H10 London – Mutterings about 4-5 Star Hotels

When is a 4 star hotel just not 4 stars?

What makes a hotel 4 stars anyway? I think that’s an interesting question. It’s easy to define 5 stars – over the top everything. But 4 stars – clearly you are almost there – just not quite. And from that perspective – maybe the H10 is a 4 star hotel.

But even if I start from the perspective that the H10 London close by Waterloo station deserves it’s 4 star rating – the next question to ask is – Why was I so disappointed in my recent 6 night stay?

And I was very disapointed. You don’t start a stay in a hotel disapointed – you start with high hopes and high expectations. And I admit to have had high hopes. We’d found this treasure on HotWire – and perhaps too good to be true sums up what went so very wrong. But I digress from my story – let’s start with checking in.

Our trip by Uber from London City Airport was long, but uneventful. The driver avoided all the congested areas of London – and for London, we made good time. We opted for the cab because we had so much luggage – in hindsight – using the wonderful London Public Transit system wouldn’t have been that hard – but that’s water under London Bridge.

Our arrival was painless, but there was a short line-up at the check-in counter, so we quietly waited our turn. A giant bowl with ice and drink pitchers caught our eye – wonderful – orange juice, cranberry juice, and champagne – just the trick after a long cab ride. And clearly what you’d expect from 4-5 star hotel. Perfect.

Disappointingly for 4 stars – no one at the front desk acknowledged our arrival – no quick glance to say hi – be with you in an instant – and no mention – help yourself to a drink. But they were clearly busy. So we helped ourselves and waited.

And waited.

Eventually – it was our turn – and only then did the front desk folks appear to notice us. Well – I guess it’s British decorum – although most of the staff was clearly not originally british. I’m guessing Spanish – based partly on the information about the hotel chain that was on display and partly on the accents and deamenor.

We’re given room 314. Were we demoted because we were ‘Hotwire’ guests – and thus were getting a deal? Maybe. But having what turned out to be the worst room in the hotel wasn’t completely unexpected – just disappointing. I admit that our nightly rate wasn’t insane by London Standards, but it would have rated a 5 star in Montreal or Chicago. And it was much higher than what we paid to stay in the 5 Star Trump Towers several weeks earlier. Plus – we were there for 6 nights – that’s a nice stay for any hotel! And I know the hotel offers tour bus deals because we saw several arrive and depart during our stay. So maybe it was just our travel stained look.

Back to check-in. Little in the way of information was given by the check-in crew. They were busy, working as fast as they could – so taking time to say hi, did you have a nice trip, I’m so glad you choose to stay here – just wasn’t happening. But they did impart the critical things – breakfast (not included in your room rate) is from 8-10 on the 2nd floor, and the WIFI password is written on your room key folder.

We go to the 3rd floor – to a room that is a sauna. Someone has turned the heat up to the max, and it’s hard to breathe. And rather alarmingly for a 4 star hotel, there’s a small but very obvious hole in the flooring right as you enter. Clearly what looks like tile that looks like wood is only thin laminte. But the immediate issue is the heat.

How do you turn down the heat? There’s a control on the wall – but we can’t figure out how to make it adjust downward. So we solve the problem by just opening the ‘window’. It’s actually a door sized opening, but blocked so it only opens about 2″ wide – too small a space for someone to get in. Whew – we’re just barely above ground level – so I’m happy to see that.

We also try calling the front desk – but no one answers the phone. Oh well – we know the front desk is busy – and leaving the window open for a while will do the trick. We did ask when next we walked past the front desk – only to be informed that all the thermostats were permanently set at 18 degrees – and the staff couldn’t change them. Hmm – really – 4-5 stars? That’s odd.

