At the Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz, France

When I was not a brilliant traveller

The first time I found myself in a hotel alone was during my stay at the Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz. I was 17 years old and I had to stay over for one night while in transit to the Basques region in Spain, where I was to stay for the entire summer in order to improve my Spanish. As I was still a teenager, my family had organized this trip to the last detail and I had only to carefully abide by their instructions.

I had just arrived in Biarritz from Paris by train and the manager of the Hôtel du Palais welcomed me with great kindness, having reserved a table for dinner for me, selecting a delicious menu for me to enjoy and giving me a room with a view on the Atlantic Ocean. I reciprocated to his courteous welcome with a simple and respectful "thank you", smiling shyly, despite my impulse to skip dinner and rush to the room to watch the sunset from the verandah, which he had described to me as quite unique and extraordinary. 

Hȏtel du Palais in Biarritz

Hȏtel du Palais in Biarritz

However, I was unable to do so because of the specific family instructions written on a piece of paper that I had to follow scrupulously: Dinner at 20.30 and no escape!!! Luckily, there was no clear indication as to how long my meal had to last, so I consumed it in a few moments. My only thought was to enjoy the sunset. After eating a couple of bites, I rushed to the room. It was the first time I would see the Atlantic and I was trembling with anticipation. 

Upon entering, my enthusiasm was put in check because the door, quite inexplicably, would not close perfectly and, being afraid that a thief would come in during the night to steal the treasures kept in my suitcase, I felt terrified.

What treasures? Oh, treasures that were great in my mind: A few notebooks; some pencils; a map; two books in Spanish, and the Swiss chocolates that I always carry with me whenever I travel. So, thinking of barricading myself inside, I dragged the elegant, little desk in front of the door, placed a chair on top and a lampshade on top of the chair, building a kind of pyramid that would make such a ruckus that, if anyone attempted to open the door, it would surely scare the thief away. Proud of my brilliant idea, I admired my handiwork for a moment and finally went out onto the verandah to immerse myself in the lovely sunset that gradually faded into a beautiful night, illuminated by the Biarritz Lighthouse and the full moon.

After a while, and feeling a certain languor, I decided to call Room Service to order a crème caramel. The waiter arrived at my door and, seeing it slightly open, attempted to enter after knocking first and getting no answer. How was he to know of my little pyramid? It immediately collapsed, causing a great clatter. Terrified by what had happened, he fled, while I ran to the door to stop him and apologize. Feeling so bad about the problem I had created, I called the manager and explained the reason for my naughty behavior. The manager asked me why I had not alerted him about the problem with the door and my answer was simple:  "I did not want to bother you."

This episode, which I remember so well, gave me a lesson for the future traveller that I was to become:  I realized that in addition to the many "thank you" I eternally repeat everywhere I am and addressed to any person I meet, even to the most distant tribes on the planet, I should use a confident and assertive “please” in order to get a quick and effective solution to any unexpected problem.

Barbara Athanassiadis