Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

Motel One Potsdamer Platz, Berlin ***

Stayed: August 2017

One always happy to try something new, I opted to stay at the Motel One at Potsdamer Platz during my last Berlin visit.

This Motel One is a bit different from others I've stayed at, as only the reception area and the elevators are at the ground floor - the rest of the hotel starts on the 3rd floor. The entire reception's back wall is one huge "movie screen" made up of a matrix of multi-color LEDs. I've seen this type of "screen" at other MotelOne hotels - usually behind the bar - but never anything this huge. It really is quite impressive.

The Hotel is part of the Berlin Mall, a huge US-style shopping mall and my room was to the side of the hotel, looking over one of the main passageways in the mall. There is a large structure almost like a hallway separating the hotel rooms along this passageway and separated from it by fixed windows. You can open your window to this hallway, but it doesn't do you much good because I didn't get the feeling that there is fresh air circulating through it. There were even some painter's gear (ladder, pails, etc.) leaning against the hotel wall within this space.

Both the bar and the breakfast restaurant are also on the 3rd level. I'd kept breakfast optional when checking in and that was a good thing, as I had a look at around 8:00 AM and the place seemed solidly packed. I hadn't visited the bar the night before, so I can't comment on that.

The entire area around Potsdamer Platz was - though this likely depends on the time of year, completely overrun by tourists. You get used to tourists in Berlin, but this was rediculous. Having the mall right there probably doesn't help. Also, if you're looking for bars and restaurants that aren't tourist traps, you need to walk quite a ways out of the area.

While the room and the bathroom were typical MotelOne standard (which is just fine for me), I likely won't stay here again just to avoid the masses of people.
Subsequenly, I'm giving three stars not because the hotel isn't ok but because the area is pretty annoying (unless you're a shopaholic).

Room Tip: The rooms to the mall are - after closing hours - very quiet.


Comments

Superbude Hamburg St. Georg **

Stayed: June 2017

This has got to be the most flippant hotel (hostel?) I've ever stayed in. The decoration is, well, different, though interesting.

The hotel is located on the edge of the St. Georg district in Hamburg, on the super-busy Spaldingstraße. I had a room to the inside courtyard - luckily, as I would probably have had issues sleeping with a window to the street. Not only is there a lot of traffic (which you still hear in the courtyard), but also very busy train tracks just behind the street.

My room (202) was tiny and very cramped. It lacked a desk, which was annoying as I did have some work to do before my evening appointment. I ended up lying on the bed with the laptop on my lap - not super comfortable. The hotel provides free Wifi which seems fast enough but filters out certain protocols, such as Dropbox - annoying if part of your work is making files available externally using that service.

The window can be tilted but is locked so it cannot be opened completely. According to the note on the bed, they're keeping the window locked to keep pollen out, but that's ridiculous, especially if you can tilt the window. You can get the key to the window at reception, but I didn't bother.

The window is the only way to get fresh air into the room, by the way - there is no A/C. The bathroom has a vent in the ceiling, but I never heard a fan going, so I expect that all the nasty smells coming from the toilet only exit through the window if it is open. I ended up opening and closing the window multiple times throughout the night, as people seem to go a little crazy in the evening (close) and at 5AM (on the dot!), loud cleaning noises start from below (close). I ended up sweating a lot.
Comments

Britannia Study Hotel, Brighton, UK ***

Stayed: March 2017

The hotel is located on Western Road, about 900m from the train station on foot. The No. 6 bus will take you quite close. The location is ok if you have a room to the back, as Western Road is quite busy.

The room was spacious enough but simple, with a desk and a largish TV on it. There was also a closet with plenty of space and a safe (which I didn't use). On the wall behind the desk hung a corkboard - that was a first in the many years I stay in hotels!

The room had two small windows to the street on the rear (which was quiet) that could only be shut against street light by rolling down a roller blind. Works, but not very pretty.

There was free Wifi in the room with ok speed.

The bathroom was ok - it was clean but simple. I found the exhaust fan incredibly annoying - it sounded like a turboprop taking off. It turned on as soon as the bathroom light was on, so you weren't even spared a few minutes.

Breakfast wasn't spectacular, but it was ok (a few warm items) and sufficient.

All personnel were very friendly and helpful.

For the price (less than 50€) absolutely okay and I would stay here again, though if you're here for holidays, I would probably splurge for something more upscale.
Comments

MotelOne Am Tierpark, Berlin ***

Stayed: March, 2017

Okay, there isn't usually much to report on differently with a MotelOne - they are all very similar and I've never had a problem with a room before in one.

Here, mostly consistent with my previous experiences with this chain, however there were some ups and downs.

The hotel is located on a very busy 4-lane street that is frequented 24/7. While I know from my frequent stays at the MotelOne Waidmarkt in Cologne (in 2013), sometimes with a room overlooking the Blaubach street that the soundproofing of their windows is nearly perfect, I still prefer a room away from the street if at all possible.

They offered me a room on the ground floor that faced the back of the hotel (E-19). The location was fine - it was located in a shortish run of hallway that was separated from the reception area by a glass door.

Slightly annoying were the two gigantic and artistically pleasing lamps that sat on the grass, as they stayed on all night (why??), causing a bright streak of light to shine over the ceiling. Also odd was that the AC only ran while actually heating, so no fresh air otherwise. Lastly, the air evacuation from the bathroom didn't work.

On the flip side, the personnel in the bar were very attentive and friendly - definite thumbs up for these two guys. The choice of "pub grub" was quite restricted - more so than I remember from MotelOne hotels, but it was ok.

Another caveat is the poor connectivity to public transit. With other MotelOne hotels in Berlin, you're either right on or very near a U or S-Bahn station. Not here - you have a good walk of about 500m to the next station. With luggage a real chore.

All in all, ok to stay in, though I have other MotelOne hotels in Berlin I prefer.
Comments

Estilo Fashion Hotel, Budapest ****

Stayed: February 2017
 
Located in a pedestrian zone, the hotel is centrally located very close to the Danube and the Szabadság híd (
Liberty Bridge). The room (104) was quite spacious with very high ceilings. Windows were doubled up (i.e. old windows outside, new windows inside), but with a metal bar about 20cm behind the window so that it isn't possible to open them more than a crack. With the relatively quiet location and the double windows, the noise level from outside was quite low.

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The decor was quite lively but not unpleasant, the bed (in my case a double bed) comfortable. There was a power outlet at the desk (yeah!), a TV (that I didn't use, so I can't say anything about channels) and an espresso maker. Two packets of espresso as well as a half-liter bottle of water were free with the room.
 
The bathroom was clean (as was the room) and modern. The only nuisance was the water tap, which had a "function follows form" character (see picture): there wasn't a lever to turn the water on or off, just a cube. The same bad design was used on the tap in the shower, which was easier to operate because the cubes just needed to be turned. No thermostat control in the shower, but the temperature was pretty constant.

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The room has AC that works well (also as a heater) and free Wifi that is quite performant for a hotel connection.
 
Personnel was friendly all round. The only real let-down was breakfast: this was, in my opinion, rather overly simple - it almost reminded me of breakfast in Italian hotels. I've stayed in Budapest many times and usually, there is more to breakfast than what was offered here.
 
All in all, though, a hotel I recommend and will be staying in again.
Comments

Bristol Hotel, Frankfurt ***

Stayed: February 2017
 
The hotel is relatively near the train station, so walking there isn't a problem even with luggage - about 5 min. for anyone good on their feet. If you take track 24 about halfway to the rear and exit, you are right on the street the hotel is on (more convenient than walking from the side exit of the train station).
 
It is also near the fairgrounds (the reason I picked it). As it turns out, getting to the fairgrounds with a reasonable amount of effort means going back to the train station and taking the S-Bahn... You can walk there from the hotel, but it is quite a ways (about half an hour).
 
My room (120) faced the hotel's own conference center, so it was quiet at night. The street side is relatively busy and has a tram going by it that turns a corner, so you get noise from that as well. As it turned out, it was logistically well placed: I had the stairway and a "private" elevator just around the corner; the stairway went straight to
the breakfast room.
 
There was a strange, scraping noise at times - after the fact, I think it might have come from that elevator, but I'm not sure. I woke up from it at around 5:30 in the morning and kept waking up whenever it occurred. Annoying.
 
My room was an "Economy Single" and boy, was it ever small. My guess is 2.5m wide and maybe 6m in length, though when you enter you have a long "hallway" with a small bathroom to the left and then the sleeping quarters. With a backpack and an open suitecase (I was travelling through), the room is just plain too small for comfort.
 
However, everything was spic and span, the room has a large heater which does a good job in the winter. There is also AC, though I didn't use that . The bathroom is small but functional and also clean. There used to be a second door from the hallway to the sleeping section, but unfortunately, it is not there anymore (it would cancel out some of the noise coming from the hallway).
 
Nonetheless, I found the price to be too high for such a small room. To be fair, there was a trade fair going on, but it was a very small one. No reason for the pricing, in my opinion.
 
There is free Wifi in the room; connectivity was fine and the transfer speed good. Download speed started at a strong 26MBit and went down during the test (daytime) to about 17MBit. Upload started at 10MBit and went down to 7MBit. These are fantastic values for a hotel wifi connection!
 
An annoyance is the location of  a mains outlet at the desk - it is all the way at the back of the desk underneath, quite a bend-and-reach. Why one isn't built into the desk itself is beyond me.
 
Breakfast was included in the room rate and was very good. Anything you might want was there, from warm food to cold food to yoghurt, smoothies, cereals, fruit.
 
Summary:
I would stay here again in a larger room, though I'm afraid that will be priced too high in comparison with other hotels in Frankfurt, some of which I've stayed in and found to be quite ok. If you do stay, ask for a room to the back or be prepared to put ear plugs in.
Comments

Ibis Münster City ***

Stayed: Feb. 2017

The Ibis in Münster is a typical Ibis hotel, which is fine since you know what you're getting (and what you're not getting).

The room was clean, I'd asked the lady at reception for a quiet room and she put me in 512, which faces to the rear (the street in front is medium busy) on the top floor. Thank you for that!
The only complaint I have is that the mattress was unnecessarily hard. Since I'm currently getting over some bruised ribs in my back, the night was not pleasant. Without pain, the bed is serviceable but I would prefer a softer mattress.

There is only one elevator, so during peak times be prepared to wait (or take the stairs).

I didn't have breakfast, as €11 seemed a bit steep, though I don't know what is on offer here. I've had breakfast at Ibis hotels before and never paid that much (nor would the offering have been worth it).

There is a free wifi connection available, albeit a slow one. It was fine for what I needed to get done (emails, calls on Skype) but if you're looking to stream video, you'll need to shell out €6 for the faster option.

The hotel is easily reached on foot from the central train station (5 min. walk) and isn't far from the start of the old city either. There seems to be a parking garage available, but as I was here by train, I can't say anything about it.

All in all a good place to stay in a town that doesn't offer much in hotels (or offers them at rates that make you think you're in a city on the level of London or NYC). I would stay again (once my ribs are back to normal).
Comments

MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA ***

Stayed January 2017

Booking and checking in
Our annual sales conference took place at the MGM this January. Booking the hotel was done via a website and the room type assigned was "run of the house" - likely this means that they will give you whatever cheapest room is available.
My room was on floor 22, number 328. The view was actually quite nice: it looked on the intersection of E. Tropicana Ave. and S. Las Vegas Boulevard, though the intersection itself was quite far away - the MGM is a big place.

Elevators are split into four sections, depending on which floor you need to go to and my elevators were designated to floors 21 and up. For some reason, these elevators seem to be the busiest - at times you had a relatively long line waiting to go up. While there were six elevators available for these floors, one apparently was broken for most of my stay.

We had been warned of long checkin lines and encouraged to use the mobile checkin. If you check in either with the special app or using the MGM website then you can go to one of a series of terminals that will read a barcode off your device (or printout) and spit out your room key. Unfortunately, the mobile check in system failed for me, as it wasn't able to find my reservation even after I'd verified it with guest services. Luckily, the line for manual check in wasn't very long when I arrived.

The Room
I'd requested a room far away from the elevators for two reasons: for one, I have had some really bad experiences with rooms near elevators due to constant noise (humming, bell sounds) 24h a day. For another, Las Vegas brings with it lots of people that stay out very late and tend to be loud coming back to their room. The farther away you are from the elevators, the fewer people you will have passing your room.

The room had two queen size beds in it and was large enough even for two people staying (I was on my own). Hangers in the closet and drawer space will be enough for two but if you're looking to save some bucks and share a room amongst four, you'll likely have a problem getting your clothes put away (depending on how many you bring, of course). There was a largish flat screen TV, a minibar (the annoying type that registers whatever you take out of it and charges your bill immediately) a desk with a lamp.

The room showed the age of the MGM quite clearly. There were scuff-marks and damage everywhere, in the bathroom, in the room, at the desk. It was clean, though, which is more important to me than wear and tear. And it didn't smell odd, which was a real plus.

Technology
The room was decidedly low tech, as well. Comparing the room at the Wynn I had at the conference last year (albeit an unfair comparison), lighting for example was all discretely switched. I.e. no central light control, not even a "put your room key in here to power up" box at the door! And yes, the room key was the very old-style magnetic stripe kind.

I'm going to estimate these lamps to be from the 80's, just by the switches used on them. The large, stand-up lamp in the corner was even more ridiculous: it had a twist switch right at the base of the bulb socket, so you had to twist your head down and look up to figure out where to put your hand. I never switched this lamp on again, it was just too annoying.

Really annoying as well was the "technology" used to darken the room. This consisted of roll-up blinds, one semi-transparent (what on earth for?) and one that cut off all light. The cleaning personnel put down the semi-transparent one at each cleaning and I would put it back up every evening when I came back from the conference. The windows are mirrored on the outside, so no one is going to be able to look into your room... the need for the semi-transparent blind is beyond me.
The annoying part of these blinds is that you pull them up and down using a chain pulley, which isn't easy and quite loud. Do this too early in the morning and you'll be waking up your neighbor.

Noise level
The worst part of the room was the noise coming in from outside. There was a long metal flap along the left window half that you could slide over and up - apparently, to let in outside air. With the (to be fair: well-working) A/C on, I'm not sure why you would want this, but in my opinion this venting system was the main cause of outside noise bleeding in. Since you're very close to the airport, you not only get abundant road noise (including frequent emergency sirens), but also airplane noise from McCarran Airport. To top it off, there are frequent helicopter fly-overs.

Bed
The bed turned out not to be very comfortable. I'm not sure what caused it - probably the mattress protector - but something caused multiple bumps to press into my back when I was lying flat, no mater where on the mattress I positioned myself. It may have been something to do with that particular bed (I didn't bother trying the other one), but it may be an issue with the age of the beds as well.

Bathroom
The bathroom had a clear 80's motif to it, functional but not pretty. The bathtub/shower has a double curtain, which surprisingly doesn't get sucked in. The drain is annoying enough - it is a metal disk with rubber gasket material around it that sits in the drain. To open the drain, you rotate it from flat with the floor to sticking up. The cleaning personnel alway closed this (no idea why) and you'd either have to bend way down to open this thing with your finger (yuck!) or finagle it open with your toe.

The shower head was quite ok, but getting the water to the right temperature was annoying. You only have one handle that you turn to get water flowing and to adjust the temperature. To get water to flow from the spigot into the tub up to the shower, you pull a lever, after which you get some massive air burps coming out of it before water flows freely.

The conference center
The hotel is huge and quite unfortunately, the conference center (where our sales conference was located) is at the very other end of the hotel. The walk was quite far, quickly getting something from your room generally wasn't an option as the walk there and back would easily take half an hour total.
The center is surprisingly well done - as is the case with most conferences, you have general sessions and breakout sessions and the latter weren't too far from the conference restaurant or the general session hall.
Some rooms had serious A/C issues, either they were much too warm or you had icy air falling on you depending where you sat. All breakout rooms seemed to have the same issue with lighting, however: lighting towards the front (where the screen was set up) was dimmed down, which caused the fluorescent bulbs to flicker constantly.

Summary
If you're in the market for a room in Las Vegas, then there are better (newer) hotels on or off the strip. Despite the (hopefully) deep discount my employer received for renting a large number of rooms, the room still came to 165$ per night. In my opinion, that is way too much for the quality of the room.
If you get lucky and you get a deal (apparently, there was a radio ad the day before I arrived that MGM was selling off rooms for $65), then you can certainly go for it. The MGM is positioned quite well on the "Strip" and has its own monorail station.
Comments

Thistle Kensington Gardens, London, UK **

As I came in from the city, I walked from Bayswater station to the hotel (which is only about 5 min.). I spotted the hotel sign right away, but all I saw was a construction site and a gas station wedged under a building… the entrance to the hotel is actually around the corner (not sure why the address is Bayswater Road, then) and you need to go up on the 1st floor for reception.

The girl at reception apparently had a long night, she seemed to fall asleep twice while getting me checked in. Very odd. The room was on the 5th floor and faced Kensington Gardens, which sounds nice but actually just means you get a lot of noise from Bayswater Road, as the trees across the street are so high you can't see anything of the park. There was a sliding window on the inside of the room and a regular window on the outside, but that didn't help much to keep road noise at bay. My guess is that the windows are both quite old, as it wasn't possible to sit comfortably at the desk due to cold air coming off the closed windows - I had to pull the drapes closed to stop the cold air.

The AC isn't the newest either - it was quite loud for being set on low fan, it didn't heat the room all that well and it smelled funny - probably needs a cleaning. Also, I turned it off at night because the noise was bothering me, but it just kept running. It actually shut down at some point, though that was at least 15 min. later.

The shower is also a bathtub, which will make getting in and out for some people a challenge. Also the narrow end of the bathtub is where the shower water hits, so you're forced to stand with your feet quite close together while getting wet. For me, that was uncomfortable, for anyone that has issues with balance, it isn't going to work well.

Other than that, the room - even though it was supposedly a "luxury" room was borderline too small. It was clean enough, and the bed was quite comfortable. There is a biggish TV (didn't use it) and free Wifi (with reasonable speed for emails, likely you won't be happy streaming video).

Breakfast was ok though there were no rolls or bread available. The only baked goods were toast, croissants and some type of cake. Full English breakfast was the main stay. Coffee is ok and get-it-yourself from a machine.

I've no idea what the average hotel runs for in London these days, but for the amount I paid for the night, I could have gotten a 5-Star top-of-the-line hotel in Berlin with a huge room and a fitness center. Had the rate been lower, I would have given three stars.
Comments

Castello Village Resort in Sisi, Crete, Greece ***1/2

Stayed: October 2016

Important: The bartender informed us that the hotel will be renovated once it closes for the season this year. So some of the things I’ve written about in this review may not apply anymore for the vacation season of 2017.

Arrival
The village of Sisi is about a 45 minute drive from Heraklion Airport; it would be faster (it isn't far), but unfortunately a lengthy portion of the highway is under construction and speeds are frequently limited to 70km/h.
We arrived in the evening, having found Sisi using Google maps and the hotel by just following the road to the beach (pure luck, really). Google maps acts pretty oddly along the route, but apparently the highway is - in part - quite new. At one point you could still see the markings of a roundabout that the highway now went across. Maps was a bit odd along the country roads to Sisi coming off the highway, indicating a left turn that didn't exist and immediately indicating to turn left in 1.x km. Very odd.
The guy at reception was very friendly and asked us to go straight through to the restaurant before doing the registration, as it would close shortly - very forthcoming. The people working at this hotel are all very friendly and helpful, as it turns out. Five stars for the service!

