Over the years I have slept— metaphorically speaking of course— with Cornish tin miners and kings, knights and murderers, loose women and queens, smugglers and pirates. The kings were the worst for sleeping around, especially in Britain where just about every small hotel built more than 100 years ago has a bed emblazoned with the banner “King Henry/Charles/William or George slept here”! I suppose it might be fun to say that you slept with Henry V111th, if it wasn’t for the fact that he had rather a penchant for beheading his partners. The meanness of some rooms and the higher prices are occasionally justified with the information that the King in question got caught in a bad storm or was escaping pursuers— most likely a wife! Presumably he wouldn’t have stayed under normal circumstances. Putting royalty aside, however, there are some interesting alternatives.
What man would not desire to sleep under the same roof as the Edwardian actress Lillie Langtry and dream of her ghostly nearness, her beauty and sexuality?
And who wouldn’t want to sleep in Oscar Wilde’s bed in the hope that some of his literary skills might rub off. You can do both in the ritzy and luxurious Cadogan Hotel in London, England. It is also, in more recent years, where Princess Diana could escape the paparazzi and have tea with some of her friends in the delightful Drawing Room. In fact it is one of those charming hotels whose luxury is belied by their quiet and discreet exterior appearance and located on Sloane Street in Knightsbridge, with its own private garden, close to Harrod’s and a slew of expensive shops and boutiques. At a somewhat exotic price you can have Room 118, where the Magistrates came to drag Wilde away to jail when the luckless poet and playwright fell foul of the Marquess of Queensberry in 1895.
Travel down to England’s south coast and you can put your head down at the Albion Hotel in the little seaside town of Broadstairs and try to connect with another literary giant, Charles Dickens. Built in 1760 it was called the Phoenix Inn and changed its name to the Albion in 1805.
Dickens stayed here and wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby until, in 1845, a piano playing guest drove him to distraction and around the harbour to take up residence in what is affectionately known as Bleak House. If you time your visit just right, you can walk the streets with Oliver Twist, Pip, Mr. McCawber, Betsy Trotwood and other Dickens’ characters who come to life courtesy of the local Society in June each year for the popular Dickens’ Festival.
In Rome Italy, I had the questionable pleasure of sleeping in a room, and possibly The Bed, where Mussolini is reputed to have brought his mistresses. I doubt the ladies were too pleased, since the room was tiny — but then the majority of hotel rooms in Rome are quite small owing to the difficulty of finding any space into which a property can expand without unearthing some remnant of the city’s ancient past. The hotel, the L’Impero is perfectly located not far from the Termini, the Train Station, which enables visitors to be downtown, close to transportation, accessible to the airport and hop a train to Naples, Milan or even France or Switzerland if the mood takes them.
Northern Ireland’s Ballygally Castle on the Antrim Coast is where, in 1625, Lady Isabella Shaw had the misfortune of giving birth to a baby girl instead of a boy. Sir James was so annoyed that he locked his wife in the tower of the castle and left her there. She was killed either by jumping from the window or, weakened by starvation, falling down stone stairs while escaping from the tower. In either event if you decide to stay at the Castle (now a hotel), don’t be surprised if there is a knock on the door and the ghostly apparition of Lady Isabella outside enquiring if you have seen her baby.
My one regret with having shared the beds with so many historical figures, is that I’m only sorry I didn’t get to know them better. If you plan on travelling — and sleeping — around, take advantage of Britrail and Eurail passes, that permit a specified number of travelling days within a stipulated period. Prices vary but the savings are invaluable. Call Britrail at 1-800-555-2748 for information and then ask to be transferred to a Eurail specialist or email www.acprail.com and click on the Britrail information. Since they now share the same offices — and using some acceptable business vernacular — you could say they are in bed together!