Tag Archives: accommodation

12 Uplifting Observations: USA Motels

Palm Springs motel: Dave Har1. The protective plastic covers have been removed from the lamp shades;

2. The No Soliciting sign on the door has been replaced by an Emergency Evacuation Plan;

3. The two sachets of coffee are Wolfgang Puck;

4. The mugs are made of something other than Styrofoam;

5. There is a lamp;

6. The plug is still attached to the lamp;

7. The lamp has a bulb;

8. The windows open;

9. The receptionist is not sitting behind reinforced glass;

10. The sink is not pink;

11. The usual synthetic brown blanket has been replaced by a duvet inside a white duvet cover – and it doesn’t appear to have been used;

12. There’s nothing on your Google search to confirm your suspicion your room has been the scene of a gruesome crime.

[Incidentally, the picture was taken – by Dave – at the Royal Sun, Palm Springs, which is really nice . . . in an old-fashioned way].

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Atlanta local

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Atlanta’s neighbourhoods are slow weekend cool. With a couple of days in the city, you can dip into war and politics (civil and racial), go visit some pandas, and then settle back with a bagel and the papers and let warm sun and the sound of slide guitar wash over you and pretend you live in one of those big houses with porches and pumpkins, oak trees and cicadas. Best of the in-town neighbourhoods for walking tourists are Virginia Highland or ‘the Highlands’ and Little Five Points, and both are within easy strolling distance of each other, divided by one of the city’s big green spaces just east of Midtown (and close to Driving Miss Daisy territory).

Little Five Points is like the best corner of Camden Lock but on a mini-scale (which is weird because everything else around these parts from roads to servings is on a maxi-scale) and without 95% of the people. It’s a curious mix of vintage clothing stores, seedy bars, small designer boutiques, vinyl shops, new age mullarkey, well-heeled liberals and pierced, dreadlocked, deferential grunge students hanging out in a quasi-alternative way. Allow a good hour to root through the Clothing Warehouse if 70’s Americana is your thing. Dave now looks like Hunter S Thompson.

Mostly what’s on sale in the Highlands ‘hood is cupcakes, bikes, bagels, dog grooming and Aveda products, but happy afternoons can be spent at the huge warm wood tables in the cool deli, Belly, before migrating a few doors up the leafy street to Atkins Park – Atlanta’s oldest licensed tavern – for dinner (boiled peanuts & sea salt followed by cornbread-crusted North Georgia trout with Bourbon brown butter apples and mash), and then Blind Willie’s for blues. Among Bill Sheffield’s finger picking, mournful, thigh-slapping tunes was a rendition of Rainy Night in Georgia, which was pretty appropriate given that it was indeed a rainy night.  On Thursdays you can head a bit further to the Diesel Filling Station – yes, a converted filling station, for the Dirty South Trivia quiz – but it wasn’t Thursday. Anyway, this is mid-priced dining heaven, and for budget dining heaven there is the Majestic Diner (on the Highland-Poncey intersection) dating back to 1929, surely unchanged since the 50s and a lovely thing indeed with its chrome and red counter stools and booths and flashing neon. Lovers of retro will also be dazzled by the art deco Plaza Theatre, an artsy cinema in the same strip.

This isn’t core tourist zone and accommodation is limited, but I found by accident and stayed at the quirky, wonky-floored, friendly and sweetly-priced, Highland Inn. A couple of bearded hipsters were discussing bands and a wedding party (red satin strapless, and suits and Converse trainers) was pushing its way through reception with their master of ceremonies when we arrived, and all greeted us cheerily as they went outside to smoke and glug beer before lining up with their partners to enter the ballroom lounge. This is a good sign. Prices seem to vary widely. I booked online for around $50 a night, then booked an extra night over the phone for a ‘discounted’ $90. But still. The Highland Inn is on 644 North Highland Avenue Northeast  Atlanta, Tel 404-874-5756.

It’s quite hard describing exactly where these neighbourhoods are so my best recommendation would be to Google them. Incidentally, the affable Jennifer Alice Acker, who works at the Clothing Warehouse recommended The Goat Farm, a venue that’s risen phoenix-like from the ruins of an old industrial site, where grass grows in the buildings and events are staged in the ruins with seating on rope swings from girders, Atlanta’s modern skyline as a backdrop. Hoping there is a performance happening when I return.

