During marathon training, I didn’t travel quite as much as I have been over the last few years. It’s tough to negotiate 18 mile runs every Saturday when you’re not on home turf. But now the traveling has begun again.

This week, I had a traveling first on the Acela train down to New York for work. I’d never taken the express train from Boston into ‘The City’ and found it both delightful, and easy. Roomy, cushioned seats, as well as free Wi-fi made the trip breeze by. And the gentle rocking rhythm of the train soothed and made me quite sleepy—which may have impacted my ability to take advantage of the Wi-fi a bit 🙂

Once in the city, the travel karma kicked it though. A great colleague of mine had booked the hotel—Hotel Pennsylvania to be specific. Located directly across from Penn Station, it seemed the perfect location to jump off the commuter train, take part in the work event, and then jump back on the following morning. However, the website—and its reviews—painted a different picture. TripAdvisor indicated more than 60% of travelers would not recommend the hotel. Not to worry my colleague shared with me, another staffer had given it the thumbs up as ok.

Hotel Pennsylvania

The gloriously large Hotel Pennsylvania

Upon walking into the hotel, I was immediately overwhelmed by the array of people. The lobby was gargantuan, living up to the hotel’s claim to be one of the four largest hotels in New York. The building was constructed around 1919 and, if given the ability to shine, could be a testament to turn of the century architecture and ambiance. Unfortunately, the only thing that was shining were the array of bizarrely large flat screen TVs running atop the check-in counter—or rather atop the heads of the welcome counter hotel staff.

My colleague and I made our way to the front of the line and proceeded to fill out the appropriate paperwork. I inquired about internet. The hotel staffer said, “Oh yes, we have dial-up in the rooms.”

I’m sorry, was my hearing overwhelmed by CNN’s Best Political Team on Television blaring behind you? “Did you say dial-up?” I queried.

“Yes, you unplug the phone-line and put your cord in.”

I’m sorry, I think I was distracted by the declaration of the new British Prime Minister.

“Did you say I unplug the phone and plug a telephone cord into my computer?”

“Yes, or there is wireless in the lobby.” And she pointed to the sign next to her indicating that wireless connectivity in the lobby area was $2 a minute. I glanced around the lobby at the bustling intersection of foreign tourists negotiating with their tour guides in a range of languages, the out-of-towners from the States clutching maps talking over one another about where to go next, and the high school students on a school trip running after one another and giggling…all of their voices, heels clicks, rolling bags, elevator calls, and texting creating a cacophony of sound that resonated around the lobby and engulfed my ears.

Ah, yes, nothing like paying $2 a minute for wireless at the intersection of distraction and unable-to-concentrate.

At that point I should have guessed there might be some merit to that 61% not recommending.

Then I got to the room. Houston, we have a problem.

First though, was the walk of anticipation. On the way to my room I walked through darkened hallways with phone books lying outside rooms in piles. Since when are there phone books left outside of hotel rooms? The room numbers were designated by glowing green signs on the bottom right of the door. Green is my favorite color—and therefore should be a positive sign—but not when one or two are flickering haphazardly with a strange buzzing noise. Then the green takes on an ominous you-might-be-in-a-horror-movie-and-your’re-getting-a-warning feeling.

Hotel Pennsylvania shower

A little cracked tile never hurt anyone...or did it?

When I walked into the room, I briefly entertained the notion of walking out again. The carpet was circa 1919, with various undetermined stains. The bedspread looked like it had either been washed far too many times…or not for the past 30 years…it was hard to tell which one. The bathroom tile was cracking and coming off the shower wall. The light switch in the bathroom—a definite press button installation from the 1980s or early 1980s—was held to wall by one wobbly screw and missing surrounding covering. And the furniture, while not in terrible condition, looked like disjointed relics from a nice Holiday Inn in 1985 that had decided to renovate and thrown them out.

This may sound harsh, but I briefly wondered if I might get bed bugs sleeping in the bed—a fleeting thought that returned later that night when I stood in the bathroom and some kind of flying creature whizzed past my face in the midst of teeth brushing.

We ended up staying—after all, we’d already paid and had an event to get to. I did not get bed bugs—or haven’t as yet. And I did brave the shower after putting down two towels on the shower floor and standing in the running water on my tiptoes for all of two seconds before jumping out. This, from the girl who went weeks without running water staying at a hotel in rural Kenya, which for the record, seemed cleaner.

Hotel Pennsylvania bathroom doorway

Yes the lighting was that bad...both the light and the switch

I may have slightly higher standards for hotels than other travelers, but I’m pretty open to any hotel in any class as long as it meets clean, decent standards. I’m not sure what level Hotel Pennsylvania was supposed to be—whatever it was, it met few of the standards set forth for any residence someone would like to stay (except maybe college students when poor and interning in NYC for the summer—apparently it’s a great place for long-term residence I found out later). No internet, a scary bathroom, a broken in-room phone, a room air unit/fan circa 1956 that apparently only blew heat, a downstairs diner that hadn’t been cleaned since 1972 and charged $18 for an omelet,  and a bed that inspired me to wear layers of work- out clothes to bed to protect myself—oh and did I mention no lock on the room door?—are not the makings of a fine stay…   

To the Hotel Pennsylvania’s credit, I did get a good night’s sleep. Enough so that I didn’t fall asleep on the delayed Acela train back to Boston the following day. However, I will probably be making that 62% of TripAdvisor reviewers who do not recommend the hotel.

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