Naughty Bilingual Sign In Tallinn Airport, Estonia

I think I’m going to like Estonia …

This country of 1.3 million people only has a little more than 900,000 people who speak Estonian as their native language yet they’re confident enough with their national tongue to make a bilingual joke right as you enter the airport in the capital city of Tallinn.

Language was politics in the old Soviet republics, and for the long decades during which Estonia was part of the Soviet Union the people had to learn Russian. Many also learned Finnish through TV stations broadcast from Helsinki that were never jammed (more on that story later in the series) while English was something few people ever learned. Now all the younger generation is learning English and it’s easy to get by without knowing any Estonian.

A lack of Estonian, of course, doesn’t lessen the impact of this sign!

Check out this new series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Video: ten filthy hotel rooms as reviewed by travelers

When it comes to hotel reviews, most people will only take the time to review bad experiences. Sites like TripAdvisor are full of horror stories from filthy hotel rooms around the world. And thanks to these reviews, we get a yearly lineup of the dirtiest hotels in America.

Thankfully, not all complaints are text-only, plenty of travelers take to YouTube to upload their own dirty hotel reviews. We’ve collected ten of the funniest, starting with a hotel in Layyoune, Western Sahara seen above.

A visit of a “dirty and disgusting hotel” in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

The “worst extended stay deluxe hotel in all of Austin”

Hotel Carter in New York City – voted dirtiest hotel in 2009 by TripAdvisor and visited by our very own Mike Barish.

Amsterdam Dump – with a shower right above the toilet. Talk about efficency.

How to make comedy funny? Add the Benny Hill theme song. How to make a bad hotel funny? Add the Fawlty Towers theme song!

Water from the ceiling out of a shower head = good. Water from the ceiling without a shower head = bad.

Kitchen – shower – bathroom. What is missing here? How about a door?

Guest at a five star hotel films his bedbug infested bed. Itchy yet?

Something you don’t hear in most hotel room reviews: “Lauren almost wet herself when the refrigerator door fell on my feet and cracked a tile”.

Photo of the Day (7.25.10)

Even animals like to keep clean. It’s something that this elephant, captured by Flickr user Gus NYC, has clearly taken to heart. Gus caught this wonderful candid moment in Chiang Mai, Thailand just as this pachyderm was enjoying a good soak along with its keeper. The splash of water caught mid-stream and the elephant’s relaxed pose are both humorous and eye-catching.

Have any great photos from your travels? Why not share them with us by adding them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Report lists America’s most polluted beaches

On Tuesday, the Natural Resources Defense Council released its annual Testing the Waters report, which lists the most polluted beaches at the country’s oceans, lakes and bays.

The worst offenders have been on the list for several years, with contamination levels exceeding national standards anywhere from 60% to 90% of the time. The top beaches for contamination include Shired Island, Florida; Kings at Stacy Brook, Massachusetts; and Joerse Park in Indiana.

The report lists the number of days that beaches were closed or that contamination warnings were issued. This year’s number, 20,000, is one of the highest in the 19-year history of the report. The full report also shows how often each beach checks its contamination level. While the majority perform checks every day, others lack the funds and only check the water a few times a week, so contamination levels may actually be higher than reported at some beaches.

The biggest culprit of beach pollution: stormwater run-off and poorly designed sewage systems. For those of you as grossed out as I am right now, don’t worry. The report also lists the beaches that are the cleanest.



UPDATE: Inside the Dirtiest Hotel in the United States

Two weeks ago, I told you about TripAdvisor’s list of the Dirtiest Hotels in the United States. And this morning I broke the news that I was going to be giving you a firsthand look at the dirtiest hotel of all, the Hotel Carter. Well, that’s exactly what I intend do to. So wash your hands, grab some Purell, and don’t touch anything, because we’re going inside the Dirtiest Hotel in the United States.

Located on 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue in New York City, the Hotel Carter is, technically, in a great location for tourists who want to visit Times Square and be close to the Theater District. However, it’s also close to the Port Authority and the surrounding area that is known for dive bars, strip clubs and general seediness. In fact, right next door to the Hotel Carter is Cheetahs, which boasts that it is a gentlemen’s club, steakhouse and sushi bar. I guess that would explain the fishy smell.

Walking into the lobby, I was greeted by two doormen who immediately asked to see my room key. When I alerted them that I was checking in, one of the gentleman insisted on escorting me to the front desk. No unregistered guests would be getting into the Hotel Carter, which foiled my plans of having fellow Gadling blogger Jeremy Kressmann and some other friends come over to lend moral support. I checked in at the front desk with two inches of Plexiglas between the desk clerk and me. I slid my reservation confirmation, ID and credit card through the small slit and couldn’t help but wonder if I was in a hotel or a pawn shop. I confirmed with the clerk that no visitors were permitted, so it was clear that I would be on my own.

The lobby is surprisingly huge and well-staffed. There were employees there to help guests make travel arrangements, a gentleman sitting at the “Handicapped Check-In” desk and several other staff members milling about. I got into the elevator and headed to the eighth floor to see what the Hotel Carter’s “single room” had in store for me. For $89 (in New York City), I had low expectations.

Arriving at the lobby, I noticed that the hallway was incredibly depressing. It’s dimly lit, hideously carpeted and way too much of a reminder of The Shining. Had those creepy twins showed up asking me to play with them I would not have been surprised. I would have wet myself, but I would not have been surprised. The carpet was weathered and worn. There was an exposed light bulb on the ceiling. It wasn’t filthy. It was just sad. It began to dawn on me that the Hotel Carter may be the place where dreams go to die.

