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Take it away Frankie . . .

‘And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain’

 In other words, this is the last Toungethaid, because today we do everything backwards, except, hopefully, being marched off the Emirates flight. As far as that matter is concerned, we’ll fire the first mortars when we get home. Maybe our local member, Karen Phelps, will help us storm the Arab desert stronghold and carry off a few A380s. I feel duty bound to post dispatches from the trenches as the war develops. One of the benefits of being chucked off Emirates and having to rebook with Singapore is that we get to try out our first Dreamliner between Bangkok and Singapore.

The night before last, we walked across to a new shopping mall called Bluport – which turned out to be quite spectacular. It felt like being in a Westfield of the future, with offerings from hastily sewn cheap clothes to expensive designer, along with a massive, high class supermarket down one side. Uniqlo, the Japanese clothing and accessories store, was vigorously flogging furry and quilted jackets suitable for Antarctica. Apart from European tourists, and bear in mind that Hua Hin is not popular tourist destination, who will buy the stuff?

The restaurant selection was overwhelming. We wandered from one to another, trying to judge the quality of the food by the expressions on the diners’ faces inside. One must accept that the billboards and lavish books on the lecterns out the front of the restaurants are not a reliable guide to the food. They show pictures of dishes that only faintly resemble what is served inside. One restaurant that looked promising was rejected for its billboard:

Would you eat this?

 Yesterday afternoon we made a final visit to the massagery. I’ve grown quite fond of my auld boiler since she has brought such relief to my neck. She’s a no-nonsense woman and gets to work on me like a butcher would approach a bullock carcass. In case you’re wondering, the only things she is interested in pulling are my fingers and toes. She tuts with dismay when she fails to get a click out of my fingers, not realising that she is up against the adhesion of arthritis which has taken me years to accumulate. She doesn’t give up easily though, as she puts her considerable weight behind further attempts. My toes are more vulnerable, being small, distant and defenceless. She nearly broke a couple as she bent her back into the task and I had to tell her to stop. But I emerged with another incremental improvement on my neck. The massagery favours tiger balm oil as the rubbing solution. I suspect that is because it is cheap and covers up the rising smell of hirsute, less hygienic clients. But powerful! It makes your eyes water if you inhale its fumes. I remembered that, at home, if we wanted to keep the cats away from us for a while, we rubbed a bit of tiger balm on ourselves. But I didn’t want to smell like a football club dressing room in Hua Hin – which is why I paid a premium for an aroma therapy oil. That went well until it came to neck fixing time. The auld boiler reached for the tiger balm and slapped it on before I could stop her. I hope the pong has gone by the time I get home otherwise the cats will not be pleased to see Daddy.

I did a final check on the egg department mini-chart system at breakfast this morning and it seemed to be working well, except for final delivery by the waitresses. I saw one wandering around with four omelettes trying to find their owners. These are known, in the trade, as OOs: orphan omelettes. If no homes are found for them, they are fed to the jellfisss.




Welcome to sunny Hua Hin where you can laze by the pool or swim in the gentle sea or walk along the beach. Unfortunately, none of these currently applies. Lying by the pool in the rain while your book turns into papier mache has little appeal nor does walking along a beach fighting through a downpour. And if you venture into the gentle sea you join a massive and welcoming population of jellyfisss (local pronunciation with a long hiss at the end to emphasise the unpleasantness of the creatures.) These are particularly ugly jellyfisss, the size of garbage bin lids and coloured blue so you can be cuddling one in the water before you realise it. Jellyfisss have no brains, so you can’t reason with them. Like hammerhead sharks, I don’t know why they were created.

