Sunday, September 21, 2008

Purgatory, aka "The Etap Hotel"

So, I can’t decide which is worse: watching TV in a country where you can’t understand a damn word they’re saying (e.g. Korea), or watching TV in a country where you can understand about every 4th word, leading to a perpetual state of frustration and brain engagement when you’d rather just be able to relax and watch it mindlessly (making up your own amusing dialogue if you so desire). This debate was raging in my mind last night as I was trying to fall asleep with the TV on (yes, I’m one of *those* people) and my brain just would not LET GO. Of course, it was a dubbed episode of Law & Order SVU, so all the more impetus to try to understand what was going on. (And can I just say that dubbing has to be one of the worst inventions of the 20th century?! Thank god it never caught on in the States.)

Eventually, I had to turn off the TV and focus on falling asleep on my rock-hard hotel bed. Yes, I’m at a hotel in Poitiers right now. The “Etap Hotel”, to be specific. I chose this hotel based on its cheap rate and Wi-Fi access (pronounced WeeFee in French LOL), so it seems unfair that I should be bitching about the rock-hard bed and sleep-away-camp room décor, but I can’t help it. A newly built Motel 6 would put this place to shame. The toilet is like a port-a-potty cabin–and no, that’s not a joke. It also boasts a BUNK BED. I took the lower one, naturally. The top was a twin, and the bottom is almost queen-sized, so it was an easy pick. Still, the hotel’s website didn’t pretend to offer anything other than cheap and basic accommodations, so I’ll just stop my complaining now.

I had a bit of an interesting journey here yesterday on the train from Paris. First, let us remember that I have two enormous 50-pound suitcases to wrangle, plus my heavy backpack and somehow even heavier computer bag. So, Anne drove me to the Montparnasse train station and helped me with my bags. I had bought my ticket online the night before, and supposedly all I had to do was go to a conveniently automated kiosk to print it out once I got to the station. Well, I think we all know how that was going to end up. Naturally, it wouldn’t read my foreign Visa card (despite having a sign that clearly listed Visa as being one of the only credit cards it *would* take). And, without it being able to read the card, it couldn’t validate the purchase and give me the ticket. We weren’t really running late or anything, but it was just that much more stress in my life to be unable to get my $60 ticket to print. After talking to a station employee (who kept saying that the machine wouldn’t take American Express, to which I kept replying, “Ce n’est pas un American Express! C’est un VISA!!” But hey, I guess American=American Express…), we ended up waiting in line at an “Immediate Departures” window to see if an agent could print the ticket for me.

We got in line at a window where there were three people ahead of us, and the electronic sign said the window would be closing in about 10 minutes. But, we felt our chances were good to get in under the wire. It was looking fine until the old lady ahead of us got up to the window. At first, she seemed to be doing something very cut and dried, but once she had her ticket, she suddenly remembered that she had 27 different questions to ask the agent. At this point, the window only had about 5 minutes left on it. I wasn’t too concerned, but the middle-aged lady standing behind us was huffing and puffing with exasperation at this old biddy.

Eventually, Granny finished up her interrogation and waddled off to find her train. As Anne and I stepped up to the window, the agent spoke to the woman behind us and told her (from what I could understand) that the window would be closing very soon, so she should piss off and find another line. She argued back and forth with him for a bit, insisting that she had been waiting several minutes already in *this* line and shouldn’t have to move. But he was having none of it, so she stomped off, cursing him and the granny both. Anne then told the agent about my situation, and he printed off my ticket with no problem (explaining that the machines won’t take foreign cards…something that it wouldn’t hurt for them to put somewhere on their 1. Fucking website and 2. Fucking ticket machines). So, we only used up about 2 minutes of the remaining 5, leaving the agent plenty of time to help the man who was now standing behind us. I didn’t see her, but I imagined that the middle-aged lady was probably watching from a nearby line with smoke coming out of her ears.

Crisis averted, Anne and I went off to find the train track. My train arrived within just a few minutes of getting my ticket, so it all timed out very nicely. I was concerned about getting on ASAP so that I could find a place for my robust luggage. That ended up being a cinch, though, as no one else in my compartment happened to be moving their life to Poitiers that day.

