Saturday 29 December 2007

Hotel Jerome is Mining Town Winter Wonderland

Hotel Jerome
330 East Main Street
Aspen, CO USA 81611

Where is it?

From the main reception head towards the fireplace and then left down the corridor that runs by the J Bar. At the end, head around to the right and keep going past the doors to the outside pool (on your left) and the elevators (to the right). You’ll see the corridor to the toilets on your right. The Men’s is first on the left and the Ladies’ is second.

What’s it like?

Get this clear before we begin. This is no motel by the highway. It’s a place where movie stars and locals meet. Hotel Jerome has been operating since 1889 and is both one of the more luxurious and historic places that I’ve been lucky enough to stumble across on my travels. Visiting when it was very off peak (look at the prices in during the wine festival and you’ll see why my boss wouldn’t have tolerated a visit on peak) I was delighted by the standard of the hotel. The service was second to none! Add to that that this silver mining town has been reinvented as a premiere ski resort, that snow had already fallen before visitied, and you end up with the potenital for a winter wonderland.

Indeed, the whole place exudes unpretentious and relaxed class. As one of my colleagues who is based locally said on entering the foyer for the first time, its all rather Bugsy Malone! As I had arrived late on Saturday afternoon and got my meetings out of the way early on Sunday it was great to be able to relax in the heated pool, even if the temperatures were down at 21F. Add to that the décor that really makes you believe you could be in a turn of the century mining town, and you are left with a fantastic place to stay.

Its good to be able to say that the toilets pull off all the class and comfort that pervades the rest of the hotel. From the wallpaper to the stalls these toilets have the ability to convince you that you are in a mining town, but living in the utmost luxury at the same time. There are some nice touches, with great flowers, an oversize wicker basket acting as a bin, and homely furniture.

Overall, this is a place that makes you feels at home, whilst pulling off great style.

Marks out of 10:

11. Mining town elegance at its best.

Comments to the management:

Unique toilets you should be proud of.

Friday 28 December 2007

Very Eastern Bloc at Innsbruck Stop

A12 Eastbound

Where is it?

Pull off the A12 at the information point. Park up and the toilets will be to your right, past the information board.

What’s it like?

If you drive into Austria from Munich and are heading for Italy as we were, you might just pass by Innsbruck and this stop. We wanted to take in the sights of Innsbruck on our way down south and stopped to look at the information board. Whilst we did that we also decided to use the toilets.

So bear in mind this is a toilet stop next to a busy motorway high up in the Alps. It’s not part of a service station. No fuel, no restaurant, not anything. So don’t expect much.

I guess the thing to say is that the views are the best thing about the place. And the views are pretty damned fantastic. But then when you enter the toilet the first thing to strike you is that whoever built them obviously built the local roads, and used the local road builders’ favourite material. CONCRETE. Concrete takes over the place.

These are the greyest toilets I think I’ve been in, and as a result these are also some of the coldest toilets I’ve been in. And the scale of the place! It’s huge. You could fit coach loads of people in there. So, you can’t argue with the proportions, or necessarily with the cleanliness, but these are some of the unfriendliest feeling toilets I’ve come across. More Eastern Bloc than Austrian Alps.

Marks out of 10:

3. At least they were serviceable.

Comments to the management:

Even if we shouldn’t expect much for this sort of stop, these toilets are the coldest I’ve come across.

Thursday 27 December 2007

Ghiradelli’s Christmas Wonderland Turns in to Toilet Nightmare

Ghiradelli Square – Ice Cream and Chocolate Store
900 North Point Street
San Francisco, CA USA 94109

Where is it?

No toilets in the store – you are expected to use the ones out in the square, which on this evening was one hell of a trek! Go out of the store entrance and head left into the square. Head towards the centre of the square and you’ll see some steps. Take them down to the courtyard and go straight. (There was a private function so we could not go through the night I was there – and the officious pompous git at the entrance wouldn’t give directions to a mere visitor – so I had to backtrack). You need to follow the step towards the street. I had to backtrack back to the store, left down the hill, left again on to Beach Street and then left to the base of the stairs where you will find the toilets on the left.

What’s it like?

Having eaten my main course elsewhere and deciding the desert menu wasn’t really up to much I decided to head toward Ghiradelli’s which I’d heard did great ice cream and deserts as well as having great chocolate. Seems that Ghiradelli is famous in the US for being the first chocolate factory in San Francisco. When Domingo Ghiradelli set up his factory in 1852 I’m sure he didn’t realize that the business would still be going over 150 years later, and have a reputation for high quality confectionery across the country.

