sojourneys


The Holiday Inn Birmingham City Centre

The Holiday Inn Birmingham City Centre is strategically located within 10 minutes of brisk walking to the bustling Birmingham New Street station with regular services to and from London (1 hour 20 minutes away by Virgin Trains) and other parts of the UK, and also to the futuristic Bullring Shopping Mall anchored by Selfridges and Debenhams department stores.

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The Holiday Inn Birmingham City Centre reminds me of the Holiday Inn Los Angeles International Airport, which while totally serviceable, provides a quick and comfortable transit stop rather than a relaxing vacation residence, and lacks facilities such as a pool and a gym.

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Staff are generally friendly, but service can be tardy, as perhaps can be expected of a busy hotel.  A call for an ice bucket was not fulfilled despite a reminder after an hour’s wait, and we had to personally make a trip down to the lobby bar to bring up the ice.

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The Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit

The Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit is Marriott’s latest property in Bangkok, having been only officially opened sometime in the middle of March (just in time for the Songkran, or Thai New Year holidays in April).

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Its best asset is its propinquity to the Bangkok sky train system (the Thonglor station on the Sukhumvit line).  Check-in was smooth, and the hotel fuses contemporary decor with traditional Thai motifs.  The elevators are a highlight, with touch-sensitive LCD screens that advertises various features of the hotels (including “Thailand’s color for the day” which varies with each day) where buttons are.

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Guestrooms are comfortable with all the amenities one would expect of a five-star property, except for one important feature.  There is no full-length mirror.  Did the decorators forget this essential item?  Whether as a business or tourist hotel, most guests would want to do  quick check of their attire before going out to their appointments of the day.  Yet, this feature was sorely missing.  The bathroom was curiously capacious, taking up almost a third of the room.

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Service wise, as perhaps can be expected with a new hotel, staff knowledge was inconsistent.  During breakfast in the all-day dinning restaurant, the breakfast menu never materialized despite repeated requests.  At the third request, a menu was delivered, but it was the lunch and dinner menu.  It was only then that the wait staff said that they did not have a menu dedicated to breakfast fare.  Again, strangely lacking in a deluxe property.  And for the fitness enthusiast, the gym–which while serviceable, would benefit from more weight resistance equipment–is shut tight by 10pm despite it being advertised as a 24-hour facility.  Guests have to go to the lobby on the ground floor (no phone was in sight to allow guests to call the front desk) to ask a staff to open the door to the gym.  And when I did, one front desk staff exclaimed that I could have just used my key card to open the door, only to be corrected by her colleague that a key card reader has not been installed at the gym.  Hopefully this was part of a teething process that will soon be sorted out.

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The Andaz Liverpool Street London
April 5, 2013, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Andaz, hotels, Hyatt, London, reviews | Tags: , , , ,

The Andaz Liverpool Street London is an enigma.  And its many hallways hide a secret.  For the unveiling of the secret, you may scroll to the final paragraph now.  But first about the enigma.

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The Andaz is Hyatt’s  collection of mod, boutique hotels where guests will find no stodgy check-in desks, where social spaces mesh seamlessly one into another, where hosts welcome guests on iPads, and where guests can help themselves without charge to an enticing spectrum of beverages and hors d’œuvre and wine to welcome the evening.  For all its modernity and fresh, contemporary vibe, the Andaz Liverpool Street (Hyatt’s first Andaz) is housed in a magnificent redbrick Victorian building dating back to 1884.  In fact, before Hyatt purchased the building in 2008, it once housed the Great Eastern Hotel, one of the original London railway hotels.  The confluence of modernity and history, of mod lighting and chandeliers, and of technology and tradition, is part of what makes a stay at the Andaz Liverpool London so special.

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The top-notch service is another reason.  The draping of soft bath towels over heated towel bars in the bathroom is a perfect example of the hotel’s service level.  The bewildering array of complimentary in-room beverages from carbonated and still Llanllyr water, Breckland Orchard fruit-flavored refreshments, Schweppes lemonades, Coke, Diet Coke,tea from The East India Company, and more, is another.  Toiletries are from London’s Plantation.  The guestroom has everything that even the most fussy guest would want, and more.

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For all its impressive amenities, the gym was disappointing.  While it is spacious, the variety of equipment is limited.  Multi-function stations (and the gym has just one) simply do not provide the same precision and adequacy of training that purpose-built dedicated stations do.  And for a property of such caliber, one would expect a more well-equipped gym.  This is an area I hope the hotel management can improve on.

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And now for the secret.  During renovations of the Great Eastern Hotel in 1990, workers came across a false wall.  When the false wall was demolished, a hidden Masonic Temple revealed itself–marble flooring, mahogany walls, leather thrones, and all.  Urban legends surrounding this Masonic Temple abound.  The most disturbing perhaps is that as the neighborhood was thought to be one of Jack the Ripper’s haunts, and as the notorious serial killer was thought to be a Mason, he may have socialized in the temple.  Today, the Andaz Liverpool Street makes the room available for events rental.  Ask an Andaz host, and if they are not too busy, you might just be given a private tour.

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The Pullman London St Pancras
April 4, 2013, 8:09 am
Filed under: hotels, London, Pullman, reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Located on 100-110 Euston Road, one of the Pullman London St Pancras‘ most strategic assets is its location: it’s a mere 10-minute walk to both the Euston and the King’s Cross/St Pancras stations (where travelers can hop on the Eurostar to Europe).

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Formerly known as the Novotel London St Pancras, the property was rebadged as a Pullman after a major refurbishment into a four-star all non-smoking hotel.  True to the Pullman branding, the property exudes modernity with plenty of mod furniture and decorative piece, and ambient lighting.

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The deluxe room we were assigned was spacious, especially for a central London location, and had large windows which let in plenty of natural light, further enlarging the confines of the room.  The decor is clean and contemporary, with a the clever use of light yellow mustard to throw up a bright contrast to the predominant use of grays and whites.  The room amenities are all once can expect of a four-star hotel, with a Krups coffee-brewer and Jing tea (Jade Sword Green, Earl Grey, and English breakfast) for in-room refreshments.  Toiletries are from Roger & Gallet of Paris (Pullman, after all, is part of France’s Accor Group).

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While the Pullman London St Pancras is young and modern in almost every respect–including its international staff–one area the refurbishment seems to have missed is the gym.  It looks like a school gym from the nineties with equipment that while functional, are austere and dated.  It also has a coed sauna and steam room, which as one can expect due to its mix-gender nature and within the context of a hotel, see little utilization.