…by Jerry Bowles
There is nothing quite as deliciously self-indulgent or decadent as a great hotel. Hemingway wasn’t whistling Dixie when he said “Whenever I dream of afterlife in Heaven, the action always takes place at the Paris Ritz.” Papa loved the place so much that he personally “liberated” it upon arrival into Paris with American troops in World War II. Coco Chanel lived there for years. Walking into an opulent lobby and being greeted by an army of minions whose only concern in life in your comfort and well-being is a heady experience, indeed, for the very rich and those us writer/photographer types who mastered expense account stealing from wealthy corporations before the Internet came along and ruined everything.
My favorite hotel is located a couple of hundred yards and a world apart from the Ritz. The Hotel Rafael opened in 1925 as a refuge for people who favor a smaller, more intimate approach to luxury. With its 86 elegant and tasteful rooms—some of which have balconies that look onto the Tour Eiffel—the Rafael is perfect for people who prefer privacy and understatement over obvious flash. I’m not sure the hotel is particularly proud of this but when Hitler visited Paris on June 23, 1940, he ate at private dining room at the Rafael with his military commander of France, General Strumnagle. The place is so romantic, they probably held hands.
On my first visit I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport for a photo shoot with a photographer of my acquaintance and we discovered that the baggage handlers and the airport taxi drivers were on strike. These were the days when photographers carried around strobe lights and all kinds of cameras and equipment. With our own traveling bags, we had somewhere between 150 to 200 pounds of stuff waiting for us on the tarmac under the plane. Somehow, we manage to drag it to a Metro stop, get it piled up in the middle of the train, rode to the Gare du Nord, unloaded, dragged it little by little up four levels, to the street. (At some point, we passed someone who looked like a baggage handler and I offered to buy him a condo in Miami if he would help us and he said something in French that sounded like “I am French. I don’t carry.”) Got our stuff into a city taxi which was not on strike.
Ten minutes after we settled in at the Rafael exhausted, I realized that somewhere along the way I had left my small shoulder bag which contained my passport, plane ticket home, and wallet. Dragged myself back into a taxi and back to the Gare du Nord and started retracing my steps. Three levels down, I found my bag, untouched, sitting at the top of an escalator. It was as close to a miracle as I’ve ever experienced. The whole thing took more than three hours. Any hotel that can survive that kind of introduction and become a favorite has got to be doing something right.
I have asked one of my dear friends to discreetly bury my ashes somewhere under the floorboards at the Rafael if he outlives me. I believe I asked someone else to scatter them in Puligny-Montrachet. Just in case the Rafael is booked.
Hotel Raphael, 17 Avenue Kléber, 75116 Paris, France
…by James Broder
In November of 1991 I worked for a week in Moscow on the television production of the Kremlin Cup ATP Tour tennis tournament. It was a crazy, chaotic time in Russian history. Boris Yeltsin had recently outwitted an attempted coup, climbing atop a tank parked outside the Russian “White House” at one point to give an impromptu press conference. Both the Hammer-And-Sickle and the flag of the Russian Republic flew atop the Kremlin. I know that to be a fact because one day I was invited to a reception at the Kremlin, and saw for myself. From inside the Kremlin Walls. As I walked to the Kremlin Palace of Congress. After the reception, I made a deal with the Kremlin coat check girl. I tipped her a dollar and she allowed me to keep my plastic coat check claim, with its Cyrillic writing. I kept it for 15 or 20 years, but ultimately somehow misplaced it.
The television crew was housed at a Penta Hotel across the street from the Olympic Stadium. Penta Hotels flew food and supplies in every day from Germany for hotel guests, because in the chaos of Moscow, food (or any consumer good) was almost impossible to come by. One day I went wandering through Moscow with a colleague who spoke fluent Greek (at least he could read the street signs). We decided to venture out to try to buy food. Any food. We were unsuccessful. None of the dozen-odd stores we visited had anything to sell. Not a loaf of bread, not a potato. We spent almost 5 hours wandering around the heart of Moscow, and returned to the hotel with nothing. Then I went upstairs to my room and switched on the TV to EuroSport. Whatever I started watching was interrupted by Magic Johnson’s press conference from The Great Western Forum announcing he had contracted HIV and was retiring from the Lakers.
