mardi 24 juin 2008

Killing me softly with surcharge










Has anyone noticed that as hotel rooms have gotten smaller in the US, hidden hotel surcharges have gotten bigger? When you go to Paris, you expect your hotel room to be the size of a French postage stamp. That's part of the experience, or so my friends who visited me there would tell me. I think I lived there for so long in part because I did not want to have to experience Paris in a room the size of that stamp, which is smaller than a typical US postage stamp.
On the other hand, when the average visitor comes to Paris, it is not to hang out in his or her hotel room. It is to hang out in restaurants, visit museums, shop, soak up culture and walk all over town, stopping in one of the many parks that make Paris such a welcoming place.
Portland, Oregon has its charms, but Paris it is not. And yet our hotel room was so small. There was no room to swing that proverbial cat, which was a good thing because we were traveling with a dog. And our dog was treated like the queen she is. The doormen opened the doors for her; everyone gushed over her, asking for her name and race (can you imagine if we did this for people? asked for a racial rundown?) and giving her affectionate pats on the tummy. She encourages and accommodates this gesture by immediately lying on her back and looking up adorably. Soon after we got to our broom closet -- I mean our room -- Neko's welcome pack was delivered: a big cushion (so she wouldn't sleep on the bed, nice try), a package of doggie pepperoni, a white plastic bone, a stuffed toy that looked like a misshapen pancake or a catcher's glove but was neither, some plastic bowls and some plastic poop scoop bags. One reason Neko slept on the bed (aside from the number one reason, which is that she always sleeps on the bed) was that it filled the entire room. One of us had to be sitting on it at all times; otherwise, nobody could get to the bathroom, the closet or even the door.
And what is it with mini-bars? Not that I would ever pay 6.50 for a small bottle of water, or 8.00 for a hunk of chocolate...But since when are mini-bars so well-stocked that you can't close them or fit a can of dog food inside? Oh, wait, I get it. This discourages people from buying a small bottle of water or an apple for 50 cents from the corner grocery store and sticking these items in the mini-bar instead of consuming its contents. How clever!

We brought our laptops from Seattle so we could check our email or look up local addresses. Next time, they will stay at home. The daily wifi connection fee is 10 dollars. And to think I was shocked when the Starbuck's in Paris charged me 4 bucks a day! I should have thanked them. I suppose the business center offered free access, but still, and then again maybe not. Because the guiding principle is: if you can charge for something, by all means do so. You have a captive audience that has already paid for the room.

This applies to the bedside telephone as well. TREAT IT AS A DECORATIVE OBJECT. I didn't test the waters this time, but have learned from recent experience that every time you touch that dial, or even look at the receiver, it will cost you more than 5 dollars.
I understand why many people prefer to rent furnished studios or apartments when they travel. You may not get that 20 dollar continental breakfast, but you get a kitchen with an empty refrigerator that is bigger than a mini-bar. You may not get maid service, but you get to move freely about your space without tripping over your suitcase or bumping into a door that has to be left open at all times to create the illusion of roomy comfort.

One August I visited Sweden. It was the perfect time to be there, because Swedes generally take the month off, which means that business travelers from the world over stay away from Stockholm. As a result, the fabulous hotels that are usually out of the price range of mere mortals slash their rates. And Sweden is not Europe's number one vacation destination, so it is easy to find such accommodation. I paid less than what we did for the broom closet last weekend to stay at the Diplomat hotel, generally considered one of the best in Stockholm.

It was splendid: the room had two double beds, a sitting area, and a small terrasse overlooking the harbor. The bathroom and toilet were separate, and the bathroom featured a shower and a bathtub. The room had a CD player, with a wide selection of CDs available at no extra charge from the lobby. The floor was hardwood. The fitness room was like the WAC. And yes, there were chocolates on the pillows every night.

But the best place I have ever stayed is Karen and Joe's guest cabin on their property in Northern California. They're coffee roasters (try their Gold Coast coffee; it is the best), and they live on the well-named Lost Coast. They are only 35 miles from Eureka, but it takes an hour-and-a-half to get to their place from there. The desolate road leading to their pristine paradise is deserted but dangerous. Around every dark bend, the Pacific Ocean comes into view. The beaches stretch for miles and miles.

Karen and Joe lived in their guest cabin (first photo after the French postage stamp) while they were building their own house. The shower is in the kitchen, just below the sleeping loft (it has a mirror on the outside, last photo above), which can only be reached via a ladder. It is probably a little bigger than a postage stamp, but not much. And yet...you are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by green silence, broken only by the soft rush of the nearby ocean, which you can see. You don't need to open the bathroom door to create the illusion of space. Anyway, this would be impossible because the bathroom is an outhouse. Karen told us to look before sitting down to make sure no wild animal had built a nest in there. This had a radical impact on my elimination strategy. We had no television and could not get the CD player to work. But we had music and visual distraction all around us. See for yourself in the third image above.