Travel Guide: Buffalo, New York

Last month, we went to Buffalo!

Cue: Angry Sea Turtles’ Top 7 tips for being in Buffalo!

Buffalo, New York

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Slogan/tagline: “If you haven’t seen Buffalo lately, you haven’t seen Buffalo.”

Obligatory see/eat/do: Buffalo wings, Beef on Weck, Fish Fry, Buffalo Bills games

Obligatory activity score: 0/4

Visit rating: ***

  1. Stay at The Hotel at The Lafayette! Why? See my review here (coming soon!) 12243051_10157040573823125_358344983981086842_nIf lifting a finger to press the word “here” is too irksome, here’s the summary: three restaurants, bars seemingly round every corner, its own brewery (The Pearl), achingly hip lobby coffee spot (both lobby and coffee spot = achingly hip), gorgeous entirely renovated rooms (the reno cost $40 million), corridors like a hipster Shining, plus the place was designed in 1904 by Louise Blanchard Bethune (the first professional female architect to practise in the US), a ballroom that’ll drop your jaw down to your socks plus a ton of architectural features that you’d think Wes Anderson dreamed up. Hotel Lafayette suites BuffaloEven if you don’t leave the hotel during your visit, a stay at The Lafayette alone is worth a trip to Buffalo.
  2. Ignore those pricey parcades. If you’re here on the weekend, you can park for free on the street! We got in at ten to six on the Friday… and six p.m. turned out to be the magic hour when B-town’s downtown weekend parking magically becomes free until Monday morning. We paid 25 cents for those first ten minutes and then loped the 100 freezing feet to the hotel. It’s cold in Buffalo in December!
  3. Go to Allentown! It’s wee and walkable and has an easily explored selection of crammed bars, tasty eateries, quirky stores, varied galleries, a general pleasing neighbourhood-y-ness and a fun First Friday event from 6-9pm. Everyone raves about dive bar Allen Street Hardware and Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar, but we were too hungry to hit them up on this visit. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to scoff wings but we opted for the coffee and salads at Grindhaus – good music, nice laid back place and smiley staff. Here’s a picture of some optimistic outdoor seating. Brrr.Grindhaus Buffalo Travel Guide
  4. For brunch, head for Grant Street near Elmwood Village and Sweet_Ness 7 Cafe, right across the street from Black Dot Records. 12240074_10157040573438125_8370950758848268987_nThis was ideal for us, as once we’d eaten, my accompanying Canadian could paw her way through reams of grubby used records across the road while I sat, alternating reading the latest Jonas Jonasson book and admiring the tin ceiling and the parade of local Buffalo characters trooping through for Highland Cow Granola, Spicy Cheesy Grits and chorizo-laden Irish Peasant Pancakes.
  5. Go to breweries! Even as an adamant non-beer drinker, these brewery visits were completely entertaining. And Buffalo seems to have vats of such emporia! Sponge Candy Resurgence Beer Brewery BuffaloWe went to the airy Resurgence Brewing Company near the Niagara River where The Canadian worked her way through a flight of options such as Sponge Candy Stout, Totes McOats and Bad Decisions Honey Brown, while we asked each other obscure Trivial Pursuits questions from the packs along the bar and waited our turn for the gargantuan Connect 4 games. They’ve got food (bar-ish snacks like pizza, pretzels and burritos, plus meat/cheese plates and hummus plates), too, and cider, unlike a lot of beer purist hangouts I’ve been dragged to of late. Before we left town, we popped into “nanobrewery” Community Beerworks where the guys were a laugh and we hung out and talked beer, borders and, um, other things that don’t start with B. Next time we’ll get to Pearl Street (um, somehow we missed this one, despite it being in our hotel), Flying Bison, 12 Gates, 42 North, Big Ditch, Rusty Nickel, Hamburg, Gordon Biersch, Taps, Buffalo Brewing… Buffalo breweriesI may not like beer, but I like seeing The Canadian’s delighted expression when she finds the perfect stout.
  6. Thinking of going to the Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House Complex? Do – it has amazing, soothing lines, but you could also go to other interesting dwelling places where you can find souvenirs that are far better value than $42 geometric pattern ties and $300+ sprite sculptures for the garden. After checking out The Martin House (and seeing wee wild bunnies outside – bunnies!), we stumbled upon an estate sale in a massive house on the next street and had a fascinating/sad time imagining who had lived there and what their lives had been like. Possible souvenirs from such an excursion: one lone hockey skate, a polished grand piano, chandeliers, cobwebs, a wee gulp of sadness. We settled on an obviously much used and loved copy of Middle Eastern Cooking from 1972 that I’m pretty sure my mum had.
  7. Check the weather for all visits between November and May. Buffalo and lake effect snow are often a hideous combination – the snow from the monster storm of November 2014 was still there eight months later. EIGHT! Check out this video of snow clouds racing in!