The upshot of this is that we’re rained in. But massage, the great pastime of Thailand, goes on undeterred. Based on a recommendation from the food tour operator, we tooktook a tuktuk to a modest establishment not far from our hotel. It was run by a very attractive Thai girl and three rubbers – as distinct from tuggers. Two were youngish and there was one lantern jawed auld boiler. The two youngish were busy rubbing behind curtains. Michelle, of course, was allocated Very Attractive while Fraser, as usual, got the auld boiler. At least this was to be an oil massage, thus no abrasion like the last auld boiler’s body scrub. I was nonetheless apprehensive, but this auld boiler turned out to be a real pro. Since I couldn’t see her, (I was either face down in the bench aperture or face up with a towel over my eyes) the only substances in existence in the universe were my creping body and her hands of firm rubber. The greatest benefit was to my neck, which had been sore and stiff for weeks. I’d say she made a 50% improvement in it. I’m therefore going back again until I can enter Neck of the Yearand be a contender.

While we were in the shop’s waiting area a man emerged post-massage from the curtained -off section and we got talking. He was Belgian and had come to Hua Hin seven years ago on holiday. He had never been married and was quickly seized by a Thai girl with a view to whizzing him up the isle as quickly as possible. He bought a house for them but had to put it in her name to comply with foreigner land ownership laws. He soon discovered that his was a marriage made in hell. Divorce followed, and she scored the house. However, he loved the Hua Hin lifestyle and retired from his job to settle here. He now rents a house and has a beautiful Thai girlfriend. His comment on Thai girls is that they all have bad eyesight. “They call me handsome, so I know they can’t see properly.”

The night before last I had a particularly bad attack of toothache which I still think was the fault of Emirates, but the anger didn’t get rid of the pain. I had three alternatives. I could wait until I arrived home and see my long-trusted dentist, or I could go to a local dental clinic variously called Extractopan, Thripdrillers and Nohurtu or I could take the Hong Thong spirits cure which relieves you of caring about anything. Since the clinics were closed and my dentist was a week away, I chose Hong Thong. It not only banished the pain but today I have no hangover and my tooth has kind of settled down. A business is now staring me in the face. Some crowd funding and a simple change of label is all I need:

HONG THONG PAINKILLER! Especially good for toothache. Taken orally, this pleasant -tasting remedy is a natural molassesproduct. Warning: can cause drowsiness or slurred speech. Users should not be in charge of vehicles, operate heavy machinery or sign important documents for 36 hours after the last dose.

The Intercontinental pool between thunder storms

At The Intercontinental, as at many Asian hotels, breakfast is an event of major proportion. There is particular pressure on egg departments to produce a variety of egg dishes quickly. As I understand it, when the International Egg Preparers Union renegotiated ordering terms and conditions The Interconnectional supported the move with an egg ordering mini-chart, in the form of a block of tear-off coupons bearing the table number and a dizzying array of ways to cook an egg along with additions and subtractions of ingredients. After taking some trouble in filling it in with the egg-pen provided, one is required to present it to the Egg Captain who stares at it as though he has never seen it before and then hands to an eggling (lower ranking egg cook) who prepares the dish.  Gone are the days when you could march up to the man in white with the tall hat and ask for two poached eggs. It’s all gone upmarket-automated. In my case, I carefully formulated an omelette, presented the mini-chart to the Egg Captain and waited at my table. Twenty minutes later I was still eggless. Apparently, the new regulations had failed to specify that the egg had to go somewhere after cooking. I spied it sitting like a poor little orphan on a shelf behind the eggery. Everybody very sorry.







Hotel toaster review (see picture below)

The Intercontinental Hotel is a great place to stay in Hua Hin. Apart from more light switches than a piano accordion has buttons, the rooms are excellent, along with the food and extra friendly staff. The only flat spot is the hotel toaster which I encountered at breakfast this morning. I did a double take. I’d seen it before! It was a cautionhot single knobber with green light optional extra and the commemoration plaque to Max who fell into a large model and toasted himself. I rounded up the toast captain (you can see him anxiously watching in the background) and he admitted that he’d bought it on This is the little-known online marketplace for new and used hotel toasters. It links to a network of hotel toaster repair shops around the world that recondition and, in some cases, panel beat and repaint used hotel toasters. The dishonest shops might take the front of one damaged toaster and join it to the back of another. Serial number are then filed off and the toaster offered for sale as an original. The toast captain said he thought he’d bought a new one, but when it began to prematurely turn yellow, he wasn’t so sure.

