Tag Archives: B&B

Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Hotels, Part II

Umi Hotels, paying cash, travel, accommodations, B&B, hotels,

The Umi in Brighton

The last leg of my trip was in England, going to Brighton for a convention, then on to Canterbury and London. My first stop was Brighton, taking the 1.5 hour ferry ride from Calais to Dover (though the website said it was a half hour), then a 2-hour train ride into the throbbing, congested heart of Brighton. Thankfully I had a map.

The Royal Albion was where the British Fantasy convention was being held, so that’s where I headed, probably about a 15-minute walk from the train station through scores of people thronging the streets. I noticed how dirty the streets were here, permanently marred with dead gum and just generally trashy. I watched a woman open a tin of some sort of fish, toss the metal lid into the street and drain the liquid all over the sidewalk with a disregard for splashing anyone. It seems Vancouver, at least, is farther ahead on the recycling and garbage front.

The Royal Albion is no longer a grand dame even if it’s 200 years old. It’s more like someone who spent too long drinking away their life savings. Parts of the building were tatty and worn down. It took 36 hours to get an iron from them because it seems they only have one and they didn’t know who had it. The bathroom had a metal rack that heats up to dry clothes. However, there was no caution sign saying it got very hot, and was so close to the toilet that I burned my leg. There was no holder for the toilet paper so it kept falling and rolling under the rack. I had a gob of toothpaste on the wall by the sink that was there before I arrived and still there when I left. Service in the bar on the whole was friendly and many of the bartenders were very nice but others were slower than a sated slug. The one meal I had, some sandwich special was flavorless and slim to nonexistent. The Albion is very close to the beach because at the convention price of 79 pounds, it was not worth it.

Because of this I went to the Umi on the Sunday night, booking through the tourist information, which has you pay 10% up front. When I got to the hotel I paid cash (way cheaper than using a credit card in Europe and incurring extra charges at both ends). They didn’t give me a receipt and I was tired so I just went up to the room. They had upgraded me (for the 50 pound price) so I had both a double bed and a single in the room, a beach view, and air conditioning. The room was clean and the heating rack in this bathroom said it got hot. The one problem was that there was no light by the double bed so I had to turn off the light by the door and stumble to the bed. The other problem on checkout, where I was just returning the key and picking up my receipt, was that I was told I hadn’t paid. Confused, I said I’m pretty sure I paid but I paid again. Waiting for a ride I went back in and said, I know I paid because it was cash and it was an odd amount (left over after that 10%). They said they would check and let me know but I know they did not. I would only recommend them if you insist on your receipt right away. Being tired meant I got screwed.

I then went on to Canterbury and stayed at the Clare Ellen B&B. Be careful as the train I took went to Canterbury West but

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Clare Ellen

the B&B was at Canterbury East, which it turns out I would have had to transfer an hour or more back. Though a relatively short walk through the town, I was hot, dragging luggage over cobblestones and didn’t know where I was. I took a taxi halfway through and Clare Ellen was really about a 15-minute walk from the center of town.

The room was spacious; I’d been given a double because the single was taken (and paid about 50 pounds/night). This did include breakfast, which I partook of one day, and was the typical English breakfast, but whatever you wanted and as much:  eggs, ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, cereal or porridge.

Wifi was included in all three of these places though the pricey Royal Albion only had it in the lobby/lounge. The ISP was down in Canterbury but the B&B owner let me use his own computer so that I could book a room in London. Unfortunately, because of this and it becoming more last minute, I

Wembley Hotel, roach hotel, B&B, accommodations, London, travel

Wembley the roach hotel

panicked and forgot about some sites and couchsurfing. I booked the Wembley Hotel, which turned out to be a half hour north of London central (by the tube) and was not in a good area of town. It was very close to the station but when I first arrived I paid and they said they would give me a receipt the next day. I said no, today because of what happened at the Umi. The first room was down in the basement. There was no light in the corridor and the toilet was stained and dirty. I asked them to clean it so they moved me to another floor, through many doors and little 2-3 stair landings.

