March 9th, 2013

Choosing a hotel can be a tricky endeavor, as I’m sure all of you know. Your business with them is so intimate, you want someplace to take your clothes off and sleep and shower, and yet there’s no real way of knowing what you’re going to find until you arrive. There have been a few times, now, where I’ve flown into a place, gotten into a taxi, given the driver the address and had him turn around and say to me, “Are you sure you want to go there?” But at that point, what’s the option? So I’ve only ever said yes and just nervously moved forward with the plan I made online.

My favorite of those times was in Podgorica, Montenegro. I found a place online, somehow. Whoever was responding to my emails was kind and welcoming, their website was pleasant and, knowing nothing about Podgorica, I arrived by train and found a taxi to take me to this hotel. “Are you sure?” the driver asked. Which was unusually unnerving because it was my first time in the Balkans and all I really understood about where I was, was that it was different from any other place I had ever been before. “Umm, yes,” I said. And so he drove, and he kept driving, and then he drove some more.

I soon realized that his hesitation was, at least partly, because the place I had found was way outside of the city. We arrived, finally, midway up a craggy little hill, at a small, modern-ish building, with no sign, right on top of a gorge. I wondered if there had been some miscommunication, if this really was even a hotel at all, and the driver was already nervous about bringing me there, so we agreed that he would wait while I went in. But I found very friendly, warm people who had been expecting me, so I took a deep breath and sent my driver away.

And so it was that I accidentally spent a night in the Montenegrin countryside. Meals were served under a tarp, overlooking the river. The only other guests were a group of Turkish day laborers who showed up sometime between lunch and dinner. I had hiked down to the river and was sitting, quietly admiring the place and how I had gotten to it, when around 15 of them showed up and started diving in, yelling and splashing and throwing a ball around. They talked to me, showed me their little bits of English and their sketchy diving tricks and I felt so far away from anything I had known before, and so lucky.

And the next day I got back in a taxi and went to someplace full of people I knew and things that had been chosen for me and I was more comfortable and so grateful for my accidental vacation from that comfort.

March 5th, 2013

I’ve had a request for a funny hotel story. The problem is that the funniest story I know of about staying in a hotel didn’t happen to me and try as I may to think of an experience of my own that matches this one, I feel my fingers being pulled, as if this keyboard were a Ouija board, to tell a story about my brother.

My brother, to set the stage a bit, has been a sleepwalker his whole life. As kids we shared a room and it was one of the great pleasures of my childhood to watch him wander, in his blissful somnambulance, around our room, sometimes out of it. It was an odd little bit of magic in our house.

The differences between a random hotel room somewhere in the Midwest and the cozy safety of a childhood home, however, are vast. And when you’re sharing a room with a buddy, instead of your insomniac older sister, and the two of you have been out drinking, the chances that that guy’s going to be watching lovingly as you get up, in only your underwear, for a slumbering stroll, are smaller. So it was that my little brother awoke, in the middle of the night, to find himself in a generic and unfamiliar stairwell, in his boxers. And once the shock of the awakening had passed and he had re-placed himself in the world, then he had to face the realization that he had passed through not one, but two, doors without a key. He was locked into the stairwell.

Of course, as you know, it’s not actually possible to get locked into a stairwell in a hotel. Fire safety and all. You can always go down to the first floor. I feel bad for how much I love the idea of my little brother showing up at the front desk of this hotel, in only his boxers, asking for a key to his room. I wonder how long it took him to accept that this was what he was going to have to do. Did he hang his head, or hold it high? Did they ask for ID? Poor guy!

Maybe now I can think of my own funny or embarrassing stories, now that I’ve unblocked the valve. How about you? What’s your funniest, or most awkward hotel story?