1. Travel
Secrets behind Charming European Hotels
Who'd wanna stay at an American-style hotel when you can have all these quirks?
Guido Veloce Explains Europe to You - Issue #4
We all like to save money. I can appreciate the cost savings realized by looking for quaint, charming, or even moderately funky hotels. Here are some things you might need to know if you're not staying at the local Hilton.

I. What floor is this, sir?

Americans always start with 1. The rest of the world, more rooted in mathematical reality, starts at ground zero. Remember this when they tell you your room is on the 12th floor. Because if you're from the US, it isn't.

See, when you step into a European building, the first floor is the one directly over your head. What you're on is the ground floor--ground zero so to speak.

II. Where's the bathroom?

Ok, if you want to save money you can cash in on what used to make Europe cheap--a room with a shared bath down the hall. Not so convenient at night for folks with cranky bladders, but even today this inconvenience can save considerable cash for those on the lookout for saving money.

But you won't find this type of room as easily as you could in the past. Many of the cheaper hotels have plunked prefab bathrooms right in the old rooms, and it can make for a pretty funky arrangement. You can identify these types of bathrooms by the fact that you have to step up to get into them. That's because the plumbing is all knotted up between the new and old floor levels.

III. Ok, so I paid extra and got my own bathroom. But what's this?

If you're thinking of washing your socks in it it's probably a bidet. Think of a bidet as an environmentally correct toilet paper replacement system. You rocket scientists can call it a "hygienic irrigator" that uses soothing water in place of that rough rolled stuff.

Sometimes, even if you don't have a toilet in the room, you'll get a bidet. In this case, don't ask the desk guy why your toilet doesn't have a seat on it unless you wish to provide him and his cohorts with countless hours of mirth at your expense.

IV. Hey, I can use the toilet and shower at the very same time!

You've landed in one of those early adaptor joints where they've shoehorned a bathroom into a closet. In a land where tiling the whole bathroom is the philosophy most folks grew up with--sometimes not a single thought is given to the expense and bother of a shower curtain, especially when the shower head comes out right over the toilet. If you're traveling with other people, I suggest you stick your head into the bathroom and, if you see this sorta arrangement, yell "dibs on the first shower!" as loud as you can. Coming in second is, well, sloppy to say the least.

V. Hey, where'd the light go?

Electricity is expensive in Europe. That's because European electrons are smaller but precisely built by native craftsmen and thus more expensive to own, just like a Ferrari.

So when you turn on a hall light to see where to slip that big key into the lock of your charming hotel door you'll wanna work fast, because the light is gonna go out on you some time in the very near future. It's on a timer. You have to hit the switch again if you need longer light.

VI. Gimme that Key

In many hotels in Europe they give you a key that's attached to something looking vaguely club-like that has the weight of a bowling ball. This is because they don't want you to take the key out of the building and lose it. Return it to the desk on your way out. Don't worry, you won't slip that baby into your pocket without thinking. It's like carrying a small Fiat.

This means that you'll have to ask the desk person for your key when you return from your journey and wish to go to your room. If he or she doesn't speak English, this is a good chance to practice your numbers in a foreign language. If you fail at this, you can try writing the number on a piece of paper. Even this course of action has pitfalls though. Here's how the Europeans write the number 1 and the number 7:

number one number 7
one
seven

You'll see that the number 1 looks like a 7, which is remedied by drawing a line through the 7 which means "this isn't the number one."

And speaking of the number one: If you're using hand signals to convey numbers and the other party doesn't seem to get it, use your thumb to designate a "1" rather than a finger. I know it looks like you're saying "job well done" to a race driver as she exits a race track in her Spitfire, but that's the way it's done in some places.

I'm outta here. Why not write me and tell me what European subject you'd like me to rant about next week?

 

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