on April 22, 2009
~ Arrival and Check In ~We arrived by taxi from the airport – it took about 10 minutes and I can't say what it cost as I managed to stitch up the colleague I was with who was going on to the Mercure and so fell foul of the 'last one out picks up the bill' rule. First impressions were mixed because the Novotel is currently undergoing a major renovation programme and the reception is currently in what appears to be a marquee. I've had some horrendous experiences of staying in hotels that were undergoing renovation so I was a bit nervous when I realised what was going on at this one. However, the charm and friendliness of the place soon put me at ease.The receptionist was astonishingly friendly which for any hotel in the Dutch capital (a city renowned for it's stroppy staff in a country with the worst 'don't give a damn' attitude in Europe) was a refresthing change. She was efficient, exceptionally smiley and very helpful. She explained the internet system (free on the machines in the lobby, by credit card in the rooms) and offered to book me a table for dinner, explaining that they had just introduced a new menu and were very 'excited' about it. With my key card handed over, I set off for the lifts, passing through the make-shift restaurant, along some long corridors until I reached the bank of lifts with some strange giant tulips and an Easter-egg tree nearby. The lifts are room-key activated and came exceptionally quickly. I was soon up on the 13th to floor, pondering that it was pretty unusual to even have a 13th floor in a hotel. ~ My Room ~My room was a lot more pleasant than I'd expected. Everything was in good condition and I didn't spot any of the usual damage of the daily wear and tear of hotel life. The walls were cream, the curtains taupe (yeah, you know that's just another shade of cream – I'm just trying not to make the entire place sound magnolia) and the carpet was a subtle pattern in shades of grey and cream. The risk of beige-poisoning was curtailed by a smattering of exceptionally bright orange scatter cushions, an orange desk chair and a strange square painting in orange and grey.For furniture there was a large wardrobe, a unit with tea and coffee tray, a teeny tiny mini-bar and a very large room safe. When I say large, this was not just big enough to put your laptop in but could probably be used to store small children too. The suitcase stand was upholstered in the same orange as the desk chair, the desk was large enough to actually use it though it had only one power point which was a bit restrictive. The TV was an old CRT style which seemed a bit out of touch with the rest of the room. A single armchair with a bright orange cushion and a small coffee table were placed near the windows and finally there were two single beds, properly made up with soft fluffy pillows and warm duvets. And unlike the norm in Holland and Germany nobody had folded the duvet in half and put it on sideways. Hoorah.In terms of what was missing, I'd have to note that for a so-called 4-star, the absence of an ironing board or trouser press was notable. Mind you if they'd been there I wouldn't have used them.The bathroom was instantly forgettable with its Accor-chain moulded sink unit, a bath and a loo. At least they provided two bath towels though both were on the small side. The shampoo and shower gel were in generously sized bottles and the room was tiled throughout.~ Eating and Drinking ~I arrived just before 9 pm and called my colleague Kerstin to see if she had eaten. As it turned out she had but she was still sociable enough to offer to come and join me and we agreed to meet in the restaurant at nine. I was seated and had already ordered a drink and a tuna steak by the time she arrived. The menu was very short and didn't have a lot of choice but possibly that's not too bad a thing in a hotel. The prices were on the high side I thought and with the Euro so strong it was clear that I couldn't get more than one course and stay within our dinner expenses guidelines (though to be honest I didn't want more than one course and I'd probably have got away with spending a bit more since nobody ever stopped one of my claims so far.Kerstin arrived and decided that maybe she did feel a bit hungry after all so she decided to order some food and a half litre carafe of wine. She ordered a plate of beef Carpaccio. The waitress and waiter who dealt with us were both resolutely smiley and I was starting to wonder if Novotel had drugged the staff or if the alien bodysnatchers had grabbed the lot of them and not realised that they would never fit in surrounded by Dutch people because they were just too cheery.The food arrived after about 10-15 minutes. To be honest, if I don't notice precisely how long it took, then that's a good sign that it wasn't too fast or too slow. I had a large bowl of wide ribbon pasta with several large slices of sundried tomato and a mid-sized tuna steak on top. Kerstin's Carpaccio arrived a few minutes later and we couldn't complain about that as we'd ordered at different times. They hadn't brought any bread so she asked for some and they cheerfully brought a basket of rolls with some butter and olive tapenade. I'm a fool for tuna steak and more often than not I kick myself for ordering it. I've had some absolutely awful tuna in hotel restaurants and if I get tuna that's even a shade past fresh it zips right through me like a dose of salts. I was also a bit nervous that I hadn't been asked how I wanted my tuna – that's often a sign that you'll be getting it well done because it's been frozen and they can't manage rare. Fortunately I was completely wrong on all counts – the tuna was very fresh and perfectly cooked. The noodles were tender without being too hard or too soft and the sweetness of the tomatoes was just right. I was more than pleased with the quality of a dish that ought to be simple but could so easily have gone very badly wrong.Just after we started eating another colleague appeared and joined us. Checking my tuna he took my confirmation that it was good to heart and ordered the same. The staff were still as cheery and not at all bothered about our strange ordering pattern. He also had to ask for bread but was brought a dish of side salad that I certainly hadn't been offered – he's Belgian, so maybe it was some kind of Benelux solidarity perk.~ Back to my room ~Back in my room I bought an hour of internet access for about 6 Euros which wasn't too bad by hotel standards. I desperately needed a wake-up call but couldn't find any hotel information that might have enabled me to get a number for reception to request one, or indicated a way to use the phone or the television for a wake up. I suspect it might have been possible but there was nothing to help me figure it out.~ Check Out ~We were due to leave at 8.30 and I expected that such a big hotel might have a long queue for check out in the morning so I was down 10 minutes early and found that absolutely nobody was waiting to check out. I gave my room number to the smiley check-out man who instantly addressed me by my name and asked if I'd enjoyed my stay. I told him I was really impressed by the staff and by how well the hotel was continuing to run during the work and he thanked me for the feedback. I had skipped breakfast so he adjusted my bill to make sure I wasn't charged, took my credit card and everything was sorted quickly and efficiently. I even had time to spend 10 minutes on the free internet computers checking my mail before my colleagues arrived (nice Macs with really big screens – very swanky).~ Recommendation ~I think this place will be pretty impressive once the renovations are completed and they reopen in the autumn. I'd certainly be happy to go back and have another look.
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