But back to the hotel and room 314. This is a very modern looking hotel – grey and white and black – and the room is exactly that. There is some interesting art, and the sliding glass door to the tiny bathroom is attractive. There’s no chest of drawers – we’ve learned the hard way that often hotels in Europe don’t provide these – instead there is a 2 sided closet. Hanging space with those horrid guest unfriendly hangers you can’t steal on one side, and widely spaced shelves on the other. The one shelf at eye level is completely taken up by a hotel safe, but we unpack successfuly. My husband’s clothes are living at knee level – but at least he has a shelf. The closet also offers up an umbrella (20 GBP if you take it), an iron, and a blow dryer. No cozy bathrobes, no slippers – none of the expected 4-5 star amenities – but at least we have the basics.

The bathroom has the smallest sink I’ve ever seen in a hotel room, but a lovely shower. Surprisingly – there are very few towels. 1 large bath towel, 1 hand towel, 1 face cloth. I’m guessing that this tiny room is generally offered as a single. But there are nice amenities in the bathroom – even a tooth brush and a shaver. No conditioner though – and I do like having conditioner. (When I compained on line about the lack of towels, the management response was predictable – I just had to ask. Which misses the point. I’m the guest – why should I have to ask for sufficient towels. This room is a double – shouldn’t the default be double towels?)

A desk squeezed in along a wall with a Fancy coffee machine, some ginger cookies, and a fair sized fridge with purchasable goodies rounds out the options in our room.

And there is a door to the adjoining room. This will prove the source of many problems later.

It’s not the nicest hotel room I’ve been in – but I know it’s London – and things here tend to be smaller and more expensive. I’m fine. The bed looks great – and we are not planning on spending hours in the room in any case.

I would have liked a hotel with some amenities – a pool, a hot tub, things like that – but in London – not really options. There is something below ground – I never ventured there to check it out – and later in our stay we found the 8th floor Sky Terrace – an outdoor space with an amazing view of the London Sky Line, and a handy bar. I think the below ground options might have been an exercise room and a Spa, but there was no mention of that during check-in – and if there was a guide to the hotel in my room – I never found it.

We opt to do the normal – arrive late and exhausted – things you do in a new city – we go by tube to visit my daughter and her new baby! Seriously – that’s why we’d come to London – and it was great. Our location is very nice – there’s a bus stop right out the door – and the major Waterloo station about a 10 minute walk away. Plus there are a variety of shops on the streets nearby. Lots of options and lots to explore in the morning. Location is perfect. So despite my minor issues with the room – I’m again having high hopes.

The next day we awake to the smell of bacon cooking. We’re right above the hotel kitchen, and with the window still open, it’s clearly time for breakfast. So we opt to check it out. There’s a buffet going on – plus an a la carte menu. Nowhere on the menu is the price for the buffet listed, and when I ask the gentleman who seated us – I get no response. He’s only interested in our room number. (ok – not 4 star here) I check out the prices on the a la carte menu – high for breakfast, but not insane – and ask again about the price of the buffet. Our waiter doesn’t know – so I ask again at the front desk. It’s 20 GBP. That’s about $30 US. Per Person. Nope – not doing that. So I eat a la carte while my huband has only coffee. They try to charge us for the buffet, we insist we didn’t have it – they correct the bill.

That’s enough for the hotel restaurant – I’ll eat elsewhere tomorrow.

As we leave – our hopes go back up! They have put out a tray of tiny dry pasteries and pitchers of OJ and Cranberry juice for folks to enjoy. That’s nice. And on the way out – the big bowl with iced juices is sitting out – so my husband gets a glass of 1/2 OJ, 1/2 Cranberry juice and annouces – delicous. That’s 4-5 stars. No free coffee – but I’m quite happy with the lovely touch of free juice!

We spend the day sightseeing – and come back to change for dinner. The maid has made our bed – but forgotten a pillow under the sheets. The bed looks hugely lumpy. How odd. And there are still very limited towels, so I guess news hasn’t gotten to housekeeping that there are 2 guests in this room. But the temperature is fine (the window is still open), and all is good.

No issues on night 2/day 3 – it’s night 3 when our problems really start.

