Ryan had used the many miles he’d accumulated traveling for work to buy us two round trip tickets to Paris. We were flying business class and only had to pay the taxes on our tickets. Oo la la.
I’d spent a couple of disastrous months as an au pair in a charming city near Versailles at the age of 21. It’s a long story, but suffice to say the only joy of the experience came from weekend visits to Paris. I’d long wanted to return under different circumstances, with a partner, and with the benefit of adult means.
We were all set with logistics. Ryan had booked us in a hotel that had received rave reviews on Trip Advisor.
I set out to research all we should eat, drink, shop, and see. I collected literary passages tied to key places (The Beats and 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur, Julia Child and Les Deux Magots, Hemingway and Shakespeare & Co, Zazie and Le Metro), traced maps, made flexible itineraries, booked reservations. It was practically all I could think about!
We arrived in Paris on Wednesday, December 7th in the evening. Ryan had booked a car to take us from Charles de Gaulle to the hotel. It took another two hours to get into the heart of the city but the moon was full and we could watch it through the moonroof. It was raining – a good sign because, as Audrey Hepburn tells Humphrey Bogart in the movie Sabrina:
“This is what you do on your very first day in Paris. You get yourself, not a drizzle, but some honest-to-goodness rain, and you find yourself someone really nice and drive her through the Bois de Boulogne in a taxi. The rain’s very important. That’s when Paris smells its sweetest. – It’s the damp chestnut trees.”
Arriving at our hotel, the courtyard, with its tiny Christmas lights was as picturesque as it looked in the photos on their website. The interior of the lobby was tiny, the elevator tinier, but this was Europe. Then I stepped inside our room and my heart sunk. The room was almost as small as the elevator. The bed, which was merely a double, had two hard small excuses for pillows. There were no night-stands. I took a deep breath and decided not to say anything because how often does one get to Paris? I’m lucky to have traveled internationally at all – let alone several times, and with my partner.
But the bathroom shower, while it looked clean, smelled like a high school boy’s locker room. There was some gross bodily fluid or other on the wall next to the toilet. The spare blanket in the closet was covered in hair. There was nowhere to plug in Ryan’s CPAP. It reminded me of places I stayed when I took a tour of Europe at age 14. It reminded Ryan of places he’d stayed while traveling through Europe at 23.
Were we too tired to see the charm? Were we too grown-up to stay in such a place? Were we being too snooty by thinking that maybe we were too adult to stay in such a place? How much would we end up spending by moving to another hotel? Could we rally and move then and there – or should we spend the night and think on it?
That our jet-lagged minds could even form questions at what was now after 9:00pm Paris-time and over 15 hours of travel was of surprise. While I sat there having a muddled debate in my head about privilege, our current finances and our known expenses for the coming year, my husband quietly pulled out his iPhone and booked us for a week at the Westin Vendome. Ryan for the win.
Down the stairs we went. We fully intended to pay for the first evening and just eat the cost. But this was Paris, and apparently checking out of a hotel isn’t always so easy.
“You can’t check out. You’ve booked a week. And if you don’t like the room, that’s not our fault. You picked it.”
“You misrepresented it online. We’d like to pay for tonight and cancel the rest of our stay.”
The receptionist picked up the phone, called the manager, and handed the receiver to Ryan who was told that we could not cancel our reservation because it’s just not done and that – -
“It’s your fault. That’s not a good room.”
We were offered the chance to see other, presumably “better” rooms but had no interest. If you offer rooms in your hotel that even you think aren’t up to par then why the hell would we think that anything else would be better?
We asked what the cancellation policy was and the manager, sensing a losing battle, pulled a figure out of his ass. Before I could argue further, Ryan paid it and we left. (It turns out there is no official cancellation policy on their website and we are American suckers.)
So please now picture us, exhausted, rallying to drag our suitcases through Paris at night (though also invigorated after our first Very French cultural encounter) trying to avoid dog poop (which Parisians en masse refuse to pick up) and finally arriving at the beautiful Westin hotel to find ourselves much, much happier. Twice the price is apparently also infinitely more comfortable.
We made a pact that this comfort would be our Christmas gift to each other. Sealed it with a fist bump. And finally fell asleep.
Bon Noël à nous!