A hotel in New York City
On our arrival in Kosovo we were thrown into a bit of a pickle. We had come from Nis in Serbia, a country that strictly speaking does not even acknowledge Kosovo's existence and our bus should have deposited us, not as one might expect in the country's capital Prishtina, but in Gracanica, a Serb enclave a few kilometres away; this is what the lady in the bus station told us, anyway. For whatever reason, we were rather unceremoniously deposited in Prishtina but we didn't have much of an idea where exactly. Fortunately I spotted a sign for the university halls of residence and guessed we were somewhere near the university, and on that assumption, we headed for what we thought should be Prishtina's "Old Town", where, our guidebook said, there were two reasonably priced hotels, situated next to each other.Potential visitors to Prishtina should not get excited by the mention of the "Old Town"; Prishtina actually has very little in the way of an old town and what it does have is hard to appreciate because of the sheer volume of traffic and the number of people in the streets. However, there are a couple of attractive mosques (one of which is currently being restored) and one or two well preserved Ottoman houses in the area. This is also the market area, and Prishtina's is as interesting and exciting as any you'll find in this part of Europe. That said, in other respects, this is very much the "Old Town"; this part of town reminded me a lot of small Turkish towns where a lot of business is conducted in the street. The manager of Hotel Begolli spent more time out in the street talking to shop keepers and passersby than I saw him spend in the hotel.
We actually went into Hotel Sara first, where we were told that a double room, including breakfast, would cost €50 a night. This seemed a bit steep to us so we tried next door at Hotel Begolli. We were not so tempted by this hotel, in spite of its cheery orange facade, because the entire front of the hotel was covered in scaffolding; however, we figured that the work would not continue into the evening so it would be unlikely to disturb us. The manager, having seen us go into and leave the hotel next door, jumped off a chair on the pavement, and ushered us into his hotel. The price was the same as next door and, in spite of our best attempts to get a discount (including asking if we could get a discount for multiple nights) the manager held firm, telling us that the room was a very good one and even had a jacuzzi; frankly I would rather have paid less and not had a jacuzzi, but even though this was the only room with a jacuzzi, we couldn't have an alternative room for a cheaper price. A jacuzzi, it seems, is a free gift at hotel Begolli.
Having finally persuaded us to part with €50 for our room (and jacuzzi) he asked us how long we wanted to stay. I was about to say "Two nights please" when a swift kick in the shin stopped me. "Just the one, please" Himself told the manager. Later he explained that since the rooms were the same price, we should stay in both on successive nights (two reviews!) and this is what we did.
The manager led us past a rather odd seating area that contained the most awful furniture I've ever seen, but what passes for high class quality in this part of Europe; my mother would use the Geordie word "clarty" to describe it. Essentially it's pretentious, over the top and its excessive attempts to look grand just makeit look cheap and terrible. Surrounded by frivolously upholstered chairs, a glass topped coffee table was mounted on the most intricate arrangement of twisted gold-look legs.
Our room was on the second floor and the hotel had no lift; fortunately the stairs were wide so easy to negotiate while carrying luggage, not too steep and were tiled rather than carpeted, so safe underfoot too. The room itself was a generous size but, curiously, the corner bath was situated in the main part of the room, behind a half height glass brick partition. This was our jacuzzi, or more correctly a whirlpool bath.
Although you couldn't really call it tasteful (let's be honest it had never been even acquainted with tasteful) the room did, on first glance look quite modern and well equipped. However, as we investigated further, the flaws started to become apparent. The en suite (toilet and wash basin) smelled really bad, but unavoidable in a country like Kosovo and down to the drains rather than to poor cleaning. Actually the room and bathroom were very clean so full marks in that department.
The room was very blue. The curtains, bedding and even the sparkly tiles on the floor were all blue. The large cheese plant near the door to the patio was not blue but green; it was a lovely big plant but it was in the way of the door. The balcony was small and there weren't any seats to put on it; even if there were it wouldn't have been that nice with the scaffolding up so maybe it'll be possible to sit out there when the work has been done.
One wall of the room was dominated by a vast piece of furniture of the type we feel incomplete for not having in our flat in Slovenia; the wall unit with its grid of shelves and cupboards. This one combined a wardrobe space with shelving and a table section for a big television set which we were unable to operate without assistance. There was a desk/table next to this.