This toaster may not be authentic.

Last night we went to find a tailor to make Michelle some linen pants and tops in fabric we’d brought from Australia – without fitting in a pair of shorts for the tailor’s son. After some straggerling and huggerling in which we agreed on prices and styles, we went for a massage in a shop I’d fondly remembered from five years previously. Time had not been kind to the establishment. Gravity had got the better of the furniture. Michelle was allocated the beautiful young trainee for an hour’s worth of feathery fluttering of fingers while I got the auld boiler for a salt body-scrub more abrasive than a rubdown with a brick. Today I’m getting around without underpants to allow new skin to form over the welts and rashes.

In an attempt to put the negative massage experience behind us, we found a nice little Thai restaurant for dinner. While the food was superb, we had to wait for a long time to be served. I filled in by enquiring about Thai whiskey. The premier brand (A$10 a large bottle) is Hong Thong (sounds like cheap Chinese footwear) and is a blend – although the label doesn’t say with what. I decided to try a nip, expecting something akin to fly spray. But it was in for a surprise. I’m no whiskey drinker, but this was the most gentle and delicious I’ve ever tasted. (yeah, he’s no whisky drinker). It has 35% alcohol against Scotch at about 40%. Dan Murphy’s doesn’t sell it, so I’ll have to bring some home. I might add that it helps calm toothache, (I blame Emirates for that and will be claiming my dentist bill) and has minimum hangover consequences. It is probably the cheapest way to get drunk in Thailand. However, there are some unfounded suggestions that it can send you blind. That, incidentally, applies to all whiskey, not just to Hong Thong.

Today we went on a food tour of little places tourists don’t know about because they don’t look like restaurants, are hidden in the shanty hinterland and are mostly part of somebody’s house. There were five stops. Two of the eateries were outstanding and we’ll return under our own steam. They all served authentic Thai local food. I made a mistake at the first one by putting a generous dollop of ‘chilli jam’ into my chicken and veggie broth. Our guide cried out a warning but not before I had disabled my respiratory system. It took several bottles water and some counselling before I could continue the tour. At another place we had curried water fowl. That interested me. Did they wade through leech infested swamps to capture the birds or did they farm them? I could not get the question understood so I still don’t know.

The highlight dish (among many outstanding ones) was sticky rice and red bean cooked in a length of bamboo. You can’t order this in a restaurant but have to buy it on the street.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I ought to be in the currency exchange business. At Sydney airport we were offered about 17 Thai baht to one Australian dollar. Here, in Hua Hin, the going rate from a reputable money exchange is 22 baht. Even to my slow mathematical brain that is a crazy difference. Somebody is doing some ripping off and I’d say it is the airport. In fact, even duty-free grog is, for the most part at the airport, as dear or dearer than Dan Murphy’s. I will be using my incoming entitlement of spirits on Hong Thong Whithkey.



Since Michelle and I had taken only an eight-day drop-and-flop holiday in Hua Hin (gulf of Thailand) I had decided not to inflict my travelogues on innocent readers. But the start of it went so off the rails I had to get it down in print.

We’d booked a business class Bangkok and return fare with Emirates, leaving last Thursday (Oct 18) evening and promising a flatbed for a sound sleep induced by a superior meal and suitable liquids. We would wake in Bangkok. Cap khoon Kaa!

One of the nice touches with Emirates is that it sends you a classy car and driver for your trip from home to the airport and back. An Audi A8 duly arrived and we set off. Our journey was halted at South Dowling Street while the world stopped for Prince Harry, his wife Meghan and a 5% foetus screamed past accompanied by a team of beautifully groomed coppers in various white vehicles, including a helicopter. That added 20 minutes to the trip and should have been seen as an omen from the dark side.

