2009 lodging: Dubuque suite to Nile cruise

I sleep in a lot of unusual places.

In 2009 these included an eccentric bed and breakfast with fake fur cats in just about every room, plus a former fire station with a motorcycle parked in the living room and a door that wouldn’t accept my key. When advised, via cell phone, to use another door, I ended up barging into a startled guy’s kitchen.

Oops. Neither place earns a spot on my list of exceptional lodging for 2009. This annual roundup acknowledges worthy businesses that weren’t the topic of previous “Roads Traveled” columns.

For the second summer in a row, I booked a high-rise room with an incredible view of downtown Milwaukee, thanks to a photo workshop at Marquette University.

A stay on campus at Straz Tower is possible when students are away (late May to mid August) because this dormitory is one of seven whose rooms are rented. Groups that schedule meetings, conferences or events at Marquette are accommodated first; limited availability exists for other guests, but up to 1,500 people can be lodged.

Expect an overnight rate as low as $46 at Straz, with private bath and clean linens but no décor and an institutional feel. Adding a TV, small refrigerator or parking ups the cost slightly.

The 18-story student residence, a former YMCA, is among the more popular summer housing options because it has air conditioning.

For more about Straz Tower, 915 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee: www.marquette.edu/orl/conference, 414-288-7208.

For more about the annual photo workshop, presented by the Society of American Travel Writers: www.satw.org/digitalphotoinstitute.

A vibrant, historic and lovingly restored Town Square distinguishes Woodstock, Ill., from other communities of its size (population 25,000). Easy to miss in the mix of boutiques and restaurants is a little window sign for the Town Square Inn, whose six roomy units are $89 to $160 per night.

Inside: bright, formal English decor (not as stuffy as that may sound) and unexpected little extras (symphony CDs, books about vintage fashion). Some of these second-story accommodations overlook the pretty Town Square Park.

An extended family or group of friends would feel comfortable in this 1881 building, which is a former dental office and general store. No innkeeper watches over you, and if you tire of Woodstock, walk a couple of blocks to the Metra train station, for a one-hour ride into Chicago.

For more about the Town Square Inn, 112 Cass St., Woodstock, Ill.: www.townsquareinn.com, 815-337-4677.

Wisconsin communities certainly weren’t alone in their enthusiasm for the movie “Public Enemies,” released this year after extensive filming statewide. But gangster hideouts also included Dubuque, Iowa, and the Hotel Julien celebrates this slice of history by introducing the massive Al Capone luxury suite as part of its $30 million renovation.

Modern amenities complement faux antiques, French doors, vintage photos and “Old Hollywood” furnishings that feel plush and authentic. For real is a bank vault that Capone reportedly hid in whenever in need of a quick escape.

Windows overlook the Mississippi River. Two bedrooms, a sofa sleeper, fully equipped kitchen and dining area mean enough elbow room for a small group. Adjacent to the suite is a meeting room suitable for executives.

The suite rents for $599 per night, and standard rooms at the Julien go as low as $94 during this time of year. The classy hotel made the front page of the New York Times in 1913, when it burned.

For more about the Hotel Julien, 200 Main St., Dubuque, Iowa: www.hoteljuliendubuque.com, 800-798-7098.

I usually veer away from chain hotels but am especially glad to have stayed at the Hotel Santo Domingo, a Best Western that is a quick walk from many major attractions in the heart of Madrid.

An abundance of preserved 18th to 20th century Spanish artwork, especially in the breakfast room and lobby, turns the building into a mini-museum. Add small but comfortable accommodations and a hearty continental breakfast of fresh fruits, pastries, meats and cheeses.

The setting: a 400-year-old building in a relatively quiet part of Spain’s most populated city. Rates are as low as $125.

For more about the Hotel Santo Domingo, 13 Plaza de Santo Domingo: www.bestwesternhotelsantodomingo.com, 34-91-547-9800.

A cruise along the Nile River in Egypt makes it possible to visit several sacred antiquities in one swoop. These include Luxor’s Valley of the Kings; among the 60-plus tombs is King Tut’s, considered extremely modest when compared to the resting spots for Ramesses royalty.

The typical Nile cruise covers about 100 miles between Luxor and Aswan, lasting three or four nights. About 300 boats with overnight accommodations are licensed to cruise this river.

Ours, the Tu Ya, earns a five-star rating because of its amenities and room size. The vessel carries up to 125 passengers, who pay $80 to $120 per night. A day of guided sightseeing at a port of call starts around $25, plus gratuity.

For more about the Tu Ya, Ti Yi and other reputable cruise options: www.worldofcreative.com, 02-226-84-514. To ease the stress and confusion of traveling in an Arabic country, travel with a group and book arrangements through a travel agent.

Observations are the result of independent travel, conferences of travel writers and press trips. Recommendations include, but are not limited to, subsidized and complimentary meals.