Readers of my account of my Mid-West trip back in March may remember that I don’t care for fancy hotels. I don’t like the fact that the better the class of hotel, the more likely they are to charge for things I consider a basic human right, like Internet access in the room or a bottle of water for when you get a raging thirst on in the night, thanks to the hotel's deliberate ploy of cranking up the central heating too high or tempting you with (chargeable) peanuts in the minibar. Then there is the suffocating attention to detail, like the way they fold the toilet paper into a gratuitous point, or place a hygiene strip round the toilet seat.
So when I travel in Europe, I like to winkle out interesting mid-range places to stay, and regularly consult my assortment of accommodation guides of the “Hotels Of Charm And Character” or “The Most Attractive Guesthouses Just Off The Motorway” variety. And then sometimes I have to find somewhere on spec, usually after a long journey, when I start scouting for a place to stay as soon as I feel myself flagging at the wheel.
So here are a few “vignettes” of the unexpectedly luxurious – or just plain curious - places I stayed in on this trip…
The romantic tower room
If ever there was a place to let your hair down and indulge your inner Rapunzel, it was the romantic circular tower room of a medieval castle in Germany to which I was unexpectedly upgraded. I had booked a budget single in the annexe for half the price! In hindsight, they may have taken a snap decision to give me this room as one of the younger and more able-bodied guests staying at the time. As such, I must have looked well up to the task of negotiating the narrow stone spiral staircase that led to the room, and would be deemed unlikely to complain about the lack of a lift, or to sue them for a nasty bump on a low slung beam.
The vertiginous townhouse
Speaking of the lack of lifts in hotels, that is in fact one of the other things Holland is famous for, apart from being a car park. This means quite a schlepp with your luggage if your room happens to be in the eaves, as singles often are. And it is not just the number of steps, but their incredibly steep angle that puts Dutch accommodation right at the top of the league table of vertiginous accommodation. Apart from tree houses and bivouacs on Mount Everest, perhaps. My attic room in Nijmegen was so lofty in fact that Internet access (mercifully free of charge!) could only be found by perching precariously - and specifically - on the last three steps of the precipitous staircase.
The chipboard palace
For my overnight in Poland I deliberately picked the same hotel I stayed in on my last visit to the area in 2007. It had the advantage of being bang next door to the chipboard manufacturer I was visiting the next day, as well as showcasing its products in surprisingly comprehensive ways. I learnt on this visit that the hotel is also something of a local nightspot. My restaurant suddenly morphed into a disco, with 60 women of my own age bopping on the dance floor with remarkable abandon for 9pm on a Monday night, and all before I could finish my pork medaillons!
The solitary retreat suite
The other notable upgrade on this trip was in Schwerin, in a historic half-timbered coaching inn famous for its wine cellar. Once again I had paid for a basic single (somewhat more than in the castle, admittedly), and this time I was upgraded to an enormous suite that occupied the entire roofspace of one wing. It was 39 paces end to end, which is a lot, even if like me you take relatively mincing steps. As well as a bathroom and twin bedroom, I had a dressing area, a walk in closet and a living room furnished with a three piece suite, wing arm chair and foot stool, writing desk and office chair, and a dining table set for two. I spent a lot of time in this suite as you can imagine, returning to it at intervals through the weekend to take naps and generally luxuriate on every last item of upholstered furniture. The hotel was disappointed in me as a guest, however, for I failed to take the 12 euro breakfast on both mornings, never mind eat in their (doubtlessly pricey) restaurant.
The forbidden chippy
The accommodation that amuses me the most looking back is the room above a pub I stayed in in Bergen-op-Zoom. My landlady was a dead ringer for Pat Butcher out of EastEnders, and the bar was chaotically stuffed full of knickknacks and random bits of Victoriana, or whatever the Dutch equivalent might be - Wilhleminana?? My room overlooked the fire escape and was furnished with a squashy but ripped black leather armchair. There was a bit of a kitchenette, with a sink and fridge and microwave, above which was affixed a notice, prohibiting deep frying in four languages. How this might have been accomplished in a microwave with no utensils was unclear.
Oh yes, I haven’t mentioned the Gummi bears yet, a German confectionery line ritualistically laid on guests’ pillows in hotels of pretty much any calibre.
As Wikipedia explains: "A Gummi bear is a small, rubbery-textured confectionery, similar to a jelly baby in English-speaking countries. The candy is roughly 2 centimetres (0.79 in) long and shaped in the form of a bear."
I got through many of these small packets on my trips – wherever I had a twin room I would obviously eat both – but I didn’t realise they came in so many varieties:
"The success of gummi bears has spawned many gummi animals and objects: rings, worms, frogs, snakes, hamburgers, cherries, sharks, penguins, hippos, lobsters, octopuses, apples, peaches, oranges, and even Ampelmännchen (a style of pelican crossing men specific to Berlin), Smurfs and spiders."
Yes, never mind the rooms, next time I want a Gummi bear upgrade to a more exotic creature!
Photo of Gummi bears from erdbeerlounge.de, all other photos my own