I found room 812 and was perplexed to find that there was a screen at the top of the door that allowed light and sound to come through. Undeterred, I swiped my key card and entered the room. What I found wasn’t that shocking. It was moribund but it was not shocking. There was a barren and stark room with no artwork, no stylistic flourishes and no personality. Just a king-sized bed, a 19″ television and a solitary chair in the corner. It looked like a room in a psychiatric ward of a hospital. But it didn’t look dirty. It just looked sorrowful.

I was not alone in the Hotel Carter. I know this not only because I saw other guests in the lobby and hallways but because I heard each and every one of them. I heard the people in the hallways. I heard my next door neighbors. I heard my upstairs neighbors. Noise-proofing has clearly never been a priority of the Hotel Carter’s management.

I set to work on learning all I could about the cleanliness of the room. The commenters on TripAdvisor had shared tales of soiled sheets, roaches, mice, bed bugs and much more. Thankfully, I came prepared with my homemade hazmat suit and a UV light. If there were animals or bodily fluids in room 812 of the Hotel Carter, I was going to find them.

I started my investigation with the bed and ran the UV light over the bedspread, sheets and pillows. Remarkably, I saw nothing. No spots, streaks or stains. Undeterred, I pulled the sheets back to see if anyone had left any pubic hairs behind. Again, however, there was nothing to see but white, low thread count sheets. The bed appeared to be clean. I sat down. I laid down. I found the problem with the bed. It was the most uncomfortable mattress ever. Is that a crime against humanity? Absolutely not. Can you sometimes not see bed bugs? I think so. I got up and felt relieved that I had my coveralls on.

I got down on the floor and took a look under the bed. I scanned it with the UV light. I saw nothing. If there was ever a corpse underneath the bed, the carpet has since been replaced.

I decided to move on to the bathroom. Surely it couldn’t be as clean as the bed. While it wasn’t the nightmare that TripAdvisor commenters described, it also wasn’t clean. There was a large brown stain on the floor next to some crusty brown spots. A sweep with the UV light revealed traces of other nefarious liquids that had, at some time, found their way to the tile floor. Above the mirror and the oddly placed toilet paper and towel rack was a dirty vent that seemed to trap all the dust and other particles so that you can savor them. The tub was not much better, as there was a tremendous amount of discoloration on the tiles and grout. I ran the faucets in the sink and the shower. The water ran clear in both but the grimy tile walls of the shower made me feel as if no amount of bathing in that stall could result in cleanliness. Would I go barefoot in this bathroom? Not without getting my tetanus booster.

I ran my gloves over the dresser/nightstand but couldn’t find any dust. What I also couldn’t find were the handles to two of the dresser drawers. They had been removed (or stolen) and not replaced. The two drawers that I could access were empty. No Gideon Bible. No Hotel Carter notepad. No rat feces.

I scanned the floor with the UV light to see how the carpet was holding up. Not surprisingly, there were several spots that showed themselves under the scrutiny of the black light. The highest concentrations were around the bed and outside the bathroom door. Where the walls and floor met, the trim didn’t sit flush on the floor and there were signs of filth. Around this time I was starting to feel uncomfortable having the room light turned off and was feeling a bit claustrophobic.

Needing to feel less confined, I decided to open the curtain. That didn’t help. My view was the other building that was less than two feet away. In fairness, that’s not entirely uncommon in Manhattan. But at the time I found myself pretty disappointed. I needed to see signs of life and I didn’t want to see them inside the room.

The room felt musty. My hazmat suit was not particularly breathable (I blame the shower cap) and I was beginning to feel exhausted. I needed to sleep. I stared at the bed. It appeared clean. It passed the UV test. But in my head, the TripAdvisor comments about bed bugs terrified me. I’d get bites all over my body. I’d bring them home with me and get them in my apartment. I’d have to send all my clothes and linens out to be cleaned while my apartment was subjected to a bug bomb. The thoughts raced through my mind and psyched me out. I couldn’t sleep here.

It was pushing midnight. I packed up my gear, took one more look around at the room filled with nothing but signs of loneliness and shut off the light. I walked down the depressing hallway one last time and tried to think of what this hotel must have seen over the years. The room seemed like the perfect place to commit suicide. I have too much to live for. I had to leave.

The elevator arrived at the lobby, which was still filled with several employees. I dropped my key card in the check out box and noticed the quizzical looks that everyone gave me. They didn’t understand why I was checking out without spending the night. I couldn’t have used the room for a hooker. Their strict “no guests” policy (and my aversion to venereal diseases) assured that. I decided to let them remain perplexed. I figured that I probably wasn’t the first person to use the Hotel Carter for a few hours and then leave mysteriously in the middle of the night. Besides, they’d find the packaging that came with my coveralls and rubber gloves and draw their own conclusions.

So, is the Hotel Carter the dirtiest hotel in the United States? Not from what I could see. It’s unkempt. It needs major renovations including new paint, carpeting, and lighting in both the rooms and the hallways. The bathroom tiles need to be completely replaced along with the vents. But overall, it’s just not that disgusting.

However, it is the single most depressing hotel I have ever been in. In fact, it may be the bleakest place I have ever been. Period. The whole environment is joyless. The wan lighting wears on you after a while. It just makes you sad. The uninterrupted white walls offer no stimuli to keep your mind focused on anything other than the sadness of the room. If there was a sequel to The Shining about a hotel that made you despondent instead of insane, it would be filmed at the Hotel Carter.

All in all, I would not recommend the Hotel Carter. It’s just too miserable. I truly believe that every time someone checks into the Hotel Carter a unicorn dies. And I love unicorns.

Check out my Hotel Carter Gallery below while I take a shower and try to find a reason to smile again.