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The not-so-grand Budapest Hotel – the Synagogue View Premium Residence

on September 15, 2014

The brief version of this blog post:

DO NOT STAY AT THE SYNAGOGUE VIEW HOTEL IN BUDAPEST. EVEN IF YOU’RE DESPERATE! ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE A WOMAN TRAVELLING ALONE

For the longer version, please keep reading

I went to Budapest for the weekend recently. I got what I thought was a very good deal on accommodation from Booking.com, but the reality was very different. My booking, made at the end of July was for a room at Synagogue view premium residence from Friday 29 August to Sunday 31 August. My booking was for a single room with mezzanine, not a room type I’d booked before. A mezzanine sounded quite glamorous! And the recent reviews I could see on the website didn’t look too bad, although there was a comment about the area where the property was located not being very nice.

The dictionary definition of mezzanine is: a low storey between two others in a building, typically between the ground and first floors. This will be relevant later on.

I received an email from the hotel asking me to let them have my contact details and telling me to contact them half an hour before I wanted to check in as the reception was unstaffed, which seemed a little unusual for a property with “premium” in the title, but never mind. Check-in time was from 3pm onwards. On arrival in Budapest I tried to contact the number given for the hotel several times but the just phone rang a couple of times and then disconnected. I also sent a text message to the number but got no reply. Thinking there might be a problem with my phone, I asked the staff in the restaurant where I was having lunch for assistance. They were very sweet and let me use their phone to contact the hotel. The call was put on hold and I heard music for several minutes before a male voice said “hello”. When I started speaking the call was cut off. The restaurant staff tried to phone and speak to the person in Hungarian but they were also cut off after an initial “hello”. The restaurant staff suggested that I go to the hotel and see if anyone was there, so I did.

As I arrived at the building where the hotel was located, but it didn’t look very promising. It was a large apartment building which looked quite grubby from the outside. I saw some other people going through the front door, so I followed them. I asked if anyone knew where the Synagogue View was and fortunately a couple of other guests were also trying to find the place. They said that they had also had problems contacting the hotel but that someone had finally agreed to meet them and let them in. We eventually found the hotel, which was not clearly signposted, along a very grotty balcony at the back of the building. There was nobody there waiting to let us in. We waited for several minutes and both tried to contact the number for the hotel but got no response. Eventually, I phoned Booking.com and they said they would try to contact the hotel to find out what was happening. As we continued to wait some other people came along the balcony and these included the person who was supposed to be checking us i. He did not introduce himself, and when I said that we had been trying to contact him and he snapped “I know, you phoned me about 10 times”. When I asked why he hadn’t answered the call and spoken to me he claimed that there was a problem with his phone. However just as he was saying this he got the call from Booking.com, and this time his phone seemed to be working fine. He assured them that everything was fine and there was no problem, as he let us into the place, which turned out to be a not very welcoming apartment.

He started to show the guests to their rooms. When it was my turn he opened the nearest door and told me it was my room. The single room (with mezzanine) that I had booked turned out to be a small square space around 2 metres square, with a bed accessible only up a 9-step ladder propped against the wall. There was also a very small bathroom. I was shocked, to say the least, and told him that this room was not acceptable and there was no way I was going to stay there. I told him that a room with a bed which can only be accessed via a ladder is not an option for me, and that a bed up a ladder does not, in any way qualify the room as having a mezzanine. He got even grumpier at this, but told me to wait and that he would see if there was anything else available. He then checked in the other guests while I waited in the hall with his colleague. Unfortunately I did not take any photos of the original property, but apart from the bed up a ladder situation it didn’t seem all that bad. Apart from the dodgy balcony access it appeared clean. There are some pictures on the Booking.com web page for the Synagogue View, but none of them show the mezzanine/ladder room.

When the guy returned he made a phone call to a colleague in Hungarian and then told me that I was very lucky because there was another room they could let me have, which was bigger and cheaper than the one I had originally been allocated. However it was a 10 to 15 minute walk away. I confirmed that this other room did not have a bed accessible only by ladder and then he took me a bar across the street where a lady introduced herself to me as Diana. She said that I was lucky that she had an alternative room to offer me, because they were very busy, but that they had just had a last-minute cancellation, so that I could have the other room for a cheaper price. We then walked to the other property, which was a 15 minute walk from the original property.

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We stopped outside a shabby apartment building on a busy street – Kiraly Utca, near the tram stop. The main door to the building, which also housed some businesses on the ground floor, was open, but Diana told me that it would be closed at night. At the end of the entrance corridor was another large door. Both of these doors opened with the same code – 13, followed by the key symbol, then 0518. We walked around the lift and stopped outside a barred door, Diana unlocked this, and the front door to the apartment, telling me to be sure to lock both if I went out and especially at night. This, as you can imagine, did not make me feel especially safe!