When we return to the room on night 3 – we hear the guests in the next room checking out the adjoining door. They have opened it on their side, and can’t seem to figure out where it goes. There is loud discussion as to it’s purpose – but eventually they settle down and go to bed. We can’t tell from our side, but I suspect that they left the adjoining door ajar on their side – because the next morning at 5:40 AM we are rudely awakened by the sounds of someone on their side of the wall getting seriously ill. This goes on for almost an hour – eventually stopping at 6:35 by the clock on our bedside table. We go back to sleep finally – planning to let the hotel know at a more normal time.

When I go downstairs to report on the issue – the young man at the front desk responses with a very disbelieving ‘I’m sorry’ – and says – ‘We’ll check it out’. What – I’m telling you that we spent an hour listening to another guest vomit and you can only say I’m sorry. Is this my fault? Are you a 1 star hotel that caters to folks that get drunk and vomit normally? I’m not pleased. My husband helps himself to a glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – but I’m too upset. We walk out – and I turn around and walk back in to ask to speak to the manager. Another young man appears – listens to the story – and says – I’ll check it out. What exactly are you going to check out? Are you going to see if there are signs of vomit on the floor? Do you think I made up the story? What kind of construction allows for walls that thin?

I’m clearly upset – but we have plans for the day – and my husband steers me away from the ‘manager’ and out the front door. It is what it is.

Our plans for the day include some sight-seeing, and I’m going to be helping my daughter. We decide to meet at the theatre later that night – and when I arrive at the theatre (read my West End Blog), my husband explains that the manager had left a very nice note – appologizing for the problem, and offering us either a free breakfast or a room change. We clearly want a room change – I’m tired of smelling breakfast, and I don’t want to risk another paper wall experience. So as soon as we get back to the hotel after the theatre – we ask to change rooms.

The manager’s note has give me hope that this is a 4-5 star hotel – but our next experience at the front desk dashes it yet again. We hand the note to the unsmiling, very ‘unbusy’ clerk, who has clearly been warned to expect us. They are moving us to the 8th floor – an ‘upgrade’. She suggests that we go upstairs, pack our bags, take our bags to the 8th floor, then leave one of us on the 8th floor with the luggage and send the other one back to the front desk to hand over the old keys and get the new ones.

I’m stunned – again. Really. This is how guests are moved between rooms. Is she so busy she can’t bring the key to us? Why doesn’t she give us the new key and we’ll bring back the old ones when we finish the move? Oh no – they can’t do that is the response.

At this point the security guard (he’s not a doorman for sure – he’s sitting at the conceirge desk, but it’s way too late for him to be the conceirge) interruts to suggest that he will bring us the new key and help us move the bags. Just call down when you are packed.

That’s much better – but why didn’t the official front desk clerk think of this. What kind of training does this hotel give their staff about customer service that she thinks her suggestion makes sense? It’s a mystery. My husband drowns his sorrows with another glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – such a nice touch – and we head up stairs.

We make the move with no issues – and the new room is a definite improvement. It’s at a decent temperature from the start, there’s no adjoining door, and it’s a bit larger. Now we can slide past each other between the end of the bed and the desk, and the bathroom has a tub with a shower.

We settle in – and I’m feeling better about the hotel again.

Day 4 passes without an issue – and we even have a pleasant night. Whew – I’m back to feeling better about our selection.

Day 5 dawns like most days in London – a bit overcast and grey. I stop in on the 2nd floor to get a bit of OJ – but my husband prefers the iced OJ that is kept by the front desk. He goes to help himself – which he’s been doing regularly since we checked in – to be told – I’m sorry sir – that’s only for guests checking in.

Nice 4-5 star touch. We keep iced OJ, Cranberry juice and in the evenings a bottle of Sparkling wine visible to all guests – but we only allow checking-in guests to have some. If that’s the rule – I’m guessing a strange cost cutting measure since they provide exactly the same stuff on the first floor from 8-10 AM – then don’t make it visible to all guests. Put the bowl on the far side of reception – keep it in the closed off ‘office’ space, hide it under the counter. But if you’ve opted to make it highly visible – if a guest takes some – for goodness sake – don’t tell them to stop. That’s just plain mean.

