I love self-catering rentals. Instead of staying in a generic, mediocre chain hotel you can rent a little apartment or house with multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living area. Save money by preparing your own meals! Unwind in a home-like environment at the end of the day! And, AND, you don’t have to go to bed at the same time as the kids. When you travel with small kids and you have one hotel room without a balcony (or during chilly times of the year), the family as a whole will go to bed at one of two times: seven-thirty or midnight. There’s no in-between. Either everyone goes to sleep when the first child does or you juggle for five hours trying to get everyone settled and down to bed. Those are your choices. Live with it or get a self-catering rental for your stay.
But sometimes…well. All the website reviews and photos in the world can’t save you.
We reserved a self-catering townhouse about fifteen miles outside of Bath for this past weekend; it was in a perfect location to be used as a base for trips to Bath, Salisbury, and Stonehenge. It looked cozy, rural, and quiet with two bedrooms and a full kitchen. Plain, but homey.
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to call the owners hoarders…but they were definitely collectors. When we walked in, every available table and shelf and inch of wall space was covered with trinkets and prints. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every figure there in the ten-cent bin at church rummage sales, so we’re not talking high quality. It reminded me of the overly decorated B&B from that one episode of “Gilmore Girls” and shrugged it off, but then I noticed this:
This was my first indication that something was seriously…off. Those aren’t real cats, but boy, I wasn’t sure. Neither Tom nor I have the best eyes, but we stared at them for a while before writing them off as taxidermy. *shudder* I brought Moira upstairs to nurse briefly while Tom got the rest of the tour, and there was one on the bed. I steeled my resolve to touch it to move it…and it was a fake. The legend on the bottom indicated its name was “Van.” The other two cats we located were Simple Simon and Miss Chippy.
Maggie, who gets most of her conversational contributions from memorized book passages, was moved enough for a breakthrough into spontaneous speech: “There are cats everywhere.”
She then went on to find some wooden toy cars, a display of fake Faberge eggs, and a collection of railroad train toys and Tom asked the proprietor if it was okay if she played with anything.
So let’s recap, here: this self-catering apartment was maybe 600 square feet, packed to bursting with gaudy trinkets, and Maggie can’t touch any of it. I might have audibly gasped. Later I asked “Tom, how are we going to get through the next three days?!”
“I told them not to expect to find anything in its original place. It would all be really high up.”
Smart man. The photo above is all of the things we confiscated from Maggie within a ten-minute time period before we decided it was time to get dinner, but not in time for us to avoid her discovery of the birdhouse that cheeped when it moved (a problem since anyone walking on the floor above where it was hanging made the entire house shake) and the faux squirrel.
One of the things that struck me most about the decor was Jesus. The Jesus was a theme. Jesus was this man’s copilot, homeboy, and interior decorator. Crosses everywhere, blessing plaques, a decorative plate with a white Jesus crudely drawn next to the AA serenity prayer (and placed next to a tableaux of a…geisha serving tea? Okay!) and a rather large cross next to the bed.
OH WAIT. What could that be in the lit display case next to the cross on which the Son of God expelled his last breath?!
Daggers. SEXY DAGGERS.
Specifically, twelve decorative daggers, corresponding with the months of the year, festooned with provocatively dressed and cartoonishly buxom corrupters of the flesh.
I can’t even. If it hadn’t been forty degrees in the bathroom, I would have immediately showered…which brings me to my next point. English homes are cold, and since this one was 300 years old, we expected unsealed windows and drafts. What we did NOT expect was that one of the bedrooms would not have a heating unit. The one that did had a small bed, one that I think was smaller than an American double.
Both girls had minor colds, so we knew that getting them a full night’s sleep was of utmost importance, which they could not get if they were both frozen like wee Monkeysicles. First we tried to divide and conquer: Tom and his majestic beard would sleep with Maggie in the unheated bedroom while Moira and I snuggled in the same bed in the other room. That lasted about 45 minutes until we realized that a) Maggie refused to keep the covers on and b) Tom’s face was aching from the cold. There was frost in his mighty moustache. Since the heater in the sole heated bedroom wasn’t doing jack for the temperature, that left one option:
The girls would have to sleep in the bed with me for body heat, and Tom would sleep on the floor. I was in head-to-toe wool–socks, tights, and shirt–with Maggie firmly pressed into my kidneys and Moira under my armpit. I could only accommodate all of us in the small bed by lying on my side with one arm over my head. And I’m going to judge some of you: those of you who practice family bed sharing in anything less than a California King are out of your minds. It was monstrously uncomfortable. I tried to buck up and remember that this is how the pioneers did it for years, and then I remembered that a lot of them died early and the ones that didn’t made it to California and invented the giant-ass mattress, bless their hearts. As I tried to massage feeling into my back I thought to myself “All we need now is for one of them to vomit, because in these temperatures I’m not going to strip them down to wash them.”
And because our purpose in existing is to entertain God, about ten seconds later Moira gagged on mucus and puked. She received my sympathies and a blotting with a swaddling blanket that for the rest of the trip was designated as her barf-catcher, and no more. Pulling her close a bit later was confirmation that our worrying was not an overreaction: the side of Moira that was not next to me (though still under her blanket) was ice-cold.
As it turns out, there was no need to set our alarms to be on time for the sunrise tour of Stonehenge. We were wide awake by six a.m. and Maggie perched herself by the door as soon as possible and amused herself with the iPad in anticipation of leaving. Tom and I decided the better part of wisdom was to mask any potential body odor with many layers of clothing and skipped showering; neither of us wanted wet heads. The less said about trying to pee in a sub-freezing bathroom, the better. Porcelain retains a mighty chill.
In the end, we bailed on our itinerary and headed to Cheltenham two nights early and were able to extend our hotel stay there. It worked out awesomely because we went to Cardiff the next day instead and got to enjoy a bit of Wales. The kids-stay-free/cheap-WiFi/tulip-prints-on-the-wall chain hotel in Cheltenham was so thoroughly generic and mediocre that it might have been American; it even shared a parking lot with a TGI Friday’s. We availed ourselves of their children’s menu and balloons and in my relief I ordered a cheeseburger topped with fried mozzarella washed down with a Sam Adams and unlimited Diet Coke refills and may have whistled “Yankee Doodle” as I drank it. And I’m not ashamed one little bit, do you hear me? I EARNED that bland, greasy heart attack on a plate.
I’m not sure if we’ll get refunded for those two nights; Tom is working on it now. We’ll absolutely use a self-catering apartment again in the future, and we’re writing it off as a learning experience (not to mention a good story).
God save the Queen. And Miss Chippy.