I’d have to say the reputation is well deserved. As I sit here eating an egg-nog flavour special edition piece of chocolate I have the satisfaction of reporting that first hand. I can also say the ice cream with butterscotch source was pretty damned good too – the perfect desert. In fact if I was scoring this place on the ice cream it would be one of the best there is.

My visit also came far enough in November for it to be respectable to have your mind on Christmas and picking up a few gifts. And Ghiradelli square was on form in this department too. Decked out in Christmas lights it was easy to get into the festive spirit. The vibe about the place, the anticipation of great chocolate, the excitement of present giving, just everything about it is great. Indeed the square itself is fantastic for picking up upmarket oddities.

It’s a pity then that some pretty damned disgusting toilets spoiled the whole experience. Not only is there a great hike to the toilets, especially when it is hindered by some of the more unhelpful shop tenants (see above), but when you get there you have to wonder if it safe to enter especially at night. When you go in you have to question if they have been maintained at all. The fixtures are rusting away, there are gaping holes in the walls. The baby changing station is there, but you’d not want to go near it. In sum you would only use these toilets if you really, really had to.

Given these are the only toilets for the chocolate and ice cream shop, you want somewhere spotlessly clean, well maintained and safe. It needs to be the sort of place people will be happy to their kids, not the sort of place you suspect is used mainly for taking drugs.

Marks out of 10:

2. Pretty damned poor!

Comments to the management:

Given the quality of the other facilities here you obviously know what makes for a good customer experience, so the state of these toilets is unforgivable. Shame on you! Get some toilets in your store and give the kids somewhere safe to go. And whilst you are at it give your shop tenants a kicking for being so rude.

Friday 21 December 2007

Despite Great Food and Service, Facilities at Hurricane Wings Won't Blow You Away

Hurricane Grill and Wings
700 W. Sand Lake Road
Orlando, FL USA 32809

Where is it?

From the front entrance, go to the back right corner of the dining room and head down a long hallway filled with surfboards and other beach-inspired decor and paraphernalia. The bathrooms are about two thirds of the way down and on your left.

What's it like?

This unpretentious sports bar chain serves some of coldest and most refreshing beer in town, as well as some terrific sports bar fare. The wings alone, which are delicately fried and come coated in more than 30 sauce flavors (my favorites being Gold Rush, Fire & Ice and Garlic Parmesan), are worth the trip alone, as are the steak sandwiches and shrimp tenders.

The decor tries hard to make the place look like its a shack on the beach (bamboo mats cover the walls, as do murals depicting various beachfront views of the ocean), but that tropical feeling is muted by the friendly service, which is attentive and welcoming without being intrusive, and the fact that despite it's tourist sector address the place is visited mostly by locals. It's a place that tries to be something it isn't, but it also realizes that the facade can only extend so far, and it's okay with that.

The bathrooms follow the beach-inspired theme of the dining room, with the same mixed results. The walls are painted sandy brown, the floors a dark gray, and the entrance door is covered with painting of fence pickets (like it's trying to be a door to a beach cabana, right?). The stall doors are painted lime green, though, which kind of ruins the tropical feel, as do the smattering of beer ad posters found on the walls. The toilets and sinks are your standard white porcelain variety models. Still, like its restaurant, it's clean and comfortable, and its location, at the very back of the restaurant, adds to the privacy factor needed for longer visits.

The only major setback, really, is the soap used in the soap dispenser. Instead of having good-quality foam or gel, it spritzes this thin, translucent liquid on you that barely covers your hands. Even after three or four squirts, I felt like I didn't have enough soap on my hands to really get them clean -- and that's a bit of a problem when you're eating messy finger foods.

Marks out of 10:

7. It's a strip mall bathroom that tries to be more than the sum of its parts, and you appreciate that even if the transformation isn't entirely successful.

Comments to the Management:

Time for a different brand of soap. Also, lime green stall doors?

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Copenhagen Airport: Spotless but Smokey

Copenhagen Airport
Lufthavnsboulevarden 6
DK-2770 Kastrup

Where is it?

Follow through the airport into the departure lounge of terminal 2. Head left until you come to the To:Go take away café and head right down the short flight of stairs and you’ll see the toilets across to the left.

