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."

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