Hotel reviews

All of the following hotel reviews can also be found on Trip Advisor and they were all written during 2014 and 2015 by yours truly. If you want to read my reviews on Trip Advisor, click here.

Best Western Cutlers Hotel, Sheffield, UK
A short cab journey brought me to the Best Western Cutlers Hotel on George Street in Sheffield. The receptionist was friendly and soon I was checked in to my room (room 203 on the second floor). The elevator was slow and I wished I’d taken to the stairs instead, but soon it arrived with a dull thud and I quickly found my room.

Room 203 was fine: a huge bed (two singles pushed together) a decent bathroom with proper taps – none of that designer rubbish offered by so many hotels, but proper taps with 'hot' and 'cold' written on them AND a plug on the end of a chain. Perfect! I wouldn't have to spend hours working out which was hot and which was cold and I wouldn't need a degree in mechanical engineering to figure out how to depress the plug and stop the water from leaving the sink.

WiFi was free, there was a flatscreen television on the wall – after dinner with a colleague in Bill's near Millennium Square I watched the BBC news – and then, after a broken night (I rarely sleep well in hotels) I began to look forward to the breakfast room, which was located in the basement. I'm so glad I didn't have dinner in the hotel's restaurant because it completely lacked atmosphere and, because of this, there was nobody else dining there. Bill's provided much-needed hubbub, and by that I mean other diners, people, music, laughter, everything that my hotel restaurant lacked.

I was hoping that the hotel breakfast would deliver something special, but it didn't. For a start the room was horribly bright and white and there were supposedly 'trendy' distressed park benches and tables and a meagre self-service option at the far end of the room. Brightness of this magnitude simply doesn't work in a hotel breakfast room, in my opinion. It was like being in the garden furniture section of a large garden centre – not an ideal place to enjoy the first meal of the day.

Boxed cereal, tinned fruit and a banana-flavoured yoghurt: that was the offering in front of me, but a waitress eventually appeared and took my order from a small menu on the table: scrambled egg, toast and fried mushrooms. I realised that fried mushrooms were no longer my thing. I don't mind them raw in a salad or as part of, say, a cheese salad sandwich, but fried: ugh! Greasy and slippery mushrooms are simply not pleasant.

The most irksome thing about the breakfast was a dirty cereal bowl. Without my glasses on I mistook the dried food stuck on the inside of the bowl for some kind of logo – how foolish and stupid am I? It turned out to be dried food. Unfortunately I had already tipped my bran flakes into the bowl and added the milk, so I persevered, but vowed to check everything else that came my way. Fortunately it was a one-off mistake, but it made me feel doubly relieved that I had opted for Bill's last night and not the hotel restaurant. In fact, I should have gone to Bill’s for breakfast.

Right now, rather than use my own lap top in the room, I am sitting at a wooden table just off the main staircase using the hotel's computer (a PC). Other than the aforementioned dirty bowl, the Cutlers Hotel was pleasant. I get the feeling that it was once an office building, and not a purpose-built hotel, as the main staircase screamed 'office block'. There's a large stained glass window that runs from the top to the bottom of the main stairwell and a carpet matching the window's design.

This isn't a 'grand hotel' but it's fairly pleasant, and bang in the centre of Sheffield. Despite its central location, it's quiet and peaceful and 'off the beaten track' but only minutes on foot from the Crucible Theatre and Millennium Square where all the decent restaurants are to be found: Cosmo, Smoke Barbecue, Piccolino's, Cafe Rouge, Brown's, Pizza Express and, of course, Bill's.

A brief word about Bill's. I remember visiting the first ever outlet in Lewes, East Sussex, back in the days when Bill's was simply an independent restaurant – circa 2010. I went there with Miles Jenner, head brewer and managing director of Harveys of Lewes, a fantastic, traditional brewer of fine English cask ales (my description, not theirs). Harveys of Lewes brews a beer specifically for Bill's – or it did back in 2010. The outlet in Lewes, East Sussex, was everything one might expect from an independent restaurant: pine tables and a traditional but quirky menu catering for all needs and meal occasions. I was surprised to hear that expansion was on the cards for Bill's, but a few months, possibly a couple of years later, I visited Bill's in Leamington Spa and then yesterday here in Sheffield, and all was well. Last night I ordered roast chicken with sweet potato fries and a couple of glasses of Merlot, rounded off with a light pecan pie and a cup of tea. My colleague enjoyed a rack of ribs. Why they thought I would be capable (alone) of drinking a huge pot of tea just before bedtime I don't know, but I do know that it contributed in some small way to my broken night's sleep. That comment about 'catering for all needs and meal occasions' rung true of the Sheffield Bill's as, in addition to dinner there were lunch and, indeed, breakfast offerings on the menu.

Best Western President Hotel, Berlin
Berlin is a great city and its greatness begins when the plane comes to a halt at the gate at Tegel airport. 

I found it odd, having said goodbye to the BA crew and stepping on to the jetty that links the plane to the terminal building, that I was already stuck in a queue of some sort. I soon realised that the reason for the hold-up was passport control, which was quite literally at the end of the jetty. 

Behind passport control was the baggage reclaim, behind that the customs, and then, no more than a few yards from customs, I was on the taxi rank. In other words, from the plane to the taxi was no more than a matter of yards. And the closeness of everything continued as I soon discovered it was only 25 Euros by cab to my hotel, the Best Western Hotel President.

Talk about a perfectly located hotel! The Best Western Hotel President had a metro station no more than five minutes away (Wittenberg Platz); it had shops (including an Apple Store and all the big brands you can imagine) no more than 10 to 15 minutes away (on foot) and there were a fair few restaurants too.

The front desk is, arguably, the most important place for any hotel as it's where the customer gets his or her first impressions of the place. My first impression was that the Best Western Hotel President was going to be good. Why? Because the check-in was not only friendly, but efficient and soon I was standing in front of the elevator waiting to take myself and my suitcase to room 416, which was a pretty standard room, but nevertheless a perfectly functional room with decent WiFi, a decent TV, perfect bathroom – a kind of wet room – and a comfortable bed.

