanded and spread to some other buildings.
Tini Martini Bar
We peeked into the Martini Bar, because our night included a 15-dollar voucher for the bar... which gets you about 1 drink.
The cozy bar was pretty empty because everyone wanted to sit outside. If we'd stayed in, we could have viewed the nude woman or the colorful dancing couple.
We chose instead to sit outside on the veranda where we could sip our martinis with a view of the bay.
And as evening progressed, we got to gaze over the flaming torches and keep an eye on the boats and the draw bridge.
And as the sun lowered, the clouds changed to pink and the beautiful homes across the water began to glow. Occasionally, we got to watch a carriage load up with passengers and head off for a ride through the ancient city, still lit with Christmas lights.
About Those Martinis
Don and I each ordered one martini that came in its own shaker. That's not unusual. There wasn't any unusually fancy 2-handed shaking by our server, either.
What was unusual was that instead of a metal lid, they used rubbery plastic caps like you'd see on the bottom of your grandpa's cane. Now, I'm sure those things get sanitized well, but the dingy color kind of creeped me out. Glad they took those off the table.
Sitting on the veranda allowed us to watch the bay, street and sidewalk. It was a busy 3-day weekend so there was lots to watch.
Most intriguing of all, was the couple with three Maltese pups seated below us. I finally got so curious about this traveling family, that I just had to go down and chat. They turned out to be very lovely people from Sarasota and these were rescue dogs, not show dogs. All 5 were kind enough to pose.
What About the Room?
I'm spending a lot of time talking about the porch and view, but we did have a room. It was in the back.
You had to step out the back door to get to our little porch. Our door had a Christmas wreath a plaque with the name, Gonzalez Sanchez. I wonder if Mr. Sanchez was a very small man?
Our Teenie Tiny Room
The bed was teeny, but it was soft and comfy and there was a cleverly built set of teeny lamp holders, since there was no room for bedside tables.
We really didn't mind our small room. We had chosen the most economical room we could find and we weren't going to spend much time in it anyway.
Clean and Cozy
Lots of Christmas Going On
It might seem oddly over the top, if the entire city of St. Augustine wasn't lit with twinkly lights in January.
It was back to the veranda one more time in the morning to use our 25-dollar brunch voucher, that came with our stay. We had coffee instead of martinis and our table was lit with sunshine instead of Christmas lights. I studied the clipboard with brunch options and chose a delicious Veggie-Benedict with avocado and sunflower seeds. The toasty potatoes were perfectly seasoned. Service was a bit slow, but the food was worth waiting for.
I might remember the teeny room, but mostly I'll recall the festive front with porches and torches and the incredible view!
Vilano Beach, FL
About That Sign
After we arrived, the owner, Earl gave us some history about the motel and sign. The motel opened in 1951, but there was no neon sign with bunnies and top hats.
The bunny sign went up in the late 1990's when the motel was used for filming a TV series called, "Safe Harbor". The show was about a family living in a motel, in the fictional town of Magic Beach, Florida. One of the family members happened to be a magician.
Gotta Love Flamingos
A motel sign with bunnies may be a first for me. But I'm guessing this is not my first stay at a Florida motel with a few flamingos. There were flamingos near the doors and high above the roof, glowing at night.
I liked having flamingos on both sides of the door, but I also liked all the accent colors. Mint doors, pink-orange triangle shapes, stripes... The chairs didn't quite blend with the color and style, but I'm willing to ignore that.
Once inside 106, we found lots more color. The room murals were evidently done many years ago and have been touched up by art students over the years. Luckily I didn't go to sleep thinking about the 2 pirates waving their flag and sword right above my head. Only in the morning did I chuckle at the thought.
Was it like Alice's looking glass or the famous, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? Earl promised me it was just a window to some room with a furnace or something. Hmmm?
We had a spiffy table and chair set, beside a big picture window, with a view of the parking lot. But with some positive thinking, I could practically see the ocean... just past that taller building.
The lower half of the building was once the motel's restaurant. The owner of the motel in the 1970's added the second floor at his wife's request.
A Better View
Earl showed us the second floor room, with a shark mural and a balcony. But the view the wife had once requested, was blocked by a newer complex... built by the same husband, trying to please his wife. That just makes no sense.
What to do?
The weather was chilly and breezy, or we could have lounged beside the almost kidney shaped pool.
Wandering the 'Hood
Instead, we decided to wander a bit and see what was within walking distance. Heading east from the motel, we found a pavilion and a sandy beach with lots of families. Heading west, we found a pier, which had once been the bridge over the bay. The closing of the bridge is what caused the many of the old motels and motor courts to close down.
