Our guidebook had helpfully provided a map with all the street names in English. But in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, all the street names are written in the Cyrillic alphabet and we found it difficult even to navigate our way out of the station. We didn't manage to find any of the monuments highlighted on our map, and when, in desperation, we decided to give up and have a drink, it took us half an hour to find somewhere that served beer. Exhausted, it was time to find a place to stay. Consulting the guidebook, we headed for a (supposedly) good cheap hotel.
Checking in, I didn't notice all the scantily clad women hanging out in the lobby, nor, in my hot, tired, drunken state, did I notice all the shifty men who peeked out from behind their doors as we stumbled down the dark corridor to our room.
I did notice, however, the flies that buzzed in an irritating huddle above our beds, and the crack in the ceiling and stains on the basin. But we were exhausted, and figured we could deal with it for one night, so we prepared ourselves for bed.
Grabbing her towel, Rachel, my travelling companion, headed off for the shower. In a very short space of time, she returned looking disgusted and dragged me off to have a look. The shower was huge, the whole room was tiled a cracked brown, there was a rusted metal nozzle, a drain and a seatless chair.
Undaunted, Rachel had turned the shower on and stripped, taking off her glasses. Halfway through her ablutions she had become aware of a very nasty smell. Fumbling for her glasses, she looked around the shower. There was a very large and very human excrement placed carefully on the ground near the drain. Retching, she threw her clothes back on and raced out.
In my semi-drunken and exhausted state I was feeling assertive, so I stormed downstairs to have a word with the manager, and to get it cleaned up. Except I don't speak Bulgarian and he didn't speak English. In desperation, I frog-marched him up the stairs to view the shower himself, yet he didn't seem in the least perturbed. He merely showed me another shower I could use, ignoring the fact that at least five people were queuing to use it. I was angry and demanded my money back. I was still shouting at him as he scurried off down the stairs.
By this time it was late, and Rachel and I decided we'd just have to put up with it. We tried to get some sleep, to a delightful jumble of night sounds, the beds squeaking from the rooms all around us, moans and grunts, doors slamming and the all-night whine of mosquitoes combining with the car alarm just outside the window.
We woke very early and, removing our hands from our ears, decided to leave the hotel as quickly as we could.
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