Category: hotel (Page 2 of 3)

Hotel Life: The Ups & Downs

Another four and a half more weeks before we move into our new house. Here are my thoughts on living in a hotel.


$ Cost $: My husband’s relocation package helped us break our lease, but staying in hotel for a month is still significantly more expensive than any type of rental. In case you haven’t noticed, we hardly go out to eat anymore.

Climate Control: Each room is equipped with a thermostat. While we can adjust the temperature to our hearts’ desire, the air conditioner, located next to the bed, hurls freezing cold wind throughout the entire room. On hot days, the room quickly vacillates between frigid cold and stifling hot. There’s no middle ground.

“I will freeze or suffocate you!” 

Cleanliness: When I enter a hotel room, I immediately put my belongings in the bathroom and tear apart the beds searching for signs of filth or bedbugs. I’m no expert on pest control, but the process of examining the beds helps me to check a mental box so that I can move along.

I also remove any blankets from my bed.

You stay over there!

Last week, I found a small spot of dried blood on a corner of the hotel comforter. Now I sleep with a blanket I brought back from home. My hotel life is like a game of “don’t touch the ground.”

Strange smells. 


The television channels include Food Network. 

Wireless Internet.

Outlets everywhere. 

Workout room. 

Daily room cleaning service: The staff even make my bed with the blanket I brought from home. 

The Hotel Diet

Our “kitchenette” away from home.

Our hotel is stocked with a mini fridge and microwave. We couldn’t find any options offering more than these accommodations.

In the mornings, I hit the breakfast buffet with my husband before he leaves for work. At 6 a.m., it’s quiet and I don’t have to contend with a crowd. It’s shocking how intensely people move around breakfast buffets. The meals are included in the rate, so I fill up here and save a yogurt or bagel for later. Honestly, it’s not that bad.

I stock our mini fridge and pantry with staples like diet frozen dinners, soup, cheese and crackers, and fruits and vegetables. There’s never a shortage of hot sauce or wine.

My friend had to live in a hotel while her husband was transferring in Fargo and suggested that I try my hand at microwave pickling. She also sent this recipe for asparagus and lemon risotto that can also be made in the microwave. I got really excited until I realized we don’t have a cutting board or knives.

There’s also the issue of not wanting to cook anything too pungent. I don’t want strong smells in our small living space and our neighbors probably won’t want them wafting through theirs.

Hotel Life Makes Me Especially Grateful For:

Homecooked meals. Last weekend, we stayed with Jake’s parents. His mom made me a ham sandwich that I enjoyed with wild abandon. When our parents make us comfort foods like sloppy joes and hot dish, they really fill a void. At the end of a week in which the most exciting thing I ate was an Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad, I fantasize about homecooked food.

Laundry: Our folks are the best because they let us do loads of laundry at their houses.

Do you have any hotel life hacks? 

Our First Week In Mason City: The Decker House B & B

We spent our first week in Mason City at The Decker House, a bed and breakfast located near downtown. During this first week, we wanted a cozy place to land.

Sally, the innkeeper, graciously accommodated our unusual schedule and gave us a business rate for the week. Because we made our reservation on short notice during the 4th of July weekend, we had to switch rooms on our last evening, but we weren’t bothered by that.

My favorite room was the aptly-named Rose Room. It’s tall ceilings made the room feel spacious and I enjoyed sitting on its private balcony.

We also spent a couple evenings in the Magnolia Suite, the inn’s most expensive room. It’s equipped with a king-sized bed, small sitting area, and fancy bathroom with two sinks. There’s a large whirlpool but no shower, so keep this in mind in case you like to bathe quickly. We found the Internet connection strongest near the sitting area.

The suite was only accessible through a series of stairs in the back of the house. It was quite a hike with large suitcases, but we enjoyed the location’s privacy.

The house includes other perks like central air conditioning and the “endless cookie jar” by the stairs to which guests can help themselves. We enjoyed freshly-baked oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. Guests can also purchase beer and wine from the bar in the basement according to the honor code. There’s a price list near the refrigerator.

For those who enjoy walking, The Decker House is located near the downtown area and Music Man square. It’s next door to the public library, across the street from a not-too-lively mall, and minutes from the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel.

Parfait with freshly-picked strawberries

My husband had to leave for work early in the mornings, so he missed several of the breakfasts but the ladies left out muffins and fruit. I enjoyed everything they prepared: Blueberry pancakes, waffles with a cornmeal crunch, scrambled eggs, and a frittata filled with caramelized onions and potatoes. The meals always began with hot coffee, fresh fruit, and a different type of muffin.

