Sound advice on local hotels – from the girl in McDonalds

“Do you really want to stay there? It’s horrible!”

It was 9.30pm and I’d been in Bialystok for a little over half an hour. The bed I had arranged was not available and having been given a couple of phone numbers by the apologetic hostel receptionist I thought I’d got lucky. There was a bed, it was in a hotel right by the station and I could get a single room for £15. Happy that I had avoided the rowdy Dutch school group that had invaded the hostel and looking forward to a quiet night, I set off back to the station from which I’d just come.

At 9.45pm, hopelessly lost and aware that I wasn’t in the nicest part of town, I stepped into the brightly lit McDonalds and asked for directions. It was here that a friendly girl warned me about my planned accommodation. She suggested another hostel just along the road. “It’s a nice place and very close. Only 200 metres” she said. “Much better than the station hotel. Please don’t go there.”

I decided to check out the station hotel in any case and soon saw what she meant. The dimly lit entrance was hidden behind a parking area for buses and in the entrance lobby were a dozen or so burly men passing around a bottle of vodka and a paper cup. Perhaps it was the half-light of the wholly inadequate bulb, perhaps it was the shabby neglected interior that perfectly matched the porch on which I now stood. Either way I suddenly decided that the hostel up the road must be a better option.

I walked 200 metres. I walked 1000 metres. Still no hostel. Only a deserted main road and a handful of men staggering around a bus shelter who called out a greeting to me. Giving up the search I headed back towards the station, resigned to enter that most uninviting of hotel lobbies. As I walked I thought back to the dives I’d stayed at in my teenage years. I thought too of that most famous Polish writer Richard Kapuscinski and his journeys through the remote parts of Africa. He had to put up with rooms crawling with cockroaches and far worse.

It was at this point I told myself to ‘man up’ and I marched confidently into the dim lobby. The drinking men ignored me and in the gloom I spied a half open sliding window in an office at the other end of the cavernous entrance (this was 1970s communist architecture at its finest). I peered through the little window and cheerfully greeted a man who was slumped by a TV. I asked if I could check in. He glared at me and cursed, telling me to go up to the third floor and leave him alone.

With no lift and no lights I stumbled up the dark staircase and eventually found a similar window, this time occupied by a more approachable-looking woman. She smiled, surprised I suppose that I had made it beyond the welcome committee in the lobby. We chatted, she complimented me on my Polish and then gave me the key to my room. The toilet, she explained in an embarrassed tone, was down the corridor. But the room had a shower and sink.

One step into the toilet was enough. The smell was an instant reminder to me of the time we’d discovered a decomposing rat behind our wall panels. I retreated in haste. By this time I was exhausted, and having spent ten hours crossing the country by train I fell asleep without unpacking my bag.

It was only in the morning light that I saw the blood stains on the sheets. Sometimes it pays to listen to advice from the staff in McDonalds.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

11 Responses to “Sound advice on local hotels – from the girl in McDonalds”

  1. Melissa #

    Oh my goodness! That is scary! Did you write up a negative review urging tourists not to stay there? Ugh…why are they even in business? Or…how are they still in business?

    May 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm
    • I don’t think you’d ever find the place on Tripadvisor. It doesn’t cater for tourists, so no review is going to matter to them. It’s a place for bus drivers to stay the night at the lowest possible cost. It’s a relic of the old communist days when bad service was celebrated as a virtue 🙂

      May 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm
  2. Alex Plim #

    Adverse experiences often make for the best writing – great piece, Andy!

    May 24, 2012 at 9:26 am
  3. Many years ago, I was walking around Paris. I was tired and ready to go home. Wanting a piece of home, I went to McDonald’s. There I met a Lebanese girl who I ended up hanging out with the rest of the day. I saw a side of Paris I could never see on my own. All because I went to McDonald’s.

    At home, I hate McDonald’s. I am not a big fan of fast food. However, I am fond of McDonald’s when I travel now.

    May 27, 2012 at 8:15 am
    • Great story Jeremy, thanks for sharing. We really should have our anecdotes sponsored by McDonalds 🙂

      May 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm
  4. The hotel sounds so ghastly! Yeah, I think the advice from locals has often served me well while travelling.. especially on where to eat, what to try etc. 🙂

    May 27, 2012 at 10:48 pm
    • Agree with you Abhi – yet locals are notoriously bad at advising on accommodation, so this one was quite surprising.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm
  5. McDonalds is brilliant abroad. I pretty much never go when I’m at home as it seems weird, unhealthy and overpriced. But abroad, it is like a saviour of the traveller. The place with a clean toilet, recognisable food and WiFi, staff under threat of a mystery shopper and all under 2 brightly lit golden arches.

    It’s certainly not fashionable to eat there, especially admitting so on a blog. But McDonalds does help most cultures, buys produce locally, provides jobs and alters the menu with specials to suit the locals. But if English is the language of the world, McDonalds is the restaurant, whether we want to admit it or not.

    I’ve met a few travellers in McDonalds and got tips (although don’t usually from the staff admittedly) because sometimes it is the only option, it’s certainly something not to be dismissed. I’m sure many good advice had been handed out in McDonalds restaurants, and your story won’t be the last 🙂

    May 29, 2012 at 11:12 am
  6. How did you find this place?

    June 20, 2012 at 8:26 am
    • It was recommended by the lady in the hostel – I guess she’d never had to stay there…

      June 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm
  7. Colt Larsen #

    Who knew that one could find some advice and knowledge from McDonalds? I think that yes, McDonalds abroad is preferable compared to the ones at home. It’s the mystery of being in a familiar but strange place at the same time.

    September 14, 2012 at 11:11 am