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michael HOW I SPENT
MY SUMMER VACATION


BY MICHAEL MATTHEWS

August 31, 2006 -- Basil Fawlty and the whole crew of Fawlty Towers live on!

During the past six weeks, my wife and I visited six states and three countries, spending innumerable nights in hotels. We stayed in B&Bs, 2-star, 3-star, 4-star and even a couple of very refreshing 5-star properties. We packed in a load of sightseeing. And trust me when I tell you that we met Basil, his wife Sybil, Polly and even a Manuel during our journey.

Let's stick to the basics and what could be more basic than the Four Points by Sheraton Boston Logan Airport. The hotel, which is actually located in Revere, Massachusetts, has wonderful limo drivers, efficient front-desk clerks, a sushi restaurant and a bar. Good, solid, basic stuff--but shudderingly expensive at $200-plus a night.

Then it was on to Bar Harbor, Maine, and the Castlemaine Inn. It came complete with a Basil Fawlty, rude and uncaring, and a wife who openly complained about her husband not helping. Our room was tiny, the bathroom even smaller. The Castlemaine is the antithesis of its Web site. Avoid it at all costs.

After a night at Bar Harbor's version of Fawlty Towers, we moved to The Quimby House Inn. What a find: huge accommodations and large bathrooms, spotlessly clean, with super friendly and helpful staff. If your travels take you to Bar Harbor, don't go anywhere else but The Quimby, a steal at $100 a night, and a pleasant stroll to the harbor.

Our next stop was Quebec after driving across miles and miles of Maine timberland. Did you know that eventually one tree does indeed look like the next? And contrary to the signs that repeatedly warned us to watch out for them, we did not see a single moose. We landed at the Loews Le Concorde hotel in Quebec City.

I'd never stayed at a Loews Hotel before and I probably won't again. The Quebec City branch is well located near the walls of Quebec's Old City and the Plains of Abraham, but the hotel teems with charabangs and little old people on sightseeing trips, speaking in every conceivable language, and dressed in every conceivable type of attire. An example of the clientele: The bar was virtually empty at 9:30 on a Saturday night. I suppose I shouldn't really blame Loews for its guests and I do admit that the concierge was helpful in selling us the mandatory overpriced tours. Needless to say, however, the Loews Le Concorde is doing nothing for Jonathan Tisch's attempt to position himself as a great hotelier.

(One side note: We did meet up with the lead guitarist of the old punk band Plasmatics, now respectably working for Bloomberg in New York City. He told us of a great spot to dine on the Ile D'Orleans, the charming island in the St. Lawrence River. Le Moulin de St. Laurent has Papa in the kitchen, Mama at the door and daughter playing serving wench. We dined under a waterfall surrounded by fragrant honeysuckle and twittering birds. The scene would make a Thomas Kinkade painting.)

Our next stop was Ottawa. We arrived late in the afternoon with no reservations. And there were no rooms at most of the city's inns. We finally found lodging at the Courtyard Ottawa Downtown near Parliament Hill.

Those of you who read this column regularly know my thoughts about anything Marriott. Staying at this Courtyard outpost did not change them. Again, however, we lucked out in the eating department: We found the Vineyards Bistro, a cellar wine bar with great cheese. We plonked (no pun) ourselves at the bar and only left to watch the Son et Lumière at the Parliament buildings. Ottawa is a great city, but next time I'll plan ahead and reserve at the Fairmont Château Laurier, which sits right on the Rideau Canal adjacent to the Parliament Buildings.

Next, a pleasant drive through the Thousand Lakes and Canadian wine country to Toronto. What a city! I lived there in the 1960s and for entertainment we would drive to Buffalo. No need now as Toronto has become a vibrant, kaleidoscopic place, full of great food of every ethnic variety, a bustling arts and theater scene and never-ending shopping.

By the time we got to Toronto, it was long past time for a bit of luxury. (Besides, I needed to impress my relatives.) We found ourselves in a junior suite on the 26th floor of the Four Seasons Toronto. It was mammothly expensive, but oh-so-worth it. Wonderful room, great views and marble-clad bathroom, all located in the trendy Yorkville area of town.

(When I lived in Toronto, Yorkville was all coffee bars and little art galleries with Gordon Lightfoot make-believes strumming away. Today, the art galleries have been replaced by rows of million-dollar condos. There's also a Whole Foods market, so it was back to the hotel with a bottle of wine, pâté and cheese and into the tub. 'Nuff said.)

We luxuriated at the Four Seasons for the three days and a Toronto version of Fawlty Towers' Polly was behind the front desk, solving every problem, seeming to know every guest by name and not worrying about her relief not showing up. She flashed a constant smile and she was just as pretty as the other Polly.

Like many big cities, Toronto has also experienced an influx of boutique hotels. We looked at one called The Drake. It's not my scene, but if you like high-tech art and sofas around the pool with topless stars-to-be, then go to The Drake.

En route back to Boston we tried, and bought, ice wine, took a glimpse at Niagara Falls and got lost in upstate New York. We found ourselves in Utica. It was late, we were hungry and the choices were a Motel 6 or a Radisson. I had never stayed at a Radisson, but I knew what a Motel 6 was, so Radisson it was. The Radisson Utica Centre was the biggest surprise of my hotel career: down comforters; plasma-screen TV; free cable and high-speed Internet; individual bedside lighting; the Sleep Number Bed, which includes a gadget that hardens or softens the mattress; wonderful amenities; a business center open 24 hours; and a truly happy and helpful staff. Radisson may be the sleeper of the industry: It has copied Westin, but done a better job and it's selling rooms at far fairer prices.

(It was here in Utica that we found our version of Manuel in the hotel's dining room, rushing about, saying "Sorry, Sorry," when nothing was wrong. The food was fresh and excellent.)

Last but not least, we jumped across the country to Portland, Oregon, where I had to give a speech. We stayed in the most peculiar hotel I have ever experienced. It's called the Hotel Lucia. Why it's called that, I've no idea. It was once the Imperial Hotel and no one thought to expand the guestroom footprint during the renovation. That's resulted in miniscule rooms with way too much furniture of the modern Ikea type (some still had the price tags on), chunky TVs reminiscent of the 1980s and unhidden wires taped to the floor around the room

The piece de resistance at the Hotel Lucia? A pre-preprinted note on the pillow. I quote it verbatim: "We knew you were coming, Honey, and Tatiana made sure this room was ready for you. Love and kisses, Betty. PS For turn down service, just ask nice."

Well, Honey, you won't see me again.

And that's how I spent my summer vacation.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.