Travel: Where I’ve Stayed
2019 marks my 20th year of being ‘on the road.’ A Kerouac reference which follows on nicely from Lonesome Traveller which I used for Perry Blake’s blog. Nowadays we are spoilt for choice between hostels, hotels, and now Air BnB, here’s a selection of places I’ve stayed over the last 20 years of independent travelling.
At the last count 40+ hostels, 16 hotels, a few Air BnBs, a bookstore (Paris), a train station (Auckland), a homestay (Hanoi), a bank! An empty building, a restaurant and wild camping (Barcelona). Never did Couchsurfing and I’ve yet to try Be Welcome and Housesitting (though my friends place in Cardiff came close).
*NOTE: Normally I wouldn’t use profanity but this piece is a rare exception where I’ve been brutally frank. Apologies if it causes offence to regular readers. And speaking of which… it’s a long one!
LONDON – THE INCHMONT and SILVER FERN (both now defunct)
Pros: In the heart of Kangaroo Valley, a (mostly) good camaraderie between inmates (long-termers), free brekkie at the Fern, albeit Corn Flakes in a Tupperware container that never seemed to be washed.
Cons: Some dodgy Kiwi staff, you know the type, surly smile, hands grabbing for cash!
Pretty disgusting bathrooms and rooms that resemble tips! Towards the end it lost its charm by hiring anyone to hand, some pissy guests and I think the owner by this point had decided on selling it on and whoever took up the baton converted it into swanky flats (not too surprising really given its location).
NOTTINGHAM – IGLOO
Pros: It was new. Owner was ok if memory serves.
Cons: Some funny tenants including the cantankerous Kiwi’s who had either never backpacked before or simply were naive to the ground rules. i.e. label thy milk or others will use it and in some cases others will use it anyway. This factor is still relevant at the time of writing nearly 20 years’ later! *As of 2021 and the pandemic the original Igloo is no more but there is another branch in the centre.
OXFORD – BACKPACKERS
From memory, a bit tatty, don’t know what it might be now.
BATH – BACKPACKERS
Pros: Cheap and in the heart of historic Bath, not far from the Abbey and Pump Rooms. The Vault was a good social and music room with a pool table.
Cons: Shitty manager. If this hostel had looked like some of the others on this list instead of a beer lovers camper-van, it would have been a winner. *apparently the song is pretty much still the same judging by the reviews.
DUBLIN – GLOBETROTTERS
Pros: The first time I stayed here in 1998 was a dream! Reasonable room, big breakfast in a huge dining room and agreeable staff. However in 2006 it was a very different story.
Cons: Mouthy staff idiot, obviously not suited to hospitality at all. Some of the staff from my previous visit were present but did nothing to curtail said clown hence my move to the Abbey Court on the river (see below).
GALWAY – CAN’T REMEMBER HOSTEL NAME
SLIGO – HARBOUR HOUSE??
The location seems about right but I can’t remember for sure. Still at the time it was considered the Taj Mahal of hostels.
Pros: Owner was ok and fair minded, room was magnificent with its own shower.
Cons: Location, was quite a way from town in an industrial estate! Two Rottweilers strolling around the kitchen made me a little nervous. Anti-social Germans who kept to themselves. Waking up with the flu.
PORTSMOUTH – BACKPACKERS
Pros: Pompee Pete, funny guy and near the promenade. Again interesting inmates as documented in my book Voyage of Nomad.
Cons: Quite a way from town centre and bus station.
PRAGUE – CAN’T REMEMBER NAME OF HOSTEL
Fine if you like people walking through your room in the early hours and breakfast with Polish coconut biscuits also documented in the Nomad book.
VIENNA – WOMBATS
Pros: Beautiful hostel, excellent decor and rooms.
Cons: Crappy staff. A change of plan meant leaving early and with no refund. There is no excuse for that in travel. As plans change there is no harm in refunding someone. I haven’t stayed with Wombats since.
PARIS – LE VILLAGE
Pros: Beautiful with a window on Sacre Couer.
Cons: A little uphill but this didn’t bother me as I had a pack at the time.
PARIS – SHAKESPEARE AND CO (BOOKSTORE)
Pros: It was free.
Cons: Some of the inmates thought of it as their own private utopia. No bathroom or kitchen.
EXETER – BACKPACKERS
Pros: Newly opened (this was in 2000) with a reasonable owner.
Cons: Umm, Exeter is ok for hiking but there wasn’t at the time any definable features and I was looking for a home, Exeter wasn’t it.
VENICE – BIASIN
Pros: A fortunate find right in the heart of Venice.
Cons: Room was a co-share, the other guy was ok but the keys, it took a lot of patience to get into the sanctuary.
FLORENCE – CAN’T REMEMBER NAME OF HOSTEL
ROME – ALESSANDRO
Pros: Nice cosy apartment style place close to Termini (train station).
Cons: My job fell through, it may have opened the door to a career in hospitality but everything happens for a reason.
