I thought it was too cruel to post this ramble in one post. So here’s part two…
By this time it was 5.45am. I stood there freezing my butt off as the moon set behind the darkened mountains and men stomped past in high-vis jackets on their way to work. Twenty minutes passed. I was starting to think maybe this wasn’t such a good idea listening to the Russian driver. So I started to lug my over-stuffed suitcase towards a row of apartment blocks. The road was icy and my suitcase has probably the most useless wheels known to man, so I was slipping around like Bridget Jones. Suddenly the bus driver swung around the corner again. He opened the door and begun jabbering in Russian once more and pulled my suitcase back on board. Then we found a multi-coloured volunteer looking lost on the side of the road, clearly looking for me. Finally! I thought, I’ll be in bed within half an hour.
An hour later we were still stood outside in the cold. The volunteer had already lapped the huge apartment complex three times, but couldn’t find the entrance to my hotel. Just row after row of locked doors. He circled the building again. Nope, nothing.
After another few minutes of trying to communicate in broken English and the kid asking for help on his walkie-talkie, another Russian man dressed in black smoking a cigarette approached us. “You looking for reception? I know. Follow me!” He carted us back around the building again into a corridor crammed with more Russian men dressed in black, who looked like they were about to start work.
We passed a door that said ‘Hotel Manager’ before someone stopped us. I asked to speak to the hotel manager. “Yes, yes, yes, me I’m manager,” cried a stocky, balding man with a pot belly. I said I’d like to check-in to the hotel. “Yes, yes, you sit here. Wait for my secretary.” He plonked me down in the Culinary Services office. It smelt of stale fags. There were three battered-looking computers on desks with fifteen Russian men sat around the edges. I was clearly sat in their staff room.
They stared at me as I sat down. One man obviously wanted to practice his English and started trying to engage me in conversation. I gave him a weak smile, too tired to explain where in England I was from and why my bag was so huge.
Twenty minutes passed. I read my magazine while the men drank coffee and chattered in unintelligibly in the background. There was still no sign of this secretary. After half an hour, I enquired again. “Is your secretary here yet? I’d like to check in to the hotel.” A man who spoke very good English – much younger than the rest with a smart outfit on turned to me. “But this isn’t a hotel. These men have miscommunicated this to you. We are all chefs here.” “So, this isn’t a hotel at all?” I said. “No.”
At that point, I lost it. I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours, no one understood what I’d been saying for the past three hours and I still hadn’t found my hotel. I burst into tears. The Russian chefs went silent, clearly horrified that this odd English girl was bawling her eyes out in their staff room. Someone handed me a tissue. “Why are you crying? Why so sad?” asked one man, trying to peer into my face. “I’ve…been…travelling for nearly…twenty-four hours,” I sobbed. “I’m… just… really…. tired.” In retrospect, the sign on the door that said ‘Culinary Services’ should have been a pretty good indicator that this wasn’t the hotel.
The English-speaking young guy was up like a shot. He picked up my bags, guided me back through the packed corridor, outside to the back of the building where I’d started two hours ago and lead me straight to the reception.
Eyes still puffy from my outburst, I nodded to the receptionist and handed over my passport. It turns out I’d been sitting in a staff room, metres away from the check-in desk – without realising it.
It was a huge relief when I finally got to my room. The spartan corridors didn’t do it justice. It was enormous. Two double bedrooms, both with en suite bathrooms, a brand new kitchen, a hob, a flat screen TV. The beds looked like they’d never been slept in. I pulled off my clothes, grimy and sweaty from 24 hours of wear, and climbed under the covers exhausted.