Wednesday, February 06, 2013

When in Florence, live in a palazzo and sleep at the Queen's chamber

A view from the staircase inside the Hotel Garden in Florence, Italy. Notice the beautiful mosaic floor, which caretakers said is still the original flooring.
I've entered a couple of castles in Europe, and these being the ones that make up fairy tales already deserve a tick in a bucket list for an Asian boy like me, if not an ultimate dream-come-true. But only recently had I realized that I've also crossed out and fulfilled another element of that bucket list item -- to sleep inside a royalty's residence, that is.

I've come across this budget hotel called Hotel Garden when I was looking for a place to stay in Florence, Italy. Whenever I look for a place to stay in Europe, I have these criteria in mind:
     * first, it has to be one of the cheapest options;
     * second, it has to be near where the action is;
     * and lastly, it has to have breakfast.

This hotel fit the bill. Although I've already seen from the hotel's Web site that the place used to be a palazzo, it wasn't really a big deal as long as my criteria are met.

On the day my mom and I went there, I wasn't really expecting much. In fact, we were sent to another hotel some 15 minutes away as the manager messed up the booking, leaving us without room to stay in for the night. But on the following day, when we were supposed to come back to Hotel Garden, we were told that we have the place all by ourselves! And so to compensate for the booking hassle, we were treated for a stay at the biggest room of the hotel!

It was the Queen's chamber, said Maurizio, the hotel attendant, who led us to our room. He went on saying that the whole place used to be the Greek Queen's residence in Florence. He even showed us news clippings framed and mounted on the walls. But who's the queen, I can't remember.

At first glance, the entire place wouldn't strike one as a royal residence. But as Maurizio pointed out, the beautiful mosaic floors -- beautiful, indeed -- are still the original mosaic floors of the late 1800s. When I got my bags at the luggage room downstairs and looked at the innards of the edifice, I realized that the high ceilings, the size of the rooms, the quality of brass knobs, among other elements, are more than just conventions of Italian architecture as these are actually screaming, "the queen lived here, servant!"

The staircase, maybe not as grand as those in big mansions or grander palaces, but it still has a regal feel to it.

Let's go back to the queen's chamber. I just booked a twin room, and got this humungous room, instead.

The doors of the chamber were so huge, leading to a massive room that can comfortably fit in five persons. The floors are in wood parquet, the windows big enough to cool the place during summer.

I've got nothing else to describe in this room except for the huge antique armoir, which is fitting for this kind of place. There's also the en suite bathroom, which is also spacious.

So this is how it's like to be a prince, at least when in you're in a foreign place, I thought.

And oh, it doesn't really have to be expensive to be able to experience things such as this. It really depends on how one looks at it. And of course, on one's skill and patience in looking for such things.

Looking for a place to stay when in Europe? Here are some tips:

- When looking for a place to stay, you may want to consider the criteria that I've laid down: price, location, and availability of breakfast. Having a place to cook is also a plus for me as this may help me save a few euros by cooking my own meals. Reviews of satisfied clients should also matter.

- Location is one of the biggest factors. A hotel/hostel may be much more expensive if it's right smack at the city center, but you might end up saving a lot from bus or train rides. While in Paris, I got a hostel tucked in the middle of Montmartre. It is cheap and accessible by the Metro, but on the average, it's 14 stations away from the main attractions of the city, which is far. Well, it really depends on your priorities -- will you be moving around a lot, or are you much concerned on the price of the accommodations? --  but you may want to consider these factors.

- There should be no stone unturned. I scan the entries at Maybe I should have also looked up Agoda,, recommendations at Lonely Planet, and other hotel/hostel booking sites just so that I can look at any other offerings.

- Always check out the Web site of a hotel/hostel. charges booking fees. It can be cheaper if you contact the hotel/hostel directly. They normally just ask you for your credit card number just to secure your booking. There are a few, however, that has as default booking manager even if they have their own Web site.

- But what about embassies that ask for hotel vouchers for visa applications? Well, I've managed to secure four Schengen visas (in this country where visa applications to any country are a hassle) with just the printouts of my e-mail conversations with the hotel booking staff. As for the story above, it was with Maurizio.

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