Expat Life: Bedroom Adventure

by missfootloose on October 6, 2014 · 6 comments

in adventure, exotica, France, travel

VanGogh_Slaapkamer_in_Arles_300x238_textDon’t you love taking risks? It makes life so exciting and interesting! Okay, I’m not talking about the risks of the life-and-death variety, but the small ones that might land you in less dangerous waters. Such as finding a bed to sleep in when you take a trip, a place to stay for a few nights or weeks.

You surf the Internet. You look at pictures, read descriptions, and evaluate reviews. I’m not a fan of chain hotels, the ones that look the same the world over and where when you wake up in the mornings you can’t remember what country you are in. But finding non-standardized sleeping quarters via the Internet can land you in unsavory situations, as indeed it happened to us once. Mostly, though, we have had good luck finding cool places in various countries. Once we stayed in a renovated chapel in Italy, sleeping in what once was the sacristy. It was fabulous.

Onward: Wanting to take a break from our hectic life in our French village, we decide to spend a couple of days in the nearby town of Arles where Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh sojourned for some time, painted many pictures, and cut off his ear.

I apply my surfing skills and find something promising, an exotic looking B&B with a home gallery of contemporary photography. It has three rooms and is located in the historic center of Arles, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The B&B house is built on top of the ruins of the Roman baths of Emperor Constantine. Everything worth seeing is within walking distance. How cool does that sound? No, Tripadvisor has no information and no reviews, which is where the risks come in, right? But I tell you, the pictures and descriptions on the site seduce me.


I send off an email and reserve a room. What is life without a bit of risk? Maybe the mattress once belonged to Constantine. Maybe the shower offers up nothing but a drip. Maybe the place is… Well, you fill in your worst fears.

The day arrives and we drive to Arles. The place is a warren of narrow streets and we crawl along, our GPS leading us astray with gusto, suggesting illegal turns and pointing us down blocked allies. We get lost and run around in circles. Finally we manage to find a parking space nearby.

We are warmly greeted by our hostess and we enter a building centuries old. We climb a narrow, curving staircase sporting a small jungle of potted plants on the steps. Interesting artwork decorates the walls. Already I am charmed by what I see.  Our hostess opens a door.

The bedroom (photo above) is a symphony of color, a burst of joy and cheer, decorated with objects from the owners’ travels in North Africa and beyond. The bathroom offers an explosion of brilliant shades.


Everything is fresh and clean, the bed comfortable, the ambiance enthusiastic. Every detail has been lovingly chosen and applied — door handles, light fixtures, waste baskets, wall decor. Really, who wants a room in the Marriott?

Our night is restful, not haunted by the ghosts of souls who wandered these ancient floors in the past. Nothing mysterious bubbled up from Constantine’s baths below the floors. In the morning we climb up another set of narrow stairs to the kitchen and find another festival of color–wall paint, cushions, dishes, and art objects. If you suffer from depression, this is the place to be.


We share the table with a lovely Korean couple on their honeymoon. We have fresh croissants, crusty bread, butter, jam,  good coffee, and interesting conversation.


The hostess speaks French, English and Spanish, and we hear her story about the trials renovating the house, about her life and travels in other countries, about a Swedish couple who wouldn’t eat her French breakfast because they wanted fish…

There is more, much more, but I’m going to stop here so you’ll just have to find out for yourself: Go get a room!

Note: Since our stay there 10 days ago, one review showed up on Tripadvisor, in Spanish. Five stars and a glowing report, so there you have it.

* * *

Have you ever stayed in a fun or unique place? I’d love to hear about it!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sine Thieme October 6, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Ha! You were luckier than I am with these things. Or maybe not, it’s a matter of perspective. The kids and I were touring Europe last year (yes, me and four kids doing thousands of miles on trains!) and I needed accommodations in Paris. Having been in Paris only twice and having stayed on Montmartre every one of those times, it had to be there again. Or maybe it was because as always I booked everything last minute so there wasn’t much choice left. Went with VRBO and got a “charming” place with an awesome view (which you had to lean out the window a bit to see) on the 4th floor of an ancient house on Rue Gabrielle. Turns out it has a plaque in the entrance way that Picasso had his first studio there . I totally believe it, and I also believe that it wasn’t renovated since then. The floors in our place slanted at an impossible angle, the furniture and kitchen utensils were impossibly mismatched, and straw (yes, straw) was leaking out of the mattress the girls had to squeeze on together because the place was much smaller than advertised. Leaking shower, washing machine not working, window panes in staircase broken… And still it was one of the most charming places I’ve ever stayed in. My kids don’t agree, they found it awful (possibly mainly because the promised wifi was spotty and slooooow), but I always have much fonder memories of the slightly awful places we’ve stayed in than the 5 star hotels. I agree with you on that! And you couldn’t beat the location, coming outside in the morning when the streets were just being washed and heading to the boulangerie for a fresh croissant – heaven. (Here is a link to what I wrote about that Paris stay: http://www.joburgexpat.com/2013/07/eiffel-tower-pigeon-poop-and-picasso.html)


missfootloose October 6, 2014 at 5:21 pm

As always, these experiences make great stories! At least I hope the apartment had been cleaned since Picasso lived in it! I loved your post, and the great pictures. And as far as whether it was worth seeing the Mona Lisa…. nah… it was quite anti-climactic for me, at least 😉


Sine Thieme October 6, 2014 at 11:57 pm

BTW, the comments still don’t show up for me. I can see there are two and it says “read them below” but then there is nothing below other than the box for new comments.
Sine Thieme recently posted..Only in AfricaMy Profile


Sami Veloso October 7, 2014 at 1:35 am

What a charming hotel, very colourful too.
Glad you were pleasantly surprised. I’ve seen room pictures and entertainment areas, pools, etc. on sites and when arriving at destination they look half the size of what you expected! (wide lenses no doubt!!)
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guyana_gyal October 7, 2014 at 3:14 pm

I’ve stayed in a few ‘guest-houses’ myself, and it all went well. No bed-bugs, no ghosts.

I think I might find ghosts in Guyana though!


Gordon Barlow October 23, 2014 at 7:24 am

Hi Karen. You just *knew* a post of this kind would drag a happy memory out of me. Here’s a report that I blogged a couple of years ago about our backpacking (future wife and I) in Iraq in 1965. Those were the days!

We had reached the street when the landlady called us back. “Oh, all right”, she said. “I’ll give you fresh sheets, you cheeky young buggers.” “For the same price?” “Yes, yes, of course for the same price!” So we went inside again and watched while she re-made the bed with freshly washed sheets and pillow-cases. Not particularly clean, but un-slept-on since they had last been bashed on rocks in the local stream. No black hairs from last night’s occupant, for instance.
She had been indignant at our indignation. “But these sheets are fresh! They’ve only been on the bed for ten days, for goodness sake.” She held out her hands for me to count her fingers. The conversation was all in fluent Arabic, at least on her side. We had long ago learnt the words for “clean sheets”, and I figured out what “ten days” meant and signified. She made a mistake mentioning the ten days, though actually it was the greasy black hairs on the pillow that lost her the argument.
We were chums again, and I paid her in advance for the night’s lodging. We reckoned it wasn’t bad value for fifty cents.


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