When we last left our intrepid and digitally-savvy travellers, they had just discovered that the free in-room wifi that had determined their choice of budget hotel in London was only available to guests on the 1st and 2nd floors, while their room was on the 4th.
I was still learning to live with Fawlty Towers‘ poorly chosen wireless router location (the basement of a five-story Victorian-era building…who does that?!) the next morning when, while looking for a weather forecast, I discovered that our 12-inch TV had no remote and really lousy reception. Of the four channels it received, one had a perennially fuzzy picture and another inexplicably popped or buzzed and changed volume (either too loud or too soft) of its own accord.
Shortly after this Dr. Darling emerged from the shower walking like she’d been on horseback for 24 hours straight. Turns out that one of the ingredients in the “least-manly-smelling” shampoo/body wash we’d bought at Boots the day before was menthol…which is not especially kind to lady parts. (“Cooling” my arse! Literally.)
The Swede also thought her allegedly clean towel smelled funny and refused to use it, and I since couldn’t get the phone in this room to work either, getting a new one was going to involve scaling multiple flights of stairs in search of Manuel-Basil. Needless to say, our stay at Fawlty Towers was getting more tragically comical by the minute! At least the sheets were clean and the twin beds were tolerably comfortable. And because we had wall-to-wall activities planned for the entire five days, we actually didn’t spend much time there other than when we were sleeping or showering with the tingly man soap.
On our last night, we came back from dinner to find a note on our door from Manuel-Basil saying he needed to speak to us. When I tracked him down in the basement breakfast room (which was evidently lead-insulated since the wireless network didn’t work in there, either) he said that the vacationing hotel owner had called from Italy and had no record of our payment…which was really weird since we had provided the Swede’s Visa card number when we made the reservation on the 1st of March.
I climbed the stairs back up to the the room to report this to Dr. Darling, who after thinking about it for some minutes realized that she actually could not recall seeing that the money had been pulled from her bank account, but she couldn’t swear it hadn’t been either, and we sure as hell did not want to pay for our crappy stay TWICE. Checking the account should have been a simple matter…except that we are not in the habit of travelling with the special high-security pass-code number generating gizmo our bank provides for its internet services, so we could not get to the information online even if we’d had access to wifi.
Our only option was to call our bank first thing in the morning, pray we could get through to a real live person (a challenge in virtually any large Swedish organization…I suspect that 70% of the country’s economy is managed by elaborately menued voicemail systems) and then hope that person was willing to verify the payment (or lack thereof) over the phone. And of course that phone call (and ensuing interminable wait on hold) had to be made on my iPhone at outrageous international mobile phone rates, because the landline in our room would not make external calls even if it had been working.
As we got ready for bed I could see the Swede fretting, I assumed over the prospect of trying to get the bank to cooperate with her in the morning.
“Don’t worry, Sweetie,” I said. “It’s not like you’re asking them to send you money. You’re not even asking for the balance on the account…just to verify a specific transaction. I’m sure they’ll help out.”
“It’s not that,” she sighed. “I’m just afraid that we’ll find out we haven’t paid yet, which means we could have stayed somewhere else.”
“Yeah, I’m trying really hard not to think about that.”
But wait…there’s more!