Dead Albatross Award

(published in The Business Traveller, 1980)
The Business Traveller award for outstanding disservice

Intrigued by the flamboyant cover peeping from our magazine rack I decided to find out what sort of publication my husband really did buy on his business trips. Surprise, surprise. Despite the girly cover, it was a most informative issue of Business Traveller.

I was particularly interested in the Dead Albatross Award. This summer my husband, a computer consultant, and myself, a teacher, went on a month long Inter-Rail holiday around Europe. We spent a hassle-free fortnight in Scandanavia, and an interesting 5 days in Hungary. It was out first venture behind the Iron Curtain and we found ourselves considered to be strange beings, almost from another planet, though everone was extremely helpful and friendly.

In Romania, however, things were not quite the same and I would like to nominate Hotel Delta un Tulcea for the Dead Albatross Award. We had made out booking through Thomas Cook, Cambridge, who in turn, had asked Carpati, the roumanian Nantionalist Tourist Ofice, to arrange our booking. We took a photocopy of Carpati’s telex to Cook’s with us ‘just in case.’

We arrived at the hotel soaking wet. No taxis were available at the station so we had decided to walk to the hotel in a downpour, encouraged by visions of hot showers and coffee awaiting us. It took the receptionist at least 5 minutes to acknowledge out presence, although she didn’t appear to be occupied by any urgent business. We told her our names, but after a cursory glance at the hotel register she declared that the hotel had never heard of our booking. We were prepared for this and produced out Carpati telex which resulted in us being grudgingly given a room key.

The room looked pleasant enough as we scrambled out of our wet clothers and rushed into the bathroom. We turned on the shower and - you’ve guessed it – nothing happened. We tried the taps in the wash basin. They managed to produce a gurgling sound but not much else. The toilet had been used by the previous occupant but would not flush. Thinking that ours was the only room without water, I rushed downstairs to the receptionist and in my best schoolgirl French said, “Il n’y a pas de l’eau dnas ma chamber.’ Without blinking an eyelid she replied, ‘A hut heures.’ Dejectedly I returned to our room to wait. But 8 o’clock came and went, so we decided to eat first and hope that the water would come on later.

As we made out way downstairs to the restaurant we were made aware by the stench issuing from the public toilets that ours wasn’t the only room lacking water.

Arriving without further mishap we sat down at a set table and waited. Within two minutes it was intimated to us in a very brusque manner that we couldn’t sit there. As the waitress stamped off she shouted back to us over her shoulder, ‘Terrace.’ We made our way to the crowded terrace where we sat t the only free table, which looked absolutely disgusting. The cloth obviously hadn’t been changed in a fortnight. After a little which – well, what’s 20 minutes among friends? – the waitress came to clear the table of used crockery. As she picked up an ashtray – piled pyramid-high – she dropped it and its contacts on to the table. Did she look flustered? Did she blush? Did she apologize and bring another cloth? No, indeed. She just rolled up he sleeve and kneaded the ash into the cloth with her elbow, replacing the empty ashtray in the center of the mess.

Our meal of ‘boef stek’ arrived and our consumption of it was closely monitored by the not-so-secret-policeman at an adjacent table. The meal was surprisingly edible and we only had 35 minutes to wait among fly-bitten rolls for our bill.

Back in out room the bathroom was still a ‘no go area’ so we prepared for bed after squashing as many mosquitoes as we could – an occupation enjoyed by many of the room’s previous occupants judging by the blood splattered walls and ceiling.

Next morning’s breakfast was somewhat of a farce. After attracting the attention of three waitresses out order was still not taken. We walked out of the restaurant feeling very upset, and on way across the revolting smelling lounge saw another small bar with a few table set and one man eating breakfast. We joined him and were served with Turkish coffee, rancid butter, rock hard bread and marmalade that I can’t find words to describe.

We spent an interesting day – after initial difficulty booking a boat trip – which revealed much of the local color, and when we arrived back in Tulcea we were taken into Hotel Delta’s main restaurant. As we entered the waitresses lined up at one end of the room. ’What a difference,’ we thought, ‘They look so much more professional than the previous evening.’ When we took our seats, however, the waitresses remained in a neat line and eventually fell to laughing and talking. Half an hour alter we were still un-served and the waitresses were still standing there. A hotel guide came to apologize saying that the meal wouldn’t be served for another half hour, so we stayed put knowing that at least we’d get served sometime. When the pork chops did arrive my husband actually ended up with a blister on his finger trying to cut through his portion – true story!

Back in our room I noticed that my husband had some red spots on his arms. On closer inspection I realized that his whole body was covered in bright re bites, presumable from bed bugs in the mattress. A few minutes later I went into the bathroom and heard a faint scratching noise. I looked under the wash basin and saw a large beetle scurrying into the dirt to hide from me. I became aware that every corner and crevice was so deep in dirt that beetles and creepy crawlies of all descriptions were hiding in it. I was absolutely revolted and didn’t dare use the water, even to brush my teeth, after that. Nevertheless both of us experienced severe stomach upsets for the next fortnight. We took several transparency slides of the room, the mattress, the beetles and the dirt, no to mention my husband’s spotted torso.

When we awoke next morning a young couple were asleep in the corridor outside our room. Presumable it had been double-booked and that was why the receptionist said she hadn’t heard of our booking. Many more tourists were having a pretty rough time and we spoke to some Israelis who thought the whole set-up at the Hotel Delta was a nightmare.

We are used to sleeping on crowded trains and in sardine-type youth hostels, but never had we encountered anything like this hotel.. We sent a letter to Cook’s telling of our horrific experience with the hope that they would fore-warn prospective travelers of what to expect from Tulcea’s first class ‘A’ tourist hotel. Cook’s passed our thoughts on to the Romanian National Tourist Office but we did not receive a reply from them. A criticism of the Hotel Delta implies a criticism of the Romanian government since all the tourist hotels are state owned.

So all I can say is, if you are going to the Hotel Delta – you’ve been warned!

© Heather Morris 1980