Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A horror-movie experience at the “New” Esplanade

This year my wife and I celebrated 15 years of married bliss. This means that I know how to identify her “don’t come hither” look, and she has accepted the fact that my “lean and mean” body may be a little less lean but probably a lot meaner.

During a few of those “don’t come hither” moments, she was dropping a lot of hints about wanting to be booked into a nice hotel for a night. Just the two of us, without kids and TVs and computers and cooking and ironing and gardening.

I, of course, loved the idea – it might even turn that look into a “come hither”, if I played my cards right.

But the logistics didn’t exactly work out the way we thought it would. I googled Perth’s hotels for something “affordable” (which means “cheap-as”, but still worth throwing your money at). In the meanwhile we couldn’t get the kids’ sleep-overs arranged on the right date, so had to change the booking date. I saw adverts for quite a few nice spots in the CBD, and then this one jumped up at me.

It had a special discount just for January.

The cost was $118 for a couple, and offered me a great view on the Swan river. Who could resist?

New Picture (1)

They proudly stated

“Our standard rooms are spacious and newly decorated.
All front rooms face the breathtaking Swan River. They are located on the floors 1 to 6.”

They also claimed to have the following Room facilities:

» Fully air-conditioned » Colour LCD TV

» Ensuite with bath/shower

» Radio & Hairdryer

» Mini bar

» Refrigerator

» Coffee and Tea making facilities

» International Direct Dial

IDD/STD Telephone

I grabbed my credit card and started booking online. I made sure I requested one of those great rooms with a view on the river.

The email came soon enough – booking confirmed. They also supplied the following information:

Breakfast is served daily in the foyer. Price is $25 for cooked, or $18 for a continental per person.
Car parking is available at $25 / day. Height = 2.1m (7ft 1 in)
extra person is $46 per person / day
wireless internet access. please see wifi pricing (3rd party service)
#check in on the day of arrival is after 2pm. check out by 10am. Reception hours: 24/7

I thought the breakfast was a bit on the pricey side but assumed that this was because it’s such good quality.  I never really got to the point of confirming this, however.

The missus was very excited about the whole affair. We couldn’t get rid of the kids soon enough, and finally we were on the freeway on our way to the city. I had a Google map direction to follow, but once I hit Howard Street, the place was nowhere to be found. It turns out Google maps had a little error, but we soon found the entrance around the corner in The Esplanade. We walked up to the 24/7 reception area and found an Asian man who was busy on the phone.

When he finally attended to us we were all too excited about getting to our room. We requested access to the $25 parking bay and moved on to get our car parked.

The attendant who worked at the parking bay gate reminded me of some of the hawkers I saw in Singapore. He gave us a piece of paper that we were to have in the car at all times, and another little receipt that would help us get through the boom gate. We had to park on level C or higher.

Moving a Kia Carnival around a parking bay area is always a chore, but this was like driving a tank through a McDonalds’ drive-through. We finally found an open hole the size of a mini, and I gently forced our 8 seater bus into the little spot.

We removed our baggage from the Kia and started looking for the entry door to the hotel. All we could find was a little dodgy elevator that had buttons with illogical floor numbers on it. If you moved sideways and pulled your luggage behind you, you could barely make it past the door into the lift. It was a little larger than a Barbie doll house, and looked like it was built just before Hitler killed himself.

We pushed a few buttons to see what would happen. All the floors had access doors that were locked, and our keys wouldn’t open them. The car park had an awful garbage smell and reminded me of some of my visits to Opuwo in Namibia. Old smelly puddles of water were all over the place, and you had to tread very carefully. We had to ride all the way down to the ground floor, walk around the dirty dark alleys and enter the hotel through a little side-door, trying not to be hit by any oncoming traffic.

“Phew – finally out of the dirty alleys and into the great luxurious hotel”, I thought.

We walked over to the hotel’s inside elevator and I noticed that the wooden handrails looked like they were falling apart. I thought this was probably just something that happened recently and that it would be fixed soon – these things happen.

We found our room on the 6th floor and this is where the penny really dropped for me.

What exactly they meant by “newly decorated” is beyond me. What met my eyes was a room from hell. This may have been newly decorated in 1955. The room had a view of the river, but you had to look through the tree branches to see a glimpse of it.


The bay windows were taped up with cello-tape for some reason. The bed felt like it was standing on three eggs, and the linen seemed like it hadn’t been washed for the last 30 years. The air conditioner was like something out of a 1960’s sci-fi movie, and sounded like it was going to tear the whole building apart. It sounded a lot like a Boeing 747 taking off from Luanda airport.


And then I walked around to inspect the bathroom. This is where I made my decision to go back home.  Some people might think I’m just a snob, but so be it.


The toilet seat was made of some black material that was probably banned in 1956. The shower was one of those in-the-bath thingies with a stupid shower curtain that would only help the water to distribute more evenly onto the bathroom floor.

IMG_9685By the way, I’ve never seen one of those that actually work. Either they flood the whole bathroom, or they creep up into your bum while you try to catch a drop of water from your creepy shower head. They should be declared illegal.

I gave this beautifully restored bathroom the once-over and decided to get the hell out of dodge.

My wife was still excited about getting out of the house, but I just had it. I apologised to her profusely – this was not what I had in mind. None of the “come-hither” stuff is going to happen on this creepy bed anyway… even I have my pride.

I walked down to “reception”, and when Mr Chong finally attended to me I said I wanted to cancel my booking as I’m not happy with this crappy hole. He informed me that I had to talk to the manager, but the manager would only be in by the morning.

I politely notified him that I would unfortunately not be here in the morning, and that I would be sending a friendly email to the manager. I now ran the risk of still paying $118 for the room plus $25 of smelly parking space, but I decided to take that chance rather than spend a night wondering when a bikie gang would take over our room, or when a snake would crawl out from under the bed to kill one of the rats.

We drove around a little and then decided to go for a pizza and a DVD rental. So we spent a night watching a movie alone at home with no kids around.

My email to the manager included some subtle threats like referring this matter to the ACCC and calling the FBI, the KGB and the hit man from Arizona. They quite surprisingly replied by offering that: ”as a sign of good faith” they would not charge anything to my credit card.

The manager did take the time to inform me that “We are only a 3.5 star hotel, not a 5 star. Hence the reasonable rates quoted.”

I wonder how they got those 3.5 stars? Maybe they got them in 1944 and have been desperately holding on to them since then. What does half a star mean anyway?

Honestly, I’ve stayed in a lot of 2-star rated places all over Southern Africa, and all of them have better facilities than this. Beware of Australian stars – they obviously use a different system than other parts of the world, and they don’t seem to re-evaluate these ratings.

If you want to experience the third world in a first world country, by all means book yourself in at the “New” Esplanade in Perth. Don’t let the word “New” fool you however – it was already old when they bombed Hiroshima.

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