26 June 2016

Weirdest places ever slept....the end?

Writing up the odd places I've slept one of the themes I didn't realize was there was being cheap (okay, maybe I knew that one was there) and the other is not enough planning. So we like to play it by ear or the planner of the pair didn't have time or whatever? No big deal, sometimes. This story, however, was planned but still surprised us.

We were on our way to a cruise for a significant anniversary...but that's another story. The thing is it left out out of Stockholm, Sweden where we had never been. We decided to go in a couple nights early so there would be no worries about missing the boat, literally, and we could take in the sites of a city we'd never visited. 

Turns out when you go north in Europe the prices increase as you go. At least from our southern European living perspective. The hotels were crazy expensive. So we turned to a b and b site. My impression from the brief description was that it was in the center of the city (bonus) and was a spa (bonus). And the price came down from never mind money to 'well, I guess it's only a couple nights' kind of money.

We booked it. Flew in. Did I mention the 10 day cruise? So imagine the suitcase size when you are dragging that many changes of clothes with you. I know travel light etc. But the cruise...

So we have carry on backpacks plus hip high roller bags. We manage the train to our stop with limited anger and sweat. We arrive at night in the party central area of Stockholm. We walk and walk and walk. We CANNOT find this place. Of course tensions are rising so what is not fun already is turning ugly quickly. 

Finally we agree one will stay with the luggage and one will go find the destination. We've called the proprietor several times who seems to be in a bar with his blokes and yells various things and says just let him know when we are at the door and he will pop over and let us in.

Somewhere around 11pm we find it. It's the upstairs of another business in a nondescript building. The spa of the internet is the "Human Being Center" on arrival. This tickles us because it's not bad English but the connotation has some sci-fi aspect to it.

So our buddy comes over and lets us in. Turns out the spa is based on the fact that he and his partner have a front room converted for yoga classes and the room we are sleeping in also has a massage table. The spa bath is down the hall and we all share it. 

It is an amazing huge bathroom nicely re-done. Beautiful. A tub for two and separate shower, washing machine, two sinks. It's enormous. Did I mention it is down the hall and shared? Not uncommon but for over $100 I was thinking I'd have a bathroom so I wasn't really prepared.

Before our new proprietor leaves he explains about the honor system on the raw food shelf. If we want breakfast we buy it and eat it out of the healthy packages that the raw food comes in. So my entire definition of  b and b has altered substantially suddenly -- that second b may not necessarily be breakfast. 

We got ready for bed and were just coming back to our room when he came home with his girl and asked if they could have dibs on the double tub or were we going to use it? Uh, no. No one was dirty or anything. But it's just the idea that it'd almost be like 4 in the tub if we got in later. Just couldn't do it.

The apartment was Scandinavian white, the bed squished up against the wall was comfortable and the massage table made a handy place to sort your clothes out. It was just not your regular stay somewhere. We were in the center of the city and had a nice time exploring and a delightful place down the block had a delish breakfast of all kinds of non-vegan stuff (it was a beautiful cafe like a magazine). We had a great time. We paid  what for us is a LOT for the Human Being experience but it was cheaper than the "real" hotels.

We can never go back to Stockholm because of a problem with the train system where they catch tourists without proper tickets and give them enormous unmerciful fines. We appealed and got no response nor did we pay the 300€ per person fine so we can never go back, well at least to be on the safe side. Fugitives again, but I digress.

One of my philosophies on trips where you go to see things is that the hotel is only for sleeping so it doesn't have to be high end as long as it's clean. I will not blog about the two hotels I've stayed in that caused me to go to the car and get a scarf to cover the pillow. As I'm getting older, I'm beginning to appreciate the idea of a trip to relax rather than see the entire region. In this case, I'm going to become a connoisseur of the nice hotel for the relaxing side of that equation. Some day. Or maybe when my budget catches up to me.

05 June 2016

Weirdest places ever slept....part 5 Chambres

When we are young, we are brave about cheap travel. Or we were anyway. Or we didn't know anything else. 

I'd never left the country when we committed to a two year over seas volunteer gig. As most volunteer things go, funds were tight but we weren't going to sit in apartment in Belgium without looking around.

We discovered that people in France advertise a sort of off the books place to stay by putting signs on the side of the road that said, "Chambre" -- room.