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After entering the apartment we went to the end of a poorly lit corridor and into a room containing two beds. There was also a small kitchen and bathroom. The room was shabby, and had a large column in the middle, which gave the place a strange feeling. Diana charged me 39 Euro for the room, a reduction of 5 Euro on the price of the room I had originally booked. I paid her in cash with a 50 Euro note and as she didn’t have enough Euros to give me change she gave me 3,400 Hungarian forints instead, which is the equivalent in local currency. She did not give me any receipt for my payment but she gave me her business card, saying that I should give her details to any friends or colleagues who were visiting Budapest and that she would give them a good deal, as she owned 15 properties in the city. After this sales pitch she left, having agreed that I would meet her at the property at 11 on Sunday 31 August to check out.

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When Diana left, I discovered that the windows to the property, which had some sort of film over them, were locked (I later discovered that they are barred from the outside). However apart from this the room seemed ok, and the first night there passed without any major problems, although the area was a bit noisy. The bedcovers in the apartment were very thin though, and I was cold and uncomfortable.

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On Saturday morning I got up and used the shower. However despite the fact that I used the thin shower curtain, there was water all over the bathroom floor when I got out. I had only been in the shower for a couple of minutes but the place was like a swimming pool, and there was nowhere for the water to drain away. I mopped up as much of it as I could using the two small towels provided. However despite searching the communal area of the apartment I was unable to find a mop or more towels. so had to leave it wet, hoping it would dry out during the day.

I then left the apartment, only to discover that the door into the apartments (not the main door to the street) had been propped open with an old suitcase. So much for security.There was also a very strong smell of urine in the corridor between this door and the main door to the building (particularly as I walked past the artfully arranged wheelie bins) which was also standing open.

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During the day my plans for Sunday changed, so I texted Diana asking if I could check out on Sunday at 8 instead of 11 as arranged. She texted back that I should just leave the keys on the table and close the door. I thought this seemed a but strange, but agreed to do it, as I could not wait at the property until 11.

On Saturday evening I was back in the apartment by around 9pm. There was a lot of noise and shouting in the communal areas, with people banging on various doors trying to get into the building. This made me very nervous. The noise continued until the early hours, and was at its worst from around 1am until around 3:30am, when a group of English men were drunkenly shouting,singing and arguing right under my window in the courtyard. As my apartment was just above them I felt very vulnerable, especially knowing that there were no staff on site that I could call on to ask the guys to be quiet. Needless to say, I spent a sleepless night. All that remained of the chaos from the previous night was some rubbish left in the courtyard.

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Just before midnight on Saturday I received an email from noshow@booking.com which stated that my reservation had been cancelled as I had not shown up at the hotel and that my credit card would be charged 44 Euro.I was not happy about this, responded to the email to say that I was staying at the property, and phoned booking.com to explain what had happened. I spoke to an American lady who said that she would make a note of my call, and asked me to make a formal complaint and to send pictures of the property. I texted Diana to let her know that this had happened, and that I found her attempting to charge me for two rooms to be dishonest. She responded saying that she was a different company from the one which ran Synagogue view and that I shouldn’t worry, as booking.com never charge for a no-show. I texted her back saying that this was incorrect and that she needed to contact you and sort the matter out. To date, I have not received a response.

On Sunday morning I left the property at around 8. I left the keys on the table as agreed, and shut the front door. Again, the door to the apartment area was open, so the place was insecure. So I texted Diana saying that I had followed her instructions about checking out, but that in view of the place being insecure she should take action to secure the property urgently. I reminded her that I was waiting for her to confirm that she had contacted Booking.com to ensure that I had not been charged for 2 rooms. I have not received a reply to the text.

I was, and remain, extremely dissatisfied with the service I received from Synagogue view residence and Diana – I understand from the business card she gave me that the property I stayed at is called the Astorian Apartment. Sounds quite grand, doesn’t it? Pity it doesn’t live up to the name. At no time was I told that there were two separate companies running the properties – I was clearly told that an alternative room was available for me, both of the people I dealt with referred to the other as their colleague, which implies that they work together – i.e. for the same company and I was not told at any time that I would need to pay for two rooms. In my view, both of the properties I was offered were unsuitable. The first, because when a space is advertised as a single room (with mezzanine), it is reasonable to expect it to actually be a room, and not a glorified cupboard, and the second for safety and security reasons.

