Three buddies went on a hunting trip and drew straws to see who’d take the first turn cooking. First one to complain has to take over. Harley drew the short straw, but was a lousy cook, so he wasn’t worried. Jack and Phil wolfed down canned beans with a smile. Next day, burnt grilled cheese. When they slurped soupy mush without complaint Harley had to act or be doomed to permanent KP duty. In the woods he found a pile of moose turds and baked them into a pie. When his buddies tried it, they gagged. “This tastes like shit,” said Jack, adding quickly, “Good though.”
Last fall my sister Constance and I went to France.
Constance is thrifty and booked us bargain lodging. I’ve stayed in youth hostels and have rolled out a sleeping bag on a stranger’s porch once or twice (but don’t tell my kids). I confess–I prefer a private bathroom and wi fi, and am willing to pay the price. But if you don’t cook, you can’t complain about the grub.
In St. Malo we stayed at The Hotel Bar Restaurant. It must’ve been a chain, because we stayed at several places with the same name. It was a long walk to the old town and the beach. The halls smelled like smoke and stale beer. At night the hall lights went off automatically and we never did find the switches, which made bathroom trips exciting. As for decor, let’s not even go there. Really.
We went to the Tourist Info Center and booked a new place in the Old Town. It didn’t cost much more, and it included wi fi and a private toilet!
It’s a good thing my sister and I are so close, because it was very close quarters! But we were content–it was clean, and close to the beach.
We enjoyed St. Malo…
We saw great museums…
… lovely countryside…
…and met interesting characters along the way.
Paris, our last stop, was pricey. But Con booked us a bargain weeks in advance, no refunds allowed. The day before we arrived, she looked it up on Trip Advisor. I heard little whimpers coming from her side of the room. According to reviews, our place was in the Red Light District. Eleven storeys, no elevator. Shared bath down the hall. No one at the desk before 4PM or after 11PM; lose your key after hours and you’re in trouble. Con was mortified, especially about the Red Light thing, and so apologetic. It’s okay, I said. It’s probably not that bad. We won’t lose our key, and we don’t want to walk around after dark in this neighborhood anyway. Besides, I assured her, If someone books for me, I’m not going to gripe about the grub.
We arrived early and checked out the neighborhood. It was that bad; people in sleeping bags living in the phone booths.
We walked up and down the block twice before we saw it. This place was named Hotel, quite a comedown even from The Hotel Bar Restaurant.
Perhaps we missed it the first time because we were distracted by the neighbors.
Lots of interesting neighbors!
As we waited at a cafe for the office to open I had to reassure Con many times.
Inside The Hotel it was dark and seedy. But our room was only one flight up from the street, it had a private bathroom…
…and an interesting view.
This will do fine! I told Con.
She registered while I attended to my own bottom line, and it had nothing to do with price. I pulled back the sheets and checked the mattress. Jeepers creepers! The bedbugs were having a party. The mattress was crawling with them! In my frenzied clearing of luggage from off the bed (lest we pick up hitchhikers) I forgot to snap a close-up of the jamboree. When Con returned, I showed her how to check for bedbugs, for future reference. (Yes. I’ve had experience, but that’s another story.)
When we asked for our money back, the clerk offered us another room. Merci no! If one room is infested, they might all be. They had to be aware of the infestation and were renting the room anyway; the maid couldn’t have missed them (and their feces) unless she’d never changed the sheets. The clerk woke her boss. He took one look at the middle-aged lady waving a ziploc baggy with a bedbug in it, and paid her off.
We got our money back, but it was getting dark, and we were in Paris without a hotel for the night. We went to the Bagelstein cafe, which offered free wifi for ladies (woo hoo!). We whipped out our laptops to conduct a mad search for a decent hotel. Con was looking for Budget. I was looking for No Bedbugs. And then I saw it. The One. It cost four times as much as the one we’d just escaped, and they had a vacancy. We booked it all the way across town to a hotel with a NAME.
This one’s name was Fred. No kidding!
The bathroom could’ve been rented as a studio apartment. The heated towel rack, backlit headboard, terry cloth robes and souvenir slippers were a bonus. I checked the mattress. I always do, even at five star hotels. (As I said, that’s another story, and I might tell it to you one day, after two glasses of fine white wine.) This I can tell you…
Ooh la la! Fred made us both very happy that night in Paris.
It’s nice to be polite. But if someone sets a piece of Moose Turd Pie on the table in front of you, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it.
All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.