What would we do differently? Go in summer and explore along the river with its grain elevators, saunter through Olmsted-designed parks, redeveloping Canalside bits and the Cobblestone District, check out the 16 adjacent wineries along the wine trail (yep, all of ’em) and visit farmers’ markets when the temperature hasn’t turned everything edible into freezy-pops. Try brunch at Betty’s, Burmese food at Sun, Viet-Thai combos at Niagara Seafood and Buffalo BBQ.

Would we go back? Yep! See above.

Other Buffalo guides I think you should examine:

Visit Buffalo Niagara – great site! We did most of our trip research here.

Jim Byers’ Buffalo – the article that first got us intrigued about popping south of the border from the former Travel Editor at The Toronto Star

Hotel review: Ottawa Marriott Hotel

Okay, this isn’t really a review – I lured you to this post on false pretences. From what I can recall the Marriott was absolutely fine and Marriott-y (beige, clean, sensible, beige, unchallenging – which is exactly what I wanted for my overnight in Ottawa – I’ve had more than enough challenging hotel stays of late, beige, beige…) We didn’t see anything but the lobby (free cucumber water!) and the room and I’ve forgotten everything about the room other than that the window gave onto a vista of other windows in other towers in downtown Ottawa. But despite this entire lack of detail, I am posting here because I found this… THIS!THIS!!!… posted under the hotel door in the morning before we checked out!

We were very nearly late for checkout because we were rolling about guffawing so much at this missive.

Insult slip OttawaI guess it’s the opposite of a compliment slip (which I’ve always felt should say something like “that hat really matches your eyes” or “you look really good in magenta”) – an insult slip, perhaps?

I am delighted the youth that stays in monotone contemporary four-star downtown hotels today use their vacation time so productively instead of meekly trotting off to the various family-friendly amenities that the Ottawa Marriott so kindly provides. I’m only surprised that my many siblings and I didn’t think of doing this on the occasional hotel bookings of our youth when we stayed in places where wee hotel notepads were pretty much the only amenities those establishments provided.

Although, hmmm, who says one needs to be a youth to carry out such activities… Perhaps, despite my advancing years, there are still ways to add a few splashes of colour to those beige hotel stays… for the other guests, at least…

Hotel review: Hooters Casino Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada

No, Priceline, no, no, no! After all these years and all the places we’ve been together, how could you do this to me?

Sometimes doing a super last minute, anonymous bid for a hotel room on Priceline works out amazingly well. Sometimes it does not.

Have you ever been to bosom-ogling emporium Hooters? For the, um, wings? Well… it turns out that as well as Hooters’ 500 or so eating, drinking and bosom-ogling establishments, there’s also a hotel. A casino hotel. In Las Vegas. Where now, courtesy of the game of roulette that is Priceline, I am now booked to stay.

