February 18, 2004

The Abyss

The first part of our journey to Texas took us to the environs of Gatwick Airport. Because the flights to Houston leave in the morning, we had to stay nearby overnight. As is our custom, we searched Expedia for the best deal.

In selecting overnight accommodation, I forgot two important rules: price isn't everything and don't go where you've had a previous bad experience. When I picked up Mrs H and child at Gatwick in December as they returned from their trip to Texas, the best deal I found was at the Ibis Hotel, so I took it. Mrs H and I had noticed this before on Expedia but had stayed elsewhere. Mrs H isn't particularly good at deciphering the pronounciation of names and instead of calling it the /ī'-bĭs/ she called it the /ə-bĭs'/.

She was more accurate than we thought. The amazing thing is why I didn't remember this from my previous visit. I think my memory focused on the unannounced fact that in the morning is important to return the little folded piece of paper in which the credit card style key is tucked. Otherwise, the hotel guest is liable to be charged for a £4.75 breakfast which they have never seen. My serendipitous discovery of this small print and my complaint to the desk clerk became my principle recollection.

I forgot all about the bed. When we arrived, Mrs H's shock at the compact size of the room and the interesting character of the lavatory/shower facilities was superceded by her assessment of the bed. It appeared to have a little give, but she discovered that this was actually the duvet, not the mattress. In her enlarged condition, Mrs H has a difficult time getting comfortable on the best of mattresses. This would portend a sleepless night ahead.

I forgot all about the pillows. They were about as thick as my laptop, but not quite as soft. There was only one on the bed when we arrived, but I found that the staff had thoughtfully placed another on the shelf in the corner of the room.

We had requested a child cot when we booked the room. I had to go with the desk clerk to the storage closet on the next floor to retrieve the flimsiest infant travel cot I have ever seen and then set it up myself. This occupied all of the floor space in the room.

I'm not suggesting that Mrs H complained about the situation. However, it does remind me of a plaque we later saw hanging up in the hall of our friends' house: "If Mama ain't happy... ain't nobody happy."

You would think that the fact that at before 6:00 pm the hotel "restaurant" only had (undoubtedly microwavable) chicken Balti for £5.75 remaining from its list of five possible entrées might be another negative. Instead, the driver of the courtesy van from the airport warned us that the food was inedible and that we should eat at the pub adjoining the hotel five minutes walk down the road. He was right.

We may have had to walk in the cold and misting rain, skirting puddles and pushing the pram over uneven surfaces, but the meal was excellent. Certainly the highlight of the evening. The prices on most of the menu were a little stratospheric, but even the items down in the breathable part of the atmosphere were tasty.

I had the fish and chips, and just as I expected the barman taking my order initially thought I was another America tourist trying quintessential British cuisine. I assured him that I was quite an established resident and my selection was based upon affordability and not quaintness. Once my credibility was established I learned that we had more in common. We both have trans-Atlantic marriages.

Back at the hotel, and unlike Mrs H, I managed to get a few hours of sleep. We had booked places on the 6:30 am "courtesy" van (which, though free to the hotel, cost £2 each back to the airport). We arrived at reception at exactly 6:30 to watch the van pull away. The 7:00 trip was fully booked, so we had to get a taxi, thus eating up all of the savings we had from not staying at a hotel with mattresses.

The Ibis is a world-wide chain with 670 hotels in 36 countries. My advice: be safe and avoid any of them. I would recommend staying at one of the other chains also owned by the 4000-hotel Accor group, such as Red Roof Inns or Motel 6. After all, at Motel 6 they'll probably not try to charge you for a breakfast you haven't been served and you are almost guarranteed a mattress.

Posted by david at February 18, 2004 03:35 AM | TrackBack