Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Midsummer Bonkers Road Trip: The Travel Bit - Part 1

The latest road trip to Germany and Switzerland – well, fly drive trip to be precise – got off to an excellent start when, without a quibble, the MAC concession at Stansted airport exchanged the bottle of Studio Fix foundation I had bought back in April, the last time I was passing through. The item was out of its money back period, but they let me swap it for an eye pencil and a peachy crème lipstick called - rather inappropriately for a dissatisfied customer ready to do battle - “Shy girl”. As things turned out, I didn’t even have to play my “Just so you know, the sales assistant who colour matched me was orange” card, which I was keeping up my sleeve in case there was any argy bargy about the suitability of the shade her colleague had recommended.

So anyway, as ever I will split my trip posts into the travel-related and the (somewhat) perfume-related, adding further subdivisions as the mood takes me. Without further ado, here are some of the things that struck me this time round...

The demise of soap

Now you may say that this observation is old hat... Because of course for some time now hotels have quietly been replacing individual tablets of guest soap with wall-mounted dispensers: one over the sink and one over the bath, if they remember. There is clearly a massive cost saving to the hotelier by not having to replace used soap tablets on a daily basis - or in my case, used and unused stolen ones. However, on this trip I noticed a further worrying development, namely the substitution of loose shower wash bottles for cakes of soap or wall-mounted soap dispensers. By substitution I mean just one bottle plonked in the sink area somewhere. I find this move concerning, because the wall-mounted dispensers have been specially developed to be suitable for all body parts, including hair, while shower crème is just shower crème, and it feels decidedly odd to squeeze out a bit to wash your hands. The whole principle of shower crème is predicated on its usage being confined to the shower, otherwise it should be called...well..."wash basin creme". So that bothered me.

Over-zealous extractor fans

Okay, so I am not disputing the important role of ventilation in a windowless bathroom, but I was particularly struck on this trip by the relentless efficiency with which extractor fans kicked in in my hotel en suites, droning on for a good ten minutes after I had vacated the area. That is in itself annoying enough, but someone could really do with inventing an “intelligent” extractor fan - you know, like those windscreen wipers that sense when and how hard it is raining and switch themselves on automatically to the appropriate setting. By the same token, there is an urgent need for extractor fans that sense you weren’t prompted to use the bathroom by an urgent need of your own, but in fact only nipped in for five seconds to brush your hair or powder your nose. Quite literally. Currently, the extractor fan is – acoustically speaking – a decidedly blunt instrument.

Minibars as the new wardrobes

On my last trip I learnt the lesson that it is foolhardy to put things in the wardrobes of hotel rooms, for the chances are that at some point you will check out and leave key items of clothing behind. This time I was acutely wardrobe-aware, and took pains to hang all clothes outside on hooks and rails and sundry ledges in plain view. I was, however, staying on the whole in a slightly better class of hotel, and had a minibar in my room on several occasions. This offered an illicit temperature-controlled environment for my stash of emergency chocolate, miniature bottles of drugstore Sekt and the sandwiches I had smuggled away under cover of serviette from the breakfast buffet. I was of course quick to transfer my wardrobe learning to this new scenario, and left notes in prominent places to remind myself to remove my interloping food and drink items from the minibar before checking out.

Preternaturally early lunches

The corollary of this packed lunch-making habit is that having checked out I lost my refrigerated facility, and the sandwich had to take its chances in the ambient interior of my car – as in ambient to boiling hot, depending on the weather. I made a point of catching the weather forecasts on the morning news with their detailed four hourly temperature projections, and on the basis of this information would time my lunch break accordingly. This could be as early as 11am in the case of soft cheese, which I knew to be a hotbed of salmonella and other nasties ending in "-cocci" if allowed to reproduce unchecked. Given that I had not long eaten a copious breakfast, you may wonder at this determination to consume all the food to which my room rate entitled me, but in my line of work the camel principle is key.

Internet robdoggery

Most of the hotels on my last trip offered free Internet access, the only catch being that there was not always a signal in my hotel room, and sometimes I could only log on to the network in the dining room or the lower reaches of the hotel stairs. This time I had a mixture of free Internet in the room, free access somewhere else in the hotel, OR very expensive Internet access in the room, which is a racket of the first water. In Stuttgart, for example, the hotel wanted 8 euros for an hour’s surfing which is simply outrageous. By way of protest, I waltzed past the front desk and out into the street with my open netbook cradled ostentatiously in my arms, and proceded to try to log on to an unsecured network in any of the neighbouring properties. Nothing doing, sadly, but it was worth a throw.

Even 200 yards away I was still taunted by my robdog hotel’s network with its flagrant demand for 8 euros. So I took my netbook back to my room and set off in search of an Internet café. A customer in a nearby video shop directed me to a call shop about 15 minutes’ walk away, where they only charged 2 euros an hour. Yay! My determination not to pay the hotel’s rate was as much about the principle as the money alone, though it is fair to say that the six euros I saved would have bought me 18 bottles of water or one and a half bottles of Suddenly Madame Glamour in Lidl! And I got a bit of exercise along the way...

To be continued...

Photo of extractor fan from, photo of roll from, photo of call shop from, other photos my own.


  1. Welcome back, Vanessa! A first-rate posting, as always.

    The 'extractor fan' musing was particularly intertaining. A 'smartfan' would be a beautiful contraption-especially in our house where perfume can only be applied in the bathroom, door shut and fan running (sometimes for hours on end). : (

    An automatic shut-off feature based on 'odeur' level? Brilliant idea!


  2. Hi Cymbaline,

    It's nice to be back, if only for two weeks - a big tour of Central Europe looms!