Room(s)
Our room (number 353) turned out to be a bit of a letdown. For one thing, it looked quite lived down, for another it was along the eastern side of the hotel, so the small sitting area looked over an empty lot on the one side and up at a side of balconies that were in parallel to the empty lot.
All the shutters for windows and french doors - both in the bedroom as well as the living room (with two sofas converted to beds for the kids) were extremely tight, which left little space for light or air to get through. AC would have cost 5$ per day, which we didn't think we'd need in October.
As it turns out, it would have been very good to have; for one thing, the room was very warm and just didn't cool down, even with shutters wide open (as it turns out, it had some sort of warm water pipe running the entire length of it, essentially providing a heated floor) and because you definitely didn't want to close the windows at night (it would have gotten even warmer), you were blasted from all sides by AC compressors hung from walls outside adjoining rooms. Needless to say, we didn't sleep well that night, despite being very tired.
The next day, we checked with management to see if an upgrade would be possible and, after waiting for that room to get cleaned after a late departure, we moved into room 403 at 5PM.
This room is diagonally across the hotel campus and has a partial sea view (you get the noise from the ocean at night, really nice!) and a better floor plan. You also get a cool breeze from the sea (yea) and there are no compressors anywhere to be heard at night!

Neither 353 nor 403 have what you would call ample storage... there is about 2m of hanger space in a wall closet, with two small drawers. Then there is a two-drawer cabinet in the bedroom. 403 also had two nightstands with one drawer each that 353 didn't have. There are no drawers or hanger space for the kids sleeping on couches, which is pretty silly at best, especially because there is enough space along the walls to place a cabinet of some sort.
We met some people that started out in the very same room we had started in, and also were able to upgrade it the next day. Perhaps the room is the "90% will upgrade from here" cash cow, I don't know. The upgrade was €15 per night so I'm not complaining.

You do hear the pool bar music in the bedroom of 403, even if you close the french doors to the „patio“. The bar closes at 1AM, so if you're the type to go to bed early, you may need ear plugs.
Both rooms had a small kitchenette with a two-plate "stove", but no pots or pans to use on it. The bathrooms are functional (353 has a bathtub, 403 a shower). The beds are almost comfortable, though a bit hard for my taste.

All in all, I would recommend the rooms at the lower pool, as they are likely to have the least issues with noise - the lower bar closed early (at least while we stayed there). If you get a room facing the upper pool / bar, be prepared not to sleep before 1AM!


Food
The restaurant is quite quaint - there is an outside seating area (quite small), a main eating room (too bright) and a section towards the front of the hotel that was our favorite. It isn't as bright and canteen-like but more like a restaurant.
The buffet consists of several cooler areas in the center of the buffet section, with some more buffet (with warm food) along the walls. The choices are less than other hotels I've been to, but then this is a relatively small hotel. The food is good for the most part (matter of taste, of course) and you'll always find something local amongst typical western European foods.

Two complaints I need to voice are that the Zaziki was sub-prime every day I tried it. I love Greek food and have had it both on various Greek islands, on the mainland, on Cyprus and of course in Greek restaurants in non-Greece Europe. I've never had Zaziki this horrible anywhere before. I have no idea what is wrong with it - maybe it is the yoghurt used or some spices missing, it is unrefined and offensive to the tongue. The second complaint is the choice of fresh fruit for breakfast, which usually consisted of Watermelon (which I don't like) and nothing else. They usually had two more fruit out of a can, which is a shame - considering the diversity of fruit that grows on Crete.
We had the Breakfast+Dinner Buffet package and drinks are charged for dinner. I found the prices to be a bit high: a bottle of water, a beer and half a liter of local wine for 18€ doesn't fit to the level this hotel is at.

Pools
There are two pools and two pool bars at this hotel complex - one at the top, one at the bottom of the hill. The pool at the bottom is quite a lot smaller, but the bar is spectacular as it looks over the ocean. There is also a playground and a volleyball court (sand!) down there - really quite nice. The bottom pool has a kiddie pool next to it.

The top pool is large enough, about 10x10m in an L-shape. It was surprisingly warm for October, but as I found out the hard way (sunburn), the sun packs a lot of punch down here even this time of year... after all, you're on the same longitude as northern Africa.

Both pools were very clean.

Wifi
There are three Wifi networks available nearly anywhere on "campus": one for Castello Village, Appartments and _. While one might think these are localized to the individual locales, this isn't the case - apparently, all three are broadcast everywhere. You also see access points frequently, so coverage is good. Unfortunately, performance is a disaster. If you're dependent on a fast Wifi connection while on holiday, then this hotel is NOT for you! Depending on where you are (likely an access point issue), connecting to one or more of the networks simply doesn't work; even though you very carefully enter the (correct) password, a message comes back stating that the password is incorrect. Use the same password at a different location and you get connected.
I did a Wifi speed test via an app on my iPhone and the results are actually not that bad (19ms ping, 3.24Mbps down, 1.06Mbps up), so I'm assuming that there is some issue with either a filtering software or the firewall. In any case, it is quite frustrating. The really odd thing is that you mainly wait for your requested URL to start loading - once it has started, it actually loads quite quickly.

Surroundings
The hotel is - luckily - about 500m away from the center of Sisi. Luckily, because there are lots of bars and restaurants down there and the noise level might be annoying if the hotel was right next door. This way, you have a good compromise of being there in 5 min. on foot if you want to party and not being bothered too much by loud music.

Towards the east, you have about 500m to beautiful Boufos Beach that is - at least partially - sand. The sea actually has a lot of rocks in it (most of them rounded), so beach shoes that stay on your feet in heavy waves are absolutely required. The first time we visited the beach, wave action was heavy, but this was really cool, even for the kids. The waves would throw you down, but since there is a plateau in the ocean you can stand on that isn't jagged, you don't hurt yourself falling down. The beach also had a nice bar on it where you can sit in the shade and enjoy a food/drink special for prices that make it fun to be on holiday.

Summary
All in all, a hotel to be recommended. We enjoyed staying here once we changed rooms.
Comments

FFFZ Hotel Tagungshaus, Düsseldorf ***

Stayed: August 2016

I picked this hotel as I had an early morning flight to Zürich and didn't want a long drive to the airport. Also, it was drastically less expensive than similar (and worse rated) hotels in the vicinity. I don't think there were more than 5 guests the night I stayed - I presume the place fills up either for trade fairs (the fairgrounds are very close) or for events in the adjoined conference center.

The room was spacious and seemed relatively new (or recently renovated), with plenty of storage, a mini bar, a decent sized bathroom and a double bed. It also had a relatively large flatscreen TV (I've seen smaller in more expensive hotels!). You are very close to the airport and the windows are only double glazed, i.e. you'll get air traffic noise. You also hear the nearby tram if you have the window open (my room was to the back, not to the street). But you can't have everything, right?

There is no A/C, so a room to the south is probably not a good idea. There are only 47 rooms, so the place will likely not be buzzing even when full.

Honestly, though, I've never seen Wifi performance this slow in a hotel: 1.59 MBits downstream and WHOPPING 220kBits Upstream (here are
my results as saved on speedtest.net)! Just check out that Ping time…! It was so slow, I had to view a simulcast from our CEO using my mobile phone as a hotspot. This was so annoying, that I'm taking a whole star off my rating just for that!

I didn't have a chance to test the breakfast due to my very early flight the next day. There is a parking garage, which costs 9€ per night (this charge is not to be found on the website, which I didn't appreciate).

I'd certainly stay here again if I needed to be near the airport or the fairgrounds, though if you're looking to go out in the old town, you'll need to take a tram (stop is nearby) and change once - it's at least a 20 Minute ride.

Comments

Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Brussels ***

Stayed: June 2016

I'd stayed in a
Radisson Blu in Stockholm two years back and was very impressed by that hotel. Subsequently, my expectations for this Radisson were high. They weren't met, unfortunately.

The hotel is within walking distance of Central Station (if your mapping application can figure out which way you're pointed, otherwise you'll take a detour) and within several nice (and very touristy) locations in the city. It has a huge atrium and three "outside" elevators that take you to your level. My rate included breakfast and this was a real treat, though I had to wait for coffee for way too long.

The room showed its age in places, especially the bathroom. The bathroom door had severe scuffs on it where the paint was gone, though I have no idea what it might have hit against. I found the shower to be a bit confusing but usable, once you realize that you have three valves, one for the handheld shower, one for the overhead shower and one for the tub faucet.

I found it very annoying that you have no window to open, especially because the bathroom had a distinctive chemical smell to it and the AC smelled odd as well. It would have been nice to be able to control room ventilation by just opening a window, but there you are.

Also odd was that even though I'd changed my reservation a day after I had made it (two months agol!), with a confirmation having been sent by the reservation system, the local system still had me registered for the extra day. It got straightened out relatively quickly, but still - odd.

I was there for a conference, and while the staff at breakfast were so-so friendly, the people taking care of the conference guests did a really good job. Very annoying and completely unreasonable was housekeeping that went through the hallway just before 7:45, knocking on seemingly every door.

All in all I expect more from a Radisson Blu at the pricepoint it is at.

So here are my +/o/- points:

+ located close to central station and some nice (though very touristy) bits of the city
+ large bed, comfortable enough (though not amazing)
+ large room
+ excellent breakfast with everything you'll want plus made-to-order eggs and omlets
+ multiple power outlets at desk
+ relatively little noise from the outside or hallway, despite trash collection right below in the morning

o unspectacular bathroom with odd shower fixtures

- locked windows
- odd, chemical smell in bathroom
- air from AC didn't seem fresh
- housekeeping waking up entire hallway at 7:40h
- seemingly no stairway to take, annoying when you only have one floor to go; not even sure where the fire stairs were

Comments

Hotel Kunsthof, Vienna **

Stay: June 2016

This used to be known as Hotel Reichshof - the change must have been relatively recent, the taxi driver didn't know the current hotel name. Located close to Praterstern station (and the Prater), however all the action, shopping, bars, etc. aren't in this section of town. A good place to start for that is Stephansplatz, which is three stations from Praterstern on the U2 Subway.

All in all, the stay was a "mixed bag". Would I stay again? Not in summer, that's for sure. The room was warm (no AC) despite the weather being only partially nice. Wouldn't want to stay in July or August. You're not in "the center of things" here yet the street the hotel is on tends to be quite busy (and loud).

The good, the bad and the ugly:
+ Quite close to Praterstern station
+ Room is good size
+ Mattress was comfortable
+ quaint city hotel, open spaces, nice little courtyard to sit in (when it isn't raining) and lots of stucco
+ room seems recently renovated
+very friendly personnel at reception + in the restaurant

o Breakfast was ok, but relatively simple: Bread, rolls, jams, plain yoghurt, meats and cheese + some juices. Oh - and boiled eggs. Nothing warm, no salads.
o there is no phone in the room! If you need to call reception… well, you're going down there or using your mobile!
o no mini bar in the room - there is a row of refrigerators on the ground level opposite reception full of drink and snacks you can buy

- TV signal horrid (watched EM game), completely blurry
- On busy street with lots of traffic and running trains - it does quiet down a bit at night, but only a bit.
- no air conditioning, to cool room at night, need to open windows (see point above)
- no shower (!) - just a bathtub with a handheld __ - you need to either squat or be very careful to spray the water only in one direction to get clean! At least you can watch yourself do it in the brown smoked mirrors all around… the bathroom was, apparently, only partially renovated - at least the floor was in pretty bad shape.
- free WIFI is relatively poor quality, wasn't able to have a voice Skype call due to signal breakup
Comments

Club Hotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort**

Overview
We stayed at the Riu from Jan. 4-9, 2016.
All in all, the hotel is certainly a place you can spend some time, though there are better choices in Corallejo. The food is of excellent quality and there is plenty of selection. The service quality is mostly very good. The beach is phenomenal, of course, but the hotel has caveats as well - primarily the low building quality and the lack of control regarding reserving of lounge chairs - of which there are by far not enough. We had extensive lunch sessions at the outside seating of the bar and a large portion of the chairs are "reserved" and remain unused for hours.


Quick summary
  • The most positive: the food quality and the beach.
  • The most annoying: the matress and the restaurant.
  • I would not want to stay more than 1 week.

Hotel / Resort
We'd stayed in the hotel before; not sure when, but at least 10-12 years ago. I don't have much recollection of how it was back then, so in this report I can only discuss the resort part. This was probably built after the hotel (it seems to be a bit newer) in the western part of the property. It has its own restaurant, bar and pool (though you are not forced to go there, you can also go to the hotel facilities).

The resort buildings are generally three stories, though I saw at least one that had four. The building materials and style is typical Spanish - no consideration for sound dampening between rooms, doors that are nearly impossible to close quietly, tiles that move due to improper work, single-pane windows, closet doors that a child will not be able to slide open or closed (they stick like glue), etc. To be fair, you'll find this in many hotels on the islands and on the mainland in Spain; apparently, they're just not able to do it better

The hotel seems to be in worse condition than the resort, which would fit my theory that it was built beforehand. Large pieces of plaster have fallen off the front right corner of the building, which doesn't help since this is the corner which the main entrance opens up in. The resort buildings, too, show a large number of cracks of varying length and thickness, so the teeth of time have gnawed at it as well.

Room
We had a very good room (3301) - we'd ordered a family room which gives you a separate master bedroom and two separate beds for the kids in the "common" room. These beds are normally two 2-seater couches which consist of a relatively thin mattress laying on plywood, so don't expect a high level of comfort; our kids didn't complain, though.

We had a huge (!) terrace and, since the room was on the 3rd level, at least no-one that could stare at us from above. While the terrace had a round table and four chairs, there were only three lounge chairs available. The terrace looked south but we could see the ocean to the east and the last streets of Corallejo to the west - if it wasn't for the main road being rather close, it would have been quite perfect. Depending on the wind direction, the road can be quite noisy, especially if you leave the doors open at night.

The room came with a round table and three chairs, a couch table (low but relatively large), a TV sitting on cabinetry with lots of drawers for clothes but no place to hang up clothes (except for the hooks by the door where we had our jackets). Both the bedroom and the "common" room have sliding glass doors to the terrace. There was a standard, counter-high refridgerator that I ended unplugging, as it was quite noisy. We never even turned the TV on, so I can't say anything about available channels, etc.

The bathroom really showed the building's age - I've never seen such an abused bathtub, probably from generations of travellers showering the sand off their bodies. It really needs some silicone - or even better, replacement. There is a toilet right behind the door and the latter doesn't have a lock - so make sure you announce your intentions or you might get the door right on your toes or knees.
Don't get me wrong: the room and the bath were clean enough - just obviously very much used and quite old.

The bedroom has twin beds that are spacious (I would guess 90cm wide) but the matrasses are a nuisance - you can feel individual springs in your back, so I'm guessing they are probably as old as the building. Again, for a couple of days this is just bearable, for two weeks I'd rather stay elsewhere.

There is A/C in the bedroom, but not in the common room, so in the hot months, you need to make sure you keep the windows covered with the sun blocking curtains!

Restaurants
We generally ate in the restaurant La Oliva, which is right by the resort pool. The restaurants (not the food!) really were the lowpoint of the hotel/resort, for several reasons.
For one, the noise level in them is rediculous - there is nothing that will absorb sound and the ceiling isn't that high, so you feel like you're at a busy airport.

Secondly, at least at La Oliva, the vents over the cooking area don't seem to work properly, as there is a constant smell of grease in the air, especially during dinner. Since it is dark out at dinnertime (at this time of year), you can see a constant cloud hovering at the ceiling, cut through by the beams of light from the downlights. After about half an hour, I repeatedly had a strong urge to get out into clean air, as did our son, which doesn't make dinner (or lunch) particularly enjoyable.

Last but not least: while the folks clearing dishes and tables and setting clean ones for new guests are always in motion, there seems to be a constant shortage of made-up tables - no matter when you enter the restaurant (unless you're there right at the start of a meal, of course). This was the case for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which leads me to the conclusion that there just isn't enough personnel to cover the number of guests. The result is that you hunt for a free table, try to raise someone to clear it for you and 10-15 minutes later you can sit down...

The food is certainly a major upside. The quality is really good with vegetables cooked to the right point and meat not overdone. While breakfast generally had the same, albeit very large, offering but lunch and especially dinner surprised again and again with excellent combinations and new tastes. The selection of hot as well as cold foods, cheeses and deserts was huge and I would think every walk of life will find some tastey food they like. I'd like to have seen more prepared fresh fruit, especially for breakfast, such as papaya or melon that isn't watermelon, but it was ok. Filter coffee is available at breakfast, the bars have the typical, non-drinkable coffee-from-unknown-powder-and-water stuff. There was also espresso-based coffee available at the bars (made by the bartenders), but as I never ordered it, I don't even know if it is included in AI.

The all inclusive offering also pertains to bar drinks, of course, but we had a similar experience as we've had at many (if not most) AI bars: you'll be fine if you stick to simple classics such as beer, wine, vodka lemon, gin-and-tonic, etc. Mixed drinks like pina collada or caipirinha are made from pre-fab mixes and are thoroughly disappointing. Beer and different wines are available self-serve, both at the bars and in the restaurants. The quality of both the red wine (didn't try the others) as well as the beer was fine.

Pools & Grounds
There are two regular pools available: one at the hotel and one at the resort, though as with any of the facilities, you can use either wether you're in the hotel or in a resort room. Both pools are clean and nice enough, though I prefer the resort pool at it is not just square and has a palm island in the middle.

The hotel also sports a kiddie pool and a "hot" tub (it is warm, not hot), though the latter is only for guests 16 years and over.
On the south side of the hotel area, there is a "make-believe" beach - a relatively large area filled with has regular sand with solid shade "mushrooms" and lounge chairs. It is difficult to get a chair here, as well, as they tend to be "reserved" all day, as they are at the pools.

Really annoying is a horrid smell at the west side of this area, likely coming from the building that lies between the pool grounds and the parking lot - I'm presuming this is some sort of waste water treatment facility (it has large pipes on the outside) and, depending on how the wind direction is, can swamp the aforementioned relaxation grounds with a smell that makes you want to run away (somewhat similar to what you may have smelled after an exterminator was in your room).

On the south side of the aforementioned "simulated beach" are several volleyball courts. These are already outside the hotel grounds, though they belong to the hotel.

There is a single exit to the east to get to the beach which is suppsed to be controlled access, but more times than not the chair of the guard is empty. The hotel does not have lounge chairs on the beach, by the way - these are rented out by someone else. As we had no need of a chair, I have no pricing information.

Surroundings
The hotel is situated, along with one other Riu Hotel, in the national park "Dunas de Corralejo". It was likely built before the area became a national park, which gives you an idea of the age (see "Room").
If you're a beach person, the hotel is perfectly located; you can walk a long ways along the beach (or run, if you're into that), which is frequented by Windsufers and Kitesufers. 

The beach is absolutely spectacular and getting there easily and quickly from either the hotel or the resort is one of the major positives of this Riu. There are lounge chairs at the beach with a sun umbrella for every two chairs. I doubt these belong to the hotel and they are probably for-charge, as the umbrellas have a different logo on them (it actually looks like the Hilton logo), though we never bothered with them and I don't know for certain. There is a kiosk on the beach that you walk by coming from the hotel. The beach has lifeguards posted at intervals and there is the typical green-yellow-red-black flag system used to indicate any danger levels for swimmers.

Corallejo is one of my favorite towns on Fuerteventura, and you can walk there from the hotel in under an hour (its about 3km away) - I don't know wether there is a bus service from the hotel or not, as we had a rental car. There are taxis waiting outside the hotel, though, if you're not up to walking. The drive from the airport is about 45 minutes while the shuttle bus will likely take much longer.

