Listen

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.  Oscar Wilde

I’m standing on a quiet street in Paris. The square in front of Notre Dame is deserted. Early is different in some European cities than in Tennessee but 7:00 a.m on a Sunday is universally, undeniably early.

As I turn toward the bridge, I wonder if I’m going to be walking all the way to Rue Cler. Magically, out of the mist, a taxi emerges. Since it’s just three of us – the cab, my Rick Steves roller bag and me –  the situation is clear. I hop in.

Here is the truth. I am not a good listener. All my better qualities of determination, force of will, and focus create a flip-side deficit of patience and listening. When I travel on my own, there is an opportunity to try harder, start over and learn.

On my own, I need more – more clues, more information and more nuance. When someone who doesn’t share your native tongue says, “sure, it’s nice”…you have to listen with your intuition. Nice could mean “nice if you like tripe”, “nice if you like tourists, you’re sure to see someone you know” or “nice but if my brother-in-law didn’t own it, I’d tell you the truth.”

The taxi that Sunday morning was a surprise. There was a master plan. I flew into Paris, stayed in the Hotel Dieu, the ancient hospital adjacent to Notre Dame, and was up early. The spreadsheet said to start the day by going straight to the hotel where I would stay on my return to Paris, drop the luggage, and take off for Mont St Michel with nothing but a shoulder bag, 2 croissants, and a sense of adventure.

At the beginning of this plan, the hotel was supposed to call a cab for me. No big deal. Except that a jet lagged, laser-focused American couldn’t get the French college student to make the call. “It’s not going to come” he says. “No one will come. Just go outside”. (Read that again with a French accent, imagine he’s still looking at his iPhone, and you’re me.) You fill in the rest.

This is not a critical story but it was a flash point for me on the first day of my trip. The kid was exactly right. There was no traffic, but the one cab out and about found me.

This moment made me think for the rest of that trip  – what does it mean to hear to what someone is trying to tell me?  Generally, I find most people I run into when I travel do try sincerely to help. I find this a singular marvel. My job is to take a breath, look carefully and listen intently. It’s my job to at least start from a place of belief and gratitude that doesn’t lead with my own plan.

That may be at the heart of becoming a citizen of the world.

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A Favorite Hotel: The Europa Regina, Venice

The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.
George Bernard Shaw

I am obsessed with hotels. I spend more time researching and comparing hotels, b & b’s, and odd little inns that I do planning the entire itinerary. Can I stay in monastery, is there a castle, a glamping hut?  Once I stayed in a guest room in the oldest hospital in Paris.

But here is the thing. Your hotel is your home away from home and when you are a long way from home, it’s home base, theater, information center, companion, and solace. You’ll pick your bolthole differently than I do but here were my criteria for an off-season solo trip to Venice.

History. At the end of the day, when my feet are done but my imagination is still alive, I want to come home to a real destination. The Europa Regina has quite a history. It was originally five palaces – one belonged to the Tiepolo family who gave Venice two doges andMorning Gondolas from room a famous painter. Another of the palaces was originally the San Moise Theatre, home of Rossini’s first opera. Another became the Hotel Britannia where Monet stayed in 1908. Better yet, a part of the square used to be a workshop for gondolas, an iron chain was attached that when drawn from this spot across the Canal was a 9th century protection against pirates. Yes, pirates.

Public space. When I travel alone, a great lobby bar or veranda or library is important. A place to be near the flow of people, stories and the great parade. You can be ‘in’ but not isolated. The Europa Regina has a wonderful piano bar that opens onto a veranda overlooking the canal, ringed with leather chairs and endless bowls of olives. Especially in winter, this was perfect. As the sun set, but too early for dinner, I was ensconced with a campari spritz, my diary, and endless people-watching.

A sense of place. In my room, I was in Venice. On the first morning, I awoke to the flood sirens and leaned out my little window and watched the canal water lap over the pier and up into the walkways. The dome of Santa Maria della Salute loomed across the way. The daily traffic changed from early morning fruit deliveries to mid-day gondolas and vaporetti to evening quiet.

The practicalities were, well, practical. Now that it’s a Westin, I could use points for an opulent (and completely unaffordable otherwise) breakfast and those evening drinks.  And they had resources and an extensive staff who were ready to offer advice and solve problems.  The place was timeless but the service amenities were very Westin.

You will have different priorities but if you are on your own, think through what you want, how you want to start your day, what is important (security, location, price, comfort), and how you want to end the day as you return to your home base.

What I Learned

When you travel alone, single rooms can vary greatly.  Here, the single rooms were really part of adjoining suites, a boon as the room itself was small but the bath was suite-worthy and wonderful.

Let the staff know if you love historic hotels. I let wrote that I was travelling alone with little luggage and wouldn’t mind an inconvenient or quirky room – if it had a great view or a story.

If it’s a special occasion, also let the staff know.  I may have mentioned it was my birthday and on my special day, they delivered chocolates and flowers.

 

What’s nearby?  At the Europe Regina, all of Venice is at your doorstep.  You might enjoy the restaurant at another beautiful and historic hotel just steps away, the Saturnia-International.  Delicious food and excellent service.   You are also just two stops away, on the #1 vaporetti line, from Ca’ Rezzonico, a palazzo restored its 18th century grandeur with furnishings and art of the period.