We've stayed in a lot of hotels, yes indeed, quite a lot of hotels. None of them were so good that we didn't find something amiss, but then none have been so bad that we couldn't find something praiseworthy. Oh, there was the tiny place in the wilds of Le Marche that made Terri cry, the one where we almost froze to death, and then there was the place in Umbria that made me cry but we had to stay one night anyway because no other hotel had a vacancy, but then there was that fantastic place in Ghent with a huge room and an incredible breakfast buffet. Crepes!
Mind you, I'm talking about Europe, so forget the well-known chains. When visiting a large American city we stick with the usual (Hilton, Omni, Kimpton, Marriott, and so forth), but crossing the Atlantic usually means sleeping in small, independently owned hotels. And independent hotels can be quirky.
To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, there's our recent trip to northern Portugal, during which we stayed in five different hotels over the course of two weeks. We liked them all but each one had something lacking, some annoyance that kept it from being perfect. This is not an official review so I won't be mentioning names. By the way, every hotel was very clean, but we've come to expect that in Portugal.
Hotel #1 was very small, with only enough room around the bed for one person to get by. The shower was very good but it was in one of those raised tubs you often find in Europe, way above floor level because they stuffed all the extra plumbing underneath. Climbing down out of the shower made me afraid I'd slip and fall and crack my head wide open. The bathroom sink was one of those modern designs, square with a flat bottom, that looks daring and edgy but the damn things don't work properly -- the water won't drain! Perhaps that explained the occasional whiff of sewer smells. There was a mini-fridge and a safe, and the breakfast was pretty good.
Hotel #2 was inexpensive and a great value, a balcony room on the top floor with a charming view of a small river below and the city beyond. The bed was the largest and softest of the trip (Portuguese hotel beds tend to be very hard, essentially box springs with no mattress) and there was plenty of space. There was a safe in the closet but the hotel had lost the key. The bathroom was large although a bit dark, and then there was this sink.
Click on the image for a larger view on Flickr and more details.
Look at that sink for a moment or two. Don't see the problem? Look again. I didn't notice anything wrong until I tried using it: the edge of the sink is about a foot from the edge of the counter. You have to lean way over to brush your teeth, wash your hands, or shave. I laughed every time I used the sink and wondered out loud, what were they thinking? Did anyone actually try using this sink when they installed it? The shower wouldn't keep a constant temperature, causing me to dance around as I was alternatively chilled and scalded.
Hotel #3 was a huge room! Fantastic views over the city! More than enough space for everything, a table with four chairs, easy chairs, a safe, an extra bed, a large bathroom with an extra room just for the toilet. All perfect, except they had recently renovated the room and it reeked of paint. The smell was so bad I sniffed and coughed all night and we ended up having to change rooms. The breakfast was OK, nothing special, but one morning my day got off to a horrific start -- the breakfast room was packed with about 70 ten-year-olds making a horrendous din as they gleefully stripped the buffet clean.
Hotel #4 had the tiniest room of all, with barely enough space to squeeze around the perimeter of the smallish double bed, but with a great view of the center of town. Terri did some negotiating and got us moved to a larger, comfortable room but the only view was of a big pipe and a blank white wall. The shower was tiny with no room to put soap or shampoo. The breakfast was fine but lacked hot items and the coffee was icky.
Hotel #5 was almost perfect. Small but efficiently arranged, somewhat like an Ibis, with a comfortable bed; the shower would get a 'great!' if it were not for the curtain attacking now and then. (We love Ibis, a French chain of hotels throughout Western Europe offering small, well-designed rooms at bargain prices.) There was enough room for us to do our final repacking and we could look out the window and see the airport across the street where we'd be leaving early the next morning. There was no breakfast but we didn't need it.
As I said, nothing especially wonderful but nothing terribly bad, either. Each stay contains a surprise, either good or bad, and it's up to us to find it.