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My First “Airbnb” Experience

Prodigy 1

For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

ProdigyCard

The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

Sweaty beer cheer 89067_ORIG-pig_pen_smelly_kid_peanuts_charlie_brown

The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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The Beginning (Our First Date)

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I think it’s time to tell you about my first date.

Recently we celebrated our anniversary. I want to make a patchwork quilt of experiences that I can look back on when times aren’t as rose-tinted and to keep them fresh. You never know, I could by some freak chance (and I seem to have rather too many of them), end up like the girl in the film “50 first dates” and need reminding.

So, let me tell you about that night…

We had been messaging each other for two weeks and had found out the basics. He had two sisters, he was the oldest,  he was a Scout leader, he was an engineer.

I’d seen his photographs and his description: “tall, dark and handsome, well tall and dark, you can make your mind up about the rest”.

I’d told him he was tall and handsome, but not particularly dark-haired. We discovered that we shared some friends, having gone to neighbouring schools, that we lived in the same area and even went to the same weekend running event.

I carefully selected a knee-length blue wool dress with sleeves, which I wore with black tights. It was blue which brought out my eyes. I straightened my hair and applied subtle make-up. I cinched in my waist with a thin leather belt. I decided on flats – I can feel self-conscious in heels and I needed to feel comfortable. I took my small purple leather handbag which made any outfit feel classy.

I arrived at the venue with my heart in my mouth. We had arranged to meet at 8.15 on a Friday night. I scanned the room and couldn’t see him. I felt dazzled by the lights. I went straight to the bar. There was a bit of a wait, so I nervously checked my phone.

He had text to say he would be about 15 minutes late, he had been visiting a friend. So I asked what drink he would like, keen to reverse the stereotype that the man buys the woman a drink on the first date. He said “bottle of beer? surprise me”. What a wide choice, I had been hoping for something more specific, more foolproof for a girl whose only dabbling with alcohol involved Malibu and the occasional cocktail.

“Excuse-me”, I asked the bartender, “what’s your finest ale”? I’d heard ale was classier than beer and if I got the right one I thought I would definitely be a hit.

He looked at me sideways, frowning slightly. “Sorry?” he replied. I raised my voice a little and stood on my tip-toes so he could hear me better, “what is your finest ale?!”.

He still looked a bit puzzled so I explained in more hushed tones, “I’m on a first date and I asked him if he wanted a drink, and he said he wanted beer or something”.

He saved me the embarrassment of repeating myself. “Ohh” he said, grinning. Well…I wouldn’t recommend ale to be honest because there’s too much choice, you could quite easily pick the wrong one. But in terms of beer…Peroni’s probably the best one we sell here.”

“Ok, I smiled, relieved,”I’ll have that please”.

I found half a table in the corner that was free. There was a happy couple on the other side and they didn’t have a problem with me sitting there. I was still feeling rather anxious, and struggled to steady my breathing. So I looked around to distract myself. Damn. I’d chosen the wrong place. This was a middle-aged wine bar. Would he judge me on my choice?

It took me a while to get comfortable. Should I sit cross-legged? No, not good for the circulation and would make me look too unavailable. Or was that a good thing? Should I sit with my back to the room to look more mysterious? No that was a silly idea. I shifted about, fiddling with my silver bead necklace, checking my hair was still neat. By the time he arrived some 20 minutes later, I was feeling completely relaxed. I had drunk about half of my Malibu and coke, and had decided to sit facing the room with one arm on the table, laid back but not slouchy, attempting to project an air of sophistication.

Suddenly I saw him and life became cinematic. The clock seemed to stop and sound faded as I zoomed in. In a bar full of those near pension-age he stood out like a sore thumb. It seemed like there was a halo of fuzzy light around him. I blinked to refocus.

I decided to observe him and let him notice me. Then I’d have a little more time to check him out, seeing as this was the first time we had met in person.

The first thing I noticed was that he had lovely skin. He looked like he looked after himself. He had a nice neat haircut (he later admitted he’d had it cut that day) and a good figure.

Then I noticed his eyes – dark, bright, intelligent eyes darting about looking for me. But what a pity about his attire – he’d opted for a hoodie and jeans. He hadn’t put much thought into that. But at least he looked like the photographs.

He walked right past me and was about to look outside,  so I announced my presence. He visibly relaxed a little, flashed me a dazzling smile and settled down next to me, gratefully accepting the Peroni.

I asked him about his work. He clearly enjoyed talking about what he did and I was intrigued. We talked…and talked.

