Tom here.  Jolie and I want to do something a bit different in this entry in our blog. Since we write here about our explorations – both done together as well as from our earlier years – we thought it might be fun to reflect a bit on some of our memories and experiences of some of the different sorts of places we stayed on our travels – specifically some of the more memorable hotels, motels and other such places for lodging we’ve experienced in our lives. We also want to see if we can create a post in which we are both writing. So, I’ll start and then Jolie will come and add her part. And then we’ll take it from there.

So, on to the topic of hotels. I actually don’t seem to have a lot of childhood hotel memories, and I don’t think that the Conroys stayed in as many different places on the road as the Hamers. Jolie’s childhood hotel and motel stories are actually a lot funnier and a lot more colorful than mine. My most vivid childhood memory of staying away from home is my memory of summers at Klevas Courts in Beach Haven (named for the owner, Mr. Kleva, whose first name escapes me now) . Here I am, about the age of ten (proudly wearing my “Munsters” shirt) posing in the doorway of our bungalow.

Klevas Courts were great. They were smallish, two bedroom bungalows with about eight units in a U shape, with a little lawn in the front, which had a barbeque area. We were literally one block from the beach. We vacationed there each year and a few of our family friends, who had kids my age, did the same. We got to meet interesting characters in the other units, such as an old one armed fisherman and Mr Gene (us kids called him that), an amateur scientist and photographer who used words like “gizmos” and “thing-a-ma-jigs” and was always on the beach at the end of the day, with his metal detector, looking for buried treasure. Klevas Courts was where I was when I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, back in the summer of 1969, in the one unit that had a TV (Mike, the one armed fisherman’s unit); this was, of course, from the era when families would take vacations without a lot of technology – i.e., no TVs, phones, computers, etc., conditions that I think would be unimaginable nowadays. I also remember that the laundromat was several blocks away, and was, I think, called “The Sudsy Dudsy”. But what I mostly remember was that there was plenty to do on this island, from playing at the beach to fishing and clamming at the bay to bike riding to playing board games. I will admit, though, that while I rarely was bored there, I would eventually look forward to getting back home to my routines there.

I got to show Jolie the location of Klevas Courts about a year and a half ago. The property layout is the same, but the units themselves have been replaced with larger, more modern, two story facilities; I’m guessing the the current crop of renters are much more plugged in to technology than we were back in the late 1960s. Anyway, here is what the site currently looks like.

Anyway, I remember that our unit was always on the left in the middle, and the place where I watched the Apollo 11 landing was in the back toward the right 🙂

As I mentioned, beyond this, I have only a handful of childhood memories of staying at hotels. I do, however, recall a trip with my mom in the mid-1970s to Ireland, where we visited with my sister, who was spending a college year abroad there. It was basically really fun being in another country and traveling from place to place. There were, for a 14 year old American boy like me, some adjustments to make, such as occasional odd meals, odd bathrooms/beds/ancient plumbing fixtures, and in one instance, a “bed and breakfast” owned and operated by an elderly Irish woman with really old fixtures and decor. I was new, at the time, to the concept of a bed and breakfast, and found it a bit odd to be staying in the house of/with a complete stranger.

Jolie’s Turn:

Alrighty, and now here’s Jolie!  As I’ve mentioned before, my hometown is pretty far away from any major city.  Our closest major city was actually in another country, the US!  🙂  Duluth, Minnesota was and is a frequent destination for my family.  We were able to do some good old cross-border shopping, while not being too far away from home!  I’ve also mentioned that my family didn’t have a ton of money while I was growing up, so our accommodations were errrr…modest…yeah, let’s use the word “modest!”  For longer vacations, my family actually camped more often than they stayed in a hotel.  It was simply cheaper and we could stay longer that way.  We’d drag our little trailer all the way down to the Minneapolis area or to Wisconsin and stay for two weeks or so.  Man, I’ve got some crazy memories of camping!