It was, however, another hotel without a restaurant and I know that, in previous reviews, I've mentioned this and have been in two minds as to whether 'no restaurant' is a good or a bad thing. I think, in fairness, that it's a good thing as it gets you out on the streets sampling the delights of the city and in Berlin's case it's all good. From the hotelier's point of view it's a good thing too as why should they have to compete with those who specialise in being restaurateurs? There has, as I've also said before, always been a stigma attached to the hotel restaurant. Many people don't use them because they dislike dining and breakfasting in the same space. So why have one?

I'm not going to criticise the Best Western Hotel President for not having a restaurant as it meant that I got to experience a decent Italian restaurant (Antica Roma) and an equally decent Vietnamese restaurant (Lien in Berlin).

In fact, the only confusing thing about the President's 'restaurant' was the fact that it did exist and was available to large parties, but not individuals like yours truly. Confusing because I was told there wasn't a restaurant (and there wasn't) but then, in the evenings, I could see people dining there. It wasn't a big problem and it also doubled as the breakfast room. Breakfast, incidentally was good as there was plenty of choice for all tastes. I always had cereal, yoghurt and fresh fruit, but everything else was available too.

Another great thing about the hotel (although it was by no means rare in Berlin) was bicycle hire. Yes, there were 'Boris Bikes' but why bother with them when most hotels offered their own bikes for hire and Berlin is an extremely bicycle-friendly city? I hired bike 3113 for 12 Euros and rode through the amazing Tiergarten to the Reichstag and the central railway station and back.

Check-out was as easy as check-in, all the front desk staff were impeccable and the hotel was ideally located bang in the centre of the city, not a million miles from anywhere.

I would definitely stay at this hotel again should I find myself back in Berlin and I would recommend it to anybody.

The Schnellenberg Hotel, Dusseldorf
My first experience of the Schnellenberg hotel in Dusseldorf was as a dinner guest of a colleague in October 2013. I distinctly remember what looked like an unassuming establishment from the outside turning into a very pleasant experience inside: one of those moments when I wished I’d booked a room myself.

The Schnellenberg is a low, squat, almost boring building lounging on the banks of the Rhine. Its restaurant (which doubles as the breakfast room) offers wonderful views of the river except during the winter when all you will see over dinner is yourself reflected in the large picture windows.

If you have business in Dusseldorf’s ‘Messe’ or, indeed, its convention centre, the Schnellenberg is the place to be because it’s across the road and will take you all of five minutes to reach your destination. An added bonus is its close proximity to the airport – or flughafen, as they say in Germany. In short, it’s very convenient.

Check-in was quick and straightforward and I was directed to my room, which, rather disappointingly, was outside.

Whenever the word ‘outside’ is mentioned in a hotel context my heart drops. I've just come from 'outside' I don't want to go back out there! Show me to the elevator, tell me the number of the floor. "That's room 608 on the sixth floor, sir." But oh no! My room was 'outside'. “Follow the white wall and turn right and then walk down the stairs”. It was like something out of No Country for Old Men or My Name is Earl.

The room (room 27), however, was fine, although I hate – with a vengeance – rooms on the ground floor that open out onto the 'street' so to speak, as I never planned on staying in a ‘motel’. The room opened out into the fresh air, the outside world, not a hotel corridor, and I don't particularly like that because it means that people can, if they so wish, linger outside my hotel room in the early hours and, if the curtains aren't drawn, even peer in and watch me sleeping – and I don't want that.

There are paper-thin blinds that are see-through, meaning that if you're outside loitering with intent – and the curtains are not drawn – it is possible to look in at the person in the room. .

But outside of that problem it's not too bad. I felt mildly inconvenienced when the hotel receptionist didn't give me the WiFi details before packing me off 'outside' to seek out my room (I had to go back 'outside' to ask for the code) but other than that it's very nice.

Roomy – now there's a good word – a decent bathroom with a walk-in (as opposed to a step-in) shower, a sink with a proper plug, everything works.

There’s a mini bar, a decent-sized wardrobe, flatscreen TV and so on; nothing to complain about.

There were 52 television channels, but only CCTV News was in English. CCTV News is some kind of Africa-centric channel, a kind of African CNN or BBC World.
Dinner was wonderful – prawns to start (a little tasteless) followed by cod with polenta and a raspberry mousse dessert. Throw in a glass or two of Malbec and a large bottle of mineral water and I was at peace with the world.

At breakfast I was able to take full advantage of the Schnellenberg's riverside location. I sat there, having collected everything I thought I'd need – cereal, fresh fruit, a pastry, scrambled egg and a pot of tea – and watched these huge barges pass by; they were passenger barges, designed for river cruises, and they were very long. Some had rooms so I'm guessing there are overnight river cruises along the Rhine; now that's something I'd like to do.

Viking River Cruises was one of the operators and there was another barge moored up on the bank below the hotel. At first I thought it was part of the hotel: extra rooms, perhaps; but soon its engines started to churn up the water and it disappeared up river.

On the opposite bank there were what looked like gently sloping 'sandy' banks that were almost beach-like in appearance. It was probably mud, not sand, but it didn't look very muddy and I'm guessing that in the summer people might enjoy lying there, taking in some rays, but it was mid-November and the 'beaches' were deserted.

Breakfast was pleasant enough and so was dinner. The entire bill was just 189 Euros and I later returned for an excellent lunch of soup followed by salmon and another couple of glasses of Malbec. Perfect! And yes, I would return.

