I’ve always been very careful when describing the mission of LandLopers. Yes, the site is about budget travel, but comfortable budget travel. I don’t believe that you have to couch surf in order to have an affordable vacation. I’m in my mid-thirties, I am a professional and live in a house in the suburbs. While at one point in my life, hostels were a perfectly acceptable alternative, I am well past that time. I like hotels, little soaps and even a free paper in the morning. The trick for me is how to book a nice hotel without paying a fortune. Sometimes my travel experiments go well and sometimes they are epic failures. One such failure happened while visiting Jerusalem.
I designed my trip to be the ultimate budget travel experience. The airfare was absurdly cheap thanks to a special US Airways promotion and since I was traveling solo, I didn’t want to spend much money on hotels. After some thought, I decided to use frequent flier miles from two airlines which are not my primary airline to pay for the hotels. I normally wouldn’t use miles for anything other than airfare, but I knew I would not be accumulating more miles with those airlines anytime soon.
I was actually pretty pleased with the hotel options, but unfortunately my miles were limited and the number of miles required to pay for all of the hotel stays was considerable. Finally, I narrowed down the list to a few and began researching them. I used TripAdvisor, maybe I relied on it too much, and found what I thought to be the best option. I knew that it wasn’t going to be a five-star establishment, but what was most important to me was safety, cleanliness and proximity to the main tourist areas. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite as well as I had hoped.
The Alcazar Hotel is located in East Jerusalem and my difficulties began even before my arrival. I had an extremely hard time at Ben Gurion airport finding a shared van driver that would take me to the Palestinian side of Jerusalem. I finally found someone who would take me, but he wasn’t at all happy about it.
I knew that the hotel was budget friendly or, put less diplomatically, cheap, but I was shocked at what I found when I arrived. The hotel is located in a horrible area in East Jerusalem and from the outside looked like a condemned building. The interior wasn’t much better with furnishings that looked more appropriate for a 1970s-era funeral parlor.
After checking in, I was met with a small, dark, dirty room. I firmly believe that there are jail cells in many countries which are in better condition than my room at the Alcazar.
The beds were dusty and the sheets stained, the floors looked horrible and I was scared to walk barefoot on them. There was a fan in the corner of the room above a small, rusted metal desk. The bathroom was worse. The shower/tub area was tiny and the shower curtain was filthy with mildew. I looked up and saw through the drop ceiling to a mass of leaky pipes.
Given the fact I’d already used my miles to pay for the hotel and I didn’t want to incur any more costs, I was determined to stay, regardless of the room condition. The daily breakfast was adequate, nothing special, and I do have to say that the hotel staff tried to be helpful. The hotel is next door to a mosque though, so 4:00 AM wake up calls were included in the price of the room.
The hotel advertises that it is a ten minute walk to Jerusalem’s Old City, which it is. What they don’t mention is that you have to walk through a miserable East Jerusalem neighborhood in order to get there and at night it is advisable to only travel by cab.
While no physical harm befell me during my stay, it was hardly enjoyable and I was thrilled to leave after my fourth night as a guest.
This lodging misstep is a great example of regardless how much you may research and prepare for a trip, there are always surprises. Sometimes the surprises are good but others, such as with the Alcazar, are the travel version of a teachable moment.