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The Detroit Homestead

Three indications this isn’t a hotel: 1. There’s a gleaming, lovingly restored BSA motorbike in pride of place in the living room; 2. The hosts are cooking, music’s playing, friends are coming round, and we’re invited to join them for dinner; 3. Dave is given a bike and directions to a liquor store, and pedals off into the dark (the other guest, Nick, in town for an interview at med school tomorrow) jogs in front to show him the way.

The two vibrant, nicely-lit guest rooms share a bathroom and guests have access to the kitchen, and the run of the ground floor. The owners, Alyssa and Matt, bought the central Virginia Park neighbourhood property (close to Wayne State University, Henry Ford Hospital, and Detroit’s New Center) for $13,000 in September. Yes, $13,000 – although they’ve invested cash and a huge effort into redoing all the hardwood floors, restoring it . . . and in record time. They occupy the top half. There’s talk of converting the attic space, and work is underway on a bunk room.

Like several properties in the area, the homestead, an example of what can be done, is now a bit of an anomaly in its street. To the uninitiated, the surroundings are hard to compute; not exactly shocking but baffling. Empty lots, boarded up houses, collapsing houses, burnt-out houses, entire abandoned streets. But we arrived in the dark, enjoyed the best hospitality with a group of people whose intelligent optimism and enthusiasm was illuminating, and by the time we stepped out in the morning to explore Detroit, we were seeing it more in terms of the exciting potential than its problematic past, okay, present.

Good company, comfortable bed and one of a handful of special places offering a fantastic opportunity to learn about Detroit rather than skim over its surface.

Detroit Homestead bookings; Coming soon: Conversations with Detroit locals about life in the city. Check back!

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Where to stay in Detroit?

Timely time to visit Detroit given Mitt Romney’s ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt’ infamous op-ed. The appeal of Detroit is, however, its DIY revival; the slow but steady emergence of independent bars, clubs, arts, restaurants, greening and community projects. If you stay at the MGM Grand or the MotorCity Casino it’s going to take longer to get orientated and find the gems in the rough. But alternative accommodation is hard to find and pretty much unmapped, and, if you are completely ignorant about Detroit, like me, it’s hard to know where to start a hotel / B&B hunt.

There’s a lot of information online that’s detailed, helpful . . . and off-putting. One person posting on where to stay in the city on the Lonely Planet Travel Forum recommends Downtown, adding it’s “probably the safest place in Detroit, it’s generally safe during the day, but I wouldn’t attempt it at night.” Cityboy2010 goes on to say:
“As far as safety and security, it’s sad to say that all of Detroit (with the exception of Downtown and the adjacent areas of Greektown, Corktown, and Mexicantown) is likely to be very dangerous . . . it should be said that most residential areas in Detroit are extremely dangerous. Be very vigilant, and don’t carry anything of value around. There are a few pretty safe neighborhoods, but these are in the minority, unfortunately. The following are, based on my experience as well as Detroit crime stats, the worst areas in the city that I avoid at all times, even in the day:

  • Anything from Coleman A. Young Airport, all the way to the northeast city limits.
  • Highland Park (probably worse than Detroit, it’s an independent city surrounded by Detroit)
  • The area within a 30-block radius or so from the Joy Road and Evergreen St intersection
  • Most places right off the freeways.
  • Where the Davison and Lodge Freeway meet.

Of course these aren’t the only bad areas, those are just the ones that you shouldn’t go into at all because of their high violent crime and homicide rate.”
Fair enough. It all sounds very complicated. And as there aren’t any small hotels embracing the designer ethic and emblazoned with vibrant local art anyway, the best course of action is to track down someone who lives in the city, knows it well and loves it, and stay with them. Travel blogger, Meghan McEwen, offers two chic rooms across from the abandoned Michigan Central Station at Honor & Folly in Corktown ($165). Further north, Nathan Andren offers super-affordable rooms and a wealth of knowledge about his native Detroit at the Detroit Loves You Guesthouse (bookable through Airbnb from $39 to $199 for the whole property), and a few blocks away there’s two rooms available at the Detroit Homestead (also through Airbnb). These last two properties aren’t in neighbourhoods generally regarded as ‘good’, but neither are they ‘bad’. They’ve been down, and now the majority of local residents are working hard to bring them up.