“The cure for the common casino,” trumpets the cleavage and owl-adorned website! This sounds accurate, as looking at online reviews for my night’s accommodation makes it sounds as if I will be cured of ever wanting to go to any sort of gaming venue again. One of the more enthusiastic manages, “Rooms cheap, clean-ish.” Another scrapes up the scant lure of “Wings 24/7,” although this is somewhat tempered by the fact that the next one down warns of “gooey wings.” But it could be worse: a review for a nearby hotel is titled, “A dose of the itchy-scratchies.”

“Pool great for kids,” says the last report I read before accepting my destination. Really? You brought your kids to Hooters? My childhood vacations tended not to feature scantily clad women and interchangeable references to owls/boobs, although I did once get flashed by a Brown Owl or Tawny Owl or Shouldn’t-Be-Allowed-Near-Young-Kids Owl when I was on a camping trip with the Brownies, so Hooters should bring back all sorts of childhood memories…

Still, the prospect of Hooters Hotel is initially somewhat amusing, for all other humans I know, at least, but it becomes far less funny after I have to tell the airport check-in lady, the US border officials and the Vegas Airport Express bus driver the name of my accommodations for the night. “People think I chose this,” I realise with dismay, as I fill in my hotel name on the customs card for the US, and as I cringe off the packed shuttle bus after the driver has bellowed, “Lady going to Hoooooters Hotel.”

Hooters’ check-in is reached by pushing through swarms of drunken 30-something-year-old guys in plaid shirts, burly scowling security men and scowling faded ladies taking drinks orders around banks of games machines and then trekking gingerly across a carpet reminiscent of a swampy stretch of damp peaty bog you might have the misfortune to sink into in the Scottish Highlands. Except what you’ll find underfoot here is a bewildering hue of orange with more crushed ice, tramped peanuts and pools of wilted despair than you’ll find in most areas of the Highlands. Walking across it will have you pining for those troughs of disinfectant you once had to walk through to reach public swimming pools. Do you still need to walk through these troughs? Apparently I do not swim often enough.

Hooters Vegas door knockersThe beds and rooms are surprisingly fresh and clean, although it looks suspiciously like a previous guest may actually have gnawed the wooden frame around the bathroom mirror.

“Hooters makes you happy,” says a neon sign outside. I chat to various guys in the elevator during my stay, and they do seem reasonably jovial. A poster in the elevator features two Hooters girls, which seems to be as close as the guys staying here actually get to females (other than those who have recently sworn off using Priceline ever again.) In the poster, one girl is cramming donuts in her face while the other is practising her best “guess what I’ve got in my vagina” face..

Fleeing to go out to meet my sensibly otherwise-located friends, Beck’s 1994 song, “Loser” is playing as I squelch across the carpet. Apt.

Who would this hotel suit?

*People who enjoy the underfoot sensation of walking across swampy peatland without having to leave a casino.

* People who do not demand a refund when their “Ocean View Room” turns out to be 270 miles from the nearest ocean with views out over a car park full of angry crows.

* People who enjoy the fact that the hotel has continued the oceanic/aquatic theme by thoughtfully allowing what looks like years of grime to accumulate on the window, making it feel like you’re overnighting inside a much neglected aquarium, and managing to almost completely obscure all views of the Vegas Strip skyline beyond.

The Summary:

Pros:

* It’s an easy, safe walk from here to places that you might actually want to be. Places where your feet don’t sink despondently into the carpet with each step.

* Google Maps appears keen to point out Hooters’ proximity to the “Tropicana North Branch Detention Basin.” It’s probably a nicer place to hang out than Hooters.

* Owls.

Cons:

* I don’t really need to fill this in.

Airport review: PHL, Philadelphia, USA

20141115_160309_HDR~2Overall ambience: Bright and sunny (although these bonus points really go to the sky for being on top form, rather than to PHL itself). Clean, efficient, restrained.

