I’m most at home in small hotel rooms. Just enough space for me. A window, a little bathroom with a shower, a narrow but comfortable bed. I suppose I’m an ascetic traveler.
Hotel rooms have been sanctuaries from chaotic times. Pressures and conflicts that had threatened to overwhelm me in houses and apartments seemed to float away in less space, with fewer things.
The sole single room in the Casa Gonzalez in the Zona Rosa, Mexico City, is the archetype. Red mud-tiled floors, white stucco walls, a little wrought-iron bed just big enough for me, a high ceiling with a fan overhead, an antique writing desk and chair tucked just to one side. I can imagine living in such a space.
I appreciate character. A locally owned, maybe family owned, place, with just a few rooms. A friendly, helpful staff. An interesting location. I like old buildings in city centers, places with gardens. I don’t care if there’s no television. I’m better off when I don’t watch TV.
My favorite hotel so far is the Hotel Dolores Alba near Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatan. It’s a ranchero-like place with a refreshing pool and nice rooms with teak wood furniture, ceiling fans overhead, and big windows behind heavy latticed shutters. There, I watched an afternoon monsoon pour down from the heavens with tremendous thunder and lightning. Later in the evening, after the ruins, I had my first exquisite Poc-Chuc beside the pool.
I like old buildings in city centers, places with gardens.Pensão Aljubarrota in Lisboa is the friendliest. It’s in an old bank building about a block from the Praça do Comércio, at the top of several flights of stairs. The owner is a friendly Italian who strikes up conversations over breakfast and gives very good directions and suggestions. The rooms are basic, most of them sharing a bathroom. Many of the guests are from Britain, Italy, and the U.S. If you’re leaving before dawn to catch a bus or train, they’ll pack you a breakfast and have it waiting for you in the kitchen. And the owner gave me a free beer the night I left when I returned to retrieve my backpack.
Hotel Aurora, a few blocks from Parque Central in Antigua, Guatemala, is practically a palace. The resplendent rooms with festive blue-and-yellow tiled floors all open out into a floral courtyard with a ceiling that is literally the night sky.
The Hotel San Antonio Abad in Miraflores, Lima, is a nice refuge from the busy city. A little far from Parque Kennedy, on the other side of the main freeway, it has a residential neighborhood feel set among pleasant gardens and labyrinthine hallways. The rooms are quiet and comfortable, and the day manager gives great advice and motherly warnings and can set up free rides to the airport.
The most romantic place in which I’ve stayed was a small bedroom above a barber shop in Arcos de la Fronterra, Spain. My then-girlfriend and I were wandering the narrow streets on our ascent up the steep mountain, but finding no rooms at the inns. The barber saw us and chased after, offering a tiny spare room for the night, barely as big as a priest’s quarters. It was the best night we had in Spain, kind of idyllic. And in the morning, the barber told us interesting stories while we waited to go catch the bus to Tarifa.
I have good memories of other rooms. An attic in Prague; a cool cabana at the Jungle Lodge at Tikal; a rustic little room with a huge wooden bed at a mountain lodge near the Colca Canyon in the Andes, where the porter brought hot water bottles for the bed to keep me warm on a sub-freezing night. There was a bed-and-breakfast apartment in Montreal that was pleasant, a serene ryokan in Takayama, Japan, a riad in Meknes, Morocco, and a nice woman who put me up with her family in Lagos, Portugal, too.
Photo credit: http://www.hotelcasagonzalez.com