In truth, we didn't find enough to keep us entertained. We drove over the bay to St. Augustine, which was hopping on Saturday night. When we returned later that night, we found something else hopping! 3 neon bunnies (and one in the hat) were looking mighty festive on our motel sign!
We had a stay in a retro Florida motel with a memorable neon sign. The place is family owned and in walking distance of beach and pier. There was even a continental breakfast with "MeTV" showing a "Gilligan's Island" episode as we ate breakfast. Pretty fun stay for less than 100!
A Nice Surprise in Mobile, Alabama!
A Newly Renovated 12-Story
Sleek and Modern
Don and I looked a little underdressed as we checked in at the very modern desk. 40 proper looking Admirals peered down from their framed wall portraits. I'm not sure they approved. But our hostess was very welcoming.
We seemed to have the whole place to ourselves. The lobby needed more people to enjoy all the curious lighting and style. I took a trip up the marble stairway, which was covered in gray and mustard carpet... that looks like cement in the photo. From the mezzanine above, I had a better look at the central light display.
Globes and Chains
mobiles. It was like staring at a piece of modern art, when you say, "I can do that." And then you say. "No. I can't."
New or Old?
And when I turned around as the elevator doors closed, I was reminded again. There was a huge "1" painted on the first set of doors and a "0" on the other.
Hall and Door
I even liked our room number and the design on the hall carpet. I guess I'm getting used to renovations that are more like facelifts. This was a real overhaul.
The room even smelled new... in a fresh way, not a gagging, paint-smell-way. The windows looked down below to the old Basilica and some mature trees and the buildings of Old Historic Mobile.
There was a very cool light fixture and some shiny white and gold furiture. The desk held a Keurig coffee maker and the dresser had a curious frame around the flat screen. Oh, how I once snickered at this style, back when my parents hooked me on rustic antiques. But this was fun stuff.
I had to laugh at the sliding "barn door" to the bathroom. Frosted glass windows don't offer much bathroom privacy and this annoying trend is even bigger in Europe. But no worries here, since the door opened to a little dressing area near the closet.
We had heard something about honey bees on the rooftop. Supposedly 3 honeybee apiaries provide nearly 200 pounds of honey each year. Well we didn't find any of that. In fact it pretty much looked like we weren't supposed to be up there on that roof.
But what a perfect view, just as the building began to light up at dusk.
I wouldn't have minded a nice meal in the newly opened Launch Restaurant. I spoke with a manager and server, just as they opened at 5:00.
They talked about their fresh farm to table ingredients. And I found out that the honeybees are actually housed on a third floor walkway between the hotel and parking garage.
Corner 251 Lounge
I peeked in the lounge before dark, when light poured into the spacious cafe and bar through big corner windows. It looked almost stark and uncomfotable with no customers.
But it seemed like the better choice later. The hotel was finally beginning to come to life with a few customers. We were able to have a casual meal, (Salmon Cake Rueben and decadent fried green tomatoes) studying some of our fellow guests.
Enjoying the Rest of the Evening
Or we could have worked off our dinner in the small fitness center... which I'm afraid I didn't even peek at.
But we wanted to make use of our location. Just a block away we wandered Dauphin Street, which was pretty lively on Friday night. It was sort of fun on January 8th, to see the Mardi Gras decorations coming out at the German Biergarten and a Christmas tree still decorating the center of Bienville Square.
For 20 years we have lived just 1.5 hours away from Galveston.
Since our first visit to the island, I've had my eye on this majestic hotel overlooking the historic seawall. So what gave us an excuse to finally spend the night?
Making Things Cheery
They weren't booked and their rates were a cheap $107. for a luxury hotel! Did that mean we'd arrive to find the lovely hotel deserted and gloomy?
We were an hour early and had to wait for our room. Not a problem. There were wicker chairs by the big Christmas tree, with a view out the big window to the lawn and gulf.
There was also lots of good people watching inside, by the desk and in the open lounge/bar. But you'd never know because I forgot to capture that. I always avoid people in my photos.
I liked the simple old fashioned greenery and wreaths. No need to over-do when the place is festive on its own.
Of course there was a gingerbread house, probably to amuse the kids. Being a lover of miniatures, I wanted to remove the train... which was totally the wrong scale. How dare they.
Beams & Columns
When I stepped up the stairs to take a photo of the decorated column and beams, I noticed a woman checking in with her dog. I had already seen lots of little dogs with families, but this big fellow made me chuckle.
If I'd heard barking or smelled wet dog hair, maybe I wouldn't have been as delighted. But there was just a welcoming atmosphere about this grand place, that was filling up with couples and groups, who didn't have to leave their pets alone on Christmas!
