Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Basil Fawlty School of B&Bs

Shags in the bathroom and walls that slant,
A full English breakfast with hosts who rant,
Mismatched manchester and creaky bed springs,
These are a few of my favourite things...

...about B&Bs.

Before visiting Europe, B&Bs were a bit of a mystery to me.

Sure they exist in Australia, but they tend to be the "boutique" and premium kind where a single night costs several hundred dollars.   To me it always seemed like an awful lot of money to essentially stay in someone's house.

But the commonplace B&B found in towns and cities across the UK and Ireland changed my thinking forever.

B&Bs scream UK and Ireland roadtrip!
They're often a little rough around the edges and you may get the distinct impression you're in a modern remake of TV's Fawlty Towers,  but for me they're one of the fun and memorable things about a road trip through the UK and Ireland.

Just finding one for the night can be an adventure;  arriving in town in the late afternoon you fan out in search of one that is a) available and b) looks half-decent.   Needless to say, any B&B with a nice-looking door and flower pot in bloom out front will most likely have no vacancies as this seems to be the universal method used by travellers for judging a property.

Is a B&B with a flower box better than one without?
The process can be hit and miss at times, as the initial impression of a B&B can be deceptive.   But on the whole, you're unlikely to find a quirkier, more convenient and more economical stay.

Here's my top five Fawlty Towers moments from UK and Irish B&Bs:

1.  Carmel of Kilrush
Carmel represents the quintessential quirky B&B owner.   Downstairs, Carmel's husband ran the bar in Kilrush's high street, but the rooms upstairs were Carmel's domain.  On checking in she didn't waste time cracking a smile or dishing out pleasantries, she went straight to the rules.   And there was one rule which stood above all others: don't eat in the room.    She repeated this to us a few times as she showed us to our room.    Naturally, we did have Chinese takeaway in the room that night, and half-jokingly suspected she was watching us on hidden cameras, cursing our names.   So concerned about her extraordinary powers to smell out the forbidden food, we tip-toed across the road in the middle of the night to dispose of the evidence.

2.  Shags in the shower
Not shags of the hanky panky kind thank you.  After all, everyone in the building would hear you.   Here the best shag you can hope for is the shag pile in the bathroom.  Along with mystifying hot water  taps which can take a while to master, carpet in the bathroom seems to common in B&B bathrooms.   It's a concept Australians aren't quite used to, but on a chilly European morning, stepping out onto a mission brown or avocado green shag carpet just feels right.
Welsh roadtrip!

3.  Slanty shanties
In one B&B we stayed at, the cupboard door never stayed shut and it was really easy to walk to the bathroom.   This was because the wooden floor had warped and slanted as the beautiful old stone building had aged and settled.   You can look at it two ways depending on whether you're a "glass half full or glass half empty kind of person": it's down hill to the bathroom, but an uphill climb back to bed afterwards.
A B&B room with a view in Chester, England

4.  Big breakfasts, little space
Stuffed animals, flying ducks on the walls, and an armada of miniature ships in bottles.    Welcome to the B&B's breakfast room.   One of the true delights of the B&B is the full English (or Irish) breakfast.  The morning meal which keeps you going well past lunch.   But sometimes squeezing into your seat or moving to the cereal bar amid the owner's kitschy paraphernalia is a challenge in itself.   It's usually during breakfast that you really get to know your hosts.   You hear the local gossip, complaints about the weather and economy, and warnings about the state of the roads you're about to travel on.

5.  Room finder GPS
Few B&Bs seem to have been built for the job.  Instead, they're old period properties which have been renovated for their new purpose.   While they are still a home for the host family, they have dedicated spaces for their guests so you never feel like intruding.   But the renovations also result "unusual" layouts which sees rooms in the attic, a labyrinth of corridors and stairs, and unconventional room configurations.  You'll never see a more complicated fire escape route plan stuck on the back of a room door.

B&Bs with a view at Portree on Isle of Skye, Scotland

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