by Don Wilkinson
Pensions aren’t just for old folks. Across Europe, "pension" is another word for B&B. In this context, they have little to do with retirement and everything to do with retiring — for the night that is.
The pensions that you find in every city, town, and village across Europe offer unique opportunities to save money and make your travel experience a bit richer. In a pension, you’re staying with a family that rents out a few rooms, and that means you gain a glimpse into the lives of regular folk.
I can still picture the carpeting in the dark hallway of the first pension where my wife and I stayed in Germany. I can see the faded pen-and-ink sketch in the blackened frame on the wall. I can recall the mouth-watering, home-cooked meal we enjoyed in the tiny, three-booth dining room on the main floor. And I can still feel the ache in my knees from carrying our suitcases up the three flights of incredibly steep stairs to our bedroom, tucked under the eaves of the old inn.
Even though we didn’t speak German, we managed to obtain a warm room overlooking the town cemetery and ate a meal that still makes my mouth water and arteries clog when I think of it. We ate amongst a group of locals, to whom we were a welcome diversion. They spoke less English than we did German, but somehow they managed to share suggestions and superb advice about what we should see and do in their little town — things that we could never have found on our own.
Since that night, we haven’t stayed in a regular hotel if we could possibly avoid it.
Our room in the Czech town of Kutna Hora was a garret reached by a staircase so steep that it could legally be termed a ladder. The only place I could stand upright was in the well of the skylight, but from there I had a phenomenal view of the moon-drenched Cathedral of St. Barbara on the hilltop across the valley.
We reached one pension, high in the mountains of Northern Bohemia, on a narrow, winding road that was terrifying by day. By night, when we drove it, it was downright harrowing. But the journey was well worth it as our destination turned out to be a former Royal Palace.
The grand piano on the staircase landing and the canopied king-sized bed (built for a real king) more than made up for the drive. And the view down the mountainside in the morning mists simply added to the experience, one — as with all our pension stays — we remember with great fondness.
A room in a pension costs, typically, much less than a standard-issue hotel room. Because pensions are small affairs, usually family-owned, they aren’t often listed on hotel websites. And they may or may not have a website of their own.
The best way to track one down is to do a Google or Yahoo search including the name of the country or city where you’d like to stay along with "inn, B&B, pension" and then sift through the results.
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