December 24, 2004: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Writing - Turkey: Travel: Humor: Travel Intelligence: The Worst Hotel in the World by Turkey RPCV Tom Brosnahan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Turkey: Peace Corps Turkey : The Peace Corps in Turkey: December 24, 2004: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Writing - Turkey: Travel: Travel Intelligence: Tom Brosnahan's travels began when he joined the US Peace Corps in 1967. He went to Turkey to teach English and ended up writing his first guidebook, Frommer's 'Turkey on $5 a Day'. : December 24, 2004: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Writing - Turkey: Travel: Humor: Travel Intelligence: The Worst Hotel in the World by Turkey RPCV Tom Brosnahan

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The Worst Hotel in the World by Turkey RPCV Tom Brosnahan

The Worst Hotel in the World by Turkey RPCV Tom Brosnahan

The Worst Hotel in the World by Turkey RPCV Tom Brosnahan

The Worst Hotel in the World
by Tom Brosnahan

As a guidebook reader, you never get to see all the rejects: the restaurants that gave me food poisoning, the tourist ripoff 'attractions,' the terrible hotels.

As a guidebook writer, I've got to check out all sorts of places that my readers might need to know about: hotels, restaurants, museums, bars, cafésópretty much everything that's covered in a good travel guide. As a guidebook reader, you never get to see all the rejects: the restaurants that gave me food poisoning, the tourist ripoff "attractions," the terrible hotels.

I've written a lot of guidebooks for budget travelers, really the most fun people to write for, and I've stayed in a lot of cheap hotels all over the world just to test them.

Not all cheap hotels are bad hotels. I can remember lots of hostelries costing $5 or $10 a night that were delightful; not fancy but comfortable, simple and friendly, usually with something special: a view of the mountains, a beach right next door, a jasmine vine with a chair beneath.

I stayed in a caravanserai in Turkey where the mattress was filled with straw and the plumbing was one cold water tap for the whole place. It hadn't changed since the Ottoman Empire, except for the one bare light bulb in the room.

I stayed in a Guatemalan mountain hotel where the plumbing was just as primitive and the interior courtyard was filled with chickens and one very loud rooster.

And I stayed in this wreck of a so-called hotel in Goulimine in Morocco on the edge of the Sahara that had only one toilet (and that badly broken) and no running water at all.

But the worst hotel I ever stayed in was different. I shudder at the memory: stained paper peeling from the walls, holes in the ceiling, tiles in the bathroom fallen to the floor, a toilet with no seat, no water and no paper. It was sordid far beyond the others, because it was in my home town.

To start with, the price was exorbitant: $18 a nightóreal money at that time. I'd stayed in far better places for 50¢. But this night, a bitterly cold one in January, I had no choice.

I was on my way home after months of travel in Turkey and Morocco. When I got to New York, I took a bus to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I was born. I was going to stay in my parents' house that night. They were away in Florida, but a friend was house-sitting for them. When I got to the bus station in Bethlehem, I called the house, but there was no answer. I didn't have a key, and I didn't want to take a long, expensive taxi ride at 10 o'clock at night and have to break a window to get in.

The "bus station" happened to be the lobby of the American Hotel, a century-old old brick building right in the center of Bethlehem. Though kept up pretty well on the outside, on the inside it was a dormitory for old single men who had nowhere else to sleep. They sat in the lobby every evening watching the TV and the bus passengers come and go.

I was seriously jet-lagged, and I wanted a bed more than anything else in the world. I asked the young desk clerk if there were any hotels nearby. He gave me this jokey smirk and said "Nah, but you can stay here!" The old guys howled with laughter. Here was this guy who'd just jetted in from the other side of the world going to stay in their old men's dorm.

I didn't see that I had much choice. Besides, how bad could it be? This was not the edge of the Sahara, but the good old US of A.

The clerk showed me a room. It was awful! I tried to tell myself that I'd seen worse, but I hadn't. Besides being a wreck, the room's door didn't lock, and the bed was a bare, stained mattress. The temperature outside was well below freezing, and the radiator in the room wasn't even lukewarm. When I asked for blankets, the desk clerk said "Most of the guys here bring their own," which was not helpful. I badgered him into handing me a stack of 15 clean sheets.

The old guys were the best part of it, actually. When I paid my $18 and they saw it was really going to happen, they lept up and helped however they could. One carried my bag upstairs, another brought me a water glass, a third lent me a blanket. I piled the sheets and blanket on the bed, dug out a bottle of port I had bought duty-free in Lisbon, half-filled the glass, drained it, and climbed into bed fully clothed.

I awoke with the sun at 6 am, and was out on the street waving down a taxi at 6:05.

I still wonder at it. A traveler coming out of the Sahara at Goulimine expects to find poor facilities, and does, but it's better than the desert. Everybody in Goulimine is poor, and gets along as well as they can. What would that traveler make of the American Hotel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?

(Postscript: not too many years after my unwilling visit, the American Hotel closed down for good, putting its longsuffering residents out on the street.)

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Changing of the Guard Date: December 15 2004 No: 330 Changing of the Guard
With Lloyd Pierson's departure, Marie Wheat has been named acting Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations responsible for the day-to-day management of the Peace Corps. Although Wheat is not an RPCV and has limited overseas experience, in her two years at the agency she has come to be respected as someone with good political skills who listens and delegates authority and we wish her the best in her new position.

December 18, 2004: This Week's Top Stories Date: December 18 2004 No: 334 December 18, 2004: This Week's Top Stories
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RPCV Joseph Opala researched slave trade in RI 15 Dec
Vasquez sees resurgent interest in PC 14 Dec
Senator who wanted duel with RPCV joins Fox 14 Dec
NPCA planning National Day of Action for PC funding 13 Dec
RPCV "Harry" Chandler votes in Electoral College 13 Dec
Critic says Moyers delivered neo-Marxist propaganda 13 Dec
Micronesia RPCV Walter Cavanagh has 1,496 credit cards 13 Dec
PC "Survivor" Julie Berry headed for California 11 Dec
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Story Source: Travel Intelligence

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkey; Writing - Turkey; Travel; Humor



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