Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vicarious Hotels Stays

I absolutely love to travel. I grew up taking family car trips throughout the American West. Name a small crappy town in any state west of the Rockies, I've been there. Bend, Oregon? Oh sure, we had ice cream sundaes in that dust bowl. Buttonwillow, Arizona? Uh huh. We were planning to stop there for lunch but then found that the entire town consisted of one rock shop. I am not exagerating. One building. But I've been to virtually every National Park in the west, and love them...they are breathtaking.

There were also the odd exotic highlights...Costa Rica when I was thirteen (well before it became the tourist mecca that it is today)...OK I was just about to write Canada as the other exotic travel highlight of my childhood which I guess means that Costa Rica really is about it.

Once I went away to college I got a little more adventurous...visiting tiny towns via local buses in Mexico with my sister, wandering around Florence, again with my sister. After college came Istanbul (sister again), France (and again) Slovenia (yep, you guessed it), England (my family and later, Paul), Belgium (with Paul), the Czech Republic (Paul again) and Spain (entire family).

And grad school offered the perfect opportunity to go on a plethora of wonderful trips that I couldn't afford. Argentina, China, Brazil, Dominican Republic...all good times with fantastic friends.  By the way, if I could split my time between Rio, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, San Francisco and New York I would be the happiest person alive.  Oh and Paris.

Now as a relatively frugal person, I tend to travel very cheaply. There are wonderful little places that can be had for quite a bargain in many cities (I think my two favorites in this category are a bed and breakfast in Florence that was housed in a 15th century townhouse...$75 per night or thereabouts, and an absolutely fantastic bed and breakfast in Salvador, Brazil that was housed in two perfectly appointed homes, maybe $100 per night if I remember correctly for a giant, virtually full floor room with a view of the ocean).

And the cheapest I went, and I do mean cheap, was in a youth hostel in Paris that made you rent towels and had the showers on a timer so you couldn't use up more than forty-five seconds worth of hot water.  I think during my entire week-long visit I spent a total of $400 on everything including accommodations and food.

But despite my cheapskate tendencies, I do like a bit of luxury. So on pretty much every trip I go on, I make a point to hang out in very nice hotels for at least some period of time. Whether it's coffee in the Four Seasons in Istanbul, afternoon wine at the Emiliano in Sao Paulo, or afternoon tea at the Peninsula in Hong Kong, I require these little respites from my responsibly frugal existence.

But where to get your fancy hotel fix when you are chained to a desk rather than galavanting freely over 15th century cobblestone streets?  Dahhhling, you simply must visit Tablet Hotels.  Although not quite as fun as getting buzzed at inappropriate times of the day in fancy lobbies, Tablet Hotels' descriptions and reviews of some of the world's most wonderful hotels do let you fantasize about beautiful vacations in exotic locales in exquisite accommodations.

I love the site's top ten lists, mostly because I feel like you don't end up with the usual suspects.  There's a great mix of venerable fancy-pants hotels, hip hotels, and hidden gems.  And best of all?  There's a pretty good range of price points.  For example, Tablet Hotels users recommend hotels such as Hotel des Academies et des Arts, which I am currently obsessed with (and rates are as low at 150 euros per night right now!):

And are you kidding with these views, La Mineretta?  I want to go to Sorrento...

...and rates are as low as 180 euros at the moment!  This would totally be my splurge spot at the end of a long Italian trip.

Beyond all of the simple hotel-oogling, Tablet Hotels has some quite fun features to explore, my favorite of which is TabletStars, which is a list of celebrities that have offered up their opinions on accommodations in various cities.  The celebrities tend towards architects (Richard Meier, Thom Mayne) and designers (Derek Lam, Christian Liaigre) so the picks are quite cool, but these are people who are already fairly established, so you don't run into the problem of too many annoyingly hip or gimmicky choices.  

Perhaps with the exception of Richard Meier's choice of the Delano in Miami.  I mean sure, beautiful hotel, but for the love of god the music in the lobby?  Blech.  But then in the interest of full disclosure, I hate the vast majority of hotels with music playing the lobby.  Hotels should envelop you in luxury and serenity.  Techno music in the lobby is neither luxurious nor serene.  

Interestingly enough, my tastes seem to be most in synch with those of Ben Kingsley.  I don't what this says about me...he is a sixty-something man and I am a twenty-something woman...seems like a bit of a disconnect but then I've always been a bit of an old soul (i.e. I can be more crochety than actual crochety old people are).

Anyway, when the news is getting you down, when your potentially disappearing job is getting you down, treat yourself to a little online vacation, however fleeting it may be.  Go ahead, you deserve it.  

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