Quirky hotel in Stockholm deserves a mention

Gamla Stan Stockholm Old TownI have been very rude about some hotels encountered on my travels this year (click hotels tag below for more!) but to be fair I have had a good run lately.

All credit to the Hotel Sienna in Verona and the Dream House Hostel in Kiev which were excellent and really cyclist friendly.

However I just had to write about the Lord Nelson in Stockholm.

It is a tall narrow building in the old city fitted out with maritime themed antiques, especially those linked to the 19th century British navy. Yes that is a ship’s wheel on the first floor and the corridor to the rooms feels like a ship’s deck with its blue and brass theme and portholes.Gamla Stan Stockholm Old Town

Gamla Stan Stockholm Old TownBreakfast should have been served on deck, but actually was in a blue and wood panelled based on a cruise liner’s bar.Gamla Stan, Old Town Stockholm Sweden

Each room is designed as a cabin, which is a neat trick for disguising that the rooms are tiny, but I thought it was great.

Just to capture the mood here it is in black and white, feels really period apart from the TV. Apparently their chain in Stockholm called the Collector’s Hotels and Apartments; if you go there I recommend them. Actually I doubt they have room to store a bike, but in this case they are forgiven.Gamla Stan, Stockholm Old Town

Yevpatoria, Crimea. Impressions, contrasts and amazing light

Beach sceneI am in Yevpatoria, which is a holiday resort on the Black Sea in Crimea, Ukraine as the first stage of a two part trip to Ukraine promoting cycle advocacy. Tomorrow I’m on the night train to Kiev which according to Lonely Planet is one of the top 10 things to do in Ukraine, so that should be fun.

We are here because the Black Sea is one of the primary holiday destinations for what was the old Soviet Union because of its climate and beaches and has loads of infrastructure for tourism. It still attracts a big summer market of Ukranians and Russians but this leaves a lot of hotel capacity off season so it is a great spot for a conference about cycling and cycle tourism. So I’m here representing ECF with one of my colleagues trying to help the local cycling movement share some ideas from around Europe.

As “I not despair” is my private blog I’ll stick to my rules about not mixing the work stuff, our agenda is here and I have been tweeting from the conference on @maynekevin so you can find out more there.

But to the Yevpatoria today. Most British people only know some vague reference to the Crimea as a disastrous war which involved Florence Nightingale’s revolution in hospital treatment. This post is just some thoughts, photos and musings about my first two days in Ukraine, in fact my first visit to any part of the former Soviet Union. It has been great to walk and get hold of a bike to tour around this moderately sized but ancient city which I gather has a very distinctive feel compared to much of Ukraine.

Imperial hotelWhat this place certainly delivers on is balmy autumn weather, it is just glorious outside and the first impression in the morning is to look from the balcony of my hotel across to the tree lined promenade to a still and silent sea with warm sunshine around.

The second impression is then silence. This is a seaside resort out of season and just about a ghost town. When our taxi arrived the first night I’ll swear we never saw another vehicle and even in the morning I can walk or cycle whole blocks without seeing a movement except the odd stray dog.

Down on the beach there is a gentle quiet broken by the occasional gull and some older folks who come down to the sea to swim, probably every day.

Electric Trolley or Tram carThe main town is a bit busier but it is very easy to wander or cycle out into the streets without fear. The ancient electric trams are a delight rattling their way about town.

Everywhere there are contrasts. Some of the facilities are decrepit and crumbling, others obviously well cared for.

Some of the hotels appear to be modern and discrete while others would not look out of place in Blackpool or other garish seaside resort of your country. The architecture runs from authentic to garish seaside fake that seems universal the world over. I didn’t realise that the 1930s fake Mediterranean/Spanish white architectural look that runs from the north of England across the English speaking world to Australia (St Kilda?) and across to the US was actually so universal in seaside towns it was adopted here too but there is no doubt that some of the styling has that heritage.

White houseGeenery lined streetSome streets are well kept and well used while others are a joined mess of potholes that played havoc even with mountain bikes.

Brutalist styling, then masses of greenery and lots of dusty parks and open spaces in between with banks of plants and hedges along the roads.

