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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Hotels, Part II

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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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Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

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Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

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An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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