Madera Hotel, Washington DC

courtesy of Flickr's great community

The location

Even though I had visited Washington DC before, it was my husband’s first time, and even though he is an expert chief navigator, our “naive tourist” status meant this place needed to be easy to find. We needn’t have worried. Washington DC’s metro system, despite (or perhaps due to?) forming the hub of the nation’s capital, is extremely easy to follow; its trains and stations are spacious and get you to your required destination speedily. Once we had been thrown out at Dupont Circle metro (just a few stops from our point of arrival, Union Station) the journey up the enormous escalator to the outside world from the cavernous underground burrow of the station seemed to go on forever. Eventually we began to see engravings of words by Walt Whitman at the mouth of the escalator, then deep stunning blue sky. We were greeted by sunshine and began our circuit around the tiny park at the centre of the intersection to meet the road to our hotel. This proved a little bit tricky the first time but was always easy to find thereafter. The hotel itself was undergoing renovation work at the time of our visit (end of February 2012) so you couldn’t enter by the front door; you had to go via the hotel’s Firefly restaurant instead. Other parts of the hotel were also inaccessible, meaning it was difficult to get a full sense of the place. Staff did their best at the temporary tiny concierge desks in the restaurant and round the corner of it, storing bags, dispensing information and asking how things were going for us while we were there. As well as being easily accessible to the city centre, the hotel is also ideally located for the Phillips Collection, pharmacies selling medicines and American culinary delights such as Lucky Charms, restaurants such as the delicious Ping Pong, and the famous Afterwords Café (which is also a bookstore).

The room

Light, airy, and including a terrace, the room had modern fixtures and fittings and definitely served our needs as a centrally-located crash pad. The bed was enormous and extremely comfortable, with tons of pillows and a proper duvet (no scratchy blankets here). However, the air conditioning unit was noisy and my husband was also bothered by noises made by the nearby lift shaft. Bathroom was also modern, but also more on the side of functional than luxurious.

The breakfast

At $1 per person, who could refuse? Extremely good value. It consisted of freshly-squeezed orange juice, unlimited iced water refills, a choice of a muffin or white or wholemeal toast (get the wholemeal toast if you are active tourists; much more filling), and a platter of fresh fruit, as well as tea or coffee. My only quibble with this was that everyone got the same fruit platter with no choice as to what came on it, which means fussy eaters will get a plate half full of fruits they don’t like (I only ate the pineapple). However, I’m sure if I’d asked for pineapple only they probably could have done it. Tea is served in a cast-iron teapot which weighs a couple of pounds (literally) and provides excellent novelty factor. The Firefly restaurant, where breakfast is served, also offered free newspapers, and newswires were on a constant loop. Our only small regret is that we did not get to test out the restaurant at lunch or dinner – we’d reserved all our dinners in advance and at lunchtime they were too busy to accommodate us without a reservation. A shame, as the food looked good.

The price

We paid $500 for 2 nights in a 32 square metre room, including the breakfast. This was not bad; however, the Library Hotel in NYC, at only $10 a night more , was superior in terms of its room, service and facilities. I appreciate that the impact of the Madera may have been hampered by its renovation works. However, despite its convenient location, at this price I would be as keen to experiment elsewhere in and around DC as I would be to return.

1310 New Hampshire Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20036

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Novotel Times Square, New York City

The location

Having stayed in several branches of Novotel before (albeit in other countries), we were fairly confident of a good standard of service at this central location in New York City. Slightly uptown of Times Square, it offers a metropolitan and lively base that still gives you peace and quiet should you want it. A trendy bar and restaurant in the Accor group’s usual classic yet modern style (including mood lighting and neutral greys and taupes) is available on the same floor as the lobby, as is a mailbox, internet access, a cash machine, a hotel gift shop, and a games console area.

The concierge desk is slightly tucked away from the main check-in desk, but check-in and check-out were both speedy and the concierge was helpful in advising us on directions and the subway. 50 Street subway is very close and on a main line to many other essential destinations (including the other end of Times Square, 42 Street).

New York itself can give you whatever you want, whether it’s the trendy coolness of Greenwich Village or the bright lights of the Theater District.

The room

With modern decoration, an appealing design, a cushy duvet on the bed and ample seating, this seemed like good news (our cheapest night was $165, so this was a very good standard for the price). The bathroom, however, was extremely ropey (although everything worked) and needed updating; the difference in décor between the bathroom and the bedroom was evident.

The breakfast

We did not sample it, eschewing the hotel’s $20+ offering for breakfast half the price at a nearby café. However, we did use the bar on our second evening, after our restaurant reservation cancelled on us (how nice of them). For two glasses of wine, two starter-type dishes and a soft drink each, plus tea for two, it came to just under $75 (which, to be honest, seemed a little bit much). Service was adequate, and not believing in rewarding mediocrity, we didn’t leave a tip. What we didn’t expect was for the server to come chasing after us demanding to know why we hadn’t left one! While we recognise the cultural implications of NOT tipping in America, we still believe that the choice of whether or not to do so should be at the customer’s discretion – not the server’s. This really coloured our view of the service we received whilst there, which erred more towards functional than friendly even on front desk.

The price

We had initially chosen the Novotel on the strength of the price, as it seemed among the best value for money options out there, particularly given the very central location. However, after our stay at the Library Hotel, which only cost $30 more (the Novotel was $230 on its most expensive night; the Library Hotel was $260) but was far superior in terms of décor and service, we would prefer to return to the latter again.

226 West 52nd Street, NY 10019

K+K Hotel Maria Theresia, Vienna

The location

It was a freezing February night in Austria. The very comfortable ride on the -relatively- slow (there is a faster option) train from the airport had been the occasion to marvel at how better suited Austria seemed to extreme temperatures.

After a couple of stops on the also very clean and efficient metro, I was able to reach the hotel and check in.

The hotel is situated near a metro station, within walking distance of the city centre. However, be aware that while Vienna is not big in terms of its population, a lot of avenues and official buildings are of awe-aspiring proportions, as a reminder of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire.

The room

The warmth of the room was very welcome, even after a very short walk from the metro station. It was spacious, silent and very clean.

The breakfast

Breakfast was served in an equally spacious room downstairs. I was also able to dodge the offers for insipid filter coffee and use the espresso machine instead. Even though the coffee was not exceptional, at least the machine was easy to use. I found breakfast to be of a correct standard, even though not excellent. Staff also circle the room like vultures in search of an empty glass or plate,which can be a bit intrusive.

The price

At 135 euros a night breakfast included, this hotel is a reasonable option for the business or leisure traveller. The latter could, however, regret a slight lack of authenticity that is not compensated for by the international luxury feeling of, for instance, a Sofitel.

Kirchberggasse 6  1070 Wien, Austria