Caroline O'Donoghue: the joys of a nice hotel room - after the worst of holiday nightmares

"We sat in the jacuzzi, naked as babies and just as happy. “We might stay in a room this nice again,” Gavin said. “But it will never feel this good ever again.”"
Caroline O'Donoghue: the joys of a nice hotel room - after the worst of holiday nightmares

There aren’t many things that I’m grateful to the pandemic for, but here’s one of them: Spain is glamorous again. For a long time there, travelling was a competitive sport, and you found yourself booking an 18-hour flight just to get a reaction out of someone. Now adventure is such a limited resource that Spain, lovely Spain, familiar old Spain, is the pinnacle of wanderlust.

Because it was our first proper holiday in more than two years (and who knows how long it will be before we’re on holidays again) my boyfriend and I decided to splash out.

For the first time in our relationship, we didn’t stay in a cheap hotel or bargain Airbnb. And — sorry, this is really fucking gauche now — we didn’t pick the cheapest room. We were reminded of this on check-in, when the concierge took one look at our rumpled GAP t-shirts and H&M sunglasses, and said “you have, ah, a huge room. I think perhaps it is too big for you?” And it was. 

But oh, Christ, we were in heaven. We sat in the jacuzzi, naked as babies and just as happy. “We might stay in a room this nice again,” Gavin said. “But it will never feel this good ever again.” I think he’s right. I think nice hotel rooms are a bit like heroin. Or at least, what I’ve heard about heroin from Irvine Welsh books. Every time you do it you’re chasing the euphoria of your first time, and at every turn the win diminishes. You start noticing the brown spots on the free bananas. There is no situation so wonderful that a human being won’t find a way to complain about it.

“I don’t feel remotely bad about this,” I say, in bed that night. “Because we’ve earned it. We’ve really scraped the barrel, in terms of shit holiday accommodation.” “We’ve stayed in the barrel that’s being scraped,” he replies. So there, in our hotel room that is far too big for us, we begin to recount our worst stays.

Weymouth, Dorset, 2014.

We are utterly broke but the weather is lovely. We decide to find a way to escape the city. We find a woman with a caravan in her back garden who will give it to us for £18 a night.

We get lost twice on the drive down, and don’t arrive until 1am. When we arrive, there’s no toilet and a broken window. The caravan is an ice box. We look at our phones. “Chemical toilet is broken,” it says. “You can use the toilet in the main house :)” We look to the woman’s home like two peasants looking up at the Big House.

The lights are all off, and Gavin needs a crap.

“I have to go,” he says, wild-eyed, and runs off into the bushes.

Which is when, of course, the porch lights come on.

Kenmare, Kerry, 2017

No big story here; just a shithole B&B. 

I love Kerry but good God they’d charge you for the steam off their piss and the milk in your Corn Flakes variety pack.

Atlanta, Georgia, 2015

We are commencing a tour of the southern states of America that begins with a stopover in Atlanta. We have saved for a year for this trip, and still we have to scrimp: we are mostly staying in the spare bedrooms of weirdos. 

The first such weirdo is Brenda, a shut-in, in the classic sense of the word, in that she literally locks herself into her apartment every day with the metal blinds down. The local news is always on, and always loud, so as we go to sleep every night we hear both a breakdown of murders in the area as well as more upbeat stories about a possum who has learned to dance. 

We have only two days in Atlanta but much of it is spent trying to avoid Brenda, who talks constantly, and mostly about her dog and cat, Bandit and Mama Kitty. It is 40 degrees at midnight and we wake up every morning covered in sweat.

New Orleans, Louisiana, 2015 (Same trip)

We are staying in a beautiful house with a lovely, charismatic gay couple. Or, they are lovely to us. On the third night, we come home after a long day of sight-seeing for a disco nap, and wake up an hour later to the sound of yelling.

Our hosts are having a fight, and they haven’t realised we’ve been napping in the next room. They are discussing the mechanics of their open relationship, and how one of them would like to close it. The other is adamant not to. The discussion gets heated.

“I don’t know what to tell you, baby,” says the fan of the open relationship.

“Maybe if you used that gym membership I got you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Our hands on our mouths to stop ourselves from shrieking, Gavin and I look wild-eyed at one another. We can’t just walk out? Into this? Can we? We are too frightened to stumble into the fight, and spend our last night in New Orleans eating KitKats in our bedroom.

As we laugh ourselves to sleep talking about Mama Kitty and chemical toilets, I am amazed at all those stories you hear about people who get rich and leave their first wives. We’re not rich and we’re not married, but the thought of breaking up and doing this kind of holiday with a new lover makes me feel bereft. 

What’s the good in room service if you don’t remember the time you used to eat crisps in the park for dinner? Where’s the fun in a private jacuzzi if you’re with someone who doesn’t know that you once got cystitis from a public one?

We fall asleep, knowing that this is a mere stop-off at luxury. A temporary landing. Our terrible holiday memories are the rag we use to shine up our new ones. But there will come a day, some years down the line, where we will probably have two kids in collapsible cots vomiting on us in a French Travelodge. And when we’re there, we’ll close our eyes, and think of right now.

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