No hostel is a bad hostel until you see bugs. At least, that’s what I say.
I’ve sort of repressed this story because, along with the bugs, there were many things that went on during my one night stay. So many things. I don’t think you’re really prepared for how many things, because I sure wasn’t.
Let me set the scene . . .
I was studying in Québec, CA. It was cold, but not yet winter. A group of other exchange students and I rented a car for a week. We headed to Québec City first with plans to just road trip it all the way to Niagara Falls, a 10 hour minimum ride. Have to dream big, right?
Toronto was the closest city we could book to Niagara Falls (the waterfall) without actually staying in the tourist trap that is Niagara Falls (the city). I wasn’t in charge of choosing the hostels – in fact, I hadn’t ever stayed in one until QC. My first hostel experience went pretty well, so why wouldn’t the others? * the ominous celestial being who created hostels laughs darkly in the distance *
So, after exploring beautiful Quebec City, we all loaded up to switch provinces and head to Toronto.
First red flag: we call the hostel because we’re lost, but the receptionist can’t give us directions. And, I’m talking about general directions. What are you located near? What’s the closest intersection? As we drove in circles for twenty minutes, I began to think maybe the receptionist doesn’t even know where he’s living.
We’re all tired and going a bit mad with car fever (it’s been 12 hours due to unpredictable thunderstorms that rained down on us like Armageddon). However, despite the receptionist’s lack of help, we manage to find the hostel on our own (which was on the second floor above a convenience store – a very distinguishable fact that was never mentioned on the website, nor by the receptionist). We find an overnight garage at a hotel across the street. As we walk up with all of our bags in tow, there’s someone smoking on the steps: a blonde woman who’s maybe in her late late 40s/middle 50s/possibly early 60s (I couldn’t really tell – don’t smoke, kids). She doesn’t really do much but nod hello.
Second red flag: the receptionist looks up from his computer solitaire like we were inconveniencing him. He tells us that the 12 bed dorm we booked is going to be full and we’re the last 4 tenants to arrive. Unfortunately, there are only top bunks available, so we’ll be split up. That’s alright. We can go with the flow.
The ambiguously aged blonde woman from the stairs walks in, a cloud of smoke following her like a shadow, and points to a shoe caddy in the corner that’s already overflowing with dirty sandals and weathered sneakers. She tells us it’s required to take your shoes off upon entry. Okay, whatever, I think, and take off my boots.
The 12 bed is your everyday, standard hostel; 6 bunk beds are crammed into a rather already cozy room. Even though it’s only around 10pm, most of the beds are full with sleeping bodies. The lucky guy in the bunk beneath me has barricaded himself in by making a makeshift canopy with mixed-matched sheets. He eyes me through a crack in the corner and I try not to look at him. I throw my backpack on the bed and pat down my pockets down. Then I realize – in our rush to arrive at the hostel before curfew, I had left my phone back in the parking garage.
It’s not a big problem, but I promised my mother I’d contact her once I had reliable wifi. One of my friends offers to come with me. We head downstairs and into the chilly Canadian night again. The receptionist is back to playing his computer solitaire and hardly looks up as we walk out.
Now, I hadn’t really given much thought to the smoking woman who had told us to put our shoes up. But, unknowingly at the time, I had found my third red flag: the woman was the owner and must live in the separate private suite right off from the 12 bed dorm.
I mean, the owner staying on the premises isn’t always a huge red flag. But this place had already been giving me weird vibes in the full 10 minutes we had been there, and the incoming train wreck probably wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t lived there, but I’ve digressed.
Anyway – flash forward maybe like 7 minutes and we’re heading back … that was enough time for it all to go downhill.
I climb the stairs first, phone in hand, and throw the door open. The blonde woman’s back and she had changed into her pjs – a short blue silk robe. But that didn’t really matter, because she’s bent over at the waist, fixing the dirty shoes that didn’t really need to be fixed at the overstuffed shoe caddy. With no underwear on.