I’ve stayed in many 4-5 star hotels that handed out free bottles of water to guests every time they passed the reception desk, I’ve had hotels at this level keep fresh fruit bowls available to all guests, I’ve stayed in hotels that provided afternoon fresh cookies to all guests, I’ve even stayed in hotels that gave guests (all guests) a ‘travel’ bag of goodies for the day – but I’ve never – until now – had a hotel rated 4-5 stars and costing at that level – tell me that something – anything – was for checking in guests only.

So – is the H10 London at Waterloo a 4 star hotel? Does Customer Service make or break a rating? Who is responsible for Customer Service Attitude. Should folks at reception make it their job to recognize guests staying more than one night and smile at them? Which guest contributes more to the bottom line – a one night stand, or someone who stays a week? Should front desk clerks discriminate between guests by price paid – folks who book thru the hotel website getting ‘better’ treatment then those using 3rd party booking engines like Expedia, Air BnB, or HotWire? What services can guests expect from 4-5 star hotels – should they be held to a higher standard than a 2-3 star hotel? Is great/bad Customer Service the fault/goal/responsibility of upper management?

And where does construction figure into the equation. If you look 4-5 star on the surface, but have construction issues like paper thin walls and tiny tiny rooms – can guests complain?

I’d argue that I’m not that fussy. I’ll forgive most lapses if I get a smile and a greeting. Recognize me as an individual, know that I’m a person too, live up to my expectations of basic friendly service – and I’m fine. I won’t hold construction issues against you. Don’t act like I’m in your way, that I made your day tough, that I’m making up problems, that I’m abusing the system by having a bit of OJ. I expect to be treated as a guest in your home. In today’s world of social media – you can expect me to publically call you out on your mistakes – so don’t make them! Everyone has bad days – but if you are on the front line in a Customer Service position – tough it out. Don’t ruin someone else’s day because yours is a bit rocky.

I won’t be going back to an H10 Hotel again for a while. And I’m not signing up for their club card either. And my ‘note’ to the manager has been ignored. Too bad – it had such great potential.

Signing off to find another hotel – The Soup Lady.

My Daughter is having a Baby – And I’m invited to Watch!

This is tremendously exciting – I’ve never ‘seen’ a birth – like my mother before me – the times just weren’t right for women to see their own children born. And while my mother tried her best to be there for me, it didn’t work out.

With my first – even my husband had problems staying in the birthing room with me. By asking to stay – he challenged the horridly old fashioned doctor enough to have the doctor pull off his gloves, toss them on the bed – and say ‘Deliver the baby yourself then’. Not a highlight. For my second, birthing rooms had just been ‘invented’ in Montreal, and you were allowed in only if you were deemed low, low, low risk. I was 8 days past due – and thus wasn’t allowed in. That left my mother sitting on the side lines while my husband and I went into the ‘operating’ space that was the traditional birthing room at the time. In 1983 – when my daughter was born in a proper birthing room with a bed and a rocking chair, my mother had become ill – and couldn’t make the trip north.

And of course I didn’t get to watch – I was way, way, way to busy pushing!

Fast forward to the birth of my 2 grand-kids. My daughter-in-law justifably wasn’t keen to have her mother-in-law in the room. So while I got to see my new grand kids within an hour of their birth – it was not the same.

But this time – the stars are actually aligning. My daughter and her darling husband are both very OK with me being present, and she’s signed up for a birthing center – a place dedicated to having natural – or what they call it now in London – Hydrobirths. I’m super excited.

To be sure I’m going to be present – I arrange to fly into London 2 weeks before her due date. Early enough to attend the last of her ‘birthing’ classes – and to attend an ‘active’ birthing session at the Barentine – her birthing center of choice.