What’s it like?

Sometimes you just rush. This was certainly one of those weekends. A Thursday of interviewing candidates, a mad dash to the airport, just catching my flight, arriving in Copenhagen at 10:30pm. A rush in a Taxi to the conference venue early the next morning, and on, and on. So getting to the airport early and having some time to wonder the shops, grab some sushi, and generally catch up with my body was more than a little welcome.

And Copenhagen Airport is a pretty funky as airports go. The shops are full of gadgets you’ll never use but are pretty cool to look at. Then there’s the most expensive deli store I’ve ever been in. Add to that the distinct lack of a McDonalds and the presence of much better quality fare and you have a pretty good all round experience.

I guess that most of the time the quality of the experience is also reflected in the toilets. Indeed, the toilets had just been reopened after cleaning when I headed over. And they were spotlessly clean but they suffered from one thing:


What’s that you might ask. Well, whilst Cecelia had done a good job of cleaning, and had signed to that effect, she was also using the lack of cameras and the privacy of the male toilets in cleaning to have a quick smoke. What resulted was a stench of smoke that pervaded the place. Sorry, Cecilia but you’ve been caught!

There was also a sink out of order, but then you can’t really complain when you consider the care with which they deal with the problem. Clean plastic seals off the scene whilst clear labels in Danish and English warning you not to use it.

So overall a great place to pee.

Marks out of 10:

7 even with the smells!

Comments to the management:

Watch out for Cecelia – her smells are the worst thing about the place.

Monday 17 December 2007

Light Sabres Found in Dutch McDonalds!

Mc Donalds,
Weselseweg 1 A,
5916 RD.

Where is it?

When you enter the restaurant turn directly right. Head down the corridor and you’ll find the toilets on the left.

What’s it like?

Every little boy in my generation will have imagined themselves with a light sabre. I saw my first Star Wars film aged six. I’m sure real world technology will catch up with film worlds by the time I’m 75. In the meantime I’ll have to make do with this McDonalds in Holland, which has definitely made the light sabre the centre of its design scheme. The green poles of light come out of the floor and you certainly think twice before putting your hand near them.

This place was fantastic, and must have been refurbished recently. Granite counter tops, and open stylish layout make this McDonalds one of the best I’ve met in a while. This was a pretty urgent stop on the way towards the German boarder and the service was slick and the hot chocolate pretty damned good.

So what about the toilet? Modern, different, clean and bright, and the urinal was unusual. But, overall compared to the rest of the place the toilets were a slight let down. Slightly too small as well as being plain. Still, given the need for a stop I was certainly not complaining!

So, if I haven’t said it before, be assured I will say it again. McDonalds have some of the most reliable toilets in the world. The generally high standard and the restaurant’s worldwide reach mean they have to be the traveller’s friend. So, what do I say to the critics of McDonalds? Well realise that you have never travelled further than your backyard in anything other than five star luxury. Consider you are pampered, whinging idiots who need to connect with reality.

Marks out of 10:

7 for a clean entertaining stop.

Comments to the management:

A great restaurant that needs the same touch in the toilets.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Oddities Diminish Laurenzo's Utilitarian Intentions

Laurenzo's Italian Center
16385 W.Dixie Hwy.
N.Miami Beach FL USA 3316

Where is it?

This is hard to find, and if in doubt you may have to ask for help.

To get to the bathrooms, you'll first need to head to the deli counter (not the meat counter, fish counter, pasta counter, prepared foods counter, breads counter or cookie counter -- which all look alike to some degree). Once there, look for where there's a separation in the bar that's about three feet across (between the deli meats and the olive bar). Go through that separation and into the storage area behind the deli area. Then take an immediate right (if you go straight, you'll be in the storage rooms and meat lockers) and you'll find the bathrooms facing you.

What's it like?

Laurenzo's is a large Italian Market in North Miami that specializes in authentic Italian ingredients, like in-store cured meats, imported prosciutto and porchetta, rare mushrooms, wines, as well as top-quality meats, fish, cheeses, fresh pastas, breads, cookies, imported canned goods and more. There's also a cafeteria located in the main store which offers delicious, authentic Italian-American foods and a fresh produce stand in the plaza across the street from it.