SORRENTO – CAN’T REMEMBER NAME OF HOSTEL
MONACO – BACKPACKERS
Yes! I kid you not, I have no idea if it’s still there but back in 2000 it was my window on wealth and all that glitters.
Pros: It provided a cheap solution to see Monaco and free breakfast.
Cons: Staff a bit so so.
NICE – HOSTEL CHEZ PATRICK
Pros: Big dorms in a residential block and I believe he is still going!
Cons: The shower was in a closet!
WELLINGTON – BEETHOVEN HOUSE (defunct as of 2009)
Pros: I quite liked the eccentric owner who awakened us with ‘Good Morning Possums!’
Big room overlooking the city and old museum. Breakfast too if memory serves.
Cons: Can’t remember any.
WELLINGTON – ROWENA’S LODGE
Pros: Umm, it had a piano?
Cons: Dark dingy room, crappy British staff with all the personality of a breeze block. Couldn’t wait to leave. Welly didn’t get much better sadly.
LONDON – OLAVE HOUSE
Pros: it was a marvel when it opened, new chest of draws, curtains but how time devoured it. Sometime after I left it became Back to the Future alternate 1985. Curtains gone, chest of draws a dilapidated pile of wood. Black guys who wear shades in dark rooms, my former room!
Cons: run by middle eastern cowboys who wouldn’t supply a reference even though I’d paid rent on time for a year. I can only hope Karma got ‘em! *now part of Evolve Housing’s accommodation for homeless youth!
COPENHAGEN – HOSTEL
Can’t remember the name but in a suburb, kind of a precursor to what is now Air Bnb. I got to sample the real Danish neighbourhood vibe.
Pros: Unique angle on a cool city, staying in someone’s apartment.
Cons: No problem with the hostel but the city didn’t open ’til a week later!
BERLIN – HOSTEL
The name of this one is also lost to the winds of time, but it was smart with the most demonic power shower nailing one to the wall and a rather chubby guy who was a bit of a snorer. Some mouthy staff in attendance though this too can be rather common.
GENEVA – BACKPACKERS
Pros: Close to station. Nice English guy who left me his teabags 🙂
Cons: A little sterile in terms of atmosphere but I’ve stayed in worse. Very Swiss, neat, tidy, did the job.
EDINBURGH – ARGYLE
Pros: Nice homey feel to this one, away from the main drag. Funny Polish receptionist at the time.
Cons: Not a very good time for work so escaped to Dublin.
DUBLIN – ABBEY COURT HOSTEL
Pros: Central and by the olive river. The chirpy Aussies singing outside. Staff ok.
Cons: Some crappy guests/roommates, juggernauts passing by outside.
BARCELONA – GARDEN HOUSE HOSTEL
Based out in Horta, away from the hordes this was definitely the right choice for me. Returned eight years’ later, could use a few tweaks here and there.
Pros: Clean, quiet and in a non touristy area of town. Great staff in both 2010 and 2018.
Cons: In 2010, they ripped the shower out without warning while I was outs but this was a one off.
Eight years later a different room, a different experience. Upstairs the rooms are big often unlocked but the biggest gripe was a slamming bathroom door of which the hinges need a bloody good oiling. Also sound carries from reception area so any voices/music drifts right up through the whole hostel which in itself is suffering from an identity crisis; reggae in the Garden!?
They also have a habit of admitting anyone regardless. So expect a few drop kicks whose sole diet is weed. Not really what I was expecting at the Garden. Also some gossip between staff members but that’s women.
AUCKLAND – OLD TRAIN STATION
Pros: Having stayed in a bookstore in Paris, Auckland offered its own unique and cheap alternative.
Cons: Full of dodgy characters, no cooking utensils and rude staff.
LONDON – PALMERS LODGE
Pros: Very neat, hostel was not fully opened when I stayed, just a few guests.
Cons: None that I remember, was a welcome break after the disaster of revisiting NZ. *there are two hostels currently in existence (2019) but neither seems like the one I stayed in, strange but true.
CARDIFF – RIVER HOUSE BACKPACKERS
Pros: Everything spotless and Charlie perhaps the chirpiest Welshman I’ve ever met. Free fruit, pretty good breakfast from what I can remember. Also not too far from City Centre or train station though if you have baggage it may feel like it. Update 2018: Still helmed by brother and sister team Charlie and Abi and hands down one of the best breakfast spreads of any hostel I’ve stayed at.
Cons: Can’t think of any. Update 2018: Stairs a bit narrow if you have a large wheely bag, a little like the hostels in Earls Court except cleaner.
CARDIFF – MALDRON HOTEL
Pros: Nice room and wonderful spread laid on for my arrival.
Cons: I had to leave! Hotel has changed names several times since.
BRUGE – NO 11
Pros: Beautiful and very good breakfast.
Cons: A bit of a walk from the bus and train stations.