My seat was by the window, thankfully facing the right way (riding backwards makes me nauseous). At first, I was totally alone in this seating block (two seats, with a table and two more seats opposite, so you’re face to face with the person across from you). But, in the long tradition of suffering that is my life, I didn’t remain alone for long. In fact, after I was settled in and starting to eat the delicious packed lunch Anne had made for me (just like my Grandma would…except Anne didn’t also bless the train with Holy Water), this 90 year old near-deaf woman and her bitchy daughter got on the train. Somehow, they didn’t have seats right next to each other. The daughter sat in a window seat in the row behind me, but Grandma Moses was assigned to sit directly across from me. The daughter amused herself by shouting at the old lady in broadly accented French. “Are you hot??” “Are you thirsty??” “Do you want some bread??” Half the time, the woman wasn’t paying attention and had to be prodded by the hot French guy who had taken the seat next to her.

Had I not heard them speaking French, I would have actually thought this old woman was Italian. She had the hook nose, hunched back, and caved-in toothless mouth of a woman whose husband— Giovanni, probably—died in WWII. Or WWI, possibly. She was *that* old.

So, Grandma Moses and I sat Roman nose to Roman nose for an hour and a half. Thankfully, she slept most of the way, and I ignored her with the help of my iPod. It really is disconcerting to be so near, and face-to-face, with a total stranger. We exchanged a few small smiles when she first got on the train, especially when the hottie sat next to her (her smile had a hint of “I might be old, but I could teach him things he never learned in school!”), and I did say “Bonjour!” when she first sat down. I, however, was not eager to give away my foreign status, so I sat mostly mum for the whole journey.

Eventually, the train pulled into the station at Poitiers, and I scrambled to retrieve my massive amount of luggage. Thankfully, there was a spry young man standing right by the baggage area, and I was able to beg him in my nicest schoolgirl French to help me take my two suitcases off the train. And by help, I mean he did it for me. :-) So, I was soon through the station and off to the taxi stand, where I managed to acquire a taxi driven by an exceptionally ripe French grandpa. I literally had my head practically hanging out the window for the whole drive to the hotel, just so I could breathe some fresh air. Still, he loaded my heavy bags into the cab for me, and helped me lift them up the few stairs at the front of my hotel, for which he definitely earned the 5 Euro tip I gave him.

And now I’m at the Etap Hotel, much further away from the city center than I had thought. This means that last night I had nowhere to eat but the restaurant at the hotel next door. It’s a steakhouse, so it could be worse. I ventured over there last night after carefully scrutinizing the menu that was left in my hotel room. I had thankfully been able to ask Anne a few menu-clarifying questions when she called me that evening. (“What the hell is “Steak dans le hampe??”…turns out it’s just a regular and cheap cut of steak). The dinner was pretty good, and didn’t cost me an arm and a leg. About $15 for a steak, baked potato, salad, apple tart, and coffee. This was their “Petite Grill” menu. I love the European way of buying a “menu” that includes everything for one price. Anyway, it was tasty and economical.

This morning, I had the hotel’s continental breakfast buffet. It was OK, but not overwhelmingly satisfying. There’s just something about having bacon and hashed browns for breakfast that will always leave me disappointed with cereal and yogurt. Anyway, desperate for more protein, I decided to take a walk in search of a grocery store that might somehow be open on a Sunday (it’s decidedly rare for *anything* to be open on a Sunday here). In addition to which, I couldn’t face spending the morning in my padded cell, uh, I mean hotel room. So, I walked down the mostly industrial stretch of road near my hotel for about 15-20 minutes before I got to this big supermarket that was miraculously open. It was pretty chilly, so at that point, I was just happy to be able to go indoors for a bit.

As luck would have it, this was a full-on grocery store with a section of household-type goods (kind of like a Target or Wal-Mart, but smaller). I was able to buy a street map of Poitiers, as well as various and sundry food products that wouldn’t be too heavy to lug all the way back to the hotel. I was quite pleased with myself, I don’t mind saying, especially after the front desk chick had told me that no stores would be open anywhere near the hotel. When I walked in the door of the hotel to find her vacuuming the hallway, I wanted to put my grocery bag right in her face and say, “What? Did you think I couldn’t walk that far?? Eat it!” But, I refrained.

Now it’s just a matter of killing time until I hunt down the university lady tomorrow morning who will hopefully be able to release me from this hotel prison. And, just like in a prison, I’m getting totally screwed. The Wi-Fi that the hotel boasted about (albeit vaguely) on their website is charged for by the fucking MINUTE. .25 cents/minute!! I have hardly heard anything more ridiculous than that in my life. I thought $15/24 hours at the hotel in Chicago was expensive…good grief. So, needless to say, I won’t be online much between now and when I get the hell out of here. My apologies to those who have tried to Skype me!

OK, I’ve written just about as much as possible, and it’s only 3:00 in the afternoon on Sunday. Lord let this time pass with exceeding swiftness…

No comments:

Post a Comment