Brunel would turn in his grave
The Paddington Hilton is not my favourite hotel. Its heyday as the Great Western Railway Hotel is sadly behind it. These days it’s a Hilton, and not a terribly good one. It has a certain Fawlty Towers desperation about it. Its only advantage is being 100m from the Heathrow Express.
I arrived off a red-eye flight from Montreal at 8am Saturday. Last visit I arrived somewhere around dawn so I paid for the night before. That time I arrived to find they had cancelled my room because I didn’t show up the previous night. This time, I thought I would save the extortionate £204 for a bed I didn’t sleep in.
The receptionist asked me my room preferences: “Something tasteful in the West End, with 50 cable channels, L’Occitan toiletries and a swimming pool, please”. Ha ha very funny.
“OK, how about close to the lifts?”. Not a stupid question. I had 53kg of baggage because I was hauling home everything I have left in Montreal since last May, including all the heavy winter gear you need to survive -40º windchill. Of course that wasn’t possible. On the same floor as the lift but around three corridors, yes. One of them even sloped uphill. Really.
Of course then they told me my room wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be for a couple of hours. Didn’t stop them wanting to charge me £20 for a late checkout. The receptionist kindly suggested I go for a walk to pass the time. London. February. Right. Good thing I just left Montreal winter and could have happily gone out in a blizzard.
I spent two hours disconsolately wandering High Street Kensington, randomly buying things as the shops opened up. My room was ready when I got back. No surprises. Standard Paddington 2′ square, beige, no bathrobe, generic toiletries and a choice of SkyNews or CNN.
The hotel itself was probably last refurbished around 1980, or whenever it was that beige was the colour de jour. For some reason they propped mattresses against the walls along the western corridor.
The restaurant serves “Modern British Cuisine”, or 25 variations on the theme of steak and kidney pie with lime and coriander salsa. They did eventually bring me the over-cooked but adequate salmon cutlet I originally ordered. It’s beyond me how “chicory salad and baked salmon” could be written down as “chicken tikka masala”. As if I would EVER order that. The maitre d’ apologised so many times I wanted to throw the last rock-hard dinner roll at him. I shouldn’t complain too much – last time I was there they closed the restaurant and I had to choose between eating sandwiches and going out in the rain to find a meal.
I think part of the problem is language. I am fairly certain not one member of staff in that hotel is a native English-speaker. About half appear to hail from somewhere slightly west of the Urals and the other half from slightly east. It’s like being served by an army of friendly, polite, well-meaning and essentially hopeless Manuels.
Sunday I was awoken before 7 by the sound of jackhammers in the street below. Yes, they forgot to mention the roadworks when I asked for a room that didn’t face into the station. And Marmite for breakfast. Who the hell invented Marmite? It’s like the stuff the put on the back of envelopes.
At least they forgot to add the late checkout charge onto the express checkout bill. No way I was going to point that out…
I dragged my 53kg of luggage across Paddington Station, onto the Heathrow Express, off the Express, down (literally) 500m of tunnel to T1. And not one bugger helped me.
How do I know it was 53kg? Because that is what it said on the receipt for the £75 excess baggage charge SAA slugged me with. The stupid thing is that if I could have jammed it all into two larger bags it would have been free.
Another red-eye flight later I arrived in Johannesburg at 7am this morning. From -27 and frostbite-level wind chill to +27 and raining. A horrendous queue through Immigration. It took so long for my last bag to arrive off the carousel that I had already filled out the lost baggage claim form before it showed up. Traffic was so bad on the highway the normal 30 minute drive took an hour and a half. I didn’t get to the hotel until 10am. And guess what?
My room wasn’t ready…