Number of people who looked dead: 1

Number of elderly men in Panama hats, clinging to 4-foot-long, inflatable pink dolphins: 2

Number of people wearing American flag or eagle-adorned apparel: 4

Number of suitcases abandoned on the tarmac as planes came and went: 1

Friendliness of people encountered: Not effusive, but polite and quick to smile.

Food: Although signs and printed things announce the existence of approximately seven billion restaurants and shops in PHL, I ended up in a bit of the airport where the eating choice was burger-y trash, chicken-y trash or “Asian Chao.” I consumed renowned Asian classic, Bourbon Chicken, which won a score of 7.5 on the tasty trash scale.

Best eavesdropped utterance: US Airways cabin crew lady about to do Nashville run to US Airways cabin crew lady about to do Vegas run and complaining that a 14-hour Vegas layover wasn’t long enough to do “ANYTHING”: “14 hours in Vegas? 14 HOURS IN VEGAS? I could do THINGS in 14 hours in Vegas. I could get PREGNANT in 14 hours.”

 

 

Restaurant review: Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous, BBQ, Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis BBQ Rendezvous ribsEaten: “World-Famous Rendezvous Charcoal-Broiled Pork Ribs.” The menu proclaims, “You’re about to settle in over a slab of Rendezvous ribs. About as far as a pig can go in this world. And we picked out the good ones for you.” Pig!

Review: I finally understand the concept of “finger-licking good!” Good God, Rendezvous ribs are mind-meltingly delicious! I finished the entire slab in approximately 11 seconds and spent the next 20 minutes gnawing every possible hint of sauce off the bones, my plate, my hands and the bar counter.

Drunk: Reasonably.

Ambience: Dark. Cavernous. Some sports on screen in the corner. Apparently the Memphis Grizzlies were playing, um, some other place with sporting abilities. Every so often a staff member came over to ask me what was happening in the game. This continued for over an hour despite the fact that my answers revealed that I obviously had no idea which team was the Grizzlies. “Um, a blue guy just, um, threw a ball at another blue guy…” Yeah! High five! Those friendly, charmingly enthusiastic Memphis folks! Love ’em.

Staff: Reviews grumbled about off-hand service, but I found everyone delightful, despite the fact that it took me between 3 and 7 attempts to understand what anyone was drawling at me. Even as I was leaving, one staff man dashed over to tell me, “I like that hat on you.” Got it on the second attempt! Progress!

Other eaters: Hard to say. It was all about me and those ribs. And the Grizzlies.

Eavesdropped: (In a voice so husky it too could have been hickory-smoked and charcoaled for weeks), lady beside me at the bar, on the phone, “I ain’t gonna marry you. Hell, I ain’t ever gonna marry you.”

Rating: A total Turtles score of 10.

Airline review: United Airlines

United Glasgow night

Carrier: UNITED AIRLINES

Flight #: 161

Route: EWR-GLA, Newark to Glasgow

Three words to describe staff: Helpful, chatty, karaoke-threatening.

Seat spaciousness: Cramped window seat. Hemmed in by a bickery Canadian.

Seat comfort: 6 out of 10. Not the most comfortable overnight of my existence, but not too ghastly.

Edibles/drinkables: They forgot my gluten-free meal, so I ate three or four squishy hot carrot batons and grumbled a bit.

Age ambience of craft: Hmmm, I didn’t really notice, so presumably nothing special. In-flight entertainment options were plentiful with at least 123 TV options. There was even an episode of one of my favourite shows, Meet the Sloths!

Fellow passengers: Mostly Scots, plus a cross, loud, bickery Canadian hipster type lady being taken home by meek Scots boyfriend to meet his family for Christmas. My, what a lot of things she was about to refuse to be a part of over the holidays!

Things I enjoyed: Views of Manhattan as we took off. The crew lady who made jokes about doing in-flight karaoke. Sadly, there was no in-flight karaoke, but there was a very odd flight safety video that made me question many things. Why are they using an origami plane? Could I really bring a tray of loose melons on board as my “personal item”? Why is that flight attendant chatting to a kangaroo? I didn’t blame the kangaroo when it bit him.