The Warwick Allerton Hotel, Chicago, USA

Arriving at a hotel is always a little surreal. Normally, after a day or two – if I’m staying for more than just one night – I familiarise myself with my surroundings and find it hard to view the hotel in the same way as when I first checked in.
The Warwick Allerton Chicago’s reception desk is on the second floor, meaning that first impressions of this wonderful hotel are a bit stilted at first, faced as I was with just a bank of elevator doors. But soon I found myself in the bustling part of the hotel where people checked in and where the main restaurant and bar is located. I must point out at this juncture that the restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, although hot food is available from the bar area until late in the night. There’s also room service.
Room 811, Warwick Allerton Hotel, Chicago, October 2015
The process of checking in was straightforward and there wasn’t much of a queue either, even if the coming weekend promised the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. A lot of the guests during my stay sported brightly-coloured trainers and had flown in from all over the place, including Ecuador, to take part. Animals only run if they have to, I recalled with a smirk.
I was given room 811, which was a pleasant space, tucked away down a small hallway of its own and very close to the elevator shaft. Within seconds of arrival on floor eight I was in my room.
The bathroom was perfect: a decent shower with a double cubicle, a sink that was just that – nothing ‘over-designed’ – and a decent desk on which to put the laptop and other stuff. My only initial hassle was that the power point on the side of the desk was difficult to access with my laptop charger due to the desk’s close proximity to the cabinet housing the minibar (which was fully stocked) and the ‘snacks drawer’ (similarly fully stocked). The desk was miles to heavy to move, but I struggled and eventually managed to plug in my computer.
There was a decent television, the WiFi (not free) worked perfectly and my only potential problem was the telephone. It didn’t work, not that I would have used it (I couldn’t, it was broken) but I would have used my iphone anyway so in a sense it was surplus to requirements.
The hotel’s business centre on the fourth floor was fantastic. Nothing overly fancy, just two workstations and a photocopier, but it all worked and I spent a fair amount of time  there writing my blog and answering emails.
Breakfast came with two options: the buffet or ordering from a menu. I chose the former and was offered fresh fruit (melon and pineapple) a choice of scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon and fried, cubed potatoes – they’re probably called something but I can’t remember what. There was triangular-cut cheese, porridge, bakery items, you name it and it was always an occasion I enjoyed as I had Mark Beaumont’s The Man Who Cycled the World to read. The service was spot on.
The other great thing about the Warwick Allerton is its location bang in the middle of Chicago’s shopping district on North Michigan Avenue and, wait for it, right next door to the city’s Apple Store. My favourite shop, although I can’t afford to buy myself an Apple watch, more’s the pity. In fact I wasn’t far from anywhere – the Chicago River was a ten- minute walk away, there was plenty of restaurants in the area, I really couldn’t have asked for more.
It was also a very friendly hotel. I felt that all the staff was on my side.
In short, there was nothing whatsoever to complain or moan about and I’d definitely return to the Warwick Allerton given half the chance. In fact, the next time I’m in the Windy City, I will return.

The Grand Hotel, Hartlepool, United Kingdom

Any hotel with an Indian restaurant has to be worthy of consideration. What can be better than an Indian meal without the hassle of having to drive home afterwards?

Hartlepool’s Best Western Grand Hotel is home to Mumbai, an Indian restaurant chain – according to the hotel’s receptionist – but whether a chain or an independent it has to be the way ahead for the British hotel industry when you consider that Indian food is the new steak and kidney pie.
Room 210 of the Grand Hotel, Hartlepool.

Normally when I stay in a hotel with a grand name – be it The Grand Hotel or the Majestic or something similarly lofty – I’m often disappointed, as the hotel tends not to deliver on some aspect implied by its name. I expect there to be rough edges. But while I strained my eyes to find something out of place or not in keeping with the word ‘grand’ I was hard-pushed to find anything worth mentioning.

The check-in was simple, the receptionist friendly. The room was way above expectation: large and roomy, everything worked, including the WiFi and the shower and the television (on which I watched Top Gear while waiting for my dinner companion). Could anything be better than this? Top Gear, a curry and a decent night’s kip? I was in hotel heaven.

The Grand Hotel Hartlepool is brilliant and I advise anybody embarking upon a trip to Teesside to consider it as a base for his or her stay in the North East. It lives up to its name; it has plenty of polished wood and creaky floors and a large stained glass window on the first floor landing – all classic ingredients of a ‘grand hotel’.

In addition to Mumbai, there’s a large sports bar – not my scene, but that’s beside the point. When I checked out the receptionist told me that there was an Italian restaurant prior to Mumbai’s arrival so I’m guessing that the food and beverage operation here has always been good.

Breakfast was good too, although I started to wonder, as I made my way downstairs, whether the most important meal of the day would be served in the Indian restaurant. I hoped not as I couldn’t face the smell of Indian food first thing in the morning. Fortunately, the hotel had thought this through; there was a dedicated (and very pleasant) breakfast room adjacent to the front desk on the ground floor.

As with most hotels there was a choice of a cooked breakfast or the continental offering of cheese, fresh fruit, bread and cereal. I opted for both but had as my cooked option scrambled egg on toast. Prior to this I had Coco Pops, tea, fresh fruit and a fudge-flavoured yoghurt. The breakfast service was friendly and unobtrusive, just the way I like it.

Checking out was also trouble-free. I left my suitcase behind the front desk and briefly explored the Middleton Grange shopping centre across the road – it’s the same as any other shopping centre (or mall) in the UK.

I enjoyed Hartlepool and could have done with an extra night at the Grand Hotel, as there’s plenty to explore in the locality. I suppose the only problem with spending more than one night is the thought of two Indian meals in a row, but there’s always the sports bar and I’m sure there are plenty of restaurants nearby too. Click here for more information.

Friends Hotel, Dusseldorf, Germany

The check-in was very efficient, but I was in Germany where everything works: trains are on time; and everybody seems to be driving a top-of-the-range German automobile.

 Having checked out the hotel website prior to leaving the UK, I knew what to expect: a quirky ‘boutique’ hotel. You know the deal: out-sized angle-poise lamps, whacky colours. I had two of the aforementioned lamps over either side of my bed, the wall behind the bed was a shocking orange, the curtains were bright purple and the carpet brightly-coloured stripes. I must have taken mind-altering drugs, but no, I hadn't. I didn't need to as this place was a kind of Korova Milk Bar and acid trip rolled into one.

Eager to sort out a digestive problem caused by two glasses of dark ale earlier in Bruges, I headed for the bathroom – a shocking bright white affair with a black and white framed photograph of Twiggy looking pleasantly surprised to see me – she had an even bigger surprise coming, I thought, as I gulped down a bottle of Evian mineral water – not complimentary – lit the blue touch paper, so to speak, and waited. It went smoothly bar a moment of panic when I thought I'd blocked the toilet. Horrific visions of calling up a member of staff to sort it out crossed my mind, but my fears were in vain as the water level receded.

Room 207 is a pleasant enough space if I ignore the bright colours, but everything works and the guy on the front desk had an adaptor! I charged my iphone and then, grabbing glasses, money and credit card, I headed outside to check on the restaurant scene... only to discover that I was in kebab land. Make that 'kebap' land. There were only men in the restaurants, groups of them in denims, trainers and open neck shirts exposing hairy chests. I could have been in Istanbul or the Yemen.