While the store itself is a gourmand's paradise, the bathrooms here aren't much to look at or experience -- and in many ways they feel like an afterthought, something that was tacked on long after the nearby meat lockers were put in place. (You can hear people working feverishly while in here, it should be noted.)

They are small, crammed and a little dingy. White tile covers the floor and walls. The sink and toilets are of the no-nonsense white porcelain variety. The mirror is nailed bluntly to the wall, without much afterthought or even a frame. A red stall door separates the toilet from the rest of the room. Cleanliness-wise: It's a mix-up. On the whole, it's clean (and I suppose this is expected, considering the utilitarian nature of the place), but there's also some grime settled into the grout, which is quite noticeable against the white tile.

Also worth noting: The soap dispenser has been installed at an angle. Not sure if it was supposed to be this way or not, but it's stuck that way (I tried straightening it and it didn't budge). Furthermore, In addition, a sign offering meticulous step-by-step instructions on how to wash your hands hangs beside the sink. I always thought this process was pretty self-explanatory, but I guess for some people a little extra help is needed.

Marks out of 10:

6. The tight quarters and grime-covered tile mar the score here.

Comments to the Management:

While I doubt nothing can be done about the size of the place, it could still use a serious scrub down -- and maybe consider straightening that soap dispenser.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Another Surprising Success for McDonald's

Kingsditch Retail Park,
Kingsditch Lane,
GL51 9PX.
United Kingdom

Where is it?

This is primarily a drive through on the edge of town, so you’ll have to fight to park up and use the main restaurant. From the entrance head straight and before you get to the counter head left. The toilets are in front of you.

What’s it like?

I think I must be good at helping people move house. I get to do it fairly often. Even in a weekend stop in Philadelphia the conversation went something like “hey I forgot to tell you we’re moving house this weekend. Hope you’ve got some scruffy stuff ‘cos you’re helping. So it was no surprise to me when I found myself in another transit van loaded with furniture. Other than the joy of playing with rental vans moving house is also a good excuse to hit a McDonalds for lunch.

This time it was in the UK and the local drive through. Chicken Premiere Sandwich ordered it was time to seek out the toilets. What I found was some of the cleanest, shiniest, warm, and clinically clean toilets I’ve come across in a fast food place. Honestly, they were absolutely spotless.

As this branch has been around for at least 10 years, and can only be called busy, even at quiet times, you have to be surprised. They were so clean I send in the home owner to be in to check out I wasn’t hallucinating. Nope, apparently not.

Bravo Ronald!

Marks out of 10:

9 for tip top toilets.

Comments to the management:


Tuesday 11 December 2007

Everything Ship Shape at Boston Lobster Feast

8304 Crystal Clear Lane
Orlando, FL USA 32809

Where is it?

It's about as far back in the restaurant as you can go.

From the main entrance, head left, past the hostess table and enter into the dining room. Once there, go past the many sections of the buffet. When you hit the wall of windows that faces Sand Lake Road, turn right. You'll enter a hallway then that runs behind the kitchen then. Head to the back of that hallway and you'll find the bathrooms.

What's it like?

This seafood buffet prides itself on its freshly cooked shellfish, and for the price (about $40 per person, as of this writing), it's not a bad deal, considering you'll get plenty of lobster, crab and other sea-faring dishes (prepared in a variety of ways, not just steaming), as well standard buffet items like roast beef, veggie sides, salad, soup and the like. It's decent quality food, though this is certainly not one of the better seafood places in town.

Given the somewhat fishy smell found in the dining room (which you kind of expect), one would anticipate finding a bathroom steeped in strong oceanic odors, both fair and foul. Surprisingly, that's not the case.

The place has very little, if any, noticeable fishy smell. Nor will you find bits of fish and shellfish parts around the sinks or on the floor -- also a surprise, considering the food here is hands-on and messy to eat. (That's a considerable improvement over restaurants in similar scenarios, like Ozzie's Crabhouse in Grant, which offers better food but a less-sanitary toilet-going experience).

On the flip-side, the place offers little surprises design-wise: Off-white drywall walls, black tile floors, white sinks and toilets and off-white divider walls. The walls come decorated with bits of faux-seaside decor, like cute signs that say things like "Captain's Quarters" (get it?) and tacky painting of lighthouses and such. Still, the fact that it's clean, near-odor-free and well-maintained makes up for those misgivings.

