Terrified of repeating my mistakes in late, lackadaisical booking of summer 2010 and missing my chance to live like a hamster two Europe trips in a row, I'd frantically emailed the proprietor of La Villa Hamster the same day we booked this year's tickets to France.
A rodenty night for two in April 2012? Booked in July 2011? No problem. My bimonthly email confirmations were overkill, perhaps, but set my mind at ease.
I'd been dreaming of a trip to the famed hamster hotel for years. And by years, I mean ever since this November 2009 Guardian article first caught my eye.
The vision was realized by Un Coin Chez Soi, a company that hosts a variety of offbeat guest rooms, with themes like school, Captain Nemo's voyage, and, of course, hamster, throughout the city of Nantes. (An otherwise average Bretagne city, Nantes is known mainly for being the birthplace of Lu cookies. It's also one of Seattle's 21 sister cities and regular host to a University of Washington study abroad program.)
It wasn't particularly simple to make a one-night detour to Nantes as we made our way from Italy back to Paris, but I was bound and determined to finally have my night in the hamster hotel - and my patient fianc Chuck knew better than to argue.
We arrived in Nantes on a Monday afternoon, busing our way to the city center and dragging wheeled suitcases through winding cobblestone streets (even better than the Shake Weight, I tell you). All we had was an address and a printed email with cryptic French instructions.
On your left when you enter the courtyard, you will find a small crevice in the wall, containing a small lockbox. Enter the following code to find the key to the Villa Hamster. When you depart, simply leave the 109 euro on the counter, and return the key to the lockbox.
We knew we were on the right track when the lockbox popped open to reveal a key simply labeled "Hamster." A few steps into the courtyard, and we found ourselves facing a nondescript door with a small red sticker of a hamster over the handle. Bingo.
La vie hamster
From the moment we stepped through the door, the villa was more hamstery than we had ever imagined - right down to the musty hamster smell. We immediately donned the furry hamster headdresses, opting not to touch the hamster tail belts that were also provided for us.
A human-sized exercise wheel fills most of the room, strategically locking and becoming a bench to maximize space.
Next to the wheel is a ladder extending up a bed that hangs suspended over the room. A plastic headboard filled with sawdust and a pile of blankets with the instructions "faites votre lit comme un hamster," or "make your bed like a hamster."
Sawdust, cages and hamster toys decorate the rest of the tiny studio, which also features a corner water trough so you can drink like a hamster.
A sprinkle of sawdust splays out from the sawdust wall behind the toilet, dusting the plunger, toilet brush and scrubber with delicate shavings.
A frightening piece of hamster art in the corner features a giant, metal rodent face with two LED as eyes.
The villa is centrally located and fully equipped with a kitchenette, so hamster-loving guests could conceivably live there for weeks.
We spent a good portion of the evening mulling over the perfect farewell message to add to the chalkboard wall, already covered with chalk illustrations of hamsters and scrawled messages from visitors all over the world.
"Vive la vie hamster!" declared one.
"I don't know whether to use the sawdust or the toilet," wondered another guest, giving Chuck and I pause while we considered the potential sources of the villa's musty scent.
In the end, we opted for simplicity - and then promptly forgot what we'd chosen. Surely it was poignant, whatever it was.
One night was more than enough hamster for us, but now we're haunted by the question: "what next?" A night in the Jules Undersea Lodge? Zip-lining through the tree tops at the Treehouse Tresort?
For now, we'll just keep dreaming in hamster.