About 10 years later I was invited back to Moscow to work on the television production of a UCI World Cup track cycling event, indoors at the Krylatskoye Velodrome (world’s only indoor 333m track!). I checked into a giant, spooky-looking Soviet-era hotel next to the Moscow River called the Hotel Ukraina. I arrived after dark. Atop the hotel was a 50-foot-tall electrically-lit red star. After stashing my bag in my room, I went back outside and had a walk around the neighborhood.
You might say things had changed. There was a Porsche dealership across the street. Down the block was a SBarro. On the first floor of the hotel, around the side, mid-block, was a medium-sized supermarket. I walked inside to find huge bins of fresh produce, a well-stocked dairy section, and anything else one would find in a typical SPAR in Germany or a Sparkasse in Austria.
Capitalism had come to Moscow. God help them.
Zaha’s First Hotel
…by Andrew MacNair
In What Seems Like the Middle of Nowhere…
On and off for a year I lived in the Billie Strauss Art Hotel. It is the first hotel designed by my friend Zaha Hadid in the early 1990’s. This first hotel, commission by Billie and Mano Strauss for Zaha, was the result of a direct line of friends of friends to friends – Nicola Walter in New York to her mother Maya Walter in Stuttgart to Billie Strauss in Stuttgart and Nabern. Billie Strauss ran an avant-garde gallery in Stuttgart where I was doing an exhibition of “Egg City.”
Billie Strauss and her architect husband, Mano, run an extraordinary country restaurant in the old town hall, the Weinstube Altes Rathaus of Kirchheim unter Teck, Nabern, Germany. Mano is the great chef and Billie the sweet and always cheerful boss. Zaha made in one way a fairly practical renovation inside the barn with a few Zaha touches and in another way what was then its own kind of radical thing – a wild, swooping curvilinear gallery ceilings punctuated with broken diagonal walls and a tectonic insertion, a kind of fallen fragment jammed into the middle of the new tiny exhibition space downstairs in a sub-basement sunk half below ground with facing the back side towards the town brook. Two kinds of musical scores: Zaha’s Futurist Symphonic Cacophony versus the Sublime Babbling Brook.
I lived in a room for the year with trips back to Rotterdam and New York was small white and blue sheetrock box with a two shiny side tables and a small pointy bed. It was actually “the nice” room. Quiet. Clean. Simple Modern. Bright. I liked it.
One part of Zaha’s original design that was not built was a small, steel-frame tower attached to the hotel with three levels of extra super rooms. The image of this little avant-garde tower like an abstract tree for me was always part of my view, vision – and now memory of living, being there. The constancy of living between memory and imagination is who we are and a major part of how we live. Also, for some architects, the world of “unbuilt architecture” is a major part of our constant production making buildings clients or no clients – both for Zaha and probably even more-so for me. I have a 45 year architectural practice of over 500 buildings never built. So Zaha’s unbuilt tower of rooms is a very important part living there and now in memory of that journey.
There were a few things that were always in my view of what was essentially country, farming town living. The side tables were slightly sloped and shiny, so things would keep sliding off. And there were pointy corners of the frame of the bed that kept jabbing my shins. And then it was almost too suburban, too nice – an endless aura of ennui – but that was soothing to me while it seemed out of character not only with Zaha and her design aesthetic – but more with the divide from the rustic beauty of the barn and Rathuis, the small farmer’s village and the flowing rural landscape of streams, fields, horses, cows, and the nearby Schwabian Alps.
Ironically I was working during that year in Stuttgart with Mano and a local architect’s office on a design for a health hotel nearby in Beuren – a famous and popular hot water springs. Buses packed with Germans, Italian and even Japanese tourists came to this tiny town to bathe in the springs. I was there in Billie Strauss Art Hotel designed by Zaha while designing a Health Hotel up the road and over the mountain.
The most interesting aspectual hindsight far-far away from New York 20 years later is what I call the “Shifting Contextual Frame” – or a kind of “Traveler’s Zoom” – where we hover between memory and imagination – in a zoom from the Buzz of Stuttgart to the picturesque outdoor Pastoral Landscape of the Schwabian Alps to the to the Rustic Farming Town and Wild Curvilinear Yellow Koolzaad flower fields to the antique buildings of the Restaurant and the Art Hotel to the interior abstract spaces of the gallery disrupted with an inserted, crashing Zaha Fragments and the finally up to a quiet, carved refuge of my tiny blue and white room, an Aedicule of Peaceful Refuge – which thanks to Billie and Mano gave what-was-for-me a neccessary and rare space, time and calming experience. It was an avid, manic New Yorker living in a rural place that seemed and seems like a dream in Nowhere yet is very much Somewhere – special oasis, a clear place and bright memory I still cherish – with relish.