This room was small, by the tracks and looked clean enough though I pulled back the sheets to make sure. Again the floor and carpeting in the hallway were dirty, the toilet had grunge and pubic hairs around the base, the shower door looked like it had never been wiped down and there was dust and dirt in every corner. It was the type of place where I locked my suitcase when I went out. The one coffee cup (there were no other glasses) had so many murky fingerprints on it that I just used my water bottle. The basic room wouldn’t have been so bad but for this lack of cleanliness. When I had to leave the next morning at 6 am to catch my flight, I had not lights but the little table lamp, and there was no hot water, even after running it for ten minutes. The shower barely had water pressure at all. I would recommend staying far away from the skeevy dive.  It was definitely the worst place I stayed, even after the one bad couhcsurfing experience.

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Hotels

Part II, I suppose. I just covered the places I stayed in, in Horley, England and in Holland. In all, I stayed in Amsterdam, Delft and Den Bosch. I found I liked the smaller cities and towns more than the big cities, though there is so much to see that you have to go to Amsterdam for a couple of days.

Mabuhay Lodgings, Antwerp, accommodation, travel, B&B, bed and breakfasts, guest houses

Mabuhay's room

Originally, for Belgium, I was going to go to Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. I arrived in Antwerp fairly early in the day but couldn’t check into my B&B, Mabuhay Lodgings, until after 8 that night. So I checked my luggage into storage at the train station. A bit of a fiasco that, since half of the containers were out of order. I had to walk a very long ways (probably equivalent to 4 city blocks)  to the other end of the station and the other lockers. Here is where cash won’t get you far. It requires a credit card and cost me about $10 for the day.

I headed to the old quarter and spent the day going to museums and cathedrals (more on the actual cities in another post). The problem was, that by the time I was ready to go to the B&B, it was rather late and on a Sunday. There few people to ask and it was not very clear on where to catch the tram to the right area. While Holland had trams with either signage or a system that called out the stops, Belgium did not. I was at two wrong spots before I got the right one. Luckily they were all within a hundred feet of each other.

I have no problem asking for help and directions and the tram driver wasn’t sure which street was Drakstraat (three or four streets converged to one at that point) but there were both transit people and police standing at the junction. I asked them and even they had to look it up. Lo and behold, in front of us, the street going left was Drakstraat and the tram had come down it. Tells you something about how often Belgians look at their own street signs.

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An Art Nouveau facade in Antwerp

Eric and Herman were the owners of Mabuhay and Eric helped me in with my luggage. Again, they were on a major street but all streets are somewhat major or minor, with cars and trams going over cobblestones. The rooms here share a spacious bathroom with a shower and a tub, complete with rubber duck, and two sinks. The rooms have a sink as well so you can do some basic ablutions or get some water when you want.

Eric was very helpful in pointing out sites to see, giving me a map and mentioning a section of great Art Nouveau buildings near by. The breakfast seemed to be toast and cold selections (meats, cheese) but since I was still not feeling well I didn’t eat one day. But there may have been other items too. This B&B was around 45-50 Euros, standard price.

I had arrived in Antwerp on a Sunday, and was going to go into Brussels the next day but many museums are closed on Mondays in Europe. I chose to just hang around Antwerp, then I moved to Ghent for two days and stayed at Het Rommelwater. This B&B is about a ten-minute walk from the train station (Dampoort) but again, you will hear cars in the morning. I dont’ think there is a place in Holland or Belgian where you won’t, what with thin insulation, large windows and cobblestones.

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Het Rommelwater's double bed.

Reneé met me at the door and gave me some lozenges for my sore throat. I opted for the non-breakfast option, which was available, and the price was a very reasonable 38 Euros. The room was spacious and clean, with a small fridge for guests in the hall. All of the above B&Bs included Wifi. I ended up with a double bed because work was going on outside the other, single room. I have not mentioned bed comfort in any of these posts because that really depends on the person. The pillow was a bit too small but otherwise, everything was fine. There also were maps and other information available for the traveler. Het Rommelwater was about a 15-20 minute walk to the town center, along a canal.