"Twas the Night Before Brunch"
The whole front of the lobby is usually lined with wicker chairs and cozy gathering areas. But the north side was set up for the next day's brunch. At $59. per person, two brunches would have been more than our hotel room. We didn't even bother to see if they had openings.
Where would we sit... if we went to brunch?
So maybe we weren't going to join the brunch crowd, but we were still pretty curious. Don and I explored all the options. While the staff clinked glasses and scooted chairs, we peeked into rooms... like the bright yellow one!
And this wonderful round room that overlooked the pool and gulf in the distance. I kind of liked the circus tent feel of the ceiling!
But where would we dance?
We moved our exploring to the south side of the building to see where one might dance off all those calories after a brunch. There was something haunting and magical about this huge ballroom. So empty and quiet, with a lone Christmas tree staring at me from across the carpet, like a proper hotel ghost.
I did feel a bit like a misbehaving child, who might suddenly feel a hand on the shoulder... caught playing somewhere that is off limits.
Then when I turned around, I was surprised by the image of this little lady glaring down at me from over the door!
I actually took this picture on Christmas morning, when it looked very spooky, due to the fog! But many do believe the hotel is haunted.
There are many tales about ghosts at The Galvez, but the most popular story is one of a young bride to be. She was staying in a room on the 5th floor, while her fiance was away at sea. When she learned his ship had gone down, she was so distraught she hung herself, up in one of the turrets. However, her fiance had not died, and he returned looking for her. Some say her spirit never left the hotel. I could have asked for more scoop from the staff... but that just didn't seem very Christmassy of me!
Talk About Christmas!
I loved the big cone shaped tree out on the lawn, towering above the tall palms. It was so hazy, so you couldn't really see the gulf across the road. But it was there.
I was delighted when they turned on the tree lights. But the lights on the star didn't go on. Rats.
We were able to check in about 4, so we had time to explore outside. We were afraid it might be our only chance, since the skies threatened rain. As we strolled along the seawall, the haziness made the whole scene extra surreal. It just seemed odd to see the carnival rides of "Pleasure Pier" and surfers with their boards... on Christmas Eve!
We also took a little wander out by the pool. The swim-up bar was closed, but there were people in the hot tub. And on Christmas morning there were quite a few swimmers and loungers. This is all a first for us, never having been Christmas travelers.
Our Room on Floor Two
We didn't pay extra for an upper room with ocean view. That's lucky, because the fog didn't allow for much viewing. The room was updated nicely but was lacking in Christmas colors.
A Turret in the Bathroom
The bathroom had a nice etched surprise in the glass. Luckily I hadn't yet heard the tale of the bride to be. So that image didn't freak me out.
The Galvez Bar and Grill
The bar and restaurant are part of the big open lobby area. We enjoyed a drink in the late evening. We had a fun chat with our server about the carved bar that was moved from an older building in the downtown Strand area. The nearby grand piano was quiet. Piano Man was resting his hands for a very long brunch the next day.
We posed with our Christmas martinis, quite unaware of our nearby munching guests... wearing their beach clothes. It's hard to impress anyone with my photos when our fellow guests make us look like we were dining at Red Lobster.
Where to Sit?
The white woodwork around the great arched windows and molding, showed off what I love best... the old parts. This fine old hotel was built in 1911 and I love being reminded of that.
Where to Sit?
It wasn't crowded by our 8:00 reservation, so our hostess actually asked where we'd like to sit. We fully expected a more formal, "We are in charge of your evening" attitude. So it was nice to have a relaxed approach from those serving us. Our meal was not the usual Christmas feast, but it felt just right. My vegetable pasta was perfectly creamy and fresh. And Don's burger with grilled ham and bacon and other goodies, was decadent.
Then I walked out on the rock jetty where I had a fun view of the hotel and the sun, just breaking through. I was all alone until two couples with foreign accents wandered out and asked me to take their photo. They were just delighted and thanked me so graciously, wishing me a "Merry Christmas!" as I headed back.
The Festive Lobby
Soaking up Some History
Resort once stood, before it burned down in the late 1800's. It's lucky they didn't build The Galvez any sooner, as they had planned. The Great Hurricane and flood of 1900 would have destroyed it. 6,000 were killed and much of Galveston was washed away. I was surprised to learn that The Galvez closed during WWII and housed the Coast Guard. After reopening, the hotel flourished until the fifties, when they finally cracked down on illegal gambling. But to me, it's always the "Notable Guests" that I love to wonder about. Did Jerry Lewis do anything goofy during his stay? Did Frank Sinatra sing in the hotel shower?
So, What's Notable?
The festive, welcoming Galvez, did not disappoint. Don and I really would have had a happy Christmas at home and didn't need to be distracted so grandly. But I'm so glad we went.
