Why is it that the best hostels are always so dirty and loud? Dirty as in tiny grimy bathrooms, bad showers, missing toiletries, and actual dirt literally everywhere. Loud as in paper thin walls, at least 4 people per room, multiple guitars lying around, parties and maybe even a bar downstairs. If you manage to end up in one of these kinds of hostels, know that you will miss out on a few comforts and hours of sleep, but also that you have probably found a good one.
Our first hostel in Paris was a loud and dirty gem for sure. You walk in and enter a small cafe-style lobby fully furnished with diner tables and chairs, a television, two computers, and fellow travelers sat on couches speaking languages you don’t fully recognize. After receiving a room number and politely declining to store your pack in a not-so-secure-looking communal closet, you walk up a narrow spindly staircase, an even narrower hallway, squeeze past backpacked people and two utility closets, (no wait, those were showers), and finally make it to your room.
None of these things seem to matter though, as a lively social scene and cheap booking price easily make up for any material inconveniences. Plus, why would you remain inside during the day when you would probably honestly rather attempt to be enchanted by the Eiffel Tower or the Mona Lisa instead? Come nightfall though, that’s when the real downfalls start to resonate.
Past midnight, you realize the booming echo of stomping stairs, carried voices, the rackets to giant tennis balls of conversations bouncing around the hallways, hauntingly rickety bedpost creaks with the slightest of movements; and all the while you lay staring up at a large concave dip sinking towards you and that lumpy bottom bunk mattress.
Yes, nightfall truly is when everything goes to shit, at least if you’re trying to get some shuteye. For me, my impending unrest manifested itself at around 2:30am. Having closed my eyes a mere two hours prior, I was awakened by the most thunderous of snores I had ever encountered. You know that point when your snoring bed-buddy finally lets out one loud throaty noise, forcing them to readjust and somehow cease the snoring, at least temporarily? It was like that, but the entire time. After about 20 minutes of this horrid wheezing and whistling, my upper bunkmate was becoming irate so I joined her downstairs for a cigarette.
As a nonsmoker to a certain extent, at that point, there was nothing I wanted more than to sit in silence, watching the soothing night air carry my cigarette smoke out into the starry abyss. With help from the refreshing outdoors, it was like there was nothing to be upset about now; no festering anger or frustrations, no annoyances or discontentment of any sort. Granted we were sitting on a concrete sidewalk, but I find the solitude of the nightly outdoors comforting no matter how manmade the surroundings.
You’d be surprised at the number of people still walking around that early in the early morning. One came by, asked for a spare cig, smoked and chatted with us for the proper appreciative amount of time and then continued on. Another man happily walked by and enthusiastically mentioned the story of how he proposed to his wife in the corner of the café we were escaping in front of. Having shared arguably one of the most precious moments of his life with us, he simply smiled and left, skipping on down the rest of the street. That was the kind of “city of love” crap I was expecting from Paris (thank you Hollywood). We noticed a man in some sweet ‘90s acid-washed jeans making his late night/early morning rounds; or morning struts rather. And finally, we had a fairly trying exchange in broken French and English with another straggler who was also up for smokes and conversation at 3:30 in the morning. From what we could gather, he had lived in France his whole life, walks around late at night due to boredom and the absence of a lady friend, and I seem to recall some mention of a dragon.
Likely, my 4am memory abilities and lack of proper translation may have failed me with that last bit but I’d like to keep it alive. Who wouldn’t like to have talked about dragons in the wee hours of the morning with a perfect stranger? Anyway, nearing the end of the cigarettes, and finally getting sleepy again, with no desire to fall back after the sun had risen, we said “au revoir” to French dragon man and made it back up to our room.
Not surprisingly, the dreadful snoring was still going on. Though thankfully, with some apparently much needed fresh air, our spirits were high and plentiful. How our other roommates managed to actually fall asleep remains a mystery. You’d think those loud noises should’ve woken them up, evolutionary survival skills and all; but no matter, they got more rest than we did.
With heavy eyelids, I blindly searched my backpack for earplugs, popped ‘em in and drifted off into a most excellent slumber. I couldn’t remembered any dreams the next morning but I like to think I had just forgotten visions of French mimes trapped in their inescapable glass boxes, silly ‘90s American music videos, and Puff the Magic Dragon in a beret.
TIP #1: Always have earplugs on hand when backpacking. ALWAYS.