The following day: "Good morning, Twiggy," I said, preparing to answer the call of nature. She stared back with a ‘pleasantly surprised’ expression. What else could I expect from a framed black and white print of the sixties fashion icon that stared at me every morning – I was staying four nights –whenever I entered the bathroom. The photograph in question was life-sized – and nailed to the wall directly over the toilet. It was mildly disconcerting as the eyes followed me around and they stared at me when I was in the shower. It's one of the perils of staying in a 'boutique' hotel where 'quirkiness' is taken to another level.

Boutique hotels are the living embodiment of the phrase 'you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps'. They are the one place where interior designers ignore the golden rule of 'function before form'. How many times have I fallen victim to this? Bathroom sinks without plugs, scary mannequins, rooms that require an operator’s manual. Only the plug-less sink and the bright colours applied here.

Breakfast was not brilliant: everything was arranged as if an afterthought and crammed on to a shelf in front of the bar and on to a window sill. I missed the big bowls of fruit and dishes of raspberry or strawberry yoghurt commonly found in branded hotels, but there was little to complain about. Even the brightly-coloured room grew on me and now that I had found the perfect Italian restaurant – Da Bruno – about 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel – thanks to the guy on the front desk – I was made up.

What I did like was the guest book for room 207. I flicked through it and found an entry from Jan and Natalie – 'Lancashire Girls, UK' who lived in County Mayo in Ireland. They even drew a funny face! Their message was clear, that Friends Hotel was beautiful and had friendly staff and that the caff next door offered superb ice cream. They hoped to be back for longer soon.

I loved this hotel too. I liked the way the Buddha outside the window moved mysteriously around the rooftop below me; I loved the WiFi because it worked, the bed was comfortable, the shower worked perfectly. I was close to the central railway station, the staff were friendly and helpful. There was really nothing wrong with this place whatsoever. I’ll be back too!
Click here for more.

Sofitel Copacabana Beach, Avenida Atlantico, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Sofitel Copacabana – nice hotel, right on the beach
It’s funny how corporate hotels tend not to appeal until I find myself staying in one, but the Sofitel, which is yards from the famous Copacabana beach, has that little something extra and I’m really glad I found myself there last week on what was my first ever visit to Brazil.

The good stuff started from the moment I checked in, around 9.30pm on Sunday 15th March. Friendly service from the word go is crucial and the Sofitel didn’t disappoint. While I was, apparently, booked to stay on one of the hotel’s lower floors, the guy on the front desk moved me to the sixth floor (I assumed for a better view, not really sure, as the view wasn’t that great). But never mind.

The room was good but there were a few minor annoyances, the first being, well, let’s call it the ‘toilet observation window’. Fortunately I was alone in the room, but had I been, say, forced to share with a work colleague (impossible on this trip as I was travelling alone, but it can happen) then said colleague would be able to watch me answer the call of nature and, bearing in mind that I went down with a dose of the runs, it wouldn’t have been pleasant viewing. The big question from me to the management of the Sofitel Group would be why? Why knock a hole in the wall, put a window in its place and enable others that might be staying in the room to view my most personal of moments? Still, as I say, I was alone so in many ways, the TV was on, but nobody was watching.

Second problem: light switches. There were far too many of them and for most of my stay there was a light on over the mini bar that I couldn’t turn off because I couldn’t find the right switch…until my last day. Instead, I had to resort to turning off the master switch, plunging the room into total darkness.
Third problem: a glass desk can be a major hazard in the dark. With the master switch off, every time I walked to the bathroom I risked banging myself on the side of the desk, which was much harder to see than, say, a wooden one.

Fourth problem: the television didn’t work. I like hotels where, when you switch on the TV, it works; this one didn’t so for my entire stay I didn’t watch any TV. Not a major problem, but worth pointing out.

That’s all the problems, now to the good bits – of which there were many. The first good thing was the WiFi; not only did it work every time, it was fast and it was free. Second good thing was the mini bar – it was full – and the third good thing was the coat hangers in the wardrobe: they were proper ones and it was clear that the hotel trusted its guests. Fourth good thing: the entire room. Well, apart from the aforementioned ‘toilet observation window’ and also, while we’re back on negative points, the wardrobe was a little cramped. But overall I was very impressed and let’s not forget the balcony. In a hot country there’s nowt better, although to revert back once more to another negative point, I wanted to enjoy a cold beer from the minibar on the balcony but couldn’t because there was no bottle opener.
But let’s not beat around the bush. This was a fantastic hotel. The shower was amazing and so was breakfast downstairs in the Atlantico restaurant on the first floor – wow! Wonderful fresh fruits (papaya, mango, melon, guava, orange…you name it) and the lunchtime buffet was amazing too (don’t go for a la carte) and let’s not forget the view of Copacabana Bay.

There are two swimming pools, one round, one square, and a well-equipped gym and if you like a business centre (and who doesn’t?), the Sofitel has a really good one kitted out with comfy sofas, a decent flat-screen TV and the latest international newspapers.

If you want a decent hotel in Rio, stay here, as it’s unforgettable in so many respects. All the staff bar none was at the top of their game – their key qualities being friendliness, helpfulness and, of course, efficiency. Then there’s the location bang on the Copacabana beach. In fact, talking of the beach, the hotel has a selection of sun loungers and umbrellas for guests to enjoy, something I took full advantage of on day one. I even had a swim in the sea, and if you want to go on any trips, ask the concierge as there are many and they all start from the hotel.

This really is an all-singing, all dancing hotel of the highest order, ideal for both business and pleasure. Top marks to the Sofitel, but it must take note of those negative points.

Click here for more information.

Best Western Royal Centre, Brussels.

Best Western Royal Centre, Bruxelles
I’ve said it before, I know, but first impressions really do count and while I was looking forward to relaxing in my room at the Best Western Royal Centre hotel in Brussels recently, I was on a loser from the word go.

First, the receptionist informed me that there was no restaurant – only room service (and the menu didn’t look too appetising) – and yet the hotel had four stars plastered over the front door. Surely, four stars mean you get a restaurant? Not in the Best Western Royal Centre. Dare I call for a ‘level playing field’ on the star rating system in Europe?

I don’t know about you, but room service is never ideal. It’s ‘making do’, it’s the equivalent of a ‘working lunch’ or sitting at home with a tray on your lap, eating while watching television. I hate room service – surely, half of the attraction of staying away is eating in the hotel restaurant? – and I can’t stand it when I walk along a hotel corridor, en route to the elevators, and seeing plates of leftover food and soiled cutlery on a tray awaiting collection. Horrible! There’s breakfast, but that’s about it.

