One of the best things about travel is staying in old style grand hotels, those that were built at the beginning of the twentieth century and tenaciously cling on to their former glory in a dogged rearguard action against chipboard furniture and corporate identity rooms. Large reception areas with marble columns, crystal chandeliers and lavish old-fashioned furniture, which is where these sort of hotels seems to spend about 95% of their room maintenance budgets.
A good example of this type of hotel is the Hotel Royal Victoria in Pisa where we once had the pleasure to stay for a couple of nights. We checked in and found our room and knew immediately that this was going to be a different sort of hotel.
Opened in 1837 it had retained all of its original features. Quite literally! We were allocated one of the hotel’s finest suites that had an old wooden door with a temperamental lock that was reluctant to work but which when finally opened revealed a generous sized room with fascinating decoration and furniture, a solid wooden floor and interesting pictures of old Pisa decorating the walls. It had opulent decoration, antique furniture and a front window that had a balcony with good views over the River Arno directly outside.
The balcony looked precariously unsafe so I was careful not to step out onto it for fear of falling into the street below in a pile of crumbled masonry, and there were some decaying shutters that looked as though they would surely fall apart if anyone ever attempted to operate them so I decided to leave them well alone.
In every respect this was a very unusual hotel. The public areas were part hotel and part museum with whole sections given over to displays and exhibits of old Tuscany set out in rooms and halls that because of their old-fashioned size, ornate ceilings and original furniture had a rare atmosphere and everywhere there were old photographs that celebrated a grander time when the Hotel had been in its prime.
The room was great until it came to bedtime. The room was on the front of the hotel and as soon as the light went out the traffic noise seemed to immediately increase in volume, the din was unbearable and there was a constant drone of vehicle noise made worse by the rattling engines of the lambretta scooters (eeeeeh-eeeeeh-eeeeh), and then the piercing sirens of the police cars (da-loo-da-loo, da-loo-da-loo) that were competing with the shrieking ambulances (do-dah, do-dah, do-dah).
Worst of all there was a loose inspection cover directly below the room which of course every vehicle just had to drive over (ker-chunk, ker-chunk). On the second night there was only one thing to do and that was to apply for a room change away from the fiercesome traffic noise. Almost every hotel guest review said that they had to do the same so I don’t suppose it came as a great surprise to the desk clerk to get this request. He found a room at the rear of the Hotel and apologised for the fact that we were moving from one of the best suites in the hotel to a standard room.
He seemed to think it was an odd decision but we couldn’t possibly agree and we were delighted to be transferred to an obviously inferior but crucially quieter room with a delightful roof garden outside. I have since concluded that Italians are oblivious to traffic noise.
In May 2007 a Cornishman, Tony Wright, beat a forty three year old Guinness World Record by staying awake for eleven days and eleven nights. If he had booked in to the Hotel Victoria in Pisa he could have gone on much, much longer.