I'll always remember our first Christmas as true empty-nesters as a pleasant one.
We've driven by this impressive hotel with the festive porch on St. Charles, many a time! At last, we stopped... and stayed!
It used to look quite a bit different when it was a private residence, built in 1883 by a wealthy tobacco merchant.
We arrived around 4:30 on a lovely Monday afternoon, last October.
The porch was crowded with tables and afternoon "cocktail-sippers", but we managed to get past them to the grand old doors!
A Scary Ride
We didn't want to press our luck, so we took the stairs the rest of our stay. They were probably just as dangerous as the elevator, though. There was so much distraction in that extraordinary stairwell! There was the domed skylight to stare up at and the hypnotizing, patterns on wall and floors.
The dim, eerie lighting added to the dreamlike setting. Then there was a blast of bright color in the wall mural!
Reaching the Top
Then when we reached the top, the ceiling became so low that "some of us" almost had to duck. I wasn't one of those tall people, but I suddenly felt tall when I leaned over the low railing to peer down. That felt oddly, disorienting... like I might tumble over.
Scott's girlfriend Chali, was able to join us after she got off work. Suddenly we were part of the cocktail-sippers club, seated on the porch. At least one of us had a Sazerak, which is always a must when visiting New Orleans.
The Victorian Lounge
It was too nice outside to be in the dark bar, but what a place! It was hard to believe this room was not aways a cozy lounge. Before the residence became a hotel in 1915, this was the family dining room, with dark carved mahogany walls and gilded bronze chandeliers.
Above the chandelier we could see the paneled mahogany ceiling that was imported from Honduras. The Greek design wrapping around the upper room, was evident in some old photographs.
Chali and I had some fun posing in the adjoining room, which got a little more crowded later. The velvety Victorian seat, looked like something right out of a movie. In fact we were in the midst of an old movie set.
"Pretty Baby" and "Twelve Years a Slave"
At least 2 films have been shot at The Columns. I love being in a place where a movie was filmed and imagining the interaction between actors and crew. However, Chali and I were having a hard time thinking too much about the filming of Pretty Baby, starring 12 year old Brooke Shields playing the part of a prostitute. The movie was controversial enough in 1978. I'm not even sure they could make that movie today.
It's funny how staying in old hotels often makes my mind wander to past places and even relatives. Seeing the same room in the later evening made me think of my grandmother, Aunt Mary's older sister.
But whenever I'm in New Orleans I always recall my sweet and proper Daw raving about visiting the French Quarter and hearing the jazz performance at Preservation Hall. I have always regretted missing that trip in 1978, with my mom, brother and Daw. I wish Daw could have been right there with us, sitting in one of the formal chairs, barely swinging her crossed ankles... feet never reaching the floor.
And More Details!
I was busy being impressed by the size of the door, when Don pointed out the massive, brass hinges. It took 8 screws to attach that ornate piece of hardware to the door.
The Upper Porch!
After dinner we wandered out to the porch on the second floor and had it to ourselves. At least two guest rooms actually have giant windows that open to the porch, so we didn't exactly pull out our ukuleles!
the day, watching the wind blow the flags and listening to the streetcars rattle and clank on the street below.
I should mention that we did sleep before that morning coffee! Our 3rd floor room was comfy and spacious. It was also reasonably priced. Under $150. in NOLA is good.
We could have taken the Pretty Baby Room on the 3rd floor, where scenes were filmed. But that was just too weird. We took this room which faced St. Charles, but really only had a view of the porch roof. The king bed was built high, with shelves below and a set of steps... for short people.
Just getting into the bathroom was entertaining. You got to hoist open the door with a glass knob and climb up a step to get inside. Luckily there were no mishaps in the night. And if we'd had wrinkled clothes that needed tending, not only did our room provide an iron and board, but we had a handy antique iron holder... or at least a silver radiator that did the job!
The halls sort of cracked me up with their decor. The brownish hall shows the view from our guest room door. The pillars were almost modern. The oil paintings, knight's armor and taxidermy gave the space a... unique vibe. And the boldly-blue hall that took us to the porch on the second floor was lined with couches, lamps and racks of tourist pamphlets. In other words, there was no snobby perfection here. I felt comfortable in our homey surroundings.
It seems like every place we've stayed in the last few years has had a resident ghost or a few tales of eerie interest. I don't even think about it anymore. But our "home for the night" did look very creepy as we headed back after dinner. Luckily (or sadly) we had no encounters!
Breakfast in Albertine's Tea Room
By ten, Don and I were ready to hit the road and Scott was ready to hit the books... I'm guessing!
We headed to our car, parked right on the curb. It was as if this was just any neighborhood home. What a fun overnight in the big old white house!
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!