Comments

Hotel Otto, Berlin ***

The hotel is located in a part of Charlottenburg that is chock full of restaurants, bars and small stores, so you’ll always find someplace close for lunch or dinner. Also, you’re in walking distance of Bahnhof Zoo. If you’re not keen on walking there, you have just a few minutes to the next bus station.

The hotel itself is a nice albeit older hotel. The rooms were apparently renovated in 2008 (believable) and are nice enough. The only criticism I have about the room are the windows, which probably predate my birth by 10 years. They are ancient, badly closing and offer very little noise abatement (I was on the 5th floor towards the street - it was relatively loud). They probably transmit heat better than titanium due to their dual single-pane construction. Expect these to „radiate“ cold into the room during the winter.

Also, if you’re unable to drag luggage up or down stairs you need to know that the elevator stops at half-levels, i.e. there is a stop between the 4th and 5th floor and between the 5th and 6th, so you’ll always be walking half a staircase to get to your floor. On the other hand, it pipes birdsong (instead of Muzak) and has a „surprise“ button. Obviously, I’m not going to reveal the surprise here - you’ll just have to try it out.

I don’t recall A/C in the room, though to be fair at this time of the year I wasn’t looking for it.

Breakfast is on the top floor and offers about 1/5 outdoor seating, so if you’re lucky to get a table and the weather is good, you’ll have a nice view of Berlin roofs while eating. Breakfast is excellent, with superior service. It costs 15€ - normally I wouldn’t spend that amount on breakfast, but here it really is worth it.

All in all a hotel I would recommend (with the two caveats I mentioned) and will be staying in again.
Comments

Hotel Savoy, Berlin**

The location of the hotel is excellent, as you’re not far from the Kurfürstendamm as well as lots of restaurants and bars you can walk to within a short distance. The Berlin Zoo trainstation is close enough to walk, even with light baggage.

Fasanenstrasse is currently blocked off at the northern end due to a major construction site, so the street is relatively quiet. My room was to the rear of the hotel - usually a good thing as far as noise goes, however the hotel sports a rather large restaurant that has seating in the rear, so you’ll get lots of noise when the outside seating is open, until about 11PM. 

You can tell that the hotel used to be quite posh (and probably quite a bit more expensive), but despite some renovation, the run-down feeling doesn’t leave the place. For example, in the bathroom has new tiles and sink area, but it looks like they used the old sink as this is stained and cracked. Behind the shower curtain there is a tiny tub and a shower that has the most finicky tap I’ve used (move it just a hair and it goes from yucky cold to scalding hot) and a window that is quite obviously an „original“ - there are two windows, both single-paned, right after one another (a construction used in the early 20th century), one of which is intransparent. This window leads to a sort of inner vent that goes along the entire hight of the building and is open to the top. If you open the top of the window, you’ll hear all sorts of noised from all the other bathrooms that also open up to this „vent“.

The room window is of the same construction, albeit see-through and wider. I’m going to guess that in the winter, you can probably get pretty ice flowers on the inside, as the insulating value of dual single-pane glass windows is pretty low.

The bed was quite comfortable and there was enough closet space. There were no power outlets to be found along the entire desk, even power cables of the TV (to the left of the desk) and desk lamp go to a hidden area below, where there is some sort of outlet. That tends to be really annoying if you’re trying to work on a laptop that doesn’t have enough battery power left. 

I didn’t bother with breakfast on either of the days I stayed. At 20€ per person, this just seemed completely unreasonable to me.

The free wifi is completely unusable - very slow and with lots of connection issues.

All in all, it is a hotel you can stay at, but it has a lower comfort level than some of the other, more modern hotels in the area (that you can get for about the same price).
Comments

Holiday Inn Maidenhead**

Why the ceiling of the elevator hung down when I arrived on a Sunday night is beyond me. I decided to take the stairs despite the heavy suitcase.

However, the room had a few quirks that really annoyed, but could be fixed pretty easily: 
The shower fixture had a thermostatic control on it - usually that is a great thing to have. Unfortunately, it seemed broken, as the shower temperature flicked from cold to scalding hot several times while showering.

Also, it is not possible to have a reading light on at the bed with the other room lights off. The switch for the room lights kills the reading light as well, even though it has a separate switch - classical wiring error, probably fixable in 10 minutes.

Lastly, the room has an (empty) fridge in it - why there isn't a minibar is beyond me. The thing makes a loud sound when turning on and hums quite loudly - I woke up from it at least once. It would be great to be able to turn it off (besides that saving energy as well), but that isn't possible.

Other than that, the hotel - while hardly attractive from the outside - is ok. Breakfast is quite good, with hot and cold foods and fresh fruit available.
The sleep quality is good with different pillows available (hard and soft). There is an ironing board in the closet. Closet space is adequate.

There is a large car park, however on one of the evenings I was there it was completely overfilled due to some homeowners convention going on.

The hotel is close to our offices in Maidenhead, so quite convenient for us.
Comments

Mercure City Center Budapest *

Stayed: February 2015

I’d stayed at a different Mercure before in this city (there are three, apparently) and had good memories from that stay, so I chose this Mercure hoping for a similar experience. No such luck.

I’ve been traveling Eastern Europe frequently in the last months… I haven’t come across a branded hotel this shoddy. The hotel was built in the 90’s and nothing seems to have been renovated since then. 

The carpets in the hallways are horrid - huge spots everywhere, walls damaged. The picture continues in the room. The carpet in my room (424) just beyond the bathroom door sported a huge spot, there was another one on the one side of the bed. Honestly, I don’t even want to know what those are from.

The furniture (a small desk, a sideboard, a place to put your suitcase) is all scuffed up. There is literally no place to hang your winter coat (the closet space is barely large enough to handle hanging business clothes for three days).

The bathroom followed suit. Here, too - cracked or completely missing silicone everywhere, an old-style, flat-flush, floor mounted toilet (yum) and a friend for life: a cockroach (in Winter? honestly, folks?). The bathroom had a latent “drain” smell, as if there was a leak from a waste pipe somewhere. The shower was “encircled” by a curtain (I HATE shower curtains).

The room I had was towards the „courtyard“, an area that more closely resembles an industrial facility, with unadorned pipes running everywhere. Okay, I’m not here for the view, I guess. The courtyard opens up all the way down into the underground parking, which is where taxis come to pick up as well.

There is a window that you’re supposed to be able to open a slit to get some fresh air, but the handle was missing. Luckily, I was able to pry it open with my fingertips, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten any fresh air in the room!

There is some sort of compressor running 24/7 in the courtyard somewhere - so unless you’re wearing earplugs, don’t plan on keeping the window open over night. Oh, and on the third morning, someone emptied two - apparently huge - waste glass containers into a truck. Good morning!

Not only the window, also the walls passed noise like they weren’t there. Really annoying: getting the clanging of someone hanging up their clothes in the closet next door waking you up at 1AM. Not to blame that person - when you arrive late, you still need to hang up your stuff to keep it from getting completely wrinkled. Proper hotels have proper walls and noise dampening behind the closet!

The bed was another problem. Besides the fact that it was strewn with colored pillows (okay, I’m exaggerating - there were only two) that are too small for any pillowing work and just have to be put somewhere else every evening, the mattress was extremely hard. That’s ok if you’re a back sleeper - I tend to sleep on my side at least half the time, so this really pained me. Because of a missing headset (see below), I also lifted up the mattress and found… plywood! Yup. No boxspring, no slatted frame - plain plywood. Match that to the rather thin mattress and you have major sleep discomfort.

Then there was the episode of The Missing Headset. I’d left my bluetooth headset on the bed by accident (I was about to put it on when the mobile phone rang, so I ended up forgetting about it). When I came back that evening, it was gone. I reported this to the front desk and apparently, they „checked on it“, but it was - who would have guessed - not found. It was a nice Plantronics one that set me back €60, so I’m pretty annoyed here. 

Very much to my surprise, breakfast was actually very good - the only upside to this hotel in my opinion. I will not be staying here again.

Comments

Soundgarden Hotel, Warsaw, Poland ****

Stayed January, 2015

Wow, what a
different hotel!

Someone built their architectural dream, it seems. The elevator is dated 2012, so the hotel seems to be quite new. The ground floor is very spacious, the lobby only being separated from the cafeteria and the large restaurant by separating elements (calling them walls would be a disgrace).

Not only does the hotel depart from the norm on a stylish note, some long-established norms are tossed by the wayside as well. For example, you check in yourself at a kiosk. Seeing as there wasn’t any clear signage explaining this (at least not in English), I was a bit astounded when I waited for some sort of response from the two people behind the two screens on the rather small reception desk (they were busy with their computers doing I don’t know what) and was “swept away” by a third person coming out of seemingly thin air to go through the checkin process with me.

You end up typing a bunch of information in on your own (annoying with an on-screen keyboard), after which you’re supposed to be issued with a keycard - which failed. So off we went, back to the reception desk, to generate a new card. Luckily, the information I had entered was still in the system.

Honestly, while I’m a great fan of kiosk check-in at the airport, this is different. I’m not going to sit in an uncomfortable airline seat for two hours while being served stale coffee - I’m going to sleep here, shower here, eat breakfast here. Please, folks, let a person give me those three minutes required to check someone into their room!

While being shown to the elevators (there are only two for six floors of an estimated 16 rooms each - might make for some holdups during rush hour), i was given the standard “breakfast at this time”, etc. and informed that there weren’t any phones in the rooms - to get with reception, one should email it - or just go downstairs. Hm. As I found out later (from the TV - see below), they give you the direct-dial number for reception to use on your mobile. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I used a hotel room phone for anything other than dialing reception, so I’m really quite fine with this.

The only suggestion I have is to post the landline number somewhere, so you don’t have to search through the TV apps to find it. The inverse issue here is, of course, when reception has to contact you about something (lets say, a guest) - because they don’t have your mobile number, someone would have to come up to tell you. Odd.

The floors are named after styles of music or sound (with the 6th floor called “silence”), which is cute. When you exit the elevator, you face a huge screen showing a picture relevant to the music currently playing. My floor was the 2nd and it was called “Jazz”.

Room
The next surprise is the room. It is actually quite small, yet arranged in a way that is very efficient with space. The bed, for example, runs along the window side (in my case to the street in front). The bathroom forms a block - very open due to lots of glass - that runs along the “hallway”.

There is a scythe-shaped, rotating table that you can use to either work on (it actually has two power outlets built-in!) or probably to eat breakfast in bed on as well. The “desk” also has the light control panel which gives you four options: “Full,” “Comfort,” “Night,” and “OFF”, as well as the buttons for the blinds. There is also a spacious (more tall than wide) closet that - unfortunately - only had three hangers and one pants clip in it.

A bit annoying is the absolute lack of a place to unpack your suitcase - I ended up putting it on the bed, something I abhor doing unless there is some sort of blanket on it that I’m not going to use. Neat is the large drawer under the bed made for your suitecase, though mine - and this is a rather medium sized one - just barely fit.

Lastly, there is a TV set into the wall opposite the headboard, which doubles as an info device / music player and ... access point! Yes, every room has an individual access point that you activate from the TV, which then gives you the SSID and the password to enter. I connected four devices successfully. Internet speed is blazing - really a plus!

Food & Drink
There is the “Sound Bar” that serves excellent Espresso. The restaurant looks like a self-serve (might be for lunch), but I was asked to take a seat and was served. The food I had (Pierogies and an interesting piece of prune pie) was very good. A bit disappointing is the fact that there is no local beer on tap (something I usually like to try), only import.

Next to reception there is a little “store” that sells a large variety of drinks, both bottled as well as dispensed - either via a very cool below-counter coffee maker (I’d seen this advertised in the US before) or a nifty wine and spirits dispenser. I couldn’t figure out how to work these, though - there is a slot for a card, maybe the room key. The display was in Polish.
Comments

Las Marismas, Corraljecho, Fuerteventura ****

Stay: Christmas, 2014

Buildings
The hotel is pretty large, though rooms are in townhouse-type buildings that are two and three stories and spread over a large area, forming a sort of perimeter around the pool area. While the building quality tends to be conform with many hotels in the mediterranean (i.e. simple windows, poor soundproofing, squeaky door handles), the sound proofing between adjacent units seems to be better than average. Unfortunately, this isn't the case for the ceilings, so any activity from above you comes through loud and clear. I.e. you should try - if you can - to get a top-floor apartment.

The units are well kept and seem to be either relatively new or recently renovated. The unit we had was quite spacious ("family room" - a master bedroom with a large living/diningroom with kitchenette) and featured two balconies, as it was situated on the end of a row. Separating it from the next row was a staircase up, as the entrances to the 2nd level rooms are at the back.

On the negative side: there is no heating at all in the apartment - in the summer, that probably isn't an issue but in the winter it does get quite nippy at night. The buildings are not insulated (which is completely normal for Fuerteventura), nor do the rather simple quality windows do much to keep the heat in (or the sound out). Mind you, there is no A/C either, which should be a real pain in the dead of summer!

Our bathroom didn't have a window (unlike probably 95% of all apartments), and while there was a vent built into the ceiling, it never turned on, nor did we find a switch for it. With four people in the apartment, this can be a bit of annoyance. We were quite lucky with our entrance door, however: it was shielded from the wind by sheer location (corner of two buildings and a staircase up right behind it). My wife's parents, who had a regular, 2-person apartment a ways down the row weren't so lucky. Their door rattled all night from the wind. Bringing a rubber door wedge is probably very helpful; a piece of paper, or better yet, cardboard folded multiple times does the trick as well.

A real annoyance was the exhaust vent in the kitchenette. When the neighbors next door were frying up their dinner (which they did EVERY night), we would get the stink in our apartment. Apparently, all kitchenettes vented into the same exaust track, which means that when the neighbor next door turns their system on high, the air - as air will - takes the path of least resistance, which seems to be the neighboring apartment’s vent. Subsequently, we got a full blast of whatever they were cooking, which tended to involve a lot of garlic (which we love, but not in this olfactory form). I positioned some sheets of paper on the bottom filter, which reduced the flow of gaseous odor from next door quite a bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t figure out how to work our vent until the second-last day (you pull it out about halfway, which turns on the power), so I couldn't even counter their airblown stink. 

To be fair, the Kitchenette was well-quipped, with a microwave, coffee maker (takes regular No. 4 filters), a refrigerator and a dual-burner electric range (yea, sure, could have used that to heat the place).

Pool / Garden
Within the building perimeter is the pool area and some really well designed garden-like plots with bridges and canyons and lots of locally adapted plants (palms, cacti, succulents, etc.) that are all extremely well kept. There is also a "cat café”, where you’re allowed to feed whatever cats sit about, much to the joy of our kids who visited with the cats frequently.

There is a large little kids pool that looks to have a depth of about 30cm, then two good-sized pools on different levels, separated by the pool bar terrace. The one pool was heated (it was still quite cold), the other not. All pools were very clean and the water absolutely clear, with no chlorine stink. 

The pool bar terrace is large, though I would guess that during high season (which Christmas time apparently isn't) and a fully booked hotel, you may have problems finding a table, though the bar itself has seating inside as well. It also features a pool table, but not only is this much too close to the wall for proper shots, it is also pretty run-down and missing simple things like chalk and cue rest. For 2€ a game, not a good deal.

There are snacks (hotdogs and hamburgers) available during certain times at this bar, as well as typical "all-inclusive" drinks (softdrinks, water, beer, wine). 

Food and Drink
We'd booked the "all inclusive" package ("AI"), though we came to realize quite quickly that our definition of AI is completely different than that of the hotel management. Here, AI doesn't include everything - for example it doesn't include snacks such as pizza, even though it is available at the same time as the "AI snacks" (hamburger or hot dog with fries). Also, AI guests get to drink out of plastic cups while guests that pay for their drinks get glasses (when we asked the bar keeper about this, he claimed that the plastic cups were a safety requirement poolside - understandable, except for the fact that glasses were handed out to paying guests).

Breakfast, lunch and dinner happen in the cafeteria in the form of a buffet - as usual for AI - but the various buffet areas are well spread out, so that people don't bunch up too much. The food quality is quite good for buffet - we've had much worse at similar hotels. At dinner, there was generally fish and different types of meat dishes available, as well as a carving station. Breakfast saw the usual egg dishes, bacon, etc. Both Continental and English breakfast styles were available.

There is a large selection of different types of salads, both made-up and salad ingredients. Most of what I tried was quite good, with the exception of the tomato slices, which tasted like "something" - but definitely not tomatoes. There is always fresh as well as canned fruit available.

The hotel has a small supermarket as well, which offers everything you'll need to feed yourself during your stay, should you not have booked AI. Since every apartment seems to have a kitchenette, you can even make spaghetti or similar for lunch (if you're up to it).
The supermarket isn't even wildly overpriced, in fact - water bottles were actually cheaper here than at the regular supermarket on the main street in town! 
This supermarket also sells pool toys, towels, various trinkets and aloevera items, but also wine, beer and spirits, all very reasonably priced.

For Kids
One of the reasons we picked this hotel is the kids club, since our two are still of an age where they "demand" this type of facility. Unfortunately, the kids club here is seems to be lower quality than average in the facilities it offers, perhaps being more a "yes, we have one" than a "we want to make your kids happy" deal. There is a "kids disco" nearly every evening at 7:30PM, but it is of the same quality as the kids club: quite a few notches below average. It takes place in the evening bar, on a 3x4m raised platform (about 5cm above the floor) that is probably meant to be a stage, as most of the "shows" take place there as well.

The kids disco consists of the same five songs played and acted out every night by someone from the animation team. We've been to several hotels on Fuerteventura as well as Ibiza and Mallorca and this one definitely has the lowest grade for the kids program. A shame, really, because it definitely rates well for other categories.

Our kids actually had more fun playing with other kids in the extensively landscaped section on the north end of the hotel, which features several bridges, a cave and multiple levels, all planed with different local plants, but younger kids may be disappointed.

Surroundings
Running the length of the hotel lot - on the other side of the one-way street in front of the hotel - is a water park. Unfortunately, it wasn't open at our time of the year, as it looked quite fun. Since the wind always seems to come from the east, I don't think you'll hear much noise from the park even if it is packed with people.

Corralejo town center isn't far from the hotel - if you're a walker, there is no need for a car, you can get there on foot. There is plenty of shopping - mostly tourist traps, of course, along the main street going N-S, which starts one block West of the hotel. There is also a hotel shuttle bus to the nearby white-sand beach (which is completely spectacular); since we had a rental car, we didn't take it, but speaking with people that did clued us in on (apparently) some odd running hours.

Miscellaneous
The hotel offers free Wifi, but only in the reception area did it work anything close to well. There was reception - sometimes apparently quite good - near the pool and at the pool bar, but while you would actually get connected some of the time, connectivity generally was completely flakey. With both an iOS and Android device, I was unable to reconnect without doing a "forget network" and reconnecting nearly every time. Once connected, the speed seemed to vary drastically, even in the reception area.

There is gated parking available free-of-charge - you can get a swipe card at reception that will open a sliding gate to the hotel parking lot, which connects directly to the reception area - quite handy, really. There were plenty of spaces available when we were there.

Summary
All in all, we enjoyed our week at the hotel and would recommend it to anyone, even families with kids, if you're aware of, and ok with, the limitations. It is completely unclear how things work out during the summer, without air conditioning, but perhaps keeping the various layers of curtains (including one that completely shuts out light) closed when the sun shines is enough to keep the rooms acceptably cool. 