Having spent many idle moments when I was supposed to be working, trawling through Detroit property listings, dreaming about buying a couple of houses for a couple of thousand dollars, relocating and spending the rest of my life doodling and doing good works, it was the fact that the Homestead owners, Alyssa and Matt, were  new arrivals from Pittsburgh, that swung it for me. They’d fallen in love with the city during the course of long bike-riding visits, made loads of friends and chucked in their jobs to ‘engage in Detroit’s renaissance’, buying and renovating a property and opening it to guests to recoup their investment. They were now full of dreams and plans ranging from raising ducks, emu and pygmy goats, to running a bike rental and repair business, and offering facilities for aquaponics, music and  beer and cheese making. I like this enthusiasm!

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Toronto local

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Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue aren’t the prettiest of places, but there are few better for lurching from cafe to gallery to brick-walled restaurant via a few vintage shops and tiny, cosy bars. Gentrification is underway hence concrete mixers, cranes and the weird mix of shabby and chic. Which isn’t the same as shabby chic. Heading east from Dufferin to Trinity Bellwoods most of the original buildings on the south side have gone, to be replaced by loft condos, banks, and marts – hence the plaintive ‘You’ve changed’ plastered on an end wall. There are whole stretches that are just boring.

However, the revitalisation along Ossington Avenue, which intersects it at Starbucks, sort of makes up for it. Ossington now has the densest concentration of good, buzzy restaurants  in Toronto. Vancouver’s Salt seems they have spawned a branch here: Salt Wine Bar, serving the same mix of non-Spanish tapas (Alberta bison tartar, ginger soy & coriander) and flights of local wine. Next door, there’s the highly recommended Pizza Libretto, convivial, with great pizzas that manage to have succulent rather than snapping thin crusts (but be prepared to queue at the bar). This being Little Portugal, there’s Portuguese steam stew and bacalhau to take out from Alex Rei Dos Leitoes Churrasqueira next door to that. A couple of minutes back down towards Queen (no.92) there’s Cuban dinners (pork, rice, beans, plaintain) in the cosy environs of Delux, and at no.108, the fabulously aromatic Amaya Express (which also does take-outs – starters are huge).

Ossington is a 6 min walk from the 9flats apartment I’m currently basking in. If you can’t be bothered to go that far, a stone’s throw away on Queen, there’s the Drake Hotel for art, music, cheeky chic and cocktails and for more of a at-one-with-the-community, music, art and fantastic breakfasts, the Gladstone. And given that the first three floors of this condo block are reserved for people working in the arts, there’s a gallery space with frequent events and parties in the lobby.

Should point out, on a really local level is that there are two big blocks in development on the threshold. You don’t see the digging, trucking action from inside, you don’t hear it much, but you might trudge through mud to get home.

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A place, Toronto

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Yup, everything in this apartment is beautiful, from the massive heavy-framed mirror, art, cool classic and reclaimed furniture to plates with birds on, and  heavy knives and forks in the sleek, white drawers.  Industrial pipes, steel surfaces (an old fridge door for a desk) and concrete floors give the urban edge; cushions, lush textiles, rugs, clever lighting and good heating provide the warmth.

I haven’t done one of these stay-in-someone’s-home things before, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, and whether I was going to like it. I was also baffled as to why anyone in their right mind would relish the prospect of strangers loafing about on their sofas and handling their glassware, unsupervised. Now I get it.

Firstly, it works very simply; after registering and booking, I exchanged a couple of emails and texts about arrival times with the owner, and she met me at the door, helped lug my case, showed me the contents of the fridge and how the lights went on and off and, after a bit of banter, took a deposit, handed over the keys and went to Montreal. And I do like it. I don’t feel beholden; I feel independent. It has all the advantages of home but with better art and a different city through the window.

The fact you’re trusted with the run of someone’s home means that you’re careful, respectful and take a proprietary pleasure in keeping it all shipshape and Bristol fashion. I’m going to look for more, but this has set the bar very high. If you want to stay here visit the property page on 9flats.com.

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