    It can only be a matter of time before someone comes up with a smart extractor fan. Well, I do hope so, anyway! Sometimes it is the action of switching on the bathroom light that triggers the fan, and I have taken to applying my make up in the dark on occasions - anything to fool the fan into not clocking my presence. That practice is not without its own drawbacks, as you can imagine... : - )

  3. 'intertaining'?!

    Good grief. I wrote 'beleive' in a comment on another blog a couple of days ago. I believe this slippage of spelling skills may be entertaining to some-to me it's quite worrisome.

    I think I'll blame it on the rosacea : )

  4. Cymbaline, I think we should blame everything on the rosacea: my bloodshot eyes are definitely a form of ocular rosacea and nothing to do with my penchant for a G & T of an evening. At the suggestion of Sam who commented on that post, I have sent away for a Liz Earle cleanser and its associated polishing cloth, so it will be interesting to see what that does for my own spelling.

  5. I didn't see the Liz Earle reference. I've actually been using said cleanser and cloth for several months and it has helped a little. It certainly hasn't aggravated the rosacea more.

    I think LZ is a wonderful line. My skin looks and feels good and the price is reasonable. The only drawback is I have to order from the UK so I have to plan ahead and buy in bulk.

  6. Glad to see you're back!

    We were recently away as well, and I was very surprised to see those soap dispensers, much like you'd find in a public washroom/toilet. I don't like the idea because the quality and fragrance of the soap dispenser contents are not usually very good, in my opinion. I always found the bars a bit creamier. Hate the bright, bubble gum pink liquid that squishes out with every push. Yuck.

  7. Hi Cymbaline,

    I am looking forward to trying the Liz Earle range, and how interesting that you are already a devotee! It appealed to me because it sounded gentle and kind to skin, which chimes with your experience.

  8. Hi lovethescents,

    You are so right that the experience of using the gels from those dispensers is inferior to that of using regular soap. They may be suitable for hair or body, but are nowhere near as luxurious and creamy.

  9. If only the hotels would bestow a huge bottle of Dr. Bronners All-In-One soap on every traveler. You'd be able to wash your hair, your hands, your clothes, your fruits and vegetables, your dishes, and end up with plenty of reading material left over. But bring your magnifying glass, because that label print is super-wee. ;)

  10. Hi Olenska,

    I had never heard of that brand, though following a quick google I like the look of the range, which comes in a variety of appealing scents. And as you say, the bottle provides copious amounts of reading material!

  11. I enjoy your travel stories. I do not travel even close to as often as you do but with my mild OCD I recognize some of the tricks we have in common.
    The new way of the washing liquid delivery bothers me: that bottle doesn't look like a single use one. I'm not sure I want to use something who knows how many people touched before me without it being at least pretend-cleaned (like the rest of the room). On the other hand, I always travel with my own stuff so I wouldn't be effected much. But still disturbing.
    Welcome back.

  12. Hi Undina

    Mild OCD - indeed I put my hand up to that, especially in respect of needlessly relocking the car multiple times... : - )

    Do you know, I hadn't thought of the hygiene aspect in connection with these new bottles, being more of the "you touch a peck of dirt before you die" school of thought. And like you, I do travel with my own stuff, including a small tablet of soap purloined from a hotel in the good old days! Though in my case that is more in case there is no soap equivalent whatsover.

  13. I love your travel posts. You have a take on things that makes me grin, as you know. :) That first photo looks very much like the village I used to live in. Bet it's warm over there this time of year.

    On soap: I recently went to Derbyshire for a wedding and was gobsmacked to discover that there was NO soap or showergel supplied in my swanky B&B's bathroom. I had to resort to using a sample Dove facial washcloth (from a magazine) and shampoo to have a shower. I've since packed some of my own purloined hotel soap bars in my washbag.

    On 'tinternet: did you know that wifi access is free in all McDonald's restaurants? And their coffee is decent. (No news on their hot choc or tea.)

  14. Hi Wordbird,

    Thanks for that! The photo is of my first hotel, just inland from the Bodensee on the German side. I was able to eat out at one of those tables in the evening, as it was indeed very warm a lot of the time.

    Re the ongoing soap is true that sometimes the hotel just "clean" forgets to put any out!

    McDonald's is a regular pitstop for me - their tea is fine, their new chicken with honey and mustard wrap very acceptable, and the toilets always a welcome standby. Hadn't twigged to the Internet access though - noted for next time!

    : - )

    PS Me and Potiron met up in Zurich - you were much missed!

  15. Welcome back! As always, a wonderful read, and you've hit the nail on the head regarding the latest hotel foibles. That Nivea soap is the exact one provided in my last hotel, so maybe Nivea is giving the hotels price breaks. :)

  16. RE: Bronners-- Lavender, Citrus, and Tea Tree are my favorite flavors. For best results, read the label text aloud in a Jackie Mason-esque, Borscht Belt accent.... and if you ever come across it, the documentary "Doctor Bronner's Magic Soapbox" is awesome.

  17. Hi anotherperfumeblog,

    "Hotel foibles" is exactly it! Nivea would indeed appear to be launching a global assault on this sector - it is a far cry from the little all-purpose blue tub of yore...

    : - )

  18. Hi olenska,

    Thanks for the heads up on the flavours and associated TV programming! I'll keep an eye out for that...

  19. Cymbaline that is so weird as Liz Earle is owned by Avon . Anyhow Vanessa , those fans must be well out of date. In my husband's office the lights go off if a person hasn't moved for two seconds.I meet him Friday and sit in the tea-room shouting "power-cut" . Going to the loo is scary in case a nutter is lurking so I waggle an arm in first .