Thursday, 3 April 2014

In Brussels...again

I was booked on the 1504 London to Brussels Eurostar and just had time to enjoy lunch on the station before heading off. Once on the train I fell asleep and didn't wake up until the train emerged on the other side of the tunnel. By around 6pm I was in my hotel, which I discovered – to my disappointment – didn't have a restaurant. This is both good and bad news: bad because I like hotel restaurants and didn't really want to wander the streets looking for somewhere to eat; good news because it forced me to go out and explore.

Sadly, I found an awful restaurant (and you can read more about it below). I slept badly as the room was too hot, but eventually fell asleep sometime around 4am. I'd woken up around 3am. By 7.30am I was awake and soon I was sitting downstairs in the breakfast room (which would have been a cosy restaurant except for the fact that my hotel – the Best Western Royal Centre – didn't have one).

After my work was done I had lunch in central Brussels and found the restaurant full of African dignitaries (the European Union and the African Union had been meeting over the past two days). I wandered over to the Central Station, took a train to 'Bruxelles Midi' and then a Eurostar back to London, arriving just before 5pm. A short train journey from Victoria and soon I was home.

It would be outrageous not to mention the Boris Bikes, but even if I'd wanted a ride – in all honesty this was a whistle-stop trip and there was not enough time – it would have been impossible as a membership card was required and, as far as I could gather, it wasn't a case of 'pay-as-you-go'.

Best Western Royal Centre Hotel, Brussels.
I’ve said it before, I know, but first impressions really do count and while I was looking forward to relaxing in my room at the Best Western Royal Centre hotel in Brussels recently, I was on a loser from the word go.

Room 506, Best Western Royal Centre, Brussels.
First, the receptionist informed me that there was no restaurant – only room service (and the menu didn’t look too appetising) – and yet the hotel had four stars plastered over the front door. Surely, four stars mean you get a restaurant? Not in the Best Western Royal Centre. Dare I call for a ‘level playing field’ on the star rating system in Europe?
I don’t know about you, but room service is never ideal. It’s ‘making do’, it’s the equivalent of a ‘working lunch’ or sitting at home with a tray on your lap, eating while watching television. I hate room service – surely, half of the attraction of staying away is eating in the hotel restaurant? – and I can’t stand it when I walk along a hotel corridor, en route to the elevators, and see plates of leftover food and soiled cutlery on a tray awaiting collection. Horrible!
There’s breakfast, but that’s about it.

So I’m staying in room 506. Not a problem, but the door is a bit sticky. You might think I’m complaining unnecessarily and, to a degree, I am (we can all live with a sticky door – for a while) but it was the second negative I associated with this particular hotel experience.

View from room 506, Best Western Royal Centre, Brussels
I’d travelled by Eurostar from London to Brussels (a pleasant trip) but I’d been wearing a suit all day and was glad to get to my room and take it off. However, I started to wonder whether the room was on a slope as the wardrobe’s sliding doors, separating me from a selection of unruly coat hangers, kept rolling back as if they were on a hill. To add insult to injury, as I tried to get the pesky hangers off the rail, the rail simply collapsed, taking with it all the hangers; they clattered noisily to the ground and I wondered if the noise was familiar to residents in nearby rooms – or, indeed, whether they had experienced the same thing.

Another problem was the WiFi. I wrote this review on Microsoft Word rather than rely upon the incredibily slow internet; there was a business centre downstairs, but I’m in my room and the last thing I want to do – at nearly 11pm – is go down five floors in the lift just to do a spot of writing.

The room was fine. It was a twin room. It was clean, had everything I needed, there was even a minibar! I’ve said it before that a full minibar means that the hotel trusts its guests and this minibar was full with drinks and, of course, a Toberlone – the chocolate equivalent of U2 (it’s SO international!). The phone worked, it was all very good except for the wardrobe with its sliding doors and dodgy rail.

I went out in search of a restaurant in which to eat dinner and after 20 minutes of wandering around resorted to a strange place called De Ultieme Hallucinatie – about 15 minutes on foot from the hotel. Not a good choice and now I wish I’d taken a chance on the flamboyant looking Bloom! Hotel’s restaurant, but alas, I endured slow, poor service, a menu I couldn’t understand and food I didn’t particularly enjoy – gooey lamb chops, sweaty vegetables and sticky potatoes. The only redeeming part of the meal was the Rochefort Trappist ale (11.5%). The bill with dessert came to EUR27.50.

Breakfast was fine and now I must check out. Would I stay here again? Yes, but I’d leave more time to find a decent place to eat – although the Bloom! Hotel might be next on my list. Having said that, how can a hotel plaster four stars over its doorway and not offer a decent restaurant? However, in its defence, a hotel without a restaurant means you have to explore the city, which ain’t a bad thing.

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