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George Hobica

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Four Memorable Hotel Stays

Posted: 05/28/2012 6:50 pm

A while back I wrote about some of the gripes I have with hotel rooms, things like not enough power outlets in rooms, poor bedside reading lights, that sort of thing. But then it occurred to me, maybe I should give a shout out to some of my favorite hotel experiences. As a frequent flyer, I've had my share of both good and bad. Here are some of the good ones I've encountered over the last 30 years of traveling.

The Oriental, Bangkok
I stayed here on a business trip and was amazed by the kindness. When I arrived, the floor butler greeted me and explained that anything I needed, it would be his pleasure. It seemed that every time I left the room, he'd go in and tidy up.

The hotel used to employ little matchsticks placed against the bottom of the hallway doors (and perhaps they still do); when they fell down, it indicated that the occupant had left and it was a convenient time for emptying the waste bin or whatever. Over the course of a few days, I chatted with my amiable new friend, asking him about his family and his work. But the best part came when I departed. My butler handed me a handwritten note ("Please choose my floor on your next visit") and a little gift, two silk shoe bags, which I still have 20 years later.

I had been traveling (unfortunately) with three grumpy colleagues, and in the car on the way to the airport I asked them how they liked their parting present. "What present?" the grumpiest of them barked. I had thought that my butler's gesture was some pro forma amenity that the hotel had mandated for VIP guests. Instead, it was sincere reflection of Thai hospitality. I'll always remember it -- and long to return.

The Four Seasons, Milan
I had arrived in the middle of the night due to a delayed flight, with my checked luggage nowhere in sight. I always travel with my own pillow -- down feathers and very much on the "soft" side, since I sleep on my stomach -- but would have to do without it. But within about five minutes, upon hearing my tale of woe at check in, the hotel sent up a perfect replacement (most hotel pillows are far too firm for my taste and keep me tossing and turning all night), along with toothbrush, toothpaste, and other necessities. Remarkable at any time of the day, but this was 4 a.m. when a lesser hotel would have been flummoxed (contrast this to the time a hotel maid in Tucson removed my pillow from the room during turn down for still-mysterious reasons). It's a great hotel for many other reasons, but I'll always remember the exemplary service.

The Conrad, Brussels
I was writing a European guidebook -- which was thankfully canceled midway, an underpaid agony that I'll never attempt again -- and this was the last stop on my itinerary. On the day I was to check out, I woke up in a daze with a high fever and could barely move. Although the hotel was fully booked the next night, in a weakened voice I explained the situation to the front desk. They said not to worry, I could stay until I was fit to travel. And then the nourishment began to arrive. Hot soups. Delicious, fresh Belgian chocolates. Fortifying juices. The manager checked in with me over the next few days until I got better. Kindness like that will never be forgotten.

The Clarence, Dublin
I was on a two-night business trip years ago, and had never stayed here before (or since, regrettably). Two things I remember in particular: I was about to take delivery of a Wheaten Terrier puppy when I arrived back home (she would later inspire the logo of Airfarewatchdog.com, her nom de plume becoming "Browser" upon the winning entry of a "name the pooch" contest) and was trying to decide what to call her.

On the coffee table was a book of Irish children's names and one stood out: Oonagh, which is derived from the Gaelic word for "lamb." Perfect, since Wheatens are quite lamb-like. Also perfect was the terry cotton robe hanging in the bathroom. I've seen a lot of hotel bathrobes, but never one quite this thick, soft and luxurious. I coveted it mightily.

Upon paying my bill at check out, I thanked the front desk for helping me come up with a name for my new pup and mentioned that although I'd never been tempted to steal something from a hotel, that robe was the closest I'd ever come. As I was waiting for my taxi to the airport out front, the clerk rushed to me with a package. You guessed it. I still have it and think of the Clarence whenever I wrap myself up after a hot shower. I guess honesty pays -- or at least admitting to larcenous fantasy does.

I could mention other acts of kindness. As a member of the Fairmont Presidents Club (free to join) I've been treated to room upgrades and amenities that I hardly deserve, such as the time I was ensconced in the same suite at the Savoy Hotel from which Monet painted his famous renderings of Waterloo Bridge. (Nevermind that prior to its recent multi-million-pound renovation the Savoy's plumbing was creaky.) Or the many cheese and fruit plates that magically appear in my room upon check in at the Fairmont Battery Wharf with its magical views of Boston Harbor.

So while not every hotel stay is perfect, here's a big thank you to those that are.

What are your favorite memories of perfect stays? I'm sure the hotels would love to hear your comments.

 

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