The last place I stayed in continental Europe was in Calais. I needed to catch an early morning ferry to Dover so it was just a short stay. The Hotel Richelieu included breakfast but I again, didn’t eat it since I had to get up too early. This is a small hotel, almost a guest house, owned by a man doing the renovations by himself. The halls are kind of tatty but I obviously stayed in one of the rooms that’s been redone. The wallpapers in different rooms are representative of the Baroque and Rococo eras.  There is no air conditioning but balcony doors that help cool down the room. (It was very hot in Calais.) In fact I’m not sure any B&B had air conditioning or fans. I also booked many of these places online. If you can, bring a phone that works. Next time I’ll have to see if there is a cheap cell phone I can buy there. Next post will deal with the last places on my trip: Canterbury and London.

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Couchsurfing

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Turret Guest House's single room

With my recent trip to Europe I used a combination of bed and breakfasts and couchsurfing. I also booked some places beforehand and others a few days before arriving. September is still a pretty busy month for tourists and leaving things last minute can become difficult especially the more popular cities, such as Amsterdam. On the couchsurfing.org site you can list yourself for host or surf or both. People list profiles and reviews, and you choose which person would suit you best and send a request. Some hosts will just give you a space but don’t have time or are not interested in showing you around, talking with you or whatever. Whereas other hosts state explicitly “don’t treat this as a hotel” and want to interact with the surfers in some way, maybe even show them around.

Of my couchsurfing experiences, one was made last minute when problems happened with a B&B. Most of them were great, with friendly hosts willing to chat, share dinner or even show me around. One was not a great experience, the host being rude, condescending and living in a very dirty and smelly place. It was uncomfortable to be there and when more couch surfers arrived, he was friendly to them so maybe he did forget I was coming and was embarrassed by that. However, three surfers when he had said he had room for only two meant one person slept under a towel the second night because of insufficient bedding and bed space.

I stayed at the Turret Guest House in Horley on my arrival and it was basic, a little rundown, tiny with the smallest shower in existence. A large or tall person would have had trouble fitting in the shower; I could barely turn around. The towel was small and thin and when I asked for a second I got a bath mat. They talked about raising the price in the near future from 38 pounds but I think they need to upgrade a few things. The breakfast was fine and they pick and drop you off at the airport.

I eventually just went with the B&Bs because my money was working out better than I anticipated. I also worried about inconveniencing a host. Some give you a key, some won’t. In certain cases you need to be out of the place when they are and if you come in late at night, would you disturb them? My first B&B was in Delft and I had booked it online a couple of nights before. For this purpose I brought a laptop with me but I didn’t have a phone. Booking as I went actually became a bit stressful and next time I would see if I could get a cheap phone in Europe since my own didn’t use a SIM card and wasn’t compatible. When I arrived at that first B&B I waited an hour and a half and the woman never showed. Eventually I trundled back with suitcase to the tourist information center that most cities have. Luckily Delft is small and I was trying to book in the town center.

I looked up other places but had a fairly limited budget for what I could spend, about 50 Euros which is the equivalent of

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98 Plantages spacious room

about $65 CAD. I let the woman at the counter know this and she found me a place not listed on any site. The owner had just returned from vacation. 98 Plantages was a short walk from Delft center. The Dutch do this thing where instead of saying 98 they will say eight and nine or eight and ninety. I thought the woman had said 89 so after no answer I remembered being told this the night before and went up to 98 Plantages.

