Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Hostelling We Will Go

The Mill Hostel - Winchester

I spoke to Clare again tonight, she's in Barcelona you know! I love the internet. Spain is her last stop and she's about to head out and buy soccer shirts before attending a match on Sunday. She is washing her clothes for the first time since leaving London! Now that's one way to keep customs out of your luggage.

I have to say, that hostel life isn't what it used to be. She's stayed in really nice places and whilst they're still expensive in Europe in comparison to America, they're in wonderful spots, clean and have good facilities.

I remember travelling when I was 21. There was no such thing as "Backpackers" you had to be a member of the YHA to get cheap backpacker accommodation. You had to be under 25, they were 'youth' hostels after all, and hostels were dorm rooms with up to 12 beds, shared bathrooms and you were expected to donate your time for chores and help around the place before you moved on. These days, you can rent family rooms, private rooms with en-suites and there's no age limit. Most importantly, there's free or very cheap internet so many of our conversations have been in hostel common rooms via the MacBook.

Way back in the day, my travelling companion and I had the best of intentions and our first Youth Hostel experience was at the Old Mill in Winchester, England. We had the badge, the membership, the backpack and the bovver boots. We'd walked miles and miles and finally ended up in the old Kingdom town, it was beautiful. Aged and historical with it's town square dominated by a fantastic bronze of King Alfred.

We found the hostel and fell in love with it's ancient cuteness. It was an ancient building with, blackened beams and 5 foot ceilings, those tiny square glass window panes with the swirls in the middle that had actually thickened at the bottom because glass is fluid even in its solid form. It was very quaint and old-world and smelled comfortable and of centuries of smoke. We imagined those who had worked and played in the building during it's original use - but it was January and cold. We were looking forward to our first 'hostelling' experience, a warm, cosy place with comfortable beds and hot food.

We lobbed up, paid our five pounds and checked out the dorm. It was damp. Very damp, a vague mist was oozing through the floorboards from beneath. There were about six bunk beds with the old grey flannel army surplus style wool blankets neatly folded at the end of each. The sheets were grey flannellette (I suspect once white) and it looked like a prison cell. There were two hefty German lads having an afternoon nap and being less than communicative so we chained our rucksacks to the bunkposts, grabbed our valuables and towels and headed for a shower.

Underneath the dorm ran a stream which fed the still functional mill wheel although it no longer drove a millstone and was largely decorative and very picturesque and the 'shared' bathroom comprised a small toilet, obviously modern and flushable but the shower was a bucket with a few holes punched in it that we were expected to fill from the raging torrent, strip naked and shower underneath.

Now in Australia, the prospect of a bush shower is not at all daunting, it's hot and the cool water refreshing and cleansing or if you're camping by the beach, a quick swish and schloosh in the ocean is enough to ensure personal hygeine but in the middle of an English winter the cold water was icy and gave us an ice cream headache. The best we could manage was a quick hair wash before changing, spraying copious amounts of deodorant and heading out to explore.

After cramming into a tiny tea house, also Elizabethan with low-slung architecture that made us duck through doorways and enjoying a 'high tea' we wondered down to the Great Hall where one of the hoaxes of the century had been discovered. King Arthur's round table was mounted proudly at the end of the hall, segmented like some enormous birthday cake with colored panels and the names of each of the knights of the round table clearly emblazoned on each segment. We found out later that it was an Henrician Hoax. Good ol' Henry VIII had 'discovered' it in an attempt to revive the lore of Camelot. But knowing it was even a 500 year old hoax made it rather special.

That evening, we hunkered down to bed with the two German boys returning from obviously a big night out. They crashed through the place, stank of beer and cigarettes, greeted is with "Gdoi Assies" and crashed unceremoniously on their bunks and proceeded to snore all night.

The sheets were damp, the blankets were damp and not enough of them and we could hear the rushing of the stream below. Needless to say, the experience was less than pleasant and frankly it was the only and last hostel we stayed in. After that, we sought out cheap pubs and paid a little extra for a comfy room, darkened bars (closing hours in England are ridiculous) and a decent English breakfast. My how things have changed . . these are a couple of the hostels that she's stayed at and whilst I wasn't sure which pics she meant she said tonight that the views from hostels were amazing and much better than those enjoyed by more lucrative travellers.

Erm have to go now because Adam's having a cow 'cos he's trying to upload photos of his latest paving exploits on Facebook and our internet sux when three computers are streaming at the same time so he's gone to PS3 and hammering people on Motocross bikes or searching for the pink spray-on CoD . . .he should know better, this is MY time on the net.

Rothenburg Backpackers

Somewhere in Croatia

Somewhere else . . .


Bear Naked said...

Wonderful story of your first (and last) visit at a hostel.
Hostels are not for me either.
My kids have always said, "Mom's idea of roughing it, is staying at a hotel that doen't have room service."
My answers to your meme are finished and will be posted tomorrow.
Today is ABC Wednesday letter K and that is my post for today.

Bear((( )))

Moon said...

Hostels are great, but we have now taken to camping .... we will see how it goes... and I love the Croatia phots, it is supposed to be an amazing country

Anonymous said...