Don't get too happy about the hotel offering free Wifi - the quality is completely unacceptable to anyone that needs it to check business emails during their vacation. If you need steady internet access, you should consider wither buying a 4G plan or getting a prepaid Spanish data card.

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St. Andrews Palace, Warsaw **

ul. Chmielna 30, Warsaw
Stayed Dec. 9-12.

First impressions count, but don't last with this residence. You enter a large and very nicely restored courtyard with a Café at the end. The courtyard ends in a relatively quiet dead-end street. Cars can drive here, but since there are lots of pedestrians, they do so very slowly. "Great", you think - "it's going to be nice and quiet". Wrong.

A courtyard setting like this works almost like a cave - any and all sound seems amplified and multiplied (echoes). All the windows of the apartment I had (No. 6) were to the courtyard, and boy is it noisy! From people having a good time in the smoker's tent of a bar around the corner to folks dragging suitcases in at 5AM, coming back from - apparently - heavy drinking bouts at 3AM in mid-sized groups and probably smoking one last cigarette while jabbering away, to people rolling in large something-or-others (garbage containers?) at 6AM - you'll hear it all in Dolby surround!

Add to that the incredibly horrid sound dampening quality of the ceiling - I actually heard the mobile phone of the folks above me vibrate - and of course, them stamping towards it. The first night, they continually re-arranged furniture (at least that is what it sounded like) only to go on an artistic spree lasting about two hours on the bed right above mine. On the third evening (when I was up quite late working), I heard massive movement of furniture not from above but from the long wall that ran along the left side of the apartment. My guess is that there is a restaurant behind that wall and they were moving tables and chairs for the next day.

Needless to say, I ended up sleeping with ear plugs the remaining time.

The apartment itself is quite spacious, there is a relatively large kitchen that - while offering four cups, three saucers, silverware and a cooking pot - offers no glasses or plates that you could use to eat and drink with. A little strange, that. It did have a large refrigerator (what on earth for?) that squeaked continuously.  And you're wondering where climate change is coming from. I turned the thing off to save power and my sanity.

The apartment is clean and in good enough condition, with some wear and tear here and there that isn't really an issue. The bathroom is spacious enough, though the shower has a very difficult to regulate, manual "mixer tap" and spews water not in a regular shower spray but rather in a few copious streams going in several directions. I never hit the right temperature during my stay, though - to be fair - I never got scolded or frozen, either.

The door, by the way, will not be a way a potential thief will get in - it is apparently made of steel and has a lock usually found on a bank safe, with claws leveraging into the door frame with every turn of the key (and you get quite a few turns, if you like). The key also reminded me of a safe key (I used to have one), but it was rather difficult to handle, since you have to insert it just the right way. Since even the lady at reception had issues getting it in the door, I didn't feel quite so bad. 

The place got snugly warm even though the outside temperatures were quite miserable, though it was warmer in the living room than in the bathroom, which sported a radiator of the type I've never seen before - quite exotic, but likely just too small to heat the bathroom properly. 

All in all, the noise situation from next door, above and the courtyard make St. Andrews Palace completely unacceptable to me. If you're used to sleeping in a dorm, you'll probably be ok - or if you tend to sleep with earplugs in (and like it) anyway. The location is quite good - you're not far from the central underground station, from shopping (which tends to be completely unattractive to me, since it's the same stores I get where I live - at the same prices) and lots of cafés and restaurants, though all of them are rather expensive, with pricing very near that of western Europe. You can eat and drink for very little in Poland, but not in this area.
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Apartamenty Zgoda Warszawa by DeSilva, Warsaw ***

This apartment hotel is truly a mixed bag - there are aspects I really like and some I really dislike.

The positive: the location is quite good - you're within walking distance of a metro station as well as the central train station (well, I wouldn't want to drag my suitcase from there to the hotel). The room really is a suite, with a large living/dining room that features a kitchenette, a separate bathroom and a separate bedroom.
The accommodations sleep 3 (two in single beds in the bedroom, one on the couch, which can - apparently - be used as a bed), so there are three of everything: three chairs to the dining table, three plates, three glasses, three forks... 

The negative: when I arrived (late at night), all radiators were turned off and the entire place was a freezing nightmare. I don't get cold very easily, but I was happy to hop into bed wearing socks. I'd turned up the heat to maximum, but the water going to the radiators wasn't really hot, so they didn't put out enough warmth to really get the place cozy. It had a coldish touch until I checked out.

The carpet was a bit of a disaster: lots and lots of spots and bleached areas where - likely - something nasty had been removed (or had it?). I'm not a very finicky person, but I preferred walking around in socks as much as possible.

If I had to name the most negative aspect, it would certainly be the windows. At first glance, these looked modern, but quite obviously weren't. Noise from the relatively busy street below was not damped well - in fact, I double-checked to see if they weren't closed properly. Often, bad noise abatement also means poor insulation, which is likely the reason the place never warmed up properly. There is A/C (both in the bedroom as well as the common room), so you should be okay in the summer.

One quirk I've never seen in any other hotel: the closet for everything is right by the entrance of the appartment - somewhat strange if you're used to dressing in the bedroom.

Breakfast is OK but not spectacular and certainly not worth the equivalent of 10€. If you don't need the convenience of eating in the hotel, you'll find plenty of opportunities within a short walk of the hotel.

To summarize: you should be ok here if you can deal with the noise from the street and the carpet condition - in the summer. I really don't think you'll be very happy to stay in deep winter (during my stay the temperature was just above 0°C), because I doubt the place will get anywhere above 18°C. 
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Hotel Indigo Ku'damm, Berlin ***

Stayed: September, 2014

Here, Nomen non est Omen, clearly. The hotel isn’t on the Kurfürstendamm (“Ku’damm”) in Berlin - it isn’t even in a sidestreet. It is on Hardenbergstrasse 15, which is northwest of the “Zoo” train station, and a good 800m from the Ku’damm on foot.

I was excited at first; the
Indigo brand is part of the InterContinental Hotel Group, so that, combined with the price, left me with high expectations - after all, I was to “live” here for a workweek. Unfortunately, my expectations weren’t met - perhaps they were set too high, once again.

For one thing: for a hotel at this nightly rate in Berlin (where I’ve stayed in hotels costing €27 a night
including breakfast and lived to talk about it!), you get a pretty small room! The room (503) was decorated along “modern lines”, but that doesn’t necessarily help much.

For one thing, the desk (it’s actually a board held up by two trestles) sports not a single power outlet anywhere near it. Damn the architect! In fact, the bathroom boasts a plethora of outlets - some in bizarre locations (above the toilet... what am I going to plug in here?) while the rest of the room has them hidden in areas that makes you think the designer found them to be dirty, disgusting holes in the wall.

In order to “submerge” the TV (from under which protrude two plastic tabs that probably serve to hold it to the wall - very pretty), a huge, framed panel section was screwed against the entire width of the wall at the foot end of the bed, wasting a good 18cm of badly needed room. Turn 90° and you will inadvertently slam your foot into the base of the chair, which sticks out so far that it leaves barely 10cm space to the bed.

The chair fits the “everything is a designer piece” image and, while it is actually quite comfortable, it can’t be pushed under the “desk” to make more room due to its height. I ended up swapping it with a low, backless “sitting box” that had been placed just after the door.

There is A/C, but even at the lowest fan setting, I felt an uncomfortable breeze across my face as I lay in bed (that’s asking for an earache in the morning), so I ended up turning it off. You can only tip the windows open; i.e. they are locked at the bottom and can’t be opened completely. Even tipped open, you get the full blast of noise from the largish construction site that is situated right in front of the hotel. The acoustics are such that even on the 5th floor, it sounds like they are working right outside your window, but at least it gives you some fresh air in the room.

Following the trend, your bed is completely covered in pillows of various kinds (my room had a queen-sized bed and sported no less than 8 pillows!), as well as something I call the “suitcase cover”. There is no other place than the bed to lay down your suitcase as you pack or unpack it - and to keep the sheets from getting dirty, I put it on this blanket. Apparently, though, it serves as some sort of decoration, as room service ardently puts it back on the bed when they make it up.
Ah yes, that brings me back to available space: there isn’t any place other than the floor for all those pillows and the “suitcase cover” when you’re ready to go to sleep. Personally, that irks me, because I’m going to presume the floor to be dirtier than the bed, but who knows.

Available space is also an issue when you try to hang up / shelve your clothes. If you’re only here for one night, it isn’t going to be an issue, but if you’re here for a week like I was, it is: there aren’t enough hangers in the tiny closet (I asked for more, it took three tries) and one of the two drawers is completely filled with a blanket. Also, they give you four hangers for pants, but you’ll not be able to squeeze more than three into the narrow “deep end” of the closet. The rest is so small that you’ll have issues with longer shirts hitting bottom.

The bathroom is the next painful experience from an ergonomic standpoint. It closes with a sliding door (there would be no room to have a regular one!), but because it has under-cabinet LED lighting that you can’t turn off, you’ll be annoyed by wide swaths of light at night. Said LED lighting is necessary, because the light switch is
inside on the far wall of the bathroom (wanna bet it was the same designer that also put a power outlet above the toilet?).
The shower is weird - I’ve never seen one like it, and I’ve been to a lot of different hotels in my time: the shimmering tiles on the back wall are, surely, a matter of taste (yuck!) but the “floor” of the shower is special: half of it is at a felt 30° angle down to the drain, the other half is completely flat. Water won’t flow away from it - every time I showered, I was afraid I would douse the bathroom. It really is a lot of water up there; I ended up trying to get most of it down the “ramp” with my feet...

There are two elevators, one you face when you walk in from the main entrance, and one “tucked” in to the left of it, which is considerably smaller. As soon as you hit your floor button, you are innundated with “feel good” instrumental music, which is a tick too loud and annoying. When you reach your floor, a squeaky female voice asks you the floor number (the tonality makes the “statement” into a question), which continually serves to amuse me. Less amusing, perhaps, is the loud *crack* you hear between the ground and first floor every time you take the “little” elevator up.

Breakfast is actually quite okay, with most things you’ll be looking for, albeit the medium-sized restaurant gets really crowded during peak times.

All in all, I can’t shake the feeling that IHG is trying to position the Indigo brand against Radisson’s BLU. This is an utter fail, however; don’t even try to make the comparison.

I would stay here again if I couldn’t find another hotel.

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Holiday Apartment in Malaga*****

This time round, I’m reviewing not a hotel but a holiday apartment which we booked via FeWoDirekt.

Visit: 2nd half of August, 2014

The apartment on Calle Bandaneira 3 is actually in Puerto de la Torre, which is a small (but nice) town north of Málaga, but it seems closer to Málaga city, which starts just down the hill. “Hill” is a major keyword here: it is situated nearly at the very top of a rather large hill with very steep roads going up - driving up with a stick shift if you’re used to an automatic is a challenge at first - and not something you want to do at night with one vino tinto too many in your bloodstream!

The drive up brings with it two major advantages, though: first, it’s really quiet up there (with exception of the occasional dog barking concert from far below), which is very pleasant. Second, you get a view of Málaga from up there that - especially at night - is really breathtaking.

Getting into Málaga - with a car - isn’t a problem. If it weren’t for a double-digit number of traffic lights (usually red or turning red when you approach), you’d be in the harbor area in about 10 minutes. Taking the lights into account will double that time.

Generally, I recommend a rental car; while it is apparently not problematic to take the bus from the foot of the mentioned hill straight into town, walking up that hill - especially with water bottles or other heavy things - is not something you’ll want to do unless you regularly run marathons. Also, have a navigation device of some sort available, as the streets of Málaga run around the foothills, making line-of-sight navigation nearly impossible. Signage could also be better, so stick to either a Satnav or a software package on your smartphone that lets you preinstall maps.

The apartment is situated on a large property and the entire garden / pool / terrace that are on the same level are for exclusive use of the apartment dwellers! The pool is nice and of large enough size that doing your morning swim doesn’t consist of pushing off the side every 3 seconds. Our kids loved it and we used it extensively.

There are lots of trees and some palm trees, so you’ll find plenty of shade (which comes highly recommended in August!). There are pro-quality deck chairs available (8 of them, so you won’t run out) that make lounging that much more relaxing.

There are three (!) terraces: one right by the pool on the edge of the property - we sat here nearly every evening, as it is the spot where the view of Málaga is best. The second is a ways behind the pool, towards the crest of the hill. This second one is nestled into a patio covered by sailcloth, which will give you some shade (though not enough for the light-of-skin). The third is on the other side of the apartment, overlooking the eastern side of the hill. We never used the latter, as the view of the poolside terrace is just too enticing.

The apartment itself is cozy; it has two bedrooms (each with two single beds), a bathroom and a combination living-/dining room and kitchenette. We ate all warm meals out, so we never had to cook in the apartment - a good thing, as the kitchenette is very small and likely a pain if you feel the need to have hot lunch at the apartment every day.

The apartment is made to “house” four people, as you can tell by the number of beds, and is absolutely spacious enough for a family with two children (for example). Both bedrooms have windows, but the window in the one to the west can’t be opened, making aeration a bit difficult.

Due to the way the house is built, the back wall of the apartment is actually in the hill, making for pleasant temperatures even in August - if you remember to close the curtains on the large bay window facing south! There was usually a light breeze, which made airing out the place simple (just open the east terrace doors and the apartment door facing west).

The only negative aspect was the bathroom - while it is functional and, like the rest of the place, clean, it had an oder issue. My guess is that the rather powerful exhaust fan, coupled with a tight-fitting door, pulls air out along side the toilet mount. The smell wasn’t as bad the first couple of days but got decidedly worse. When we told the owner about the issue, she was very nice about it and had the issue taken care of right after we left, as she indicated in an email.

Right next to the apartment is a hotel (), whose dining room and terrace is situated right next to the western border of the property. While you do hear noise coming from the hotel, it wasn’t an issue for us at all, even though the hotel was completely booked due to the
Feria week. The only noise from the hotel that did get annoying once in a while was an air conditioning compressor apparently located just behind the hedge. You don’t hear any of this in the apartment, though.

All in all, we had an exceptional time at this fantastic apartment. The owner (who lives on the levels above the apartment was very discreet, friendly and helpful. I would recommend the apartment to anyone that doesn’t mind having to take a car to go anywhere. Since a car is highly recommended for a Málaga vacation anyways, this should not be an issue. Just don’t forget the Satnav.

The view is exceptional, the apartment quite good, the space that is made available to you is large and variable, the pool is nicely refreshing. There are plenty of sights within relatively short drives, including plenty of different beaches. A perfect mix for a nice vacation with the kids.
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Andor Plaza, Hannover ***

The hotel is conveniently located close to the central train station, though it is a bit confusing to find. It is basically once around the block from the back entrance to HBF.

The decoration in the hotel and room is pretty standard fare, nothing exciting, but clean. The room (I was in 345) had two single beds that likely could have been moved together, though there was a nightstand in between.

There was a desk along the wall (with outlet!) with a single chair, a place to put your suitcase, a soft chair, a good-sized flatscreen TV and a closet with a few hangers. Nothing special, but quite ok. No A/C, though! There is a mini bar, but I didn’t even open it to see what was inside. Off-putting was the charge for a large water bottle I bought from reception: €6! Seriously, this hotel is okay, but it doesn’t have the class to charge the same as 5-star hotels for water...

The room had a window to the inner court, which was nice because I was able to leave the window open all night without having much noise at all come in from outside. Wether or not I had “neighbors”, I don’t know - I didn’t hear anything from next door or the hallway all night.

The bathroom is rather simple, as well, though it does have a walk-in shower (nice) but unfortunately, without a thermostat (not nice). A bit annoying were the two fluorescent bulbs that were mounted vertically left and right of the mirror - they were encased in clear plastic which gave off loud cracking sounds, probably due to the heat.

Breakfast is on the 2nd level in a rather large room with a surprisingly large buffet. You’ll find a small selection of warm breakfast, fresh fruit, muesli, the usual cold cuts and cheeses as well as different breads. There is a huge section with different teas - never seen so much buffet real estate taken up this way before (great if you’re a tea fan). There is also an orange juice machine (the kind that runs oranges through right before your eyes to fill your glass) - great taste!

All in all, I would stay here again, but I would certainly buy my water elsewhere!

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aappartel Bielefeld ** (revisited)

Mainly due to the fact that Bielefeld doesn’t seem to have many hotels in the city (at least there aren’t very many available on HRS), I stayed at this hotel again. If you look at my review from 2013, you’ll find I wasn’t very positive about my last stay.

This time ‘round, I stayed in Room 405 (which is right near 406, which annoyed me last time) but towards the back. The window faces a garish building facade made of extremely attractive concrete (that’s me pouring on the sarcasm, folks), maybe 2-3m away. At least on this floor, you get a large piece of sky to look at - certainly not the case for the rooms below.

The bed was a regular one this time, at right angles to the wall. The room is without A/C, and even though it faced north-east, it was plenty warm when I got there at around 18:30h. I yanked open the window to cool it out. Due to the building just across the way, you get sound coming from the neighboring buildings reflected right at you... you name it, you’ll hear it. Needless to say, I closed the window over night.

The shower in this room also has a curtain (annoying).

Compared to just over a year ago, the room price has increased by €3 and breakfast has gotten a tick more expensive as well. Breakfast was ok this time round, though I don’t feel it is worth what you pay (I’ve had better for less). Still no fresh fruit, but at least they had yoghurt available - and the scrambled eggs were ok.

WIFI access costs €2; the reason for charging for this is beyond me in a hotel of this type, where it is generally free of charge, but there you go.

I’m going to stick by my summary from my last visit: if the place wasn’t quite so expensive (for what you get, €64 without breakfast is just too much for a town like Bielefeld), I would recommend it. It has its caveats, but it was clean and the location is quite ok. At this price, however, look elsewhere.
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MotelOne Köln-Mediapark, Cologne ****

Having stayed so many times at this hotel’s sister hotel (Waidmarkt) as well as at other MotelOne’s around the country, I basically knew what to expect.

The room wasn’t any different than any other MotelOne, of course, but the personnel here seemed friendlier. Since I had booked the hotel via HRS, I entered a (positive) review on this hotel. I was very surprised to get an email from management, thanking me for that. I’d reviewed the Waidmarkt location before, noting on the negative side that the hallways (carpets?) always smelled strongly like some chemical soup. No response there.

The location of the hotel is quite good - you’ve got an interesting section of the Hansaring (B9) very near, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars, all very colorful, flanked by a park with a narrow lake. At the beginning of this section is a subway station, reachable by foot within a few minutes.

The Mediapark area isn’t really that interesting IMHO, despite the huge effort to integrate business, living, restaurants and shopping, as it seems to mostly die out after about 6PM. There are some restaurants there that will feed you just fine, though all of them are chain outlets.

You can walk to the hotel from the central train station in about 15 minutes (I made it in 12, but I probably walk faster than average) - with luggage!

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Radisson Blu Waterfront, Stockholm *****

Last stay: March 2014

Okay, to be fair, I had a room on the 16th floor facing the southern part of Stockholm, with town hall right in front. What a spectacular view, especially at sundown or even at night.

The room was fabulous - very quiet, never a sound from the rooms next door (I don’t know if anyone was in either one), never a noise from the hallway. The bathroom was spacious enough albeit not huge, but it had a thermostat - a real boon if you’re not fond of being scalded or shock-frozen by wildly varying water temperatures while showering.