BANGKOK – IMM FUSION
Pros: Gorgeous! Like a 5 star hotel and swimming pool. OK, I’d rather a jacuzzi but it looked stunning nonetheless.
Cons: The mosquitos and a little far out from the centre but right next to a TESCO Lotus. *Now defunct in Bangkok but the Chiang Mai hotel still exists.
BANGKOK – IBIS
Pros: Three star but good wifi and breakfast.
Cons: It was a bit out of the way but it was either this one or another in the red light district.
BANGKOK – DUSIT THANI
Pros: A rare glimpse of five star luxury.
Cons: Can’t complain here.
KUALA LUMPUR – APPLE HOSTEL
Pros: A nice clean boutique hostel/hotel in the making – it might be better now.
Cons: They were finding their way, sink pipes not connected! Cue watery feet and floor. See review.
BANGKOK – HOSTEL
Pros: Cheap, clean and chock full of English teachers.
Cons: On a road adjoining the main road with Skytrain stop but this wasn’t too big a deal.
BEIJING – HOSTEL
Ahh, my first taste of the real China. What a pity it had to be winter.
Pros: It had heating! Also fairly central; on the same road as the CCTV building.
Cons: The annoying Estonian drunk who as an encore foamed at the mouth.
SHANGHAI – LE TOUR HOSTEL (may be defunct)
Pros: Homey, felt like someone’s house, dorms sadly familiar.
Cons: Freezing! No heating in January!
HONG KONG – PEKING (CHUNGKING MANSIONS)
HK has a very big problem with budget accommodation in that there simply isn’t enough! Even a hostel – what few there are – can charge ridiculous prices. This one is a pokey affair atop the legendary Chungking Mansions; wait forever for a lift and when it arrives is bursting with occupants!
Staff nice but rooms pokey and sweaty with old showers and barely space to put bags. Expect to share with the odd roach also seeking refuge. The airport floor is good alternative.
Pros: It was cheap and nice earthy Chinese staff keen to please.
Cons: The cockroaches and that bloody lift, so slow and always crammed to the hilt! The room is en suite but you can extinguish any thoughts of pleasant hotel imagery from your mind, this is en suite as in claustrophobic, cracked tiles and little light!
SHENZHEN – LOFT YHA
Pros: Great location on the edge of an arts complex.
Cons: Mouldy damp room, staff from HK who couldn’t give a shit including the owner’s mouthy daughter!
SHENZHEN – INTERNATIONAL AIR HOTEL
From the ridiculous to the sublime! Loved Shenzhen.
SHENZHEN – ART HOTEL
Pros: Cheap and lobby lookin’ good!
Cons: A little tucked away, a former 7 Days Inn and some choice carpet. Not sure if by now it may have been replaced.
TAIPEI – HOSTEL
Pros: It was central and close to a breakfast bar, really cheap and thick toast but just what was that they were putting on it and was it a health risk!?
Cons: Lily aka Mumzy could be both cute and terrifying! Christian staff (i.e. as religious as a hair metal band’s tour bus shenanigans) dorms had curtains but plenty of mozzies baying for blood and some unfortunate guests. *lots of pics of Mumzy but she doesn’t want me to put them on the internet so I’m honouring her wishes.
MANILA – MNL
Pros: Clean residence and nice staff.
Cons: Difficult to get to, but so is anywhere in Manila. Really annoying cabinet with a finicky little padlock.
HANOI – MAISON D’ORIENT
Pros: Sometimes I get it right! The Maison is absolutely gorgeous! Well worth the money and a good breakfast.
Cons: A little tricky to find, down a small lane off another lane but worth the search as mentioned. Oh and the plug for the kettle in the room was a minor inconvenience.
SHANGHAI – WOOD AND ROCK (Review culled from Trip Advisor)
From the sublime to the almost sublime… The Rock and Wood is a hostel that proves to the hilt that beauty really is only skin deep. Having surveyed the pictures and reviews here I trusted that it was good to go. In terms of appearance it is indeed a winner, BUT who works there and what is their temperament? This is probably the next level of development for the hospitality industry. Are the people really suited to their line of work?
It all started well enough. Two girls on reception were very nice. However what they didn’t tell me was that the room rate means exactly that, you are pretty much paying for the room NOT the common/lounge area that they are trading on in all those nice photos – unless you BUY their stuff (apparently the common area is a defacto cafe/bar which in turn is a separate business!) There is no kitchen for paying patrons – also odd in a YHA whose founding principles are to bring your own stuff, carry yourself etc.
You may say it’s only a hostel but it’s a hostel whose room rates are akin to a budget hotel minus the facilities. I paid for a private room NOT a dorm. Depending on who you are, your ethos and values etc you may view the following as trivial.
Having suffered a 7 hour delay to get to Shanghai and then spent all day on my feet I thought I would buy some sushi and eat it back at the hostel. Here is where the problem begins. I figure I need a drink to go with my light evening meal but I can’t see anything I want at a sensible price so decide against it and return to my seat.
