Sunday, July 22, 2012

Notes of a backpacker: Hostel living

If I ever get nostalgic for the hostel days, here is what I will have to do:
I'll need to recruit a few people. First I'll need someone to sleep in my room and snore their head off. Secondly I'll need someone to come into the room, truly wankered at 3am and turn the light on and make an obscene amount of noise until they get their shit together and pass out. Then I'll need someone to start zipping and unzipping bags while having a field day with plastic bags at 6am. For good measure, I'll get someone to shake my bed so it feels like I'm back in the top bunk while someone tosses and turns all night on the bunk below.
When it comes to the bathroom, I'll tie a plastic bag over the showerhead and poke a hole or two in it to ensure minimal water pressure while someone else flushes the toilet to make sure the water temperature is never steady. Sometimes I'll turn the water on and off every 20 seconds to remember those stop start showers.
I've had my fair share of horror stories. There was that time we booked an uber cheap bus ticket to Munich and then went to book accommodation only to find that everything below 50 euro a night was booked out. Until we found a place called The Tent. Our option was a 100 person "dorm". And by dorm, they meant huge tent.
We were given 3 blankets each. By the time we went to bed, we got another one. After an hour of tossing and turning and shivering, I noticed that Tanya was awake on the bunk below, so I hung my head over and asked how opposed she was to spooning. So, that happened and we managed to stay warm sharing body heat and 5 blankets.
"Haha, remember that time we had to spoon to not get hypothermia in Munich?" You'd think that one spooning story would be enough for one Eurotrip. Alas... this was not the case. In fact, our next stop, Amsterdam, saw us in a similar situation. Upon check in, we were told that we'd be sharing the same bed due to a booking f*ck up on their behalf. "Cool, we've been put in a double for the night," we thought. No no no. "You'll have to share a mattress on a bunk bed." We didnt need to demand a discount. It was given to us before we had to kick up a fuss.
Only good thing about this situation is that we were moved from a 10 bed dorm to a 4 bed dorm and were given the discount on a Saturday night - the most expensive night to stay in Amsterdam. Then the next night we were given a private room instead of the 10 bed dorm.
The place we stayed in Paris was a joke. There was one toilet per level and nowhere to wash your hands. And the French wonder why they're pinned as dirty...
The shower was definitely the kind you wear your flip flops while you're showering. And 2 minutes into the shower, the sensor light would turn off and the only way to get it back on was to step all the way out of the shower and hover by the door until it turned back on.
Not only that, the included breakfast was a croissant from a vending machine that you were given tokens for. On the second day I came down to the lobby and asked for breakfast tokens and he told me that breakfast was over. Its from a vending machine, you tosser!!

But you always manage to find some awesome place to break up the shitholes you find. I've had my fair share of crap hostels, but I've also had some pretty amazing experiences in them as well.
A booking error on our behalf had us staying in two seperate hostels when we were in San Sebastian. By fluke, our second one was in the same building block, so after checkout at the first one we just walked down a level. They werent expecting us so early and no one who actually worked there was around, so two Canadian girls let us in and showed us around and gave us the tour. Turned out we were in their room too.
The place was like staying at a mates place when the parents were away. Except the parents were there from time to time. We'd all drink together, someone would cook for us, we'd go on outings together and we'd all hang out in the lounge room together recovering.
I love coming across a hostel that will go out of their way to make sure you're having a good time. It makes your time in a place so much better. I've actually probably only had that happen a bunch of times though. Krakow, San Sebastian, Lisbon, Barcelona, Sarajevo. So enough to count on one hand, yet I have stayed at 20 hostels.
Wait... cant forget Pecs, Hungary. One of my favourite experiences. Offered tea on arrival at a self sustaining farm that was like staying at the grandparents house. We were the only people staying there and I got to milk a goat. Sometimes you need to mix it up a bit.
My most recent experience is up there with the best as well. After my dilemma with a 5 hour train delay caused by a landmine in Bosnia, I was ready to spend the next day in bed and being bitter about public transport. But I was lightly woken by the hostel owner who wanted to know if I was okay. After I'd explained what had happened, I had a shower and she took me out to breakfast! Then she took me and two others staying at the hostel to the Tunnel Museum and told her about her experience with the Bosnian War.
To top it all off, she sent me off with a couple of gifts to say thank you for staying at the hostel. She made my stay in Bosnia all that much better by being so lovely.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Notes of a backpacker: The people

You've got the good, the bad, the ugly. I'll start with the bad...

