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Apr 10 2010

Easter at Fawlty Towers, Part 1

There’s no getting around the fact that London is an expensive city.  As such, we tend to go with the most economical accommodations we can tolerate whenever we visit. The one exception to this rule took place during our last trip (November of 2008) when we splashed out for a 4-star hotel during a whirlwind theater weekend…but this was ONLY because Dr. Darling found an extremely good packaged deal AND we were staying just one night.

For our Easter trip, we would be in the city over four nights, which meant it was back to budget-style accommodations. This isn’t usually a problem for us since our requirements are pretty modest; the hotel has got to be clean, located within walking distance of a Tube station, and in a safe neighborhood. That’s pretty much it.

But after getting reamed for internet access at a Chicago hotel last Christmas and knowing full well how expensive it would be to use data roaming on my iPhone outside Sweden, I decided to add one further requirement to the list: free in-room wifi. This narrowed our options down considerably. Lots of hotels offer free wifi in the lobby, but very few make it available in the rooms without charging ridiculous prices for it. After a good bit of research I found three hotels that fit the bill, and booked the least expensive of the trio in deference to my spendthrift Swede.

Our first clue that perhaps the Albro House Hotel (AKA Fawlty Towers) wasn’t all it advertised occurred upon our arrival when the fill-in holiday manager had no idea who we were and clearly wasn’t expecting us. Fortunately we had printed out the confirmation e-mail we received after submitting Dr. Darling‘s credit card info, which stated the dates of our stay and the price of the room. In our minds we not only had a firm booking, but it had also been paid for over a month in advance.

The temporary proprietor (who was more Manuel than Basil Fawlty, but with a not-easily-identifiable Eastern European accent) kept telling us it was “no problem” despite being clearly perplexed over what exactly he was going to do with us. After much staring at his reservation book he said he could offer us a room on the top floor (five flights up, NO ELEVATOR), but there was a small issue with the electricity. The ceiling lights weren’t working at the moment, which wasn’t a big deal in bedroom (where there were other functional lamps) but was definitely a problem in the tiny bathroom since the ceiling light was the only illumination in it. Still, he thought it was just a matter of a fuse needing to be changed and that he’d have it fixed by the time we were back in the evening.

So we crossed our fingers, dropped our backpacks and headed out to meet some friends for lunch, as well as buy some bodywash/shampoo, because in the brief moments I did spend in the darkened closet of a bathroom, I realized that neither was provided, and we intentionally hadn’t packed any since we expected that it would be. WRONG.

Here’s a little bit of trivia for you…evidently the bodywash/shampoo combination product isn’t quite as popular in the UK as it is in Sweden. When we finally found it in a Boots pharmacy, there were only two types to choose from…neither one featuring what I would call a gender-neutral scent. Oh well. It had to be better than the tiny squares of bar soap waiting for us back at Fawlty Towers.

Other than that little challenge, we had a fabulous afternoon and evening out and about with our friends. But upon returning to the hotel and climbing the five flights of stairs up to our attic room, we found the lights still not working. I picked up the phone to call Manuel-Basil, but he didn’t answer (which may have been because the phone wasn’t working either…I never did figure that out) so I trudged all the way back downstairs to his basement office. He had promised he would move us if he couldn’t get the lights to work…and he was good on his word, sending us one floor down to a room with a larger, nicer bathroom.

Things were definitely looking up until we learned that because the wifi router was in the basement, the wireless network did not extend beyond the 2nd floor. WTF?! In-room wifi was the main reason we chosen the friggin’ hotel. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that this Fawlty Towers didn’t even have a lobby, so the only place I could use the network was sitting on the stairs between the 1st and 2nd floors, which was so inconvenient and uncomfortable (for both me and the other guests using the narrow staircase) that I didn’t get the laptop out of its case the entire time we were there. (Though I did occasionally send and receive e-mail on my iPhone as we climbed or descended the first two flights of stairs.)

 …to be continued!

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Feed my ego!

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