The room had a Nespresso machine in it (though likely not all rooms do), a large bed, a handy desk with plenty of outlets and a comfortable business chair that made working at the laptop less of a chore. The bed was huge and comfortable, and strewn with four huge pillows (which seems to be the fashion at the upscale hotels) which always made me feel bad putting three of them on the floor.

The only caveat was the complete lack of a drawer anywhere in the room, as in: one to put underwear or socks into. I ended up putting these on the bottom of the cabinet under the coffee machine, which also held the very strange room safe that opened up by pulling the door down and towards you, a little like a mailbox. You won’t be putting an SLR in that safe, by the way, because while it is big enough to take a 13” laptop, it is only about 5cm deep. Weird.

Oh, and I had issues getting the room to cool down - the dial was set all the way to cold on the thermostat; despite this I found it almost uncomfortably warm. You can’t open the windows, so you’re basically stuck with the temperature. Turning the dial a little way towards warm seemed to help (oddly enough) - possibly a bad electrical contact in the dial.

The hotel prides itself on its breakfast - and rightly so. I’m a big breakfast fan and found everything I could hope for. The coffee is good (but not great); mildly annoying is the fact that you have to take silverware from the central buffet to your table, as the tables are laid with everything but.

The decor is very scandinavian, which means no drab colors (except as accents), lots of wood (or wood look-alike) and open spaces. The muzak in the bar can be a bit annoyingly loud, especially if you’re trying to converse with customers, but it didn’t take long for the very attentive personell to realize this and turn it down. In all, I really have to commend the personell in general: extremely friendly and helpful - bravo!

Oh - and there is free Wifi (which seems to be more of a norm in Sweden than in Germany) which was - at least in the lobby and the room - very fast. We spent the second day in a conference room in the conference center next door. Oddly enough, I was still able to receive the hotel Wifi (my colleague was not), but it was relatively slow there.

The hotel itself is right across from one of the (many!) exits of Stockholm Central Train Station; chances are you’ll end up spending more time outside trying to find the hotel than you need to be. I didn’t find any signs in the train station, which is surprising since the hotel has a large conference center right next to it (The Waterfront). Maybe I didn’t look for them enough. If you’re coming off the Arlanda Express, you need to exit that section of tracks by walking in a straight line through some sliding doors and then keep left. You’ll end up going down stairs (escalators) and you’ll need to come back up on the right immediately after entering the “great hall” - then go straight along some shops until you get to an exit - this should put you right across from the hotel.
Comments

Star Inn Hotel Frankfurt ***

Last stay: March 2014

The hotel is close to the central train station and should be easily reachable by tram as well, as the tram line runs right in front of the hotel. You’ll walk two blocks to reach it, but it’s in a decent neighborhood, so no worries.

The room (425) looked freshly renovated and was quite spacious with a large bed that was quite comfortable. Lighting is adequate and simple enough to operate. The room does have air conditioning (which I had turned off).

There are outlets built into the desk, but all save one were in use (TV, etc.). I ended up unplugging the TV in order to plug in a charger as well as my laptop.

While the windows - like the rest of the room - looked quite new, someone obviously saved a buck by not putting in sound abating panes. This is a real problem for any rooms facing the main road as you get quite a bit of tram traffic here and boy, is it loud! There was a T-intersection right below my window (which faced a smaller side-street; unfortunately one that the tram ran down as well). When the trains run over this intersection piece of track, you can feel the shake while lying down in bed - on the 4th floor!!!

This is most unfortunate, because everything else about the hotel is “right” - good breakfast, good price, good location. If you aren’t a light sleeper, you may be fine (though I doubt it); otherwise bring some ear plugs!

Breakfast was good as well, by the way - not overly diverse but everything you expect to be there was there and the coffee was great.
Comments

ibis Frankfurt Centrum **

Stay: March 2014

This hotel is located right on the Main river, about 400m from the central train station. You’re walking right along one of the more busy roads in Frankfurt, so you should be fine even arriving at night.

Right across the hotel is a fascinating building that looks a bit like someone took the Gurken of London and flattened it out (thereby shrinking it a bit). If you like taking extended walks, you’re in a prime location - the walkways along the Main are a true joy, especially in the summer when a lot of people are out.

Unfortunately, the hotel isn’t worth the relatively high room rate (I paid 65€ without breakfast). The rooms exhibit the usual ibis “flair”, with the usual, odd architectural highlights. For example, the toilet is squeezed into a section of the (tiny!) bathroom that has a wall cutting diagonally into your thigh as you sit (see picture below). If you’re very tall and heavy, you will NOT be sitting on this toilet - it’s annoying even for a 5’10” jobber like me!

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The bathroom door opens the wrong way, something owing to the architecture as well, but annoying as anything, as you’ll be either having to open the door fully (flat against the wall) to enter the bathroom or squeeze by the desk and chair to get in:

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Looking out the window (I was in room 242, right along the right edge of the hotel), you get a nice view of the river ... and of a four-lane bridge that has traffic pouring over it for a good 20 hours per day. Unfortunately, the window is so poorly soundproofed, that I checked to make sure it was closed when I first got into the room. If you’re a light sleeper, you’re in for a lovely night wearing ear plugs.

The ear plugs are warranted anyway, since the rooms are very “open” to sounds from the hallway (due to a very poorly gasketed door) and from rooms kittycorner to your own. At 3:30 AM, someone next to me turned on the TV and I was yearning for those ear plugs.

Another highlight is the complete lack of a trash can. Of course, you don’t get tissues in the bathroom either, so if you need to blow your nose, toilet paper it is - to be disposed in the toilet... thanks, ibis, it IS pollen time right now!

You do get a relic from the 90’s though, a phone with a modem jack:

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One day, I’m going to quiz my kids on what that jack is for, just to see what outlandish ideas they come up with (“charge your laptop?”).

Breakfast is okay, though likely not worth the 12€ they charged for it. At least the coffee is good, though!

All in all, certainly a hotel you can stay in if everything else is booked, but neither cheap nor really great.
Comments

Hilton Terminal 5, Slough, UK ****

Stayed: February 2014

The name alone will make you believe this hotel sits right on Heathrow Airport property, possibly right next to Terminal 5. This isn’t the case; it’s situated outside of Airport property in Slough. Even though it isn’t very far away from the airport, going there takes surprisingly long, as the route is all twists and turns (about 15 minutes). There is a shuttle available, the ride costs money, though; the last time I took it, it was 10 pounds per person (one way!).

To be sure, the hotel is very comfortable. The room was large enough and modern, with exception of the bathroom (see below). Despite planes flying quite low over the hotel (depending on the wind direction), the noise was never a problem. The room also features an interesting brew-your-own coffee system: you unfold a little filter with coffee grinds in it in your cup and pour boiling water from the electric kettle over it. The process is actually quite fun and the result absolutely drinkable.

The bathroom was surprisingly poor: for one thing, the shower is also a bathtub - which is fine. Unfortunately, the tub isn’t sunk into the floor at all, so you’re stepping over a good 60cm of tub to get inside. Easier on the way in than on the way out. I would think that anyone not very flexible would have serious issues here.
The second annoyance is the sink. The sink itself is pretty small and covered by a good 10cm by a construction that also holds the mirror (as well as some unnecessary ambient lighting). Add to this the faucet, which is tiny and set so far back as to let the water barely hit the side of the sink:

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You may see this in a tiny bathroom, where there just isn’t room to mount anything larger. Here, it is completely unnecessary and extremely annoying. Washing your hands becomes a real challenge; give up on the idea that you’ll be washing your face in this sink!

There are several restaurants in the hotel, of which I frequented two: the
River Bar, which tries to be a bar and a pub, and Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen, which features Indian cuisine.

I had a hamburger at the bar one night, with some beer to go with it. The quality of the food was fine, though the pricing is quite high, even for a hotel bar. I decided to leave quickly when they cranked all TV’s in the bar up loud to show a soccer game; for some reason, the sound wasn’t synchronized between all the TVs, which caused a very loud, train station effect which was excessively annoying.

I’d also had the chance to eat in the Indian restaurant with a couple of colleagues, one of whom is Indian with parents that run an Indian restaurant in the UK. While the food was very good, it was completely unusual for Indian cuisine: for one thing, they served some dishes with beef (usually a no-no!), for another they didn’t offer many of the standard dishes you would expect to see on the menu.

The menu was one of the most unusual I’ve ever seen in any restaurant: each dish had several paragraphs of text describing a situation or event the dish had been involved in at some point in human history. Figuring out what the dish really was turned out to be a challenge, especially because the print is so small, I had issues reading the menu in the subdued lighting at all. Very strange indeed.

On the subject of restaurants, breakfast needs to be mentioned as well. This takes place on the Mezzanine level, which is used by one of the other restaurants as “outside seating” in the evening. My room was booked with breakfast included, so I have no idea wether breakfast is usually charged separately or what it costs. It is, however, spectacular. The variety of dishes and foods is enormous, with everything you might be looking for in a Continental and English breakfast. Lots of different types of fresh fruit and a large selection of warm dishes. Perfect.

The hotel sits in a pretty nondescript area, which means there are very few restaurants or pubs in walking distance. Unfortunately, walking from the hotel is somewhat hindered by horrible walkway conditions as well the complete lack of pedestrian walkways in some sections starting at the exit from the hotel lot. There seems to be a problem with taking responsibility between the hotel and the city of Slough which ends up being a nuisance to any hotel guest looking to be on foot.

All in all, the hotel is quite comfortable and I can recommend it. If you have a park-and-fly deal, beware of the fact that the shuttle is a chargable item and that you’ll need to drive someplace to eat out the night before flying, unless you mind the elevated cost of the hotel restaurants.
Comments

Arthotel Munich *****

Stayed: Jan. 2014

This hotel seems a ways away from the train station entrance, but really its very easy to reach: you walk along track 11 inside the building for about 100m. When the train station building ends, you’ll walk across a bridge and then you have an escalator down on the left. Take that, cross the street and you’re less than a minute from the hotel.

The hotel is really worth a stay: the rate is excellent (mine included breakfast), the rooms are completely renovated (as is the entrance hall and, seemingly, every other nook and cranny of the hotel), though you can tell its an old building by the extra high ceilings.

You have a short hallway in your room (with a door to the bathroom) and a door separating this from where you stay, so you should have no noise coming from the main hallway at all. My room was towards the back (which is a courtyard), so I had no street noise at all.

The room is big, the furniture all new and modern. There are paintings on the walls to freshen things up. Enough room for a desk big enough to take a laptop plus whatever else. And, much to my extreme joy, there are two outlets right on the desk:

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Yes, that is an iPhone docking clock thingie under the TV...

The bathroom is fantastic, the only thing that irked me is that the air exhaust fan turned on and off with the light switch (instead of with a delay), but that’s just me.

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My room had newly-installed A/C, so you should be ok in the summer as well.

Really unusual was the pillow; at first I throught I had grabbed the wrong one, as it seemed unusually hard, but it was certainly more the pillow for the night than the other one that I’d found on the bed. The hardness persisted and was somewhat of a challenge to get used to. However, I slept exceptionally well on the pillow - so well, in fact, that I took it out of the case the next morning to find out which brand and type it was:
Ikea Gosa Hassel.

Breakfast had everything I was looking for and took place in a nice restaurant-like atmosphere on the ground floor.

I can absolutely recommend this hotel to anyone looking to visit Munich. The vicinity to the central train station is great, you’re not in a street with half of Munich’s red-light district on it and it is a quiet street, so even a room to the front shouldn’t be an issue.

Comments

Wastlwirt, St. Michael im Lungau, Austria***

For a customer event, I stayed one night in this hotel. The room was quite large, with a double bed, a separate walk-in closet in the hallway and a large bathroom.

The room was ok, however you can tell everything is relatively old. The bathtub/shower would likely be an issue just getting into for people that aren’t very flexible. It showed some mildew growth on the silicone in the back. There wasn’t a sliding shower door; instead, it was a multi-panel fold-out job that I popped the handle off the first time I tried moving it. After jostling it free, I was able to shower, but it ended up leaking lots of water onto the floor that I wasn’t able to contain with the towel. A floor mat wasn’t provided.

The door to the small balcony also seemed quite ancient - instead of a regular door handle to turn, you have to move a lever on the hinge side 180° down, which lifts the door a few cm so that you can open it. It won’t stay shut without the lever being up and you get quite a bit of noise through the seams from the road below.

The carpets were worn to the point where I would have replaced them and the furniture showed its age. Really annoying was a round, glass table in front of the two-seater sofa that always seemed to be in the way. When I moved it, the glass top came off; not sure if it was just resting on the frame.

This didn’t bother me, as I rarely watch TV in a hotel room, but the TV is opposite the couch. You can’t see it from the bed, unless you lie the wrong way round and play contortionist. A colleague ended up falling asleep on the couch which probably didn’t help his back any.

Breakfast was very good, with “all the fixings”, including a made-to-order eggs and omlett cook. Unfortunately, it is so spread out in different parts of a longish room that I ended up doing quite a bit of searching to find everything. There were four of us in the hotel and we ended up finding each other after a bit of a search, as the tables are spread over several rooms. Towards the end of breakfast, one of the waiters came over, snorted “I had a table set up for you” at us, threw four name signs on one of the tables we were sitting at and walked away. Wow, really made feel welcome…

The hotel shows signs of age all the way through; I actually found the time to go to the sauna in the evening. The benches you sit on were wobbly and moved more than I felt comfortable with. With the supplied slippers (they were on the bed along with a bath robe), I nearly fell on the wet floor; I probably wasn’t the only one. The only place to go outside to cool off is the back entrance to the sauna area, so you’re basically standing on the back lawn of the hotel. While it isn’t visible from the road, it is from the surrounding buildings, so keep your towel on.

The “wellness” area has a rather small sauna (no more than 5 people), a steam bath, three showers, a solarium, a pool and a resting room. Towels are provided, albeit rather small ones. Again, the floor in one section is extremely slippery and needs to be stepped on with extreme care.

The reception is only staffed until 10PM; if you’re going out, you need to take your key with you. This wouldn’t be an issue except for the ridiculously large and heavy key fob. I guessed it at about a Kilo and it was larger than my hand!

As our company paid for the rooms, I have no idea what they cost, but I would recommend the hotel only if you can’t find a different hotel at a reasonable rate.
Comments

Novotel City Center, Barcelona, Spain ****

Very good hotel, the room was typical Novotel but with sleeper couch for our two kids (we had reserved a family room). Service at the front desk is excellent with many languages spoken well.
The hotel is just around the corner from a Metro station and there is a mall across the road. Nice section with broad, walkable pedestrian way a few blocks away.

Room price was quite ok, breakfast is completely overpriced at €18 / person - we ended up eating in a small bakery not far from the hotel.

The top terrace is breathtaking, though I would expect it to be quite crowded during the warm months. There is a bar, a sitting area and a small pool / whirlpool. Enclosed on the same level is a Gym with all the basic fixings. You get breathtaking views all around the city from up there; unfortunately, the windows were so dirty that any pictures taken turned out unusable.

One block down is the "Gurken" (or whatever it's called) which is always worth a visit, especially at night.

I would recommend this hotel to anyone and would stay here again.
Comments

Hotel Cristall, Frankfurt ****

I’m surprised I haven’t reviewed this hotel before - I’ve stayed here a number of times; and not, because it isn’t worth it!

The hotel is right on the north-west corner of Frankfurt’s central station (Hauptbahnhof); this makes it extremely well situated for both late arrivals by train as well as exploring the city (which is extremely walkable).

I’ve stayed at this hotel multiple times over the last three years; while I realized they were doing some renovations (the last time I stayed, there was a huge scaffold set up on the outside), I didn’t know they were redoing all of their rooms!

I had room 42 on the top floor, and found the renovation to be really well done. The room was very modern (despite the higher than standard ceiling, hinting at the age of the building), with brand new everything: window, bed, furniture, walls, bathroom, etc. A/C is installed.

Really surprising and completely unnecessary: the brand-new door is a complete flop in keeping hallway noise out. So if you have people on the same floor as I had, rattling their door and clicking the key back and forth in a (drunken!) attempt to get into their room, or simply slamming their door shut at midnight, then you’ll likely be woken up a couple of times. We have extremely sound-tight room doors in our renovated house that didn’t cost an arm and a leg - and it’s simply a shame that this wasn’t considered when renovating the room.

Those who have read my reviews before know that I’m a big fan of thermostatic controlled show fixtures, especially in older buildings where the plumbing just doesn’t match up with modern setups. To my horror (really), I realized in the morning, that even though the entire bathroom is brand new, they hadn’t bothered to put in a thermostat fixture, opting for the slightly cheaper regular one-handled type. What a shame, folks - these things don’t cost that much more! As if to punish me for my annoyance, the water temperature varied wildly after about two minutes of showering...

Also, they have modern soap dispensers both at the sink and in the shower. While I usually find these more than convenient, the type they installed have to be squeezed and require an excessive amount of force. I doubt a child would be able to get anything out of them.

While I’m complaining: breakfast is really cramped (the tables are laid for four people but are so small, that seating four would make eating more of an annoyance than anything else) and the selection is just ok. For €8, I would have expected a bit more.

And beware: the building is quite old, as is the elevator (1986). While it works relatively silently, it only stops at in-between locations. Remember the high ceilings? Well, to take the elevator, you always have to walk up or down a half-floor when getting on as well as when getting off. This isn’t an issue if you’re traveling light. If your suitcase is a monster, however, you’re going to be unpleasantly surprised how long a half-floor staircase can be!

All in all the location is great, the rooms are nice and new and breakfast is optional - you may just want to have it someplace else.
Comments

Hotel Drei Kronen, Cologne**

The hotel is very close to the central train station and the cathedral, the building is first-row to the Rhine river. While this is nice for going out at night (if you’re keen on visiting one of the tourist-trap restaurants in that area), but getting there from the train station is - if you have a lot of luggage - a pain. Don’t take a taxi, they will hang you by your feet for waiting an hour for a passenger and then driving 800m. On foot from the train station, you’ll either have to walk up and back down some massive steps (you have to get over the cathedral “hump”) or circumnavigate the entire cathedral, adding a good 500m to your journey.

Most of the rooms go off to the rear or side of the building, only a few are to the front, facing the river. I really don’t recommend you get one to the front, however, since it tends to be quite noisy until late at night. And, you haven’t come to Cologne to sit in the hotel room and look on the river, right? Also, in the summer - when you’ll tend to have to keep the window open at night to let in cool air (no AC) - you’ll likely be surprised at how loud river boat traffic and the trains going across the large bridge just across from the hotel can be.

My room was to the rear (Room 54), which was fine, as rooms to the side will look onto other buildings standing no more than 2m away (not to mention various noisy compressors mounted to the walls)… unfortunately, the curtains were quite light in color, letting light pass in nearly unhindered. Even for me - I prefer waking up in a lit room - it was so bright that I woke up about an hour before the alarm. If you’re used to sleeping in a room without any light at all, you’ll have a hard time.

The room itself is okay in size, the furnishings look pretty new and are functional. A major pain is the fact that there is no power outlet anywhere near the “desk”. I had to slide the laptop all the way to the left and turn it slightly (great for your back) to be able to use power from near the window.

The bathroom smelled - pretty badly - like a bathroom does when one of the waste-water seals isn’t sealing anymore (toilet or sink). Running the shower to get water into the siphon didn’t work this time. One of the shower towels had a black hair on it, yuck, and the shower had a shower curtain - my absolute favorite way to keep water in the shower - not! The radiator had strange pinkish splotches on it and the aerator in the tap was so full of calcium, it sprayed water this way and that. All things that can be taken care of pretty easily, but unfortunately - in hotels of this type - never do. Without this issue, I’d have given a star extra.

