Travel: May 2005 Archives

NOTE: Entry started on May 16, 2005, extended and published on December 1, 2015. I may add to this.

Back in late May and early June 1994, my wife and I spent one week each in Scotland and Ulster. I wrote about our favorite places and where we stayed and posted it on Usenet. Nothing ever completely disappears from the Internet -- those articles can still be found at

Scotland: highlights of a recent visit

Trip to Northern Ireland

There was barely a World Wide Web when we took that trip, but now many of the accommodations and attractions are online. For example:

Leault Farm sheepdog demonstrations near Kingussie, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

Mr & Mrs McPherson B&B, Inveraray, Argyll.

Brownlees Guest House, St Andrews, Fife.

Ashdene House, B&B in Edinburgh.

The Hall Greene farmhouse accommodation near Lifford, Co. Donegal.

The Hall Greene was our favorite place to stay. Mervyn and Jean McKean are wonderful hosts. Active in the Ballylennon Presbyterian Church, they shared our interest in the history of Presbyterianism in Ulster, particularly the region in eastern Donegal called the Laggan, which had been home to my ancestors in the early 18th century. Jean is also a wonderful chef and baker, and we enjoyed all sorts of dainty treats with tea and conversation in the parlor.

We enjoyed our visit to Ulster so much we returned in fall 1995, spending several days at the Hall Greene and several more in Ardara and Narin on the west coast of County Donegal.

We worshipped at Fahan Presbyterian Church, where my ancestor Joseph Reagh had ministered from 1742-1769, before he emigrated to America. After the service, the Lamberton family invited us to Sunday lunch, and then we had dessert (strawberry-rhubarb crumble) with Mr and Mrs Jack Lamberton -- Jack, patriarch of the family, was clerk of the church's session.

One evening, the McKeans invited us along to a time of worship and fellowship at the Presbyterian Church in St. Johnstons. It was in connection with an evangelism outreach sponsored by several area churches.

During our time in and around Ardara, we started at the Bay View Country House, which was nice, but didn't really have a view of the bay. We moved to a very nice B&B called Roan Inish (or click here for another link) in Narin, looking out over a broad sandy beach. Ardara is a center of tweed production, and I bought a beautiful jacket at a ridiculously low price, one I still wear. During our stay we had lunch at the renowned pub known as Nancy's.

Our route back to Belfast took us along the northwest coast of Donegal, with a stop in Ramelton, and the church where Francis Makemie, the father of Presbyterianism in America, was once pastor. In Derry we made a quick visit to the library in search of genealogical information. The two places we'd stayed near Belfast the previous year were unavailable, so we wound up at a B&B near the airport in Templepatrick.

I hate mini-bars

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In my last day or two at FlightSafety, I was going through my old engineering notebooks and remembering some of the projects I worked on. Occasionally some non-engineering thoughts were recorded on the page.

During a business trip to Montreal in the summer of 2001 I came up with an idea for a website devoted to helping business travelers find hotels with the kinds of amenities I wanted -- amenities that you couldn't usually specify when searching online for a hotel.

I was staying in the Hilton at the entrance to Dorval Airport, spending as little time in the hotel as possible. (Montreal is one of my favorite cities, but the area around the airport looks like the area around the airport anywhere else.) The Hilton is a full-service hotel, with a restaurant, a bar, meeting rooms, a concierge, a gift shop, and a pool.

Like most full-service hotels, every little thing at the Hilton was extra. Local phone calls had a surcharge. Long-distance calls had a surcharge. There were a dozen free TV channels -- and pay-per-view. And there was a refrigerator in the room, but it was a mini-bar -- stocked and checked daily, so I couldn't buy cheap sodas at the supermarket and keep them cold. The bed wasn't even that comfortable. I do not remember if there was a mint on the pillow, but I am sure I did not care. On subsequent trips, I stayed elsewhere.

Full-service hotels were apparently designed for the business traveler with an unscrutinized expense account. FlightSafety has a fixed $25 per diem for meals and incidentals in the U. S. and Canada, so I would find ways to save money, like buying sodas and snacks at a grocery store. A traveler could keep receipts for the whole trip, and get reimbursed for actuals, but it never seemed worth the bother, and I doubt they would have reimbursed me for a soda from the mini-bar.

The hotel rooms that have what I like are usually much less expensive than the full-service type, and the extras are included in the price. Here's what I look for in a hotel room, beyond the basics of comfort, cleanliness, and security:

  • Full extended basic cable -- all the channels you'd get if you lived in the town, including C-SPAN. Especially C-SPAN. C-SPAN is an effective noise-blocker and sleep aid. Extra-strength C-SPAN (officially known as C-SPAN2), with the special ingredient Senitcuvraj, is even more effective, and the only side effects are disturbing dreams about Orrin Hatch.
  • A free local paper. I'll read USA Today if I must, but I'd rather learn something about the city I'm visiting.
  • Free high-speed Internet access in the room, preferably wired access. This is non-negotiable, especially now that I'm a big-time blogger. The most frustrating Internet / hotel experience I ever had was at the Residence Inn in midtown Savannah, Georgia. The phone system was so old, it could only manage a 28.8 kbps connection when it could manage a connection at all. Of course, the Residence Inn charged for each local phone call. To her credit, the manager refunded the fees for the failed connection attempts, but I stayed elsewhere on future visits. The second most frustrating experience was at the Comfort Suites in Wichita. They offered wireless Internet "in every room," but it was done using a single wireless hotspot in the hotel's atrium. When I complained about the flakiness of the connection in my room, I was told that I should have requested a non-corner room if I wanted to use the Internet.
  • A fridge and a microwave, so I can have cold sodas handy, keep and reheat leftovers from enormous restaurant meals, and have something that isn't entirely starch and sugar for breakfast. The Hampton Inn in East Aurora, New York, offered a free breakfast each morning, but it was 100% carbs, so I'd eat in my room. I'd slap a pre-cooked ham steak and a slice of swiss cheese on a piece of bread, heat it in the microwave long enough to melt the cheese, then top it with good ol' Buffalo-style horseradish (and plenty of it) and another piece of bread.
  • An iron and ironing board. I never use one at home, but at home I can fluff a wrinkled shirt in the dryer.
  • Plenty of accessible outlets -- one for the laptop, one for the cellphone recharger. Don't make me move the bed out from the wall to plug something in.
  • A clock radio that can actually pick up the local news-talk station inside the hotel. Bonus points if I can move the alarm time forward and backward. Extra bonus points if the radio isn't reset to the chambermaid's favorite station every day.
  • A decent place to work -- a desk at the right height, a comfortable chair, a phone nearby, plenty of outlets and an Internet hookup, with a view of the TV.
  • Good pillows and plenty of them.

If the hotel is in an interesting, walkable area -- like Savannah's Historic District -- I can do without the TV. In a place like Altus, Oklahoma, it's an absolute necessity.

That really isn't too much to ask, is it? More and more mid-range hotel chains seem to be offering those sorts of amenities as standard features, which means my website idea isn't really needed now. Wingate Inns started offering free high-speed Internet in every room in 1999, along with a fridge, microwave, a cordless phone, ironing board, and full basic cable. Other chains have been slowly catching up. I've noticed that Hampton Inns appear to have standardized over the last year with free high-speed Internet in the rooms, WiFi in the lobby, hot breakfast with scrambled eggs and sausage, and free local calls.

So what are your business travel hotel must-haves and pet peeves? Leave a comment.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Travel category from May 2005.

Travel: February 2005 is the previous archive.

Travel: June 2005 is the next archive.

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