When you have unlimited places on your travel wish-list but limited funds with which to make it all happen, something usually has to be compromised.
I have backpacked in many countries and never had a problem bunking down in even the grubbiest of hostels. I hardly batted an eye lid when I had to sleep next to several live chickens in boxes on an overnight train through Thailand or the numerous occasions when bed bugs broke out of mattresses in Asia.
BUT when it comes to holidays in my home country the rules change entirely. I wouldn’t consider a hostel dorm if I was booking a UK city break and no cost-saving incentive could convince me to travel overnight on public transport.
So, it was something of a culture shock when my boyfriend innocently suggested that we should “find a lovely, little B&B” as a base to explore Cornwall. The cost saving would mean we could have a few extra nights away.
A firm believer in quality hotels for holidays, I was a little unsure about how to proceed. I didn’t want to come off as hoity-toity but the idea of renting a bedroom in a stranger’s house filled me with horror. A series of scenarios flashed through my mind:
1) Creeping around the room whispering
2) Not daring to have so much as a goodnight cuddle in case of a creaking bed
3) Being forced to exchange pleasantries every time we came in or out
4) Having to overact my good-natured appearance so they didn’t think I might burgle the house when they left for work.
Anyway, all things considered I said. “Right. Great idea. I like a new experience.”
It was a five hour drive and I was looking forward to what my boyfriend had sold as “great, personal service and family-style hospitality” and presumably a cup of tea and home-made cup cakes on a doily.
When the Sat Nav declared that we had reached our destination and I was visually assaulted with the site of children’s bikes littered all over the lawn, a trampoline with a large puddle on top and a series of wind chimes, I held my peace.
“Sat Nav must be up the creek.” Silence. “There’s no way this is it, let’s drive around the area a bit and look for an accommodation sign…” (That’s him, not me. I didn’t breath a word – terrified a rant about hotels and holidays might fall out!)
Turns out he was right, about a mile down the road we pulled in to see a beautiful cottage with horses on the hill. Confidence restored we were greeted by Lynette who showed us around the room before leaving us with the parting shot: “I do breakfast at 8am. OK?”
The “OK” clearly rhetorical as she was half-way back down the stairs. 8am? No ‘from and to’ time? Just 8am. I looked forward to waking up at 7am for a shower – where I’d noticed a well-fed spider was already hanging out.
Breakfast was as painful as I’d expected. Just one other couple so conversation was compulsory and the staple topics were covered on repeat. “Where did you end up yesterday.” “Where are you heading to today?” Resisting the urge to throw monosyllabic hints that I just wanted to eat my bacon, I ploughed on with a perma-smile firmly in place.
One of the great pleasures of a hotel is to relax, wake up late and enjoy your breakfast in peace with the person you chose to spend the day with; to chat freely without having to lower your voice to that of a doctor’s waiting room every time you don’t want the topic to be opened up to the entire table.
Lynette pops in periodically to say things like “Did you sleep well?” Again, rhetorically, as she’s transfixed, scratching dried egg from her apron and talking to the dog. Probably for the best as the catalogue was growing. For the benefit of information the answer was “no”.
The curtains keep out the light as efficiently as tracing paper, the bath towel is the size of a napkin, the bed creaks every time I draw breath and when she gets up and slams her bedroom door at 6am, I wake up. I then lay in bed immobile and in silence for fear that speech will wake the other guests. Then, the spider and I share a shower and I dry-off on yesterday’s towel.
Perhaps it’s because you’re in someone’s home but it’s so much harder to give an honest opinion. I’m not one to complain, even in the worst of situations, but in a hotel I would feel free to politely ask the receptionist for another pillow or explain that the room isn’t quite what I hoped for and could I possibly request a change. In someone’s home you just can’t do that. It feels offensive and the prospect of sitting through breakfast after a complaint would be unbearable.
No, it’s just not for me. It’s like staying at your nan’s house and having to pay.
The final nail in our B&B coffin came on the penultimate night when Lynette heard us chatting in the room and knocked on the door! We definitely hadn’t ordered room service and both sprang up off the bed in horror. Attempting to get dressed with the urgency of an emergency evacuation – but holding attempted silence, so she would think we had vanished into thin air – we burst out laughing like naughty teenagers about to get busted.
The lunacy of the situation and Lynette continuing to knock at the non-lockable door and call our names was just too much.
I ran to the bathroom to hide myself and my increasing volume of laughter. I left my boyfriend there to call back “We’re busy at the moment” in an agonisingly strangled tone.
Breakfast was hasty but that was a blessing.
There was one small ray of light as we pulled out of the driveway, finally in the privacy of the car. Doors locked.
“Hotels are definitely for holidays”…
(That’s him talking, not me. I’m busy holding my peace in case “I told you so” falls out).
- You can visit my travel writing and photo art website at www.SaraHardman.com