They say it's not where you're going that matters, but how you get there. In MT's case, we had a really rather jolly time travelling First Class (oo err!) on the East Coast service from London's Kings Cross. We fear we've been spoiled for any other mode of rail travel now, unfortunately. Not only were we presented with bacon butties just a few short minutes after taking our seats, but the endless stream of juice, tea, coffee and other refreshments left us barely able to extract our corpulent selves from our spacious seats when we arrived promptly at Newcastle station two hours and 45 minutes later.
Not that all MT did on the journey was eat and drink, of course. In First Class, working on the move is a doddle: passengers get access to a pretty speedy free wi-fi connection - and a power point if your laptop runs out of battery mid Big Bang Theory. Ahem, we mean in the middle of working on that PowerPoint presentation...
After arriving in style, we decided to hop on the Metro to travel the few short stops to the Sandman Signature Hotel. The journey takes about 13 minutes, which is a just enough time to wake up after your long snooze on the train but not quite long enough to fall back to sleep again.
The Sandman is in a pretty nifty spot for your average business traveller. It's in a central location, right by the Metro, with plenty to see, and places to eat and drink nearby. And for avid football fans, the Newcastle United Football Club Stadium is less than a five minute walk away.
Check-in was swift. In fact, MT wouldn't have minded tarrying a while. The Sandman lobby is highly unusual, with a surreal assortment of seating options - including a glass seat in the shape of a bowl [pictured left] dangling from the ceiling (we weren't quite brave enough to sit in the thing). There was also a magnificent horse-come-lampshade to stare at, should a queue have formed [pictured right]. It was to MT's utter disappointment that no one attmepted to mount the beast during our stay.
Decor aside, the Sandman lobby also has a bar offering free tea, coffee, biccies and - especially for the season - mulled wine for the hotel's guests. This last proved very restorative after a long day, warming cockles and cold fingers at once.
As for the rooms themselves, MT's was very comfortable [pictured left] with a king-size bed, telly, and even your own little kitchen for self-catering. 'A kettle and fridge do not make a kitchen', you cry. Well, we kid you not, there was a microwave too. The ensuite was clean and featured a decent shower (no bath) with two settings. The first was the standard adjustable shower head that you could point at whichever bit of yourself you wished to clean. MT named the second, 'the rainforest storm'. It was an overhead plate that splashed water down, rather like rain on a tropical island.
Our only complaints were that the door to the bathroom didn't quite close. Fine for guests travelling solo but no couple needs to spoil the intimacy of a hotel stay by ear-wigging each other's ablutions. The air conditioning was also quite loud, so light sleepers beware. MT just turned it off and found the temperature to remain perfectly comfortable, despite the plunging temperatures outside.
After a very comfortable night's sleep, breakfast was served at the Shark Club next door. The Shark Club is the Sandman's night spot. Due to time constraints, we were denied the pleasure of samplng the delights (liquid and audio) of the Shark Club. Next time... But MT was very impressed that not a trace of tequila remained in the air when we tucked into the substantial buffet that ran the gamut from full English to cereal, fresh fruit, rolls and pastries, and yogurt.
All in all, a very pleasant stay in a central location. And affordable too: rates start at £89.99 for the Corporate King Studio. MT reckons it would go back again. Especially if there was a decent game on at the stadium. And definitely for the mulled wine...
MT travelled to Newcastle by train with East Coast’s First Class business service, which includes complimentary food and drinks and Wi-Fi throughout the journey. First Advance returns from London to Newcastle, booked online at www.eastcoast.co.uk , start from £89. Times and fares also on 08457 225225 or from staffed stations and rail travel agents.