Friday, January 12, 2007

La Pension des étranges

Of the top ten things that you don't want to hear from the hotel you've just arrived at, the phrase "oh yes, we know about the problem with the sewage smell" must be way up towards the top of that list.

We'd arrived at the place of our honeymoon stay, a small guest-house or apartment complex comprising of separately contained units which inexplicably in Korea are known as "Pensions", though they have nothing to do with old people aside from perhaps, it seems, occasionally smelling like them. As it was, our 'pension' was styled along the lines of a Spanish villa complex, a little further away was an alpine chalet-style 'pension', and various other Western and Korean designs littered the landscape. I use the word 'littered' advisedly, because against a spectacular backdrop of 360 degrees of Korean mountains, it seemed as though the local council planning department - if indeed such entities exist in this country - had done their best to allow the locals to turn the landscape into an architectural zoo that could have been anywhere.

We'd booked a second-floor apartment benefiting from a glass-roofed attic and large balcony which were both too cold to enjoy. The room also proved cold when the heating failed twice. On the plus side, the staff were very helpful - picking us up from the railway station where our taxi had dropped us off - taking us to a local mini-mart to buy some food, and booking taxis for our trips amongst other things. We got a heater when the underfloor pipes failed, and on the third night when the sewage smell became too much again, we were offered another room, which given that we were leaving the next morning seemed too much trouble and we passed on. I suppose you can infer from this that it wasn't bad enough to drive us away, but the problems did spoil our stay even if we saw little purpose in getting angry about it. It was the owners' first year of business - and the new building's first winter of existence, so there were clearly teething problems. Fortunately we spent most of our time out.

On the second night, we shared a barbecue with one of the owners and a member of staff, outside in the freezing temperatures.

Before we left, we filled in a four-page feedback survey, and when it came to the key questions of whether we would come back and whether we would recommend the 'pension' to our friends the answers were a harsh but fair 'no'.

For me, there were wider issues in any case. Our 'pension' was in a rural location, something which had not been clear beforehand, and my idea of staying 'in' Korea's ancient capital brought with it images of rubbing shoulders with temples and other pieces of history, whereas in fact the closest I got to history at the 'pension' were some run-down Korean houses amongst the nearby fields and a forty-year old tractor parked by the side of our wall.

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