Friday, 22 February 2013
Day 281 – You don’t always get what you pay for.
Being a stone’s throw away from Budapest where we were having Christmas, Prague seemed like a good place to spend New Year, even though it made our route even more roundabout as we were then going to back track all the way to Romania, Moldova, Transdniestria and Ukraine afterwards. After winging it for months, never really making plans more than one or two destinations at a time, usually not more than a couple of days in advance, we now suddenly needed to be booking accommodation and locking in dates. Not surprisingly accommodation in Prague over this period isn’t exactly cheap and the best we found was €35 per person for a dorm room, but pretty centrally located and most importantly with a secure car park at the back of the property. This is by far the most we’ve spent on accommodation during this trip, the only other contenders being AU$27 pp at hostels in Darwin, Australia, and the “hotel” we found in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (Blog Day 184 – A City of White and Gold: The Dictator’s Dream) which cost US$55 per double. But that’s the price one has to pay to spend the biggest holiday in the year in one of Europe’s favourite capitals.
We found the hostel easily enough, climbed the three flights of stairs in the traditional high-ceilinged building, and were greeted by a brightly blond young woman in diamante-encrusted black leggings and glittery high heels. Apparently she had to wait for her colleague before she could so much as greet us, so we used the toilet and waited patiently in the foyer. A man whose belly poked out of his button-up checkered shirt arrived a while later and showed us to the secure parking in the grounds of the building. We carted all of the things that we wanted for the next five days up the million stairs and plonked ourselves back in the lobby to wait to be shown our room. We, along with a few other backpackers who had arrived in the meantime, were apparently waiting for our rooms to be ready – not ideal, but not exactly a huge problem, so we kept waiting. Gradually the other tourists dispersed until it was just us in the foyer and Diamante Leggings and Belly Shirt busy on their computers in the adjoining glass-walled office. Having made what we thought to be a reasonable assumption that we would be informed when our room was ready, but have since realised was a stupid one, we waited for about an hour and a half until it was just getting too ridiculous. In the office we went and addressed Belly Shirt, “So are our rooms nearly ready? We’ve been waiting an awfully long time.” He fiddled with some paper before looking up and explaining that they were over-booked and we would have to move. Apparently something about some drunk people breaking beds a couple of days ago. “Sure, we don’t mind moving, but come on, we parked the car, brought all our stuff up, waited for an hour and a half, and you waited to tell us this until we asked you what was going on? Will there be secure parking at the other place? Is it more out of town? Come on.”
Eventually Belly Shirt agreed that although the new place didn’t have secure parking, they would pay for it at a nearby lot, and although it was further out of town it was actually an upgrade to a hotel instead of a hostel (we since found out that “hotel” was a slight stretch). After some very frustrating negotiations which made us wish we were smashing our heads against brick walls rather than participating in this, we packed the car back up and moved to our new accommodation where we were assured that our new rooms would be waiting for us. We waited while the curly-haired receptionist saw to the confused English guys who were trying to decipher to exchange rate, and eventually were greeted. Apparently this hotel hadn’t been informed of our situation at all and we were shown rooms and quoted prices as if we were walk-in guests. Already exhausted by this fiasco we explained as reasonably as possible, but of course quite passionately, the extent of our situation by now and made it clear that enough was enough, we would have the two rooms which we could comfortably fit into at the original price of our booking. Curly Hair was quite upset and confused and immediately got on the phone to try and sort us out.
While we were once again waiting in the lobby, on stand-by as she spoke to someone (we don’t know who of course) on the phone, Sven walked in the door escorted by Belly Shirt. (Before leaving the first place we’d made him promise that when our friend arrived he would escort him by car to the new place.) Immediately we jumped up and started berating Belly Shirt about not passing on any message about moving our accommodation and how it was now three or something hours after we’d arrived. About a minute and a half into our spiel though we realised that it wasn’t actually Belly Shirt, but just another similar looking man also with a tight fitting shirt on. Realising his bafflement, we apologised, now assuming he was an innocent courier confused by our attacks, and then we discovered that he was actually the manager of this place and was the phantom man on the other end of Curly Hair’s phone call.
Seeing as not a single part of our situation had been passed onto poor bewildered Curly Hair, we tried to explain to New Belly Shirt what had already happened and what Original Belly Shirt had promised, such as the free secure parking and hotel rooms at the same price as our original booking. New Belly Shirt dealt with us very poorly, accusing us of lying and demanding that we prove what we were saying. Flabbergasted at the service we were receiving we were just about ready to give up and move elsewhere, when suddenly New Belly Shirt somehow had a change of mentality and decided to give Original Belly Shirt a phone call. We thought Original Belly Shirt would probably deny the promises he’s made, but thankfully New Belly Shirt got off the phone and agreed to our demands.
Immediately he began sucking up to us, showing a new-found interest in our travels, and very kindly organising the parking and taking care of everything. Oddly enough we ended up becoming good friends with Curly Hair and her boyfriend, the other receptionist, both Greek ex-pats, and were quite sad to farewell them when we eventually left. New Belly Shirt was ever-so friendly to us every time we bumped into each other, and even invited us out on New Year’s Eve and gave us a bottle of champagne as a gift. Still though, we never actually received an apology. Ah, how service standards have gone downhill.