Expo offers a night to remember
Switzerland's national exhibition in Neuchâtel offers special accommodation to suit wannabe Indians, train spotters and the just plain rich.
Whether you choose to stay in the teepee village, train or module hotel, you will not be given a key to your room.
There is no lock on any of the teepee entrances which are made of heavy-duty canvas and weighed down with a wooden pole. The train converted into a youth hostel offers a little more security, since each of its compartments has a locking switch accessible only from the inside.
For the ultimate in security, the exclusive rooms at the module "Palafitte" hotel only open if they recognise their guests' fingerprints. But it comes at a price - between SFr700 ($467) and SFr800 a night!
Whether you are on a low budget or willing to throw caution - not to mention the contents of your wallet - to the wind, Neuchâtel has set a new standard for alternative accommodation.
I stayed at the teepee village, where families can hire a teepee for themselves for just under SFr200 a night, or take a bed in a dormitory - or tribal - teepee, for SFr40 (half as much for children). Breakfast is not included.
The aim of the teepee village, managed by the Expo organising committee, is to provide additional accommodation that is affordable, functional and clean.
There is little decoration, no playground for children and no central campfire to draw people together in the evening. The reason, I was told, is to ensure the teepee village does not compete with the Expo attractions, which lie a 15-minute walk away along the lakeshore.
It was not difficult to find the Neuchâtel youth hostel, even though I had never been there. Built onto the tracks at the city's main railway station, the "expo.sleeper" consists of four carriages on loan from Germany's federal railways.
A sleeping berth in one of the couchettes costs only SFr30, including breakfast. The compartments are clean, if not particularly spacious, and there is none of the noise and rattle usually associated with sleeping on a train: after all, this is a train you board only after it has reached its final destination.
The expo.sleeper also has one big advantage over the teepee village for people travelling by train to the national exhibition - they do not have far to go to drop off their bags. The Expo grounds are only a few minutes walk from the station, where a funicular also runs down to the main exhibition entrance.
I next paid a visit to the luxury Palafitte hotel, located a little further along the lakeshore from the budget teepees. Once I found the right exit off the motorway, a valet did the rest.
Hotel staff keep a permanent lookout for arriving guests, who they recognise by car type and licence plate. After a fingerprint scan at the front desk, the weary and wealthy traveller is whisked by golf cart the few dozen metres to his or her module room.
The exclusive rooms are not only exquisite in design but also offer state-of-the-art comfort and entertainment. The more expensive rooms are built directly above the lake, supported by pillars.
A gate on each balcony converts into a ladder which can be lowered into the water by those wanting to take a refreshing dip in the lake. Less ambitious guests can stay in bed and control their world with the latest in remote controls and wireless Internet pads.
A selection of DVD films can be viewed on a plasma screen or guests can choose from a range of classical music CDs. The smart pads also operate the blinds, the lights and offer a virtual tour of the hotel - just in case getting out of bed proves too difficult.
In fact, I found it easy to understand why many guests at the Palafitte hotel might be tempted to forego a visit to Expo altogether.
by Dale Bechtel
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