I made a complaint to Booking.com, and followed this with a phone call. They explained that the reason I got the “no-show” email was probably so that the owners of the property I was originally booked to stay at did not have to pay the booking.com admin fee. I did not get charged for the alleged no-show by either Booking.com or the Synagogue view. But I also discovered that as the booking was amended to reflect the “no-show”, I did not receive the usual Booking.com email asking for my opinion of the property. Which is interesting, as I would definitely have left a review saying that the property was unsuitable and that the staff were rude. Looking at my booking.com history, I can see a record of a property where, for various reasons beyond my control, I was a no-show. But they, unlike the Synagogue View “Premium Residence” did not record this on Booking.com’s website as a no-show and so I was asked for my review of the property. So I guess that the Synagogue View / Astoria Apartment (and whatever other business names the people owning these properties use) are manipulating the system to avoid getting too many bad reviews. Which probably works quite well, unless your dissatisfied customer has a blog…

A scan of some recent reviews of the Synagogue View on Booking.com indicates that I am not alone in my dissatisfaction with the property, or the people that own/run it, but somehow they’re still showing a review score of 7.5, which seems strangely high. Unless it’s 7.5 out of 100 in which case it’s probably about right.

The comments include this one by Vladimir from Germany:
Everything, starting from: 1. The rooms are incredibly small, you literally open the door and step on your mattress… 2. The bathroom/toilette was badly smelling… 3. No soup/toiletries available 4. Despite the nice marketing of “free WiFi” available on that day I did not have ANY wifi available due to “some problems”…and i badly needed it… This was definitely the WORST place I’ve ever seen in my life…

And Ioannis from Greece wasn’t impressed either:
The room was never cleaned after the previous guest. Sock on the floor n’ bathroom full of hair. Although we left a note(no reception ever – we only saw sm from the hotel when we paid), we were ingnored. The room was never cleaned actually! No toiletries. Not enough towels which were also never changed. Central airconditioning. Our room happened to be under it and we froze.

Elena from Russia said:
Renovated, but still shabby and badly furnished rooms, inconvenient beds. Dirty Ikea cubes for sitting by a knee-tall table, foldable Ikea wardrobe – shaky and shabby. There is no air conditioning or computer in the room as advertised, both of these things are in the corridor. Old threadbare towels which we prefered not to use. The room was not cleaned initially (with the exception of the middle of it and the bathroom as well as clean bed linen), in the corners and under the table there were rolls of dust, the room was not cleaned during our 3-night-stay. The entrance door bangs day and night, voices and steps in the narrow corridor echo throughout the premises especially at night. There is no reception, so the behaviour of the guests is their own responsibility. Additional 2 euros per person per night (city tax) are added to the price quoted in booking. Next time will choose a different place for our stay.

And finally, Aimo from Finland:
I called to inform when I will arrive. I was there on time, but couldn’t find anyone. Another guest who was waiting for the staff answered the door phone. Unfortunately she only spoke Spanish. Somehow I managed to understood that she and her husband and small child have waited for two hours already and no one has showed up. I called again and a young nice girl finally came, 20 minutes late! She was very nice, but being on time is not too much asked, is it? My room was tiny, like a closet. Luckily I only stayed one night. If I had had a bigger bag with me, there would have been no space. The worst thing was the cleanliness of the room – dust everywhere, and SOMEONES TOENAILS. All over where the single mattress was up on the gallery. They could at least vacuum clean there? It’s not the next guest’s business to clean up the previous guest’s toenails. I was disgusted. Also no curtain and straight view to the corridor. Without the other guests waiting there I would never have found my way through the dark corridor and staircase. No signs anywhere. Also absolutely no sound-proofing in the door. Avoid staying here unless you must.

Sadly all of these reviews were left after I made my booking. If I’d seen them before making the booking there is no way I would have stayed in the place. And oddly, I couldn’t find any reviews for Astorian Apartment, or find the property on Booking.com. It’s possible that it’s rented out under a different name, or that it’s used as overflow accommodation if the Synagogue View place is fully booked. Hard to tell.

Booking.com is usually a good site for booking accommodation, and their customer service, even on this occasion, is of a high standard. I’ve used them a lot, including for a previous trip to Budapest and have only had minor complaints – but this booking was a nightmare and has made me quite nervous about using them again in the future. If a property has no staff on-site then I’d like to know before making the booking. As I usually travel alone, it’s important to me to know that I’m safe, or that help is available if I don’t feel safe. And this was just not the case. And there’s no excuse for the rude / unresponsive / shady / dodgy staff I dealt with at the Synagogue View / Astorian Apartment.

Anyway, rant over. Let’s just say that I’m not planning to go away again for a while. And that when I do, I won’t be booking a room with a mezzanine.

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