Arthotel Billie Strauss, Weilheimer Straße 20, 73230 Kirchheim unter Teck, Germany
Weilheimer Strasse 18, Kirchheim – Teck/Nabern, 73230 Kirchheim unter Teck, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland
…by Sally Steele
Many of the Boulevardiers are very low maintenance when it comes to hotels. Others are not. Traveling with our Publisher often yields nicer rooms due to his penchant for “haggling.” I would not always call this haggling, I would just say it is taking advantage of the gift of exacting memory combined with the gift of gab.
On a trip to Turkey, we had quite the adventures. We started in Istanbul, landed at night, headed to an airport hotel, woke up at 4:00am to a windy rainstorm, had the window of our room bust open spilling rain onto the carpet and knocking over end tables we had stacked up to keep the window from blowing open in the first place, quickly dressed and headed back to the airport in the damp dark. You might be wondering why we put up with this? Our Publisher who was shooting for The New York Times Sunday Review, Exposures series was given the exciting opportunity to shoot at CERN, during downtime for the ATLAS & ALICE colliders, right before CERN was due to close for weeks around the holidays. When approached by The New York Times, we said, “sure we can detour right after landing in Istanbul and go from there to Geneva, across to CERN, down 700 meters to Atlas, shoot, then head to Alice, and get back on a plane to Istanbul and restart our vacation!”
So…back in Istanbul, we checked in to our real hotel, the Celal Aga Mansion, and toured Istanbul, from an average but nice room in this hotel, with a quirky but friendly staff. Two weeks later, after heading via a bus in a Christmas Eve snowstorm through the Taurus Mountains to Antalya for a week, and then back to Fethiye, Izmir,bharain, we returned to Istanbul. Before leaving Istanbul, we booked another room at Celal Aga Mansion, for the nights before we returned to the U.S.
Unfortunately, after a very active and full time in our other Turkish destinations, we arrived at Cel Aga Mansion to be told that we had not indeed booked a room, and they were also sold out as it was New Year’s and rooms anywhere in Istanbul were at a huge premium, and only certifiable dignitaries would get one arriving after dark on December 31. I became fretful and was figuring out how to contact someone, anyone, to get a room in Istanbul, even if we had to go back to the wind tunnel at the airport. Our Publisher, assuring the check-in staff that we had secured a room, invoked the name of his crony in reception from the prior visit, and insisted that they had not only guaranteed our 2nd booking, but that we would have to be given a room, any room, as we were not leaving. After about 5 minutes of haggling, which felt like an hour, the clerks told us they did have a room, only one which we figured was a closet next to the kitchen…but actually was their Royal Suite. Apparently a Bahraini Prince had his eye on it, but had not arrived in to Istanbul or confirmed, so as it was almost New Year’s day, out came the luggage cart, and up we went.
Splendid is the only way to describe the suite, multiple gilt baths, a huge living room with bar, a kitchen, and a glorious bedroom with all kinds of built in luxuries. We reveled in the sumptuousness, then headed out to dinner, told multiple times that no reservation on New Year’s Eve=no dinner, so we settled for cheap takeout at the joint around the corner, and headed back to our royal suite for the evening.
A vendor in the Istanbul Bazaar once amused me in epic fashion, “Madam, how can I part you form your money?” Basically don’t try, and now that I’ve had the Bahranian royal suite for the same price as a Queen room, I’m insufferably not able to be parted from my money.
Celal Aga Mansion Hotel, Kemal Paşa Mh., Şehzadebaşı Caddesi No:5, 34130 Istanbul, Turkey
…by Marilyn “Greenie” Abrams
It was around 1971, when we first visited Cannes and were staying at a hotel on the Croisette. Fielding at that time was a great travel book and recommended the Hotel du Cap in Cap d’Antibes as a must see. We booked a reservation for lunch. We drove up to this astonishingly beautiful villa and walked in the front door which opened up to the most magnificent view of the Mediterranean imaginable at the end of a long path surrounded by incredible gardens.
If I haven’t used enough adjectives, suffice it to say that after an impeccable lunch (another adjective) we checked out of our Cannes hotel, moved to the Hotel du Cap, canceled our Paris hotel and have returned every year since. The biggest change has been that the guests at that time were all European while now Americans have discovered the charm.
