I’ve discovered something rather strange in the last few months. The idea first came to me when I was in Cyprus. At the time, I thought that it was because I was IN Cyprus. That is where I’m from after all. But now, here in Calais and all of the various hotels that I’ve stayed in since Cyprus, the feeling, the idea, persists.

The idea is simply this; home can be anywhere. You just unpack your belongings, arrange them in a way that feels comfortable and, viola! You’re home.

It doesn’t matter how grotty the hotel or whatever is, and Le Citadel Hotel certainly is grotty. I wouldn’t advise anybody to stay here. And yet, almost immediately, it felt like home.

Weird. Right?

 Le Citadel Hotel is a tiny little place. Like most of the buildings here, it’s four stories high. It’s a narrow building and I’m told that there are ten rooms for guests. Although I can only count nine windows.

There is a small reception area which is only manned from 04:30pm. I saw that check-in was after 04:30pm when I was booking the place. But I didn’t expect it to be literally locked up with nobody at all to even answer the door. So yeah, my arrival in Calais was a tad fraught, to say the least.

My ferry got in at about 03:30pm, there was a bit of a delay in getting off the ship and then finding a cab. Regardless of all of that, I was at Le Citadel by about 04:15pm. A little shocked to find the place locked and in total darkness with clearly nobody in attendance. I genuinely thought that “check-in at 04:30pm” meant that you couldn’t have the room until 04:30pm or after. No way did I take it to mean that you couldn’t even get into the hotel before that time. Would anybody think that? Would anybody interpret that announcement in that way?

There was a sign on the door. Only in French, of course. They’ve since re-dun the sign, it’s actually printed now as opposed to the handwritten scrawl that was there when I arrived. There was a phone number. I figured that it was somewhere, or someone, to call to get in or whatever. I dialled. An answering machine in French. A young couple were walking past so I asked them for help. They could hardly understand me. Seriously, they don’t teach English in schools over here? I know that the English and the French are ancient enemies but come on! There is no doubt that English is the most universal language on the planet. And these guys were 17 or 18 at the most. SMFH!

Anyway, one of them dialled the number on their own phone.

“It no work.” Followed by the universally recognised shrug.

I thanked them and pondered my next move.

By now it’s 04:45pm, it’s cold, it’s getting dark, I’ve got two backpacks, a massive duffel bag and……….a Sainsbury’s carrier bag. What to do? I walk over the road (with all my stuff) to the Family Pub. The guy who greets me speaks English. Thank God! He dials the number for Le Citadel and informs me that they have been delayed but they are on their way. I order a coffee, light a fag and sit down to wait. Finally, I see signs of life at the hotel and trundle over there.

Yianis is the “receptionist”, he is 23 years old and is a student. He’s studying biological engineering. It took no small amount of effort to figure out what he was saying about his studies. At first I thought he said beauty technician.

“You mean like, make-up,” was my adroit response “isn’t it mostly women who study that?”

Yeah, he really doesn’t look like a make-up kind of guy.

Yianis is from Tizi Ouzou in the La Kabylie region of Algeria. He takes great pride in telling me that he is not an Arab, he is Berber. He also takes pride in telling me that he hates the Algerian government and that he is a rebel. He comes from a long line of rebels who live in a region known for this particular trait amongst its inhabitants. When I tell him about my plans and that I have a website etc., he gets very excited. He tells me that he is also a journalist in Algeria and that he is very famous in his city. He tells me that he is going back in February and that it would be great if we went together or could meet up over there.

“We will make great reportage together. I will show you my city.”

He’s a nice guy, very friendly and very helpful. I don’t know if I will be in Algeria in February (it may be a bit too soon), but it would be awesome to have a local guide. Especially one who has his fingers on the pulse of local politics.

Time will tell.