We boarded our A380 and settled into our business class kennels. I downed a glass of champagne while Michelle asked if it was okay to plug in her CPAP machine (needed to combat sleep apnoea) into the power socket in front of her. This began a chain of events that is best summarised in a letter which I am drafting to the managing director of Emirates with a cc to God if he’s interested. The words in brackets are observations and won’t form part of the final letter.

Dear Sir,

This letter has two intended outcomes. One is to assist Emirates Airline in properly addressing the needs of passengers in relation to CPAP machines. The other is to request compensation from Emirates for the wrongful and distressing treatment metered out to myself and my wife when we boarded flight EK0419 from Sydney to Bangkok on 18 October 2018

We had checked in on time and were seated in business class – for which we had paid full fare. My wife carried with her a CPAP machine which is used to assist breathing during sleep. On all the other airlines with whom we have flown, the machine can be plugged into a power socket near the seat. The Emirates A380 did not offer this service. In relation to the use of CPAP machines the company’s website covers only policy rules for the use of battery powered CPAP machines. So, in effect, my wife’s machine was irrelevant to the flight. This being the case, she decided to stay awake during the flight and offered to surrender the machine to cabin crew – to be returned to her upon arrival. This offer was declined.

There the matter should have ended, but the crew, later backed by the captain, deemed that my wife was now a health risk and we were offloaded during a humiliating public address announcement by the captain to the effect that the ensuing delay was because two passengers were being taken off the flight. Other passengers would have looked upon us as being engaged in some criminal activity. (At this point I did my lolly and shouted, “this is outrageous!” at the security team, done up in green flouro and equipped with anti-uprising devices. I could see that other passengers were thoroughly enjoying this piece of free live theatre. We all love listening to a spirited row between other people.)

From that point we were escorted back through the terminal, our unopened bags put through security checking and then taken upstairs to a service desk where, we were told, we would be booked on another flight and accommodated at a hotel overnight. The offer evaporated once we spoke to the service personnel. We were not offered another flight unless we paid a second full fare because we had been categorised as a ‘no show’ – which was clearly not the case. Moreover, we would be expected to pay for the accommodation. Later that night, without notice, your airline cancelled our return flight from Bangkok scheduled for 27 October 2018. It was also suggested that we might be charged for the delay to the A380’s departure of the Sydney flight when we were ejected.

Your service desk assistant said that we had been taken off the flight because we had not read, and adhered to, the company policy on its website regarding CPAP machines in which prior notice had to be given to the airline and a doctor’s certificate produced supporting the machine’s use. If you read your own online policy, you will see that it applies to battery-powered machines. Ours is a mains powered plug-in model and could not have been used anyway. We were therefore removed from the flight based on misinformation. Furthermore, I was also removed from the flight even though I had nothing to do with the CPAP machine issue.

To your credit, we have been refunded (yet to be confirmed) the full value of the fares, but not before a cancellation fee of ($ to be determined) each had been deducted. The facts are that we did not cancel, nor did we contravene your website stated policy, nor did we fail to board the aircraft on time. Even though totally innocent of these accusations we have had to meet the cost of hotel accommodation and taxi fares to and from the airport. That is to say nothing of the distress, holiday time loss and embarrassment caused to us by Emirates through this whole episode.

We therefore request that you return to us the cancellation fee you have deducted and that you compensate us for the other costs we have incurred. Since we believe you value your good name, we will leave the compensation figure for you to decide in the spirit of fairness. (if our anger doesn’t subside and, based on legal advice, we might go for a substantial trauma-based figure)

May we suggest that you reword your online policy rules regarding CPAP machines, bearing in mind that there are some millions of users around the world who use plugin models. As our offloading on Thursday would indicate, Emirates deems all of these people to be medical risks and should refuse to carry them. There are many CPAP user forums around the world and they should disseminate Emirates policy in regard to this matter. My wife would be happy to share this information on these public forums.

