A summer travelling: Hostels and espadrilles

The room smelled of wet dog. Opening the door further, I poked more than my nose into the dimly-lit dormitory and saw bodies walking in the darkness. Life existed here? It seemed so, and provided with enough evidence that we could enter without fearing for our lives, we barged in, breaths held, and dumped our bags onto the nearest of the two free beds.

Rewinding half an hour, a friend and I hopped off the train in Llubjana, Slovenia. Hopped? Perhaps not. More a slow lollope onto the platform, weighed down by backpacks half our size and double our bodyweight (girls are so impractical at packing); and generally tired from a several hour train journey from Austria, complete with a change where we’d spent an hour sipping tea in a sleepy cafe that hadn’t yet been hit by the smoking ban, or music beyond the 70s.

Slovenia was a very rainy place when we left the station. The sky was grey, mist was low and the streets were deserted. Having no idea which direction our hostel was located, and having consulted a map of multi-coloured dots for too long, to the point where rain was starting to seep through our thin coats and espadrille flats, we made a guess and hoped for the best.

At this point we were half way through a three week trip around Europe. We’d stayed in a hostel deep in the heart of Paris, a castle in Northern Germany, we’d caught the night train between Prague and Budapest (less Poirot-esque, more tiny triple-tiered beds and a persistent motion that hit in the gut). Just previous to Llubjana, we’d spent a wonderful three nights in an Austrian hostel where the biggest of breakfasts satisfied the hungriest of tummies, and The Sound of Music was played twice daily. I don’t think I’ve been happier, or fuller. In essence, we’d set a standard at this point; not a wise move when you’re living out of a backpack and choosing the cheapest hostels in Europe. I guess we’d just been lucky so far.

But Slovenia was wet and hard to navigate, we were hungry and heavy (our bags had now doubled with the added weight of fat raindrops); our relationship with this new place was far from getting off to the best of starts. We walked and walked. We stopped under a cafe’s large umbrella to locate ourselves again on the sodden map, before being clicked at by the cafe’s owner and told to move on; that we’d have to buy to stay dry. I didn’t appreciate his poetry, or his finger noise. We walked some more. The espadrilles were now damp dregs of their former glory; but we were past caring. We entered the heart of the city, but the heart was grey today. We walked some more, before finally discovering a tiny doorway at the corner of one street. Its doorbell claimed the name of our hostel, and we were more than ready to believe it.

Cue an awkward language barrier, and a bemused look as two wet heads barged through the tiny doorway, and we were finally given a room number. Eyes glowing at the promise of a bed and wet limbs craving warm sheets, we located a last breath of motivation at the bottom of our backpacks and pushed on upstairs.

No 21 was the room. We pushed the door, peeked in and then, wet dog. You know the rest.

But after we’d dumped our bags, the story continues. The light was turned on, and we were greeted by a pair of smiles. Two boys from Poland, they quickly introduced themselves, asked names, guided conversation, laughed, seemed genuinely excited to meet us, in spite of, and surprisingly oblivious to, our own thunderous faces. Warmed by their presence, conversation flowed. The wetness of our hair dried. The espadrilles (somewhat resurrected) were kicked off. We discovered how the boys were travelling from Poland to Rome by bike; that they’d been cycling miles every day; that each of these days had, except one, been full of the fat rain we’d only had to experience for half an hour; that their few clothes got so sodden, the only way to dry was by draping them over the creaky bunkbeds. Hence the wet dog smell; quickly forgiven. In essence, we were put in our place. In comparison, we had little to moan about. We’d simply had a bad day, a grey day, and tomorrow we’d wake up to sunshine and a beautiful Llubjana (which we did), and life would be good again.

Later on, returning to the room from a cold (would you believe it) shower and more than ready to moan, I found the two Poles singing a rendition of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, wringing their socks in time to broken English.

Had I not been present, I’d  have also struggled with the cliché.

Article by Hannah Astill


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