Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Japan 2014


Hotel 1: Marriott, Cologne
Friday 05 September to Saturday 06 September (1 night)
Room 236 (King Deluxe)
This full-service hotel is just a few minutes' walk away from Cologne's Hauptbahnhof (main station) and the city's world-famous cathedral. It is situated on the opposite side of the railway lines from the cathedral and the busy old town area, a fact that may actually operate in the visitor's favour: while there is absolutely nothing wrong with the neighbourhood and the hotel is handy for everything that a tourist might want to see and do, the literally "wrong side of the tracks" location may explain why this property offered a much more favourable deal than others that I checked.

I had a very pleasant stay and wouldn't hesitate to use it again, especially if the price differential still applies next time.
Hotel 2: Hilton, Osaka
Sunday 07 September to Monday 08 September (1 night)
Room 2409 (Twin Deluxe)
This was the second hotel of the trip and the second one to be located just yards from the city's main railway station, making it handy for guests travelling on business or for leisure purposes. Although we merely used the hotel as a convenient overnight stop, it could serve as a base from which to visit Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan, or even the nearby cities of Kyoto and Nara. Staff were very friendly and helpful. The Executive Lounge was nice enough, but didn't rank among the Asian 'greats' that we had experienced over the years.
Hotel 3: Beniya Mukayu, Kaga
Monday 08 September to Tuesday 09 September (1 night)
Room 411 - The Red Room (Twin Zen Executive Suite)
Beniya Mukayu is an independently owned, luxury boutique hotel in the traditional Japanese Ryokan style. It is marketed through the prestigious 'Relais & Chateaux' association of many of the world's finest hotels and restaurants. The word mukayu means 'in the natural state' and perfectly captures the hotel's philosophy: to free guests from the physical and mental clutter of modern life and allow them to focus on the benefits of good food, physical well-being and a calm state of mind.

In line with the above, public spaces and rooms alike are spacious and relatively empty, furnished and decorated in a tasteful, minimalist style. Rooms have a small area immediately inside the door where shoes are to be removed before stepping up into the main accommodation area. Internal doors are traditional Japanese sliding panels and each room has an outdoor spa bath, fed directly with natural spa water. (Cold tap water may also be added as the spring water is sometimes too hot.)

Again in line with the overall philosophy, the meals served at this property were of an exceptionally high standard, without being excessive in terms of the quantity of food. They are covered in the main diary entries for 8 and 9 September. The hotel's owner performed a traditional Japanese tea ceremony for us as a welcoming gesture, and this is also included in the diary entry for 8 September. On a purely practical note, a limited shuttle service is provided to and from Kagaonsen station, while a private elevator (travelling up and down an incline) serves the nearby local centre of Yamashiro.

All in all, a genuinely unforgettable, top-quality experience - very highly recommended!
Hotel 4: ANA Crowne Plaza, Kanazawa
Tuesday 09 September to Friday 12 September (3 nights)
Room 1615 (Twin Junior Suite)
This was another hotel conveniently situated just steps away from the city's main transport hub, and in this case next-door to Ishikawa Concert Hall. We were allocated an attractive junior suite with nice views across the city to the hills beyond, the only negative with the accommodation being a living room sofa that wasn't particularly comfortable. As with most places in Japan, the staff were wonderfully polite, friendly and helpful.

The main issue was with the hotel's public spaces. The atrium was on a grand scale, but seemed decades out of date and rather tasteless by modern standards. The lobby bar was completely devoid of ambience and we abandoned it after one hastily consumed drink. Worst of all, a large chunk of 'prime real estate' in the lobby was occupied by a wedding chapel that seemed to have come straight out of Las Vegas (although I've managed to make it look OK in the picture!) It was never used in the three days that we were there - who would want to exchange vows in the middle of a busy and noisy hotel lobby?
Hotel 5: Grand Park, Otaru
Friday 12 September to Saturday 13 September (1 night)
Room 820 (Twin)
This former Hilton turned out to be another mixed experience, this time with the balance tipped firmly towards 'unsatisfactory'. First, the good news: the bar was excellent, with an extensive drinks list and cocktails that were expertly made and beautifully presented by friendly staff. Full marks on that score. On the other hand, the dinner offering was disappointing and the chaotic breakfast buffet was really quite poor. The hotel is situated close to the Otaru cruise ship terminal (perhaps engendering a degree of complacency?) and a couple of stops on the train from downtown Otaru.

Our overall feelings were nicely summed up by Bruce: "I can see why Hilton ditched it."