I’m currently confined to another Ibis hotel whilst writing this blog, well the same one we frequent in Ales actually, and yes, 18 months on the chip/chewing gum/slug thing that I have previously mentioned being stuck on the ceiling at stairwell 4 is absolutely still there!
Still clinging on.
In fact, we also stayed here last week and on that occasion, we were put into a room on floor two which, as it turns out, is the only floor that we have not previously stayed in and also the only floor out of the five available that has been recently refurbished. When I say ‘recently refurbished’, I mean that it has been completed in the last two/three years, though it is quite bizarre that the refurbishment is limited to just small parts of the hotel, mainly the reception area and restaurant and floor two. Why not start at floor one? I will freely admit that this perplexing approach to refurbishment aggravates my OCD tendencies a little. Also, much of the refurbishment is still very dated. Perhaps they get the hand me down interiors from other Accor hotels that are upgrading. Maybe the Mercure pass their ten-year-old interiors onto Ibis, and Ibis pass their twenty-year-old interiors onto Ibis Budget and so on.
So if I can set the scene for you, you arrive outside and look up at a non-descript concrete block (possibly sixties or seventies era), you are welcomed into a newish, reasonably trendy, reception area, you walk up to floor one and step back into the eighties, you walk up to floor two and step into the noughties as far as the corridor is concerned but then back into the nineties with regards to the room interiors and then floors three, four and five are back into an eighties time warp.
Hey, who said that time travel wasn’t possible!
Still, at least we know where we are and what to expect in Alés. We have visited frequently enough to know to ask for a room at the back of the building so as not to be awoken at 5.30am by the street cleaning cart that passes up and down the road for several hours and we have narrowed down the restaurants to the ones we like the best, we know that we can get one of the best burgers ever tasted from Le 613, we know that we can get a pretty good pizza from the place on Stink Street. It’s not really called Stink Street, of course, I don’t know what it’s called but I always call it Stink Street because it usually smells like a badly blocked drain or an overflowing sewer, which admittedly does kind of make it not the most pleasant place to sit al fresco and eat a pizza, but when needs must e.g. if Le Jardin Cevenol where you can get a great choice of salads is closed, we have been known to grin and bear it. At least the pizza’s are really good and once you have a fresh from the oven 60x40cm vegetarian pizza in front of you with all its lovely, goodness wafting up to meet your nostrils, Stink Street is barely even noticeable. There are also a number of bars and restaurants along the river on Rue de Pong as we like to call it, on account that it is only slightly less whiffy than Stink Street.
Anyway, that is quite a lot of unnecessary information for you, the reader, but I do like for you to be able to fully share my experiences.
On Monday, my husband had a requirement to visit a customer in Beziers which is not too far from the coast, so after an early start and almost a six-hour car journey there and two hours at the customer site (whilst I waited at the nearby hotel) he decided to have a well-earned break and we drove the ten minutes or so to the beach for a quick peep.
Here is Serignan-Plage
It’s quite pretty in a rugged, natural way, I do love a sand dune, although it was very windy indeed which made the sea very rough and I certainly didn’t feel like diving into it, which is just as well really, as I think we had been there, admiring the view, for all of three minutes when my husband’s phone started ringing.
It was a customer with a problem.
Not the one he had just left, this one was six hours away.
Bless my husband, he rather quickly exhausted his French conversational skills trying to get to the bottom of it all, his French has actually massively improved but it’s still very difficult when on the phone and trying to solve technical problems in your head and also think about speaking a different language so he attempted to dial in via Teamviewer from his phone. Sat there on this windy beach with sand blowing into every orifice and the mobile signal wafting in and out, it really was not ideal circumstances for support, so a hasty retreat to the car was necessary to crack out the big guns (laptop, iPad etc).
So our little trip to the beach and his ‘break’ was very brief indeed and after he had finished sorting the customer out, which was about an hour later we decided to go in search of some food to quiet our rumbling tums.
We had already decided upon pizza because when you are in a new town and don’t know where anything is it helps at least to narrow it down somehow, so now we just had to find a pizzeria that was open on a Monday evening. Again, our previous travel experiences lend themselves to us being better prepared for the fact that you can not just assume that there will be a restaurant or even a take away that is open on a Monday. We have travelled to lots of places before now where everything is shut on a Monday, sometimes also a Tuesday. You would think that one one of them would think “Wait a minute, if I opened on a Monday and Tuesday I would get all the business because I would be the only establishment open” but Nope! It seemingly doesn’t occur.
We have visited tiny places where there are just two eateries and both of them chose to close for the whole month of August for congés. They didn’t think ok, we’ll close for July and our neighbours can close for August and between the two of us we will both retain some much-needed business and there will be somewhere for people to eat.
My husband often compares the entire French nation to the ‘remedial class’ that almost every comprehensive secondary school had when we were growing up. I know it’s a sweeping statement but he is fully entitled to his opinion and he has travelled across enough of the world and extensively throughout France to ascertain a broader knowledge of the people he encounters. They are a profusely polite nation but perhaps a little erm…… guileless, naïve, simple?
