1. The year I was nine we lived in the Hotel Flamingo for more than a month: two parents, three kids, and one very large Alaskan Malamute who would become known in this Italian town as “cane lupo.” Dog wolf. We weren’t the only Americans in residence at the Flamingo, there were a number of other Navy families in our same situation: just arrived from the States, househunting. The school bus picked us up there, and the hotel kitchen made us bag lunches. We did our homework in the Mediterranean heat, poolside. There were skirmishes with Italian kids in the side alleys. We had assigned tables in the dining room, and regular waitors. Ours, Bruno, was a darling with curly hair and was surely one of my earliest crushes. We moved into an apartment nearby and didn’t return to the Flamingo, but many Americans did, spending summer days beside a very ordinary hotel pool when a gem of a beach was just a short walk away! The Flamingo was one of the centers of Americans-pretending-to-be-in-America; it was safe. But my family was different: my mom spoke fluent Italian and had lived in Rome for a year in the ‘60s, when she was a beautiful girl with green eyeshadow. In Gaeta she recruited Italian boys to coach our soccer teams, and became the only Navy wife whose best friend was Italian. But those weeks in the hotel were a treat for a nine year old, like a long vacation!
2. When I was eleven we all piled into our beat-up green Volkswagon bus and drove up through Italy to Nice, France, for Mardi Gras. We checked into our modest little pensione and went out to explore the city; while out and about, my father ran into a woman he knew, the woman who happened to be in charge of the city’s carnival parades. My father was at that time responsible for making the schedules of ports of call for every US Navy vessel in the Mediterranean, and I have a vague impression he knew her somehow through his work duties. In any case, she was busy and gave him the brush off. Fine. But when we returned to our little pensione later that day we were told men had come to take our luggage away! We pictured thugs, thieves! But in fact this woman, regretting her rudeness, had found out where we were staying and moved us to the official hotel of the Carnival: the Negresco.
The Negresco is a 5-star hotel. It remains the only 5-star hotel I have ever set foot in. When we pulled up to the valet in our ratty VW with gouge marks on both sides from getting wedged in an alley in Naples, we felt... out of our element. We pretended to belong there. I can just picture my brother and I in our ski parkas (it was the Riviera, yes, but February, and raining), noses snootily in the air as if we did this every day! Our room, compliments of, I suppose, the City of Nice, was an eleven-room suite overlooking the beach and the parade route. It was HEAVEN!! And the room-service breakfast cart, piled with delectable things... Like a dream. Paloma Picasso was a guest while we were there, and at one point a Saudi man in full sheik attire took a liking to my white-blonde five-year-old sister and told my mother he would buy Emily anything she wanted in the hotel gift gallery. To my mother’s mortification, he was pointing out diamonds, but my sister saved the day as only a five-year-old can, by desiring only chocolate, an acceptable gift from a strange rich sheik!
3. I have slept in a fairy chimney, and in a treehouse by the sea! Both, in Turkey. Jim and I went to Turkey six years ago, in between visiting Alexandra in Bulgaria and going on to Italy, where Jim proposed to me! And we LOVED Turkey. Go there, everyone! And if you go, go to Cappadoccia. It is the most otherworldly landscape I have ever explored, a sandcastle of a land, barren and bizarre and so outrageously beautiful. “Fairy chimneys” are the name for the dwellings hollowed out of the strange rock formations, and in Goreme, all the hotels are carved into the rock. They’re not fussy, but have rough-hewn windows and lots of Turkish carpets, and patios overlooking the most amazing cityscapes.
The treehouse was set in a lemon grove at Olympos, by the sea. A rickety bus carried us down into a forested ravine and back along a single road lined with clusters of treehouses. A short ramble through thick forest, past Byzantine ruins, leads to a secluded beach. And at night there are hikes up the mountain to see a naturally occuring eternal flame, flickering right out of the rock now for hundreds of years. If you go, bring marshmallows. We didn’t, but thought it would have been fun!
I love travel, and I love hotels and youth hostels in old strange buildings. In Spain I stayed in a former prison, in Vietnam in a room in the belly of a giant giraffe sculpture! I have never yet slept in a hammock slung in a beach shack in Mexico, but I would like to, someday! And as fun as that stay at the Negresco was when I was eleven, I would take the fairy chimney or the treehouse, or the modest little pensione by the cathedral in Amalfi, any day, and spend the difference buying puppets and blown-glass perfume bottles and sandals!
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