I arrived in London without a place to live, not even a place to crash for a night. It was one of those minor details that slipped through the cracks as I tried to juggle all the balls of a transatlantic move: oh, right, a bed and a roof. Trivial necessities.
I was hoping one of my future classmates who had been in town for a while would magically give me an address by the time my flight took off (isn’t this what facebook is for?), so I could just step off the plane and into a flat without a single hassle or worry, but surprisingly, that didn’t work out. With my 30 minutes of free internet at JFK I tried to locate a cheap hotel in an area of London I had actually heard of. My incapacity with decisions in 30 minutes or less (I am no Pizza Hut, folks) means my row got called and I still didn’t know where I was going when I arrived (wherever you go, there you are). But I had noticed a disturbing feature in my speedy browsing of hotels.com, booking.com, and lastminute.com: shared bathrooms.
A not inexpensive hotel in a first world country, in fact a major metropolitan capital city without private bathrooms? What?
An email from my mother when I landed confirmed my fears: in her research on my behalf, she had also found a plethora of shared bathroom hotels. I trudged hesitantly to the tourism counter in Heathrow, dully certain I could get an overpriced hotel for a few days as I sussed out something better. The man at the counter asked my budget, made some calls, and got me a room close to Victoria Station in Zone 1, a convenient tube ride to school, at the tippy top end of my budget. Without a private bathroom.
What choice did I have? I was not in a position to negotiate, lugging three suitcases and a backpack, with no sleep and no friends in London to take me in.
The Wellington Hotel (I later found out) is a converted college dorm, which makes sense, and it was generally very nice. Except when I wanted to shower. Or pee in the middle of the night. Which required taking my key card, and where can you tuck that into your pajamas? In your shoes of course, because you have to put on shoes to go pee.
I lived in a college dorm and I’ve stayed in (much cheaper) hostels but I have never seen a shower room with less privacy. There were three stalls lined up next to each other. There was no changing area, nowhere to hang a towel except the wall opposite the shower. And that wall was a good two and a half feet away. So in order to utilize the hook, you had to lean naked out of the shower, either facing an-oh-so-conveniently placed mirror, or, an open window.
But this was clearly no place to worry about modesty, because the doors to these shower stalls were made of glass. Clear glass, not the fancy frosted or textured kind.
Admittedly I never saw anyone in that bathroom. It was however a real treat running into people in the hall in my short bathrobe. But maybe I’m just being a prude? What is the deal with my lifelong phobia of gym showers, camping tents, anyplace where I can’t close a door, be alone, and take off my clothes? Intellectually, I know nudity is nothing to be ashamed of. It is really a big deal?
Yes. Yes it is a big deal. At £50 a night, it is a very big deal.
Also a big deal: in my preflight packing hysteria, I had UNpacked my flipflops, assuming I wouldn’t be getting to a beach any time soon, and I could retrieve them when I came home for Christmas.
Always pack flip flops, kids. Always. No matter what else you leave at home. Travel lesson number one. (That I always regretfully forget.)
It’s impossible to shave your legs in one of these shower stalls without touching the walls, and I don’t know who else is touching these walls, and with what…
Some people hate chain hotels: they hate the cheap and tacky art, the polyester shimmer of the bedspreads, the sameness and anonymity and anywhere-equals-nowhere-ness.
I happen to like them. Hampton Inns, with their giant buffet breakfast, cheap rates, shower walls that you can be (nearly) positive only your ass is occasionally grazing, and the knowledge that you know EXACTLY what you’re going to get, these are all thumbs up in my book.
Chain hotel uniformity (OR, less pejoratively, their consistency) is still foreign (these are not decorating decisions I would ever make) and they mean I’m not home, which is always invigorating. The neutrality of most hotels, I don’t know why, it feels like a familiar jumping off point into the less familiar. I like it.
Always an adventure, right? After several days I switched to another hotel, in a questionable area, way out in zone three, that cost just as much.
But I had my very own bathroom.