Mid-way through the week, the staff picked strawberries and incorporated them into rest of the meals.

All in all, we had a relaxing stay at The Decker House. Rooms range in price. They’re more expensive than the area’s motels, similar to a regular hotel room (or maybe slightly less) and less than the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel.

Unlike a hotel, the bed and breakfast does not have certain amenities like flat screen televisions (cable is available) and a fitness center, though guests can request daily passes to the city’s two YMCA locations, the larger of which has a pool.

Most of all, I appreciate that I never had to worry about cleanliness or safety, and the three course breakfasts, of course. I prefer bed and breakfasts over hotels, especially when traveling solo, because I like feeling like I’m staying in someone’s home, but with additional privacy.

If you find yourself spending the evening in Mason City or Clear Lake, IA, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Decker House. We felt warmly welcomed to the community.

*One night for dinner, The Quarry, located in the courtyard of the mall, packed us bowls of homemade split pea and ham soup and charred bread to go for only $6 each. It’s a five minute walk from the inn. 

Eating I-94: The Palmer House Hotel, Sauk Centre, MN

I have a confession to make.

I like ghosts.

Jake, on the other hand, likes aliens. He finds them more probable than ghosts, but I disagree.

To be realistic, I’m terrified of ghosts. Never in my life do I actually want to see or encounter one. But nevertheless, I still like ghosts.

This ghost talk brings me back to a conversation Jake and I recently had with friends. We discussed living offensively vs. defensively over Rhombus Guys pizza and half-priced wine (we especially liked the Louisiana Saturday Night). I live offensively enough. I’m usually game for new experiences, as long as they start before 8 p.m. Jake mentioned he feels that as he’s gotten older, he’s come to live life more defensively, which has resulted in a smaller pool of stories.

When I reflect back, my most interesting stories occurred during travel. And not just long trips, but local road trips, too. In the spirit of adding new experiences to the old story bank, I convinced Jake to join me on another adventure down I-94. We stopped in Sauk Centre to visit the Palmer House Hotel on our way to Saint Paul, MN.

If you take the Sauk Centre exit and turn left, you’ll find yourself on Main Street within minutes. The Palmer House Hotel is located along the heart of my favorite type of classic Americana main street. It’s a striking, three-story building made from red brick and impossible to miss if you’ve seen a photo. The hotel was rebuilt in 1900 and was the city’s first building with electricity. Sinclair Lewis, the first American to be awarded the Nobel prize in Literature, hailed from Sauk Centre and used to work at this very hotel. Literature buffs can visit the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center, located right off the freeway, and his childhood home.

Even more so than Sinclair Lewis, I’ve seen Palmer House noted for it’s paranormal activity. The hotel has seemed to have been explored by every paranormal investigation group in the region and was recently featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.

We walked into the lobby and were directed to seat ourselves in the pub (bar). At three p.m., the hotel was extremely quiet. Nevertheless, the woman who served us was attentive and friendly. We warmed up with hot coffee delivered in large, clay mugs. They were the type you grip with two hands and, for some reason, I found joy in this.

We learned happy hour had just begun and appetizers were half-priced. Since it was before five p.m., the dinner menu wasn’t offered yet. The lunch items consisted of appetizers, soups, sandwiches, and salads. I wasn’t terribly hungry and ordered the ham, cheese, and pineapple quesadilla.

Jake ordered a burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions, and a side salad.

My quesadilla was good enough. Overall, a satisfying appetizer at less than $4.

Jake’s burger was cooked through (I don’t think he was asked about doneness and he forgot to ask), but it was moist and covered in plenty of caramelized onions and creamy blue cheese. The bun was buttered and nicely toasted. The side salad was like a typical iceberg lettuce mix. Nothing remarkable but it was fresh and the dressings tasted good.

The hotel appeared clean, though slightly worse for the wear. The exterior of the building conjures glimmers of its historical richness, and the interior looks like it was decorated by one of our Midwestern grandmothers. The lobby restrooms were also clean, yet worn. Curtains, instead of doors, shaded the stall and a wooden stick propped up the sink. The hotel management displayed a note by the mirror  acknowledging they were aware of needed repairs, but needed to wait for insurance settlement money to arrive.

Side note for the ladies: The hotel thoughtfully offered complimentary feminine supplies in little baskets within each stall.

All in all, our meal was decent and affordable, especially with the happy hour discount. The Palmer’s lunch menu wasn’t worth a special trip in itself, but the hotel was a pleasant place to pause for hot meal and break from the drive. Visiting a building steeped in so much history and lore felt like an adventure in itself and the service was hospitable. And, ghosts.