So I’m staying in room 506. Not a problem, but the door is a bit sticky. You might think I’m complaining unnecessarily and, to a degree, I am (we can all live with sticky door – for a while) but it was the second negative I associated with this particular hotel experience.

I’d travelled by Eurostar from London to Brussels (a pleasant trip) but I’d been wearing a suit all day and was glad to get to my room and take it off. However, I started to wonder whether the room was on a slope as the wardrobe’s sliding doors, separating me from a selection of unruly coat hangers, kept rolling back as if they were on a hill. To add insult to injury, as I tried to get the pesky hangers off the rail, the rail simply collapsed, taking with it all the hangers; they clattered noisily to the ground and I wondered if the noise was familiar to residents in nearby rooms – or, indeed, whether they had experienced the same thing.

Another problem was the WiFi. I wrote this review on Microsoft Word rather than rely upon the incredibily slow internet; there was a business centre downstairs, but I’m in my room and the last thing I want to do – at nearly 11pm – is go down five floors in the lift just to do a spot of writing.

The room was fine. It was a twin room. It was clean, had everything I needed, there was even a minibar! I’ve said it before that a full minibar means that the hotel trusts its guests and this minibar was full with drinks and, of course, a Toberlone – the chocolate equivalent of U2 (it’s SO international!). The phone worked, it was all very good except for the wardrobe with its sliding doors and dodgy rail.

I went out in search of a restaurant in which to eat dinner and after 20 minutes of wandering around resorted to a strange place called De Ultieme Hallucinatie – about 15 minutes on foot from the hotel. Not a good choice and now I wish I’d taken a chance on the flamboyant looking Bloom! Hotel’s restaurant, but alas, I endured slow, poor service, a menu I couldn’t understand and food I didn’t particularly enjoy – gooey lamb chops, sweaty vegetables and sticky potatoes. The only redeeming part of the meal was the Rochefort Trappist ale (11.5%). The bill with dessert came to EUR27.50.

Breakfast was fine and now I must check out. Would I stay here again? Yes, but I’d leave more time to find a decent place to eat – although the Bloom! Hotel might be next on my list. Having said that, how can a hotel plaster four stars over its doorway and not offer a decent restaurant? However, in its defence, a hotel without a restaurant means you have to explore the city, which ain’t a bad thing.

Best Western Royal Centre, Brussels – revisited
“Another problem was the WiFi. I wrote this review on Microsoft Word rather than rely upon the incredibily slow internet; there was a business centre downstairs, but I’m in my room and the last thing I want to do – at nearly 11pm – is go down five floors in the lift just to do a spot of writing.”

Yes, I’m back in Brussels and despite my fairly uncomplimentary review of the Best Western Royal Centre Hotel on this website some months back, probably about a year ago, I’m now in a position to be a little more friendly towards the place.

You may be wondering why I have put in a quote (see above) from my previous review. Well, because the problem persists: the wifi is not working and, right now, I’m resorting to writing my review, once again, using Microsoft Word. Later on I will upload it to Trip Advisor.

So, have things changed? Well, no, not really. Last time I was in Room 506 and this time I’m two floors higher – in room 704, which is opposite the lifts, but that fact doesn’t pose any real problems, it’s just that other guests on this floor see the door to my room before they see their own and somehow that bugs me. Not that anything untoward happened so I don’t really know why being in front of the elevators bothers me. Perhaps it’s because, for some reason, the last two or three hotels I’ve stayed in have put me in rooms opposite the lifts, leading me to wonder whether I’m the victim of some sort of conspiracy, and perhaps I feel a little exposed.

Anyway, room 704 is pleasant, it offers the same uninspiring views of other buildings across the street that room 506 offered, but two floors higher and, fortunately, it doesn’t have a clothes rail in the wardrobe that collapses when I go to use it. The bathroom is small, but it fits my needs, the shower is fine, everything works and the décor is pleasant. Similarly the main room is small (I prefer smaller rooms to be honest) there’s a double bed, a decent flat-screen Samsung television, all is well.

So this time my review is favourable. More favourable than the last time I stayed here and that’s because, instead of turning left out of the hotel to find a restaurant, I turned right, crossed the road and took the second turning on the left to where the girl on the front desk – the girl with such a strong tan that I figured it’s either fake or she’s been roasting herself in an oven – told me I would find some decent restaurants. She wasn’t wrong. I found an Italian pizzeria called Napoli on the Rue de l’Enseignment, 68, 1000 Bruxelles. I’ll say no more now, but there will be a separate review on this excellent place so look out for it.

The breakfast here at the Royal Centre is fine, but not brilliant and that’s simply because the choice is fairly limited, not that I was going to eat more had it been available. I had Coco Pops with milk, fresh fruit (it might have been tinned, not sure) a cup of tea and a croissant and that was it; there was little more to do than head back to the room and start writing this review.

Yes, I would stay here again if only to be close to Napoli where I might return for lunch, who knows?

Best Western Nordic Hotel Ambiente, Langenhagen, Germany.

At last I find a hotel with a restaurant. Normally, I’m told that there isn’t one and it’s always a bit of a disappointment. I tend to check into hotels in the early evening after a busy day, and I look forward to chilling in the hotel restaurant with a decent meal and a glass of wine. Instead, I regularly find myself wandering the streets of a strange town looking for a restaurant. Not today, as Buzz Lightyear might have said.

The Nordic Hotel Ambiente in Langenhagen – where CDs were first mass-produced and where Elrike Meinhoff was arrested in 1972 – near Hannover in Germany has a restaurant, but despite this, I still wandered out to see what was on offer. In fact, there’s a decent Italian restaurant somewhere but I can’t find it; I first stumble across a pub and then a Chinese restaurant so I headed back to the hotel for dinner.

Best Western Nordic Ambiente Hotel, Langenhagen
Armed with a copy of the Economist I ordered a salmon starter and a cod main course, not forgetting a wheat beer, and settled in for a relaxing evening reading about President Putin.
This is a good hotel. Let’s start with the check-in, which was fast, efficient and friendly. Within minutes I had my room card and soon I found myself in Room 210 on the second floor. They say little things please little minds and I was taken aback by, of all things, the wood-effect linoleum flooring because it looked like real wood. In the corridors they had the same pattern repeated but this time it was carpet (quite a design feat, I thought, resorting to touching it to confirm it was carpet and not linoleum).