The night manager (I assume that’s who he was anyway) sees this and is a bit upset so he follows me back to my table and tells me I have to move. Not only this but he stands directly over me with a goofy grin. He says there is a rule – which I don’t know about – and that I can’t eat food I’ve bought elsewhere which may have been ok had I known this on checking in and hadn’t already started. Reluctantly I moved at his request to a small desk opposite reception only to find him standing there watching me eat!
Now I might be old fashioned here but having paid extra for a room which is more than I’ve ever paid in China I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be able to utilise the lounge/common area instead of being shunted out like a piece of crap. I have been to many countries and stayed in as many hostels so I am experienced in the art of travel etiquette. It seems however that my ‘friend’ isn’t. Presumably he was hired by a relative as is common in China so complaining to them would be pointless.
This of course had a very detrimental effect on my first holiday in three years. My suggestion is that said manager finds a more suitable job; say waiter as he likes to watch people eat and if any of this bothers kindred spirits out there then tread carefully and don’t be fooled by the nice pictures.
Hostel location, nice area between two metro stops, the elevated stop at West Yan’an Road is a nicer walk (through a park or via park with art museum in it (closed when I looked in). At the rates the hostel charges you would think it’s a sub-branch of the Mandarin Oriental with its own metro station or a boutique guesthouse in the French Concession! All for a room with a fancy sink.
There isn’t much in the way of western eateries in the immediate area (not even a 7-11). The breakfast at the hostel probably would have been ok but due to the manager’s behaviour I chose not to purchase there and cut short my stay. All in all he cost the hostel a lot of money. I’d guess whoever hired him isn’t likely to care due to ‘loss of face’ and they won’t be short of visitors what with budget accommodation in the city lacking (much like HK). Personally I voted with my feet and will avoid YHA China for future travel.
KUNMING – 7 DAYS INN
Pros: It was a room to myself, also fairly central but seemed like a trek from the airport bus. Getting back to the airport was also a mission in that the bus didn’t stop on the opposite of the same road it drops off (if that makes sense). Nice staff.
Cons: Really needs some TLC, broken glass and calling cards for girls!
GUILIN – ZHI
See Guilin Blog for this…
Pros: The right environment, books on travel and architecture.
Cons: No lift, yapping dog (which may have been someone’s meal) outside.
HELSINKI – EUROHOSTEL (YHA)
Pros: Good hostel, beguiling ambience and nice adjoining cafe. Sauna was an interesting experience but would take some getting used to. Viking ferry terminal nearby but the train stn is a bit further via tram. In keeping with things of a Scandinavian nature (and like Copenhagen earlier) the hostel is in a suburban area (great apartments opposite) so it feels like you’re living in Helsinki rather than merely being a tourist. See Helsinki blog.
Cons: Washing machines have no timer so you have no idea how long they are going to take if someone has stuff in the mix so to speak. Not too many eateries close by if you get peckish.
RIGA – IBIS STYLES
Pros: Very nice as you might expect. Good breakfast spread with views over grey and rainy Riga.
Cons: In an odd area away from main town, feels more suburban so the last thing you’d expect is a hotel (as in a medium sized skyscraper).
VILNIUS – CORNER HOTEL
Pros: Nice hotel with lift and grand dining area. Washing machines and dryers at about five euros.
Cons: Don’t expect a room with a view. Also quite a trek from both rail and bus stations.
WARSAW – IBIS BUDGET
Pros: Rooms excellent in their design, nice area by the river with local shops and cafes near by.
Cons: Pricey over time hence the move to…
WARSAW – AIR BNB (OKOPOWA)
Pros: It was the perfect choice for discovering Warsaw and summer as it was a de facto student house.
Cons: A little pokey, the National Shower of Poland (see picture is not for the claustrophobic) and nowhere to hang washing if the house is full.
CLUJ NAPOCA – YOUTHINK HOSTEL
Pros: A mansion! Nice homestyle kitchen, just beware of some guests who like to leave one slice of bread!
Cons: The showers go from cold to scolding hot in no time and you can’t get through the jet of water to turn it off! On a hill with a gravel drive, not so good for wheely bags.
LJUBLJANA – HOSTEL VRBA (WILLOW TREE)
Pros: Another very clean hostel; both modern (bathrooms) and traditional. Nice kitchen which doubles as a social zone.
Cons: Not too many places to work as only one socket again in kitchen. Reception area a bit pokey but very knowledgable host.
ZAGREB – HOSTEL SHAPPY
Pros: Beautiful feel and decor (rooms and bathrooms) and has one of the best hosts in Anna; a genuine smile and warm character who loves her job unlike some I’ve come across in 3 star, 4 star and even 5 star hotels.
Cons: No lift but only one floor, too many instructions for doors lockers, bracelets and very small sinks.
BELGRADE – HOME SWEET HOME
Pros: Very laid back, huge lounge and lots of natural light. Good lockers and very nice staff.
