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Hotel-less Rambling in Funchal
Little did I know about how I will spend my first day on the exotic island of Madeira: hotel-less rambling, wheel bag-dragging and taxi coaster riding...
All this amid thick palms and in warm winds...
After an enjoyable flight above the Atlantic, we landed sometime after 2 PM to an island I knew little about, to a place I decided to visit just a few days before departing.
I dropped-in to my hotel between 3-4 PM and I was looking forward to go out and enjoy the city of Funchal until the Sun is still up...
But the "fun" had just started...
"En Suite Insects"
Hotel do Centro was the hotel I had booked rooms in a few days prior, while I was still in Barcelona.
There was almost no air inside my room, it was quite hard to breathe.
The thick drapery at the window was blocking the air currents from circulating and I felt that musty thick air smell (akin to the smell of dirty wet carpets)... phew!
I felt like in basement, although I was on the 2nd floor.
Hard to breathe, it was also too dark, but the "best" part was yet to come - when I met my little invertebrate companions: INSECTS!
And you know I hate insects...
Do you know anyone who likes them?
I'm man enough to survive even in a dark, wet-smelly hotel room with thick air, but...
..."en suite" insects blew my circuits and at an instant, I complained about them to the receptionist.
As I was describing the fauna in my room, people started gathering to see "what was going on"
"Were they big?" - a Norwegian tourist asked...
"The 3-4 I saw weren't that large, but wouldn't like to meet their mother!" - I replied.
They had no other rooms available, but I managed to quickly book for rooms at another hotel via the sluggish internet connection in the lobby of Hotel do Centro.
I took a taxi to the other hotel, hoping I will spare some time and still get to explore Funchal after having checked in. Technically I still had at least 3-4 hours of sunlight.
The taxi ride ate up 8 euros...
What a nice place to be hotel-less, isn't it? I put my bag down to take this shot while on my way to the 3rd hotel.
Ramblin' on Funchal's Streets, Looking For a Place to Stay
Upon arrival at Hotel Savoy Gardens, I started explaining I had a reservation made just minutes before through Venere.com.
Cynical receptionists replied to my "I have a reservation" sentence with "You have a reservation".
I had nothing. They said the rooms were all fully booked 2 weeks before already! For organized groups of elderly tourists.
It was a "cholesterol club" in there, as I looked around in the lobby.
But, if they ran out of rooms 2 weeks before, why was Venere.com still showing them as "available"?
With sarcasm, the told me they've never heard of Venere.com, they didn't even know about their listing on that particular hotel booking site(!).
But they did tell me they'll compensate me with a night at their "partner hotel", which belongs to the same company. "No worries", I was told and suddenly the receptionists turned sooo "friendly".
After one of them discussed on the phone in Portuguese, he convinced me "it's all set" and "it's been discussed" with the partner hotel and that I should got there, they will give me a room.
They insisted I should stay at the "other hotel" and they even gave me a printed map and ensured me that the Hotel Classic Savoy (5-star hotel) staff will know about my overbooking issue, so no worry, I should just go over to the other hotel and they'll give me a night for the same price (just 40 euros, by the way!).
It seemed unbelievable that a 5-star hotel will take "compensate me", but they were so "kind", they explained all the details on how to get there...
Come on, a 5-star hotel will compensate me? Really?
"Yes" - I was ensured by both the lady and the male receptionist in a suave warm voice.
Ain't that cute?
Either this was my "lucky day" or a terrible rigmarole I was about to experience while "stranded" on an exotic island - I thought to myself.
This time I didn't want to spend on taxi, I just criss-crossed Funchal's streets in search for Hotel Savoy Gardens.
I had a map, so at least I spared some money...
I even enjoyed the stroll during this phase, but my stomach needed a brunch so bad (again!)... and the sunlight was dimming slowly (it must have been around 6 PM).
Palm trees were all around and I felt like I was lost in paradise...
At this point, I started enjoying this little urban adventure. I had already fallen on the other side of the horse.
I was already in the adventure, at least it wasn't boring.
Upon arrival at Savoy Gardens, I noticed that the 5-star hotel seemed a bit worn-down.
Except a few superficialities, it didn't look much better than a 3-star hotel!
Shiny decorative objects, a wider reception desk and elegantly-dressed receptionists...
Oh and, they had a (simulated) British accent!
You know the way Brits pronounce "Oh?" and sounds more like "Eööh?"
Overall, nothing special about the hotel.
It looked like a shinier, "tuned" 5-star hotel that hasn't done much modernization since the 1970's...
I felt a bit like in a comedy film. Shiny objects here and there, like trinkets they were fake luxury enhancements.
I discussed a lot with the two receptionist guys and the older one engaged into a long telephone conversation, after which I've found out they had no idea about any "partner hotel" or any "compensation".
They were so surprised about my issue and stared at me as if I would have been a giraffe or something.
But they had rooms available for 175 euros per night. But, no thanks!
I wasn't on Madeira for honeymooning... nor on business... I wasn't in the mood for splurge, so I went searching for a cheaper place to stay.