And so we returned home, tails between legs, and tried to explain to explain to our cats why we were back, and went to bed in somewhat larger spaces than we had anticipated. The next morning Michelle donned her travel battle suit and declared war. She was so scary that I escaped up the street for a haircut that I had intended to entrust to a Thai barber. He will sue Emirates for compensation as well. When I returned, Michelle had us booked on a Singapore flight for that evening. We love this airline, especially as they invite the use of CPAP machines, no questions asked. The downside of the flight was that is went via Singapore but not before it had stopped in Canberra to take on pollies for their needful study tours. We finally arrived in Bangkok not knowing what day or time it was. We were picked up by our driver for the three-hour car trip to Hua Hin. She had parked her Toyota all-purpose in the airport carpark which is roughly a quarter the size it should be. The way around this is to double park so that cars in designated car spaces cannot get out. The way around this is to leave every blocking car in neutral with the handbrake off. It can then be pushed out of the way to block somebody else. If you are having trouble pushing, there is are signs on the wall giving the phone number of official pushers who will come to your aid. I wonder how this works in sloping areas when all the cars illegally parked roll down to the lowest point. The pusher teams would need reinforcements.

We set off on another car ride, but although Prince Harry and party were not around, we were seriously delayed by pounding rain and crazy Saturday traffic. One huge sign that we passed near the city warned people not to place tattoos or draw additional features, such as moustaches or spectacles on images of the Buddha’s face because it was disrespectful. I agree.


The joys of Thai food


Last gasps in Rome

Saturday 23 June 2018

I was wrong about our hotel room being the work of the Smart Car designer. I found the real designer (Dr Confineo Shrinkiarie) and the car he designed after he’d finished our room. As you can see, the Smart is quite large compared to this electric two-seater. There are quite a few of these types of cars buzzing around Rome – yet another car-choked city that is looking for solutions. It is going to happen in Melbourne and Sydney eventually, so better to get used to a micro-mini electric now. This one has room for two passengers side by side, with storage provided by a plastic box fixed high up at the rear. Another type, a Renault, where you have to rent the battery by the month, holds two people, but one behind the other, and no storage. Clearly, these cars force choices upon their owners that we’re not used to.

I should add that when Michelle booked our hotel room, the promotional photograph showed a big bank of cupboards, a small table and chairs, and tea and coffee making facilities – all which appeared to part of our room. Wrong. This turned out to be a public space where we sat for breakfast as a couple of the friendly girls (they might be back-packers) who work in the hotel, grapple anew every morning with breakfast – including toast which is made off-site. Hence no hotel toaster report.

We went window shopping yesterday determined not to actually enter a shop. However, Michelle did enter a spectacle frames shop and emerged considerably richer in frame and poorer in money. I also unintentionally entered a menswear shop and emerged richer in jacket but only modestly poorer in money when compared to Michelle’s Specspenders(copyright). To recover from these disturbing events, we lined up at the leading gelato palace on the main drag down to the Spanish Steps. I should mention that, in addition to pasta, there is another dietary nightmare throughout Italy: gelato. There was a long queue stretching outside the shop, signifying top gelato quality, but once inside we beheld one of the wonders of the eating disorder world: the liquid chocolate wall. We’ve all seen chocolate fountains, but a whole wall, running at two billion calories per second into a trough and being recirculated? Being a chocaholic, that was a eureka moment for me. However, I couldn’t dwell on it for too long because once you are holding a cone full of gelato you have to apply yourself immediately to the task of oral disposal. Authentic gelato melts very quickly and wants to run down over your wrist before you can intercept it with your tongue. You can’t talk to a serious gelato consumer in the act. Concentration has to be absolute.