Liesbeth met me and was immediately so warm and friendly, helping me carry my suitcase up the stairs and giving me Imodium for the tummy issues I was having. She also suggested a few places for dinner. The room was clean, bright and newly renovated. It had WiFi, a  TV, a complimentary half bottle of wine and a table. The room was about 52 Euros. Like any place I stayed in, in Europe, the buildings are centuries hold, with little insulation and large windows. Cars going over cobblestones are noisy and you’re bound to hear some sound in the mornings. It didn’t bother me too much though.

Delft, china, bed and breakfast, chocolate sprinkles

The lovely breakfast spread

The breakfast was more than enough though she thought I ate little and included spreads (salmon, pate) plus jams and the Dutch predilection for sprinkles on bread. I could have had more but my stomach was happy with this. Notice the Delftware. I stayed three days in Delft, one with a couchsurfing host and two at Lies’s. I’d recommend her place but you’d have to find it through the local tourist office as she’s not listed on a site. Of all the B&Bs I stayed at, I enjoyed it best.

Holland (and England) was a blend of couchsurfing and the B&Bs. It’s always good to find out if WiFi/internet is included, if there is a price with or without breakfast, if they have TVs, hair dryers, shampoos (if you want these things) and how close they are to public transportation and likewise, if there are a lot of stairs. People with physical problems will want to try to get lower floors or go for more expensive hotels that have lifts/elevators. I’ll talk about Belgium the next time around.

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Dublin and Keating’s Bar

This is the last day in Ireland, before we flew back to Glasgow, in October 2007.

Sunday October 14, nearing the end of our trip and our last night in Ireland. We had come back to Dublin a day earlier hoping to have some time to see a few more sights but what with getting lost over and over again, we really had time only to pack, drop off the car and get something to eat. Driving into Dublin after two weeks of driving, you think would be easier. But there were multiple lanes, the signs were unclear and once we got off the highway, we proceeded to meander with the streets.

I think we stopped twice to ask for directions and finally found the same B&B where we had stayed before, the Charleville. Whereas this place had very nice rooms when we arrived we were given one in the basement this time. It smelled moldy in the corridor, the light didn’t work right, the door knob was loose and the water cool. It wasn’t as impressive but we were only there for the one night. (So if you’re planning on staying there, don’t let them put you in the basement.)

So after wasting part of the day getting into Dublin we decided it was wise to drop of the car first, knowing how signage just doesn’t match reality. We got lost, typical by now, went the wrong direction, finally got directions that took us to the Liffey (river) where the dropoff for the car was. The guy who gave us the best directions said, take the last road before the Liffey and turn left, then go one block and turn up. Not only were the names of the streets wrong but we couldn’t turn left on the street he said we could, nor go up the street that was next (because it was one way the other direction). It seems even the Irish don’t know their city that well.

After driving in large circles for about an hour, we finally found the entrance, not marked in any discernible way to say it was the right place. And then we were hungry. We were downtown on a Sunday and couldn’t find much. Many things were closed, or looked very cheesy. So we ate at a diner with unremarkable food.

We then caught a taxi to Keating’s Bar because my friend Will in Glasgow had said check it out. We could have walked as it was only a few blocks away but we didn’t know that after our long adventures in Dublin. It turns out to be an old church that fell into disrepair. Eventually it was bought by a local restaurateur and restored, keeping both the history of the place preserved. Part of the deal was to keep in in good repair and it has more parishioners of food than anything else. The crypt in the basement (with tombs in the floor) is the wine bar, which was closed that night. The large open-space bathrooms are on that level, where you walk in and go right if you’re a man and left if you’re a woman. When you’re at the sinks you can see men and women equally. Very Euro trendy.

The main floor has a long oval bar down the middle, and the top floor, overlooking the main floor is the dining area. If we had known there’d be food we would have eaten there and had a better meal. There are plaques and tombs in the walls to different personages. I wonder if people from two hundred years ago would roll in their graves to know a church had been turned into a bar, but then I thought, it’s the Irish. They tend to be more relaxed about drinking as part of life and religion.

