Our Euro Trip – places we called “home”

I think before our trip, the planning item that took up most of my time was finding hotels! I had made some reservations at hotels before we had any firm dates for time spent in the cities but they were reservations I could cancel because I meant to save some money going prepaid and through Priceline/Hotwire.

But it was stressful, I tell you. It took time to figure out the best area for our needs then figure out what we should pay according to forums. And for weeks, I thought I was getting a hotel the very same day, that my bidding would be successful. And it was so disappointing each day I didn’t secure a hotel room.

The RE London Shoreditch I wanted to stay in Regent Park/Maida Vale area – close but not at the very center. There are a few Marriotts in the area and people were Pricelining them in the range of $100. Not I, however and my bidding was getting really high so I had to consider a different area.

The requirement was an area somewhat central and not too far from St. Pancras, the train station from which we would depart London. On Hotwire, the pop-up for the Islington-Shoreditch-Whitechapel area stated it is “London’s hippest district with a great nightlife and galleries.” Sounds promising and since I had no idea how high I would have to bid for Regent Park, I took a Hotwire offer for the Shoreditch area. To my surprise, the hotel that was revealed wasn’t one of the 4* ones Better Bidding told me about. That’s because while I set the parameter to 4*, Hotwire sold me a 3.5* hotel instead and I was not happy. Not using them again.

I’ve never heard of this brand and Tripadvisor travellers post some seriously scary photographs for this and my other hotels. I decided to forgo taking Heathrow Express because we would still have to transfer one more time after arriving at Paddington. In fact, we could take just two lines from Heathrow to get to Bethnal Green after which we would have to walk (ugh!) ten minutes. But there was a problem on the Picadilly Line that day (“person under the train”) and we ended up having to get off that line and still took three trains to get to Bethnal Green. That’s why I didn’t plan much for that first day, although we had arrived in the early afternoon. As I remembered from my last visit, there are not many escalators and lifts in the underground stations just when you need them. The final straw, almost, was the long walk from the station to the hotel, learning that part of Shoreditch is plain, gray and non-fabulous.

When I Priceline a hotel, I always get a room suitable for a couple with a queen or king bed, none of the rubbish of having two twin beds. Reception fixed that for us (“please don’t let my colleagues know”) and we were installed into the “executive” looking room. We could see the modern touch but it wasn’t pretty, feeling that the dark decor could hide a lot of dirt. The washroom was a brighter design which was good but the shower was super narrow and with a shower curtain that billowed. NPY couldn’t quickly take showers and used up a bar of my good soap within three days!

At least there was free wifi, but we didn’t get codes immediately and one code only worked on one device at a time. The room smelled faintly funky like dried cuttlefish which I got over, but then when we were outside and I caught a whiff of it on my jacket it was mildly unpleasant.

There was a Tesco across the street which we patronized. By the second day, NPY discovered that Cambridge Heath, a Greater Anglia station, was closer than the Bethanal Green (Underground) station, and it was no extra cost on our travelcards to get on at Cambridge Heath – athough it was one sad, ugly station I did not enjoy passing through. Twice, we ended up taking a bus back to the hotel and we learned our hotel location on Old Hackney Road was a well-serviced location. On Friday night when we traveled by bus, we saw how people might liken Shoreditch to Vancouver’s Yaletown. But, seriously, NPY and I aren’t “hip” people. We want nice, newer, more open spaces, if possible.

When we went to St. Pancras for a 9 a.m. Eurostar, we opted to take a cab. The underground was a 5-10 minute walk away, piles of stairs, unpredictable timing and two trains. It was the best spent £17.

Hotel Novotel Amsterdam Airport I registered for the TCS Amsterdam Marathon/8K before booking train travel to the city and finding a hotel. Then I salivated over the prices people were posting about getting central canals area hotels at (US$45/night!!) but, darn, hotels appeared to be sold out and possibly due to it being a marathon weekend. So I turned my attention to the airport and tried my luck. It still wasn’t dirt cheap (like US$45) but the Amsterdam hotels were the cheapest hotels of our trip.

My first experience with this chain, I found their Amsterdam Airport location modern enough, friendly, and really cozy. An airport shuttle bus servicing Novotel and two nearby Ibis hotels-for we were all very far from the airport-came every fifteen minutes. From Schipol Airport, we had to take a national rail to connect to another other city station, which felt costly.

Of our four nights in Amsterdam, I arranged for us to stay two nights to not be moving immediately. And I felt we had to move to a central hotel to enjoy our stay.

Internet access was free and unrestricted, which is to be expected for a more remote, airport hotel. It was a relief to have a good bathroom that had a “new fangled” shower faucet that could be activated with your foot.

