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.

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. 

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.


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.

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!


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.

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!


ODEON Cinema, Cologne ****

ODEON Cinema, Severinstrasse 81, Cologne

Often, small, non-franchise theaters are grungy, with uncomfortable seats, a small screen and horrible sound. Not so at the ODEON. The seats are very comfortable and seem relatively new. The screen is - for the size of the theater (I was in theater 2, there is also a theater 1) - excellent: it doesn't seem any smaller than in one of the huge theaters from somewhere in the middle of the room.
The sound is excellent; I'm not sure which system they use - it probably isn't 1.000 channel surround, but for the film I saw it was more than adequate.

The nice thing about the Odeon is: they show movies you'll likely not see in the big places, either because they are not mainstream or because they're independent pictures. Often, international films will be shown with the original soundtrack and subtitles, so your chances of seeing an English-language film here is quite high.

Another nicety is the café that is right inside the main foyer: it is comfortable and the prices are excellent. Speaking of prices: the theater ticket itself was cheaper than at one of the multiplexes. Unfortunately, they seem to have lost their liquor license, so you'll only get alcohol-free beer (which is good quality).

The only annoyance is that they don't have numbered seats; i.e.: you can pick any place to sit you like. This may be an issue if you're visiting a popular film in a group that wants to sit together (if you're late).

The area (Severinstrasse) is also a great place to visit, especially in the summer. It is one of the few areas in Cologne that has its own subculture. You'll find plenty of restaurants of every type within just a few minutes' walk from the Odeon.

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.

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.

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:

20140306_074126 copy

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.

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:


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.

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:


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.


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.


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.

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.