Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour

Great Hotels, Great Memories

London, England

Rye was interesting and I might have chosen to stay another day, but last night's lodging (The Olde Vicarage on High Street) was booked for tonight, and after trying at several other places that were also full, I decided to move into London. I was looking forward to getting into a different hotel anyway, as the Olde Vicarage had not lived up to its "4-Crown" (Highly Recommended) rating. The plumbing was quite medieval: the toilet didn't work, there was no shower, only a bath, and there were separate faucets (not just handles) for hot and cold water, which means that you get scalding hot out of one and freezing cold out of the other, with no way to compromise the two except by filling the basin. As my luck would have it, there did occur another method. The place ran out of hot water completely in the middle of my bath, leaving room temperature water for the rest of the morning. My complaints were not limited to the plumbing however. There was no air conditioning to ward off the very hot and muggy Channel air, and the very noisy children in the building across the narrow street seemed to be right at the foot of my bed.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to an authentic first class hotel, and London has lots of them. But first I had to get there. The local Rye taxi took me into Lydd to fetch my large duffel bag out of the airplane, then taxi back to Rye to catch the train to Ashford, then catch a different train to London's Charring Cross station, the very center of town.

I had no trouble booking a room at The Savoy, a 5-star art-deco landmark hotel in the business district. I am told that the short street leading up to the front door of The Savoy is the only place in all of the United Kingdom where traffic stays to the right. No one seems to know why, just part of the very quirky charm of the place.

Yes, it is expensive. However when I consider the fact that I have suffered through some of the most awful lodgings in all of Europe on this trip, I feel the need to pamper myself every once in a while.

I really enjoy staying at world class hotels, not just for the luxury of it all, but because I like to see how they have planned the details. I owe some great measure of my success in business to my commitment to creating effective SYSTEMS. A system is a documented, consistent way of doing things that produces the desired result. McDonalds hamburgers is one of the more effective systems-based businesses in the world. So partly, my stay here is research.

One of the hallmarks of a first class hotel is that the staff treat you with highly personalized attention. They all address you by your name, and sometimes it seems as if they must be clairvoyant when they do that, because you cannot imagine how they could know your name. You can be sure they do it easily because they have a System for it. When I got to my room and turned the TV on, it immediately welcomed ME with my name on the screen. My bags were already in the room, and I was guided to my room by the person who checked me in. There were fresh flowers in the room when I arrived, and within half an hour, a complimentary bottle of Champagne was delivered, with mixed nuts.

There are three phones, (each of which has three lines!) one in the bathroom, one on the desk and one by the bed. Near the desk, in plain view and within easy access, are labelled the outlets for electric, fax, modem (UK and US adapters, and a third for ISDN!). It is clear that these people cater to the business traveler.

By the bed there is a control box that will summon the three most commonly needed assistants: Maid, Valet, Waiter. These buttons turn on the appropriately marked light outside the room door, alerting the floor assistant, as well as automatically ringing the required assistant, who phones back immediately.

There is a CD player and stereo tuner by the bedside, providing whatever music you could want. A fully stocked mini-bar/refrigerator has more than anything you could want for refreshment or snacks.

But the area where these hotels really go whole hog is the bathroom. Here at The Savoy there is a heated (adjustable) towel rack, and the bathroom is separately heated (adjustable). There is a full-on shower and bath of course, but this shower is extraordinary: the shower head is very high overhead and is at least 12 inches in diameter, so you can stand directly under it like a gentle waterfall. There is also a separate hand-held shower head. The entire ceiling is mirrored. Of course there is marble and granite throughout the room, and as a nice touch, there was a nice terrycloth mat placed in front of the sink, a comfortable place to stand while you consider your reflection in the mirrors. And the best mirror of all is the one that can be extended from the wall, has an internal light, and magnifies the reflection so that it is the world's best mirror for shaving!

When I get to a place like this, the first thing I want to do is get a shower to get me equal to my surroundings, getting rid of the sweat and grime of a long day of travel. Good hotel people know this, and they provide several towels of absolutely magnificent texture and size. Huge, thick terrycloth towels already heated to perfection on the heated towel rack. Now the place is a mess, but no problem, just push the button and the maid will have it put together in a jiffy!

When I'm out for dinner, somehow they know that and send a maid to perform the "turndown service" that includes removing and storing the bedcover, and turning down (hence the name) the upper near corner of the blanket and sheet, a gesture that is designed to welcome you to a good night's rest. Of course you can order your breakfast for the morning by filling in a card and hanging it on your doorknob, it will be delivered whenever you want, with the newspaper of your choice. The best hotels put a note on the paper with the day's weather forecast. The great hotel in Hamburg had an umbrella in the closet for the guest use, but not The Savoy, which is strange considering the weather here in London. I'm sure you could get one from the valet or bellman. And speaking of bellmen, here at The Savoy they wear black morning coats and top hats and white gloves.

And while we are on the subject of staff, let me mention a standout here at The Savoy. Her name is Letitia, in London for only a year, she seems lonely when she says she's gong back to visit her parents in South Africa. She makes an absolutely perfect cappuccino and smiles sweetly while she engages you in conversation in such a skillful manner that you can get lost in the feeling that she may even have more than a professional interest in you. This is the way of the truly gifted in the hospitality industry, but it is also a skill that can be taught as part of a SYSTEM of success in business, and I'm making notes of her technique whenever I break free of the reverie and daydreams of what might be if she were not going to South Africa tomorrow and I were not 3 times her age!

An essential ingredient for any great hotel is location, and The Savoy doesn't disappoint. I took a walk around the block before dinner and discovered the great river Thames, and the spot where the great 3,500 year old Egyptian obelisk is displayed. A discreet brass plate explains the many irregular holes in the base of the obelisk: a German bomb during WWII exploded in the roadway nearby.

Some cultural differences are just too great to overcome by even the most inspired hotel management. And here I am referring to the food. Unfortunately, the English have just never caught on to the fact that eating can be a very pleasant experience if the food is tasty. More of their chefs should take a short hop across the Channel and have a meal or two in France.

So after a mediocre dinner at a world class hotel, and one last smile and cappuccino from Letitia, I am ready for a great night's sleep on the most comfortable bed and pillows I have yet experienced. A brochure in the room explains that they are each custom made by craftsmen in the same firm that has been doing this for over a hundred years (the Savoy is 110 years old). I have put out the "Do NOT disturb" sign on my doorknob, and will be going to sleep knowing that I will NOT be greeted in the morning by the sounds of the street urchins of Rye.

These great hotels produce great memories, so if I live long enough, the cost of staying here gets downright reasonable!

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