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Soon after I booked the flights for our Santander trip, I started searching for a hotel. My initial booking was with Expedia. Although I had to pay the full amount immediately, this was fully refundable until one week before our arrival. This gave me the opportunity to keep my eyes open for a better deal, with the security that I had accommodation arranged.
I paid Expedia using my Barclaycard World Mastercard, which gives me 1% cashback. Expedia doesn’t charge an additional fee for paying by credit card. However, I was aware that if I cancelled the Expedia booking after a few weeks, I’d be out of pocket for at least a month. The payment made at the time of booking would have appeared on my credit card statement before the refund arrived and I’d have to pay for a new hotel booking upfront.
I booked a room at Travelodge London Bank for four nights in March 2013. The total cost was £146, on the non-refundable Saver rate, booked 5 months in advance. £36.50 a night is a really good price for Zone 1 ensuite double room in a London hotel. The hotel is a two minute walk from either Cannon St or Bank stations. There’s an M&S Food at Cannon St station and a Tesco Express about five minutes walk away. Many of the restaurants and cafes nearby are closed at the weekend.
Travelodge sign in St Swithin’s Lane
I arrived at the hotel around 12.30 but check-in wasn’t until 15.00. As Travelodge don’t offer luggage storage facilities and I wanted to make the most of the daylight hours, I paid the £10 early check-in charge, enabling me to deposit my suitcase in my room and get out and about. I was allocated a double room on the first floor, directly above the hotel entrance overlooking the cobbled courtyard, shared with a restaurant. I was a bit concerned that my room might be noisy if people from the restuarant and hotel came out into the courtyard for a cigarette, or if the restaurant’s rubbish bins were wheeled out early in the morning. But I wasn’t disturbed by any exterior noise.
Family room at Travelodge Clapham Junction (taken with fish eye)
Although there isn’t a Tube station at Clapham Junction, there’s a very frequent rail service into Victoria Station (a ten minute journey) and it’s a stop on the London Overground. It only took me a couple of minutes to walk from Clapaham Junction station to the hotel. There’s an Lidl supermarket opposite the hotel, a McDonald’s up the road and plenty of other shops, restaurants and bars within a five minute walk.
Exterior of Travelodge London Clapham Junction
The receptionist was very friendly. I was allocated a room on the second floor. It was a large family room, nice and bright with two windows. I could hear a bit of exterior noise as there was a bus stop across the road. However I didn’t hear anything from adjoining rooms.
The Travelodge London Clapham Junction doesn’t have a Bar Cafe, so there’s no free WiFi here. I did have problems getting online with both my USB modems. I assume this was because I was on a lower floor, if I stay there again I’ll request a room on a higher floor which should improve the mobile broadband signal.
I read that IHG hotels, which include Holiday Inn and Crown Plaza, will soon start to offer free WiFi to members of their Priority Club. I thought this was a good move, as the £15 a day charge to get online at the Holiday Inn London Bloomsbury was one of the negative issues about my recent stay at the hotel. Elite members will be first to be able to access the free WiFi in July this year. During 2014, free WiFi will be rolled out to all Priority Club members. I decided to register online for the Priority Club so I could get free WiFi on any future stays at IHG hotels.
A couple of weeks after registering for Club (basic) Priority Club membership, I received a mailshot informing me that if I successfully applied for a Priority Club Rewards Visa credti card, I’d be automatically upgraded to Gold Elite Priority Club membership.
The other incentive to take out the credit card was 10,000 Priority Club bonus points, as long you used the card to make a purchase within 90 days from opening the account. That’s supposed to be enough to get a free night’s stay; let’s hope availability is not restricted to out of the way destinations in low season.
I stayed at the Holiday Inn London Bloomsbury for one night in mid March 2013, on a complimentary basis. The hotel is close to Russell Square tube station.
The lobby at Holiday Inn London Bloomsbury
I was allocated an executive room on the 6th floor. The room was really bright and airy, as it had two large windows.
Executive room at Holiday Inn London Blooomsbury
The room was a good size, with a very comfortable bed and an office chair at the desk. The bathroom was spacious and there was a bathrobe and slippers. The standard of maintenance and cleanliness of the room were very good. The room had air conditioning, tea and coffee making facilites, a safe and a mini-bar.
I find it extremely disappointing when I arrive at a hotel of which I’ve seen photos of a beautiful, characterful building to discover that my room is in the characterless modern annexe at the back of the hotel. The most recent example of this was at the Blackwell Grange Hotel in Darlington. We stayed there on a Groupon Getaways deal. The photos on Groupon and on the hotel’s own site only showed front of the hotel, when in fact the majority of the rooms are in a faceless extension.
Blackwell Grange Hotel Darlington
The homepage of the Blackwell Grange extols the historic features of the hotel with descriptions including:
“Building commenced in 1693 and was finally completed in 1717, with the property being passed down through the family until 1953.”
“From the moment you turn into the long and sweeping driveway, and catch your first glimpse of the Georgian façade, you know you are somewhere special.”
