Travel tips, part 4, or how not to select a hotel

Posted in Travel at 16:03 by RjZ

I am a frugal traveller. Even when on a business trip, I try to spend the company money as if it were my own. But sometimes, a little tired after traveling, your judgement gets cloudy. All you want is a safe place to sleep. Just the same, it pays to pay attention to your surroundings. If I had done so, I might have gotten a bit more sleep before my business meeting the following day.

My meeting in Paris was rather early in the morning, so I drove down the night before from my home in Weert, in the south of Holland. It’s about six hours drive with traffic. Upon arriving on the outskirts of Paris I decided that the driving had taken its toll and that I needed to find a hotel. I didn’t want to add an extra hour to my trip driving round and round on the peripherique in Paris, so I pulled off the autoroute in a suburban village north of Paris.

I don’t like chain hotels or restaurants much. There’s no adventure in them and little character. So I decided to stop at a certain small hôtel with a neon sign and a café attached. There was only on street parking but it was a small enough village that finding something wasn’t too much of a struggle. Knowing whether or not my car would be there the next morning was another concern, but I pressed on.

It was before dusk, around 7 pm and the hôtel didn’t seem to have a reception area, so I wandered into the café, which turned out to be more of a dark bar where a few locals were hovering over their glasses and smoking. One older gentleman lazily raised his eyes to mine and asked in French what I wanted with a voice that also asked why was I disturbing him. “A room in the hotel,” I responded in strained French. He seemed to sneer at me a bit and spoke quickly to the barmaid.

She approached me and spoke but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I asked again, if they had any rooms. “For tonight?” she asked. I looked around and couldn’t imagine how this place was going to fill up so quickly that she might not have a room, and then repeated, maybe a little indignently, “Yes, one night, tonight.” She shrugged.

The men looked up from the drinks at me and shrugged as well. One of them chuckled. She asked the older gentleman something I couldn’t make out but I understood him as he asked her to show me to a room, a nice one, he said without smiling.

So she led me outside and up what seemed to me to be fire-escape stairs. Stairs on the outside of the building made of metal gratings that rattled as we climbed to the fourth floor. She opened the door to a dingy, but large room with its own bathroom and a view of pigeons and roofs of other buildings. “Eez it OK?” she asked in English. “Fine.”

I went back down to the bar and ordered a baguette sandwich and a beer. The smoking patrons drove me out at an early hour and I returned to my room to watch the sunset over the buildings from the screenless window in my room. A little exhausted, I lay down to go to bed after the sun had set completely and just before dozing off I heard steps climbing the metal stairs outside.

And then it started. I heard the door to the room beneath me open and close and moments later I could hear the springs of a worn bed squeaking rhythmically. Then her moaning, followed by his grunting, followed by her over enthusiastic wailing to crescendo. The bed stopped its complaining and I could hear the murmur of voices and the sound of the sink and toilet flushing.

Well. Hmm. That was exciting! At least my neighbors are having a good time! Oh well, too bad for me, alone on a business trip. I have to get up early anyway, so I’ll just go back to sleep. Except, a half hour later, I heard steps climbing up the stairs again. I heard the bed squeaking. I heard the moaning and grunting and wailing climbing to a crescendo. I heard the murmur of voices, the sink and the flush. Aren’t they a busy couple?

Then, half an hour later the stairs, squeaking, moaning, murmur, sink and flush. Another half an hour later and off we go: the stairs, squeaking, moaning, murmer, sink and flush and on it went, like clockwork every half hour. I couldn’t make out the murmuring after they were done each time, but by this time I could imagine the francs changing hands as they completed their transaction. Surely, you would have noticed a bit sooner than I did. Finally, around 2 am, I started to think dubiously, “maybe they don’t usually rent out these rooms for the whole night.” Perhaps you would have been more observant than I was when everyone shrugged at me as I asked for a room for the whole night. I’m slow. But you know, they were French! How was I to know this wasn’t just some living stereotype of rude Parisians?

Traveling on my own, I’ve continued to stay in some pretty sketchy places. Like I said, I am slow, but, one survives. Still, while I don’t spend my company’s money too extravagantly, I’ll stick with the big hotel chains from now on when I have to wake up fresh the next morning and put on a tie. Entertaining as it was, I’m sure you would too.

Bon nuit!


  1. erin said,

    July 7, 2006 at 8:34

    You might have slept better had you taken advantage of all the hotel had to offer. :)

  2. Aaron said,

    July 8, 2006 at 23:42

    Just think, if you had one of those black light machines that illuminated certain excretions you could have blinded yourself.

    I’m surprised I haven’t heard very more complaining beds in my building.

    a well told story with well-selected details

  3. Hedda said,

    July 10, 2006 at 10:43

    This reminds of the Paulo Coelho book Eleven Minutes. The title is also the total amount of time it’s supposed to take a good prostitute to figure out what the customer needs and how to deliver it. So it could have been worse if it was every eleven minutes. I had a bad experience in Paris as well, when someone walked through my room in the middle of the night, looking for cameras, money and such.

  4. Beth said,

    July 14, 2006 at 20:00

    Well done, Rj. Pretty soon I’ll have to feature you as a guest writer…..


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