This one has been harder for me than last week's---Curious--I have quite a list. But which are worth sharing? The most spectacular and awesome hotel I have ever stayed in has to be Ruthin Castle in Clwyd, Wales. But everyone just needs to see that one in person to truly appreciate it. Neither my words nor my old pictures would do it justice. I have,however, selected two stories of hotel stays which I hope I can relate enjoyably.
The first has to be of the hotel in Florence, Italy, where I broke my big toe. I've never broken a bone of any kind before or since, but this story is a doozy. As a teacher, I've travelled for years to Europe with students. We were lucky enough to have a program where if we stayed abroad at least 10 days and had a certified college instructor with us, lecturing and giving tests, our students could get "dual enrollment" credit: high school humanities and generic college elective. This particular year we had a new college instructor, LB. We didn't know her very well yet except that she was an exciting humanities teacher, was very knowledgable, good with students and had a rather strange sense of humor. Since I was one of the newer teacher "advisors," without a pre-determined, every year roomate, LB and I were assigned to room together. The second night of this trip,we were to spend the night in Florence. Excitement was high among the adults because our hotel was one of the old, well-established, highly regarded hotels almost in downtown Florence. The rooms were old, but clean and classic. The most unusual feature of them was the windows. One had to walk up a short flight of stone steps to the in-room window. I am talking about the kind of steps I would expect to find outside the front door of an old "row house" and would call a "stoop"---3 concrete steps, up to the window frame to open, close, or look out the window. When we went to bed that night it was quite warm, as Italy tends to be in June, so we left the window open to sleep.
When the alarm went off at 6:30 the next morning, there was a definite chill in the air--the kind that makes getting out of bed early even more difficult. After LB and I agreed the window needed to be shut to help us get moving, she offered to do it. I insisted that since my bed was closer, I would take care of it. I jumped up, climbed the steps, pulled down the heavy framed window, and started back down the steps. On the second step, I stubbed my toe. Momentum and gravity carried me forward and I landed on the bottom step with all my weight on my folded-under big toe. I yelped and probably cursed mildly. I am really not a curser even at the worst of times, and I was much aware that I hardly knew this roommate. She claims to only remember my crying out, followed by "OW!!!That REALLY hurts!!" After hopping around and rubbing the toe a bit, I proceeded to get ready to begin the day. LB says ever so often I would mutter about how surprised I was that it really hurt so much, but she didn't believe I was actually injured. I dressed for the day including good thick walking socks and excellent walking shoes, and we reported for breakfast. We walked all over Florence that day. Occasionally I would make comments about the toe, and LB suggested we might stop at one of the green cross/drugstore places and buy some tape so we could immobilize the injured toe somewhat by taping it to the second toe, which is about all anyone can do for a broken toe anyway. About 2 PM we were scheduled to get 3 hours of shopping time before reporting back to the hotel to clean up for dinner and our evening activity.
By the time our free time arrived the toe was really throbbing, and I told LB I wanted to go by the drugstore to get some tape, then go back to the room to lie down and elevate the foot. She said she'd go with me. When we got back to the room with mending supplies, I was really worried. So I made a strange request. I have mentioned LB's sense of humor. I didn't know her well, but thought I had partially figured the humor out. I asked her if she would mind removing the sock on that foot and looking at the toe first. I figured if she made a huge fuss about it, loudly proclaiming how bad it looked (as if to scare me), then it really wasn't so bad. If she looked and was quiet, I had a real problem. She carefully removed the sock and exclaimed, "OH, MY GOSH, CYNC!!!!" Comforted somewhat, I looked. I apparently hadn't quite nailed the sense of humor yet. Because of the restriction of my shoe it was only somewhat swollen. But it was ripe plum purple and red, and was the same enlarged diameter from end to end; underneath the knuckle was black. (All the people in our group that summer have pictures of my purple toe in their trip albums.) LB went downstairs to try to get me a bag of ice--that in itself is another humorous story. Even at the bar, which seemed to be the only place in the hotel there were ice cubes of any kind, the people could not conceptualize putting ice in a small plastic bag to take up to the room, and none of the Italian phrase books covered that one! LB finally returned with a small "on-the-rocks" glass of ice and we improvised. My roommate, it turned out, was a born nurse; and, amazing as it seems, by taping the two toes together carefully every day and continuing to use the foot daily, enclosed in clean socks and sturdy shoes, it healed wonderfully. So well, in fact, that 8 days later I let the kids talk me into walking up to the second level of the Eiffel Tower.
The second indelible hotel experience was in the Keivskaya Hotel in Leningrad--yes, it was still Leningrad at that time. The hotel was in many ways unforgettable, including our first day's lunch of red caviar on hard boiled eggs, with Pepsi. In the summer of '91, the Russians were working truly hard to make American travel groups feel valued and welcome. I could tell many powerful and positive experiences and memories from that trip, about the sincere and helpful people and the amazing beauty of the country(nature), the art, and the churches; but this is supposed to be about the hotel. Apparently that summer---maybe all year round, I don't know---the needs of the city were such that there were rolling hot water outages. Lucky us, the Kievskaya was in the outage grid the 3 days in July when we were there. Even the kitchen had hot water only if they heated it on the stove. Most of us who were adults were fortunate enough to have a private bath within our rooms, but these were showerless bathtubs. Also, if I remember correctly, there was no room heat, nor any option for it, since it was, after all, the height of summer. The students, housed in dorm-type rooms of 3 to 5, had to share toilet rooms and shower rooms located on the main hallway, with one or two other sleeping-room groups. And the shower water, dear hearts, was COLD!!! One could walk past the showering rooms and tell whether or not they were in use by the shrieks and squeals emanating from them.
We had been told that we should wash out clothes as we needed them on this 18 day trip; and that it was wisest to wash in hotels where we stayed 2 or 3 nights,so things could dry. At this point we were about 7 days out and weren't going to be 2 nights in the same place for another 4 days, so I decided washing clothes was a necessity. Then I had a brainstorm: what if I ran the tub full of water, loaded it up with the clothes that needed washing & some liquid soap, let it sit for about 15 minutes, then climbed in and washed myself and the clothes. My theory was that the clothes and the ambient temperature would take the chill out of the water and that sitting on the clothes would be less frigid than sitting in the porcelain tub. Let me assure you this was not a brainstorm to brag about. Maybe the clothes did absorb some of the cold, because sitting on them was entirely miserable; but this water had enough cold to go around. I didn't fully comprehend this until I was sitting in the tub, amongst my dirty clothes, covered in chill bumps. I seem to remember doing some squealling and rapid breathing of my own. The clothes and I eventually achieved some semblance of clean and, even more eventually, regained room temperature. But this is, surely, my second most remarkable and laughable hotel memory.