No Room at the Inn
The following missive was written on the 4 hour flight to Athens - I am bored and so this passage is very long-winded and detailed. My apologises and feel free to use your speed reading skills to skip the boring bits.
I hate running late; I hate being kept waiting while teenagers do their makeup; I hate feeling hassled, making quick and often wrong decisions and I particularly hate missing appointments.
We left Naomi's place quite early and headed into London. I had an important appointment to discuss licensing software in Australia. We didn't hit any traffic until Putney, and a quick look at the 'AtoZ' offered us a public transport alternative to reach the city centre. We quickly pulled off the main road and parked the car in the back streets of Putney. We easily found a parking bay and even though the idiot in the 4 wheel drive had parked smack in the middle of the allocated space, I courteously left him enough room to pull out. We dutifully placed our 5 pounds in the parking meter thinking that 4 hours would be quite sufficient time to accomplish my mission. The tube ride which should have taken about 40 minutes, took 1 1/2 hours and I was over an hour late arriving at the Barbican. Freddie didn't seem to mind and we went off to have a very sumptuous lunch and interesting discussion while the BOSS camped out at the internet cafe in the lobby with the task of finding us a cheap hotel at the airport preferably with internet access. By 3pm the BOSS was ravenous but we had only 1/2 an hour to get back to the car or risk a parking fine. We grabbed a sandwich for her and rushed back to the tube, arriving 20 minutes after the time had expired on the meter. My worst fears were realised by the appearance of the big yellow ticket under the windscreen wiper. 100 pound fine the day before we fly out of the country - not what I needed. On closer inspection however, the ticket had been issued at midday and was not for overstaying the time limit but instead for parking in a "restricted zone". This did not make sense at all as we had parked in a bay, had read and reread the signs and the machine had issued a valid ticket. There was no mention of "restricted zones" or resident only parking. On the back of the ticket was a phone number for the infringement office but it had closed at 4pm. (It was now 4.05pm) I knew I wouldn't have a chance before our flight in the morning to prove the incorrectness of the ticket and started composing an outraged letter in my head. I ranted and raved at no-one in particular, until the parking officers appeared once again on the street to incorrectly book more innocent members of the public. I (diplomatically) enquired of the parking officer what "restricted zone" I had ignored warranting a 100 pound fine and he diplomatically pointed out that the front 2 feet of the car was outside the marked bay and "hanging over" the yellow line. HUH?????????
She'll Be Right Mate.
Tip #7 If you know you are going to have to spend a night at the airport before flying out the next morning, prebook the hotel from Australia.
I am a great believer in "winging it" and when faced with adversity, something good will crop up - particularly if you have access to the internet. Just plug in, find a hotel, and book it online - no phoning around, no driving up and down streets looking for the elusive B & B.
Well, so the theory goes.
The BOSS had successfully accomplished her set task of finding us a cheap hotel on the net. Unfortunately, upon further enquiry it was fully booked.
I put the unjust parking fine to the back of my mind and concentrated on finding us a room for the night. This saga started with the public library being closed - no access to free internet.
The only other internet available was a coffee shop charging 1 pound for 20 minutes. The BOSS can type much faster than me and her fingers were flying but all we came away with was the knowledge that a hotel at Heathrow was going to cost us a minimum of 85 pounds ($200). We managed to get one phone number for the reservation line for "cheap hotels from 38 pounds per room" before our 20 minutes ran out. Confident that we had what we needed we wandered back to where we parked the car (with a slight detour to use the toilets at McCrap - which we then voted the worst toilets we had ever visited in our lives) and I rang to book our "cheap hotel".
"Yes madam, we have plenty of rooms available in several hotels - that will be 42 pounds per person."
Bugger. Back to square one.
In the past when I have traveled in Britain, I have often rocked up to a nice looking pub, booked a room, eaten a counter meal and enjoyed a pleasant evening in a welcoming atmosphere. With dreams of finding such a pub or guesthouse, we set out towards the general direction of West (as I had left the map at Naomi's). Unfortunately it was also peak hour so our circular route was made far more interesting and it only took us one hour longer than it should have to reach the suburbs around Heathrow.
And so began our search. The first pub we stopped at did not offer accommodation - and did not know of any pubs in the entire area which did. The first B & B we passed was fully booked but the owner called her husband who took us to their other hotel, The Fir Lodge. This would cost us 55 pounds for a less than average room and I thought we may be able to do better at the bigger hotels for only slightly more money. So we proceeded to visit 6 of the major airport hotels and they indeed only charged slightly more than the guest house - but they were all fully booked. ALL of them - 15 storey hotels with not one room between the lot of them. This fruitless search had taken nearly 2 hours and we were now starving and tired and in desperate need of a shower. The BOSS was very reluctant to return sheepishly to the first hotel but in the end she agreed that we had no choice. It was now dark and we were navigating blind and a cry of "there it is" caused me to turn wildly across 2 lanes of traffic into their driveway - only to discover that it was instead the driveway of a different guest house 2 doors down from the first one we had visited 3 hours earlier. In a last ditched effort to find a bed and avoid the humiliation of returning to the Fir Lodge, the BOSS went off to ask for a room. As often happens in situations like this, the best option presents itself at the very last moment. Also, having a stunning looking daughter has distinct advantages, particularly when dealing with middle aged, bored, Greek hotel owners - batting her eyelashes, the BOSS negotiated a room for the night, including breakfast, for 40 pounds !!
Our host, Pascali, was brilliant.
He gave us a quiet room in the back, directed us to food and internet access, and when he discovered that we were flying to Greece the next day, he immediately called his brother to contact his uncle to see if he could find us a hotel in Athens.
The Best Hotel at Heathrow.
Here follows a description of our stay at the Skylark Hotel - supposedly rated 3 stars by AA. The tiny room held a double bed, a bunk bed, a wardrobe crammed up against the bed so that you couldn't open the doors, a mystery cupboard which was screwed shut, an ensuite bathroom with a shower door that threatened to come off its rails, a shower head that only pointed into the corner, toilet paper that disintegrated at the slightest touch, bathmats with holes and the oddest looking light shade ever. The BOSS disintegrated into fits of laughter at each new discovery but the sight of the used sanitary ribbon across the toilet seat caused her to hyperventilate.
At 11pm at night having been reduced to eating KFC for dinner, having spent 3 hours being turned down by snooty hotels, we were grateful for the soft beds, the warm room, the working telly and the fabulous service from our wonderfully chatty and interesting host. I would not hesitate to recommend the Skylark to any weary traveler - even if the decor ranges from Victorian to modern IKEA, it is clean, safe and oh so friendly. Rating 8/10. Giggle factor 10/10.