NH Carlton Amsterdam Once we were so comfortably installed into our Novotel room, I was really worried about moving to the next hotel I had lined up. I had Pricelined the NH Carlton Amsterdam which came as a surprise because people were most recently reporting  getting the NH Central Amsterdam. It always makes me worried when I get something different. On the map, our hotel looked further out…

Getting from Novotel to NH was not fun in the least. We took the hotel shuttle to Schipol then the national rail to Amsterdam Zuid station. For the second time in three days, we were frustrated beyond belief with the national trains, with trains getting delayed and finally cancelled and running up and down escalators to change platforms to catch ever-changing trains! Then we still had to take a tram, which wasn’t so bad afterall.

NH Carlton Amsterdam was in a promisingly central looking area in a grand building and an elegant, if dimly lit, lobby. The receptionist worked to get us a good room with a view and I was still nervous just how nice it could possibly be. What’s this NH chain I’ve never heard of before? The room was beautiful…! It felt “Parisienne”, as I would often say, but I can’t quite pinpoint how. And the view was great, looking out at quintessential “Europe” and the beautiful church we could see would chime every fifteen minutes. There was a little more noise facing a larger intersection but when we don’t ever demand a view, it was a thankful change and I was delighted to open the curtains every morning.

And the hotel was truly in a great area. We were not so far north as Dam Square (my other choice) and we were really close to Rembrantplein and Kalverstraat (shopping). Many trams ran right by the front door so getting a tram to the train station when we left was easy. Wifi was free but there was a 100 mb daily limit on each of your devices – NPY couldn’t stream a whole hockey game. In the bathroom where I forgot to take a picture, the showerhead was the highest yet and the toilet was right behind the door. It felt like the room used to be an apartment with a long hallway separating the door from the room. It wasn’t as cozy as Novotel but was definitely clean and comfortable.

 

Le Meridien Etoile Our Paris hotel is the first one I Priceline and I thought the other hotels would fall into place. (Nope, not for another two weeks.) I’m not entirely sure how I ended up bidding on the 17th arr. area but the Hotwire pop-up description did help: “Shop and stroll along ‘the most beautiful avenue in the world'”. It was that and the price that you could quickly figure out was affordable. I Pricelined for a few days and ended up with a deal that made me wonder why people would keep saying Paris is so expensive. Not for the hotel. Unless Le Meridien ended up being a real stinker. It is part of the Starwood Hotels group (yay, points!) but it is the oldest Meridien and I worried yet again. What if we cap our trip with one loser of a room? Tripadvisor well warned me to be disappointed if I end up with a first floor “Classic Room” and it was the renovated rooms I desired. What could I expected to be assigned when I’ve saved 48% on the rack rate?

We arrived at Gare du Nord after a three-hour train ride where we fell asleep and I, for one, felt dazed. It was rush hour on the Metro and we felt like such a burden with our suitcases. Unfashionable burdens. We took two lines to get to Port Maillot and made the mistake we wouldn’t make again – took the wrong Metro exit. Once we were leaving by the correct exit, we were half a block from the hotel and the French restaurants we saw during our walk to the hotel were very tempting. We have arrived!

The lobby smelled faintly of sewer or toilet but it was confined to just there and the elevator bank and reception area was fortunately free of it. To ease the queue, we were provided service at one of the Starwood Platinum Guest desks and at the other desk I heard the receptionist upgrade the traveller next to us. Dare I hope…? The first thing I did was ask her to add my Starwood Preferred Guest number to the reservation and did that help…? She upgraded us to an “Urban Room” and she didn’t need to show us the card showing the differences, I already knew from my research the night before – it was what we wanted.

The room had all the modern trappings and was clean and cozy. We were treated to the first fluffy and white towels of our trip. The toilet was in a different room from the shower and sink and the shower had two showerheads and the same cool faucet as at Novotel. I was happy as a clam except… no free wifi. Even if we paid – the highway robbery rate of €19 per day or €39 for three days – I was worried the stated speed cap was limiting. The first night, we spent it in the smelly lobby on leather sofas that were somewhat losing their shape. The next night, we learned that the fitness room on the mezzanine left (just one above the lobby) also had wifi reception from the lobby, was much more private, did not smell and was right next to a water dispenser. Good riddance for the last one – we were finding we couldn’t get decent priced bottled water in the city.

The hotel location was also really good. We weren’t steps from the Champs-Elysees by any means but we less than fifteen minutes from the Arc du Triomphe and on a busy Metro line. When it came to leaving, the airport shuttle Les Cars Air France did a pick-up right outside the Meridien’s door. By the time the issue of how to get to CDG came around, I decided we deserved the luxury of the shuttle, oh yes.

On this day..