This week I’ve been fighting battles over sub-standard accommodation. Oh, what fun it’s been!
I was back in Poland last week, working on a training course I have to deliver and spending quality time with Ania and the kids. Unfortunately, one of them brought home an appalling stomach virus that of course we all went down with on successive days. It was most unpleasant, what with projectile vomiting and worse, hot and cold flushes, and enough gas to refloat the Titanic……. Not the best preparation for Kuba’s birthday either, what with the planned bowling party, complete with pizza, snacks and a rather nice cake. Luckily by the time Saturday came around, he and Ally and Ania had recovered, so I was the only one still suffering (in part with nerves: I was flying down to Doha immediately after the party, and a six hour flight is not recommended when you have residual Montezuma’s Revenge……). But the party was fun, everyone had a great time, especially Kuba and his mates who only managed to break one lane by bowling multiple balls in a kind of Let’s See Who Hits The Pins First Competition….. The staff were not happy, I can tell you. And despite the illness, I thoroughly enjoyed being back in my little home, with my family and all the comforts that go with it.
Which brings me back nicely to my battles this week.
Now one of the more entertaining and at times challenging things about This Travelling Life is where you end up lying your head when you’re on site.
Normally of course that means a decent (more or less) hotel, and regular readers of these epistles will have seen already that I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some really good quarters provided (my original apartment in Warsaw springs to mind, various Hiltons in London and Luxembourg, a couple of superb spa hotels – one in particular where I had a private pool and sundeck that alas I never got to use – in Malta). I’ve also had some, shall we say, less than satisfactory billets too – creatures running around the room after dark in Bucharest, cockroaches in the apartment in Trinidad (although to be fair, the damned things are endemic out there and I think everybody suffered from that to a greater or lesser degree)….probably the worst was the first one I had in Almaty – check out Go East Old Man from September 2010 on here for much more about the place (the apartment, and for that matter the city and country). I still have bad dreams about that one.
Anyway, Qatar is one of the richest nations on Earth, courtesy of King Oil, so my expectations on first coming here last month were pretty high that this time (my first trip for a year, remember) I would be fortunate on the accommodation front. I wasn’t disappointed – although not perfect, the Wyndham Grand Regency Hotel in Doha is pretty good (take a look on TripAdvisor: I posted a review of it last week), well-appointed rooms, decent food, a good gym and outside pool, and loads of Premier League footie on the box – with English commentary and punditry to boot. But as we are going to be here some months, and the Wyndham is quite pricy, the bank decided to place us in apartments. Which is fine by me.
There was a bit of an issue, in that their idea was that we three project team blokes would all share one gaff..…far from ideal, and none of us were keen on that one. Nevertheless, we were taken to view one particular complex, fairly close to the airport (but not obtrusively so), and a bit of investigation on TripAdvisor showed it to be rather good. It was. The complex is pretty new, and very well decorated – the size and quality of the apartment and its fixtures and fittings is much better than home – and the amenities included a very good outside pool, well equipped gym and – whoopee – a pool and snooker centre for residents. So that was all good then.
It turned out that the place is pretty much fully booked – which makes you wonder why they bothered to show it to us in the first place! – and besides very expensive at QAR33,000 per MONTH. Hmmmm……… So the day before we flew home for our breaks, we were told we had been booked into an alternative, Le Park Hotel. It’s next door to the Wyndham, so close to the office, and cheaper so that we get an apartment each – much better. On the face of it…..
TripAdvisor was less optimistic. The place advertises itself as a “four star luxury hotel and apartment centre with rooftop pool and sun terrace, well equipped fitness centre and comfortable, well decorated suites with kitchen units”. But of the 9 visitor reviews, no less than 8 rated it as 1 Star, and “appalling” (to quote one of the more polite comments). The only positive review was by a Japanese guy, and that could have been a Lost in Translation moment. So we weren’t too hopeful when we flew in Saturday night – and even less so when the hotel driver (booked by the bank) was conspicuous by his absence. We caught a cab – and the driver had never heard of the place. We found the Wyndham and drove around the block…..and again….and a third time. We stopped and asked directions. It turned out the entrance is down a dimly lit side street.
