I am writing my story here as many a time I have thought about an experience that happened to me and my first wife (now divorced) which occurred over 20 years ago (1992) on our honeymoon in France; the experience of which still haunts me.
As weddings go we had a very sweet affair that took place outside of Paris, France in a small town in a beautiful French country restaurant. As the evening festivities were going on, we did a very traditional departing from our guests and bid them farewell as we had a long 2.5 hour drive to the coast. Our thoughts on leaving our guests were that we wanted to spend the night in Dieppe, France, which is a coastal town, and then the next day proceed in a lovely drive along the coast of France to reach our honeymoon destination, which was Bruges, Belgium where we had booked a week's stay at the Pullman Hotel.
As it was late, and we wanted to be careful as we drove, we did not take the autoroute (main highway) but drove to our destination along what is called in France the old national highway. It was a longer way of going but the evening was beautifully warm and so we took our time and drove with the car windows open, admiring the tree lined road, all excited about reaching our hotel, the Hotel Windsor where we had booked the honeymoon suite.
When we finally reached our destination, we drove into the town and we were very interested to see how medieval the town's appearance was. It reminded me very much of the Canadian city of Quebec City, as it had a very old gate entrance which we passed through and there were cobblestone streets and many turrets rising from various fortress-like structures. It was, though, completely void of lights and completely silent. On first impression it was sort of eerily quiet and dark and so I was thankful that the moon was shining brightly, as it was sort of our guide to navigate the twists and turns of this medieval city.
As an aside, I don't remember saying much of anything to my bride or her saying much of anything to me as we drove down these strange streets but there was something definitely in the air, something that was sort of unsettling; a feeling in the air but nothing we spoke openly about. I remember feeling how odd it was that we didn't hear anything or see anything: no cars, dogs, cats or other people, but chalked this up to the time of evening. It now was probably getting close to 3:00 a.m.
When we finally stopped the car out-front of the hotel, we couldn't really find where to park our car so we drove it some distance to where we could leave it safely along the coast. As we walked back to the hotel, the only thought we had was a good night's sleep and so as far as the car was concerned, we felt that would come back to get it when we learned about where the car park was; so "no matter" we thought. Other than that, I can only remember the romance but the deathly quiet of the evening as we strode hand-in-hand along the moonlit streets.
As we arrived and stepped into the hotel, what we found was a very old-fashioned dark lobby with potted palms and old tufted red velvet button furniture and a very plump man with a funny moustache, the kind people wax at the ends who, as I recall, was wearing a vest and a collarless shirt. This man who was sitting at the front desk didn't really have much of an expression but I figured it was very late and he probably was very tired. Oddly though, again there were no lights on except the light of the candle that was burning through a glass-type lantern that was on his desk. But no mind, we had finally arrived and were looking forward to getting into our room and so, in my broken French, I asked about our reservation and the gentleman promptly turned an old ledger that was in front of him and handed me a pen to sign. The only odd thing we felt at that moment was the kind of pen which was given to us as it was the kind one would use to dip into a pot of ink. But thinking all of this was very quaint and a traditional French way of doing things, we did just what he showed us to do and together we excitedly signed our names as a newly married couple.
After we signed, the man said nothing to us but simply lifted a bell off his desk and rang it and soon appeared a very young girl dressed in what were best described as traditional clothes. I remember her hair was put up in a very odd sort of way and she wore a white cap on her head that was sort of resting on it and that she had a very long dress that went to the floor. It all sort of looked "of a period" but what period I was unsure, but felt that it was probably in keeping with some sort of tradition of the region in which we were staying in France and felt again that it was all very charming.
I do remember, though, that the girl's appearance was not lost on my new bride as she began speaking to me in English about it and I remarked to her that I'm sure this girl understands English as this was a coastal town and a hotel for goodness sake, and so I sort of hushed her in a polite way as I thought maybe the girl would be offended by our comments. But I have to honestly say it was very odd and hard not to discuss her appearance and had us really wondering to ourselves as we were led up a winding stairs by candle light to our room.