Call this "plan D": I was going to the 4th hotel!
This time I decided to take the taxi and check all hotels I had a list of in my laptop, whose battery was already running low.
I had a few files saved with the names, photos, addresses of several hotels.
Oddly, when looking for a taxi, I couldn't find a single one. But thankfully, I came across a taxi station full of yellow cabs!
I took a taxi and opened my laptop, showed the borracho driver the photo of the hotel, told its name and street number...
Hotel do Chafariz it was and this time I had no reservation (!). I was going straight: kind-of like a "blind date"!
I thought, I's check each hotel one-by-one ("manually") or I'll just have to sleep on the beach!
And that might even be fun, I was ready to do it!
The cabber was a guy probably in his late 50's, borracho-type...
He was kind enough to grab my wheel bag and put it inside the taxi's trunk. How sweet!
Borracho cabber took me on a thrilling taxi-coaster trip up 'n' down, left 'n' right, across bridges, on winding streets.
Then I saw how beautiful Funchal was and what an intriguing infrastructure it had.
But I didn't take the cab to go sightseeing...
We arrived! Yay!
The hotel was at the scenic Largo do Chafariz.
So, as I get ready to pay him, the taxi counter (still) showing 5.30 EUR, my "kind" cabber pushes a little black button with his thick finger. Behold: the cost jumps to 7.50!
"What was that for?" - I asked him
"I put your luggage in" - the shameless answer felt like a slap in the face
Never let anyone help you with anything, especially when you're on Madeira!
Largo do Chafariz
My luck: the hotel did in fact have rooms available for 5 nights.
35 euros per night, with breakfast, very clean, but internal window (sigh!). No internet either, but staff was super kind and my room was squeaky clean.
Despite me having a room for the night, the final slap in the face was still yet to come!
I went out for a short stroll in the city to buy some food and drinks. I had nothing to eat.
After a mere 3-5 minutes of walking, I came across that particular taxi station!
Gosh, I could have literally walked those few hundred meters to my hotel. But the "kind" sneaky borracho driver took me on a 7.5 EUR taxi coaster.
Behold: the taxi station was 5 minutes walk away from my hotel 'n' the guy took me on a long ride!
Things I've learned from this experience...
Although it wasn't a "mega adventure", nor was it life-threatening, it was certainly annoying, time- and money wasting.
These things can be avoided. One must actually prepare for a possible overbooking situation.
Overbooking can happen at any time, anywhere and to anyone
I booked hours before at the Hotel do Centro for the Hotel Savoy Gardens.
Anything under 24 hours is very risky when booking - don't expect much if you book so early before arrival. It's better to go straight, because the booking process may even cost you money and they'll take your card number.
Even if booking in advance, overbooking happens rarely, so it's good to have a B plan (at least) and perhaps more plans...
Print the names and addresses of alternative hotels that you can easily reach (and make sure they're similar category hotels with similar price) and go searching for them by yourself, don't book online.
Creating an alternative hotels list
It's not enough to have 2-3, have at least 5 hotels for alternative sleeping places. 10 would be a great minimum to have.
Consider hostels, even - it's better than sleeping out somewhere or wasting the night, guarding your luggage. Especially if you're alone and especially when your destination isn't quite safe.
It's advised to print the hotel details out (1 page could suffice). You can't rely on laptops, phones. Batteries don't last forever. And, you know how "reliable" modern technology is.
Only rely on taxi drivers as a last resort
You must know where your alternative hotels are. It's good to mark them on a paper map or ask locals about them.
Of course, I had no map and I just felt like someone dropped me from the sky on a (beautiful) foreign island.
Back then, in 2008, there were no smartphones (or at least, very few people had them), but since then, I even print out Google maps with pinned important locations (including alternative hotels).
Apply for an airport transfer service, if you really need it!
Taxis are expensive.
And even when you have no bus/train option, there will generally be airport transfer companies - I recommend the ones that operate small buses/vans with which they take passengers to- and from their hotel to the airport.
Pick-up and transfer, essentially... most of the time in Europe this costs about 30-50 % the price of a taxi ride. And can be arranged in advance. These companies generally have stands, offices at the airports, but it's better to reserve online in advance.
Time is worth more than your money!
Indeed, if you are lost/stranded and have very little time to spend at a particular location, don't waste your hours!
Pay for transportation, because you can recuperate money later, but never the time!
Time is the best and non-renewable resource that anyone has. Still, people tend to waste time rather than spend money. It's so foolish.
Here's a good one: you can't buy time!
You can't buy a lost experience back! You can't buy the time you waste. But you can do something about earning more money.
Which resource could be more important than time? None!
To me: time tops everything!
About the Author:
Escape Hunter, the young solo traveler in his early 30's explores the World driven by curiosity, thirst for adventure, deep passion for beauty, love for freedom and diversity.
With a nuanced, even humorous approach to travel, an obsession for art and design, Escape Hunter prefers to travel slowly, in order to learn and "soak up" the local atmosphere...
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