Monday, 16 May 2011

Emerges Blinking into Daylight

Beware TripAdvisor. I was looking forward to going abroad, and then I thought I'd consult the site, with a view to finding some inexpensive but reasonably okay places to stay. Instead, I descended into a world of depression and catastrophe. I read about hotels where:

'The so-called gym consisted of one machine, which wasn't functioning.'

and others where:

'...  one of our bags was thrown in the garbage by accident and the hotel public relations manager offered nothing when we said this was unacceptable behavior.'

I learned about people who, having left their homes in an optimistic mood, expecting comfort and kindness on their travels, encountered experiences like this instead:

'While checking into the hotel, my baggage was stolen. It took the staff at least an hour to agree to call the police. No one at the hotel was willing to take any responsibility for the theft, nor did they make any attempt to lessen the impact of having lost all of my belongings on my first day of a 12 day vacation.'

and this:

'My bag was stolen from the lobby. The hotel said they were not responsible for the loss, since the bag wasn't stolen from our room. (We spent our first day going to 2 police stations to fill out forms, and then I had to replace all my clothes, shoes, suitcase, etc.) We thought the staff would at least be honest and pleasant to us, and sorry for the loss, but they were not. They lied about a tour we had signed up for, annoyed that we hadn't booked it through them, and said the tickets hadn't arrived, when the agency said they had faxed them to the hotel. They also said the agency didn't open til 10:00 (the tour was for 8:00), but we called and found that they were open earlier). They wouldn't help with adaptors and converters to recharge my camera, said I should go to a department store to buy whatever I needed. But the worst of all was that they gave away our prepaid rooms'.

I read about others who, while faced with rather less dramatic problems, still didn't end up having what I'd call a marvellous time:

'The room smelled oddly of bacalao, body odor, and egg.'

What becomes clear after a while on the site is that disappointment is the order of the day when away from home:

'This room could never have been intended for two people of any persuasion.' [I like that phrase 'of any persuasion']

 While some make rather sweet attempts at evenhandedness:

'There were cockroaches in the room, stains in the sheets, bad Service in the restaurant, but the staff at front desk very helpful.'

others find fault wherever they look:

'The magazine in our room, it was from 1987!!!!!!!'

'My neck and shoulders ache something fierce and I now understand why they put little note cards everywhere advertising in-room massages. After sleeping on their beds, you'll need one.'

(Can any mattress really be that bad?)

Reading some accounts reminds you that it is often the tiny details that you cannot foresee that can make the difference between a pleasant time and spending your entire stay away wishing that you were back in your own nice house:

'If anyone anywhere in the hotel flushes their toilet while you happen to be in the shower, the water turns scalding hot for a good 10 seconds.'

'All the seats by the pool are snagged up early in the day by the middle-aged British tourists who sit there all day swilling their wine and discussing their assets (I'm not even being facetious - at the pool today I overheard two distinct groups of people discussing their vast finances)'

There are occasional stabs at humour among the disasters:

'This hotel has everything you could possibly desire, except for what's most important: beds you can sleep on, showers you can shower in and functional lighting'

but usually the tone of the accounts is entirely plaintive - which is actually what gives them all, I'm sorry to say, a peculiarly hilarious tone (although I don't like The Diary of a Nobody, I think it is the self-importance of Mr Pooter and the desire for greater acknowledgment that comes through in so many Trip Advisor reviews).

Take, for instance, the crazed outpourings of one tourist about what she considered to be grubby bedside foot rugs ("STAY AWAY FROM THIS HOTEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! - see my photograph) or the thesis length account of a petty-minded dispute over breakfast rights  -"On our first morning, we elected not to have breakfast (an additional 8 euros each) and instead made ourselves a cup of tea, which we were informed we could, at a cost of 2 euros each. When we returned later, Manuel, pounced on us in a fury. How could we make tea and distrub the guests? We explained that the rooms were deserted when we made tea, and we had disturbed noone. He said he was removing the privilege and from now on, we could only make tea before 7am and after 11.30am. We were quite shocked and said we wouldn't dream of distrubing others if they were there, but he...".

This latter seems to me to possess the ingredients of true farce, especially as the hotel in question is in Spain, raising the possibility that the furious Manuel described in the entry has come direct from his training at Fawlty Towers.

I know the Internet has made everything easier and gives you more choice than the old days of going to a travel agent. The problem is that the process is actually enormously time-consuming. You open up a promising prospect and, just when you think you can stay there and it looks perfectly okay, you discover the photographs  someone has kindly elected to include of what things looks like behind the lavatory - usually stomach turningly disgusting. It probably looks pretty unpleasant behind any lavatory, anywhere, but somehow the thought of paying good money for the privilege of staying at that place evaporates once you've seen the image and you have to start the hunt again - and again and again and again.

Hours pass, meals don't get cooked, ironing piles up, evenings with friends get cancelled, while you disappear down this particular digital plughole - until at last you get a grip. You make a wild decision, just in order to escape, booking something twice as expensive as you'd intended, based on a  fuddled misreading of the foreign currency exchange rate. Then you dash from the house, before the clamouring horde of disgruntled holidaymakers can grab your sleeve and drag you back down into their inferno. Standing in the vegetable garden ten minutes later you try to ignore the gnawing glimmerings of doubt that are beginning to beset you. Should you have chosen that one? Could there be a better one with rooms available? What about the coffee and tea making facilities? And the night-time traffic noise? And the air conditioning that didn't work if the temperature outside got above 80 degrees?

The excitement of your forthcoming trip has been expertly extinguished. Out there lies the seething world of fleas and uncertain arrangements, lack of water and broken window blinds, cigarette-smoke infused corridors and inadequate lighting. Behind you your warm comfortable house beckons. Why on earth did you ever entertain the idea of going away?


  1. There's research that suggests well-written,scathing reviews on sites like TripAdvisor inspire greater confidence in a product than glowing reviews containing spelling and grammatical errors:

    This is both depressing and heartening.

  2. Oh that's good to know - it means you can get your own back on places you hate but which you know you cannot avoid returning to by writing glowing but hopelessly ill-written reviews of them. Excellent.

  3. I'd be delighted to find a 1987 magazine in my room, I'm sure the fashions alone would be worth a laugh

  4. Or in my case - as someone who cannot throw things away - I'd recognise them as my dear old friends, which I'm still wearing.