I’m pleased to report that the Nordic Hotel Ambiente trusts its guests: there was a full minibar!  As for the bathroom, it was good to have a walk-in shower and not the usual shower-in-the bath set-up.
The WiFi worked fine, there was a decent flatscreen TV – but no British channels – so I switched off the light and fell asleep.

The next morning, last night’s hotel restaurant had a new identity. The bright sun was a contributory factor, but everything looked more colourful than last night, there were nightlights on bare tables and it took a lot of effort to re-imagine the white-tableclothed restaurant from last night.

I chose fresh fruit, yoghurt and muesli with a pot of tea and a couple of small croissants and then, after a walk around town (which is dominated by a pleasant shopping mall) I returned to the room to pack. Checkout was straightforward and soon I was on a tram heading for Hannover Hbf and a train to Brussels.

I liked the Nordic Hotel Ambiente for many reasons: the people on the front desk were friendly and helpful; the room was comfortable and the food and beverage options were good. I’d definitely return.

Best Western, Leidse Square, Amsterdam

One thing that continues to bug me about some hotels is the way they distrust their guests; this can be seen in many different ways, but two obvious examples are coat hangers that don’t have a ‘hook’ but a device that basically makes the hanger useless to any potential thief (ie, there’s no way it can be used to ‘hang’ clothes from). The second is the empty or locked mini bar. With the latter, especially if it’s locked, I always get a distinct feeling that somebody thinks I’m not to be trusted. In other words, I’m the sort of person that would ransack the minibar and then deny I consumed any of the contents when I check out the following morning or at the end of my stay. As for coat hangers, who would be so desperate?

Best Western Leidse Square, Amsterdam
But outside of these two obvious markers that pinpoint the hotel in question’s distrust of its clientele, there is something else that I find just as irksome. In many ways it’s the worst of the lot and it normally happens after I’ve made a few international telephone calls. The audacity in question is normally disguised by an envelope slid quietly under my hotel room door while I’m out or asleep, but normally a day or two BEFORE I check out – an unnecessary reminder that I owe them money and they haven’t forgotten.

However, what I found absolutely infuriating and downright insulting was the phone call I received from the front desk (who must have clocked me coming into the building). As soon as I arrived in my room the phone started to ring. It’s normally quite worrying when the hotel room phone rings, especially if nobody knows where I am bar my wife. While in one sense I was relieved to hear the voice of the woman on the front desk, I soon found myself feeling very angry with what she said, which was something along the lines of “we noticed you’d made two international calls at a total cost of EUR90 and that you’re checking out tomorrow so we thought we’d let you know that we know so don’t try to walk out without paying.” I felt like saying I’ll pay it tomorrow morning when I check out, which, as far as I know, is the procedure adopted by most hotels, but it was clear that the purpose of the phone call was to get the money upfront so that the hotel would not out of pocket (as they would be if I scarpered). I also felt like saying, “Do you think I look like the sort of person that would walk off without paying a bill?” I didn’t bother because they'd probably say, "yes".

However, one thing it does give the hotel is a big black mark from me and a recommendation for others not to bother if you’re considering staying at the hotel (I’m sure there are better places in Amsterdam).
The room was fine, although the bathroom was a little cramped, but everything else was okay: tall windows, a fairly comfortable bed, a desk and free WiFi. Everything worked so no complaints there, but there was no restaurant, which is always a nuisance, and the breakfast was appalling and by that I mean non-descript. I had cereal, yoghurt and fresh fruit. The cereal was fine, the yoghurt as standard, but the fresh fruit was tired and unappealing to look at; I’m guessing it was tinned.

There was also a roughness about the hotel that I didn’t like and a precarious staircase that was too steep in my opinion and not for those unsteady on their feet (not that I count myself in that number).
Like a lot of hotels it served a purpose (a bed for the night) but that attitude surrounding my phone bill jarred a bit.

In its favour – but then could I expect anything else from a hotel in Amsterdam? – it did hire out bikes for EUR15 cash, but even there they adopted the attitude of distrust. The money couldn’t be put on the room and they wanted it as soon as I got back from my ride (I had no cash when I booked the bike). Once again it felt as if they thought I was not to be trusted. I should have told them to stuff their bike where the sun didn’t shine and gone elsewhere, but again, I’m too polite.

In summary, this hotel does the job, the rooms are fine but the attitude stinks. I won’t rebook in a hurry. In fact I doubt I’ll ever go back there.

Leonardo Hotel, Ludwig Erhard Allee, Dusseldorf, Germany

Oddly I’ve stayed in this hotel four times now and this is the first time I’ve put pen to paper in the shape of a review. In many ways I’m glad of this because there is now no excuse to provide a shoddy appraisal based on the fact that I’ve returned time after time and have enjoyed the cosy predictability of the place.

The first good thing about the Leonardo is it’s location. In fact the great thing about Dusseldorf is the closeness of the airport to the centre of town and then, in turn, the great thing about the Leonardo is its closeness to the central railway station, Dusseldorf Hbf, which is literally a five-minute walk away.
Imagine, therefore, my relief when, having suffered from food poisoning while in the Netherlands, I knew that once I jumped off the train at Dusseldorf I would be tucked up in bed in my hotel within minutes.

Leonardo Hotel, Dusseldorf, Germany
The check-in was easy and very friendly. The woman on the front desk even recognised me as a past guest and not only welcomed me back but offered me free WiFi instead of the usual payment. I gladly accepted the offer.

As for the rooms, they’re always good and this time was no exception. I was staying in Room 501, which had a comfortable bed, a decent television, a spotless and spacious bathroom and plenty of space.

On past visits I’ve always been a little disappointed with the food offering in the evening, but even that had been improved: there was greater choice on the wine list than before and the food seemed to have gone up a notch in terms of quality.