Marks out of 10:

8. Would be a 7, but it's cleanliness and odor-free environment raised it up a notch. A considerable success for a mass-market seafood restaurant, if you think about it. Many of the Red Lobster's I've been to haven't come close to this.

Comments to the Management:

I would like to see a little more imagination put into the bathroom decor, though really that's only nitpicking. You've done a fine job with this place, considering the odds against you. Kudos.

Monday 10 December 2007

Mc Café Has the Feel

Augsburger Strasse 75,
91781 Weissenburg.

Where is it?

Well first a disclaimer on the address. The place we stopped at was certainly somewhere between Heidelberg and Munich. We took the back roads. We ended up stopping in somewhere beginning with a W after a really pretty stretch which continued for a long while afterwards. Without my notes (they’ve gone missing since I was there), but with a little help from the McDonalds’ finder thing this looks like it was the one.

Once there go from the entrance head towards the counter until you can head right. Go straight across the restaurant and you’ll see a corridor (more of an opening really). The toilets are down there on the left.

What’s it like?

The reality that many of us face when travelling for pleasure is inconsistent and sometimes downright disgusting toilets. Some of the worst toilets I can remember were at a truck stop near Arusha in Tanzania. I’ll not go in to the detail, but a score of –2 would probably have resulted. A trip around the newly opened eastern-bloc countries in 1991 also revealed a few basic toilets. The overnight train that headed east out of Munich had toilets that were particularly interesting. In fact it was on this trip that my love of McDonalds grew. Stumbling upon a McDonalds in Budapest meant not only could I have the first western food for 4 weeks, but also the best toilet facilities in that time too.

So it was good to continue the tradition in 2007 with a stop in a McCafe. A McCafe? This is McDonalds’ new concept for Germany. Part normal restaurant and part relaxed coffee place. And was it agreeable. Well it seemed to be going down well with the locals. People were not just rushing in and out with the kids as you might see elsewhere, but meeting their friends, reading the newspaper over a coffee and cake, and generally relaxing.

And the toilets? Well they were very new, very clean and well a little odd. These were high spec for Maccy D’s. Tile on the wall. Proper wooden doors. In fact I think they were themed to be toilets in a mountain cabin. At least that would tie in with the local area. Having said they were a little odd they were more than comfortable enough. In fact they were damned right entertaining. Add to that they were warm and cosy and all you can say is that they were a complete success. Well-done McDonalds!

Marks out of 10:

8 for a clean entertaining stop.

Comments to the management:

Mountain styling is a little odd, but these are not bad at all.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Near-Luxurious Luxor

Luxor Las Vegas
3900 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV USA 89119

Where is it?

These are harder to find that you might think: In addition to the hotel's already twisted and turned over interior, which has no linearity to it, the casino area itself was undergoing some renovation, which blocked certain pathways and created makeshift ones in their place.

These facilities are found on the north east side of the hotel, in the spaces located between the hallways leading to the north side guest rooms in the pyramid and the edge of the casino. They're near one of the poker rooms -- though which ones exactly, I cannot say, since there are many poker rooms and they all look alike.

What's it like?

These are decent mass market toilets, though they lack the imagination and class of those found in the Bellagio or the Wynn. That doesn't mean they are mediocre -- these are wonderful, roomy, airy environs, are kept impeccably clean and have all their fixtures in proper working order -- they just can't compete with the waterfall-like faucets and Roman-inspired stonework found at those other locations.

Still, there is much to admire here. The floors and most of the walls are covered with thick sandy tile that looks much like the stone used in the Egyptian Pyramids (it' the Luxor, so you don't really expect anything else); the upper walls are covered with wallpaper that contains a design composed of Egyptian figures and such. The vanity area houses sensor-driven faucets, pumps that dispense a nice-smelling soap and a wide stretch mirror for all to share -- a little dated in design compared to its Vegas compatriots, sure, but clean regardless. The toilets and urinals are the standard white porcelain models. They have beige dividers between them and are kept impeccably clean.

The spot is a bit noisy, given that it's located at the edge of a mammoth casino and a busy thoroughfare, so it's scant on the quiet, but it's still large, well-kept, clean and comforting, which will certainly work if you're in need of a longer visit.

Marks out of 10:

8. A fine, albeit unremarkable, public toilet.

Comments to the Management:

Since you're updating the rest of the hotel's interior, you might want to consider updating these a bit too -- some more modern touches would be welcome.