Full back, front, whatever that’s down there – I see it all.
The woman straightens a few seconds too late and just looks at me with disgust like I had been the one to flash her. She adjusts her robe, takes one last look at me and one at the receptionist, and then disappears into her suite. As the door slams shut behind her, I too looked over at the receptionist, who I realize had a clear view this woman the entire time she had been fixing those shoes. He won’t meet my wide eyes, but at least he isn’t playing his computer solitaire anymore.
Behind me, my friend nudges my shoulder so he can shut the door. He takes off his shoes, puts them near that stupid caddy, and just walks back to the room like nothing happened. He hadn’t seen anything through my body.
The dorm room is awkwardly quiet and I don’t know if I want to laugh, cry, or scream. I desperately need a shower (to wash my body or the image of that woman’s vagina from my mind, you pick) but am seriously lacking shower shoes. Oh well, I’d survive. How bad could it be?
Along with no hot water, the shower stalls looked like they hadn’t been scrubbed in weeks. Dark hair clogged the drain and stuck in swirls to the yellowing walls. This experience is the reason for my rule: always have shower shoes. Carry them, buy them, find them, whatever. Though, shower shoes wouldn’t have really helped in that situation.
While taking the dirtiest shower of my life, I message my friends with all the words I can muster, which comes out more like Morse Code.
Owner in blue robe. STOP. Bent over. STOP. Saw everything. STOP. Naked. STOP. Currently dying.
I wish I could say that after we got back from a late-night Denny’s run (around 12am) that the nightmare had ended. But this hostel wasn’t done with me just yet.
Around 1 am, as I struggle to get comfortable with my absolutely shredded pillow that looked like it had been attacked by Wolverine and in my skinny jeans (I slept fully dressed that night, because the place made me feel so uncomfortable and I’m just awkward like that), the guy in the next bunk sits up and starts cursing in the dead silence. “F* ck, f* ck, f* ck you!” Then – nothing. He rolls over and falls back asleep
I don’t know who he was talking to or if he was even truly awake. No one else – the 10 other people in the room – makes a noise. After a few awkward seconds, it’s too late to say something or to even chuckle, so I just lay there and stare at the city lights through the slits in the blinds until I somewhat doze off.
The next morning, as I’m trying to hide from the blonde lady (who’s wearing that blue robe again) in the “reading room” that has all of maybe 3 books and a cracked TV, a trail of tiny brown cockroaches scurry along the underside of the wooden coffee table and disappear down one of the legs.
We leave maybe twenty minutes later and never look back.
Even with that one awful night, the trip wasn’t bad. Niagara Falls was stunning and I wouldn’t trade that, or my amazing friends, for anything in the world.
This was the second hostel I’d ever stayed in, but it wasn’t enough to deter me from the hostel life. I absolutely love hostels!! After you’ve hit the double digit mark, you just kind of lose count. Plus, I’m better at finding the good ones now. But the bad ones always stay, clinging to you like the pantless blonde woman’s cigarette smoke. However, they do give you some interesting stories to tell over drinks. Or on blogs.
Toronto was a lovely city and I’d be lucky to go back. But you can trust me when I say I won’t be staying anywhere near that hostel.
P.S. Mom, hoped you really appreciated that check-in text because, without that, half of this story probably would have never happened.
P.P.S. If you made it all the way to the end, congrats and apologies for the mental images. Sadly, this isn’t the strangest thing that’s happened to me abroad. I take it as a pre-req to travel: you’re going to deal with some weird situations. Maybe not always along the lines of being an unintended recipient of (not really well thought out) flashings, but I’m not saying never.
Let me know if you enjoyed this cringe-fest and want to experience some more second-hand embarrassment. I’ve got way too many awkward travel stories than what’s probably healthy for me, but oh well.
Moral of this story (if there even is one): please, please, please wear underwear if you’re living in a place full of absolute strangers. Thanks.