Monday, January 14, 2013

But First a Word about the Hotel

We just got back from Bath. It is an amazing place. You must go visit it immediately. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Back so soon? Wasn’t it grand? Well, before we start exchanging snapshots (and believe me, I have plenty) I want to tell you about the hotel.

The Lansdown Grove Hotel is a marvelous place with grand views, bright rooms and a staff of polite and accommodating Eastern Europeans. The food was superb, the atmosphere convivial and the overall impression one of olde worlde charm. I highly recommend it.

This was the same hotel my wife and a few of her friends stayed in while she left me without adult supervision back in October and I was, therefore, aware of the dinner routine, which basically assigned you to a table where you sat for the remainder of the week. This worked fine on day one, but on the second day, there was another couple in our seats!

In looking back, I am sure what happened was that this couple had come into the dining room only to find their own table occupied, forcing them to take a different one. The people at their table, naturally, had also likely been deposed from their rightful seats by another deposed couple. All of this could have been traced back to a single, negligent couple who just swooned in and took the first table to strike their fancy. The cheek!

But instead of ferreting them out, we just took a vacant table, no doubt deposing yet another hapless couple. For the remainder of the week, anarchy reigned.

Another notable dining room feature was Natasha. This isn’t her real name, but she never wore her name tag so, really, it’s her fault I have to stoop to stereotyping. Anyway, Natasha was a perfectly lovely young woman, tall, slender, blonde, with an admirable grasp of the English language. But she hailed from one of the half-dozen countries that sprung up like mushrooms after the disintegration of the Evil Empire and, with her rapid-fire speech and thick, Soviet accent, you tended to feel like you were being interrogated by the KGB rather than engaging in polite banter.

When Natasha asked, “Did you enjoy your meal?” she asked it in a way that made you certain, “YES! Very much!” was the only acceptable answer, at least if you wanted to see your wife and children again.

The rooms were bright and airy and well appointed. Ours even came with a balcony and a stunning view. The balcony was a shared walkway, but it was still a nice feature and would have made a lovely place for morning coffee if it hadn’t been so cold.

The coolest thing was, the bathroom was also on the balcony, and it also had balcony doors and a stunning view. A loo with a view, so to speak.

The Loo with a View
My only regret was that the balcony doors in the loo didn’t open; so, although I was allowed an expansive view of the outside world, I was denied the authentic hug of Mother Nature. Pity, that.

The View from the Loo

It was not, however, without its flaws.
Overall, however, the room, like the hotel, was comfort personified; nothing, it seemed, was too good for the guests, which leads me to the bed.

It wasn’t that the bed had a duvet; that I can forgive. For those of you unfamiliar with this device, a duvet—or Continental Quilt, as they are sometimes called—is an all-in-one bed covering and is basically a quilt that you can skin. The business portion of the duvet is a big bag made out of sheets and the quilty bit is a naked quilt that fits inside of the bag. This makes it a snap—literally—to make the bed; all you need to do is grab one side of the duvet, shake it and smooth it over the mattress.

The drawbacks become apparent when you need to wash the sheet bag, which means you have to manhandle the quilty bit out of the sack and then into another sheet bag. This is no easy task, I am here to tell you, but all in all that wouldn’t put me off of them if they weren’t saddled with a fatal design flaw that people (e.g. those who run hotels and boarding houses and who don’t actually have to use them) continue to pretend doesn’t exist: they are terribly uncomfortable to sleep under.

The astute among you have already figured this out from the clue “all-in-one.” If you are covered with a duvet and happen to be sleeping somewhere above the arctic circle between the end of September and beginning of April in a room with the windows open, you will likely be very comfortable; anywhere else, not so much.

When you are covered with the duvet, you sweat like a pig strapped to a barbecue spit. So you throw it off (or, in my wife’s case, pile it on top of your husband) but soon find it is too chilly in nothing but your Winnie-the-Pooh Underoos and, in desperation, devise some method whereby you use 3/5 of your right leg and your left arm up to the elbow as a sort of heat sink for the rest of your body.

This (and the aforementioned quilty bit wrangling) is why my wife and I have gone back to the old-fashioned, inefficient method of a sheet, blanket and bedspread. But I don’t fault the hotel for using them; the savings in time and materials is far too tempting to pass up. No, I fault them for the pillows.

I refer to them as “pillows” only for the sake of clarity, because calling them “pillows” is an insult to pillows. They were, in reality, just pillowcases with a rectangular hunk of some flattened, harden substance inside, providing all the comfort of a doormat. We checked the crannies (and the nooks) in the room and did find the back-up pillows, but all that did was provide us with the luxury of resting our heads on two doormats.

This truly mystified me, because everything else about the place spoke of luxury and customer satisfaction. It’s as if the guy in charge of ambiance went over the hotel accoutrements in this manner: “period wallpaper – check; linen table cloths – check; realistic-looking faux fireplaces – check; French windows and balconies off the bathrooms – check; comfortable bed pillows – um, we seem to be running out of money, just stick some old roofing tiles in a sack, they’ll never know the difference.”

It made for such an uncomfortable night that I felt like going out to the local British Home Stores, buying a couple of puffy pillows and pointedly walking though the lobby with them. I didn’t, and that’s just as well; no one would have caught my meaning.

But, as noted earlier, Bath is lovely, and the Lansdown Grove Hotel, for the most part, exceeded expectations and I heartily recommend you stay there.

But you might think about bringing your own pillows.


  1. I heartily agree with you about duvets. I usually have to rearrange the sheet and quilt several times a night to "wick away" excessive body heat. When I toured England several years ago, the mattress was lumpy so I slept on top of the duvet and was quite comfortable with just the sheet over me. Your hotel sounds like a much nicer place--despite the pillows.

    1. Yes, despite my carping, the hotel was very nice. But, yeah, the pillows...

  2. Awesome review, Michael! Even if I never get to this hotel, I feel better just for reading your description.

  3. Mrs Baum6:07 AM

    I went to uni in Bath and loved it there. It's the only place I've ever lived where I really felt at home, and I'd love to move back.
    What did you do there? Please email me with long descriptions of everything about the city!

    So, this loo. Could someone walk past, then, while you were in residence, so to speak? Not sure I'd fancy that, especially if you were trying to reach that loo roll at the time!

    Duvets are great, though. The trick is to get one of those all- seasons ones that have a thin summer one and a warmer one that button together for the winter. I love mine.

    1. Mrs Baum, the next post will be photos of the town -- along with my commentary. Should be up by Friday.

    2. And, yeah, people could -- in theory -- walk by the loo at any time, but it would have been unlikely. It sort of added an element of suspense ;)