Monday 22 January 2007

you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

According to the sign over the door, we stayed in a four star hotel on Saturday night. It was the Kensington Palace Thistle on De Vere Gardens, and although I’m not a black belt in the intricacies of the hotel rating system, as the cab pulled up at lunchtime on Saturday, it looked like we were onto a winner. The hotel is this great big, shiny white building that dominates the street and looks out onto a park. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we had got a fantastic room rate, and it looked so swanky that it was hard not to feel a touch smug.

That feeling lasted just about as long as it took to get to the reception desk. The receptionist quickly informed us – without checking the reservations – that our rooms weren’t ready. She then sized us up and asked us if we were sure we were at the right hotel. Yes thanks, you snooty cow. We left the bags with the concierge and headed out. As I was busy playing ancient computer games at the Science Museum, C. popped back later on to check in before she went off to meet her brother. The same receptionist was on duty, and she took the same trouble to be as haughty and as rude as possible. We had a twin room, instead of the double we had booked, but they were, alas, unable to move us. When I got back to the hotel later on, I was also interested to see that the room was dark, grubby and had sloping floors and peeling wallpaper. It was fine for one night, but was it really a four star hotel?

What is it that makes a hotel four stars anyway? I suppose I have always hoped that it was about more than having a trouser press and some tea and coffee making facilities in your room, but perhaps it isn’t.

I discovered at several points through the night that the head of my bed was pressed up against a wafer-thin partition wall that backed onto next door’s toilet, and that apparently the occupant had a fairly weak bladder and no sense of water conservation. I’d just drifted back to sleep when I was suddenly jolted awake at around 7am by cacophony of noise caused by the recycling people picking up what sounded like about 18 tonnes of bottles from just outside our window and tipping them into their truck from a height of about 100 feet.

Perhaps it’s not the hotel’s fault. Perhaps it’s just London. Is it like this everywhere? How do you people stand all the crowding and jostling on the tube on a Saturday night? All that pushing and shoving on the streets? That desperate jockeying to hail a taxi? All that rudeness?

God, I’m so provincial.


I've just checked the hotel's website - apparently it's a "welcoming hotel".


It was many things, but "welcoming" it was not. Well, not behind the reception desk anyway. I should say that the guys working behind the concierge's desk (who were all, as they often seem to be, Eastern European in origin) were friendly, chatty and generally helpful. It was just the receptionist who was a mardy cow, and the manager who did a disappearing act.

Oh, and the room was crap. Did I mention that? Do you think Google has got the hint by now? The Kensington Palace Thistle on De Vere Gardens is rubbish. That should do it.

Oooh, blogging is so powerful. Take that, mighty Thistle hotel chain! Quake in fear before my righteous anger!


  1. Did you complain? I would if I were you!

  2. yup - we complained. The manager failed to get back in touch with us, and in the end we left a comment. Perhaps we should pursue it.

    At the end of the day it was a cheap-ish place to sleep and I had a lovely weekend --- but they were pretty poor for a four star hotel. The Cumberland is more expensive, but the service is impeccable and the rooms are lovely. Maybe we'll just go back there next time.


  3. Or do you get a cheap rate because they have a few crappy rooms which can't be sold to full-price customers?

    The Citadines place near Covent Garden was pretty good a couple of years ago (good solid up-to-date reference for you there) - on laterooms prices.

    Word verification - how to pronounce it if you want a good room? 'hchuel'

  4. Complain. Mention that you've blogged publicly about this bad experience - most hotels are savvy enough to know that this is negative publicity. Ask for the general manager, not the weekend manager.

    Maybe you'll get a refund of some sort or a free stay...

  5. You have my sympathies. I stayed there about ten years ago with work and it wasn't any better then. I did complain in writing but got a response along the lines of, you're lucky to even be allowed in here, you miserable provincial.

    Anyway, that was before the internet. I find that the threat of a write up on exercises the mind wonderfully.

  6. It is, as far as I can recall, the greatest differential between how beautiful a hotel looks from the outside (and, to be fair, from the reception area) and what the actual interior was like.

    It was grubby, shabby and endless other terms ending in -bby (although, unlike C, they did give me a double room when I asked nicely for one).

    I was more grumpy about the endless French I seemed to encounter when exiting the lift. They didn't understand the basic social rule that You Let People Get Out Of The Lift Before You Get In It.

    Bloody rude.

  7. You definitely should let them know that with the internet, they are risking a bad reputation with a snooty clerk. So many things can be forgiven in a hotel, if the staff is helpful and friendly.

  8. Yes, London is like that. It can drive you a bit bonkers after a while. I find the best way is just to let it all wash over you. Otherwise you'd physically rip the throat out of the tourist who decides that the best place to stop and read their map is at the top of the up escalator in the middle of rush hour.

    Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean...

  9. I've never stayed in a nice hotel in London and have consistently had problems with my reservation going missing, broken things in rooms (essentials like hairdriers for god's sake!) and room service going mysteriously missing. I tend to be there for work as opposed to pleasure (when I am too mean to pay for a hotel and stay with friends instead) but it is still pretty irritating.

  10. Sorry you had a rubbish hotel experience! Definitely write and complain. In fact, write to Ken at The Londoner, too.

    Sorry I didn't see you this time. If / when I ever have a place capable of hosting guests, you will be welcome to stay with me. Meanwhile, I apologise on behalf of my fellow metropolitans on our noise and filth.


  11. In future, complain before you leave. Loudly, preferably, in the foyer or reception, about what a crap experience you're having.

    In fact, be as rude as possible. This is the problem with being a Londoner - even though you want to be polite, you have to be savvy enough to demand that you get what you paid for, even though quite possibly that is what you DID pay for.

    As for London, sadly you must be rude to get whatever you want. I have to say without a shadow of a doubt that I've learnt very bad manners. Today, while walking along the road to work, I was offered a "Good Morning" by a complete stranger and I scowled back at them.

    It only occured to me later that I was completely and utterly rude without any need to be...

  12. Snooty receptionist, crap room, paper thin walls, noisy neighbour? Hmm, sounds very much like my experience at the Barbican Thistle Hotel then.

    Hell, at least they maintain brand consistency...

  13. I've had a crap experience in a Thistle as well. There are a lot of London hotels that are in a bit of state. The Strand Palace is the same... Damp, peeling walls... No need for the rude staff though.

    Getting a good hotel in London is tricky; if you know a good one go back to it because there are a lot of shit ones and it's not worth saving £20 a night for that sort of crap.

    Pynchon commented that in the bar he asked for a cup of tea three times and never got served so they were incompetent as well as rude.