Sauk Centre’s charming main street is very accessible from the freeway and about halfway between Fargo-Moorhead and Minneapolis-St. Paul. I also noticed other restaurants and cafes and would like to return for further exploration. Returning for dinner could be fun. Maybe after I have a chance to read one of Lewis’s literary offerings.

An Essay On Bed and Breakfasts

In my short life, I’ve stayed in a decent number of bed and breakfasts.

As a woman who has traveled solo, I have always felt more comfortable in a bed and breakfast than a hotel. Plus, there’s the food.

I’m not sure why it occurred to me to stay in a bed and breakfast in the first place. Years ago, my family cared for my mom at home while she was in hospice, and I needed a time out. I remember telling my boss at the time that I needed a day off, otherwise I would have a mental breakdown. He replied with something along the lines of, “I don’t want to know. Just go.” He put up with me when I was fresh out of college. I mean, I accidentally lit my computer keyboard on fire and he had to put it out, for goodness sake. Instead of firing me, he laughed at me. And then told everyone. He was a saint.

On short notice, I found myself at the now-closed bed and breakfast in Chaska, MN. I hiked through the bluffs on a sunny autumn afternoon, treated myself to dinner, and curled up for the rest of the evening in a pile of library books drinking cream sherry by the tiny glass. Cream sherry was like a revelation to me. It never tastes as good at home. The next morning, I sat alone at a table next to another couple and enjoyed an awkward breakfast of yogurt parfait and eggbake in the dining parlour.

I was thrilled that my tally was only $100 and thus began my ongoing bed and breakfast quest.

The bed and breakfasts I have stayed in have ranged from just fine to delightful. I’ve come to choose inns based upon decor, avoiding frilly lace and dolls like the plague. At a bed and breakfast in outstate Minnesota, my evening was dampered by trying to avoid sleeping in Wookie-sized mattress craters. Snacks have ranged from wheat thins to homemade crackers to freshly baked cookies and tea, to none at all. Eggbakes reign supreme (which I happen to love). One of my favorite dishes was a wild rice quiche while I was less crazy about a cheap, grocery store danish.

Some inns enrich the visit with special touches like cream sherry or chocolates while others feel more like staying at your friend’s grandmother’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, except when the price costs the same as those with more perks. I’ve appreciated discounts from making last minute reservations and traveling solo. The rates are set for two people and two breakfasts, so, oftentimes, an inn will eliminate the cost of the second breakfast.

This is all to say that the good have been really, really good, while the others have been ordinary at worst.

Most have forced guests to eat breakfast together at a set time. I have actually found it less awkward to dine around a common table, than to be divided into small tables. As an introvert, this situation brings about an expected degree of anxiety, though I have always found community dining less awkward than expected and mostly enjoyable.

One of my favorite experiences occurred at the Elephant Walk in Stillwater, MN the spring of 2009, five months following my mother’s death. I had found myself in a perplexing relationship and wanted to get away for a night. I packed my stay doing all of the things that made me feel like myself. A perk of traveling solo was having my very own massive cheese plate and bottle of wine that awaited me in my room upon arrival. Homemade crackers, fancy cheeses, fresh fruit, and nuts.

The next morning, I enjoyed a multi-course breakfast with a couple from Chicago. Rita, the innkeeper, made homemade muffins. She joined the conversation and we all ended up talking for hours. It was the breakfast where all parties seemed the most mutually invested in the conversation. In a genuine way, not merely making obligatory niceties. As I paid my tally, Rita gently told me that she didn’t think he was the right one. She encouraged me not to give up my dreams of traveling while I sat on her floor and pet her giant, fluffy black cat. She sent me on my way feeling carrying a small travel pouch from Thailand, feeling greatly encouraged.

Three years later, I brought my husband. Being a weeknight in the dead of winter, we got a really good rate. There was only one other couple that night, so we got upgraded to the largest suite with a gas fireplace. Rita and her significant other spend their winters in Thailand and so we met her daughter, Sasha. Her family moves in and manages the inn during the winter months. I told her all about my first visit. She laughed and said she knows her mom loves to dispense advice.

Same giant cheese plate and bottle of wine. This time, I shared. Though, I did not have to share my breakfast. We each enjoyed own elaborately carved pineapple half, freshly baked scone, stuffed french toast with spicy andouille, and flourless chocolate cake. We drank coffee to our hearts’ content over conversation with a couple of chemists. Not those kind, the real kind.

It’s funny how life can seem to make a full circle. On this morning of a New Year, I try to be thankful for what I have and hopeful for more adventures. After all, we narrowly escaped two apocalypses this year.

I liked the Harold Camping one better. 