It would all start when our parents would notify us that we’d be staying at some totally random place in Nowhere, USA.  “Hey kids!  We’re going to be camping for two weeks at the Bear Lake Campground!  It’s in Manawa, Wisconsin!”  (Some kids go to Disney World, some kids go to Manawa, Wisconsin!  Try not to be too jealous!)  This would almost always be greeted with indifference from my sister and me.  So we pulled into the campground, registered our trailer and when we were finished this little possibly one-hundred-year-old man on a bicycle wearing shorts and suspenders appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started riding on the road ahead of us.  My dad asked the woman with whom we just registered, “Where’s our campsite?”  And the woman, I kid you not, replied, “Follow him, he’ll lead you to the site!”  That’s never a good sign is it!  Hehe.

Or one time my parents and their friends decided that we would sneak into a campground without paying the nominal fee!  Ha, take that campground in Wausau, Wisconsin!!!!  We’re not going to give you your $10!!!!!!!  Ha!!!!!  We Hamers can be pretty crafty!  🙂  So we pulled up during the night and “squatted” in this campground.  I was quite young, so my memories are very fuzzy, but I do remember that there was a circus going on right next door.  So of course our entire family and my parents’ friends’ family scaled the fences and snuck in!  Now before you go and start thinking lesser of my family, remember that karma always comes back and bites a person on the butt.  Turns out that we were “squatting” in a campground that was filled with circus freaks!  And my parents’ friends were actually squatting on the “dumping station” which is basically the place where people empty out their trailer’s toilets.  Pleasant!  🙂  Serves us shysters right!

I have tons of camping stories similar to this.  One time I played with a kid named Otis!  One time my sister and I probably shaved a few years off our lives as we passed our time away swimming in a campground’s slime-filled “swimmin’ hole.”  Awwww, memories!

Hey look!  Here’s a picture of the swimmin’ hole!!!!  Tom, the meanie says that it looks like a mud puddle.  He may be right!

Allow me to wipe a sentimental tear from my eye!  LOL.  I was sixteen years old when I took my final camping trip with my parents.  To Webster City, Iowa of course!  When we arrived in the town, the first thing I said was, “Wow, this looks like the setting of a horror film!”  That was pretty much every family vacation we ever took, in a nutshell!  🙂  I remember the town didn’t have a grocery store, but they had a gas station called the “Come and Go.”  LOL.  We went to the Come and Go for some milk, but they had no milk!  So we had to go to a local fast food restaurant and buy a whole bunch of tiny cartons of milk!  That’s the life!

You may think, “Surely your hotel experiences were much better, though, Jolie!”  My answer?  “No, not really.”  Since hotels were a luxury to us, they were rare and they had to be cheap.  Apparently when I was a toddler, my parents stayed at a hotel that gave me a baby cradle to sleep in.  My mom said that my head kept on hitting the headboard, then my feet would hit the foot of the bed all night long…bonk…bonk…This story is a good foreshadowing of what was to come.

I’ll try to be as concise as possible.  Some hotels smelled like stinky feet.  Some beds were like sleeping on boulders.  My sister once got stuck in a hotel’s elevator when she was quite young.  I often had to sleep on a cot and as an adult I wonder how often the sheets and blankets were changed on those things (gags).  One time my cot was unfolded to reveal a bunch of toothpicks and cigarette ashes in the sheets.  Comfy!  In the bathroom of one of our classy hotels, the wallpaper had all different pictures of toilets on them.  One time, my bedspread had all cigarette holes in it.  But fret not, we had a Waffle House just a hop, skip and a jump away from that hotel!  Whew!  🙂  For those lucky folks who haven’t heard of Waffle House, allow comedian Jim Gaffigan to elaborate!

I took trips with my parents even as an adult, I suppose I was running out of crazy stories to share with my friends and I knew that I could get some by hotel hopping with my parents!  When I was eighteen years old, I travelled down south to Memphis with my parents.  All along the way, my parents prided themselves on the fact that we “made no reservations for the entire trip!”  Talk about living on the edge!  Of course you know the drawback to this sort of planning, don’t you!  This means that you’ll be staying in hotels with names like “Svedish House” (not a typo!) and the “Fiddler Inn” where there was a very large moving neon sign with a huge bear playing a fiddle.  Classy!

