The Insomniac’s Nightmare Hotel: It’s Gonna Be a Noisy Night

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.”

“Hm.”

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?

10 Replies to “The Insomniac’s Nightmare Hotel: It’s Gonna Be a Noisy Night”

  1. We stayed in an Airbnb (with the lovely owner who had excellent taste, btw) in an apartment in downtown Granada on Andalucia day, just one floor up. Forget about sleep. And at the end of the trip, we stayed in a charming little boutique hotel in downtown Malaga, when we had to get up at 4:30 to catch our flight out. People were still out partying when we left for the airport in the morning. What can you do? Just use earplugs and try to go with the flow.

  2. We stayed at the Hilton Athens for our Night from Hell. A wedding reception was so deafening that the music was thundering through the pillow desperately wrapped around my head. I felt like someone was slamming my head with a ball bat. I called the front desk several times throughout the night, begging for them to have the volume turned down or to be given a quieter room but was told that every room was this loud.This went on until almost 4 A.M. They shrugged it off in the morning when we checked out, not even apologizing, and the Hilton company didn’t respond to my letter of complaint. Oh well…back to the Rick Steves listings. We’ve always had good experiences with his recommendations!

  3. It was 2000 and my first trip to NYC. I was there with my teenage daughter looking at colleges for her. My travel agent sister had scored us a sweet deal on a centrally located boutique hotel. In the middle of the night we realized why we obtained such a great deal. They were working on the subway system that ran right next to the hotel. This involved lots of jackhammering right under our window, work that was all done overnight when the train wasn’t running. Not such a good deal after all!

  4. This sounds very much like the experience I had at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire last summer. I had to call the reception three times before they would do anything and that was to have me walk to another room on the other side of the hotel at 2am, only to have to go back to my loud room the following morning.

  5. Early in my marriage my husband told me about being at Disneyland as a kid, and the rain poured. His mom begged six trash bags from a Disney street cleaner, and they cut holes and made black ponchos. Mom said “we won’t let THAT spoil our good time”. We adopted that as our family motto. It helps a lot! As do ear plugs, which I always travel with, and have been lucky to never need.

  6. In 2017 I booked an air bnb studio in Paris in the 17th arond. for a month. I made sure it was off the main street so it would be quiet. While the studio was as pictured but in a crumbling bldg. what I did not know was it was above an African nightclub in operation til 2 am nightly. As well men from the club were outside on cell phones til the club closed. Perhaps a guess might suggest what they were up to. To top it off, the tenant in the studio above me was retrofitting his apartment til the wee hours most nights. I still enjoyed Paris but next time will ask whether there is a nightclub downstairs!

  7. We were staying in a small condo in Kaui. During the wee hours we
    heard terrible yelling and shouting in the room above us. Worse yet,
    there was an occasional loud thumping on the floor. We were imagining bodies hitting the floor. Finally, a door above us closed
    and people noisily made their way down the stairs.. What we had heard was a very loud tv murder mystery followed by suitcases being
    hefted from tables to the floor. They were packing for VERY early flight out of Kaui!

  8. My friend and I stayed in a flat in Lucca in 2012. We didn’t know that the bar across the narrow street spilled over into the tiny piazza there every night. People weren’t drunk, but talking and laughing really loudly. Suddenly at midnight, everything went quiet and the shutters went down. Except for one night, when one older man didn’t go quiet, but lurched about below, singing loud and happy songs. All the neighbours started opening and hanging out their windows. He was known to them , as they gently tried to get him to be quiet and go home, to no avail. It turned into a neighbours gab fest at 1 am: How’s your daughter at college? Where are you having lunch tomorrow? I see you have a new Puppy! And on and on, till the carabinieri showed up and drove the man away home in their car with no fuss.
    Hugely entertaining.
    Since then, I really look at StreetView before booking a flat to make sure there’s no bar below!

  9. Had the same experience in a quaint small city in Europe. Though there was an outside cafe/bar at the pedestrian street at the side of the hotel building, it eventually became quiet later in the evening. But my room was directly below a main street where cars stopped for embarking and getting off with people talking endlessly at the wee hours of the morning. But I was used to trips care of my company’s camera club trips, and though I woke up at times due to the noise, managed to slip back to sleep . Then I woke up to church bells pealing that seemed to answer back to each other because there were many in the area. But no problem, I’m a morning person & used to waking up early. Haven’t tried earplugs though, can still sleep soundly.

  10. Though not as extreme as a wedding below and a rocking square outside, I stayed in Quebec in the old part of the lovely city and in the large intersection below, there was a musician playing a saxophone. Not bad. Except he was accompanied by a throbbing bass speaker that was left on continually – during his breaks, between songs, etc. This reverberated through the brick walls of the hotel for hours. When I said something to the hotel, they said that the music provided added to the charm of the area. The saxophone, yes. The throbbing speaker, no. Can’t figure out why people don’t understand that and turn it down or off between sets.
    Cameron – help, I need the next installment! Also, by some freak of nature, I have very, very small ear canals so that ear plugs don’t fit – can you imagine that being an issue? I got hearing aids and had to get children’s sized ear pieces. So now what? I can’t find children’s sized ear plugs and without the hearing aids in, I hear quite a bit, and then there is the throbbing bass.

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