As an aside, I do remember saying to my new bride that "perhaps this is what this hotel is known for" and pointed out the very positive rating which the hotel had received in the guidebook I used to book the room. But I clearly felt the need to say something as this unsettling feeling was getting to me, and so I felt the need to sort of reassure her that all would be fine and that the hotel would be great. I literally was putting on my best face in what seemed to be developing into an odd situation.
When we arrived at the room, the girl took the key from my hand and proceeded to put it into the door's lock. She turned what sounded like a very heavy lock and then clicked the latch but had trouble opening the door. No words were spoken when she handed me the candle so she could push the door open using both hands. As she pushed, I remember to my astonishment that the door squeaked and squealed across the floor as it was literally scraping the floor. And so really I didn't know what to think and as I had the candle. I was astonished and amazed when I peered into the room only to discover two single canopy beds. On closer examination the room was dusty, I could see the dust and how it collected from the door pushing it like a snowplow. The room was also cold and damp and most horrifying there was a cobweb that strung itself from one canopy top of one bed to another canopy top of another. The coverlets of the bed were like green velvet and, clearly, I could see a layer of dust covering them.
Sickened, I said to the girl, "This is our honeymoon. We simply can't sleep here!" After our show of angst, without saying a word, she nodded and pulled back the door and locked it. And so we descended back how we came, down the spiral stairs. But when we arrived at the reception there was no old man at the desk anymore and so we just left the key and walked out of the hotel.
Tired... Exhausted... At our wits end and me perplexed trying to explain to my new bride my poor planning, there was little to do except go back to our car and think next steps. As this was before blackberries and the like where we could start scouring our iPad for an alternative place to sleep, we really had no alternative other than to just put our seats back in our car and rest and wait until the morning. And so we decided to hotel search in the morning's light, which was now only a few hours away. And so we both drifted off to what was a very uncomfortable sleep in a small French car.
When morning came and we awoke, the day was bright and beautiful and to our luck in front of us not too far was a beautiful hotel. We walked inside and asked if, by chance, they had a lovely suite or even a room which we could have immediately. I started to explain to the man at the desk that we just had an awful experience at the Hotel Windsor and we were on our honeymoon and just needed somewhere to stay so we could take a shower and relax. We really were desperate and I'm sure this was the impression we gave as we were still in our wedding attire.
But as I waited for a response, the man at the desk looked at me confused and really perplexed. I remember saying to him, "What's the matter?" And he said very strangely, "Where? Where did you say that you had this bad experience?" And so I said, quite sternly, "THE HOTEL WINDSOR!" To which he replied, "But, sir, THIS IS THE HOTEL WINDSOR."
Not knowing what end was up, we simply went with the flow and waited for the man to ask our names and tell us, "We still have your room if you are willing to pay the late check in fee." Dumbfounded...Confused... We asked about the old hotel that was lit by candlelight where people wore traditional dress. The man at the desk said that he "knew of no hotel like the one we were describing." When we insisted that he should know of such a hotel as it was only walking distance from where we were, he again said, "There is no such hotel and perhaps we were mistaken..."
Exhausted, we made our own way to the suite and fell into a deep sleep that we didn't wake from until dinner time. While getting dressed, and wanting to get to the bottom of things, we discussed with each other that we should try and find this old period hotel as it was surely in close proximity to where we were. And so we left our hotel, not only to find a restaurant, but with a mission to find this period hotel.
To our astonishment, we walked both ways and several directions but no period hotel was there. In fact, the features that we had so clearly noticed about the town when we entered it the night before, i.e. Twisting cobblestone streets, no lights, towers were not to be seen.
When we finally settled to get something to eat, we peppered our waiter at the restaurant with a zillion questions like: if there was such a period hotel in the city? Or perhaps was there a movie being made in the city at the moment? Or had the city been in blackout the night before? But again the answer to all our questions was "no." No one had any idea of what we were speaking about.
Bothered by the strange looks we received from people we asked or friends that we told about our experience, we soon chose not to speak about it anymore.
Today, I honestly am still bothered and shaken by this encounter. I often wonder what would have happened if we would had stayed the night... Thinking would we have found ourselves trapped in another century... Another time?
Thanks for reading.