From there we went over the road into a square to a bar with a French name and red, dimmed lighting. He bought me a drink and another Peroni for himself. The choice was a good one then. We chatted about running and he showed me the impressive jog routes he’d done on his phone. We went on to a Cuban-themed bar, with salsa music and lovely cocktails. 

All too soon the night had come to an end. We didn’t want to miss the last bus home and we took that together, seeing as he lived nearby. As he left, he bent down and we nearly bumped heads as he clumsily kissed me on the cheek.

I was enjoying single life and I thought “if I don’t see him again I’ve had a great night and I’m pleased we met.” But a bigger part of me was drunk with excitement (the only drunk you should get on a date) and couldn’t wait to see when and where date two would be. Hopefully soon. But did he like me? Did I score enough points to make it through the first hurdle?

He text at midnight saying he’d had a good night, with kisses. Two. Things looked promising…

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Looks are deceiving

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On Saturday my boyfriend booked a “Royal” “Hotel” in Birmingham. The rooms looked modern and clean and the price was reasonable, reduced by £20.

As our taxi drove up the road we spotted a prison and a housing estate with an equally high fence. Then we stopped in front of a rundown pub. There were people hanging around it smoking with their beer. We both checked whether this was indeed the “Royal” “Hotel”. The pub’s car park was labelled as the hotel one. As my boyfriend crashed up the kerb entrance, we saw youths in tracksuits smoking and drinking outside the pub disco – all 90s music played through a sound system of the same era. Asbestos hung out of the car park ceiling where something had crashed into it.

Making our way past the leering locals, and already feeling rather out of place, we squinted in the disco lights as we were assaulted by noise. I wondered if the car would last the night and what delights we could expect in our accommodation. Trying to find reception, we walked through the disco and into the main pub. We spoke to the barman, and minutes later a pleasant, thin, anxious young man appeared. He took payment at the bar and then accompanied us. It was a bizarre experience being in a pub disco waiting for our hotel lift to arrive.

The second floor was completely different. There were modern-looking hotel rooms and framed pictures of the city centre in the cleaned corridors. We were shown into our room. The bed was a decent size and I was impressed with IMG_0853[1]the cleanliness. Instead of a kettle they had a “Tea-Mate”, a fast boiling tea pot. This looked fancy so I took the pot out and had a look. Mould floated in the water. I poured it out. It was marked with multiple drinks.

We left for Birmingham city centre. I was amazed at the size of the buildings, towering around us. I felt as small as an ant in a human’s world. The taxi driver remarked that there were too many people in Birmingham. He said there was a big problem with illegal immigrants putting a strain on the city, and that developers had demolished the beautiful old buildings and replaced them with ugly new architecture like the Bullring. He took us to Chinatown, as we wanted a reasonably priced restaurant meal.

496We found a diner, China Town Noodle Bar, off the main street. The decor was basic, just laminated wooden tables and plastic chairs. I was put off, but my boyfriend was keen. I was persuaded when I noticed the customers were mostly Chinese. We were seated in front of a roast duck, complete with head and legs, and a roast chicken, shining as they rotated. I’d never seen a whole cooked duck before. I ordered some in a noodle soup. It was delicious, and I had it with cream soda, not generally available when eating out.

We had a great night. When we collapsed into bed in the “4*” “hotel” we realised that our “bed” was in fact beds put together. A thin sheet covered the mattress.

At 7.40 there was knocking on the door and incoherent shouting. My boyfriend was asked to move his car as it was in the way. He’d only parked in the space because someone was reversing out of it. I opened the curtains to our grit bin and road view. My throat, dry like paper, demanded a drink. There was none due to the bacteria-laden pot. So I had a shower with the “toiletries” – two thin pink soaps. It was really powerful and I enjoyed it until I began wading in the previous occupant’s dirt from the partially-blocked drain.

I avoided the exfoliating towel and used my own. With filthy feet we went to breakfast. There were no staff around, although we were 5 minutes before closing time. Finally the cook came down and grumbled as much as our stomachs. He told us he had cooked for 15 but only 9 had booked, so it was a case of “making do” with what was available. We had never experienced this sort of customer service before. Apparently when guests complained about the noise keeping them up, he told them they “should have slept in the day instead”!

I sat down expecting scraps. In fact we got a lovely cooked breakfast, so it didn’t matter that the toast was burnt. “Was everything ok?” asked a barmaid as we left. I didn’t have the heart to comment.

The moral of the story? If you’re booking a hotel, check it out on Google Map street view first. Our “hotel” had good reviews on our booking website, so always check Trip Advisor first.

On the other hand, don’t be put off by the appearance of a diner/restaurant. It may serve excellent food despite the decor.

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