So envious. So freakin' envious.

laughingwolf said...

coolios... how long before she's home again?

Excellent Adventures said...

The hostels are almost better than hotels now in terms of location and value for money! I spent all tonight swapping movies with the owner of the barcelona hostel who has a mc massive 20" intel duo pro mac and a lovely Spanish accent. I think if you're prepared to share with other people its definately the way to go! But then again, so many people are backpacking these days, the hostels have to be good to be competitive. We've seen a fair few 60 odd people with packs on! That's the spirit!!!

Baino said...

Bear I think it would have been tolerable had the weather been better but our 'long' uni break is from October to March so we travel in the northern winter! These days, I like my sheets turned down and a chockie on the pillow!

Moon, we did a lot of camping when the kids were smaller and the Aussie campsites are generally pretty good but as they got older, I sold my musty old tent and kind of regret it these days. She said that the water is aqua blue, everywhere you go. Amazing shots.

Hello stranger! Yeh me too. One of these days . . one of these days!

Wuffa she's home on December 1. Her travelling companion leaves her in 2 weeks and she's off to some riding ranch for the remainder. Can't wait!

Hello darling. Yeh do it while you're young I say although Uncle Don went backpacking at 70 years of age around Australia and Russia!

Miladysa said...

Wonderful post Baino!

The first [and only] hostel I stayed in was on a school skiing trip to Aviemore in Scotland during the month of February. It was a former Royal hunting lodge, built in the old style - round with no corners for the ghosts to hide in. The beds were metal bunks, we had to provide our own sleeping bags.

Everyone had to do chores, either cooking, washing-up, laundry or cleaning. It was more like a prison camp than a hotel.

I spent the entire time flirting with my French ski instructor and feigning injury.

Those were the days eh? ;-D

Don't Bug Me! said...

Hi Baino,
Your post hit a raw note with me, since I am travelling around South America at the moment and one of my biggest peeves is the lack of hot showers. Perhaps this is tolerable in hot countries - I just loved camping around Australia - but even then I just refuse to have a cold shower. I don't care how long it is since I last washed, shaved or bathed, I will not take a cold shower. There, I have said it - you might want to keep a few paces back if I haven't found any hot water for a while!

Baino said...

Haha well at least the ski instructor made things tolerable! Yeh, I didn't mind roughing it too much when I was younger. In fact, I'd probably do the hostel thing if I get to travel in the next year or so with the exception of Paris, that will be 4 days in the George V!

Hey Ms Bug . . nice of you to pop round! Yeh I saw via Moon's that you were travelling and missed he big wedding. I wouldn't worry too much, at least the company you're keeping at the moment smells the same! Not sure where you are but there were hot showers on the Gringo trail when Clare was there! Keep an eye out!

Ces said...

The backdrop in the bottom image is just marvelous. Very brave, your daughter to go around the world and you in your hostel days for sharing unisex rooms with strangers. I have never been in a hostel. I went from women's college dormitory to a women's boarding houses to women's university dormitories and then apartments shared with female friends. The first man who ever shared the same room with me was my husband.

Baino said...

Ces I think that's in or near Dubrovnik in Croatia. She hasn't labelled all her pics so it's hard to tell exactly where they are. Well, my hostel experience was very short lived! Pubs and B&B's were way more comfortable! Yep, bit of a shock sleeping with strangers although you can choose a same sex dorm these days if you want. Clare and Bec often have a room to themselves. We're much more relaxed about both sexes cohabiting out here.

Quickroute said...

Dubrovnik is a nice quiet spot - so quiet we got told to shut up in a niteclub - I recommended it to my parents who went ten years later and loved it

Megan said...

Thanks for sharing your experience even though it sounds like an uncomfortable one.

All you world travellers make me soooo jealous...but at least I get to read some great stories!

Baino said...

Don't get too jealous Megs . .haven't been anywhere since 1995! *Sob*

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Slumming it just ain't what it used to be!
How funny though, I walked past that old mill in Winchester two years ago - it's looking even more damp and crumbly than it was when you were there - don't think it's a hostel anymore - except for pigeons! :-)
Lovely post, Bains.

Nick said...

I never stayed in one of the old-style hostels you describe so well. The prospect was too daunting to contemplate. It sounds like hostels have really gone up in the world since then. I've stayed in plenty of B&Bs and they've also improved by leaps and bounds from the spartan, flea-ridden experience they used to be.

Baino said...

Sorry Quickie missed you on the fly. Dubrovnik is on the news at the moment. There's a young Australian who has gone missing for 2 weeks now. I'm just glad my girl is in Barcelona now.

AV you did? Wow! Well it was a long time ago, the old grey mare aint what she used to be!

Nick it was an adventure and we stayed in some pretty crummy B&B's. I remember a pub in Stratford on Avon where it was technically closed but the house was full . .in the dark . .we knocked on the door at about 2pm asking for a room and were hustled in amongst the illegal drinkers! Much fun!

Miladysa said...

If you make it over here [or Paris come to that] we'll have to meet up :-D