“ Address: Mauritiuslaan 1 / 3526 LD Utrecht / Netherlands „
It is well know among my friends and family that I have no concept of space or distance; it is one of the reasons I have never learned to drive. Although I am not unfamiliar with the idea that the further you go from a city centre the cheaper the hotels tend to become, I cheerfully booked us in for three nights at Utrecht's Bastion Hotel which is somewhere between two and three miles from the centre of the city. To be fair the information on the hotel's website was a little misleading because it suggested that it's closer to the centre than it really is but the price was so much cheaper than the hotels in the centre that we were able to stay an extra night and even taking into account tram fares for two this seemed like a good deal. Walking round Utrecht you can see why the hotels are so expensive. The ones in the centre tend to occupy magnificent old buildings and have excellent views and presumably the rules relating to the use of such buildings probably restrict changes to the interior to that might otherwise create more rooms. The hotels in the centre of Utrecht appear to be rather grand and elegant, or else small and boutique-y; if you have a limited budget you need to stay away from the centre. Station Location There are very few cars in the centre of Utrecht; most people get around by bike and the commercial area is easy to get around on foot. The streets are narrow and not really suited to cars so if you are driving to Utrecht you'd probably be better off in a location on the outskirts of town. One of the city's much used Park & Ride car-parks is just across the road, right beside a tram and bus stop and public transport runs into the early hours. The hotel, of course, has its own secure parking but if you do need to go into the city centre, it's no more than ten minutes to Utrecht's vast 'Centraal Station'. There is nothing else in the area, however, and the hotel is essentially on the edge of a large industrial zone. If you find yourself wanting a beer, a bottle of water or a bite to eat you either have to pay hotel prices, or jump on a tram, or get in your car. Fence/Offence We arrived at Utrecht's Centraal Station just before 10.00 pm and tried to follow the seemingly excellent directions provided on the hotel's website. Unfortunately, due to major work at the station site, trams are not leaving from the station and the buses mentioned in my notes were leaving from a different place. Had this been a temporary change I would have minded less but a local teenager told us that the diversion had been in place all summer, and I don't think it unreasonable to expect the website information to be amended while the diversion was in place. The tram stop is directly opposite the hotel and there's a crossing to help you negotiate four lanes of traffic, two tramlines and two cycle paths. However, when you get to the hotel side, the path is badly lit, overgrown and has a number of uneven paving stones. If this was not sufficiently unwelcoming, pedestrians have to press a buzzer to get the night receptionist to let you in. There are two buttons on the intercom and we pressed both as it was too dark to see which was the correct one. There's also no way of knowing, once you have pressed the buttons, whether the equipment is working and I must apologise to the staff if, as a result, I pressed the button more times than necessary. What I found odd about this arrangement is that there didn't appear to be a camera to allow the staff could see who they were admitting, so they couldn't really be sure it was guests they were buzzing in. The whole set up here seemed a bit over the top and intimidating, making us wonder what kind of neighbourhood we were staying in. Hostile Hosts Based on the quality of the accommodation alone, I'd be giving Bastion Hotel Utrecht a good four stars. I had no complaint about our twin room which was clean, comfortable and equipped with everything we needed for our stay. The room was not huge but neither did you have to squeeze round the furniture or dodge each other to get round the room, and there was enough room to stash bags out of the way. The water in our en suite shower room was always hot and easy to adjust. Although the shower did not have a tray the bathroom did not flood and remained inside the low lip intended to trap it. The mirror didn't steam up and there were strategically placed hooks to hang clothes and towels. It's such a shame, then, that the poor service takes the shine of this excellent accommodation. Check in was efficient even if the receptionist wasn't very friendly but when we got to the room I realised we hadn't been given a password to access the hotel's Wi-Fi which is free across throughout the building; I checked the wallet that our key wipe card had been presented in, and the hotel information folder without success. When I picked up the 'phone to ask the receptionist for the code the line was dead, thought the 'phone was plugged in, so it was on with the shoes and off to reception, The receptionist told me the password in a tone that suggested I should have known it without being told and repeated the information I relayed to her about the telephone not working in a way that suggested she didn't really believe me. After a dozen failed attempts to connect to the network I took my netbook down to reception and asked the receptionist to write down the password in case there was something I was missing. From the sigh this request provoked, I had asked a great deal of the receptionist. I tried again unsuccessfully and asked whether there were any issues with certain parts of the building being more problematic for getting a signal; I was told so bluntly that there were no such issues that I wished I hadn't asked. A second attempt to log on was successful. As I left reception I thanked the receptionist for jotting down the password but couldn't help mentioning that I found her attitude rude. "Well what could I do? she asked. I explained that even if there was nothing she could do she should sympathise and apologise about the problems I was having and sigh and pull faces after I had left reception. The next morning another receptionist was on duty. He was talking to a colleague when we came downstairs; neither of them acknowledged us and it took an excuse me as we waited at the desk to get the receptionists attention. We asked for a map of the city and one was thrust into my partner's hand before the receptionist returned to his conversation. It would have been nice if the receptionist had taken the time to show us where the hotel was on the map in relation to the city centre. Irritating Issues There are a couple of additional details that didn't affect our enjoyment of our stay or cause us a lot of bother but which I feel are worth mentioning because they show that there's a lack of thought prevalent here. The room safe was hidden away in a storage area which had shelves on one side and a hanging area opposite. The instructions for setting the code and locking the safe were on the front of the safe in tiny print. Even with all the lights in the room switched on, we still had to use the light on a mobile phone to see the instructions. Without such a light it would have been impossible to read them. On the day we were to check out I jumped in the shower only to find when I was finished that there were no fresh towels in the place where previously they had been neatly folded and stored. It turned out they were in the bedroom, just above the safe. This is a minor niggle but an annoying one because it meant I had to trail my wet feet all over the bathroom and into the bedroom in search of towels or to ask my partner to throw on some clothes and go and find some towels as we initially thought he might have to do. Final Score The most important requirements of a comfortable and clean room for a good night's sleep were fulfilled and I can't complain at all about those aspects. While the décor was very bland (and a picture hanging on the wall was cheap looking and uninspiring -it showed graffiti on brickwork) the room was spotless and well maintained and the furniture and fixtures appeared to be of decent quality. We didn't take breakfast at the hotel but you can pay separately for this at a cost of Euro14.50 per person per day. As I am happy with a coffee and a pastry (which you can buy for Euro2.00 from many cafes and bakers' shops before 10.00 am) I was happy to wait until I got into town and make do with a coffee in our room first thing. The hotel restaurant is also open for lunch and dinner, and doubles as the hotel bar. There's a small television room with a pool table just beside the hotel entrance. We paid £44.89 for Friday and Saturday nights and £52.90 for Sunday night staying in August/September 2013. We booked through hotels.com and were able to use a voucher to get a ten per cent discount. A local tourist tax of approximately Euro14 for the two of us for the three night's stay were paid in cash on arrival. Note: the telephone was not fixed during our stay.