When you have travelled on and off for some years, you will have stayed at places that are easily forgotten. Other places have left their marks in your memories, for good or bad. Some places you are happy you did not stay in. I will start with the latter category.
Come with me to Mongolia, Croatia, Cyprus, Jordan, Philippines, Myanmar, Chile, Brazil and Norway.
Travelling on the Moscow-Beijing train we had made a stop for a couple of days in Mongolia and were now on our final leg towards Beijing. The train made a short stop at a dusty town called Sainshand in the eastern part of the Gobi desert. This hotel did not give evidence they had welcomed guests for some time, and we were happy we had a good cabin to sleep in on the train.
In the early 1990s people on the Balkans experienced the dissolution of Yugoslavia and wars between the various armies. Ten years later we would fly in to Croatia and spent some time in Dubrovnik, several other towns on the coast, as well as on the beaches. Just a few metres behind a very nice sandy beach south of Dubrovnik we realised that there had been fights going on right here.
Bullet ridden buildings including the pictured hotel gave us a clear understating of the gravity of these fights. The hotel had still not opened when we were there, and I suppose it would take them some time to restore it – not to mention the restoration efforts needed to repair the hearts of all those involved in the conflicts.
Another war took place between the north and south of Cyprus in the middle of the 1970s. The Turkish invasion of the north involved some heavy shooting in the seaside resort town of Famagusta. The Greek-Cypriots were forced to leave the town and Turkish-Cypriots took over residential buildings belonging the previous owners.
The shelling of the string of high-rise hotels on the beautiful sandy beach left their toll, still visible today. There has been no effort to do anything with them, apart from putting up barbed wires and no-trespassing signs. This once famous resort looks like a ghost town.
I went alone to Amman, the capital of Jordan many years ago. Choosing what would have been the cheapest hotel in town, three dollars, I settled for a couple of days. I wrote this in my diary: “I forgot to tell about my room-mate. Or “mate” in quotation marks. My room had two beds. The other was occupied by a big sturdy Palestinian. He boasted about all his fights in Lebanon with the Israelis and even showed all his torso scars.
He did not seem emotionally stable and I kept my belongings tight at all times. I slept with my money belt on, and had my camera close. What really was disturbing, indeed worrying, was his constant sexual invitations. It was not pleasant at all to lie there listening to his invitations while masturbating himself in bed.” In addition the bed bugs were becoming increasingly annoying, so I found some other place to stay.
On my first long-distance trip to East Asia and Southeast Asia I arrived at a wonderful island in the sun, Boracay in the Philippines. This was many years before anyone would even consider putting up a hotel on the island, but the locals were beginning to build bamboo huts under the palm trees. Me and two other guys rented this one for a few days, and I stayed on the island even after they had left. It was paradise. In the morning the landlord would climb high up in a tree with buckets of water and empty them in a tank. The tank was connected with a hose to a shower in our cabin – pure luxury.
Many years later I would not only have a good shower but also a swim in the very relaxing pool of my charming and slightly luxurious little hotel in Bagan, Myanmar. Coming back from a dusty bicycle ride between the numerous temples there was no better option than to relax by the pool with a drink, my guidebook, my camera and a wifi-assisted call home to the old country.
Going back a few decades again, to Chile, the next place is a one of pure joy and relaxation. Lican Ray is a lakeside town the Chile’s Lake District. We had been on the move along the Andes from Ecuador in the north through Peru and Bolivia and were ready for a vacation.
Here we found a private accommodation, an entire house, at a reasonable price and caught a feeling of pure joy and happiness. We could do our own cooking, shop in the local grocery shop and butcher’s and relax. We needed this after the rather strenuous journey in the previous months.
That journey actually started in Rio de Janeiro. At that time, in the late 80’s a printed guidebook was essential and the South American Handbook was a Bible to all travellers in that continent. Their advice was in this case outdated as we actually checked into a hotel that was either for one-hour couples or a plain brothel.
Communication problems and suspicious looks in the reception area gave way to an understating of certainty when we stepped into our room. There was a huge mirror in the ceiling, the wallpaper was red teddy lining and so on. We stayed one night I think.
Fossli hotel has a perfect location right on the edge of Norway’s most famous waterfall, the Vøringsfossen. You can’t avoid hearing it and you can’t stop enjoying the superb views. The hotel is set on the perimeter of the vast highland plateau of Hardangervidda, a national park, and a close drive to one of the longest fjords, the Hardangerfjord.
The hotel itself was built in the late 19th centery and must have evolved gradually up until the late 1960’s or even early 1970’s. Since then everything was kind of locked down and no new impulses came in. I almost looked for a black&white TV set in the room, but there was no TV at all. It’s absolutely amazing. A memory to keep for years. We loved it.
Of course, there are more hotels to remember. Some good, some bad and some downright ugly.
I could have mentioned the ultra-dirty one in Moyobamba in Peru where we could scrape dirt off the wall. In Pinar del Rio, Cuba cockroaches would fly like kamikaze-planes across the room. Not to mention the former Socialist decadent heaven in Kiev’s Hotel Ukraina. Another hotel I didn’t stay in, was in the former town of Pripyat in the nuclear disaster zone of Chernobyl.
When I come to think of it, the bad and ugly categories tend to belong to the most faded memories because they happened so many years ago. In retrospect they were also the most memorable. Over the years I have grown into the habit of seeking a higher standard of living also when travelling. It comes at the expense of something, I suppose.