The hostel—Palmer’s Lodge Swiss Cottage Hostel—is as magnificent as the pictures portray on their website. It’s a majestic Victorian-style mansion, cut into dozens of rooms. The big rooms—of 12 or 24 beds—are elaborate, with out-of-use stone fireplaces, and bunk beds made of dark wood, with blood-red privacy curtains to keep out prying eyes.
I arrive at 9 a.m., five hours before check-in time. The pretty woman with braided hair behind the counter says, “You can store your things downstairs if you want to explore,” but when I find the lockers, and their 4-pound cost for storage, I decide to lug my massive backpack around with me instead. I pay for the 6-pound breakfast, which consists of coffee or tea, homemade Danishes, toast and hardboiled eggs. They also have this espresso machine that makes the best hot cocoa I have ever had in my life, and it doesn’t even have whipped cream. I will drink this nearly every day, for the single pound it costs when you don’t purchase breakfast.
After an hour spent in the kitchen, all I want is sleep. My flight was a red-eye, so I haven’t slept much. I sit in the throne-like common room on the main floor, where antique satin-lined couches and chairs are set up in pods throughout the room. I meet an older woman from Wales who’s in her 70s. She sits in a chair in front of the ceiling-height Christmas tree propped in front of five elongated bay windows. “I’ve been traveling for months now. I always travel on my own,” she says.
A guy in his 20s who has dark gold skin sits down nearby and crosses his legs. When I ask where he’s from, he says, “Guess.” So I ask his name. “If I tell you that, then you’ll know where I’m from,” he says. After a pause, where I say nothing, he says, “Antonio.”
“Are you from Spain?” I ask, taking no time to consider where the name Antonio originated.
He rolls his eyes and smiles at the older lady. “Italy. I’m from Italy,” he says. I let them talk while I doze on the comfy couch, waiting for the couple next to me to disappear so I can lie down and finally sleep.
For my first European hostel experience, I pay the extra 3 pounds to stay in a four-bed mixed dorm in the attic, with angled rafter beams and a single tiny window in one corner. Our beds have no privacy curtains, but I think this will be okay, because four people are so much fewer than 24. Turns out though, a room with only four beds doesn’t mean there will be silence and instant friendship.
Every door onto a new floor and to a dorm is activated with a key card. Because they want to make sure none of these security doors remain open, each one slams closed. This means that if every person in my room has to leave the room in the middle of the night (to pee or for anything else) the slamming door wakes me every time. The floors creak. And then the cleaning staff comes in around 9 a.m. to slam down mop buckets, rip sheets off of beds, and swoosh new bags into trash cans.
We share two bathrooms on our floor with at least 32 people: our 4-bed, another 4-bed, and the 24-bed. We have just one shower. Downstairs are a few more toilets and showers, but if those are taken then you have to travel another floor. I change my shower schedule to early afternoon or late at night, when no one else is even thinking about cleaning up.
This hostel has a tiny kitchen: Two refrigerators at the end of a small pantry, a sink at the doorway, and a two-burner stove in the middle. People don’t always wash their dishes, so it’s always best to just assume everything is dirty and wash it again. I learned this the hard way just after slicing an apple, then licking the knife to find it Jalapeno-spicy and having to swish water to get the taste out of my mouth. And then, of course, all of my apple slices were also spicy. They lock the kitchen at 11 p.m., so even though you aren’t allowed to keep food in your room, you have to in order to snack late at night.
I wake up and fall asleep, wake up and fall asleep. I am the lightest sleeper I know, and these cheap British Airways stick-in-ear headphones aren’t the best, but they’re better than nothing. I hear every snore, cough, door slam, and creak that this old building has to offer. It’s a beautiful place, but damn is it loud.