Don’t get me wrong; the food had always been of an acceptable standard, but perhaps a little run-of-the-mill. Having said that it’s food you can rely upon, it’s not overly fussy and it does the job, it fills a void. However, on this visit, my third or fourth I can’t remember, it seemed a little better, but I admit that I looked into the restaurant from the lobby, noticed just one other guest sitting there and thought I’d try my luck outside. Having gone all of 50 yards down the road, I turned back. It was far too cold to go searching for restaurants so I headed back to the hotel, ordered mushroom soup followed by lamb curry, a small carafe of Cabernet, a mineral water and a shot of Killepitsch, a Schnapps-like drink made from herbs and only available in Dusseldorf, nowhere else in Germany. It had the consistency of cough mixture, was very warming but also very strong (42% abv) and clearly a beverage for the heavy drinker, normally accompanied by a pint of beer, I'm told.
I’ll be returning to the Leonardo again of that I can assure you. Why? Because it’s friendly, homely, comfortable, the staff are polite, the vibe is good and I love it. Furthermore, I heartily recommend it to Trip Advisor readers looking for a decent safe bet which is well-located virtually next door to the central railway station.

Best Western Hotel International, Luxembourg

Best Western International Luxembourg
I arrived around 2100hrs, the check-in was quick, friendly and jam-packed with good news: 10% off my evening meal and a free glass of wine, not forgetting free WiFi in the room.

I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels, but this one was easily the most conveniently located. It was just across the road from the main railway station where I was due to catch a train to Brussels the following morning and let’s not forget that I’d arrived in Luxembourg by train from Duisburg in Germany and it was great to just walk across the road rather than have to give directions to a taxi driver.

Normally, hotels and pubs near railway stations leave a lot to be desired, but that’s mainly in the UK. Here in Luxembourg it wasn’t a problem.

My top priority at gone 2100hrs was dinner and it was fortunate that the restaurant was still open.

I found a crowd of Japanese tourists finishing their evening meal. Would I be invisible to the waiting staff, I wondered? The answer? No. This was a good hotel and so far I hadn’t been let down: free glass of wine, free WiFi, 10% off the price of the meal and, sure enough, the waiting staff knew I was there and brought over my free glass of red wine.

I ordered roasted salmon, which arrived with boiled potatoes and diced carrots. Not bad, but similar to the sort of thing I’d eat at home (or in hospital) not that I was complaining and besides, it was late and I didn’t want a rich meal full of salt and smothered in sauce.

After a second glass of wine, which I paid for, and a glass of sparkling mineral water I headed back to the room where I watched CNN (the only English speaking channel I could find) and then I did a bit of work on the computer.

The room was perfect in all respects apart from a loud air-con system, but I couldn’t be bothered to hunt around for the switch to turn it off and eventually I fell asleep and slept soundly, waking at 0730hrs.
Breakfast was also good: cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit salad and a mug of tea and I could have eaten much more as both hot and cold options were available along with croissants and rolls. I decided not to be a pig and keep things fairly light.

In short there was nothing to complain about; the check-out was as easy as the check-in and now, as I write this, I’m sitting on the 1320hrs train from Luxembourg to Brussels and because my business appointment was only five minutes’ walk from the hotel and the railway station just across the road, I didn’t incur any taxi fares. In fact I might get away without having to draw any money.

I would definitely return to this hotel and probably will in the not too distant future. As for Luxembourg, I found it to be a little boring, although in its defence, I didn’t really get enough time to explore.

Orsoyer Hof, 47495 Rheinberg, Germany

Orsoyer Hof, Rheinberg, Germany
When I stay in a hotel I expect a front desk, an elevator, a long corridor with rooms on either side, electronic key card and, of course, a view of some sort when I draw back the net curtains and take a look outside. It’s nice to be at least five floors up and it’s good to know that, somewhere below me I’ll find a decent restaurant.

I’ve never liked a hotel room with direct access to the outside world and I can’t stand being on the ground floor, like American motels in movies like Psycho.

So I find myself on the outskirts of Rheinberg in a small and sleepy village. I’m booked into the Orsoyer Hof. Room three is effectively is on ground level facing a small field populated by some sheep and a few apple trees. It is accessed from street level by a single flight of slightly precarious stairs.

This is a pub hotel with a half a dozen rooms, a restaurant, bar and function suite.
There’s a fence separating the hotel rooms from the aforementioned field, but each hotel room opens onto a walkway that leads back to the flight of steps, taking guests back to street level and the hotel’s bar and restaurant.

The check-in wasn’t the usual smooth affair involving polite, female receptionists handing over the key card and wishing me a pleasant stay. Instead it was a busy pub scenario where I simply announced that I had a reservation. The barman checks a book behind the bar, mentions my name and I said ‘that’s me’ and was handed the key to room three. Then I was led down the aforementioned steps, along the walkway and left to get acclimatised with my surroundings.

I expect a hotel room to have a wardrobe as they come in handy to store clothing, but there isn’t one.  Instead there are a few hooks and – in my case – no clothes hangers. I decided to leave everything in my suitcase.

Next, there’s a privacy issue. Unless I draw flimsy curtains across door and window I have no privacy.
Whenever I stay in a hotel I check out the bathroom and normally I’m pretty impressed. Not today. It was gloomy, a tad dated and made me feel miserable with its beige tiles and dowdy appearance – it just didn’t ‘gleam’. There was no bathtub.

I found towels and soap on the bed and there were a few shampoo sachets.

In effect I’d gone back in time to the mid-to-late-seventies. This feeling was reinforced later in the bar and restaurant when I heard first Procul Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale and then Hot Chocolate. I could have been in an Aberdeen Steakhouse.

I ordered cream of tomato soup and beef stroganoff, a carafe of wine and a bottle of mineral water. The food was fine – not great – and I couldn’t finish the stroganoff as there was far too much on the plate.
Dinner for two cost 54.60 Euros. My colleague ordered fillet steak, which was also too big to finish. 
I slept relatively well, waking at 0400hrs and then at 0800hrs. Breakfast was poor and served (self service) in the restaurant, which was dark and dingy in the morning light. I chose strawberry yoghurt, a couple of bread rolls and a slice of processed cheese. No tea, just coffee, so I opted for orange juice.

Now you could say this was all pretty miserable. It was. But what you must remember is that I had bed and breakfast for just 47 Euros, which ain’t bad. While I’ve painted a bleak, albeit accurate picture, the right response to reading this review is, “Well what did you expect for 47 Euros?”

Would I return? No, unless I was on a stringent budget. I like things to be a little better quality and I’d happily pay more for it.

The Bruntsfield Hotel, Edinburgh, Scotland.

