The last few weeks have been centred around working in Amsterdam, so I have been at the mercy of Dutch hotels. I keep meaning to write about some of the ones I’ve been using, but somehow the days have slipped by. So here are some thoughts.
It’s generally quite a civilised place to be, Amsterdam, although the excitement of the central parts of the city wore off for me many years ago. So I now tend to stay outside the centre and look for places that are quiet and clean with a decent bar. Having said that, I stayed in the Mint hotel recently and although I wasn’t much looking forward to it, because it’s right by the Central Station, I have to admit that grubby location and freezing fog apart, it was really quite pleasant.
What do you look for in a hotel? I suppose a useful place to start is with what you really hate about staying in hotels. I hate grubby rooms. I hate rooms with connecting doors. And I hate eating alone in restaurants. So when I find somewhere that ticks those boxes it’s good news. First of all the Mint is brand new and they hail it as an ‘exciting new international adventure’, well that’s quite a statement to live up to. But certainly the rooms are clean and bright. The design is quite minimalist, they call it contemporary, so only time will tell how the style fares after a few hundred nights of abuse. Bathrooms are a bit cramped but the showers are good. This is important when you’re greeting the world first thing in the morning after a heavy session in the bar the night before. Hopefully these guys will keep the maintenance programme up and the clean bright feel will stay. They will also need to pay attention to making sure the technology works. I would hazard a suggestion that equipping the rooms with iMacs could end up being an expensive choice. You need to be a moderately tech-savvy guest to make it all work. But for now it’s great and that number one of hotel rip-offs – the wi-fi Internet connection – is free.
The restaurant serves good food, well prepared and served by cheerful and clean-looking staff. It’s also a place that you don’t feel exposed in and service comes quickly so you can get in and out without fuss.
Yes, it’s definitely a high 7 out of 10 sort of place and would score even higher if it wasn’t in such a pit of an area. I didn’t try the Skylounge bar that was so highly recommended on check-in, because after a short pause for reflection, the receptionist did concede that there wouldn’t be much of a view due to the freezing fog. And they didn’t have those slippers that you get so you don’t have to touch the carpet with your bare feet. That would be a nice touch too.
People who arrive last on to a packed flight with bags that won’t go under the seat in front. And then then spend ages rearranging the overhead bins and the belongings of those who boarded in good time, and who didn’t travel with ridiculous amounts of carry-on luggage. Then bitch like mad when the cabin crew get strict with them. Personally I can no longer handle the stress of boarding a flight early early just to get a space for carry-on bags. I would rather spend a few more minutes at the other end waiting for my checked-in luggage and board the flight in a leisurely manner after everyone else, secure in the knowledge that my laptop bag can slip neatly under the seat in front. One of the few good aspects about Terminal 5 is that your bags now arrive in double quick time. I’m conscious that as I write these words I am on a flight … with checked-in baggage … going to T5.
Although I must admit that I did once have an infuriating woman in front of me who clearly didn’t understand one of the unspoken laws of the frequent flyer: that your bag goes under the seat of the person in front of you and the space under your seat is reserved exclusively for the use of the person in the row behind you. The only pleasing fact about this story was that along with her duty free bottles she had also deposited something fairly soft in one of the bags. I am ashamed to say that it felt satisfyingly like duty free cigarettes as I flattened it under my feet.
I think I’ve just had the worst Indian meal of recent years. Desperate to eat something after a long day we called into this place in Overtoom in Amsterdam. The clue should have been the empty restaurant and the fact that you couldn’t order beer. My colleague had said the food was very good but later admitted he hadn’t been there for several years and that the chef might have changed. I should think so!
There is a theory that I have formed over the years. When eating in a Thai restaurant order the Tom Yam soup to start, when in an Indian order some popadums and pickles, in a Chinese … you get the picture. You’ll soon see by the quality of what turns up on the table what the rest of the food is likely to be like. It rarely fails. This time the system worked to perfection. The popadums were dry and stuck to the roof of your mouth. The pickles were only two and both were thin and bland, out of a jar. But by this time we were committed and regrettably had already ordered. The chicken jalfrezi was tasteless, lacking any body or anticipated distinct flavours and the lamb biryani had to be abandoned after half a piece of lamb. It wasn’t actually off … but. The food looked listless and colourless in the bowls.
Being English I paid the bill and left. An early night and no alcohol. What a waste. The thing was, there seemed to be an active trade in take-aways. Can’t imagine why.
This is a gripe about the person who asks you to change your seat for an inferior one so that they can sit beside someone who they know. Then then they don’t talk to them at all throughout the flight. By which time you’re stuck somewhere inaccessible and can’t do a thing about it. For some reason it’s always the seat you’ve moved to that has the moron sitting in the row in front who reclines the seat fully back into your space. You can see the seat that you gave up and it is splendid in its isolation, free from reclinee interference. That’s when you realise you’ve been had. Next time you vow to say no to the request. But somehow you know that it would be churlish and you’ll be branded a misery.
It’s always an experience staying in a good hotel in India. There is something missing in the customer service culture in Europe that runs through everything they do in Asia. I think it must be something associated with the insecurity and relative equality that we experience in Western Europe, and the UK in particular, that prevents us treating the customer as someone really special. The Vivanta in Bangalore is a delightful mix of chaos and friendliness all wrapped up in an Asian 5 star hotel. Never short of staff to help with whatever you want, the hotel has a family-owned feel about it and an intimacy that doesn’t overpower or intimidate. This hotel lacks the grandeur of the Leela or the Oberoi (I still think the Oberoi is the best hotel in Bangalore), but has nice touches in comparison, such as really good showers and a great bar.
Situated on the corner of MG Road right in the heart of the city, the chaotic organisation surrounding the entrance as you arrive delivers you gently into an oasis of quiet and calm. As there is no effective mass transit in Bangalore everything revolves around the car. This means it takes an hour to get anywhere and every hotel has a chaotic vehicle access problem. I say no effective mass transit, but in fact they have recently built a metro system that runs on a high level roadway through the centre of town, destroying the pleasant aspect of MG Road that used to be. You now stand outside on the street and the sky above you is dominated by concrete pylons and roadway. It’s unbelievable. Anyway, the hotel is a real heart-of-the-city place, complete with local colour, unlike the bland and formulaic places in the fast-expanding new office block campus districts.
“My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there.” Indira Gandhi.