It’s all about ‘relaxing’, ‘meditating’ thru the surges, thinking positive thoughts. I’m thinking – really? I don’t remember birthing as being relaxing! My husband and I had practiced and practiced my breathing techniques – and even so it was touch and go for a while. I did it without using any pain killers – 3 times even, but I wouldn’t say that learning to relax was going to help.

But times change – and my daughter and her husband seem so confident. I’m just thrilled I’m going to be able to see it happen. I can’t wait!

And the 8 birthing center rooms are glorious – double beds, bean bag chairs, squat stools, huge birthing pools filled with warm water, and mid-wives totally into natural, barely assisted births. Each room has it’s own huge bathroom – and a terrace outside to relax on during the quiet phases. Most of the mid-wives are warm and kind, we did hit one that seemed more – you must – then the others – but generally this is my idea of the ideal place to have a baby – and my daughter is delighted to be able to come here. It’s even fairly close to her home – by London standards. A 20 minute cab ride, or a 40 minute walk/ferry trip.

We are all ready. The bags are packed, the birth classes taken, the baby’s room set-up, and naturally – my Daughter is late. Very late. Suddenly we’re at 10 days late – and the birthing center is explaining that you can only have births there if you have started active labor within 14 days of her due date. Talk about pressure! The options, as per the mid-wife at the center, is either to start your labor – or be induced. So they are recommending that my daughter make an appointment to have an induction.

Talk about devasted – this is the last thing my daughter wants – but the facts are the facts. She’s late.

But again – things change – I arrive at their flat on Thurday of day 10 late – and she’s started labor at 5:00 AM. It’s mild, but it’s consistent. They are using an iphone app to time the contractions (this is so much easier than trying to use a watch and a pad of paper), and they are very consistently 1 minute long, but a bit too close together. She has an appointment at the birthing center (because she’s late – they are seeing her every 2 days), and we begin the long trek across the Thames to the center. But the news once we arrive isn’t promising. She’s in labor ok – but she’s not dilalted at all. Nothing to do but go back home and wait.

Now’s the time for all that relaxing and going with the flow routines. She’s having trouble keeping liquids down (we look it up – perfectly normal) – but Jamin and I are doing our best to keep her calm. We watch TV, we take a walk, we read meditions to her. The day goes by slowly, eventually Jamin goes to sleep, and I try to nap as well. At 2:00 AM she wakes me up – and we call the Barkantine for advice. They tell her the contractions are too close together to be effective – she must try to relax more. We wait another 2 hours – and she has her ‘show’. At this point we decide, with the help of the mid-wife on call at the Barkantine to go in.

When we arrive – they are just dealing with another birth – and the lovely back-up mide-wife that got called in a few minutes earlier settles us into our lovely birthing room. But my daughter is too much into labor to really enjoy the surroundings – controlling the ‘surges’ by breathing and relaxing is getting to be a huge challenge.

The mid-wife checks her out – announces that she’s at 5 cm, and doing very well. Things look great – until they don’t.

Her water breaks, and it’s not a clear liquid – it’s brown and green and very dark. The mid-wives explain that this means the baby, because she is so late, has pooped in the womb – and my dauther has now gone from low risk (acceptable at the birthing center) to high risk. They are transfering her from the birthing center to the Royal London Hospital – not al all her choice of locations – but there is no option. She’s going by ambulance to the hospital – and she’s going now.

For my daughter and her husband, the ride in the ambulance is a blur. The Barentine sends their mid-wife with my kids in the ambulance to ensure that the transfer works smoothly – leaving me standing at the side of the road, in London, in the dark – waiting for an ‘Uber’ to arrive. I’ve never called an ‘Uber’ in my life – so while the lovely folks at the Barkantine were dealing with the ambulance – one of the assistants used my daugther’s cell phone to get the cab. I’m really hoping this will work.