Things I did not enjoy: Bickerers. The turbulence that prevented me using aerial restrooms for some hours of the flight. The lack of sky-high karaoke.

 

Airline review: Air Canada

plane on runwayCarrier: AIR CANADA

Flight #: 849

Craft: Ooh, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner!

Route: LHR-YYZ, London Heathrow to Toronto Pearson

Three words to describe staff: Professional, easy-going, Canadian.

Seat spaciousness: Despite being in the dreaded middle seat of the middle seats, this nine-hour flight was actually not hideous, so the seats must have been reasonably roomy.

Seat comfort: 7.5 out of 10. Considering I’m giving this score for a middle seat, this is really like 300 out of 10. My only complaint was that I got a permanent crick in my shoulder from being forced to weld my right arm to the armrest in order to prevent the guy beside me from elbowing my entertainment system control panel emphatically at every hilarious point of whatever he was watching on-screen.

Edibles/drinkables: One dinner meal, one wee bottle of red wine and two cups of tea consumed. The chicken (in a creamy red pepper sauce, with salty broccoli and mashed potatoes) was actually very tasty! In fact, if I was served it in one of those mediocre Italian restaurants that my dad insists on frequenting, I’d be most quite delighted. It would be an exceedingly pleasant change from the desiccated chicken and industrial laundry dryer-blasted tomato concoctions they usually serve.

Age ambience of craft: Impressively new! The plane looked like someone had just whisked it out of its protective bubble wrap and gently popped it down at Gate B39 seconds before our flight. This was my first time on an infamous Dreamliner, which – on the basis of the DL’s, um, initial wee safety hiccups (aaargh, fire!) – I wasn’t quite as thrilled about as the cabin crew obviously were. But the staff seemed quite delighted with their good fortune and made much trumpeting about how lucky we were and how the vast plane was a plane-baby at just six months old. The lighting (soothing blues courtesy of the 787’s supposedly jet lag-reducing LED lighting) and crammed-with-options entertainment system were pleasingly modern. The taps in the toilets were fancier than any I encountered in Tokyo, famed home of high-tech toiletry. I’m sorry I didn’t have a window seat to try out the button-touch window blinds. Next time, Air Canada…

Fellow passengers: Rugby-thighed PhD guy on my left and bearded, retired husband guy on my right. PhD guy and myself watched Divergent and there was much hilarity as we compared how woeful we thought it was, although there was nowhere near as much high decibel guffawing as came from bearded guy while he watched seven billion episodes of something that, from my few peeks at it, must have been called British Upper Crust Dinner Table Buffoonery.

Things I enjoyed: The fancy taps. The food. PhD guy’s company and film reviews.

Things I did not enjoy: Not getting to play with the fancy high-tech window blinds. How much and how loudly my neighbour enjoyed his in-flight entertainment choices. A super fancy new plane with volume and light controls placed precisely where the person in the seat next to you will elbow them on, off, up, down or hurtle you into a terrifying, opera-blasting channel change just when you’re getting to the only gripping bit of some lacklustre dystopian teen vehicle.

 

Airline review: Air Wisconsin

Ahoy readers, whoever you are! Here is a new feature of this erratically updated site: Adding to the hotel reviews I have already started to scrawl (and the destination guide and site and restaurant reviews that I often smack myself for not having got round to writing yet), here’s a new feature/thingy/random piece of content… airline and airport reviews!

plane tail sunsetCarrier: AIR WISCONSIN

Flight #: 3130

Route: YYZ-PHL, Toronto to Philadelphia

Three words to describe staff: Weathered, smiling, arthritic.

Seat spaciousness: Circulation to knees not cut off during flight, bonus!

Seat comfort: 4 out of 10. Lumpy! The seat back was like a badly assembled Zen pebble path. Lumpy is never a good word when used in relation to furnishings.