I reckon that most people are more likely to book at a hotel which has an attractive exterior. Of course, everyone wants to portray themselves or their product in the best possible light. However, is it acceptable for a hotel to imply that you will be staying in a historic building, when the chances are you’ll be allocated at room in the modern annexe?
I believe that hotels should be obliged to show the whole building in their photos, not just the attractive original building.
I won a two night stay for two people including breakfast in any Jurys Inn hotel in the UK in a business card prize draw. I redeemed my prize at the three star Jurys Inn Edinburgh. The hotel’s very centrally located at the side of Waverley railway station. The hotel’s exterior is a bit of an eyesore, but the glass frontage cleverly reflects Calton Hill, which gives the building a bit of character.
Exterior of Jurys Inn Edinburgh
It’s quite strange that you have to exit reception and cross an access road to reach the lifts to get to your room. We were allocated room 517 at the front of the hotel, which had a view over the station, its adjoining car park and over to Calton Hill. Althought the windows were double glazed, we could still hear a lot of exterior noise from passing traffic and trains coming in and out of the railway station.
View from our roon at Jurys Inn Edinburgh
Our room was a triple with a double and a single bed. The room was a pretty good size; often when I sit at the desk in a hotel room there’s very little space to get past me, but that wasn’t an issue at Jurys Inn Edinburgh. There was a fair amount of storage space with a built in luggage rack which could easily accommodate my medium suitcase and some open shelving and hanging space. Jurys Inn are still charging £10 a day for in-room internet access, which is really annoying as I couldn’t get a decent signal with my Three mobile broadband dongle in our room.
We stayed for 2 nights at the three star Blackwell Grange Hotel in Darlington, County Durham in November 2012 on a £129 Groupon getaways deal. This price included two nights bed and breakfast for two people with a two course dinner on the first night. The hotel is situated one mile south of Darlington town centre, a few miles off the A1(M) between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and York. The Blackwell Grange could do with a more road-visible sign at the bottom of their driveway, as we drove straight past the entrance. We were able to park at the front of the hotel, but there is more parking around the back. The hotel looks very impressive from the exterior.
Exterior of the Blackwell Grange
That grandeur continues through the lobby area, with its first floor gallery and open fire.
Open fire in lobby of the Blackwell Grange
However, our room was in the North Wing, behind the original building, which from the exterior looked more like a 1960′s block of flats. Our room was a reasonable size with a king size bed (two single beds joined together). The bed was very comfortable but the duvet wasn’t quite large enough for the width of the bed. The room overlooked the leisure centre and what looked like permanent marquees. The furniture was all made of sturdy solid wood. There was free WiFi through the hotel and I had a very good signal in the room. It was quite fiddly to lock and unlock our room door, which needed firmness to close.
Hotel.info are running a fab “idream itravel” contest with a prize of a 10 nights accommodation; two nights in five different cities/countries, plus 2013 Euro spending money. The accommodation will be in the hotels below, for two guests sharing a double room including breakfast.
Hotel Ciudad de Vigo, Vigo, Spain
Movenpick Izmir, Izmir, Turkey
Hotel Plaza Opera, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Salina Maris Spa & Wellness Hotel, Morel, Switzerland
Ramada, Brussels, Belgium
All you have to do to enter is go to the “idream itravel” entry page, watch the video, then share the video on Twitter, Facebook or by email, enter your email address and submit your entry by clicking on the win now button. The competition runs until 15 February 2013. You can read the full terms and conditions here.
Vigo is in a wonderful location on the Atlantic coast of western Spain in Galicia. Make sure that you take a trip out to the beautiful Cies Islands.
I stayed at the Park Hotel Ghent for one night on a complimentary basis during my Flanders is a Festival blog trip in August 2012. I had some difficulty finding the hotel. I looked up Google Maps the previous day and as it looked a bit far to walk from St Peters station, I jotted down the number of the tram to take me from the station to hotel. I arrived at St Peters station planning to check directions at the Tourist Information but there wasn’t one. I asked the tram driver who had no idea where the hotel was. I then asked a couple of locals and neither of them had heard of the hotel or the street in which it was located. Before jumping in a taxi, which I’d been warned would cost around 20 Euro for the journey, I asked a police officer for assistance. He didn’t know the street but checked on his mobile phone and told me that I should have gotten off the train at Dampoort station and it would take me around 20 mintes to walk to the Park Hotel from Dampoort station. Even when I finally arrived at the location of the hotel, it wasn’t that easy to find as it was through a passage way next to a restaurant, with only a small sign for the hotel. Reception is at the back of the hotel garden.
Garden at Park Hotel Ghent
Apparently the restaurant at the front is run by the same people that own the hotel. It looked to me as though they’d decided to expand their business by building some rooms in the garden. I was allocated a room directly opposite reception which was a good distance from the street, meaning it was nice and quiet. The room was a good size, a bit dark but that’s not a big issue for me in a bedroom. I’d seen on the hotel’s website that you had to pay for WiFi. Fortunately I was able to pick up a good signal on the MiFi that Visit Flanders had lent me.
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