It must be admitted I'm not the young traveler I used to be. Used to be I'd find the cheapest digs possible and always carry a large towel with me, for use as a towel but also on occassion a blanket. Never did go so far as to carry my own sheet around, though there were times that would have been nice. I don't like sharing my sleeping space, so I avoided hostels unless I was with friends, going instead for cheapo-but-private, even if the bathroom was down the hall.
It was last Monday day when I found out I was expected to go to this meeting in Paris on Thursday. Fine. But there was this other meeting in Lyon on Wednesday, and I thought it a better idea, instead of getting up horribly early both days (with an exceptionally early meeting here on Friday as well), to just take the train to Paris from Lyon and spend the night there. Good plan.
I've never had a problem finding a hotel in Paris. Sure, sometimes it takes a few tries, and sometimes I have to walk a bit to find something in my price range. But there's always something. Wednesday evening I arrived at 7:30, looking forward to a nice walk, then setting my stuff down, and spending a quiet evening with a book and a glass of wine, just relaxing.
So I set off in the direction of Bastille, skipping the low-end places close to the station and the high-end places scattered about. I walked a bit farther than expected, and turned toward the Latin quarter and on toward the Pantheon, then the Odeon neighborhood with my preferred bookshops. Still nothing. Hmm. No matter. The evening is young and warm and there are plenty of hotels in Paris.
After a detour toward Montparnasse I figure I'm getting far from tomorrow's meeting place, and turn around, taking the metro to a the far side of my starting point. Plenty of hotels around Nation, right? Sure, but still no vacancies. As I walked back toward the Gare de Lyon, checking every hotel on every side street, my standards went down, down, down, just as my price limit kept rising.
Back at the station it's 10 pm and I eat the pear purloined from my buffet lunch. So much for a glass and a book! at this point I just want a shower and bed. At the Ibis on the corner they practically laugh when I ask for a room, and snigger when I inquire whether there might be something, somewhere, anywhere, this is a big chain isn't it? can't you ring up some colleagues for me?
There's a hostel just around the corner from the station, and when I passed it before I did so thinking - no way. No way am I ever staying in a common room or setting foot into the common shower.
I make more enquiries, and consider taking the shuttle out to the airport where there are thousands of rooms. Talking to some more hotel people that the airport is usually full up at this time of night too. What a disaster to go out there and find myself stranded.
Back at the hostel they do have a bed, in a room for three and there's only one other person so far.
I am now so tired and discouraged (mostly discouraged, I have been to a lot of hotels this evening and nobody even had a suggestion of where to go, when usually the concierge will ring up his buddies and find a place down the street. I'd happily walk another half hour if only I knew at the end of it there was a bed for me!) that I take the hostel. Sheet & towel extra, but they're freshly laundered.
Maybe 15 years ago I would have been fine with it. My roommate is a woman my age who missed her train, somebody with a job and kids and a house, not a vagabond traveler looking for somebody else's luggage to pick through. The beds are not very comfortable, but alright. It's terribly hot, past 90°F, so the window is open to the noisy street. The bathroom, er, I go down to the bar on the corner for a cup of tea just for the priviledge of using their bathroom. The shower, well, a shower in the morning is a must. And I must say, the shower on my floor was in much better shape than those on the other floors. Could have been worse. And I did cheat a little by taking my pillowcase and using it as a bathmat. That kind of made it bearable.
I think the hostel experience would have made for a decent night's sleep (the shower was the very last thing in the morning), if only we didn't acquire a third roommate at 1 am. Or if the first roommate didn't have to get up at 4:30. Or if the other one had been able to get back to sleep after that and thus did not attempt to read by flashlight in a miniscule room covered with brilliant-finish paint. When I told her to please stop that, she decided to get up, repack her abundant luggage with its numerous crinkly plastic bags, and then spend an hour in our sink area on the phone to her friends. Hey, chick, there is no insulation here. Can hear every word. I could practically hear what her friends were saying.
I did survive.
I'd better not be doing that again.