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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.

Art Nouveau, buildings, architecture, art, Antwerp

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.

Het Rommelwater, Ghent, B&B, accommodation, bed and breakfast, guest house, travel

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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Travel Tips for Amsterdam

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Amsterdam canal by phault: Flickr http://www.flickr.com/people/pjh/

I’m getting ready to travel to the Netherlands and Belgium in about a month’s time. There is actually a fair amount to do, check and get beforehand. Because I’m traveling alone, there are a few other considerations to take into account.

When I traveled to Ireland a few years back I went with my sister. We rented a car, drove as far as we could each day and then as the sun was dipping below the horizon we’d drive into the nearest town, have a drink at a pub and ask them to recommend a B&B. It worked well 90% of the time. We were off season (the end of Sept.) and the towns we stayed in were not the larger cities. That’s why in Kilkenny, a college town, it almost didn’t work. It was a Saturday night and full of party people. It took three tries but we did find a B&B.

So I thought I could do the same thing as I traveled to the Netherlands. I land in London first and as I always do I like to book my first and last nights so that I know that I’m set. I find that Trip Advisor though you have to look at more than a few reviews to get a sense of place. But I will then search elsewhere for rooms, hotels, B&Bs or hostels and check their own sites as well.

As I did the preliminary research for Amsterdam I was a bit shocked at the price of any lodging. A quick look into Belgium showed it to be much the same. My sister and I got a B&B for an average of 25-50 Euros, which equaled between $$35-$60 CAD. Traveling with someone can definitely cut the rate down but here I was looking at hostels, sharing for 50 Euros a night. Yes, there are cheaper places but it’s a fine line to find something that is cheap enough, fits your needs and is clean and pleasant enough. The reviews fit one or the other criteria, but not both.

So I started looking farther afield, googling things like B&Bs Amsterdam, and cheap lodging Amsterdam. This turned up a few more sites. Bed and Breakfast Netherlands lists a lot of actual homes used as B&Bs that you might not find on Trip Advisor. It also breaks the cost down to a single person price. I haven’t yet tried it though.  Couch Surfing can also work and I’ll be trying it for the first time though I’ve already hosted a few people. You don’t have to reciprocate in hosting but it helps for references. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the people who live in these cities. It’s the best way to know a culture. Note that during the high months, Amsterdam hosts can get as many as 10-20 requests a day. It’s one of Europe‘s hotspots and a mecca for the gay crowd. I didn’t realize all this and even though I’m going at the end of Sept. I’m glad I started early. I’ve spent quite a few hours (probably 24-30) just searching out possible accommodations for Amsterdam. I’m not going to book every night everywhere because I don’t know where I’ll go but I now have an idea of what it could possibly cost me (my whole budget). My stay in London is coming in at $120 for two nights at a B&B and that’s a good price.

Know that many Dutch homes are narrow and tall, with very steep stairs. it’s part of their history where land was eked out from the sea so up was the way to go. Amsterdam is of course more expensive than some of the other towns and there are such designations in some of the travel guides as “stoner hotels.” Yes, smoking pot is allowed in some if not all establishments.

Again, money is interesting and it’s looking like traveler’s checks are becoming too outmoded, and that most places won’t take them or will charge an exorbitant fee for cashing them. As well, many Dutch hotels or B&Bs only accept cash because credit card charges eat up their profits so they just don’t use them. Once I’m on the road, I’m sure my experiences will differ some and I’ll report on that. But the best advice for traveling to Europe is check ahead of time on the type of lodging you want and whether you can afford it. I’m glad I did and I’ll be using several options.

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Horror Hotel: Travelodge Review

If you travel to it, it will lodge in you like a cancerous tumor.

My sister and I drove up to Edmonton, Alberta for my brother’s surprise birthday. My sister-in-law had paid for a room at the Travelodge on 45 Ave.  As we drove in we noticed the nearly empty parking lot and mounds of dirt. Okay they were renovating or changing the lot. We go in and it’s relatively small as “hotels” go though I would call it more a motel. A little pool right off the front desk.