Edibles/drinkables: Two cups of tea consumed. My, those tiny wee cream capsules, once air pressured by a few tens of thousands of feet, really do blurt their contents an impressive distance! By the second one I’d learned to direct its frothy venom away from all items of clothing. By the third, I could have used it as a tiny dairy weapon.

Age ambience of craft: A big lumbering beast from the 1980s. It reminded me of the one that first brought me to the US in 1991. All that was missing was my Tiffany hair, penchant for faded denim dungarees and air of youthful amazement at the world.

Fellow passengers: Several furiously pushing hot dogs into their faces as they boarded as if they had to urgently cushion their intestines and esophagus against impending zero gravity.

Things I enjoyed: The chatty, friendly desk ladies at the gate. The eldest air crew lady’s permanently raised quizzical eyebrow.

Things I did not enjoy: Cream. With tea. Why, Air Wisconsin, why?

Hotel review: Inn on Ferry Street, Detroit, USA

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Detroit’s Inn on Ferry Street is a welcoming delight of an overnight address. Or, rather, six addresses. It’s practically an entire street! Comprised of a constellation of six separate century-old homes on a slow, leafy street off main thoroughfare Woodward, you’re sure to be able to find one that suits your colour scheme—and if you’d prefer a whole house and think nothing of nabbing three to nine rooms for the night, you’ve still got plenty of choice. Rooms range from cosy attic perches, placed perfectly for spying on comings and goings, to roomy suites nestled in carriage houses, set back off the street.

We were in a main house room, above check-in and the breakfast room, which saved us from having to brave brisk winds each morning (pleasing!), dashing to and from the extremely generous breakfast spread. Our room was pink. The colour was pretty much what I imagine the innards of a whale must look like. I imagine that sort of thing way more than you’d think. Blame my Bible-heavy Catholic upbringing. Anyway, definitely more “whale innards” than “salmon.” Well, unless you’re someone in the habit of seriously overcooking your fruits de mer or have recently netted a salmon crimson with fury at the prospect of being eaten. Let’s call it “New England Berry Puree” instead. It was a much more appealing room than I have made it sound. Sorry for mentioning whale innards.

I particularly enjoyed that the bathroom soap was a green tea and willow concoction that declared itself the “finest bathing soap.” This description immediately made me want to don a demure Victorian bathing costume and trot off in search of the nearest bathing pavilion. Detroit being a wee bit short on such swimming institutions, I made do with a swift shower and an amble over to the Detroit Institute of Art, conveniently situated about 100 feet from the Inn’s back door.

Spotted at breakfast: a member of seminal Goth band Bauhaus! Wearing shades! Eating granola! Spotted at check-in and at various inconvenient times by the breakfast waffle station: a glowering minivan-load of Ontario lesbians! Including at least two carrying what appeared to be feathered crow costumes! The views from our chamber’s bay window were of the adjacent mansion and the DIA’s and the Inn’s car parks, which allowed excellent spying opportunities as we attempted to work out why a sextet of frowny Canadian ladies were carting crow costumes about with such grave expressions. Were they in town for an ornithology convention, early Halloween hijinks or some feathered flight of fancy? To make a statement about cross-border migratory policies affecting rooks and ravens? Who knows? Alas, our fellow guests were far too frowny to be interrogated about their avian accoutrements.

More perturbing than coinciding with angry ornithologists or Goth demigods on our repeated jaunts down to make the most of the constant supply of coffee and cake in the breakfast room (Cake! 24 hours a day!) was the fact that Google’s first suggested auto-complete for the inn was “Inn on Ferry Street haunted”. I debated whether to tell A or not, but when I did, she was just hugely relieved that I hadn’t told her we were sharing sleeping quarters with any nasty creepy crawlies. While it’s distinctly possible that we simply have the supernatural sensibilities of a brick and so were not in tune with any ethereal inhabitants of the inn, we didn’t encounter anything remotely spooky or suspicious, other than the fact that at least three other breakfast guests leapt to their feet any time we even thought about approaching the waffle maker.

