Soaking up the discreet charm of hotel laid back

You’ve no idea where you’ve been put up by the organisers who’ve invited you to give the talks. But you trust it will be okay. The two international flights bringing you to the western city are long but uneventful. The airport is as efficient as northern European airports tend to be, and the taxi driver nods as you show him the address.

Driving into the city, he slows down in the area near the big station and you’re surrounded by usual action around big railway hubs, student backpackers, refugees, homeless people, run-down sex shops, beat-up cafes, cheap eateries purveying central, south and East Asian foodings and cheap mobile phone emporia. Arriving at the destination, the cabbie points to a non-descript but solid-looking door. You drag your suitcase to it and ring the bell.

A middle-aged woman lets you in and leads you to the reception desk. Inside the hotel is an entirely different world from the one just outside. The old wood panelling and early 20th century furniture have been maintained. But there are also contemporary posters and original paintings on the walls.

The woman is friendly with her limited English as she explains the breakfast timings and takes your details. Around the corner is a modern lift that takes you up to the top floor and your room.

The room is spacious and well-lit by windows and a balcony. The furnishings are nothing too startling. But everything has been mindfully done in a quiet and – to my mind – tasteful way. There is a big double bed, a desk, several lamps and a decent small cupboard.

The balcony gives a view of the back of the hotel, with other adjacent older buildings foregrounding the big commercial towers poking up behind. You can’t smoke in the room. But there is a small table and an ashtray on the balcony. Looking down, you can see an old hobo catching the sun as he sleeps on a bench.In another courtyard, there is a kind of private seating space where a man is comforting a woman who is clearly upset about something. In a third courtyard, two kids circle each other on foot-scooters.Something there is that loves a good, small hotel. A place that’s not too spare and rough, not too plastic and impersonal, and yet not too posh and in your face with its glitz and money – a place where you can switch off pleasurably and without fuss, just the correct distance from the sun, so to speak.

Over the next three days that I stayed in this hotel, I managed to do everything I needed to without any stress. I rested from the flight and time-zone change. I caught the election results back home and the detailed discussions around the polls. I worked on the talks I was there to deliver. And the gig was happy-making. I managed to walk around the city and also meet friends from India who were there for another conference.

A family runs the hotel with a couple of other staff. They are there 24×7, and it feels as though they will meet any reasonable request you make. Breakfast ends at 10.30, and there is no room service. But you can go down and get a proper hand-made cup of coffee at a nominal extra charge. Should you tire of your room, there is a little courtyard at the back with chairs and tables, and a small bar that the staff can start up anytime someone wants a drink.

The best thing about the place was that it was laid-back in the best sense of the word, but with no trace of laziness or complacency in the service.

I was due back in the same city 10 days later for another presentation. While checking out, I realised I’d been booked into a different hotel for the next trip, and I asked the woman if any rooms were available for those dates. She smiled and shook her head. ‘Now we get busy with the Euro football. So, nothing open really till the end of July.’

I tried to imagine this quiet place filled with boisterous football fans. But the mind protested. Who knows? Perhaps there were some football supporters who also valued some quiet time between the raucous melee of the games.


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