We set off on a weekend trip. The destination I believe was Mont St Michel. We'd heard of it's amazing beauty and set out in a rental car from Brussels. If you haven't put it on your list, it's definitely something to see. An island with a Monastery on top preserved in all its medieval-ness. The water gets very far out at low tide and people can be fooled that it is not coming back. When the tide comes in, it is at a crazy fast speed and people have been caught in a bad way. Seems like we heard tell of ghosts and such.

So we tootled down the French coast. We stopped  in Le Havre a site mentioned in the Henry V play of Shakespeare, after a real life battle event. We enjoyed the coastal towns where Brittany and Normandy change hands on the sea. We spent the afternoon in Deauville and chose a country road with the debate of where to say on everyone's lips. We saw one of these hand scrawled "chambre" signs in rough cardboard. We were far from anything at this point and turned down the small dirt track.

We arrived at a delightful real life farm. Something from a PBS television show with a big dirt patio in front of a wood shingled farm house. A lady took us upstairs showed us several rooms all very homey and country farm but somehow French. Not fancy at all but they had a certain rustic charm. They weren't prepared to do a meal for us but pointed us down the road to a little cafe-bar.

At that little bar, there was no English and they thought we were a great circus act sent to entertain them as I imagine we were. I had the most memorable steak of my life that night. We'd saved on the room and splurged on the food but even so we were in the country and it was comparatively cheap. (Always eat local when you can.)

So far nothing weird, right? You are correct. We went further down the coast to Mont St Michel and as is a common factor in our stories, we didn't know somewhere there was a holiday or event or something. So we could not stay on the Mont. Too bad because it was beautiful but also no vacancies. We set out across the country nearby with our new found confidence in chambres. We found a sign. This time it was just a modern walk up house. We'd already left our friends in the desperate search for rooms elsewhere, so of course we took what they offered. A paneled spare bedroom at the top of the not cherished house decorated a la 1975, crochet blanket included. The salle de bain was in a nook downstairs off the kitchen where the dining table sat.

While we made these arrangements in stumbling French with the lady proprietor and her cigarette, a couple of surly young men (teens?) were playing a video game or watching television in the dark salon behind her. No big deal we all have our own rooms right. We later realized how far this room arrangement was to the toilet and that for our convenience they had put a chemical camp toilet in the corner of our paneled bedroom. Not curtained off, just sitting there.

When we'd come in quite late from the explorations of the dimly lit stone ambiance of Mont St Michel, those men, guys, dudes, were still in the livingroom and didn't acknowledge us coming in. Weird.

A few hours later I awoke, with a need to go to the loo. I'd not been counting on strange housing arrangements and hadn't brought a robe. The urge was great, the need to get back to sleep intense. The odd dudes lurking in the salon flashed in my mind's eye. I gave in to the chemical toilet.

The odd plastic echo sound however woke my significant other who couldn't figure out what the sound was. So he turned on a flashlight and shown it around the room much to the audible horror of both of us. I can still hear my best friend laughing as I tell this story.

Coming down to do ablutions in the morning a table full of even more surly young men perched in the kitchen eating cereal -- silently. Quite a contrast to the sunny farm kitchen and bowls of chocolate and croissants that we'd had at the last chambre. It was my significant other's turn to make people wonder what the sounds near by might be as he'd waited to use the real toilet.

Okay one more chambre on another trip: Not sure where we'd been but it was just the two of us and we were on our way back to Brussels but still in France. We followed a chambre sign on small road. It was a farm perhaps not charming but a reasonable looking place. We talked to the man the price was good. I don't remember if we'd agreed already to stay or if we were taking a look. The man in the wellington plastic boots marched us away from the farm and down a field path. Our own bungalow perhaps?

As we walked I explained to him in my budding French, we are Americans from Kansas City. He said to me, "Well I don't speak American." Yes, he used the French word for American, not English. He was weathered and hard beaten and a smoker with a rough voice. He'd understood me though so big bonus. Pat on the back dor my French. So I said, we live in Belgium. Farmer said, "And I don't speak Belge." Negating the French speaking population with a swat of his hand. Alright-y then.

The "bungalow" turned out to by one of those tiny trailers (caravans) the size of car, anchored in a field. It was not redecorated other than it had clean linens. It smelled as if it had been moldering in the field a good many years for unsuspecting tired tourists to come along.

Another theme in our stories - well, we were tired (or it was late) and we didn't know where else to go...so we slept in the yellow stinky trailer aka "chambre."