Where was I? Oh, yes, thinking. It all started when someone told me that my old room in a refurbished student residence in Scotland was now on offer as a ‘penthouse suite’ (it had been the size of a shoe-box) for one million pounds, over 4 million litai. When I had rented it in the 1960’s, the fee for a room with a view of Edinburgh Castle was a mere £100 (400 litai) for a 3-month term. What goes around comes around, but the price has usually gone up, even for a shoe-box. It made me think of Groucho Marx speaking on a hotel phone: “Room service? Send up a bigger room.”
As a result of a price imbalance, I was able for many years to convert my Gulf Air-to-London voucher into a Cathay Pacific round-the-world ticket and travel the globe for free during my 3-month holiday from the state of Qatar. So I have been in hotels both outlandish and forgettable. The family joke became that the midwife told my mum she had given birth to ‘a fine healthy 5-star hotel guest’. And over the years, two great contradictory truths about hotels became clear to me. All hotels are alike, and no two hotels are the same.
The Ice Hotel in Sweden and the Hotel de Glace in Quebec both melt every spring and are rebuilt each winter. Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo is 21 feet beneath the surface of the water and you need scuba gear to get to your room. In Capsule hotels in Japan people sleep in stacks of rectangular containers, which lend a vaguely monastic atmosphere. (“They are a little bigger than a coffin,” one smooth salesman told me.) And the Liberty Hotel in Boston used to be the Charles Street Jail. Malcolm X stayed there. In the jail, I mean.
We have a hotel of note in my home town of Dundee. The singer Frankie Vaughan, then in his heyday, wouldn’t perform at my aunt’s wedding in the Queen’s Hotel because they couldn’t find a microphone, or that was his excuse anyway, but it has a greater claim to fame than that. In 1909 Winston Churchill used it as his campaign base and wrote to his wife, ‘I could find nothing nourishing for lunch but pancakes.’ This nitpicking was compounded when he famously found a maggot in his kipper. After Dundee’s electors voted Churchill out in 1922, he refused the freedom of the city, something I shall never do.
The word ‘heyday’ has reminded me of another hotel recently constructed in the Swiss Alps. The Maya Guest House was the first hotel in Europe to be built entirely with bales of straw. It seems that due to the insulation properties of the walls, it requires no other form of heating. But I can’t help wondering what it smells like. Better by far, I think, to choose the Ecotel in Vilnius if you want to do your bit for the environment…