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Not so cheap or cheerful
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Very convenient location
Disadvantages: Very basic room and facilities, not particularly cheap for the price
Travelodges are one of those ubiquitous things. Everywhere you go has them, and you know they will offer a certain, basic level of comfort without ever being anything special. Having said that, I was rather surprised when I stayed a couple of nights in the Travelodge in Durham.
Booking online was relatively straightforward - a simple case of going to the Travelodge website, typing in the town or city and choosing the dates of the stay. If you're not already registered, you have to create an account, but the whole thing only takes around 5 minutes in total. In common with many hotel chains, they do levy a surcharge of £1.50 if you pay by credit card, which I always find very annoying. However, since the alternative is to use their tortuous telephone booking system which takes about 15 times longer and takes your sanity to breaking point, I swallowed my principles and accepted the charge.
Although it's located reasonably close to the centre of Durham, the hotel itself is pleasingly easy to get to, sitting as it does, just on the outskirts. If you come in on the A1(M), it's virtually impossible to miss, so you don't have to drive around confusing city streets for hours looking for it. Located as it is on the very edges of the city, you get the best of both worlds: you don't get caught up in the city centre traffic too much, but are close enough that you are just 5 minutes walk away from the shops. Location is certainly one of the strongest features of Durham's Travelodge, and one of the reasons why you pay so much for the room you get.
Arriving at the Travelodge is a bit of a strange experience. We pulled into the main car park and unloaded the car and began to make our way across to the reception area round the side of the building. On the way, I noticed a small sign which read "Call in at reception before you unpack your car, in case you wish to move your car later." We were slightly mystified by this, but since we had already unpacked our luggage decided to proceed to reception anyway. This turned out to be a mistake. The Travelodge actually has an annex building with its own car park, a couple of minutes walk away. If you're in the annex, the chances are you'll want to move your car - hence the sign. We had to traipse all our luggage back, repack the car and move to the other car park. Having just completed a 4 hour drive, this was the last thing we needed. True, there were a number of signs - but none on the side of the car park we parked in, so by the time we realised, it was too late. More, and better placed signs are definitely needed.
(I've just noticed on the website, that they now have a message stating that the hotel is in two buildings and advising guests to check in before unloading. This wasn't there when we booked, so clearly they have had a number of comments about this!)
The checking-in process itself was fairly straightforward, since we had already paid for the room on the website. It just took us a couple of minutes, with relatively little fuss and thankfully, no forms to fill in. The checkout time is also a fairly generous 12 noon, so you don't have to rush to vacate your room on the day you leave.
In terms of the room itself, basic would be one word which could be applied. Sparse would be another. There was a double bed (with the usual wafer thin pillows), a desk with a single plastic bucket chair, a small TV perched on the desk and that was it. The TV was very basic - a small cathode ray (not LCD) model that took up quite a bit of the desk space, main terrestrial TV only (bar a couple of minor, uninteresting digital ones) and no teletext. There weren't even any comfortable chairs to relax in - the only option was to perch or lie on the bed. The sole wardrobe/cupboard space was a single set of shelves and an open wardrobe near the door. This didn't really give you a lot of space in which to hang your clothes. There were no drawers or any other kind of furniture you could use to put things or sit on. Everything was in a very dull pine/wood colour and the whole thing looked like it had been thrown together by MFI on a particularly bad Friday afternoon. There was a kettle and basic coffee and tea supplies, but no biscuits. I know that part of the trade-off of using somewhere like a Travelodge is that it's cheap and cheerful, but considering we were paying £55 per night for the room only (no breakfast or other meals included), I was astounded at how bare the room was. This, combined with the identikit corridors makes for a very soul-less stay. The longer you are there, the more you can feel your will to live being sapped.
Just off the main room was the bathroom, which was equally sparse and provided a couple of further niggles. We had been warned at the time of booking that the usual complementary shower gel, shampoo, soap etc. was not provided, so this wasn't really a problem as we knew to take our own. Towels were provided, but that was pretty much all you got for your money. Even other hotel staples like hair driers were not available (although apparently, you could get one from reception if needed)
There were a couple of problems with the bathroom itself too. The sink wasn't terribly good at holding water - even with the plug in, the water slowly seeped out, which meant you had to a) wash very quickly, b) run in more water than you really needed, on the grounds that you would lose some of it, or c) keep topping it up. We even discovered later that our bath didn't have a plug! This was a real nuisance, because we had to traipse out of the annex building, and across to reception in the main building Whilst the problem was sorted quickly (although they did have to give us the plug from the staff kitchen!), it's the sort of thing which should have been noticed and rectified before we went into the room.
The taps in the bath were equally strange and caused me some confusion. When I started to run the bath, I naively assumed that the right hand tap was for cold water and the left hand for hot. Wrong! After some experimentation, I discovered the hard way that Travelodge taps don't conform to the rest of the known world. Instead, the right hand tap controls the temperature (up for cold water, down for hot), whilst the left hand one controls the flow of water and the shower. So, assuming the left hand tap was for the hot water, I turned it down... and got a very wet head because that actually turned the shower on. Still, the sight of me emerging from the bathroom, soaking wet to report the results of my not-so-scientific experiment gave Mrs SWSt a good giggle! Sadly, I didn't learn from this experience and repeated my dowsing on several occasions during my stay!
Staying at the Durham Travelodge is definitely a strange experience. In order to (supposedly) save on the costs, they skimp on virtually every aspect of the room - from basic furnishings through to the little extras that make staying in a hotel a more interesting experience. You really would not want to use it for anything more than somewhere to sleep at night whilst you used it as a base to explore Durham. Its chief strength is the fact that it is so central, less than 5 minutes walk away from the City Centre. To be honest though, it wasn't particularly cheap and its facilities were so basic that if I ever needed another hotel in Durham, I'd be prepared to pay a little bit more for a room which offered more for your money.
One that is most definitely best suited to business travellers who just need somewhere to stay for the night, or those on a really tight budget who don't care about anything above basic comfort levels.
Tel: 0871 984 6136
Web: http://www.travelodge.co.uk/search_and_book/hotel_ overview.php?hotel_id=204
© Copyright SWSt 2008
Summary: One for those who just need a room and nothing more
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