Also, although the room has another room between it and the elevator (which only goes to level 4 1/2), the motor from the lift was quite noticeable. The “entry system” is “old-style” - a key with a huge fob on it. You have to take the key with you in the evening, as reception closes at 10PM. I ended up taking the key off the fob and putting it in my wallet.

To be fair, the price was quite good, I paid €59 without breakfast (+10€). Also, they have quite a fast Wifi access for free - definitely a plus! Breakfast, on the other hand, is a complete joke: two small plates of cheese and meats, some yoghurt, that’s it. Not even worth half the price.

So would I recommend the place? The bathroom smell might just be a problem in this room - if that is the case and you don’t have a lot of luggage and you don’t eat breakfast, then the hotel is okay. With luggage, I would definitely go elsewhere.

Comments

Sandmann's Hotel, Cologne ***

Sandmann’s is a small hotel-cum-lounge type of place. My room was 1-2, which is on the first floor and to the street. The entire hotel only has 11 rooms, and all are non-smoking. Despite the busy street, the windows did a good job of keeping most noise out. Mind you, there is no A/C and I doubt I would be able to sleep without earplugs should I have to keep the window open at night.

A bit annoying was the way the curtains were set up: they weren’t completely closable, leaking quite a bit of light from the street into the room. It was bearable, though.

The room is in “sahara deco” - as I would expect for them all to be - the hotel’s name makes that a requirement I guess. Nice touches everywhere, with a garish contrast provided by nearly neon pink stuff (like the chair, the wastebasket, the shampoo bottle).

I didn’t have breakfast, but it looked pretty good albeit somewhat simple, to be consumed in the small lounge portion. It didn’t look to be a steal at €10 extra, though.

The bathroom was clean (as was the room) and functional, though the shower sported my favorite accessory (not!): a shower curtain. Also, no thermostat control, it took a bit to get the temperature right.

My only real gripe is the bedframe: either the frame is too high or the mattress too low - in any case, you can’t get in or out of bed without getting some pain setting into your thighs from the wood. Also - but I attribute this to my personal clumsyness - the rear panel of the frame is about 5cm higher than the rest, so when I went around the bed and dodged the chair, I smacked my knee right into the corner of the board, not to my amusement, I assure you.

The location is pretty good, very close to the central train station and the cathedral.

Comments

Hotel Villa Oriental, Frankfurt ****

This hotel is a visual treat. You enter, and you’re in Arabia. The theme is continuous throughout the entire hotel and rooms. Room was quite big, but to the street (Baseler Strasse), which is excessively busy. Even though I’m sure the windows are pretty good at keeping noise out, you have a continuous noise level coming in from the street (I was, however, able to sleep). There is A/C, so there should be no need to open the windows in the summer.

The location is great, of course - you’re very close to the central train station, to the river and to the central part of the city. Also, there is a tram station right across from the hotel.

One major gripe I have is the tap in the shower: the handles are huge (which goes with the decor) and you almost can’t avoid hitting the cold water lever while showering, which will turn the water way too hot (if not scalding). The shower head, too, is a touch too simplistic, the water distribution would be much better with a modern one. The tiled floor of the shower seems to be pretty much level, which causes a pretty lake of standing water once you’re finished.

Breakfast was relatively simple (but ok), though I was delighted to find an oriental-style omelet available.

All in all, I would recommend the place, the price is okay. Try to get a room away from the street, if posible.
Comments

Hotel Esplanade, Cologne **

The hotel is located near a tram station (Zuelpicher Platz), from which you can get straight to the central train station or take one of two lines that form an inner ring, so you’re very well connected.

Also, a lot of shopping and some attractions are within easy walking distance.

The hotel has a lift, the room I was in (43) had the bathroom in a short hallway that ended in a second door to the main room.

The room seemed large, but it turned out to be too small to use the provided chair at the desk to work - there simply isn’t enough room between the end of the bed and the desk. Sitting on the end of the bed works, but not very well. This isn’t an issue if you’re a tourist, but if you need to get a bit of work done, doing it in the room might not be an option.

The room was to the street side - and Hohenstaufenring is
very busy, at all times of the day. Because of dual windows, however, noise was very well abated with the windows closed. If you’re the type that needs to have the window open at night, you will need to demand a room to the rear.

Also, and I’ve become quite used to this in older hotels, a lingering smell of sewage gasses inundated the bathroom. I tried my usual trick of pouring water in any siphon I could find (this bathroom had one in the floor), but that only worked for a short time. Also, much to my dismay, the bathtub / shower has a curtain, something I can’t stand. On the positive side, water temperature was regulated by a brand-name thermostat, so thumbs up there.

Breakfast was average at best, no highlights. One major downer became apparent when I lifted the lid to the hot foods (scrambled egg and bacon): a cloud of retched smell engulfed me, making me put down the lid as quickly as I could. Something was wrong, I couldn’t say wether there was a bad egg in there or the frying grease from the bacon was old, in any case I opted for the cereal instead. The visuals of the half-cooked bacon would probably had made me take the same decision even without the smell.

All in all, the hotel is ok for the price (an odd €61,61 for the room), although breakfast - which was included in the booking but priced separately at €10 on the bill certainly wasn’t worth it - if possible I suggest getting the room without breakfast, there are plenty of eating opportunities “just around the corner”.

One more tip: if you’re looking to take the tram due south on school days at around 8AM, don’t bother: the trams are so packed full, I ended up taking a taxi.
Comments

Boutique Hotel Villa-Soy, Erlangen **

Stayed April 16, 2013

I ended up in Erlangen, because there were no hotels to be had in my actual destination, Nürnberg, due to a trade fair going on. Since Erlangen is only 15 minutes by train, it is definitely a good alternative. There is a much younger crowd (and less tourists) than in Nürnberg, which makes staying there quite a good experience.

Despite the posh name, the hotel is pretty simple - I have no idea what is supposedly “boutique” about it! The reception is on the first floor, my room on the 3rd. No elevator. The atmosphere in the hotel is clinical at best.

The room was ok, though the bathroom wasn’t very attractive or comfortable. Also, it had a really noisy and annoying ventilation unit that stayed on seemingly for ever after turning the light out. Oddly enough, the ventilator (and subsequently the bathroom light) was on when I entered the room, even tough the windows was on tilt.

When I came back from meeting a colleague that evening - I’d closed the window and turned the bathroom light off before leaving - I noticed a distinct and annoying smell of some sort (couldn’t identify it), which might have been the reason to keep the ventilator on before the guest arrived.

Breakfast was not something worth remembering much about, but it was included in the room rate. I did get freshly made scrambled eggs, which was quite nice.

The hotel is within walking distance from the central train station (about 10 minutes at my walking speed) and the surrounding area is quite nice with a whole bunch of restaurants.

All in all, an ok stay, perhaps a bit pricey for what you get.
Comments

Hotel Zum Bahnhof, Cologne-Dellbrück **

Stayed: April 11, 2013

Despite having an appointment in the south of Cologne the next day, I had to book into this hotel in Dellbrück (which is on the other side of the Rhine river, quite a bit east): there were almost no hotels left within my budget due to a trade fair going on in Cologne that week.

There is an S-Bahn trainstation right across the street, however, so getting there from the central train station only takes about 15 minutes.

The hotel has an attached restaurant, which was too expensive for my tastes; I ended up walking quite a ways through Dellbrück and dining at a Brauhaus. Breakfast is in the restaurant, but has a really poor selection with possibly the smallest rolls I’ve ever seen and jam only available in small plastic packets. While there is a good quality espresso machine for restaurant use, the lady looking after the breakfast was not permitted to make decent coffee for the guests; bitter tasting filter coffee had to suffice.

My room (top floor) was okay, the bathroom was quite large, mainly due to the position of the shower unit. Cleanliness was quite ok. It was outfitted with two single beds which were comfortable enough.

What is a bit of an issue - especially in the morning (probably starting quite early) is the noise from the trains, that run quite frequently. The double-glazed windows don’t seem to keep that noise out very well and I ended up waking up much earlier than my alarm.

All in all, if you’re not much for breakfast in the morning, this might be a good alternative, even though you’re quite a ways from Cologne. I arrived by train, which is about as easy as can be with the hotel so close to the train station. If you’re coming by car, I would guess you’d have an issue finding a parking spot.

Oh yea: no elevator!
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aappartel, Bielefeld **

On first sight, the hotel makes a decent impression. Okay, the elevator is up one flight of stairs and the breakfast room isn’t particularly large, but that’s ok. The hotel’s location is quite good, very close to the old part of town, about 10-15 minutes on foot from the central train station (you can also go one stop by underground to Jahnplatz, it’s 100m from there).

The room is unusually decorated; mine (403) had two single beds arranged diagonally. This, unfortunately, has the effect of positioning the headboard of the left bed (which was unmade) at about the spot I generally have my elbow. Luckily, they aren’t cemented in place; I moved it out of the way.

Instead of a chair and desk, the room offers a longish wooden bench with matching wooden sideboard. The bench is somewhat uncomfortable and cold (strangely enough) - possibly, because the heating was completely turned off in the room. I had to rearrange a somewhat haphazard plug multiplier under the sideboard to give me room to at least plug in my laptop; there aren’t any outlets above.

The bathroom is large enough, however the shower stall has a curtain, something I can’t stand. Also, there are no hooks whatsoever in the bathroom, so towels have to be stuffed into the rungs of the heater. There is a soap dispenser next to the sink on the wall, unfortunately, not in the shower.

The bed was okay, but what took the cake was the apparent thinness of the walls to the next room - I was able to understand every word of the conversation the folks next door were having - as if there was a hole in the wall. Completely ridiculous. The elevator was built in 1962 (!), so while the place looks quite recently renovated, the infrastructure is certainly lacking.

Breakfast wasn’t a treat - while it looks to be quite well-stocked, the scrambled eggs were rubbery (I’ve never encountered this before in all my years of travel) and the bacon looked like it was merely passed over the pan. No yoghurt or fresh fruit.

Wifi isn’t free of charge, though the €2 for 24 hours aren’t an issue. What is an issue is that throughput is sporradic - at times, the connection seemed to stand still for 10-20 seconds at a time, then it would load very quickly only to stand still again.

For all that, the price seems too high, I really can’t recommend the place. This is a shame, because the location really is quite good.
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Motel One Hauptbahnhof, Berlin ****

So far, I’ve found Motel One hotels to be quite similar in many ways all over the country. Its a fair deal, I sleep well there.

As with other Motel One’s I’ve visited, the room is very clean both visually and olfactoraly. The room isn’t large, but big enough for one person to stay a night or two. The fireplace-video that pops on the TV when you enter the room is a nice twist (the one in Hamburg had an aquarium video).

I’ve stayed at this particular Motel One before, and while I didn’t sign up for the breakfast this time, I did the last time I stayed. Breakfast was completely overrun, like a beehive, at primetime (when, unfortunately, I needed to be down there as well). A number of tables were empty but not cleared away and some of the food items were “sold out” and not replenished.

I’m not sure if that was because of some major event in town or if that is normal for this particular Motel One, but it made it easy for me to make the decision to eat somewhere else this time.

Other than that, the room is fine, as is the bathroom, no complaints. One exception: there isn’t an outlet anywhere near the desk, so if you have an aging laptop battery like I do with the need to plug in, you’ll be doing your work from the bed (which has outlets next to it).

All in all, I would recommend the place and will stay there again - you can’t beat the location, just kitty-corner across from the central train station. Maybe I’ll try breakfast again next time...
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Seehotel Schlierseer Hof, Schliersee ***

Due to a conference in town (which I was attending), most of the hotels were already booked when I looked for a room. This hotel is very close to where the conference was taking place and directly on the lake, so at the price (€69 incl. breakfast), it seemed like a good deal.

To make things short: I’d booked at a room-to-the-street rate, which was absolutely ok, as there is very little traffic at night and the window does a decent job of keeping noise out.

Water pressure was very low both at the sink and in the shower, but this was fixed when I told reception about it. Also, water didn’t drain from the shower well at all (if I hadn’t paused my shower halfway through, I would have flooded the bathroom).

The shower head is an overhead type (no hand unit available), and in my room (310) it was in poor condition. The nozzles were of the modern, silicon type which generally are cleaned of calcite by just rubbing over them. When I did so (as the head was spraying water every which way), one of the nozzle bits broke off, so I ended up leaving it. The shower door didn’t close worth anything, so I ended up flooding the bathroom anyway…

The bed was ok (two singles pushed together), but the walls were much too “thin”, giving me input from both adjacent rooms.

Breakfast was great, the restaurant faces the lake which makes up for some of the annoyances.

Okay to stay in if you can’t get a room at one of the other places in town (which, in off-season, have similar price).
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Hotel Tiergarten, Berlin **

The hotel is on Alt Moabit and only about 100m away from the bus stop “Kleiner Tiergarten” where the TXL bus (Airport Tegel to Alexanderplatz via Central Train Station) also stops - very convenient.

I had room 47, which is to the rear and at the very end of the corridor (and on the 2nd, not the 4th floor), so I was expecting a pretty quiet stay. Unfortunately, there is a relatively large gap around the door, so noise from the hallway comes in undamped, and the walls seem to be thinner than I would expect, so noise from next door was also quite prominent.

The room, which isn’t huge but big enough, has old-style double windows (not double-pane) which makes for nasty cold drafts due to the horrible insulation. I ended up sleeping “the wrong way” in the single bed to avoid getting the chills over night, with cold air literally pouring over my face (despite drawn curtains). The heating was on but not very hot, which made my room colder than even I like (and I prefer a cool room in the winter). The extremely high ceiling (estimate: 4.5m!) doesn’t help in keeping the heat where the people are.

To top it off, the water temperature in the shower varied widely, causing me to stop every 10 seconds or so to readjust. That is, after taking a felt 5 minutes just to get the hot water up to the second floor. I ended up stopping my shower short.

Breakfast is quite spectacular, especially for such a small hotel, with every kind of meat and a good selection of cheeses available, as well as different types of yoghurt, etc., rolls, bread, cake. Also, varied fruit including Mango and Rasberry. Excellent and completely unexpected. It certainly compensated some of the negative aspects of the room.

All in all, the location is a bit off the beaten path and considering the quality of the room, I felt the room rate to be too high.
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Hotel Goethe, Munich **

A colleague reserved the hotel for me for two nights, because it used to be a favorite years ago with folks from Kleindienst Datentechnik and because it was relatively inexpensive, yet close to the Munich central train station.

It really is a relatively short walk (two blocks) down Goethe street, which isn’t as inundated with sex shops, etc., as some of the other streets in the area.

To make things short, I can’t really recommend the hotel, for a couple of reasons:
1) the toilet smelled - well, unclean - for my entire stay - as if it hadn’t been cleaned for a while.
2) the shower was annoying - the shower head didn’t fit properly into the holder (too loose), causing it to spray anywhere but where it was supposed to spray.
3) the heat was turned off pretty early in the evening (at least when I got in on the second day at around 10PM, it was already off). The heater in the bathroom didn’t seem to work at all.
4) there was a continuous swell of cold air “falling” from the window. Since the bed was right against the window, I needed two blankets to get halfway comfortable at night.
5) there is no elevator…
6) the fire escape stairs are fitted to rear windows in the stairway. While this is in general quite ok, here it isn’t, as the windows are more than 1m off the floor! I.e.: older folks probably would have serious difficulties getting up the window sill to get out in case of a fire, and children wouldn’t be able to open the window at all (see picture)
7) the lady at reception publicly bawled out a cleaning lady for doing a bad job cleaning the rooms (see point 1 above?) - since reception and the breakfast room are one big area, everyone in the breakfast room was party to this.
8) the hairdryer was “rigged” by running two copper wires (insulated, mind you) from the nearest outlet (see picture), which means: no connection to earth and subsequently no protection from electric shock whatsoever, should the hair dryer fail or get wet!

The hotel is run by a Turkish family, and breakfast is very much like it is in smaller hotels in Istanbul (which I thoroughly enjoy) - the only highlight in my opinion.

HairDrier

FireEscape
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Hotel Topas, Frankfurt ***

The hotel is close to the side exit of Frankfurt’s central station. The lobby is like the rest of the hotel: very utilitarian and somewhat cramped. I had room 20, which faces a courtyard, so it gets no street noise.

While that was fine, the room is pretty cramped and the refrigerator sits right next to the bed, albeit in a cabinet. The fridge is completely empty but running, making low but hearable noises right next to your pillow. It can’t be turned off or unplugged. The pillow was way too fluffy, with no alternatives available.

The bathroom is ok - unfortunately, the shower doesn’t have a thermostat to control the temperature, and it took me a good two minutes to get the temperature of the water right. Also, there is a soap dispenser in the shower and an identical unit by the sink, but both are so tough to operate, that I would guess neither a child nor a normal woman would be able to get soap out of the things. Its a system I’ve never seen before - probably for a reason.

Breakfast is pretty simple, just rolls with jam / butter and a selection of cheese slices and cheap meats, yoghurt, some cereals in dispensers and extremely hardboiled eggs.

The place is ok - I would stay there again if better hotels (all in the same price range) in the area weren’t available.

I paid €55 including breakfast.
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Juncker's Hotel Garni (Pension), Berlin *

Juncker’s Hotel
Grünberger Str.
Berlin-Friedrichshain

While the Juncker's also has a hotel section, I stayed in the "pension" section - so this review doesn't cover the hotel.

The room was extremely reasonably priced, but barely worth the money. It was very small with a single bed, a small desk and a sink in the room. The window went to a courtyard, so I hoped for a quiet night - but alas: there seems to be a bar of some sort in the square and quite possibly (I couldn't tell), the smokers go out back. Needless to say: rest without earplugs was a no-go.

The bathroom is off the hallway and is shared by all rooms on that hallway. While there are separate toilets for men and women, the showers (2) are not separate - not sure how that works. I had to get up early, so I had no competition for the shower, but I can imagine that during rush hour, this can get quite annoying. I counted 5 rooms on the floor.

The bathroom was in general quite run-down, though it seemed clean. The only irritating thing was a hole in the wall of the men's toilet with what looked like mouse droppings around it.

I didn't bother with breakfast so I can't comment on that.

All in all,
I don't recommend the Pension part. I've stayed for even less in small hotels that offered the bathroom in the room and - while you certainly can't expect a posh room - seemed to offer more in every respect.
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Hotel Kraft, Munich ****

Hotel Kraft
Schillerstr. 49
München

I've stayed in a number of hotels in Munich's Schillerstrasse (part of the redlight district), most of them are surrounded by bars (the kind where drinks are expensive) and other establishments. The noise level tends to be annoying.

The Kraft Hotel is all the way down Schillerstrasse, in a really and surprisingly quiet section. Okay, it is a bit of a hike to the central train station, but if you're good on foot, that isn't an issue.

The room I had was spacious, the bathroom quite ok, possibly with the exception of the shower doors which are a bit annoying - they go all the way down to the floor (there is no tub) and somewhat difficult to adjust.

The room was decorated with very nice, old furniture and the bed was spacious and comfortable.

Had the breakfast included more than just factory rolls and the usual toppings, with cereal and yoghurt, I probably would have given the place 5 stars. I like a good breakfast and while this was ok, it was just that: ok.

All in all a very good value and to be recommended.
Not sure about parking (I travel by train), but that did look a bit difficult.
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Sebastianushof, Bad Godesberg **

The hotel is quite a ways up the hill from the town center of Bonn-Bad Godesberg.
I picked it because of an event at the Godesburg, which is about 5 minutes walk from the hotel.