Anyway, back to our impending dinner. For once, on account that it had been a very long day for my husband and I was bloody starving, I was not about to start being Little Miss Fussy as to where we ate. If it was open and if it served pizza that was fine with me, I would overlook the décor, the table-wear, the location, whether it had a view or not, I would temporarily be blinded to any dirt or dust or slightly crusty cutlery, I would happily shut up as long as it was
a) open and b) served a delicious, freshly cooked pizza.
Hurrah, we finally found somewhere after the first top three Pizzerias in the area on Tripadvisor advised us that they would remain closed until tomorrow.
We settled down in a very small, but pleasant enough place, well pleasant enough if you bare in mind that I had my ‘rose-tinted, I’m not going to complain about anything’ magical specs on. At one point, I guess it had just been a takeaway establishment but now with a bit of careful planning, they had managed to shoehorn a few tables in and offer a dine-in service.
We chose to share a 50cm pizza which we selected off a fairly extensive list of choices and ordered half a carafe of lovely, chilled rosé wine which we made a start on whilst we chatted together and hungrily awaited our food.
Then calamity struck. Well, I say calamity, I suppose this could be coined as one of my famed overreactions but when you are starving and have seen this beautifully adorned 50cm pizza delivered to your table and your mouth is pumping saliva like a shipwreck victim who’s just found a whole coconut after two weeks of no food, then I choose to stick with my original adjective.
This was our Pizza……
But then somewhere between my delighted smile for this picture and me picking up my knife and fork, the SMELL hit me.
Perhaps if I tell you that this beautiful, freshly ‘prepared in the old-fashioned way’ Pizza had been served on a giant round wooden board some of you will already know what SMELL I refer to.
My chef and foodie friends will instantly know what I am talking about.
For those of you who have not yet caught on, if I then further explain that the huge round wooden board on which it had been served had obviously been used at least eleventy-billion times before for the same purpose. Do you now know the smell I mean?
That smell of ancient grease and fat and countless other foodstuffs of the many years previous, now deeply, irrevocably, ingrained into the rough wood and with a piping hot pizza sat atop it, it was kicking up a right pong that made me pull a fully disapproving face whilst completely comprehending the total and utter disappointment that this pizza would prove to be.
The foul smell was not only airborne, making me wrinkle my nose and turn down the corners of my mouth but I suspected that it had naturally seeped into the warm, pizza base that was in direct contact with this rancid, reeking, contaminated, detestable wood board that I now hated with a passion and thus permeating the dough with its unique stench. We were not given separate plates upon which to eat, on account of the fact that the huge stinking, wooden board of death and decay took up the entire table so I quickly, deftly moved a couple of slices of pizza on top of each other in the hope that they could be saved and the ones underneath would have to stand as sacrificial pizza slices (fallen comrades in the line of duty, gone but never forgotten for their bravery) but sadly as I bit into my first slice and could taste the rank, dirty, pungent odour as well as smell it, I realised that any hopes of salvaging the pizza were in vain.
My dreams for a delectable pizza dinner were instantly dashed.
My husband tried to make out that I was just being overly fussy (who me?) and that he couldn’t taste a thing untoward as he bit into the Pizza and exclaimed “Mmmmmmmm” whilst he munched undeterred but I knew he must have been simply acting because it was impossible not to taste it, so utterly vile and dominant was the wretched flavour. I think he was just being nonchalant in the hope that I didn’t dare complain to the big tattooed ‘chef’ and cause any awkwardness. I had no intention of complaining or making a scene and putting him in a momentarily uncomfortable situation but I was savagely disappointed that some unthinking ‘remedial’ French man who clearly had not the first clue about food hygiene had spoilt my bloody dinner!
So, that was day one, after six hours travelling in the car and then two hours waiting:
Three minutes on the beach and a GIANT disappointment of a pizza, all fifty centimetres of it.
On Tuesday morning we left Bezier and travelled here to Alés and on Wednesday morning we will need to travel the six hours back home as my husband has to make a visit to a customer that is practically on our doorstep.
Once before, my husband had just arrived in Alés after six hours of travel plus a two hour detour/stop at another customer en route, he had literally just checked into the hotel when he was told that he would have to cancel his appointment with the customer there and instead leave first thing in the morning and travel to Rouen (at least 9 hours in completely the opposite direction) to visit a customer who had a major breakdown issue.
It’s not a case of poor planning it’s just that as an engineer in a very niche field, his job is a ‘reactive’ one and he must go where he is needed.
Sometimes it is crazy and he is here, there and everywhere and sometimes he has several days working from home. Tis’ the life of a field engineer.
Thankfully on Thursday, it is our wedding anniversary and we have booked a hotel in Chatelaillon-Plage, near La Rochelle to celebrate this occasion. We are certainly covering the miles this week but at least this will be purely for pleasure. I can’t wait to indulge in that Spa and have an opportunity to spend more than three minutes on the beach.
So until our next exciting exploits, I’ll leave you with this.
That pizza sure looks tasty,
But there’s something quite amiss
This stench that takes my breathe away
Is worse than weasel piss
I’m not aiming to be fussy
I would love to overlook
That rancid smell of ‘God know’s what?’
And the fact that you can’t cook!
I don’t wish to be cantankerous
But I’d really have preferred
A delicious, fragrant pizza
Not this giant, fetid, stomach-churning, half-a-metre turd.
The Virtual Recluse