Tuesday, 22 March 2011

When is a hotel a good hotel?

My general criteria for a good hotel mean clean cotton sheets on a comfortable bed and a decent shower.  Ideally the hotel is well placed for accessing money/water/food and maybe even the odd place of interest.  Having now tried a variety of establishments, I’m becoming more and more vocal on the subject by the day.  My first hotel in Istanbul contained simply a single bed and a great shower, and despite its position in the basement, was cheap and splendid!

I’ve been battling with the idea of downgrading to backpacker hostels but the creature comfort Cath still leans towards the lower end of mid-range – aiming for decent bedding and towels.  I was offered a bed in a dorm room last week but just didn’t feel quite ready!  When I did check into a backpacker hotel in Amman (which was very nice), I almost saved money and took a room with a shared bathroom until I realised that hot water was only available from 7-11am in the shared bathrooms and so I splashed the extra £6 for a private bathroom! I was checking in at 4pm having travelled from Damascus in a very smoky service taxi on a hot day…

My favourite hotel so far has been in Aleppo (also my favourite place).  What made it so cool?  I turned up without a reservation, booked in for three nights but stayed for five!  When I had secured a room, I was shown into the beautiful courtyard and brought tea whilst my bags were whisked away.  If we overlook the distinct chill in my first room (which I can!) then some of the key factors were very helpful and friendly staff, the fact that it was no bother to move to a much warmer courtyard room on the 2nd day (I was sad to lose the lemon tree outside my window), the comfy bed with good sheets and a reliable, if basic, shower.  Dar Halabia lived up to its own description of a “hotel de charme”.  It wasn’t the cheapest place in Aleppo but it was wonderfully situated right in the heart of the souk and incredibly quiet.  The sunny courtyard brought the guests together and encouraged conversation and experience sharing.  And one of the young lads will even go and lean over the wall to get fresh lemon for your vodka…

I’ve also stayed in a couple of places in the last week with ideas above their station (and mainly picked by Exodus, not me). Reasons for their rubbishness: remote locations with no local amenities, not being allowed into the swimming pool in a tourist hotel because I had missed “Women’s Hour” (I’m still fuming), having to pay for WiFi and it only being available (censored) in the reception area, offering me a taxi at twice the price it should be, being stuck with only the mediocre hotel buffet when there are lovely restaurants a couple of miles down a hill but no safe way to get there.

I think I’ll be happier on the hotel front at the end of the week when I am choosing my own accommodation again.  Location is really a key factor.  I’ll be leaving my Exodus tour a day early in to order to avoid their nondescript, almost not in Amman, hotel and enjoying an extra night by the coast in Aqaba before I head up to the Dana Nature Reserve and then end my Middle East experience in the lovely Madaba.

After that I'll be camping for the best part of two months through Africa and the word "hotel" will become foreign!

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