The good news – it’s only about 5:00 AM – and the streets of London are deathly quiet (by London standards). The cab arrives and drops me at the top of a one-way the wrong way street. Hospital is that way! I drag my daughter’s tiny suitcase to the emergency entrance – only to be told that I must go in another entrance to get to the birthing center. I drag myself and the suitcase back around the outside of this huge hospital – and spot the amublance technicians that took my daughter! I’m so relieved – they will know what to do. And they do! They stop an employee of the hospital, explain that I need to be escorted to the neo-natal high risk section – and now!

Up the staff elevator – thru staff only doors – and I’m facing a young security guard. What are you doing here? A quick explanation – and he directs me to room 17. There I find my daughter, her husband, and two mid-wives. The mid-wife from the Barentine is handing off my daughters case to another lovely yound lady – very Irish, very sunny – who will be taking over. They are consulting with a lovely young doctor – after all we’re now high risk – and the decision is to let my daughter continue her labor, with the help of a epidural.

The room is again lovely – but a lot more like a hospital this time. Which as it turns out – is a good thing.

The doctor explains, between very heavy contrations that my daughter is doing a great job controlling, that they are not concerned for her, they are concerned for the baby. The baby might have swallowed some of the poop – or she might have breathed it in. In either case, having her sooner rather than later is better. But my daughter is doing great with the contractions – they are willing to let her ride it out – but they are going to be monitoring both her and the baby continuously in case there is a problem.

So they do.

My daugher is in the late stages by now – well diluated and starting to want to push. The Irish mid-wife explains that the longer she doesn’t push – the better. The baby is working it’s way down the birth canal, and that’s a slow process on first babies. Time waiting now will work in her favor later. So my daughter is doing her best to hold off. With the epidural taking effect, she’s much more able to control the surges – but it’s not exactly easy.

At 9:00 AM there is a change of staff – our sunny Irish lassie is replaced by Sylvia – tall and obviously pregant – she’s all business at first – clearly preparing the room rather than chatting with my daughter. My daughter asks that she try for vaginal without forceps – and Sylvia fairly warns her that this will mean some serious pushing. The doctors come in to take a quick look – and tell Sylvia and my daughter it’s time to push – but if it takes more than 30 minutes – they are coming back with foreceps!

Sylvia waits till they leave – then tells my daughter – you can do it! Let’s get started. She helps my daughter into 2 different positions, eventually calling for a birthing bed with stirrups that will allow her to focus on pushing.

I’m standing watching the very tip top of the baby’s head appear as my daughter pushes, and then disappear as the contractions stop. Over and Over again this happens. Thru this Sylvia is amazing – and my daughter is amazing, and my son-in-law is amazing! Each time there’s a contraction – Sylvia gets into position to grab the baby – each time the contractions stop, and my daughter pauses to catch her breathe – Sylvia takes those moments to tidy and straighten – and get back into position.

Closer and closer the baby’s head gets. Each pushing session seems just a tiny bit more effective – until suddenly – amazingly – there she is! And just like that – with hardly time to breathe – at exactly 10:05 AM on October 14, 2016 – the baby is born! Abigail Louise Treeby has joined the world.

Sylvia hands the baby to my daughter for a split second – then grabs the scissors – clamps and cuts the cord, and takes the baby away. She instructs Jamin and I to push the call button while she works on the baby, immediately suctioning her throat with a tube no bigger than a fine needle. Within seconds there are 6 doctors in the room – all surrounding the baby. The head mid-wife – Molly – keeps reasuring my daughter that all is fine as they give the baby oxygen and rub her down. They suction her throat (she did swallow some of the poo), continue to give her oxygen, and then use a tiny throat tube to check that she is all clear. Thru this Abigail quietly coughs and slowly moves her arms and legs as she goes from blue, to grey, to pink.

I have never been so glad to be in a hospital – in the neo-natal High Risk section in my life.

Birth is a miracle. Health is a miracle. Life is a miracle.
I’m a Grannie X 3!