Wednesday, October 01, 2008
A Hostelling We Will Go
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.
Somewhere in Croatia
Somewhere else . . .