The Setting’s the Thing: Weekly Writing Challenge

Sweat the details: creating a strong setting

Write a new, original post based on any characters you wish, though the scene you share must include details that help the reader understand the setting: the precise time and place in which your scene happens. You can choose to write about current people and places, if you wish.


The Postage Stamp Hotel in Paris

(This account of the Madrid Opéra Hotel in Paris is true … it happened to me and my husband when we began our six week adventure touring Europe as independent travellers in 2008).

Paris in the 21st Century is an interesting mix. Ye olde world charm against a backdrop of present day happenings. For instance the Eiffel Tower, a 19th Century construction lit up with 21st Century technology as lights flash on and off on the hour.

The bridges across the River Seine come from another era and are lit up like fairyland as modern-day pedestrians walk in the cool spring air enjoying the ambiance of the river and partying on the pedestrian bridge with wine, pizza and bonhomie. And in the daytime, cafes are full of modern Parisians enjoying croissants and coffee at all times of the day, and artists with easels set up along the river painting the day away..

This was the Paris my husband and I visited in 2008. A city that captivated us with its charm. The lilting sound of the French language lingering in the air all around us and at night, the melodic sound of an accordion serenading couples as they dined al fresco all over town.

But this love we now have for the City of Paris had not begun well on our first day off the train from London that spring of 2008. It seemed we were still in the 19th Century when we arrived at our lovely old hotel from a past era. We found ourselves with a room on the 4th floor that overlooked small shops selling things like shoes, souvenirs and groceries set amongst cafes and pubs.

The Madrid  Opera Hotel Paris in the 19th Century

The Madrid Opera Hotel Paris in the 19th Century

All the shops were squashed into premises the size of a postage stamp. ‘All’ might be a slight exaggeration however. Certainly, MOST of them were small. Our room was an odd shape – triangular with floors that sloped down. We had large casement windows that opened out onto the street below. I had to be careful not to fall out of the window as there was only a low railing present.

However, it didn’t take Geoff and me long to discover that the worst thing about this hotel was its LIFT (elevator). The 21st Century had not caught up with anything inside this hotel especially its lift. I took one look at it and thought it was a dumb-waiter! Geoff and the maid tried to keep the door open (it kept closing) so I could enter but I daren’t not. Why you might ask?

The lift was TINY. It was capable of holding two people side by side or one person and one large suitcase side by side. Geoff made the astute observation, ‘a bit claustrophobic’.  When I was told that it was the only lift in the eight story hotel, I knew we were in trouble. The tiny spiral staircase was not going to be an option either.

Three times the lift opened and closed because I refused to get into it. Unlike normal lifts, it had no sensor in the doors; you could not open it by putting your hand in. I found this out very quickly when the maid squealed out something unintelligible in French which made me quickly remove my hand in the nick of time.

Each time it went to close, the maid leaned over in front of me to push a button at the bottom of the lift, which caused it to open again, but because she wasn’t fast enough, it would close. Then Geoff would have to press the UP button to get it back to the ground floor. The three of us kept tripping over each other and all of our suitcases in the postage stamp area in this postage stamp hotel, as Geoff tried to persuade me into the postage stamp lift. It was like a scene from a slap-stick cartoon.

The Paris Madrid Hotel today

The Madrid Opera Hotel today

Finally, desperate to end the mayhem, Geoff volunteered, with his one suitcase to take the lift in an act of incredible heroism! I felt as if I was sending him up in a rocket to the moon. When the lift finally came down empty, I gathered my wits about me and got in the lift with my luggage, said a prayer and pressed the 4th floor button, wondering where I might end up.

When the lift opened on the 4th floor I sighed with relief but … as I got the suitcase out onto the postage stamp landing, I almost fell down the spiral staircase. As I recovered my balance Geoff came to the rescue from our room nearby. We had survived our elevator crisis!

Soon, it was time for dinner so we set off to the postage stamp street below … via the postage stamp lift. As I walked down the narrow aisle of the hotel, I failed to see the postage size step because of the dim lights. Over I went twisting my ankle very badly. As people gathered with advice … the word ‘hospital’ was overheard. Oh no!

I sat on the postage sized step with a cold pack on my swollen ankle where I determined that I wasn’t going to any hospital … especially one in a foreign country.

In fact, I was NOT gong to let this incident spoil my first night ever in Paris. I mused that I had survived the tiny lift; I had stopped myself from falling down the spiral staircase, I had almost tripped on the sloping floor of our bedroom and now I had been caught out by an indiscriminate step when I thought all my difficulties were behind me.

I’m not sure what happened next dear friends, but courage rose up within me. The swelling began to abate … quite miraculously … but then much praying was involved at the time. With my new resolve, Geoff helped me up and leaning on him, I walked triumphantly out of the Postage Stamp Hotel and into the wonderful city that is Paris, to find a place to eat, as if there was nothing wrong with me!

With the 19th Century Postage Stamp Hotel behind us, I forgot my painful ankle as I opened my eyes and my heart to embrace the atmosphere that only 21st Century Paris has got. I was in Paris and nothing was going to stop me …

Read more ‘The setting’s the Thing’ here:

To read the reviews and see more of the Madrid Opera Hotel in Paris including photos: