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.