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Check out a hotel before you check in

Simon Calder’s Travel

Choosing a hotel? I prefer the old-school method of walking along the street. You can check a place out before you check in. And, with no internet intermediaries to take a slice of the transaction, possibly grab a bargain too.

On Saturday 2 March, I embarked on a five-day journey to Poland and Germany. The only elements I had booked: a Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Lodz in the heart of Poland, and a flight back from Berlin. In between, it was a matter of making it up as I went along. In Lodz’s handsome main boulevard, the Hotel Grand lived up to its name: a magnificent marble staircase led to a well-appointed room with weapons-grade WiFi and a Baltic-sized bath. Entering the breakfast room was like wandering into a grand middle-European ballroom – which it is, with the added morning bonus of a buffet piled high with imperial dishes. And all for the price of a decent budget hotel in the UK.

Poznan offered similarly outstanding value. I needed reliable communications for some broadcasting. Experience shows that quaint historical properties do not always excel in delivering internet connectivity, so I opted for the Hampton by Hilton on the edge of the lovely Old Town. Four-star quality at two-star prices, with friendly staff who let me linger in the lobby long after check-out time.

Next stop: Eisenhüttenstadt, just across the River Oder, which marks the Polish-German border. (This city is the home for the world’s only Utopia Museum, if you’re wondering what I was doing there). With places to stay thin on the ground, I phoned ahead to book the Hotel Fürstenberg. This is the one “attractively embedded in the Oder landscape”. A few hours later, when I turned up to check in, the place was locked and deserted. After several attempts to call again, the proprietor gave me a code for the key box – where the key to room nine was waiting. “Breakfast is at 7.30am,” she instructed in a manner that invited no further discussion.

At 7.28am, after a night in a room whose thin curtains and tired decor shared some DNA with youth hostels, I walked with trepidation down to breakfast. The well-appointed ground floor filled with cheerful, chatty fellow guests and the proprietor herself: generously tattooed and delighted to make scrambled eggs to order, as well as delivering extra coffee well after 9am.

Final stop: the German…

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