The hotel is right across the road from a major construction site fitted with a huge crane, where they seem to be building a new house. Subsequently, the noise level starts to go up quite drastically at around 7AM. Throughout the night, noise from the street was relatively minor (not a lot of traffic).

The window however, looks just like the ones my grandmother had in her house, and those were from the 70’s. The noise abatement from the window is close to nil.

The bed is comfortable enough and you’re supplied a full-size and a half-size pillow, which is nice (I happen to be a fan of half-size pillows).

The bathroom is functional (no more!), though the drain in the shower was stopped up and quite obviously, no one had filled the siphon of the floor drain in a while, as the room reeked of sewage gas. Two glasses of water in the siphon and all was well. I always wonder just why on earth the guests always have to take care of something like that.

Breakfast is quite ok, with scrambled eggs as the “hot food”.

All in all, an ok place to stay, but at €75 (+€8 for breakfast) a couple of notches too expensive for the quality and the location.

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International am Theater, Muenster**

The reviews for the hotel seemed to indicate a good place to stay. As it seemed to be in a decent location for getting into the old part of the city, I booked it.

First impression from the outside: wow, what an ugly building. That partially has to do with the eminent architecture in the north of Germany: brick. If you’re not used to it and the masons didn’t put some twists into the design (i.e. Amsterdam style), brick buildings are all ugly. And: an ugly building doesn’t say anything about the hotel on the inside.

The location is quite decent - a short walk will take you to all the major sights in the old part of the city.

The gentleman at reception was nice enough, explaining everything and even proactively asking if one would like some tips on going for food - which, strangely enough, is pretty rare amongst hotel receptionists worldwide.

The room that was to be mine for the night (no. 27) was quite small, with a single bed. It smelled like spring cleaning of a college latrine, a smell that got worse when I went into the bathroom (which really could use renovation). The culprit was a huge dose of cleaning liquid on the “pan” of the toilet. Yep - you know, the type of toilet that lets you measure your success - with a ruler if necessary. The type of toilet I completely abhor. Mainly, because I never carry a ruler on travels.
Oh, and: shampoo from paper packages? Give me a break! Is it that expensive to put a soap thingie in the shower?

The window was difficult to open, mainly because the latch works differently than about 99% of all windows in Germany. The window is huge and looks quite old (I ventured a guess: 1970), but turned out to be from 1994, at least going by the date stamped on the metal between the two sheets of glass.

The area is relatively quiet - an advantage, as the closed window doesn’t seem to abate any noise from outside whatsoever.

Wifi is free for guests - unfortunately, I wasn’t able to connect at all: “Connection timeout”, no matter what I tried.

Breakfast was simple, with fruit salad from a can, some yoghurt, rolls, bread, jam, various sausage / meats and cheese. Unfortunately, the sausage / meats weren’t cooled, so even though we were quite early for breakfast, things were already starting to “cloud over”. No warm foods except for boiled eggs.

All in all ok for a night, though I don’t plan on staying here again.
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Ramada Hotel Kassel City Centre ***

The Hotel is quite close to the high-speed train station (Kassel Wilhelmshoehe): 3 Tram stops.
The room is okay in size, clean and relatively modern. I had a room with two single beds that apparently were made for pushing together if desired.

Absolute highlight was breakfast. While quite pricy at €16, the buffet lacks almost nothing except perhaps a better selection of fresh (not canned) fruit. Excellent.

Less excellent was the shower - the fixture was impossible to operate to a decent temperature, it turned out either too hot or too cold, even when moving the lever only a few millimeters. Also, the showerhead didn’t stick properly in its holder, so it would turn to the side spontaneously (turn down the water pressure to reduce this problem).

All in all quite pricy (probably because the Documenta 13 is going on) but certainly comfortable and quiet.

Internet access via Telekom access point (great if you have an account, like I do).

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Thermenhotel, Bad Soden/Taunus *

The hotel had relatively good reviews on HRS, and there aren’t that many hotels available in the area, so I booked it.

I had room 8, which I absolutely CANNOT recommend. There seems to be the compressor/condenser unit bolted to the outside wall of the room, which makes the wall vibrate at a continuously changing, low-frequency pitch. For me, that meant sleeping with ear plugs, though which the noise was still slightly audible!

The bathroom seems to be a relict of the 60’s, in a rather negative way. The window in the bathroom is a single-pane job, which means that it will likely be extremely uncomfortable on a cold, winter day.

The window of the room (to the street) was dual-pane but imprinted with a manufacturing date of 1992 - subsequently, noise from the rather busy street (even late at night) is only slightly abated.

The carpet in the room seemed to be from the same year as the window - while it wasn’t particularly dirty, it gave off an extremely used sheen, especially around the door.

Breakfast was okay, but the room was much too expensive.

Rooms to the back are likely quieter.
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Arora Park Hotel Slough ***

The hotel is very near to Heathrow airport and extremely close to BancTec’s UK headquarters (just around the corner).

The area around the hotel is mostly apartment buildings and some industry. There is a pub with Thai food across the road and an Italian restaurant down the road. I’ve eaten twice at the pub - the food is quite good, though the term “haute cuisine” comes to mind when looking at the size of the portions.

Being so close to the airport, the overhead traffic is ridiculous, the nearer runway brings 747s and A380s thundering an estimated 200 meters right over the street. Despite this, the noise level in the room (my room was towards the road) is extremely abated, thanks to double windows. Unfortunately, the windows can’t be opened because of this, but during the airport’s operating hours, this isn’t to be recommended anyway.

The room was clean and quite spacious, with a handy clothes iron in a flat cabinet against one wall. As with many hotels, the availability of electrical outlets is a negative point. While there are outlets on the floor under the small desk (get on all fours, please), there are none at all on either side of the bed.

The bathroom is ok, the bathtub has a shower curtain (which I can’t stand), though to be fair, it was quite clean and not as clingy as some I’ve encountered.

Breakfast is pretty much a joke measured by continental Europe standards, but may be standard in the UK at this time. It is labelled “continental breakfast” which consists of bread (a toaster is supplied - but only one), some packaged cereals, some (fat-free) yoghurt, fruit and little packets of jam to spread on the bread. Some prepackaged muffins and croissant are also available, as well as (very strong) coffee. We were the only guests in the “restaurant”.
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Parkhotel Kerpen *

Two things really annoyed me about this hotel:
1) they don’t have non-smoking rooms
2) nomen non est omen - not sure if there ever was a park anywhere in the vicinity - there certainly isn’t now. The hotel is in a commercial area that has all the flair you can expect from concrete buildings with colorful advertising signs.

Regarding the missing non-smoking rooms, this is the plakard they likely have in every room:

2012-03-22_07-40-12

What the heck does that solve? Keep your smoking to a minimum?

I had a chat with the lady at reception about it - after beating around the bush with exclamations like “what do you think smokers would do in a non-smoking room, not smoke?”, she admitted that they had no non-smoking rooms at all.

On the plus side, they put a high-tech looking ionization device in my stinky room for about half an hour after I left, which seemed to help quite a bit. And, luckily, no one to the left or right of me smoked at night (which tends to stink worse than when it happens in the same room).

Still, I cannot recommend this hotel to any non-smokers out there.

The bathroom was ok, with a thermostat in the shower. Even though the room faced the rather busy road, the windows did a fair job of keeping the noise out.

The next olfactory assault came about the next morning, when I distinctly smelled bacon and eggs - from bed!
That smell turned obnoxious as soon as I got to the hallway; apparently, the kitchen smells from breakfast drift straight up the stairs (I was on the 3rd and final floor), unimpeded by the fire doors as these were kept wide open, to collect in a smelly dinge at the very top of the building - which happened to be my hallway. Yikes!
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Hotel Jakoberhof, Augsburg *

There were three events going on in Augsburg, and I was unable to get a room in one of the hotels I usually stay in. The Jakoberhof was the last hotel in the city that had a room available on HRS.

It is an old hotel near the Fuggerei (but a ways from city center) that consists of a main building and two side buildings.
I was in building “37”, with the room facing the main building via the courtyard, but also the rather busy Pilgerhausstrasse, making for anything but the promised “quiet room”.

The room is ok in size, the furnishings are Ikea-quality, the bathroom seems refurbished within the last few years, and is seemingly clean. On second look, it shows its age, with this relic from the 70’s:
Pasted Graphic

Also, this “hack” was the only way to sleep:
Pasted Graphic 1

The door was so loose, that it clacked back and forth very loudly anytime someone opened or closed the front door.
Most likely, the door gasket was hardened, as the door also let through any and all noise from the corridor.

Breakfast was ok, they even had fresh fruit.

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Hotel Riegele, Augsburg **

Sometime late 2010, I stayed in this hotel before, and seem to remember not being very happy with the choice.
This time, I’ve decided to document the stay immediately as a reminder to myself…

The hotel is located straight across from the train station, and subsequently very near our Augsburg offices. So far so good.
It also has a restaurant in the same building (run by the same company) that serves up very high quality German food.

Due to its vicinity to the train station and two very busy roads (that intersection very near the hotel), a room to the front is absolutely not to be recommended unless you are hard of hearing. Even to the back, the road noise is prevalent, mainly due to the ancient, no: antique windows. These are 1950’s style: two separate single-pane windows in separate frames, which are put together in a single unit. Needless to say, they don’t just keep noise out very badly, they are also an insulation nightmare.

The room I’m in is actually quite nice: number 401, top floor, under the roof. The bathroom contains everything you need, but quite clearly in dire need of renovation: tiles are cracked and pitted, the shower is “old-school” (a good 8” off the ground). The entire bathroom is lit by a single lamp above the sink. The grouting and silicon in the shower itself is ill-fitting or missing, which gives it a bit of a yuck-factor. The ultimate disaster in the bathroom has to be the shower tap, however. I personally prefer a thermostatic system, where you give it a temperature with one knob and vary the water volume with the other. While these are still relatively rare, the usual system is one with a ceramic cartridge where you vary volume and temperature by moving a lever up-down and left-right. The one in this bathroom must have been from 1940: just two knobs. One for hot, one for cold. To make things even worse, they opened in opposite directions! Imagine my confusion while desperately trying to make the cold shower warmer without setting it to scaldingly hot!

Also, there are no electrical outlets anywhere near the bed. If you want to charge your smartphone overnight and use it as an alarm, you’ll need to plug it into the outlet at the desk and get set to walk across the room to silence it. Wait: there are no free outlets at the desk! There is a 3-outlet strip floppily laying on top, but all three outlets are used (Refrigerator, TV, Lamp). Out go the fridge and TV to make room for the laptop and mobile phone chargers…

Wifi isn’t free, by the way, but it only costs €2 for 24 hours. Unfortunately, something was wrong with the internet connection when I stayed - while the connection to the hotspot (with a password for the network AND a password for the hotspot!) worked fine, there was nearly no traffic in or out.

Breakfast, included in the roomrate, is okay. Fresh fruit salad, yoghurt, various rolls, meats, cheese, scrambled egg, bacon, etc. Everything is there.

All in all, the room is okay, assuming you can get one to the back of the building in order to keep roadnoise to a minimum. However, the room rate is absolutely too much (€85 with breakfast) for what you get. If they offered the room for, say, €55, then I would come back. For the current rate, I will go elsewhere.
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Hilton Westend, Budapest***

BancTec held the 2012 EMEA sales conference at this hotel in the center of Budapest, right around the corner of the Westend trainstation on the Pest side of the Donau.

The hotel is directly connected to the large Westend City Center (basically a huge shopping mall) - you can enter the center straight through the hotel’s “back door”.

The room was large enough and nicely appointed, however:
1) my room faced Vaci street, a very busy thoroughfare. Apparently, there is a hospital somewhere near, as the sound of ambulances passing was relatively frequent. Unfortunately, the windows are anything but sound blocking, which gives you a constant noise level throughout the night.

2) there was a distinct sewage smell in the bathroom. I tried getting rid of it by putting some water in all three siphons that might be dried out: sink, bathtub and shower - but to no avail. The smell stayed with me my entire stay. To be fair, I didn’t bother telling reception about it until I checked out, perhaps they would have fixed it immediately.

3) the shower door was distorted (I’m completely at a loss at how something like that can happen), leaving a large gap through which water got onto the floor. Not my problem, but annoying anyhow.

Also, while I did not have that issue in my room, some colleagues complained that they were unable to turn the heating off in their room. The term “sauna” fell more than once.

The conference area is nice enough, no complaints there. Breakfast is fantastic, we had one dinner on-site which was ok as well.

I have stayed in other hotels in Budapest (such as the Mariott) that are nicer and better “in shape”, but the Hilton is nice enough to get a recommendation.

Mind you, it is imperative to mention “Westend” multiple times to anyone wanting to visit you, as there is another Hilton on the Buda side that apparently is much better known to locals than the one I was at...
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Intercity-Hotel Augsburg ****

The Intercity Hotel in Augsburg is right around the corner from the central train station.
The building complex isn’t what you would call attractive, but when you’re inside, all is well.
For some reason, this hotel is only rated 7.2 by people that booked via HRS and stayed here. I’m not really sure why. The rooms are large enough and quite clean. Yes, the bathroom fixtures probably should be renovated - I’ve had rooms with cracks in the sink, and most of the rooms I’ve had really needed a new shower head, but these little issues haven’t kept me from coming back.

Breakfast is really quite good, though it gets extremely hectic when there is a trade fair in Augsburg. Wether it is worth €14 to you is a personal decision, I’ve had certainly had similar breakfast buffets at a lower cost.

The hotel can be had for attractive rates when booking early - due to the prime location near the train station (and subsequently, not far from Munich, should the hotels in that city be full due to Oktoberfest or a trade fair). If you try to book it just a couple of days ahead, then it will generally cost more than €100. When I stay, I’m usually in the price range of €65-75.

While it is very close to the train station and subsequently, very close to my employer’s Augsburg office, it is a strong walk away from city center. A fast walker will make it there in 10-15 minutes on foot.

With your room key, you get a pass that allows you to use Augsburg-city public transport for free - and since the tram station is right in front of the entrance, this should alleviate the inconvenience of location for most people.

The street in front of the hotel is a main thoroughfare, subsequently I recommend you get a room to the back, if possible.
Comments

Hotel Ost am Kö, Augsburg **

(Updates below)

A really pleasant hotel in the heart of Augsburg “downtown”. Clean and quaint. Very friendly front desk staff.

The breakfast is great, with a large selection of different foods.

I’ve had the luck so far to have a room towards the back - it is quite possible that the rooms to the front are a bit loud, as the hotel is on a main thoroughfare with quite a bit of car and tram traffic.

It takes about 5 minutes of quick walking to get to the train station and only about 3 minutes to get to the Rathausplatz.

I have booked the hotel via HRS as well as the hotel website.

The hotel has “regular” and “premium” rooms. I’ve had both (a free “Christmas gift” upgrade - thank you!) - the premium rooms are larger, other than that the regular rooms are just fine.

There is Wifi in the entire hotel, but it is run by T-Online, which means it isn’t free (unless you’re a member). There is free internet on a computer in the hotel lobby.

The hotel has a sauna, but I haven’t used it so far.

------------- Update March 20, 2012 ----------------

Stayed in the hotel again March 19-20 - this time I had a room to the front (room 20). While the noise level from the main street outside is actually acceptable (the windows seem to be noise abating), the condition of the room definitely was not. The bathroom could have used a bit more cleaning and the room itself was in a run-down state. The shower didn’t close properly (leaving a gap of nearly two cm), which ended up flooding a portion of the floor while showering.
It annoyed me so much, that I’ve taken the hotel from a 4* to a 3* rating.

Also, beware: the entire area around the hotel is a huge construction site. The Königsplatz is being torn apart, it is my understanding that the tram tracks will be put underground. When they work a section, they also do so at night, so you run the risk of having a major construction going on outside the hotel all night long.

------------ Update August 21, 2012 ----------------

Last night, I stayed at the Ost am Kö again, this time I had room 21 (right next to the one described in the update of March 20). Here, the window, while also triple-pane, certainly did not qualify for a noise-abating rating - and the Irish pub across the street (which, for a reason I can’t fathom, seems to have been open until 1AM), perhaps the frame was damaged and leaked sound. Also, the wall to room 20 was either quite thin or the guy next door had the TV blaring, for I could almost make out the program.
The worst, however, was the temperature - there is no A/C in these rooms (not sure if there is A/C anywhere in the hotel) and the room was blaringly hot.
Since I had to put my Fireplugs into my ears anyway, I opened up the window to let some air in; the desk fan just didn’t cut it. Taking the hotel down to two stars!
Not sure I’ll stay here again unless I can be guaranteed a room to the back.
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Hotel Park Inn, Berlin **

Since I was just in Berlin again, staying in two different places, I wanted to make sure I put a review of the Park Inn at Alexanderplatz in here.

I stayed at the place twice, and each time my colleague and I had some very interesting experiences. To be quite clear up front: unless it is exceptionally cheap, I will not book a room in this hotel again. Read on.

Via a friend of my colleague, we were able to get rooms at the Park Inn for €75 including breakfast, which is really quite attractive from a pricing aspect.

I will say this: the rooms are really quite nice, breakfast is fantastic. But that is where it stops.

For one thing, you will rarely see the reception desk without a huge line waiting before it. Why is beyond me, there are usually plenty of people at the desk (which is quite large, obviously, to accommodate everyone). Don’t plan on getting checked out and out the door with bill in hand within the time you expect from a „normal” hotel. Very annoying.

The first room I had at the hotel was somewhere on the 23rd floor. Again, nicely renovated, spacious, nice bathroom, large bed, clean. Normally: a joy. Except for that high-pitched noise that kept coming on and going off, coming on and going off. At first I thought something in the room was making it, like the minibar refrigerator or the smoke detector. Not so - I followed the sound out the door into the hallway. Just so you understand: this was a sound that will not let any normal person sleep or even work in a concentrated way.

It turned out to be the motor driving one of the elevators. My guess is that its mounting isolated so poorly, that the high-frequency vibrations, probably from its modulation, went across a cement beam running over my room. Whatever, I asked to change the room.

Apparently, my request to change the room was so bizarre to the girl at reception that while she complied with my request, she apparently felt it was necessary to talk to her colleague about it right in front of me. Folks, if a guest wishes to change his room, then he has a reason for it - if you think it’s worth joking about to your colleagues, do so without the guest hearing - just a thought.

The next time we stayed there, we not only received different restaurant cards for breakfast (even though we’d booked at the same time), but apparently, there was a technical issue with the elevators in the section where my colleague had his room. Only one of the elevators ran, causing us to be about half an hour late for our appointment. He actually phoned me, to ask that I tell reception about it, but the guy at reception said that the elevators certainly were running („you stupid guest”). They weren’t though. While waiting for my colleague to finally arrive, I watched a bank of three elevators in that section of the hotel (not all the elevators go to all the floors). All three didn’t budge in the 15 minutes I stood there.

If you’re in Berlin, try to find a hotel that is smaller than the Park Inn. There are much better places to stay, also from a location perspective, for similar or lower pricing.
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Hotel Ansgar, Copenhagen **

Hotel Ansgar is located one street parallel to the rear of the central train station. If you stay there and come by train (from the airport, for example), you should know that there is a small and easily overlooked exit on that side of the station (by the luggage storage lockers) that will save you a lot of time and effort, dragging your luggage from the main exit all around the station to the hotel...