We went to register and they found it right away. Good so far except then the guy asks how we are going to pay for the room. My sister said, It’s already paid for. She came in personally to pay for it. (We didn’t have a confirmation number but it was supposed to be more than confirmed.) The guy says there’s nothing here. He looks in the written book and it just has my name, no other information. We insist it’s been paid for and he says, there is nothing we can do.

As we’re standing there two guys come in from down the hall. One is wiry, bald, very long mustachios and a few tattoos. He’s already looking florid. He said something about paying for, and booking, the hotel online and how his friend (who had booked it)  was charged a month before they even got it. But the room they were given had air conditioning that wasn’t working (it’s 35 degrees Celsius in Edmonton right now). They’d shown him another room that was dingy and just as bad. In a livid rage he said he wanted his money back as the guy said, we can’t do that. There is nothing we can do.

We watch all this, now getting a true sense of Travelodge. As this guy rants the staff member goes, I’m senior management, there’s nothing we can do. It’s policy (like a broken record) which just makes this biker guy madder. He and and his friend say we’re going to post this on the internet. I’m not sure what eventually happened there as we were trying to deal with our problem. We can’t call my sister-in-law directly as this is supposed to be a surprise birthday for my brother. So I call my other brother but he’s enroute and can’t pass the message on.

So we reiterate that my sister-in-law came in Wednesday or Thursday in person and paid for the room. There is also a girl behind the desk and she says oh she would have booked the room by phone. But we say, maybe but she came in to pay. If she booked it by phone do you have a credit card number then? Can you check to see if she made a payment in her name? Then we get, we only use a credit card on the phone to hold a room. Well do you ever charge to it? No, we only hold a room. I ask, what happens if I don’t show up for my room then? Do you charge it? No, we never do that. Then why do you take the credit card as confirmation? You don’t understand, we only use it to hold the room. But if you actually never use it to charge for a room I could make up a number, couldn’t I?

Anyways, we go around like that for a bit with the supposedly “senior management” guy looking back through they payments made and saying there is nothing. There is nothing we can do. So my sister and I cart our luggage back to the car. It’s too early for the party so we just opening the car and trying to figure out what we can do when some other guy runs out and says oh they want to see you at the front desk. We had already been there for a half hour trying to sort this out. As we walk back in the girl comes out and says there has been a big misunderstanding that in fact yes, my sister-in-law had paid for the room and in fact the supposedly senior management guy had not read the deposit column. So, we do have a room but they had made no notation anywhere that it had been paid for or anything. I have to say the girl was apologetic. The other guy was arrogant and unhelpful and made the situation worse.

We walked down the dimly lit corridor with a well worn brown carpet. They were putting us on the first floor of a three floor hotel. We went into the hotel room, noticing the sagging beds, but got ready for the evening. There is a mirror in the bathroom and one full length one near the door. The outlet in the bathroom didn’t work for a flat-iron and there was no outlet near the other mirror. Other outlets were not flush to the wall, with plastered holes showing but not painted. The room was dim even with all the lights on (a desk lamp, a floor lamp and two bed lamps). My sister tried another outlet that didn’t work. Oh, and yes, there were ants in the bathroom. So on our way out we said, there are ants, the outlet doesn’t work in the bathroom nor in the room.

They were supposed to have fixed it but when we returned at 2:30 am there were over a dozen ants in the bathroom. Big ants. I flushed about ten down the drain, and we called them up. Instead of saying, sorry and coming to us and helping us move to another room, they made us pack up everything and come to the front desk so that we could then move to another room. Where it turned out the air conditioner barely put out slightly cool air through the night, the outlet in the bathroom didn’t work, another outlet in the wall didn’t work, the beds were uncomfortable and the pillows as lumpy as oatmeal. These rooms weren’t cheap and cost about $140 a night.

If Travelodge offered me a free week at their hotels I wouldn’t take it. The hotel was so rundown looking, the beds so bad (and the sheets were wrinkled and made us suspicious that they hadn’t been changed), the rooms so shabby that I haven’t stayed in something this bad since India. Their overall lack of customer service and sheer arrogance was offputting. And whether those guys who had booked through the internet and had read the info correctly or not, there are better ways to diffuse a situation than what these guys did. Be warned. I would consider this chain of hotels to be any better elsewhere.

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