Thursday, September 29, 2016

On the Subject of Bathrooms in Britain and Other Oddities

(This was the only thing I wrote on the entire trip while it was happening, hence the present tense and a bit of repetition from my previous post.)

At this point on the trip, we've stayed in eight different hotels across England, Wales and Scotland, with two more to go.  I've been quite pleased with the accommodations for the most part.  I had expected that traveling as a single on a tour with 45 participants would get me put up in tiny little closets with a twin bed and barely room to turn around, but each room has been roomy, with comfortable full/queen-sized beds and nice views out the window.  That extra premium to have my own room was money well spent.

The bathrooms in these hotels have been clean and well-appointed, but all share a couple of common elements that have left me amused and/or confused and usually each has a unique feature all its own that sometimes has me scratching my head.

The travel documents from the tour company had warned me that some hotels do not supply washcloths, deeming them unnecessary luxury items.  Huh.  Something to put soap on and scrub yourself with is a luxury.  Ok.  I popped a scrubby into the suitcase just in case.  So far about 50% of the hotels have supplied washcloths.

Most of the rooms have had nice, glassed-in showers.  A few have had tubs.  Both kinds of layout require care in entering and exiting.  The showers will be up on a 6-8 inch platform.  The tubs will be DEEP with high walls and necessitate careful climbing into and out of.  For someone who is still extremely skittish about falling after the great smoke alarm catastrophe and who is virtually blind as a bat without her glasses, this can turn out to be the biggest adventure of the day.  Most of the hotels have a sign in the bathroom offering to supply a non-slip mat for the tub, but who thinks to call housekeeping before they are standing naked and getting ready to step into the slippery tub.  I found myself contemplating at one point about how long it would take for someone to figure out I had fallen and cracked my skull (probably 10 minutes after I failed to show up at the coach on time) and how long it would then take them to break through the dead bolt and chain on the door.  My thoughts then wandered to how I'm sure Globus has that kind of scenario all timed out and the other 44 passengers would be on their way to the next stop on time less 10 minutes while the designated damage control representative took care of disposing of the body.  (I have a morbid imagination.)  I decided I should best not inconvenience them and be extra careful getting in and out of the tub.  They probably charge extra for that.

We have stayed in 8 different hotels and each one has had a different kind of faucet/shower control.  After a long day on the road and having one's senses overloaded on beautiful scenery, puzzling out the right combination to get water to flow through the pipes so you can take a shower can be almost overwhelming.  I very nearly gave up in Inverness.  All I could manage to produce was a bare trickle into the tub.  Finally, in desperation, I stumbled across the solution when I realized there were two parts to the shower controls, built into one piece of metal.  One turned left and one turned right and both had to be engaged to start the shower, but until you looked at it closely you would never know it contained two controls.  (I had a private chuckle the next morning on the coach when I overheard a couple of folks talking about having to bathe in a trickle of water because the shower didn't work.)

Also in Inverness, there was a notice on the tub and on the door that steam would set off the smoke alarm (!), so please keep the bathroom door shut.  The room was tiny and thoroughly steamy by the end of taking a bath. I slipped in and out of the bathroom, careful to leave the steam captured behind me.  Putting on makeup with a bathroom full of steam is not easy.  None of the bathrooms have been equipped with a fan, so tough luck there.

Most of the standalone showers have been designed in such a way that the shower head points directly out the door and you either have to step in and close the door and accept being blasted with cold water until you get the temperature adjusted, since there is not enough room to move out of the way, or risk filling the floor with water as you stand as far back as you can outside the shower while you fiddle with the taps.  I generally end up mopping the floor with the extra towel when I'm finished, because it takes awhile to puzzle out what all has to be turned to get the water to a comfortable temperature.

We won't even go into the variations of the toilets.  Let's just say that some work fine and others mull it over before they decide they might just accept the order to flush.  There was one that would spend about 5 minutes pumping water noisily upstairs to the appropriate place and eventually kicking off a violent flush after you had forgotten all about asking it to do its job.

The electrical set ups are just as off-beat.  I have stayed in hotels across the USA and have taken to carrying along a power strip because there is usually one outlet available for the various chargers I take along with me.  Just about every place we've stayed in Britain has a multitude of outlets all over the room - although not in the bathroom.  There will be a special outlet in the bathroom accepting two different kinds of plugs for "SHAVERS ONLY".  There is no outlet in the bathroom that can be used with the hair dryer.  The secondary issue in this particular case is that where there are plenty of outlets in the main room, there is frequently no handy mirror to help you style your hair.  I've been running about 50-50 on  whether my hair will be in order or look like a fright wig once it's dry.

I've surmised that the Brits must be absolutely terrified of electrical accidents. (Probably explains why there are no fans in the bathrooms.)   Each of the dozen or so plugs in their hotel rooms has its own switch and they are off when you arrive.  I'm glad that the converters we brought with us have lights to indicate the plugs are active, so I know when I've successfully kicked off the nightly charging process.

Some of the rooms will keep you busy for your first minutes in the room as you try and figure which switch turns what on and off.  Sometimes I will make the rounds, turning on all the switches, think I've figured it all out, reach for what I think is the bedside light switch and turn the entire room off.  Then there was the hotel room that requires you to insert your key card into a pocket beside the door to activate the lights and the air conditioning.  Not necessarily a bad idea to help cut down costs - although I do like to leave a lamp on when I leave a hotel room for supper and I was out of luck in that place.

I had a quandary at the boutique hotel where we spent our few days in London prior to joining up with the tour.  London was having a bit of a heat wave when we arrived and there was no air-conditioning.  When we arrived and each evening when we returned, the window would be wide open to catch the scant breeze.  I couldn't quite handle leaving my window open at night in a big city like London, especially since my room was on a lower floor and any American burglar worth his salt could have gained access without breaking a sweat (heat wave notwithstanding).  I can only guess that British burglars have some kind of ethical issue with breaking into boutique hotels in the Belgravia neighborhood.  Or maybe it's the CCTV cameras on every corner that deters that kind of criminal behavior, but I still shut the window every night and made do with a rotary fan to get through the warm nights.

The Brits supply an electric tea kettle in every room and it beats our standard hotel shoddy drip coffee makers all to heck.  I've seldom had a decent cup of coffee in an American hotel room.  When I decided to try out the tea kettle,  I expected that the tea bags supplied would produce a fine cup of tea, but I wasn't so sure about the instant coffee packets.  I've been pleasantly surprised to enjoy a good cup of decaf coffee in the evenings and they even supply little cups of milk and none of that nasty powdered creamer you get Stateside.  The Brits know how to provide decent warm drinks.

But another of their oddities is the dislike of cold drinks.  I wasn't about to ask for a glass of iced tea anywhere, but I expected I could at least get iced water.  In general, their idea of iced drinks involves about 3 ice cubes in a tall tumbler.  When you reach into a cooler for a bottle of water in a grocery or convenience store, it is barely chilled and certainly nowhere near cold enough for us Texans.  I have learned to tolerate barely chilled beverages, but I am looking forward to glasses packed with ice as soon as I get back home.  (The only adequately iced drink I've had here was when I ordered an amaretto sour.  It was more ice than liquor and mixer and I enjoyed it thoroughly.)

The Brits are different, no two ways about it.  But aside from their odd bathroom fixtures, their paranoid attitude toward electricity and their unexplainable fear of ice, I like it here.


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