The Guest House

Lisbon – March 25th 2018 – 3 am

As I open the door, the damp, moldy air of the room hits me in the face. Could it possibly be worse than what it was ten minutes ago? I make my way to the window and open it. I’m already wearing enough clothing to go skiing, I should be able to survive an open window.

The guest house wasn’t exactly how I expected it to be. I had pictured an old lady running a quaint bed an breakfast out of her house. For 22 euros a night, I didn’t expect luxury, but at least a warm atmosphere. I quickly learned that a place doesn’t have to be cute, just because it has a cute name, and that a guest house just as well might be an old, run down apartment building.

I passed the place three times before I finally found it. From the outside it just looks like an old residential apartment building, but it had a sign. I locked myself in with the pin I had been given in advance and made my way up the narrow stairs. As it turns out, this apartment building houses, not only one, but several different guest houses, and even some hotels. As I reach the third floor (fourth for those of us who start counting at 1), I have counted no less than 5 different guest houses/hotels. I punch in the pin Once again and the door unlocks with a bang.

An automatic light turns on and fills the corridor with a grey, cold hue. The kind of hue that can only stem from cheap LED bulbs. Each door is numbered, five in all. One door is marked with WC. In the end of the corridor, there is a kitchen. Down the hall I see a key in the door of room number four, and a vague memory of reading that there was no reception or contact with staff, enters my mind and it dawns on me that this key is the only welcome I will get.

The room has the same grey, sharp light and the unmistakeable smell of old hotel slaps me in the face, the smell that is also known as mold. On a table in the corner, there’s a note saying:




Cool, then the payment is settled. The tiny double bed squeaks as I sit down on it. It’s held together by tape in some places. The plywood holding the mattress has several cracks in it. But the sheets are clean at least. It’s not completely horrible. And there was butterfly stickers on the walls. Butterflies are nice. And I wouldn’t be here alone at least. In just a few hours, Katie would be here with me.

Katies arrival also marked the discovery of a second bathroom. Out, through the kitchen, there was a sunroom. The corner of this sun room had been converted to a tiny bathroom, complete with toilet, sink, shower and a window that can open up to make a balcony. The level of cleanliness showed that this was still a somewhat hidden feature of the third floor apartment.

The first night was uncomfortable, to say the least. Even with the window closed, the duvet we shared wasn’t enough to keep us warm. I had to get up in the middle of the night and put on my fleece. This room was like ice.

The next few days went pretty much the same. We learned to ignore the smell. The hot water and decent water pressure in our balcony shower was a daily highlight. And as we told a Dutch lady we talked to on a bus: if the room was too comfortable, we would spend all of our time there, so it didn’t matter.

But now, Katie was on her way home, and I was stuck alone in the damp, moldy, cold, fire alarm-less apartment that called it self a guest house. Did I even tell you about the fire alarms? There isn’t really much to tell, there wasn’t any. And in my mind, every building without a fire alarm will immediately burst in to flames with me in it. We made a motto: “travel together, die in a fire together”. As I lay there alone, the motto changed. “Travel alone, die in a fire alone.”

So … this became a lot more depressing than I planned. But don’t worry, the building still haven’t burst into flames. I know this, because I can see it from the window of the hostel I now live in. “Travel alone, die in a fire with perfect strangers”, right? (But the hostel does have fire alarms, I’ve checked).

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