We had an early flight the next day so we caught a taxi back to the B&B (not risking getting lost again) and that was that. Although there were a few things I didn’t see in Dublin I would probably skip it the next time. At the least I wouldn’t rent a car in the city and would the very least take a bus to a neighboring town and rent there to save on the confusion.

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Dungarvin, Lismore & the Benedictine Abbey, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Dungarvin, Lismore & the Benedictine Abbey

After Cashel, we went on to Dungarvin, a cute little coastal town in the south of Ireland. It was warm here and the accents on some people, like one fisherman, were very thick. We drove up to Bridie Dees (gaelic=Brighd ni Dige), with its colourful front of black and red and had a drink. There was a little fireplace at the back with a pot of coal and a shovel to take the chill off. I don’t even know if this place had any other type of heat but it was pleasant at this time of year. I believe we were on to Friday night by now, though I’ve lost track in this journey.

We asked the bartender if there were any B&Bs and he suggested a place two doors down. We called around a few places but they seemed to be a little more expensive and 40 Euros each was about our top limit. I couldn’t find the place (because he’d given me the name of another one) so when I went back in and asked he said he’d show me. As we exited the pub he held out his elbow for me to take and said he would be in trouble with his wife. It was very cute as all the bartender did was walk me down two doors to the next pub, which had rooms upstairs. There were many many stairs as this was more like a small hotel above a pub. I found that any place that has a pub underneath with a hotel above is less personal and more hotelly overall.

I carted my sister’s suitcase up the many stairs of the Tudor Arms so that it would minimize how many times her now sore knee would have to deal with them. I think we went back to Bridies and had another drink. I don’t remember at all where we ate but we went to another pub for a drink. There was this older farmer fellow (tweed jacket and cap, baggy worn corduroy trousers and wellies), pretty much the classic image of an Irish farmer. He  was barely decipherable because his accent was so thick and rolling. He bought us a drink and talked about Irish hospitality, which was about all we could understand. His name was Dan so we labelled him Dungarvin Dan.

We then went to another pub that had live music and listened to a group called the Rogues. They were rather good and played some fast paced music, so that I couldn’t stand it anymore and just got up and danced, by myself. They smiled and probably thought, look at the kooky foreign woman. I enjoyed it. Unfortunately they were out of CDs or I would have bought one. I toasted my friend in the US whose birthday it was by having a shot of Jamesons, which took they ciders I’d had and multiplied the alcohol content by three. I was a bit tipsy but still coherent.

The next day, Saturday we scooted out of Dungarvin, then went to Lismore but the castle is still occupied (and very spiff, overlooking the river) so we couldn’t go in. I walked up to the gates and peered in the keyhole where I saw this surreal image of four children. It was almost as if they were posed, at least one in a uniform, an old-fashioned pram, sitting or standing in tableau. That and the view from the river was all we saw since we were there in the off-season.

There was supposed to be an ancient abbey but either the lads thought it closed or they thought we meant the Benedictine abbey which was down a winding road but not in Lismore. It was all right but not particularly old but had the most amazing wizened monk who told us about St. Benedict and a few jokes besides. The little winding roads can take a long while at times and we meandered up and down the roads.

It was a pleasant and warm drive. Our next stop, Waterford.

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Travel: Ennis, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Ennis

Ennis is in the southwest of Ireland and we stayed the night after our long drive through the Burren. Its Gaelic name is Inis. We found a little B&B a little farther out of the town center. All the Irish towns have the oldest buildings at the center and the newer more moderns ones the farther out you go. The streets were once built for carriages and are narrow. If there is any parking, people usually just drive up over the low curbs and you have to drive around the cars. This was true of Donegal town too. Ennis was set up as a one way, with the sidewalks widened and penant shaped streamers through the streets. There was some sort of game, the local team or something that was winning but I can’t remember what.