Hotel du Cap, Boulevard JF Kennedy, 06600 Antibes, France
…by Kim Steele
Upon arrival at Heathrow, I was greeted by a dapper gentleman in a Jaguar to transport me to The Savoy Hotel in Central London on the Thames. The House of Savoy was the ruling family of Savoy, descended from Humbert I, Count of Sabaudia (or “Maurienne”), who became count in 1032, who broke original ground on the Strand in the City of Westminster. It passed through many royal hands before becoming the property until impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte bought it in 1880 to build the Savoy Theatre expressly for Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Having seen the opulence of American hotels in his many visits to the U.S., Carte decided to build the first luxury hotel in Britain ( Peck, Tom. “Savoy refurb: rather fine, guests agree”. The Independent, 11 October 2010). , which was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity.
In 1890, Carte hired the hotel’s first famous manager, César Ritz, who later became the founder of the Ritz Hotel. Ritz brought in his partners, chef Auguste Escoffier, and maître d’hôtel Louis Echenard. Ritz put together what he described as “a little army of hotel men for the conquest of London” Ashburner, F.”Escoffier, Georges Auguste (1846–1935)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, May 2006, accessed 17 September 2009
I was surprised by this development, but since the corporation for whom I was working, made the reservations, I was in good hands. Arriving at this esteemed institution, we were greeted by many bows and proffered hands. I have never seen such quality swaggy goodies in the room in my life. Also in a promotional effort there was a gift certificate for food and wine at the hotel that was part of the room price. I am sure, even in the nineties, this room fare was over $500 US. The writer and I luxuriated over the grounds, woodwork and rugs and planned our work. This lobby set the standards for all my future hotel experiences. We were both surprised at the accommodations but the welcome was so enthusiastic, we waited until the next day to contact our client. WHAT???? He bellowed, not that Savory but another one with a slightly different name… Too late, unfortunately, to check out that day, we had to endure all the fineries of the upper class: custom made beds by Savoir Beds, sheets, towels, soaps, petit four and antique furniture for another day before moving out with the riff-raff to more pedestrian accommodations.
The list of clients include the most luminary, from Queen Elizabeth Coronation Ball, to King Edward VII, Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso (who sang with a baby elephant while the lobby was flooded for a gondola party), Lillie Langtry, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Nellie Melba, Charlie Chaplin, Al Jolson, Errol Flynn, Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Barrymore, Harry Truman, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Josephine Baker, Cary Grant, Babe Ruth, Ivor Novello and Noël Coward. Chruchill would often take his luncheons there complete with his daily bottle of champagne.
The hotel is now owned by a US equity firm, Blackstone, and operated by the Fairmont Group. As to have laid my head down on that sumptuous custom bed for two nights, twas Heaven!
The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R 0EU, United Kingdom
…by Kim Steele
Heralding a consummate list of guests, including Egyptologist Howard Carter, who in 1922 discovered the intact tomb of Tutankhamen, The Winter Palace was the winter residence for Egypt’s King Farouk hence the name, it sits atop the Karnak at Luxor, on the Nile that cannot be traversed, but must be circumnavigated, like so many things in life.
Rising up those few steps into the entrance, off the busy, street crowded with child beggars and horse carriages, and in short distance along the majestic Nile, the felucca catch the breezes in their picturesque sails.
Lovely details from, hangers, to sheets and stationery, this hotels says, you ‘have arrived!’ I sat on the back terrace overlooking the garden, writing in my journal about the important impact that Egypt had on the the Western world: astrology,(discovering the leap year), geometry, our calendar, our counting system, and architecture system. Nearby is Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, one of the most memorable sites in the world. It is an elegant beaux arts structure enveloping the Nile.
Winter Palace Hotel, Kornish El-Nile st – beside Luxury Temple – Luxury, Luxor, 11432, Egypt
THANK YOU to Jerry, James, Andrew and Greenie for sharing your travel tales with The Boulevardiers.
First hand recommendations from our Publisher:
Hotel Hassler Roma, Italy
Le Sirenuse Hotel, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Taj Bengal, Kolkata, India
Brown’s Hotel, London, UK
Grand Hotel et de Milan, Italy
Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor, Egypt
Hotel Majestic, Saigon, Vietnam
Chateau Marmont, bungalows, Los Angeles
The Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico
Hotel Arts Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, Thailand