Derelict building and wastelandThis morning I cycle out to the Eastern edge of the town along the sea front and I was struck by this contrast. To my right a building waiting to be condemned set amongst wasteland and scrub. To my left a section of beach and a lovingly cared for beach hut used by the beach attendant which almost glowed in the early morning light.Beach attendant's hut

And the morning light on the sea front is amazing. It just has that golden glow that makes whites stronger and colours brighter, brilliant for photography.Beach scene

As ever I am grateful to friends Google and Wikipedia for a bit of research into Yevpatoria which  helped on my two trips away from our beachfront haven into the main town. We also had the guided tour from a local tour guide last night which was great apart from the somewhat significant flaw that we had 40 people on bikes and the tour guide was on foot. I’m also ever so grateful to the Ukrainians like Olga who stepped in to translate at key moments!

What a heritage. In one paragraph the Wikipedia potted history runs from Greek settlement in 500BC to settlement, invasion or occupation by Khazars, Cumans, Mongols, Khans, Tartars, Ottomans, Russians, British, French, Turkish, Germany and the spiritual residence of a branch of Judaism called Crimean Karaites. Just shows the strategic importance of the Crimean Peninsula to the Black Sea and all the countries around it.

This melting pot of cultures has left a wonderful assortment of religious buildings which stand out as a contrast to the tat and simulation of the beach areas. St Nicholas Cathedral, The 400 year old Juma Jami Mosque, the recently resorted historic quarter of the Karaites known as Little Jerusalem with the restored Kenassa or temple as its main feature. These buildings are in the best condition of anything in town, even the repair scaffolding in the cathedral was being dusted by one of the ever present women with a brush that seem to be in every street. For all the challenges of infrastructure and economy this is a fascinating place to visit.

Mosque and cathedralEntrace to Little Jerusalem

Madness Motel – the sequel

What is it with me and mad hotels this year?

Back in March In blogged about the wierd converted car park in Taipei – Madness Motel. Now thanks to Colm Ryder from Dublin Cycling Campaign sending me this photo I was reminded of the motel our Austria tour stayed at in Krems.

Cycle tour participants at the Motel in Krems

Motel - Krems AustriaThe idea must have seemed sensible to someone. The walkways outside the rooms look a bit unsafe, so we just add some industrial fencing.

I mean who says modern design is dead.

Strong suspicion that this might be related to the recent EU egg crisis – the banning of battery chicken farming may be the cause. Or is it to reassure cycle tourists about their bikes?

Taipei Cycle Show (2) – “madness motel”

I was going to add a post today about the start of the cycle show. But I just have to write about our hotel.

Ibis Hotel, Taipei

Ibis Hotel, Taipei

See anything odd?

Just your everyday anonymous square box. But the web site bills it as a “boutique hotel”. Well to my understanding that means a hotel with a bit of a twist, often a conversion from a previous use that gives it some interesting features.

Standard foyer, marble and plants, alright so far. But then some slightly complicated instructions about going through two doors and the room needing to be “opened up”.

To my astonishment on the 4th floor I stepped out of the lift area into something that looked like a 1970’s night club. Very dark, with some reflected neon lighting bouncing off a strange concrete stairwell, made up of a circular ramp.

To my left what appears to be a set of garage doors, the first of which was open with a door at the back, with my room number on it. And yes they are plastic fish hanging from the ceiling.

IBIS Hotel Taipei, garage room

IBIS Hotel Taipei, garage room

And then it hit me. I am in a multi-storey car park. This is the nuttiest motel I have ever seen. You can drive your car up the old access ramps and park it in your own private garage, in front of your room. Behind your personal garage, your room.

The room is nice enough in terms of decor, but I just can’t get over the fact that I’m sleeping in a car park. Actually the other odd thing is that none of the rooms are joined to the windows you see, they are either fakes, or shine on to service corridors. My room is truly sleeping in a concrete box, even if a well decorated concrete box. And apparently one target market is Chinese couples who come here for their wedding night. Not exactly my cup of tea.

Manfred Neun from ECF has come up with a solution of course, we need to get some bikes from the Cycle Show and park them outside to make a statement to the other customers. Or maybe not, let’s just celebrate the madness.