Cons: Hostel is uphill. Entrance is a bit finicky has an old lift but only to the fourth floor then you and your bags must make it to the fifth by stairs. Bathrooms can often be in use. Also the showers are in the bath which is something else I dislike. Other than that it’s an urban eden. Not many areas to work and even they may be taken.
SKOPJE – UNITY
Pros: Chilled out.
Cons: Quite a walk from the train/bus stn, lots of groovy Cafe del Mar style chill out music but there is no escape from this if you need a break from it. Also lots of stairs up to hostel – the lift didn’t work. Cannot wear shoes inside, some may like this but I like everything with me. People were good when I stayed, Aussie girl with very big hair and laid back Californian guy.
THESSALONIKI – RENT ROOMS
Pros: They pulled out the stops to help as the hostel was full on the Saturday when I arrived by offering me the couch in the cafe area for a nominal fee. The downside of that is they locked the door into the hostel so you’re trapped. Luckily I survived the night without needing a toilet.
Hostel is in a good area near historical remains and also a university. Area is mainly flat, a moderate hill but not too bad. Also a good balance between the old town (uphill) and the sea (downhill). The hostel is eco-minded but this comes with side effects like the dimly lit bathroom (see below).
Cons: It’s pokey! Stairs get narrower the more you climb and of course the 4 bed rooms had to be on the top floor didn’t they. Hostel is spotless but the only space to work is in the cafe/bar area. Shower in my room was again pokey and hardly any light in the bathroom! Double rooms look nicer. Shitty ‘alternative’ music which again is relentless!
Tea/Coffee only at breakfast, not all day as per most hostels. Stairs up to reception area and no lift – if you have a pack rather than a wheely bag you will be better off here. No lockers in rooms meaning you have to carry laptops around with you – even a small mac can weigh over time and this was in October so summer would have been unbearable. I checked Air Bnb but both my choices were toward the airport and booked on the dates so kudos to the hostel for coming to the rescue.
ATHENS – AIR BNB
ATHENS – STUDENT AND TRAVELLERS
Pros: The Air BNB was nice and again felt like living in the locale but I was never sure if I was pissing off the hosts who kept to themselves! Hostel on my return from Sofia.
Cons: As with a lot of hostels the staff here were a bit hit and miss, mostly good ie sexy girl and talkative male reception hand who played classics from the early nineties however there was one other and let’s just say that whatever was bugging her didn’t make for an easy experience. In other words I don’t think customer service is her dream job and it would be better if she found it and left. I mentioned her to my Canadian roommate and he more or less agreed, ‘she has edge,’ he says, he wasn’t kidding.
SOFIA – BE MY GUEST
Pros: Umm, felt like home.
Cons: My initial room was in the attic with a bathroom which had a sloping roof, a spider and his web for company, a little too close for comfort! Second day I paid extra for the downstairs room vacated by departing English girl and all the better for it. Exterior bathroom but at least it was a proper shower minus any arachnids!
CAIRO – MIAMI
CAIRO – AUSTRALIAN HOSTEL
Pros: Miami hostel staff nice but brekkie not quite firing, Australian hostel better but again iffy traditional brekkie, cue: stale hot dog rolls. Really helpful staff at the Aussie Hostel.
Cons: The annoying twat at the Miami hostel who insisted on banging on his mate’s door relentlessly, even the staff wanted him to shut the fuck up as much as I did!
GUANGZHOU – 7 DAYS INN
Pros: The first hotel I ever stayed in Guangzhou now refurbished with working lift!
Cons: It was surprisingly expensive! More than anywhere I’d stayed in Europe.
PHNOM PENH – KOL HOUSE
Pros: Great host, a generous en suite room and right by the airport, great stuff!
Cons: Down a long narrow lane with lots of motorbikes, a tip and in searing heat! 4 miles from town which doesn’t sound a lot but no metro. At the time there were traffic bottlenecks but I guess the flyover would be open by now as is the airport train which runs on tramlines. So the PP of the future will be a more homey version of Bangkok.
HO CHI MINH CITY – GALAXY
Pros: Has a lift and cool (literally) capsules as the air con was again set to Asia’s fave setting; Arctic Blast, the poor Chinese guy nearest the air con slept in a padded winter coat! Staff ok.
Cons: The air con, jeez – can we get a sensible temp going!? The breakfast, ok it wasn’t bad but purleeese proper milk and OJ. Oh and butter. OK it might make it a touch more expensive but I believe it would be worth it.
HANOI – LINH LINH HOMESTAY
Pros: Nice room, nice house, nice family, nice neighbourhood.
Cons: The bloody padlock on the gate and no one being around if I needed to ask questions.
HANOI – TAY HO APARTMENT
Pros: Nice area and super cheap!
Cons: A few spots of damp here and there, the bloody chicken next door (it was Vietnamese new year). Also no cheap transport to the airport (as it’s the expat area) so reliant on taxi.