As a counter to bodily pleasures we took a cultural tour of a palace – the 1000 room Palazzo Doria Panphilj – off Rome’s via del Corsa. An audio player carries the voice of the current head of the family that owns it – along with massive other property assets. Listening to Prince Johnathan talk you through a huge collection of priceless paintings and sculptures you’d swear he came from English aristocracy, but he’s legally Italian, having been sent to England for his education and to acquire a super-plummy accent. The family’s history is as intriguing as its wealth. Johnathan is not from the family’s blood line at all, but was adopted as a baby from an English Catholic orphanage, along with a girl (turning her into a princess) and they run the family. Johnathan is single, has a male partner and they have two surrogate children who will no doubt take over the role as custodians of the estates in the future – although the ownership of the properties is now held in a government trust. They all live within the palace in apartments upstairs, unfortunately not included in the tour.



End of days

Monday 25 June

We’re now time travellers, having left Rome and our miniscule room on Sunday morning to join thousands of confused, desperate people trying to make the best of gross overcrowding at Rome Airport as they wait in queues to get into other queues – which can often be the wrong queues.

Our Singapore Airlines flight left at 11 am after which we were served lunch but had to pretend it was dinner, so we could then pretend it was night-time and obediently go to bed early in the afternoon. After a long period of pretend darkness, we had a pretend breakfast at about midnight, but it was really six o’clock in the morning. And exiting the aircraft doesn’t restore reality, because the interior of Changi Airport looks the same no matter what the clock may tell you.

Because we were doing most of this trip on points, we had to take what tickets were available – meaning an 18-hour stopover at Changi. The way around this was to book a block of hours at the Urgent Lovers’ Airport Hotel which claims to be the only airport hotel in the world with a swimming pool. The plan was to sit by the sunny pool, swim and listen to the roar of jet engines. But this was hard to enjoy in the middle of a thunderstorm. Paying to lie in the rain is not good value, either. We changed plan and booked in to a free bus tour of Singapore along with a team of other disorientated travellers, most of whom wanted to sit in the bus and go to sleep. But our lively tour guide had other plans. She made us get off the bus to behold the water-spewing Singapore lion, the Bay Sands Hotel and a famous mosque that was closed. By this time the thunder storm had gone elsewhere, and we would have loved the pool, we were trapped on the bus tour. When we finally made the airport hotel, we were too exhausted to swim or lie by the pool. Because our body time was the middle of the night, we fell into bed – which will result in insomnia on the plane tonight. I realise, of course, that these types of problems are well known to all overseas travellers, but I note that they are much worse on the way home when you’ve spent your money, seen or failed to see what you went away for and are wearing part of an additional person around your waist.

That’s all folks. As usual, I am heavily indebted to my extraordinary tour guide and wife Michelle whose talents could easily be applied to troop movements in the armed forces. I am also indebted to you, my little band of readers, who give me a reason to set all this stuff down. I’ve been doing it for years, and now see the value of retaining created memories – which I suppose is the reason we travel.



Eating disorders

We’re busy preparing explanations as to why we’ll be waddling off the plane in Sydney on June 26. There is an irresistible attraction in Italy to putting on weight. This is because the staple food is pasta and even when you’re sick to death of it, it is hard to avoid because you end up switching from spaghetti to macaroni to penne to pizza to calzone and return along the same route. Apart from some brief diversions into seafood salad or fine dining, pasta dominates. Actually, it is not quite so fatifying as I used to think, because when it is cooked its GI (glycaemic index) doesn’t even move the needle to the halfway mark. Dieticians add that pasta is less fattening when firm rather than flaccid. I’m tempted to extemporise on this notion, but I shall refrain.

One of my favourite dishes is calzone – but it can look daunting when it arrives on the plate. Although it is no more than a pizza folded in half, it presents as being too much to costume in one sitting. This one from the other night illustrates the confrontation.