The hotel is quite okay, the rooms are tiny, however. I had a room with two single beds, quite obviously a double room. If the single bed rooms are any smaller, then they need to start measuring their guests to make sure you fit. Oddly enough, the room had a single, tiny desk crammed between the bathroom and one of the beds, but two chairs, stacked on top of one another.

Obviously, one can’t sit down this way, but I barely found room to put the second chair. I can’t, by the life of me, imagine two people staying in the room, each using a chair. Whatever.

My room was towards the street. Normally, this shouldn’t be a problem as there is very little traffic. Unfortunately - and of course one can’t blame the hotel for this - there is a large construction site within the house next door. I was up early anyway, but it would not have been possible to sleep past 7:30 AM. Or have a normal conversation for that matter.

The hotel is rated three stars, though by the life of me I can’t imagine what they are for. Of course, star ratings change from country to country, so perhaps one of the stars is for the elevator. This is quite a curious construction, as the doors for each floor are always offset by half a floor. I.e. you have to go up stairs to get to the elevator in the first place, and either go up or down stairs depending on wether you hit the button for your own floor or the one above it. Quite annoying if you have a lot, or heavy luggage, I would think.

Breakfast was okay, though the swaying floor of the breakfast room really psyched me out - I felt like my chair / table was on a waterbed. Whenever someone would walk to or from the buffet, things would start to shake.

I’ve seen worse hotels, I’ve seen better hotels. The price was - for Copenhagen center - quite okay with €85 including breakfast.
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Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden, Copenhagen **

I booked this hotel on HRS because it had a very high user rating, and because it was reasonably priced (considering how expensive Copenhagen is).

After booking, I checked into TripAdvisor on it - and was disconcerted by some of the entries. At that point, however, there was no going back (prepaid). Some people absolutely loved the hotel on that site, some found it to be horrible.

The most important thing to know: it apparently has nothing to do with what the frequent business traveller would normally associate with the name „Carlton”. The hotel operator is Guldsmeden; they operate other „different” hotels in Denmark, as well as on the Côte d’Azur and - of all places - Bali. Sounds to me like a financially independent whose hobby is small, private hotels.

The location is quite ok, it isn’t far (walking distance) from the „hip” places in Copenhagen and it is just down the road from Central station (I walked to the hotel from there with a big suitcase and a laptop backpack).

The room I had was 150, just under the roof and right next to the elevator (which, albeit, opens to the other side). Luckily, my initial tingling of fear (I’ve had some horrific room-next-to-elevator experiences) was unnecessary: I heard nothing of the elevator at all - in fact the room was very quiet in general.

It was clean, but really quite small. The angle of the ceiling (i.e. the roofline) didn’t help. It didn’t have a closet of any kind, so my clothes hung „in the open” on hangers suspended form hooks in the wall opposite the (small) bathroom.
Neither did it have much drawer space, making me deposit my socks and underwear in the small drawer of the bedside table and my folded garments (t-shirts, etc.) on top of the minibar cabinet. I personally prefer to have my clothes out of the way (of dust and prodding eyes), but that may be a personal paranoia.

The hotel offers everything as „biological”: the breakfast, the beers and - believe it or not - the shampoo / soap. I tried the beer (free „welcome” glass) which was good (but not extraordinary) as well as the shampoo and soap. Besides a very unusual (sticky) consistency, I didn’t lose and hair (or grow it in places I didn’t want), nor did I get a rash, so it seems to be ok.
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Novotel Girona Aeropuerto **

I booked this mainly due to its proximity to the Girona airport, but price was also a key consideration.
We stayed here with our two small kids, which worked out well. The room (and, it appears, most rooms) has a large (king size?) bed and a sofa that can be expanded into two single beds (basically, the two beds are sitting on top of one another and the top one gets pulled forward).

We paid 70€ for the room (without breakfast). The room was spacious enough, it had a door between the short piece of corridor leading to the toilet and room exit door and the rest of the room, with the door to the bathroom opening into the room. Subsequently, any noises from the hallway were drastically reduced.

On a negative note, the room had a strange, somewhat pungent smell. Luckily, it was possible to open the window; the smell disappeared quickly with fresh air coming in. When the window was closed, the smell was back just as quickly. We got „used” to it, but nonetheless it was a bit annoying.

The room has a mini bar and a TV (used neither) as well as a large flat surface along the entire one side, giving plenty of room to put stuff. The bathroom was in a rather poor shape, not dirty but very used. The shower temperature was difficult to control.

The hotel had been advertised to have a pool (which the kids would have appreciated), unfortunately, this was half empty, with the remaining „water” in a condition that raised an innate desire to stay away from it. The drive into town is quite lengthy (although it is apparently only 12 km) and costs about €27 per taxi.

Recommendation: if you’re looking for a good price and a hotel very near the airport (because you have an early morning flight out the next day), then this is a good choice. I would book in Girona (which I recommend to visit extensively - very pretty old town) otherwise.
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Old Town Apartamentos, Barcelona ***

What wasn’t very clear from the HRS description of the hotel: the address given is the office of a company that rents out apartments. You go to the office to pick up the key and instructions to the apartment they allocate to you. You then either walk or take some other transport to that address to get to your room(s).

I had booked two rooms, one for two adults and two kids, the other for two adults. Even though I had a confirmation from HRS, when I arrived at the office the second room wasn’t included in the apartment. While they would have charged for a single room only (still expensive at 140€), there wouldn’t have been enough room for all of us. Luckily, they had another apartment (further away) with enough beds and rooms.

The apartment was really quite exceptional - it had three bedrooms: two doubles and a single, as well as a sleeper couch in the living room. It sported a huge patio (enclosed), a TV (not used) and a full kitchen, as well as two full baths.


Recommendation: Seeing as hotels in Barcelona are incredibly expensive, the cost per room through Old Town Apartamentos is ok. The apartment we had was exceptional (I could easily have stayed in it for the entire vacation), but that isn’t a guarantee for others they offer. If you’re traveling in a group with lots of luggage and/or kids, you should consider sending someone from the group to fetch the key and map instructions instead of everyone going to the office and then to the apartment.
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Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa, Dubai (UAE) ****

Very nicely located hotel - within easy walking distance of the south side of The Creek. The front is right across from the old Dubai Fort (which is now a museum). The street it is on is busy, but not annoyingly so.

I had a business room, which was - at least at the time I stayed (seasonal pricing) quite inexpensive for Dubai, and the room was indeed spectacular. In line with the general furnishings of the hotel, it had dark oak (?) paneling, a huge wooden bed and even a separate room with a couch + television, with a door separating the bedroom and the “living” room.
The view from the window - which was quite soundproof - was quite nice, see above.

I had some food in the English Pub in the hotel which was commendable - all in all a hotel I can recommend to visitors and business people alike.
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Van der Valk Den Haag, Netherlands ***

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Lara Beach Hotel, Antalya (Lara), Turkey ****

Currently, there is a major construction site next to the hotel, but so far it’s been relatively quiet.

Nice place with a super pool, excellent food and really good service.


I have to admit it: I’m not here for vacation - in fact, I don’t even want to be here, but it’s a heck of a lot better than most travelers stuck due to the biggest aviation disaster ever (see my travel blog for details); they are spending their time stuck in an airport, while I get to lounge in a nice vacation resort.

The place is really quite nice, about 30 minutes east of downtown Antalya and apparently only 12km from the airport. It is one hotel in a long row of hotels, some of these are quite spectacular. The Lara Beach Hotel doesn’t fall into that category, quite the contrary, it is relatively ugly from the outside. Not that this matters, but be aware of the fact that the hotels in the vicinity remind me of Las Vegas casinos whereas this one just looks, well, “useful”.

Subsequently, most of the hotels here seem much newer. The Lara Beach Hotel was built in 2005, which isn’t that long ago, but it has the flair of a refurbished 80’s hotel. But the room I am in is in very good shape and comfortable enough.
The hotel pool, garden, etc. are also very nice - no complaints. There is a huge (!) construction project next door, but you only hear it if your room - like mine - is in that direction and you have your window open. The closed windows absorb a lot of noise, they are double-paned.

The food is very good, something for everyone including a huge dessert buffet.
There is free Wifi in my room, I just had to enquire the connection password from reception. The speed is excellent, I had several (Video-) Skype sessions with very good throughput, one to the US and one to Germany.
The pool offers some nice water slides for adults, but they have separate slides (some quite challenging) in the kiddie section, so there shouldn’t be any complaints.

The beach is very nice, though I suspect that during high season it will be quite full, as it is relatively narrow.

Negative Aspects
What really surprised me: the hotel only has four non-smoking rooms! To be honest, I’m in a smoking room and really can’t tell, but for a country where smoking is not permitted in buildings, I can’t understand that they wouldn’t at least offer half of the rooms as non-smoking.
The air conditioning system was quite obviously switched off due to it being pre-season (and - most of the time - very pleasant temperature-wise); the system only blew same-temperature air into the room, room temperatures in other parts of the hotel were higher than I would have expected. This wasn’t a real problem (except for the early afternoon, when the outside temps peaked). It did mean opening my windows to let some fresh, cooler air in (which I’m fine with) and subsequently quite a bit of noise from the construction site next door.
The water temperature in the shower seemed oddly inconsistent. Not that I scalded myself, but it varied more than I felt comfortable with.
Last but not least, an issue for a business traveller: when I checked out at 6:00h in the morning, the guy at the reception desk was unable to generate a bill for me - this, apparently, can only be done by accounting - and they wouldn’t be there until 9:00h... I just hope I don’t have any issues getting a bill sent to me by email.
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Club Santa Ponça, Mallorca, Islas Balleares *

Mallorca is - despite much of the bad press it has received in the years past, one of our favorite places to go for a quick holiday. If you stay away from Arenal - for me a place on the same “desirable” level as Alicante - the island has some truly incredible locations to offer.
Santa Ponça isn’t necessarily one of them - it does have a nice beach, but the surrounding infrastructure is 100% tourism. Its not a bad place to go either, though, especially if you have a rental car.

Our first Mallorca vacation was in a hotel in Santa Ponça, and it was quite a nice one. When we searched for a place to go for an end-of-season week (we’d originally wanted to go to Turkey, but the club that had been recommended by a business partner decided to close Nov. 1 due to lack of business), we came across Club Santa Ponça and thought - hey, we’ve been there before, lets go!

The place has - to be fair - probably the best location in the entire area. It is built on top of the hill at the northern end of the bay and has an incredible view into the bay. The buildings themselves are traditional spanish style, not the horrid bare-concrete structures you find in town.
But really, that is where the plus points end.

I could go on and on about what is wrong with this place, but I’ll keep the list succinct and to the point. We had a chat with some folks that had been to the club five years ago, and apparently back then, there was no all inclusive package available. The two (elderly) folks were completely flabbergasted by the development and its repercussions, and I understand why. It not only pulls in a completely different crowd, but also demotes the entire restaurant crew to pick-up-dirty-plates duty.

Here’s my list of reasons you should NOT book a vacation here, in order of (my) importance:

The food is atrocious. Really. Bland, overcooked, repeat.
The walls between apartments are paper thin - apparently more so than in other mediterranean hotels I have been in. When people next door walk into their room, you think they just walked into yours.
The crowd is, at least partially, one with the “I’ve booked AI and I will use it” mentality. We had an apartment directly across from the “Comedor”, next to the pool area and diagonally across from the bar. We suffered.
I’ve never come across a hotel of this size that will have days without room service (its not uncommon in family-run pensions to not have room service on Sunday), but two days without? Really annoying!
While relatively clean, the place is completely run down. Besides the wall paint, there are no signs of renovation EVER.
Our apartment was 603, with a separate bedroom, sleeping couches in the living / eating area and a huge terrace with an incredible view. The bathroom, however, was incredibly small full of edges to hit various body parts on. I would gladly have given some terrace space to make a bigger bath!
No broom to clean up little messes, no hooks to hang something ANYWHERE!
The kids animation program consisted of Mini Disco (thanks, Geertje!). Finito. No playground, no toys, no Mini Club. The place has an unheated (but covered!) pool, but our daughter only went in it once because it was clearly too cold.
The only available internet access is three pay-per-use terminals at reception. While the rate is ok (1€ for 15 minutes), it is quite inconvenient - there is often a wait because kids are playing internet games.

Oops - so much for a short list. I think you get the picture...
GO SOMEWHERE ELSE FOR VACATION on this beautiful island!
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Radisson Blu, Ankara, Turkey ****

The hotel is quite a drive away from the airport, but seems to be pretty centrally located (I say that, because I saw nearly nothing of Ankara when I was there).

Internet access is free in the room.
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Green Park Hotel, Istanbul (Asian Side), Turkey **

Istanbul’s “Asian side” features some really neat sights and sounds. For example, there is a huge area in the Bostanci district that consists of rows of garages that work on cars from different manufacturers. I’ve been told that the mechanics are usually much better than at the official garages, so if your car breaks down in Istanbul, consider going here.

Where I would not recommend you go (or rather: stay) is the Green Park Hotel, which happens to be smack in the middle of this car-repair island.

To be fair: the area is relatively low-traffic at night, mainly because no one is working on cars at that time. Unfortunately, this makes the area very popular with stray dogs, which also prefer to “live” where there isn’t so much traffic.

I had a really tough time falling asleep here just from the dog barking. If you’re used to that sound, it probably won’t bother you, but it certainly irritated me. Especially, because one particular dog barked continuously for at least half an hour - I didn’t know this was physically possible (learned something new)!

The room was spacious enough but not particularly attractive. The hotel is apparently one of the first to be erected on the Asian side, and it shows. More annoying is, however, that the folks that work here are just plain unfriendly, something not at all common in Istanbul.

The price was okay at 90€ plus tax (Istanbul is expensive!) including breakfast. The latter was also quite good with a relatively large variety of food.

Our partner in Istanbul booked me at the Green Park due to the fact that the Marriott Asia was fully booked. If necessary, I would probably stay here again (instead of staying on the European side), but only if necessary.

www.thegreenpark.com
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Hilton Garden Inn, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ****

The hotel is located at the southern end of Olaya Street, conveniently within walking distance to our partner in Riyadh. Walking to the Olaya Computer Market or even Faisaliah Mall, for example, is no problem if it isn’t too hot out and you can deal with the kamikaze driving style popular in the city. There is a large supermarket one block down Olaya, as well as a few stores (luggage, home electronics) and several restaurants, other than that there isn’t much of interest around the hotel.

After staying at the Al Khozama Hotel in Riyadh for the last few visits to Saudi Arabia, I decided to try out the Hilton Garden Inn, as it came recommended by our partner here. The room rate is 500 Rial (plus tax) compared to the 700 Rial I’ve always paid at the Al Khozama, however the latter includes breakfast which costs 98 Rial at the Hilton (including tax), so it is not that much less expensive in total.

The rooms at the Hilton are larger and more comfortable than at the Al Khozama, as well as newer - no doubt. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to test the gym, but as it is in the hotel (at the Al Khozama it is in a different building that is part of the Khozama complex), it is much more conveniently located.

I only had breakfast at the hotel, so I can’t say anything about the quality of the food they serve for lunch or dinner, but breakfast was very good. Excellent mixture of Arabic and Western foods with eggs made to order, as well as a waffle iron with portioned dough for guest use. Superb collection of fruit juices and fresh fruit of different types. It certainly isn’t a “steal” at 98 Rial, but - compared to some of the breakfasts I’ve had in hotels - certainly worth the money.

The rooms are comfortable, two floors of non-smoking rooms are available. Even though I had explicitly requested confirmation of a non-smoking room reservation, I was at first given a smoking room. Luckily, the hotel wasn’t full so that I was able to change it without problems.

One negative experience was the airport pickup: I had ordered a car, which, at 120 Rial, is much more expensive even than at the Al Khozama (they charge 80 Rial). The driver was there with a sign, waiting for me. However, I wasn’t the only one he was waiting for - he asked me to wait and then got back in front of the arrivals exit to wait for another person from my flight. After about 25 minutes, two other gentlemen that had seen the sign and were also staying at the Hilton asked him if he could take them with him to the hotel. The end of the story was that there were three of us in a minibus, with my account being charged for the ride.
I mentioned the affair to our partner who immediately had the office manager file a complaint. In the end, my account was credited for the pickup.

Internet access is free in the room.
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Hotel Al Khozama, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ***

This hotel came recommended by an ex-customer (customer at a previous place of employment), as it is very close to their office (in Faisaliah Tower). It was certainly a step up from the Sheraton I stayed at the first time I came to Riyadh, and until this last trip I have stayed at the Al Khozama every time I came here.

The hotel is, if not THE first hotel in the area, certainly one of the first. It has that “old hotel atmosphere”, which I find very attractive. Unfortunately, the rooms are very small (even if you book a business room) with a single bed. The bathrooms are in desperate need of renovation - though they are clean. I always paid 700 Rial for the room including breakfast. An airport pickup runs a very attractive 80 Rial.

Breakfast (which is very important to me) is excellent, with a good mixture of Arabic and Western foods. Sometimes (but not every time I stayed), eggs are made to order. The quality of food is superb.

The hotel is within a short walking distance to Faisaliah Mall, which offers a large food court - subsequently, I’ve never had lunch or dinner at the hotel. The hotel does offer two pools, one is an outside pool that has always been full of leaves or other debris every time I looked, the other is in the health club and is quite good for doing some laps (length is probably about 20m). The Gym, also in the health club, is pretty good, with a row of treadmills as well as some weight machines and free weights. The negative aspect: the health club is in a building that is part of the Faisaliah complex, i.e. across a (non-busy) road from the hotel.

Should you book the hotel, be sure to demand a room towards the rear. The hotel is right on __, which is very busy day and night and will - unless you’re used to heavy city traffic - keep you up at night.

The hotel is absolutely okay, but there are better ones to be had, at a lower price (for example: Hilton Garden Inn).

Internet access is free in the room (wired) and in the lounge (wireless).
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Novotel Deira City Center, Dubai (UAE) ***

Probably due to booking off-season, I was able to get a room at the Novotel for a really reasonable rate of 459 AED (€89) including breakfast. The hotel seems to be quite new and is really quite nice. It has a very nice outside pool and a pleasant gym. Breakfast is okay, the food is good but the buffet isn’t amongst the larger ones I’ve seen.

What was incredibly annoying was the fact that despite the modern and spacious bathroom, I was unable to get any hot water. Being a frequent Sauna visitor, the cold shower on the first evening didn’t phase me very much - unfortunately, they were unable to fix this problem during the entirety of my 3-day stay. I would have changed rooms, but every evening, I was told that the problem had been fixed when it actually hadn’t but I didn’t find this out until the next morning.

The location of the hotel is okay, it is right across the road from Deira City Center Mall but not really close to anything else of interest, so taking a cab is - especially in August - a must. I found this out the hard way when, stubborn dude I am, I decided to walk to the Creek from the hotel. My light green Polo was getting distinct splotches of dark within minutes. The positive side: within half an hour, it was completely dark so no-one noticed (for the unknowing: Dubai in August will sport 45 degrees centigrade with about 90% humidity).

Assuming the hot water problem was a localized issue, I would recommend this hotel if you get a good deal.
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Marriott Asia, Istanbul, Turkey *****

What more do you want: a brand-new hotel, with well-insulated windows (to keep out noise), large and comfortable rooms, a large pool and nice gym? Okay, it is quite pricey, but Istanbul hotels tend to be expensive.

Our partner was able to get a rate of 159€ per night. Mind you, this doesn’t include breakfast or internet access...

If you can afford it (or if you get a really good rate), I highly recommend this hotel!
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