Picking hotels in unfamiliar cities is always a challenge, and not always on account of one’s budget. Familiar brands in an edgy makeover turn out to have self-service cafeterias. One industrial size hotel in London has counters where guests are expected to make their own pancakes or waffles. In Rome, my wife and I found ourselves squeezed into a room barely large enough for our bags, while Florence, where we were paying a fraction of the hotel room in Rome, did us proud with a suite that was like a warren in which we kept getting lost.
Nor do friends provide the best recommendations — far, indeed, from it. If anything, they are an indicator of what they think of your spending habits and lifestyle. Some insist on suggesting exclusive — but also pricey — accommodations in castles and chateaus, tucked away from the main roads, so expensive that a couple of nights equals your entire holiday spend. “Just like your friend to make us feel small,” my wife will gripe when an acquaintance insists we simply can’t stay anywhere else. Nor is she charitable when it comes to those who suggest more modest hostelries than her tastes run to. “Does she think we can’t do better,” she has bristled at recommendations from her bellwether best friend. “I want you to call and tell here just now that I was staying in luxury hotels before she was born,” though, in truth, her friend is older than her. I always think it’s best to steer away from friends’ references, no matter how well meaning they are.
However, business hotels are more difficult to locate than vacation hotels because you are no longer the master of your own folly. The management mandates that travel agents not be allowed to recommend hotels, since they are likely to be making a commission. Most office tie-ups result in hotels located far from one’s area of work, necessitating the negotiation of dense city traffic at peak hours. If you’re travelling for a conference, or an exposition, and need to be close to the convention centre, you can bet the travel department would have found you a cupboard-sized bed and board. “But it’s close,” the department head will extol when you complain, implying you’re free to choose your own lodgings provided you’re also willing to pay for them. Too bad if it doesn’t have a restaurant, simply pick up groceries from a Seven-Eleven and make do — you’re on work, not a ruddy holiday, and stop griping on company time.
If you’re in the mood for the unusual, Telangana provides bed and board in the Sangareddy Jail for as little as Rs 500 per cell. That should please the admin department, though whether it will pass muster with HR is another matter. No company would like to be associated with jail birds, but staying in penitentiaries is apparently catching on around the world. And not just among tourists. Even though Arthur Jail Road in Mumbai hasn’t advertised its services, Judge Emma Arbouthnot of UK has requested a video of its Barrack 12 that takes into consideration its facilities, not least its access to natural sunlight, for a guest she’d like to recommend it to: The fugitive Vijay Mallya. But videos — and photographs — can be deceptive, as anyone who’s booked online will tell you. She’d be better off paying heed to the recommendations of those incarcerated there — Sanjay Dutt has been a previous occupant, while Peter Mukerjea continues to be in residence. Some others are awaited.