MADRID – OK HOSTEL
Pros: Super clean, (mostly) friendly staff, great breakfast buffet – easily the most cost effective in the area.
Cons: Some of the staff might not take too kindly to suggestions like ‘your reservation system is pants,’ and also fucking me about on moving rooms which I now understand is a Spanish thing. This doesn’t mean moving your bags from one room to another, this is lugging them down to reception, checking out, then checking back in even if you haven’t left!
Then lugging bags back up to a room which was only three doors down from where I was. The next day would have been the same and paying more for a room with more beds in is equally ridiculous, that’s when I left for…
PAMPLONA – HEMINGWAY
Pros: It was empty, had the whole room to myself. Very reasonable breakfast spread.
Cons: This place suffers a little like the Athens hostel above, there are good staff and pissy staff. The guy who greets me is a planner but he is not a customer guy, the Colombian girl who resembles Whoppi Goldberg is much friendlier but doesn’t speak English or much of it anyway which begs the question how did she get the job?
Nonetheless she was more customer focussed than Mr Pissy who asks in an agitated tone why the door buzzer jams when I arrive as if I would know, not having been there before. Perhaps he is an editor in waiting (he has that kind of demeanour). That plus shitty bed linen and a gloomy lounge are reasons I’d probably opt for another place if returning to Pamplona.
BILBAO – MOON
Pros: It’s cheap (by European standards) but for the same price in China I could easily have had a nice hotel room to myself. That aside it could be a whole lot nicer with a few simple additions, there are some nice touches. For one it has a lift, good so far. The stairs even have a fancy glass panel in and the lounge area is also reasonable again with some nice glass panelling (see picture).
There is also an exterior garden square on the first floor. The area is quite near to the university and the metro and if they hadn’t ripped out the tracks would have had a train line behind it too. That said the metro should suffice and the city and Guggenheim are not far on foot (providing it isn’t hammering down).
Cons: The reception is only open for a few hours in the morning and then again for the evening shift, this results in plenty of aggrieved guests who seem to arrive between when it’s closed and can’t get in or who need to ask questions. As I was using the lounge area to work from I became the brunt of their dissatisfaction. The kitchen area only has a microwave, free tea and coffee but no kettle!
Apparently the reason for this is they went through 20 in under a year, though quite how that’s possible I really don’t know. It’s also one of those hostels where people take the cutlery to their rooms meaning there can be lots of hostel branded plastic orange mugs one day and barely any the next. They are also lax about check-in, supposedly 16:30 but I find a bag in my room in the early hours.
BIARRITZ – PREMIER CLASSE
Hahahaha, oh the irony, anything but premier. Easily the worst place I’ve stayed for the money spent but there was more to come in Andorra.
Pros: It was a room to myself.
Cons: Conniving staff hiding in a hidden reception, no lift, a shower with a head at an intangible angle. I guess I should’ve been grateful the water was hot.
ANDORRA – HOTEL CASADO
Ahh, Andorra where I got stung big time. No hostels meant a hotel at quite a hefty price. It was too cold too icy and too late to ramble around for a better deal.
Pros: It was a room to myself but not even ensuite!
Cons: Lift only went to 4th floor. It was still way too expensive even if the owner thought he was doing me a favour by making it cheaper, if indeed it was cheaper.
BARCELONA – GARDEN HOUSE (see above)
BARCELONA – INOUT HOSTEL (YHA)
Clearly I was having a bad run but chasing a cheaper deal was beginning to cost me more than staying put.
Pros: They employed people with mental impairments which I quite liked. Full marks there. The price included a free breakfast – it would bloody need one! It allowed me to see another area of Barcelona albeit one I would not likely return to due to it being in the middle of nowhere!
Cons: It is up a long and winding hill road and in the rain with a bag whose wheels were rapidly failing. Severely out of breath by the time I made reception. And then they expected me to walk with the bed sheets in the rain to my room even further up the road. Nowhere to eat except their own restaurant.
LYON – LE FLANEUR
I wanted to stay at Le Flaneur for years but it was a big disappointment.
Pros: It’s clean and only three tram stops from Perrache (bus/train stn). The beds offer a reading light and charge socket. The main lounge/kitchen area is the standout feature but isn’t enough to save the hostel overall.
Cons: Way overpriced 25 euros for a six bed dorm and doesn’t include breakfast, pillows hard and push button shower really annoying too. Lockers under beds are just cages, you need your own padlock which being an experienced traveller I of course had.
They didn’t offer a bottom bunk, the guy on reception when I arrived was only interested in money and putting me through the system as it was another late night arrival. A hostel is a business but it needs to be a hostel too.
LYON – IBIS BUDGET
As the hostel was a major let down I decided on a proper hotel. They again gave me a special rate. I always like the teams at IBIS (except for the Warsaw Muranow who hired the two biggest arse-clowns known to mankind and again at Berlin bus station, I guess the good days are behind them).