Rose Cottage, our B&B, wasn’t a cottage but had a small dining area as well as a wee pub downstairs with quite lovely and clean rooms upstairs. The food seemed kind of Americanized so we went into town and found one of few restaurants open. The food there was extremely good, one of those higher end restaurants. I believe it was called the Town Hall, denoting what it once used to be.

After dinner my sister and I wandered up the street to a cute little pub. There were people playing inside but as opposed to an organized band they were more just jamming. A fiddler or two, I think one on bodhran but it was very low key and background. I don’t even remember much about that pub.

The next day we wandered about the town, which still has many medieval buildings, and did some shopping. I think it was my favourite town for the looks and being just a pretty place. The streets all gently curved and the shops and pubs have an old feel. This town had the most medieval feel of the towns we had been in. There were many interesting shops and I wouldn’t have minded more time there. We found our way to the Ennis Friary by asking the Garda (the police) since we somehow couldn’t find a street that went through and it turns out there is the old friary, the ruins, and the new one, which is still in use. Of course we wanted the ruins.

Ennis Friary was built in 1240 making the town a religious center. It was a Franciscan center until the expulsion of the monks in the 1800s. It’s a fine example of gothic architecture, with remains of the cloister walk and many walls with the skeleton of the windows left. Some windows, side by side, would have a different design from one to the next. The floors were festooned with old tombs, leaving no space to walk that wasn’t over someone’s grave. I found that tombs older than about the 1700s were unreadable. Many were set in the walls and the O’Brians and MacMahons were families of note in the eiarly days of the friary.

The friary has some great sculptural images, with a monk, a skeletally thin Christ, and a virgin Mary as some of the plaques and such embedded in the walls. The Creagh tomb was large and ornate, in better condition but then it was put in, in 1840 and incorporated some elements from the 1500s. Overall, the friary was in good condition, for a ruin. I really wished these old churches still had the stained glass. It’s a bit hard to imagine what they would have looked like in their full glory, with the bright hues of glass, candles, wooden ceilings and floors, rushes perhaps, and walls not yet pitted by age and weather in rebellion.

When I get back to Ireland I want to spend more time in Ennis and exploring around the town.

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Kinbane Castle

Ireland 2007–Kinbane Castle

First published on my Blogspot blog in Nov. 2007. All pictures are copyrighted.

On Monday October 1, we left Ballycastle. At our B&B were a family from Seattle. They’d been driving about for two weeks and were on their third week. They said, stop at Kinbane on the way. It’s not very far. And it wasn’t, traveling west near the coast.

 The weather was perfect. A few clouds, sunshine and the turquoise depths of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean made the northern coast of Ireland beautiful. Along the shorelines, wherever the ocean licks the stones, the rocks become stained and black. Farther back from the shore they may white or brown. Craggy and rugged, the northern coast is wild, and whitecaps and booming waves are common.

Kinbane, which means White Headland, was down a long hill. They really didn’t want people to go to the castle anymore. There were bars across the path but easy to straddle. As I moved around the hill, there was a second barricade just before the beach. I squeezed past that one, and it was obvious many had. Along the northern coast are the remains of stone huts used in the fishing industry, which was closed in the 80′s. This is a sad statement on what the world is doing to the fish populations.

I loved the look of this castle, built in 1544 by Colla MacDonnell (of Balymargy Friary fame). It was shot at and partially destroyed at one point, but one of the MacDonnells lived there till the end of his days. Mostly what is left is one of the towers. It couldn’t have been a very big castle but I can see how this would have been a great fortification. Rugged stony cliffs to the sea and steep steps up to the castle by land.

This castle gave me a great appreciation for the hardiness of those people of centuries past. To hike up and down that hill would definitely make one fit. Even though it was a bit breezy, I was quite warm by the time I pantingly reached the top.

The castle and rock itself are now made unapproachable, the way securely barricaded. The structure was originally besieged and with time it has become highly unstable. I loved many of the castles for different reasons but Kinbane had the true sense of a fortification of the most austere type. This was only the first of our stops on Monday, and the first of a few hikes.

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