Beside our bed there was a lamp of the like I have never before seen, nor would I hope ever to see again. It comprised an intricate wrought iron stand with a glass table top perched on it. Then, two curved pieces of metal came up from the back and supported what looked like a wooden pepper mill, on top of which leaned (at a jaunty angle) a tassled lamp shade. When I switched on the lamp no light came on; an investigation showed that it was not missing electricity as I had at first assumed, but a bulb. However, after some twiddling, I discovered that there was another bulb, in a fitting under the glass table top. Unfortunately with part of the lamp, the telephone and three remote controls on the table, there wasn't much room for the light to escape. Another light-related issue was that of the two four-bulb ceiling lights, one had four "arms" but only two working bulbs, while the other had three "arms" and one working bulb.
All these things were unimportant really; the room was clean and comfortable and the hotel didn't seem very busy so would probably be quiet at night. Most important of all, the room had functioning air conditioning which was vital as the weather was scorching, even in mid September.
After an afternoon sightseeing and an evening enjoying Prishtina's excellent café culture, we returned to the hotel hoping to catch a little football on television. We had to enlist the help of the night manager who scratched his head, made a phone call, disappeared for a minute, and returned to fix the television. Success! And football!
I decided at this point to try the jacuzzi - sorry the corner bath with bubble making thing - and set it off to fill. The water was a rather murky rusty brown colour but I let it continue to run and added a modest squirt of something from a large shampoo bottle on the side of the bath which I presumed had been left there for this alternative use. The bath full, I climbed in and pressed the button to start the jets. I have to say that at this point I was pretty unimpressed. Himself came over and said he thought it needed more bubbles so he poured in more of the green pine-smelling stuff from the bottle and we swapped places. It turned out that I hadn't had it switched on "Full"; once it was operating at full pelt it did seem to be much more effective as the rapidly multiplying froth spilling over the side of the bath proved. As there was no bath mat, one of the hotel towels had to be sacrificed to mop up the bubbles as the floor would have been treacherous if wet. Unfortunately, the following morning, once all the froth had disappeared, a horrible residue of brown scum covered the whole of the bottom of the bath tub and I had to spend ten minutes rinsing it before we could have showers.
Breakfast was served in the hotel's adjoining restaurant. The manager was in the street and ushered us into the restaurant which is accessed by leaving the front door of the hotel and going into the restaurant from the street. It was only small but it was cosy and nicely decorated. We had been hoping that we might get a Turkish style breakfast in Kosovo but instead we were offered various egg dishes, and combinations of ham and eggs, or a continental breakfast. We were also offered a choice of milky coffee, coffee, tea or juice. Himself asked for juice and coffee and the manager took this to mean just coffee; himself repeated his request, this time asking for "coffee and juice" and this time the manager repeated it back as just juice. Two drinks were not allowed!
Himself asked for an omelette which was nicely cooked and quite tasty. It was pretty small, though. My continental breakfast comprised a plate of various packaged spreads and preserves laid out in a very twee way. There was a little foil dish of chicken pate (which looked pretty awful), honey, mixed fruit jam and a foil wrapped wedge of soft cheese. There was also a sliver of feta style cheese and a sliver of butter. Unfortunately there wasn't really sufficient bread for two people to breakfast on and once he had served us the manager disappeared.
After breakfast we packed up and went downstairs, leaving the key on the reception desk as the manager was still not around. Seizing our chance we dived into Hotel Sara unseen. A minute later Himself had to go back to collect the passports which were still in the safe at Hotel Begolli. So much for a secret getaway.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad hotel; For one thing it's clean and it's definitely comfortable. There was plenty of hot water and this part of the city does not have planned power cuts (scheduled outages are still the norm in a few areas of Kosovo). We had a good night's sleep and we were happy that the hotel was secure.
However, it is a little pricy for what you get; this is a capital city but it is an expensive one because there are so many workers from NGOs in Prishtina and there are relatively few hotels still. The hotel wasn't very busy so we were surprised not to be able to get a discount, especially when there is another hotel next door. The other issues were fairly small but were ones you would expect attention to be given to; a hotel charging €50 a night should have no problems getting a supply of light bulbs. Likewise, allowing guests to have a juice AND a hot drink at breakfast is hardly going to send the accounts plummeting into the red.
We didn't hate it, we didn't love it. For €50 I'd personally expect a little more but it seems that in Prishtina, more comes at a much higher price.
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