Late on Thursday evening, I went a little bit crazy. It all started when I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a Royal Ballet rehearsal for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. As soon as I saw the tap-dancing Mad Hatter and Alice hopping around on a giant cake, I decided I absolutely had to see this ballet. I had wanted to get tickets before but given up too quickly after finding that all the weekends had been sold out. Long story short: on the Royal Opera House website, I got one of the last four tickets for Friday’s opening show of the season. Realising that the show was almost three hours long and would end at 10.30 pm, I figured I should probably try to get a room nearby instead of making the trip back by tube and train that late. So I booked the last room in the cheapest hotel I could find close to the Royal Opera House, and went to bed excited about tomorrow’s adventure.
After picking up my ticket on Friday evening, I treated myself to dinner at the Amphitheatre restaurant on the top floor of the Opera House. My seat was also in the amphitheatre section of the auditorium, at the very top, but I was relieved to find that I had a very good view, and after squashing my bag and coat neatly under my seat, I settled in to enjoy the show.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was fantastic. It was magical and beautiful and funny and a bit scary and slightly crazy, with amazing sets and special effects and, of course, utterly wonderful dance and music. I absolutely loved it!
The hotel was the next adventure, and one of a completely different kind. It was only a five-minute walk away from the Opera House, on the Strand. I walked past a sign that said “Hotel Continental”, but the entrance did not look like a hotel at all, so I walked on. Realising that must have been it, as there was no other such hotel in sight, I went back and entered. The narrow entrance was open, and only lit by a weak lamp that shone down from the second-floor landing. I walked up the battered old steps and saw signs on the wall pointing to some kind of ”India Club” and “India Restaurant”. Not finding any people, I wandered up the next set of steps in the very shabby old stairwell and heard voices coming from what appeared to be the India Restaurant or Club, but could not go further up because a locked door blocked the access.
I started to think that maybe the hotel was non-existent and I had become the victim of some kind of scam. But it couldn’t be! After all, it was on booking.com, and it did say the hotel name on the outside. I went back out and stood around on the street outside the entrance for a bit, thinking what to do. Some young men came out eventually and stood around smoking and speaking in French. Then a girl came down the steps too, and I asked her “Is this the hotel?” She said “yes, the reception is right there” and pointed up to the set of glass doors on the second-floor landing that was lit from inside. I hadn’t even thought for one second that this could be a hotel reception, because you couldn’t see inside and it just did NOT look like one. Also, in the half-dark you couldn’t see the tiny sticker lettering along the top door frame that said “RECEPTION”.
Slightly relieved but still wondering what the heck kind of hotel this was, I went to check in. The reception girl (who was Indian) was nice and had me enter my details by hand in some kind of guest book. Then she explained how to open the locked door on the next landing with the code to get access to the floors with the rooms. So I got my key to room no. 46 and went up. While I was punching in the code to open the door, a young man came out of the India club or restaurant. When he saw me, he paused on the top step going down and asked somewhat incredulously “Do you live here?”
“No, it’s a hotel,” I said.
“Well, a hostel.”
“Unbelievable!” And he continued down the dingy staircase.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one who never would have guessed this was a hotel… because it wasn’t. It was a hostel, and the atmosphere (at least at night) was of some kind of run-down, dodgy establishment from the year 1880 or something.
So to hurry up and conclude my story: Room 46 was bare and kind of shabby, lit by a single ugly ceiling lamp, but I decided it was okay because 1. the door locked, 2. the sash window, while being rather draughty, did shut all the way, 3. it was clean and had a sink with little Pears soaps, and 4. there was a kettle and mugs with free nestle coffee packets. The mattress was so bad that I could feel every single spring dig into my back when I lay down, so I had to lie on the bath towels for padding. Luckily, however, the cover was nice and warm, and I was finally able to fall asleep peacefully at the end of my adventurous evening in London town.