Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tale of 3 Hotels

Novotel Belfort France, Holiday Inn Express Essen Germany, and Kastens Hotel Luisenhof Hannover Germany, in that order from best to worst, in terms of
- price
- Comfortable room
- Size of the room
- fitness center
- petit-déjeuner (breakfast)
- d'éclairage (lighting)
- international focus
- friendliness
- English proficiency
- lack of an annoying key activated room power shut off
- variety of TV channels
- parking availability

In Germany, I paid nearly 200 Euros a night at the "5 star" Kastens Hotel Luisenhof in Hannover for 4 nights.  The bed was adequate. The Wifi an annoying 12 Euros a day. Really? 12 Euros to use a cloud service? What a rip off.  The food was inedibly German; foot, knuckle, snout, oh so many ways to serve a pig with sauerkraut and potatoes, ew. I ordered something that was supposed to be a filet of lamb "saddle steak" for lunch upon the afternoon of my arrival at the hotel.  What was presented on my plate resembled burnt, pan fried, toughened spam.  It was the thickness of spam, with a "Waffle House Cooked to Well Done" peice of chewy shoe leather tenderness - or lack thereof.  The cabbage and potatoes that came with it were sickeningly sweetened, and the wine (ein Baden rot Wein) gave me a head ache before I'd finished the glass.  This "only" cost me 44 Euros - ridiculous.  I tried to get the Wifi to work, and on my personal net book it did, but on my Dell work computer (AKA anchor) it refused to configure, ladened with pop-ups as it was and being on a non-corporate network.  [side note: hey IT professionals, if you're looking for a terrible, unfriendly Wifi user interface for your company, install Odysee Client Manager, and you'll be sure to be aggrevating your company's professionals and lowering their productivity in no time!]

After enduring 3 days and 4 nights of unpleasant German food and carb ladened beer (which I sipped, while my colleagues downed stein after stein), I took the highly efficent German train system from Hannover to Essen, passing through my father's childhood home of Dortmund enroute.  The train was clean and efficient, but it was also so bumpy, I had to shut down my computer for fear of crashing my spinning hard drive with the incessant & intermittently intense vibrations.  Compared to the Air France Airbus 340 in which I was flying as I wrote this, it was 10X to 100X worse in the Deutsch Bahn train, and we did experience some slight turbulence.   An afternoon spent at the company's Essen office, I check into a Holiday Inn Express - "Sie sind eine Rakete Wissenschaftler??" "Nein, aber ich habe in einem Holiday Inn Express Aufenthalt letzte Nacht!!" - that the company had booked for me.  It was cold and wet and windy outside, just above freezing and all I have is a suit coat, so no walking around the city or jogging for exercise for me.  'I'll use the fitness center' I thought... oh..  there is none? Ok.  I'll do yoga in my room..  except the room is SO TINY there is BARELY enough room to layout my yoga mat between the bed, window, desk confined space.  The shower/toilet/corner-sink geometric arrangement was something I could imagine well in place on a discounted cruise ship cabin, and I am paying over 140 Euros for this palatial accomidation.  The bed adequate, the HVAC non response.  Nein Danke fur Holiday Inn Express Essen.

SO on Friday afternoon after a 2nd day in the Essen office, I head to France, to have dinner with my old friend François and his wife, both of whom I have not seen for more than 10 years.  I fly Air Berlin from Dusseldorf to Basel - more on that debachel later - and upon my arrival in Eastern France, I check into the Novotel Atria, Belfort.  The Novotel understands its guests. I'd booked a room online for 89 Euros a night, pre-paid, that INCLUDED breakfast.  The room was spacious, power plugs on top of the desk instead of making me search under it. The breakfast was delicious.  Service was prompt and polite and mostly in French.  Wifi was free - with an annoying Orange France code that changed every 24 hours, but that's a small price to pay for "free".  The room amenties, other than the lack of wash cloths and shower curtain were first class in this older hotel that was probably built in the 70s or early 80s.  There was no ubiquitous (in Europe and Asia) key activated power kill switch installed, so I wouldn't come back to a unventilated, dark, dingy room, and if I left something plugged in to charge (like a phone or laptop battery), It Stayed Powered and Charging!  Conveniently located next to the old city, and within walking distance of the train station and resteraunts, the Novotel was a very pleasant stay, at less than 1/2 the price of the "5 star"  Kastens Hotel Luisenhof.

Yes, the Kastens DID have a sauna and a steam bath in their fitness center, but the novotel has identical weight and aerobic elliptical machines as the Kastens, and the Novotel even had "fitnesss mats" that doubled nicely as a yoga mat, on a carpeted floor (I was sweaty from a long hike and didn't want to sweat up my own yoga mat).  The fitness center (Centre de la Santé) was even on the same floor as I was at both Kastens and Novotel.  But the addition of a steam bath and sauna was NOT worth a 100 Euros a day.

And the Novotel had consistant shower temperature delivery.  You set the Grohlehome knob adjustment in the French shower, the mixing valve worked, and consistant water was delivered in Novotel.  Compared to the Kastens, where each of the 2 showers I took in my room SCALDED then FROZE then SCALDED me, in the time it took to rinse shampoo out of my hair.  Seriously? Was it because I was on the 6th floor of a 100 year old hotel, whose piping could not take the idea of anyone flushing a toilet in the next room?  I had to take to showering in the fitness center to preserve whatever unscalded skin I had left. 

And the Kasten's hotel tried to be so fancy with halogen lights (that only succeeded in making the room dark and dingily lit and heating everything on the shelf above the sink, like my toiletry bag under a heat lamp) and marble tiled floor in the bath room, would it have killed anyone to MOP the bathroom floor once each decade?  In the reflected oblique light I could see various human detrius, some liquid, some that had once been mucus, staining the floor all around the sink, toilet and tub.  MAJOR EW!!  I wore my shoes and poolside sandals I'd packed (just in case) whenever I walked around that nasty room.  If I ever stay in Hannover again, I will NOT stay in that hotel.

So with German and French hotels, the normal axiom of "you get what you pay for" is untrue.  The less I paid, the nicer the hotel experience became.  And no, it wasn't that I have a positive bias for the French and a negative bias for the Prussians, I am the Germanic peoples.  Scalded skin, nasty floors, cramped living spaces, low quality food, are not language dependent.

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