One of the worst things about reviewing anything, be it a book, a film, a restaurant or a hotel (perhaps that should be ‘an hotel’) is that there is a tendency to feel that you can’t simply say something was ‘good’. Unfortunately, there is always that urge to add something negative, possibly for the sake of authenticity or, perhaps, simply to show that you’re hard and won’t take any nonsense, you’re not easily bought.

Room 37 of the Bruntsfield Hotel, Edinburgh
Well, yes, it’s true; that’s how I felt about the Bruntsfield Hotel before I’d even visited the place – although, if the truth be known, I knew it would be good before I checked in for the simple reason that I had stayed here before, back, it has to be said, in the angst-ridden early 90s. And that’s why I’m back again because whenever I think of Edinburgh, I think of the Bruntsfield Hotel and walking along Princes Street towards Glenogle Street and Henderson’s and Bert’s Bar. I don’t even know if those establishments are still there, but I don’t think I could stay anywhere else in this great city.

The reason I was going to add something negative was down to an email I received from the hotel once I’d booked a room on-line. They sent me a message saying that, for an extra £20, I could get a larger room with some fruit in it or, for £25, a bottle of wine and some hand-made canapés. Well, nice try, but when I think about how many oranges I could buy with £20 or how, for £25, I could get two decent bottles of red and have change for a copy of The Economist, I simply ignored what amounted to a cheap marketing ploy. Not that I should have adopted that attitude; they were, after all, only doing their job.

So, I travelled by train from King’s Cross, took a cab to the Bruntsfield and, as expected, it is still the most wonderful hotel in Edinburgh, in my opinion: the staff are friendly – so much so that I looked forward to passing the time of day with whoever was on reception. The room (I was in room 37) was excellent and the food in the Bisque restaurant was absolutely fantastic. After a day in a conference on the other side of town I was looking forward to dinner, a glass or two of wine, some dessert and, of course, a good book (go and buy Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin, it’s fantastic).

I’ve been here for two nights. Last night, in the Bisque restaurant, I enjoyed chicken breast stuffed with haggis, mashed potato and carrots; tonight it was a venison, pheasant and duck stew. I really wish I had another night here… or maybe a week. It’s such a homely, comfortable hotel where everything works, nothing niggles and, well, what else can I say? I couldn’t recommend this hotel more highly. When a hotel has that ‘home from home’ feeling about it, you know you’re on to a winner.

One bugbear: the WiFi. It’s very slow. That needs to be addressed. Everything else is absolutely first class. Well done, Bruntsfield people. Keep up the good work. As Arne once said, “I’ll be back.”

Best Western Crossroads, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
I admit that I booked my hotel late and because of this I wasn't staying in downtown Indianapolis, but they say that everything happens for a reason and my encounter with the Best Western Crossroads hotel back in May 2014 must have been pure fate.

There's an outdoor swimming pool too
After a flight from London to Chicago and a brief taxi ride to the hotel, I was a bit concerned that the hotel's out-of-town location would be problematic as I'd need to be downtown every day for a convention, but once I'd had a goodnight's sleep I awoke refreshed enough to check things out and discovered that, by and large, it wasn't a problem – and this had plenty to do with the staff and a fantastic man, called Sam, who drives a local taxi and lives close-by.
More of Sam and the Crossroads' staff later, but first, let's deal with why this hotel is good. The room was fantastic: two double beds (both comfortable, I slept in both of them on different days); good value for money (while I booked through a travel company and can't, therefore, provide the correct rate) it was well under $100 per night (closer to $70).

Now you might say you get what you pay for, but that's not always true and it isn't in this case, although I would say they could improve on the breakfast offering. A lot of reviewers have said the breakfast is good and while it's not bad, it could be improved considerably. First, there are plastic plates and dishes and plastic cutlery. Well, they don't give out a good message and it casts a shadow of doubt on the calibre of the guests too – can't they be trusted with a proper plate or knife and fork? Second, after real plates and proper cutlery, I'd sort out the breakfast offering, perhaps get in some quality sausages, possibly introduce some kind of waitress service rather than the serve-yourself routine, but that's about it and as far as waitress service is concerned, perhaps that's over the top for this sort of operation (just get decent plates and cutlery, Mike).

My breakfast consisted daily of Rice Krispies (from those small-size boxes), a cup of tea, an apple and once or twice I had toast and yoghurt and this was absolutely fine for me, but I think the whole breakfast thing could be refined a little. Having said that, across the parking lot is a Bob Evans and that, it has to be said, offers tremendous value for money, so you could argue, why make a big fuss over the hotel breakfast when you've got the choice of a Bob Evans a stone's throw away?

It's worth mentioning at this juncture that the Crossroads doesn't have a restaurant, but again, there's plenty going on downtown, which suited my purposes fine, and let's not forget the Bob Evans and other local eateries – although for international guests (like me), I'd recommend you go downtown with Sam.

There are many good things to say about the Crossroads. I've mentioned the rooms, which are roomy, have a decent desk, a good television, a good bathroom and quality WiFi (which is free). If you're dying of thirst in the middle of the night, there are vending machines down the hall on both of the hotel's two floors and let's not forget the fridge and microwave in all rooms so you could stock up with bottled water, beer or whatever else suits your fancy.

There's an outdoor pool for when the weather warms up and even better news is in the pipeline: they're going to put in an indoor pool! You've also got free membership to a local Gold's Gym while a guest at the hotel.

A few words must be said of the staff, starting with general manager Mike who went out of his way to make me feel welcomed in hotel. Mike is a truly professional hotelier, has plenty of local knowledge and will go out of his way to help. In fact, everybody I met on the front desk was friendly and helpful. Then there was Sam who, in many ways, is part of the hotel staff. I found Sam to be a truly wonderful human being in all meanings of the phrase – friendly, reliable, informative and a man with the right outlook on life. He's one of those people you know you can trust. If he says he'll be there, he'll be there and for me he was always there – thanks Sam. When you're in a foreign country it's nice to know there are people you can rely on. Sam's the man in this respect, but so also are the Crossroads staff.

Now that I know the lie of the land, if I returned to Indianapolis I'd definitely re-book the Crossroads as it would be good to catch up with Sam and Mike and the rest of the people ably running this quite large hotel on the outskirts of the city.

I almost forgot to mention the hotel business centre – two computers, good online access, everything you need.



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