We checked in, and by half past midnight I was in my Executive Suite with kitchenette, taking pictures of all that was wrong. First up, the kitchen with no crockery, no cutlery, no cooking pots or saucepans. Oh, and the fridge you have to unplug to use the microwave. The holes in the bathroom ceiling, and grubby poorly cleaned bath. The shelf over the sink so badly screwed to the wall that it slopes down over the tap so you can’t use it. The wardrobe with no coat hangers. The lounge area is actually ok, with a cheap and nasty (but comfortable) three piece suite and an equally cheap and nasty flat screen tv that works fine but has limited English tv channels (the usual news suspects and that’s about it).
We complained the next day at work, and someone from the bank came out to inspect it. She was not too impressed either, and insisted that the hotel made some improvements. It seems there have been some negotiations, but the hotel have dug their heels in about certain things – like kitchen ware. A compromise was reached whereby the hotel provided a couple of plates, glasses, cups and saucers, plus cutlery, but the bank have to supply the (more expensive) cookware. Which makes you wonder why they have suites with kitchens in the first place, it they’re not going to properly equip them……
Anyway, over the past couple of days, things have gradually improved. At least the place is cleaner and the bed is comfortable, and I can brew up a cup of coffee (after sweet-talking the waitress in the restaurant to flog me a carton of milk and donate a bowl of sugar sachets). I went out yesterday evening and bought bread and butter and Nutella, and some biscuits and KitKats, so it’s a start. The bank people are still dragging their heels a bit on the cooking front, so I can’t do anything ambitious, but the hotel grub is ok – nothing to write home about (as you would expect, given the rest of the place), but edible and cheap enough.
But then we come to facilities. The tv first. It turned out that my mate’s 2000 odd channels far outstripped my 30 or so, suggesting somewhere there must be lot more English stuff available. Then the Internet……BIG fail: neither the wifi nor cable connection worked. What about the gym? Well, it’s there, but very tatty – my colleague has used it and reckons half of the machinery doesn’t actually work. Haven’t tried it myself yet. So – the pool and rooftop sun terrace (as it’s still hot and sunny here). Now comes the biggest joke of all. I went to look, and came out of the lift onto the roof, where there is no signage nor lighting. To the left is a bloody great air conditioning unit and a satellite dish about six feet across. Back to the right a flight of steps leads up between too old toolshed-like buildings. At the top – a building site. A pile of sand waist high and about 15 feet across. Scaffolding. A little crane. A cement mixer…..and beside that – the pool: or at least, where the thing will be when it’s finished. Right now it’s a concrete shell with a deep end and a shallow end, but not tiled, no terrace surrounding it, and most certainly no water. If there is such a thing as an advertising standards authority here, these guys are there for the taking – the website is no more nor less than a pack of lies.
But let me be fair, now.
On my way out this morning, I delivered a list of 7 things I needed sorted out in my room – the internet, the plumbing, tv. I told the girl I expected them fixed today and offered to discuss the matter face to face with the manager tonight if they hadn’t been done. I passed a copy on to the bank for information.
To my amazement, when I got back this evening, every one had been addressed. The internet now works fine (hence this post). I now have the best part of a thousand tv channels to enjoy, including at least 10 English language news and movie channels. Unfortunately sport is still an issue – the ones showing Premier League and Champions League matches are subscription only so I’ll miss out on them – but I’ve located an Irish bar here (as I’ve said elsewhere, they are everywhere….) that covers them so my Saturday is taken care of. The plumbing is fixed. I have coat hangers. I have all my crockery and cutlery so all I need to do is give the bank a nudge for the cooking gear and I’m all set.
It is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and I would certainly not recommend Le Park Hotel to anyone – I will add a TripAdvisor review saying as much at some point. But as a base for work here, it will do – close to the office, shops nearby to buy food and supplies (I went exploring yesterday evening) and within walking distance – a long walk admittedly – from the touristy bits like the Corniche and fishing harbor and various malls.
Bit light on home comforts – but then, it’s not home.