Travelling is great, but so is having money for food.
That’s why I declined when my friend Kate wanted to take a trip in December. But she had extra work holidays and wasn’t keen to spend them sitting on her couch, so she bribed me with a free flight. We were going to Béziers, France.
Our arrival time was ideal; we landed Wednesday evening just in time to grab a shuttle to the city centre and go to sleep, in our double room with private bathroom and a city view. We’d get an early start at exploring in the morning.
That’s not quite how it worked out.
We found the hostel easily enough and, from the outside, it looked amazing, like an old castle set in a hillside. A woman greeted us, in French, and just shook her head at us when we said something in English. No worries, Kate could show her the reservation on her phone. That worked well enough and the woman brought out a card reader for Kate to pay; she tried explaining that she’d paid online, but the woman just said, “Ahhh, no, pay here,” so we paid there. She handed Kate the receipt and gestured at us to follow.
She took the two of us to a room with one twin-sized bed, like a college dormitory. With a little wave, she made to leave, seemingly unconcerned with how we would sleep.
Kate used her limited French — luckily it included numbers and some pointing — to get us brought to a different room. It was slightly better.
The bed was bigger, large enough to fit us both, though the duvet could have used a good wash, as there were quite a few mystery hairs embedded. I told myself they were from heads and that it wasn’t a big deal.
There were no windows at all, let alone ones offering a city view. Well, we did have a little window above the door, but it opened up to the hallway…We kept it closed.
Unconcerned, Kate went to shower. A more difficult feat than she’d imagined.
See, the shower was in the corner of the main room. Not what we were used to, but some places do it that way, so we weren’t surprised. Kate’s apartment in the Netherlands had been that way.
This shower, though, had another disadvantage: it was so small that the shower curtain and the person couldn’t both fit inside at the same time, so the curtain flapped out and the water followed, flooding the floor. When trying to flatten further into the shower to stop the flooding, Kate learned firsthand that the pipes and faucet became scalding while the shower was running. She had the welt to prove it. Add in that the shower hose was permanently detached, meaning all hair washing had to be done one-handed, and it was not the most clean or relaxed I’d ever felt. But it would be fine for a few days.
After showering, Kate, a bit of a worrier, checked her bank account to see if she had been charged twice. Worrying was the right call this time, as she had been. She went to talk to the woman about it. The woman who spoke only French. It didn’t go very well.
In France, I don’t expect everyone to speak English to me. It’s a French-speaking country and I am a visitor there, so they shouldn’t have to cater to me or deal with my ineptness at their language. But, we’d picked this hostel partly because they advertised that the staff spoke English, so we wouldn’t have to try using Google Translate or foolish gestures. But she made us understand that the staff tomorrow would speak English and help us then, which they did.
A bit of a rocky start, but nothing major. We went to sleep, tucked under the smallest television set I’ve ever seen, mounted to our ceiling, with no remote in sight.
In the morning, we tried to look up directions for a breakfast spot Kate had found. Tried, but only succeeded when we left our room for the front lobby, where the wifi reached.
We spent the day out and about, exploring the beautiful city and had a wonderful time. We hoofed outside the city limits to get a view of the old walls wrapping around the cliff, explored the royal grounds, and, outside the cathedral, stared up at the biggest columns I have ever seen. In the park, we had a beautiful stroll and took photos of an intricately carved fountain.
As we were semi-close to the Italian border and Genoa, the land that gave us pesto, for dinner we had burgers slathered in the heavenly green sauce, paired with raclette fries. We had nabbed dessert from a bakery beforehand and took it back to the hostel. It was a three-layered chocolate concoction with a crust so crumbly and buttery that nothing since has measured up.
The only downside to the dessert was that we licked our forks clean while huddled together on our bed, coats still on and blankets stretched between us.
The hostel was like an arctic tundra. It made me look forward to the sub-zero temperatures of Iowa. Even after a hot shower, I couldn’t feel my toes.
When we asked about the heating, we got a shake of the head and a few words that Kate translated to let us know it was broken. The woman was polite about it and, as she was wrapped up in a puffer jacket, I couldn’t really fault her.
The staff were nice and Béziers is a lovely city — the pastries and desserts alone make the trip worth it — but if I ever go back, I think I’ll stay elsewhere.