Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hotel of the leather workers



Not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, nearly every European town of any size had a tannery section. This is where animal skins were put through a process (involving lots of urine and animal waste, among other things) to keep them from rotting and turn them into leather. This part of town was stinky and undesirable, and the people who worked and lived here were among the town's poorest and least healthy.

I'm staying at a hotel whose name loosely translates as "The Tanner's Hotel" - which makes me wonder if this was once that part of town. If so, then the years have been kind to the neighborhood. The hotel - really more like a quaint inn - is actually quite charming. I'm staying in the smallest, cheapest room, but I don't really mind that because the bed is amazingly comfortable (almost as comfortable as home) and I don't need much space, anyway. As long as I have my own bathroom and an internet connection, I'm fine! But I do think the hotel deserves its own blog entry, so I thought I'd write a little about my room and my experience here so far.

I arrived around noon on Tuesday, as you know after quite a long and convoluted trip to get here. But when I arrived, I was told that check-in isn't until 2PM, and my room wasn't ready so I would have to wait. C'est la vie. When I was finally allowed to check in a few hours later, the desk clerk handed me the key and said, nonchalantly: "The room is on the first floor. Just go around the corner and up the stairs, and you will find it."

I set off in the direction she indicated, thinking that there would be only a few stairs since my room was on the first floor. Sure enough, there were three stairs. Piece of cake, I thought. But then I saw a sign indicating that to get to my room (and two others), I'd have to walk through a door. Surely my room would be through the door, right? Um, non. Beyond the door was a set of ankle-twisting, uneven marble stairs. I climbed them, sensing victory ahead. But at the top of these stairs was another sign pointing to another door, and beyond that another set of stairs. In all, you have to climb 28 rather tricky stairs to reach my first floor room.

About the room. When you first walk in, well, the natural response is . . . to giggle. The room is long and narrow and not at all a rectangle, but more like a skinny quadrilateral. The widest part is by the entrance, and the most narrow part is at the other end, by the window. Let me tell you how narrow the narrow end is. If I were to lie down on the floor, I would not be able to lie flat without hitting the walls at my head and feet: the most narrow end is only about five feet across. The widest end? Maybe eight feet.

The walls are exposed brick and mortar, criss-crossed by timber beams. It's not unattractive or anything, but gives me the feeling of being . . . in a stable. The room is designed in a clever way, so all the usual amenities are here. It took me a few days to get used to the layout, but I'm used to it now.

That first night as I lay down to go to sleep, I happened to look up at the very high ceiling (LOL, actually if you turned the room on its side, it would be a lot bigger!) and noticed that a gigantic wooden beam braces the ceiling, just above my head. Meaning: if there's an earthquake in the middle of the night, that thing is going to totally squish me. I considered sleeping with my head at the foot of the bed, so that if by chance the thing fell it would hit my legs and not my head. That's kind of a weird last thought before falling to sleep, isn't it? I don't think Belgium is known for seismic activity, so I'll probably be just fine.

So my room is "different" . . . hey, variety is the spice of life. There's supposed to be an AMAZING restaurant downstairs . . . very fancy, awesome chef, people come from miles around . . . but I haven't been yet. I will eventually, and when I do I'll blog about it.

Oh, guess what? THE SUN IS SHINING IN BELGIUM TODAY!!! At least it is right now. :-) So despite my stuffy head/cold, I might just have to get out there and try to take some pictures or something. We'll see.