There is a degree of mystery and excitement when you begin at the easterly point and work your way towards the middle. Initially, there is nothing but crust, then a quiet dawn of cheese, soon followed by a riot of rampant, runny cheese, ham, tomato and whatever else the chef threw in – but you can’t see it until you hoik it out. By the time you are at the westerly extremity, with most of the calzone having disappeared beneath the portcullis, a gentle sunset crust is quite welcome.

Cruise ships

A FAB retrospective

During our travels we’ve connected with many people who, like us, are cruising through their savings, trying to spend the last dollar just as the grim reaper presses the doorbell. These people, many of them retirees, are delighted by cruise ships that are so enormous they can reproduce what the trippers left behind on land – which seems a bit pointless to me. There are go-kart tracks, climbing walls, forests and streets – all to make you feel as though you’re not at sea. I thought our FAB was a big bugger, with its 50,000 tonnes, crew of 828 and nearly 1900 guests, but it’s a tiddler compared to the biggest, Symphony of the Seas. That can swallow 6,680 guests plus 2,200 crew members for a total of nearly 9,000 people. It has 18 decks, 22 restaurants, 24 pools and 2759 cabins.

Symphony of the Seas – too much like home.

I must say I enjoyed the FAB (proper name: Holland America Line’sOosterdam) as an experience but do it again? I don’t think so. I like boats and I like the sea but moving along in a waterborne suburb is not for me – especially when contemplating going on something three times the size of the FAB. For the record, our 12 days covered 2647 miles at an average speed of 14 knots and guzzled up 180,000 gallons of fuel. Symphony of the Seas (below) statistics would be jaw-dropping.

Last day in Como

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Off to Rome tomorrow but today we said goodbye to Como with a trip to the beach followed by an alfresco pasta dinner. The dinner was up to expectations, but the beach was a surprise. First, I didn’t know Como had a beach. I’d only seen kids jumping off stone walls into the lake on our many ferry voyages, but when we went for a late afternoon walk in 30-degree heat, there it was: sand, modest waves, people swimming and sunbaking. The only problem is, if more than ten people wanted to have a day at the beach it would be overcrowded.

On the walk we also came across the famous statue of Felice Cavallotti also known as The Angry Accuser. He’s pointing at the sculptor who draped a dress on him instead of supplying him with legs.

“You bastard! Yes, I’m talking to you!”


 The Smart Hotel in Rome

Wednesday 21 June 2018

Whoever designed the Smart Car also designed the hotel we moved into in Rome. With only five rooms shoehorned into a space that should have yielded no more than two, it is tucked away in a maze of cobbled streets in the delightful historic part of the city not far from the Trevi Fountain.

The hotel reception is so small that when you open the modest front door inwards it takes up nearly all the room in the foyer. The receptionist, an attractive girl who seems to see the funny side of the place, is wedged into a corner behind an encircling wooden desk. The bedrooms are all up a long flight of stairs with a punishing gradient that makes you wonder if you really need what’s in your suitcase. To her credit, the receptionist, only slightly built, comes to the rescue. She and her colleague, also slightly built, take the risk of a coronary as, in tandem, they groan their way up with our cases – based on the principle that dead guests don’t pay but you can always get another girl.

If our hotel room in Bologna was small, this one is like looking down the wrong end of a telescope. That is, until you come to the skinny wardrobe that is so tall I had to jump like a basketballer to hang up my clothes. There are no drawers and the one shelf is so high you could only use it with a step ladder. The tap over the basin is a mechanical mystery – maybe a masterpiece. It has a single handle and turns on and off a different way each time you use it. It’s randomness also applies to the hot and cold function. You’d never get bored with this tap. Maybe to make the room look bigger, the bed is virtually on the floor – which also prevents the mattress from excessive sagging. When you get up in the morning you must get up to get up. People with weak thighs may have to stay in bed until a block and tackle is called in.

Why are we staying here, you may ask? On the recommendation of friends who have stayed here and rate charm, position and economy over practicality. And maybe they’re right, because outside the anonymous front door is ancient history all laid out in 3D.