Summary? Go! You’ll like this place. An easy place to overnight and make the most of a first visit to Detroit.

Who would this hotel suit?

*Me!

*The Inn would also win points with my parents, who would have been pleased by the classical music playing gently in the common areas of the inn and by the proximity to the DIA.

*People who travel with their own life-size crow costumes.

*Goth legends.

*Grown-ups, in general, whether solo, couples or friends.

The Summary:

Pros:

*Kaleidoscopic array of clientele. You’ll fit in, no matter how weird you are.

*Plethora of pleasing 1930s/Arts and Crafts-era features, from beds and fireplaces to artworks.

*Tasty local Great Lakes coffee and an array of cake served 24 hours a day. Cake!

*Breakfasts served till 11:30 on weekends—bonus points!— and 10 on weekdays. Tasty scrambled eggs or frittata, plus many berries and many representatives from the muskmelon spectrum.

*Instead of an overpriced in-room minibar that taunts you with treats that will capsize your monthly budget if you dare to even peel off the lid, the Inn has a few demure baskets of cookies and so on ($1 for McClure’s Spicy Pickle Chips! Spicy! Pickly!) downstairs, and a wee selection of wines and beers for less than you’d pay in a corner store.

*Location! Although locals look a bit concerned at the sight of people using their legs to propel themselves, stay at the Inn and you can saunter to the DIA, The Wright Museum of African-American History, Michigan Science Center and Detroit Historical Society. Or you can get dropped anywhere within five miles by the hotel shuttle. The Motown Museum, hip Corktown and the tasty Eastern Market district are within ten minutes drive. Free parking!

*The hotel’s brochure describes it as “aptly accommodating,” which I agree with wholeheartedly. Very apt.

*Every one of the staff I encountered was a fine and entertaining human. If Detroit’s artistic and cultural offerings (and slew of adjacent dive bars) hadn’t been so enticing, I’d have happily stayed in and hung out with the Inn’s desk folks.

Cons:

*The Victorians or whoever built this place in 1886 were maybe better sleepers than us. Voices and coughs carry from the lobby and along corridors.

Hotel review: Hostal Las Acacias, Malaga, Spain

June 2014

Las A is a charming, blue, two-storey house on a short block that ambles happily from the busy street (Avenida Juan Sebastian Elcano) to Las Acacias beach, a sand strip that offers a refreshing, sardine-scented change from the Brit and German-spattered beaches of neighbouring costas. Amazingly, this beach has Actual Spanish People on it doing Spanish Things! Activities observed on this visit included; men with fine moustaches grilling and eating sardines, extended family groups having leisurely after-work picnics, and little old ladies, clad head to toe in black, putting on an extra layer or seven whenever the temperature threatened to dip below 25 degrees. All this instead of spending years working on forbidding frowning techniques and planning high security fortifications in order to defend prime palapas like my countrypeople and our Teutonic cousins often do…

Meanwhile back at the hostal, things are quiet and pleasingly quirky. Some hotel rooms are cozy. Some divide cozy by broom closet and then shear off a few inches. I only saw one room at Las A and it veered towards the latter. However, it did demonstrate impressive optimism and perseverance on the parts of the owners. Most humans would have contemplated trying to manhandle two beds into a room of that size, spent two seconds chortling at such folly and trundled one Ever-rest off to other quarters. Not so, those determined Las Acacias characters! Nope. This is a one-bed room squished to contain twice that number of sleep-centric furnishings. As a result, unless you have excessively thin legs and/or are a member of the stick insect family, you have a 73% chance of bruising both shins every time you stumble to bed in the dark. The distance between bed ends and wall is approximately the width of the average human knee.