Pros: Near the train station and a view of the Rhone. Lift and free wifi.
Cons: My fault but I didn’t spot the microwave, also reliably bland coffee machine.
LUXEMBOURG – YHA
Similar to Flaneur but with a free brekkie.
Pros: It’s the cheapest place in Luxembourg. Has a lift and reasonable breakfast but by no means the best.
Cons: Stiff doors, deadpan staff (not all but enough), at the bottom of a gorge, no shuttle bus on weekend. Check out at 10am!! No time to shower, or rather for the towel to dry. All in all abysmal experience.
BRUSSELS – TRAIN HOSTEL
I saw this one and thought I have got to stay there!
Pros: Train lovers dream, worth the money!
Cons: A little way out but handy for the train museum and other known sites such as the Atomium. Breakfast is quite frankly a rip off at 8 euros when Madrid can do it for 3!! The reason, there’s no competition in this part of town. Again the check out is earlier than some but a manageable 11am.
WARSAW – CENTER LUX
What it should be called is Hostel Dark. Although smart online the secret is in that cheese-tastic logo which may as well say ‘we’re shit!’ The receptionist is nice until I mention I don’t have a reservation. Not that she turns nasty but she puts me in a dorm with a light bulb which I assume is one of those energy saving ones that to quote Nick Drake will get brighter later. It doesn’t.
The bed sheet and duvet is flimsy as shrink wrap and there are no lockers available, not even small lockers in the room! I end up sleeping with my day pack, truly a first! Why should I pay 100zl deposit when most hostels allow a padlock! If you have survived the night without bedbugs we can next explore the showers. Hmmm, where the hell does one hang stuff? Nowhere to put clothes. Tray for shampoo and soap is so high I end up putting my clothes on there.
How about the kitchen? Only bowls so if you buy a pizza you can forget a flat plate. Kitchen also darker than a scene from Bladerunner. There is one positive. They do put a curtain on my bed so when I arrive in the evening I think I’ve walked into the wrong room.
Pros: It’s central and is one of the few hostels in Warsaw with an elevator!
Cons: Security a little lax. Nothing happened but it could have! Kitchen, no flat plates and the lighting, Jesus Christ get some fucking lights!
WARSAW – APARTHOSTEL
My first time staying in Praga, this one falls into the category beautiful but strangely lacking in essential facilities. Same problem as Shanghai, beautiful hostel, but with some staff issues but they are not the main issues. The main area is actually a dining area which is great until you realise there is no kitchen and the only food you’ll get is the breakfast laid on, though they will apparently allow you to buy in stuff from a bakery for example.
There is also a fridge and small kettle in the room which is strange considering the above. BUT my main beef was arriving having escaped another hostel in Warsaw in urgent need of doing laundry and here’s the main problem, there is NO washing machine!!! HELLO, the lights are on but no one is home. They have sizeable bathrooms, one of which would easily fit a washing machine and dryer but instead there are only weeny sinks, good only for doing your teeth.
When I asked the male staff if I could use one to wash some smalls he agreed but it wasn’t long before the female staff was whining that it was a bathroom for six people (as if I didn’t know). It didn’t seem to occur to her the one shower was also between six people. So another case of beautiful hostel, lame management. Warsaw really has problems when it comes to hostels, most are in buildings with stairs, stairs and more stairs.
While I didn’t have that problem here, it beggars belief there was no way of doing laundry, it’s like having a hostel without a toilet for christ sakes. I only picked this one as it was close to the amazing Google Campus down the road. Plus points, it is kept spotless and beds have a reading light, the duvets are snug and warm. Granted this place is new and with the addition of some common sense, could be worth looking into in the future (providing they listen to paying international guests).
WARSAW – IN BED HOSTEL
An interesting one over in Solec, massive rooms and hot showers. See below.
WARSAW – CLOUD HOSTEL
Proof that a website can be deceiving. Way over at the end of a tram line by a basilica in the cities cool Praga district but the dreaded stairs await me. In the end it and all its flaws becomes my default home staying a few weeks when the alternate abode I’ve located in Solec and reasonably happy with decides to close for three days cleaning! Different receptionists; moody in the morning, bubbly toward the end of shift and also a male reception hand who was/is a very big plus, perhaps the only one.
Pros: Cheap as chips BUT no washing machine meaning hand washing in the bathroom sink and hoping no-one wants to use the sink.
Cons: Ropey electrics, crappy showers, one decent one but you had to be up before the crack of dawn to get in there. Some suspect inmates! Such as? The old man with breasts who stank of a deodorant worse than Lynx Africa and Old Spice put together and who liked to hover over my bed and wouldn’t take the fact I was trying to sleep and couldn’t speak Polish as a fuck off.
On top of that were two incessant yapping Polish idiots who were obviously non plussed on hostel etiquette. When I told them to stop talking (as it was late) continued in a whisper which was worse! It didn’t occur to these totally stupid arseholes (and I have to use these words) there was a kitchen and seats by the reception they could sit and talk.
