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YOU'LL LOVE IT IN MOGADISHU IN AUGUST
By Michael Matthews
March 14, 2013 -- If there's anything that starts me shaking in my boots, while driving me nuts at the same time, it is a simple, oft-asked lodging question.
The query is usually lobbed at a dinner party or cocktail reception--or comes via a referral from a friend.
"We are going to XXXXXX. Where should we stay? And what do you recommend we do when we are there?"
I wish I could give the easy-peasy answer that instantly stops all further discussion: "Sorry, I've never been there." Unfortunately, with 136 countries under my belt, I usually have. So it's a real trial. I always feel the pressure.
"What are you looking for?" says I.
The usual response to that from the inquiring traveler: "Something like the Four Seasons, but in the $100-a-night range."
At that point, I try to bow out gracefully and quickly because, let's be honest, what can I tell this type of traveler?
"Oh," I eventually respond with all the gravitas that I can muster, "have you heard of the series of books called Lonely Planet? They really are pretty good and will give you every possible accommodation right down to a hammock on the beach."
Then I turn on my heels and scurry away to get another drink.
Another question I often get is this: "We are off to Disney World. Where should we stay? Should we stay on the park grounds or at a hotel nearby? How far is everything from the beach?"
Thankfully, I have never been to Disney World. So I usually duck that query with a quip about bringing a bucket and spade. Then I turn on my heels and scurry away to get another drink.
The Caribbean question comes up all of the time, too. "We're going to the Caribbean, what do you recommend?"
I can't help myself. "You'd probably enjoy Haiti at this time of year," is my usual response. Then I turn on my heels and scurry away to get another drink.
Inevitably, someone will recognize that I speak with a particularly recognizable accent, so I'm confronted with the obvious query: "You're from across the pond, right? Where should we stay in London? We are travelling with our three teenagers and 5-year-old. He was a surprise."
Normally I'd mention august establishments such as Claridge's, The Dorchester, The Langham or the wonderful Lanesborough. But if I did recommend any of those pricey palaces, I know I'd never hear from these particular friends again.
As it happens, there once was a fine group of London lodgings called City Inns that renamed themselves as Mint Hotels. Mint was sold to Hilton about 18 months ago. Most are now called DoubleTree by Hilton hotels and they are welcoming and satisfying. I sent my eye doctor to the Westminster branch with his well-behaved 5-year-old. It was a great success and I can still see.
The other dreaded question I get all of the time is much broader and the hardest of all to answer.
"What is your favorite country...city...beach...cathedral...museum?" and so on.
How do you even try to answer that one? What I may like, you may hate.
I can't see pony-trekking through the sleet and snow on Snowdonia in Wales being enjoyed by anyone. Although, many years ago, I quite enjoyed it. You would never get me up in a hot-air balloon, but the darling wife jumps at any chance, including a couple of years ago over Luxor, where a balloon accident recently killed many tourists. I found traveling through heritage sites near Angkor Wat amazing, but driving through minefields with skull-and-crossbones signs posted every 250 yards is not for everyone.
I suppose if you are in Rome for the first time, you must join 25,000 other pilgrims to see the Sistine Chapel. But once is enough. On the other hand, I found the Taj Mahal a disappointment. It looked just like its pictures, but with more smog. Yet luxury hotels in India are amongst the best in the world and a statement like that always causes uninformed eyebrows to rise. I adore Sri Lanka, but few even know where it is and you'd probably hate it anyway.
I could go on, but, hopefully you've gotten the point.
Travel advice is a slippery slope. We all have vastly different tastes and we probably have a greater chance of disappointing our friends and acquaintances than making them happy.
But ... If you're really stuck, drop me a note. I'll tell you what I like in your intended destination. Just give me some time to get back to you because I'll probably be cruising and Internet access is always wonky at the bar.
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2013 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.