After a lifetime of world travel, my wife’s Great-Great-Aunt Mildred wrote a memoir. The title: Jams Are Fun. Mildred realized that it’s not always the big sights that stick with you the most…it’s those serendipitous moments when things go memorably awry. In the spirit of Aunt Mildred, this installment of my “Jams Are Fun” series — about when good trips turn bad, and the journey is better for it — involves an insomniac’s worst nightmare.
Checking into my hotel on a Saturday night in a small European city, I can tell immediately things will not end well.
“I mentioned this in my reservation — can I please be assigned a quiet room?”
“Oh. Hm,” the receptionist says, scrunching up her face, pondering an unsolvable riddle, tap-tap-tapping on her keyboard. “Well, you see, today we have a wedding.”
“Ah,” I say. Having read online reviews, I know all too well about this hotel’s epic wedding parties. Which is why I asked for a quiet room. Months ago.
Really working hard to reassure me — fruitlessly — she continues: “So, the wedding is on the first floor.”
“O…K…” Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“But,” she continues triumphantly, looking up from her keyboard to smile at me, “your room is on the second floor.”
Glancing at the mailbox-like key caddy behind her, I see the hotel has five floors. “Hm. Well, do you not have anything on a higher floor?” You know…like I specifically requested?
“No, unfortunately, we are full house tonight. We have the wedding. Plus we have two groups.”
“Buuuuut,” she begins helpfully, “your room is at the opposite end of the hall from the wedding. So I hope you will not have problems. And if you do, you can just…call.” She gestures toward the phone at the reception desk.
“So, if it’s midnight, and I’m trying to sleep, and someone’s wedding reception music has a thumping bassline that vibrates through my mattress and shatters any hope of the sweet solace of slumber, all I have to do is call the reception desk, and you will immediately bring the proceedings to a halt and circulate among the guests, individually shushing them until they are all speaking in barely audible whispers?”
“Yes, of course!” she cheerfully replies. “That is always our policy here at The Good Sleep Despite Wedding Hotel.”
“And then, in the wee hours of the morning,” she continues graciously, “I will personally scale the bell towers of nearby churches to remove clappers from any early-morning churchbells, lest they trouble your rest. Once stationed in the belfry, I will employ my silenced sniper rifle to dispatch any loudly chirping birds near your window. With these tried-and-true methods, we can guarantee you the highest quality of sleep.”
Except she doesn’t say that. And I don’t either. We both know what she really means: If you need to yell at somebody — without results — at 2 in the morning, she’ll take the abuse and apologize profusely. And then I’ll just toss and turn furiously for another hour or two, until the party subsides just before dawn…and its pesky churchbells.
Knowing I’ve been beat, I take my keys, hang my head, and, Charlie Brown-style, sulk up to my room. On the way, I pass a DJ hand-trucking his amplifier toward the ballroom, and another guy hauling up crates of jostling beer bottles.
To their credit, they have located me as far as they could from the wedding party — while still being just one floor above. (Seriously, guys?)
However, looking out the window, I realize that in order to get me away from the wedding, they’ve situated me overlooking the town’s main walking street. Opening the window, I hear the charming bustle of pedestrians, plus a street violinist who seems to be slowly executing an elderly cat. It’s mostly pleasant now (cat killer aside) — at 7 o’clock. But this is a college town. On a Saturday night. On the final weekend of nice summer weather. By midnight, I assume, a rave will break out about 20 feet below my bed.
I begin to hear a thumping bass beat vibrating through the walls. The wedding DJ must be warming up. But no — it’s coming from the other direction. It’s coming from outside the hotel. Sticking my head out the window and craning my neck, I can just barely see a bit of the main square, just a block away. Something’s going on.
Heading out to investigate, I walk a block to the square, which is filled with a lively commotion that seems excessive even for a festive Saturday night. They’re hosting some sort of wine harvest festival. Food stalls are grilling up meat and potatoes and onions, and I realize how hungry I am. Just then, a DJ mounts the big stage and grabs the microphone. Promising several uninterrupted hours of top hits, he begins playing an old Britney Spears song. It’s loud. No, I mean, really loud. The bass vibrates through my back molars, and my eardrums start to tingle.
Grabbing a plate of food, I find a bench at the far end of the square and consider my predicament. I am a terribly light sleeper. And it seems that on this Saturday night, I’m faced with a perfect storm — stuck between the proverbial hard place (the wedding) and the literal rock (music, from the square). This could be a sleepless night.
Except…it isn’t. It turns out I’ll sleep like a baby…eight-hours-plus. Because, knowing I’m a light sleeper, I’ve spent the last few years assembling strategies to get me through situations just like this one. And it works. In my next post, I’ll fill you in on my best tips for getting a good night’s sleep on the road.
Aunt Mildred was right: Jams are fun, indeed. What’s your favorite travel jam?
If you savor the Schadenfreude of hearing about good trips gone bad, check out the other posts in my “Jams Are Fun” series. How about that time I ran out of gas on Scotland’s remote north coast? Or that time I was stuck on a cruise ship during a massive storm in the North Sea? Or the time I became embroiled in a gelato feud in a small Italian village?