Wedding Weekend: Heartland, Saint Paul Hotel, & Amsterdam Bar (again)

One week ago, on a sunny fall afternoon, Jake and I were married amongst the company of a small group of family and friends at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Because we decided to get married with relative spontaneity, we kept the ceremony simple.  We look forward to hosting a wider reception in the spring so we can celebrate with many more of our family and friends.  We are humbled by the generosity and kindness of all who have assisted us and wished us well as we continue to share life together.

After the ceremony, we enjoyed dinner at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul, MN.  The moment we arrived, I leaped out of my wedding dress.  It was beautiful and painstakingly altered.  And even with half the boning removed, it was still uncomfortable, so I changed into something that would allow me to enjoy dinner.

Photo by Pat Carney, The Carney Group, Minneapolis, MN

Upon arrival, I enjoyed sneaking bites of bread and cheeses and giggled as I watched some of the children discover their love for whole grain mustard and pickled watermelon rind. The chefs provided plump burgers for the children who preferred one.

Green salad with sweet vinaigrette, spiced nuts, and roasted cauliflower, crispy-skinned white fish with pickled onions on top of creamy beans, and apple tart with whipped cream and candied nuts.

As I said my goodbyes that evening, I used my fingers to swipe tastes of whipped cream and tender slices of fruit from my tart.  Then, we headed to the St. Paul Hotel for our one-day honeymoon where we were greeted by a man in a top hat.

This was our first stay at the Saint Paul Hotel and it felt like old-school luxury.  My favorite perks included access to the workout facility on the top floor and wi-fi for no additional fees. The service was polished and professional, though much involved tipping.  If you stay here, remember to keep some cash on hand. In the morning, we treated ourselves to a room service breakfast, a first for both of us.

Growing up, when we traveled as a family, we only stayed at hotels that included free breakfast. My parents outfitted us in fluorescent fanny packs in which we kept our lunches. I remember how we sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, and ate sandwiches and carrot sticks together.

We ordered a large pot of coffee and omelets filled with ham, green pepper, onion, and cheddar. Each came with hash browns and toast.  In addition, we ordered a fruit plate, having no idea each portion would be so large.

Although the price of this breakfast was astronomical (delivery fee & automatic gratuity, plus an extra tip because we weren’t sure if we were supposed to tip on an automatic gratuity?), the meal was made with care. The breakfast cart was covered in a white tablecloth. The omelet platters were not only huge, but satisfying. I was most impressed with the hashbrowns’ crispiness.  The fruit platter included yogurt and sweetbread and the assortment of fruit avoided being one of those crappy versions that mostly includes under-ripe melon.  We enjoyed choosing from the variety of condiments such as cream, butter, peanut butter, tiny jars of jam, ketchup, and Tabasco.

As critiques, the room did not include a coffee maker with complimentary coffee, although I may have been some in the lobby.  Our large pot of coffee, as overpriced as it was, tasted strong and freshly brewed.  Our room included a mini fridge, but it was only equipped to carry snacks for sale. We actually managed to eat most of our food, so I did not have to beg the hotel to ask the kitchen to store our leftovers, and we were full until the evening.

We spent the afternoon wandering around downtown St. Paul, stopping at Cossetta’s for a snack of small cannolis.  Then headed to the Amsterdam Bar And Hall for dinner.

The food was as good as it was when we dined there for my bachelorette outing.  We decompressed over drinks.  Jake was enjoyed ordering Trappist ale on tap and I sipped a tart cocktail made with lemon and apricot brandy.

We dipped the crisp fries in mustard and curry mayo and shared small boodje sandwiches on toasted buns.  I returned for the spicy calamari and shrimp salad while Jake chose smoked pork and spicy shrimp.  Surprisingly, our favorite sandwich was the most simple.  It was made with warm, herby cheese and a meaty tomato slice that tasted marinaded or roasted.

I’m not sure how I felt about the Dutch gin sampler.  It’s not that the sampler was bad, but more that I’m not sure I enjoy sipping straight gin.  Spicy curry + gin = burning.

We ordered creme brulee for dessert and ate it in bed.  I bypassed the room service delivery charge by ordering it from the Saint Paul Grill’s bartender.  Somehow, the kitchen managed to pack a creme brulee into a take-out container, crispy sugar crust and all.

Wedding, over.  Fall break, over.  It’s back to the grind.  Salad lab ends, baking lab begins and my five a.m. wake-up call resumes. . .

Special thanks to our family and friends, Central Lutheran Church, Heartland Restaurant, The Carney Group, and Elsa at The Wedding Shoppe on Grand Ave. 

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