There is one distinguishing factor among hotel rooms from which all else flows: there are those with duvets and those without. We’ve stayed in a multitude of accommodations over the past seven months from five stars to no stars, downtown moderns to country B&Bs, plush villas with every amenity imaginable to cigarette-burned, greasy carpeted roadhouses with threadbare sheets. But at the end of the day, tell me if a hotel has a duvet on its beds and I can predict the comfort level of the place, just as I judge a restaurant by its bread. Fresh slices of a crispy-crusted, warm, steamy loaf mean the food will be delectable as well. But break into a basket of unremarkable rolls that crumble to the touch and yield little taste and the meal will follow suit. So it is with hotels and duvets.
We land in each new destination with the eternal basic questions: Will the place we booked be convenient and easy-to-find? Will our room be bright and inviting or drab and dreary? And of course, will our bed be graced by a warm, fluffy, down duvet? Hours spent on Hotels.com and TripAdvisor often yield remarkable places to stay at just the right prices, in perfect locations and with surprising touches that make all the difference (free mineral water in the mini-fridge, extra pillows in the closet, plenty of soft white towels in the bathroom or solid Internet throughout the building). But sometimes the research disappoints and we end up in a room with a thin, shiny, polyester bedcover that slips to the floor with little provocation, underneath which is a flimsy, pilled blanket that provides little warmth and earns a zero on the cozy scale. On one recent stopover, the bath towels were like sandpaper since they’d never made it into the warm air of a tumble dryer; they managed to do the job and caused no bodily injury as long as we kept them away from our faces. Whenever possible, we book rooms with our morning meal included since to meet the breakfast hour deadline gets us up, out and on the road with bellies sated. And just like the assortment of places we’ve stayed, our breakfasts have run the scale as well. They’ve ranged from being individually served plates of bright fresh fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese and croissants along with steaming cups of cappuccino on a sunny outdoor stone patio overlooking the sea, to a paltry Formica buffet table adorned with dusty plastic flowers serving up stale rolls, bruised fruit and weak coffee in a charmless room reminiscent of a Balzac boarding house.
In my perfect Gar Year world, all our lodgings would be equipped with duvets. They would serve a balanced breakfast with platters of fresh fruit, deep bowls of yogurt and strong, decaf coffee. There would be piles of extra pillows for easy reading in bed, plenty of hooks in the bathroom for drying wet towels (the ones they ask you to keep for a second and third use in order to help the environment by conserving water but for which they provide no means to easily hang). Bidets would be nowhere in sight since the space could be much better used for something more essential, like an extra shelf for our toiletries (how often we’ve draped towels over the bidet to create storage space for our essential emollients and grooming gear). The shower need not be fancy, but since I like my water scalding, it would immediately fill the room with thick steam. The bathroom would also include a large heated towel rack for efficiently drying our daily sink-washed laundry. There would be wastebaskets in both the bathroom and next to the bed (not supplying a place to put trash in the bedroom is a big hotel pet peeve; if you don’t give us a handy receptacle for all our bits and pieces of rubbish, how do we easily keep things neat and tidy?). When we travel by rail, having our hotel walkable from the train station is a big plus, although, in the midst of the hurly-burly, it would have to have double-paned windows for a good night’s sleep. The Internet is our link to family, friends and the world and our nexus for all travel logistics, so free Wi-Fi with a strong connection and a password you enter only once are essential. And finally, my perfect hotel room closet would make it easier to settle in by being filled with hangars that actually come off the rod with their fully rounded hooks intact and not just those with straight notched tops that won't work on regular rods and that I can never manage to reconnect properly.
We’re just arriving in Innsbruck where we’ll be staying at a basic, budget hostel two blocks from the Hauptbahnhof. The traveler reviews say it’s clean and spartan but for one night, the basics are all we need. The anticipation mounts; we drag our bags up the steps, check in, cross our fingers, hold our breath, open the door and yes! Our bed has a duvet – two in fact. I’m sure we’re going to like this little place.
Pictures of our adventures: http://gapyeargirlgoestoeurope.shutterfly.com