I cant blame London entirely, but I think living there plays a large part in the severe decrease of my tolerance of the human race. I'd never lived in a city before, hence not putting the full blame on the place, but look at it this way: The land size of the United Kingdom fits into Australia 17 times or something. Population of Australia was nearing 23 million last I heard. Greater London has 8.2 million people and the metropolitan area is estimated between 12 and 14 million. I come from a place with a population of just under 300,000... where its easy enough to walk down the street without having to stop constantly for human traffic.
Venturing to the European cities is no better a lot of the time. Paris, Rome and Barcelona stand out in particular. Full of lost tourists (granted I'm one of these tourists) and people not looking where they are going. And my favourite - the people who walk obscenely slow in front of you and seem to have some sort of magnetic pull toward the new path you are creating to get past their slow asses. Just walk in a straight line for f*cksake!!
I've found myself whizzing through big cities and get them done quickly, not just to keep the budget happy, but to also get the hell out of the rat race. I've also found that if you become one of those tourists and walk slowly with your head in the clouds, ignoring those around you, that you're less likely to want to hit someone over the head with the nearest blunt object.
Oh! And whats with the staring?! Anyone would think that wearing a large backpack makes you look like an escaped circus monkey!! However from time to time you get the occasional glarer even without the bag. In which case you just need to stare back and ask if they'd like a photo... Or there is that one time I yelled "WHAT???!!" back at one of them.
You've also got the people who insist on talking for hours on end on public transport at the top of their lungs. But I'll delve into that more when I write about "travelling".
You've got the ugly...
I witnessed an argument on a bus between two Italian men in Rome. I was getting on the bus as Man 1 was violently pushing Man 2 out. Had it been two buff dudes I probably would have worried about getting a bicep to the chest in the process - but these were two grown men in their 60's at least so I just squished into the corner as Man 2 was pushed out. Man 1 then goes to return to his seat and slaps an old woman on his way there. I dont speak Italian but I can only assume that the woman was telling him what a prick he was.
Tanya had the good fortune to be wandering around Vatican City, looking up at whatever she was looking at, only to have some sort of disgusting waft bring her nose down. She then followed a trail of yellow fluid back to the culprit who was passed out and had also shat themselves, just to top it off.
But not everyone you come across is an annoying woman slapping, incontinent weirdo.
I have never come across as many kind hearted people as I did in Portugal. Security guards and strangers coming up to you and asking you if you need help and friendly chats with bar / restaurant / gift shop owners. One of the hostel staff even took us down to a local restaurant while she was working, just to translate the menu and order for us.
Then there's "V", the guy running the hostel in Barcelona. While waiting for Tanya to shower, V asked me if I wanted a smoke. I politely declined but then he noted what type of "smoke" and I saw the spliff he was rolling. At first I turned it down and then he twisted my rubber arm within all of 30 seconds. We stood on the balcony and chatted and by the time Tanya got out of the shower... well, I was craving dinner, put it that way.

It was also in the Barcelona hostel when Tanya and I woke up after a night on the sauce, we were gearing up to go get a filthy McDonalds breakfast, when a kiwi guy came into our room and asked if we wanted breakfast and we were then presented with a table full of bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes and toast. And then an invitation to join them down at the beach while we all recovered - but Tanya and I still had things to see since it decided to piss down rain the day before.

I'll leave that tangent for the next chapter though... The people you meet in hostels and the shit you can be made to put up with... And hostels in general.

Notes of a backpacker: Intro

A picture is worth 1000 words or something like that... 
Well, the pictures are on facebook. Go for your life. If you're not my friend on facebook, chances are there is probably a reason... or you dont have facebook.  
Hi Aaron :)
Anyway... what you dont know is the story behind them most of the time. 
All this galavanting around Europe may look like its plenty of fun most of the time, but its not the case all of the time.
 Let me tell you about backpacking on a budget. A very tight budget at times. 
Let me tell you about the things I've seen and the people I've met and the experiences I've had and the lessons I've learnt.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This time tomorrow...

I will totally be in Istanbul, Turkey.
My boxes containing my personal belongings were collected today and will now be shipped (hopefully safely) to my doorstep in Australia... Probably before I get there!
Now I just need to work out how I am going to get the remaining of my belongings into my backpack as most of it is strewn over my loungeroom.
Ugh - effort...

Saturday, February 25, 2012