Bloc party

Sadly, this will not be about the UK Indie band – largely because I know almost nothing about them, other than having admired their lead vocalist’s name (Kele Okereke) for a little while.  He will come in very handy for a game of musician-based Scrabble when stuck with a hand full of Ks and Es.

Over the years I have travelled quite a lot for work (which significant reduces the desirability of travelling for fun).  Several years ago I had the dubious pleasure of using every terminal at Heathrow airport in a single week (though I will admit this was before T5).  As a result, I have spent quite a lot of time in hotels across Europe (and occasionally beyond).  Given the hectic pace of modern life, this often involves arriving very late at night (sometimes beyond midnight) and leaving early in the morning.  As a result, I have little chance to enjoy the hotel’s facilities beyond performing some brief ablutions and trying to obtain a little sleep.

“The man” has regularly been charged more than €200 for me to use a room for barely 6 hours.  Whilst this isn’t my money I’m wasting, I still object to it on principle.  Most recently, I asked the centralised travel agency (which we MUST use) to find me a cheap hotel near my final destination in Munich to spend the traditional 6 hours.  They came up with a rather distant hotel (6 stops and one change on the U-bahn) at well over €200 – and this at a time when we are supposed be reducing travel costs!

I am just back from Poland – a place surprisingly difficult to access from the UK – and realised it was cheaper for me to spend the night at Gatwick Airport than to take a cab from home to catch an early flight.  As a result, and in contravention of the rules, I booked my own hotel at the airport – if you find my bloated corpse floating in the canal, you will know that I have paid a high price for my independence!

This was the bloc hotel (their capitalisation) which sits directly above the South Terminal at the airport – barely a minute’s walk from the station.  This offered everything a chap needs in a hotel room for a brief stay: a large bed (7ft square, so unusually I did not overhang in any direction) and rather a nice bathroom (a wet room, no less).  It also used a tablet to work the lights, so I could easily reduce the room to darkness from the comfort of my bed (at the touch of a single virtual button!).  This contrasts with the usual hotel experience, where the last 10 minutes before being able to attempt sleep are spent wandering the room trying to work out how to turn off the myriad lights (and, at times, failing and being forced to sleep with some of the lights still on – is it less embarrassing to admit to this inability or pretend I’m afraid of the dark, I wonder?).  The room also had a stool and desk-area and very rapid wifi and a TV, had I wanted it.  Another bonus was the RFID room key, so none of the usual fumbling around trying to stick the plastic card in the door slot the right way round (which usually takes me several attempts, but in my defence I am usually pretty tired at the time).

I will admit that my room had no window (an experience I first encountered in Manchester city centre almost 20 years ago), but this is not a great loss at Gatwick airport during the hours of darkness (and for a modest additional fee, rooms with windows were available).  Unlike in Manchester, this was not replaced by a curtain covering a large print of the Manhattan skyline (which I presume fooled almost no-one) but by a large glowing oblong – which struck me as a much nicer (and more honest) option.  The only criticism I can level at the room was that it had only two coat hangers, one or two more wouldn’t have gone amiss.  The room was also unusually quiet – especially for an airport hotel – and so clearly had very good noise insulation.

All of this set me back a mere £64 – and was only booked a day or so before travel.  I would thoroughly recommend the bloc hotel at Gatwick (and might consider it as a decent option for staying in London overnight given the frequency of trains from Victoria).  They seemed to have focused on what one actually needs from a hotel and doing that well – which you wouldn’t have thought was rocket science, but previous experience suggests probably is.  There are (at present) only two bloc hotels in existence, the other one is in Birmingham – so I can but hope that more will appear to make my future travel both cheaper and better.  If nothing else, it makes flying from Gatwick a rather more attractive option – something other airports (I’m looking at you Heathrow and Frankfurt) might like to think about.


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