As an adult with full internet access, I am now able to look up these hotels online to see that they often have a one star rating.  Two if you’re lucky.  Many reviews contain comments like “I couldn’t get any sleep because a prostitute was fighting in the hallway with her pimp.”  This is why I grew up into an adult that thinks that the Holiday Inn is a high class option.  On the Hamer family ratio, the Holiday Inn is the equivalent of the Ritz Carlton, compared to the places we usually stayed!  That is until I discovered  I can now name my own price and can often get four star hotels for $50 a night.  So yes, now I prefer to live large in hotels, but after hearing these stories that I just told, can you blame me?  LOL.  Unfortunately, my dad has also become privy to these sorts of savings, which always means that he phones me up and asks me to bid on hotels for him!  He recently told me, “It’s great!  I show up at these fancy hotels in my sweat pants carrying my duffle bag with beer logos and up comes a person in a Rolls Royce checking into the same hotel!”  LOL, I love it!

My dad first became aware of Priceline when he paid $80 for one of his typical one star hotels.  Tom and I, on the other hand got a four star hotel for $50 and when we arrived, the lobby contained a huge fountain with a string quartet.  When we reached our luxurious room, the person at the desk phoned to make sure everything was to our satisfaction.  When we went to pick my dad up at his hotel, we got panhandled in the parking lot!  Nowadays,  my dad makes statements like “Hmmmm, I really like the Hyatt and the Crowne Plaza, but I prefer the Westin.”  My mom died before Priceline was ever around.  She was a very classy lady, so it makes me sad to know that she wanted nothing more than to occasionally stay in a decent hotel and never got that chance.  I can just imagine how she would react to my dad living large at the Westin, while she had to stay in places like the Svedish House.  (Actually that thought sort of amuses me. :-))

Would I do the sort of traveling that I did in childhood over again?  Oh heck yes!

Tom back again now:

Didn’t I say that Jolie had some amusing childhood hotel anecdotes?

Anyway, just to wrap up, these days, when we travel, the hotel experience is actually part of what we look forward to.  As Jolie mentioned, with websites like Priceline and Travelocity, as well as our GPS (which always gets us to our destination easily and accurately – highly recommended for those who travel anywhere by car), we have become informed consumers, so we usually now know what we are in for. There is a part of me that still, instinctively, thinks and acts like the grad student I once was, and considers staying in places like hostels. I last stayed, actually, in a hostel around 2002 and while it was fun and sociologically interesting hanging out in the TV lounge with a group of strangers from around the world, watching Seinfeld and Star Trek episodes with them, sleeping on a bunk bed in a small, poorly ventilated room with the same group of strangers was perhaps less so. So, I’m glad that Jolie and I have both evolved into more discerning consumers of the hotel experience. (Jolie says, to this, “yeah, tell me about it”). Because now, there is nothing quite like the comforting feeling and rather therapeutic effects of staying in a clean, decent, well maintained place, whether for a week or longer or even just one night and  not having to share bathrooms or storage lockers or anything else along those lines. And there is also much to be said for staying at a place that offers both a very comfy bed (such as at the Crowne Plaza, where we’ve been able to stay) and really well developed aesthetics and ambiance; for this latter quality, we have become huge fans of a place, when we visit Minneapolis, which is near their airport, called Le Bourget. Since this is often the place where we end our stay when we go there to sightsee and to visit with Jolie’s family in Thunder Bay, it is a nice calming way to end a trip before the relative stresses of airflight. And now,  because I am visual person, I just want to add a few final images, two from Le Bourget ‘s website and two from our photos, because I think that they capture what we now look for in our hotelling experience.

For one thing, the beds are extremely comfortable and the room are always clean and nicely furnished.

C’mon, you really have to admit, that looks pretty nice and comfortable!

The whole ambiance of the hotel is very well thought out, as is shown here, in the lounge.

But, going back to the room. We usually spend a bit of time, generally after we have arrived, just kicking back and relaxing.

In some ways, a nice hotel is the vacation, in and of itself; of course, though, we aim for balance – between planning for these enjoyable comforts as well as for allowing the unexpected to unfold.