I’m with my mum at a hotel in the North of England, on a special offer one night break.
We’re here ‘to relax’.
Since our last visit, the hotel has gone upmarket. We get a hint of what’s to come at the check-in desk. Our offer includes £30 per person to spend on dinner that evening.
Great! I say, because £30 should buy a decent dinner.
Ha, smirks the receptionist.
On this ominous note, we head off to the bar area where I’m hoping to get a sandwich. The closest thing, a croque monsieur with chips, costs £13. We order teacakes.
In the crowded swimming pool I narrowly avoid crashing into someone as I’m not wearing my contact lenses. A raucous hen do occupies the outdoor jacuzzi. We watch a lone, pale man sidle up and squeeze himself into the only free spot. He clutches his pint of beer like a weapon. Brave man.
Later on and very hungry, we head to the dining room and peruse the menu. The price of a typical main course is £30. That’s for Scottish Turbot, Miso Mussels, Jerusalem Artichoke and Charred Leek. It doesn’t even sound that filling! I calculate that with a starter, side dish and dessert I’d spend £23 more than the allocated amount. Not ideal.
There’s a steak on the menu for £95. Is that a misprint? It doesn’t even say it’s for sharing! We hadn’t factored on spending anything over and above the package price. Unprecedented.
We don’t know what to do so we order tap water. It turns out we can eat in the bar, which is the same menu as we saw earlier. This seems a less anxiety-inducing option.
The bar is pleasant but doesn’t have much in the way of service. We order, by now ravenous. We wait. And wait. After 45 minutes, in desperation, we ask for a piece of bread. Dinner turns up accompanied by one bread roll.
So the dining has been lacklustre.
We still have the spa treatment the next day. The mud rasul – a cleansing process where you cover the skin with mud, sit in a steam room and wash the mud off in ‘warm tropical rain’.
We’re taken into the chamber with a steam room and showers. It has cold air reminiscent of a tomb. Our instructions: Apply mud to our skin, get inside the steam room and complete the treatment. A member of staff presses a button to start the steam room heating up and leaves us to it, locking the door.
The steam room is heating and changing colour from green to blue to pink like a psychedelic spaceship. But once covered in mud, we run into a problem. We find we can’t open the steam room door. We try and try, leaving muddy hand prints on the glass. It won’t budge. We’re shivering because the main room hasn’t warmed up, yet we can see the steam filled room lovely and warm in front of us. This isn’t relaxing!
We debate how much time has elapsed as we aren’t wearing watches and there is no clock. Is the door somehow going to spring open when its ready? We aren’t sure. So we try it again.
The mud is getting uncomfortable. I manage to open the main door to see if any staff are nearby but the area is empty. Our only option is to walk through the changing room and ask the receptionist. But there’s the small matter of being covered in mud.
I try again to open the steam room door. The catch seems to be stuck. I wash and dry my hands, refocusing my efforts. Finally I slide my nail underneath the catch and press it in, the door springing free. Hallelujah – we get into the steam room! Water starts to sprinkle from the ceiling signalling the end of the treatment. The room starts to cool down.
Annoyed, and still covered in mud which is now very cracked and semi washed-off, we spot an emergency button in the steam room.
And we press it.
A few minutes later a young woman and man come rushing in to see what the steam room emergency is. We tell them our story, both still covered with mud which is streaking down our faces. The man is stifling laughter and backing out of the room.
We’re told we can do the treatment again, this time with the steam room door open from the beginning. So we go through the whole thing again by which point I’ve had enough of this relaxation concept!
We finally exit and we’re late checking out of the hotel.
As we pay the bill, we recount the experience we’ve had and receive a refund for our meal and spa treatment.
This is the first time we feel relaxed.