A Notable Hotel Stay... Some Years Back
In December of 2009, Don and I latched onto some cheap flights from Houston to Rome, so we planned a 3-day weekend trip!
I attempted to find a bargain hotel for our stay and came up with Hotel Columbus. I couldn't believe I'd found such a lovely place, for under 100 dollars! The hotel was housed in what had once been a palace, commissioned by a well standing cardinal, who was a relative of Pope Sixtus IV! I was eager to find out!
Oldest Building Yet
The yellow structure on the left shows our hotel, which wasn't a hotel until 1950. Cardinal Domenico della Rovere began construction on the building in 1480.
I'm pretty sure this makes Hotel Columbus, my oldest hotel experience. But equally impressive, is the location. The building faces Via della Concilliazone. It was just a short stroll down to St. Peter's and the Vatican City.
The Other Direction
If we went the other direction on the Via, we ended up at the River Tiber.
Our flight arrived early in the morning. It was too early to check in, so Don studied the map, which made us look like tourists. He looks engrossed in the map in this photo, but he was also fretting about his dirty jacket...
Earlier at the train station, (when we were not reading maps) a man pegged us as tourists. He seemed very concerned as he rushed over to help Don. He pointed out a huge blob of bird poop, on Don's jacket. Luckily we were pretty aware of pickpocket dangers, so we shooed the helpful man away. Days later, we learned there really is a thing called "Bird Poop Scam"... which is really white paint, that doesn't wash out.
Finding the Entrance
Although we were early, Don and I headed through the building's walkway to the parking area.
We found a wall, fountains, a courtyard and the hotel entrance.
Old and New
I loved the old marble dragon fountain, with trickling water.
The decorated entrance looked quite modern for a 500+ year old palace, that had once been a noble residence and seat of a line of holy knights!
We entered the lobby area, where we found the first of many Christmas trees.
We knew it was hours before our room would be ready, but we explored a bit to find a restroom, where Don could go to work on his stained jacket.
Le Colone Bar
We passed through the quiet lounge and eventually found a washroom.
Don had no luck removing the stubborn white paint. Bird poop would have been preferred.
We left our luggage and took off for the day.
When we returned, our room was ready and we were eager to explore some more. This was just one of the many grand rooms that once made up the Palazzo della Rovere.
Dining in Style
This two-leveled space, with vaulted ceilings and frescos, was the hotel's formal dining room.
During our short stay, we didn't get a chance to dine, but the tables looked terribly romantic, with white cloths and glowing lamps.
This doorway was impressive enough, with the carved marble frame and hefty wooden doors. Even the floor was intriguing.
But once inside the room, the real surprise was directly above us.
A few sconces lit this dramatic space with paintings in gold frames.
But the ceiling above was the real focus. The shape itself was stunning.
The frescoed ceiling was the work of Francesco Salviati. The image of Apollo with his chariot and horses was at the very top of the curved ceiling.
A carved mask peeked out from each corner! I wish I could have asked these odd little faces to tell me some stories.
Up We Go
We headed up to the top floor to find our room.
This sweet little nook was near our room.
I failed to make a note of the room number, but I'm pretty sure our room was the least expensive, on the top floor.
Our low bed with flat pillows, took up most of the space. A desk and TV were not really needed, but the window was the prize. The shutters made me feel like I was living in a fairytale.
The wooden chair in the corner, made me want to take a seat for hours at the window.
The tiny window had a great view of the courtyard below, but my eyes were drawn to the tile roofs and beyond.
There it was!
The cupola of St. Peter's! I remember being 11 and counting the steps as I climbed inside the dome with my family.
With the camera, I could zoom in on little details... designs near the window and a metal cross above a pointy roof.
On the Roof
I loved being able to open the window, so I could feel like I was sitting on the clay tiles, peering down at the treetops.
The hotel made us feel like we were spending the night in a museum. How odd to walk through such grand rooms without being followed by guards.
But the hotel room was really my favorite part of the stay. That tiny window brought in the sounds of pigeons cooing and the chiming bells of St. Peter's!
What a treat, to watch the sky change colors in the evening... then to watch the silhouette shapes appear... and then the stars. I think I might need to revisit this hotel!
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.
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!)
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!
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
Reading my old diary, I was reminded of my initial reaction to Italy and our hotel. My words describe our family of 6, traveling in two taxis to the hotel, with all our luggage... finding the elevator that looked like a cage... traveling upwards in search of our hotel host.
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!
I wasn't used to city noise. I could hear pigeons cooing, non-stop honking, hissing buses...
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!
The sounds were never blocked, even though we had massive, wooden shutters.
I complained about the bathroom down the hall. Not only did we share it with strangers, but it had a funny chain that had to be pulled for flushing... and what was with that other funny toilet? I had never seen a bidet.
After the first day, things got brighter. I began entertaining myself with ballet performances in front of the wardrobe mirror... until my siblings teased. I started to love the window. We opened the panes and let in the chilly air, with all the sights and sounds and smells.
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!
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!