How hard is it to leave the room and continue the conversation (whatever it was they were so enthused about) elsewhere! Cue change of room. Oh and another thing, it’s run by the same team as… the aparthostel above so that explains the lack of laundry facilities.
WARSAW – VAVA
Posh but pokey! Vava (a hip shortened version of Warszawa) had been open for only two years on my visit. It’s unusual for a hostel in that the room comes with a welcome booklet, shampoo sachet and marzipan biscuit. The down side is I have a top bunk (which I always hate) and the door is squeaky as a mouse and could use a bloody good oiling as much as the one in Barcelona.
Being in the cheap beds means our shower (bathroom 4) is the de facto disabled one with a shower curtain rather than the glass the others have so I wander down the corridor to bathroom 3. The rooms are called anything from ‘new’ to ‘cool’ to ‘swing’ to ‘style.’ Mine is called ‘funky’. Nice autumn garden view and across to the main lounge and kitchen.
The Saturday of my stay was also guested by a team of deaf athletes! Nothing wrong with that but there were too many of them for the space available and this created a void between the group and anyone else staying there who couldn’t even get a seat! Having said that it was easily the best of the Warsaw hostels.
KIEV – ART HOSTEL
Another one that’s perfect for decor but a bit lacking in customer care save a quick run through of what’s what after check in. If only I hadn’t been short changed by a sleight of hand it would have been another winner. Also the vintage jazz mentioned by Lonely Planet is in fact relentless house music, which although I like house – to an extent – is hardly fitting of the place. If these things could be sorted it would be every bit as authentic as the place should feel!
Pros: The decor.
Cons: Thieving little wanker!
FRANKFURT – HOSTEL
Near the train station, the not in the slightest imaginatively titled Frankfurt Hostel caught my eye with free pasta dinner and breakfast.
Pros: Aside great location right on the station, really good Afro-American reception guy, and good breakfast spread which I would have had more time with had I known the bus was going to be later. Cons: The door locks from hell, pokey lift but hey at least it had one.
BARCELONA – STAYSAFE PASSEG DE GRACIA
Imagine, there is nothing wrong with the hostel you’re in (The Garden House) but you’re the victim of a 10 day rule. Apparently I completely misunderstood them telling me the ’10 day rule was in March’ so no worries. The biggest problem with the Garden’s rule is no-one seems to know what the 10 days means, is it per month, per year or for good!? It sure feels like the latter.
Thus for the first time ever I find myself in the middle of town paying, actually PAYING for location. Some hostels are run by travellers for travellers and some are businesses, the Staysafe is firmly in the latter. I’m surprised they don’t charge for wifi! Which doesn’t even work in the rooms. While the Garden House would look after my bag during the day on check out, the Staysafe won’t even do that.
Whoever is behind Staysafe has some serious dosh behind them! It’s in Gaudi central and should really be called something like the ‘Just fucking pay us,’ or ‘we don’t give a shit inn,’ or ‘it’s your money we’re after baby.’ Even a bed in a 14 bed dorm costs around 20 euros! It’s a one nighter and guess where I’d rather be having it.
So, where to next?
WINNERS AND LOSERS
THE WINNERS – all round
BARCELONA – GARDEN HOUSE
BANGKOK – IMM FUSION (defunct)
BRUGE – NO 11
CARDIFF – RIVER HOUSE
HANOI – MAISON D’ORIENT
PARIS – LE VILLAGE
SHENZHEN – INTERNATIONAL AIR HOTEL
THE WINNERS – decor
BRUSSELS – TRAIN HOSTEL
GUILIN – ZHI
KIEV – ART HOSTEL
LYON – LE FLANEUR
MADRID – OK
SHANGHAI – WOOD AND ROCK
WARSAW – IN BED HOSTEL
WARSAW – VAVA
VIENNA – WOMBATS
THE LOSERS – pissy staff, thieving staff or just crap all round
WELLINGTON – ROWENA’S
AUCKLAND – OLD TRAIN STN
SHENZHEN – LOFT YHA
BIARRITZ – PREMIER CLASSE (HAHA HEHE)
LONDON – THE INCHMONT (defunct)
LONDON – OLAVE HOUSE (defunct)
SHANGHAI – WOOD AND ROCK
LYON – LE FLANEUR
LUX – YHA
PAMPLONA – HEMINGWAY
WARSAW – APART HOSTEL
WARSAW – CLOUD HOSTEL
KIEV – ART HOSTEL
BARCELONA – STAYSAFE
Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…
Roam – The B-52s
Life on Your Own – The Human League
Take Me Anywhere – Do Re Mi
Shelter – Lone Justice
Home – Roger Waters
Can’t Stay Long – Ultravox
Photo Credits: Me except Imm Fusion as my original photos were lost on the dreaded WD hard drive from hell!