If you enjoy a place that celebrates every strata of decor since it was built, Hostal Las A is a splendid choice! You can while away hours tracing the history of this hostal and its every guest on the walls, surfaces and ceiling. A white gouge through the glowing green paint here that was perhaps a hasty guest, dashing to catch a few more mouthfuls of sardines before a late flight. A mosquito squish there that performs as an effective warning sign against leaving the stately floor-to-ceiling glass doors open overnight. A minor constellation of duct tape detailing on the blackout shades that were perhaps the result of a ripping good swordfish duel. There is also a perplexing profusion of curtain rods. Including on walls with no windows.

In contrast to the enthusiastically duct-taped blackout shades, over-bed illumination comes courtesy of inquisition lights bright enough for those who wish to study detailed aviation manuals by night, those who spend evenings doing micro-surgery on small woodland mammals or those wishing to work on perfecting signals to encourage incoming intergalactic tourism.

On this instance, I voted against use of the blackout shades (and against swordfish fighting/squirrel surgery) and left the shades open to admire the gracious floor-to-ceiling French doors, the greenery beyond and the occasional red and green splash of a passing parrot. This also allowed excellent eavesdropping opportunities from the hostal’s leafy garden restaurant below. People quietly singing “Feliz cumpleanos” over vinos! Most pleasing.

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Who would this hotel suit?

* Those seeking somewhere serene compared to atmospheric accommodations of El Centro Historico (see Echegaray Suites) and looking for a down-to-earth budget choice. A fine night’s sleep for all here!

* Those who vote for character and quirkiness over the fussiness of fine hotels. My mum would have enjoyed Las Acacias for its gentle pace, welcoming hosts, multi-course leisurely breakfasts and for the leafy views, particularly on days with a plethora of parrot pass-bys.

* Those partial to neighbourhood stays rather than those who must be in the midst of top tourist sites.

* Some rooms best suited to worryingly thin people or members of the gazelle species able to vault over the beds rather than suffer shin attacks on every pass.

The Summary:

Pros:

*Ninety seconds walk to the beach, most useful when you realise you’ve forgotten to bring your money/ beach read/ favourite sardine condiments.

*Miles of hopping beachside bars and restaurants along seafront leading back to Malaga Centro or east to former fishing village El Palo.

*Guest rooms with soaring high ceilings! Charming tiled balcony with views of abundant foliage! Elegant floor-to-ceiling French doors!

*Room stayed in painted an emphatic shade of leafy green. Other rooms of similar upbeat hues. Not partial to such splashes of colour? See Cons.

*In a nice, quiet area, twenty minutes from the delights and overnight noise of downtown Malaga. Frequent buses. Most of the time the buses are quiet and easy to navigate, while, of course, any times you need to be on them with unwieldy suitcases, they will be crammed to their diesel-powered gills, but the Malaguenos are a delightful people and will chat, help control Samsonites with eager wheels, dispense advice as to where to get off/ sit/ eat grilled sardines. I like Malaguenos.

*Charming, multi-course breakfast featuring delights such as freshly squeezed orange juice, pots of yoghurt, bowls of plums, plates of jamon y queso, fresh warm bread, bowls of coffee, served outside in the leafy garden restaurant.

*Leafy garden restaurant! Eavesdropping opportunities from rooms above!

*Genial, unobtrusive host couple that happily stores suitcases when you want one last wander down to the beach after checkout.

*Parrot sightings!

*Sardines!

Cons:

*Room stayed in painted an emphatic shade of leafy green. Other rooms of similar upbeat hues. Partial to such splashes of colour? See Pros.

*Twenty minutes from the delights of downtown Malaga. On a bus that sometimes has many other humans on board. See also Pros.

*More paint/ primer/duct tape archaeology than is strictly necessary. Decor definitely a little ramshackle, but nothing that actually affected the comfort of the place overall.

*A rather haphazard approach to previous guest towel removal.

*Tricky to shower without breaking a rib or performing unexpected self-Heimlich manoeuvres on mixer tap in the world’s most minute shower.