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Hostels in Europe: Where To Stay and Which Ones To Avoid

It’s that time again! Time when people start planning out their Spring Break or summer vacation trips. Which means its the time that a lot of people are thinking about backpacking through Europe. Well, if you’re looking to find some good hostels during your stay, here are my reviews of the places I stayed at when I was backpacking last summer. I know its hard to gauge reviews online because you don’t really know what kind of person they are and what luxuries they’re used to. For me, security, good location and a clean hostel was big on my list (and please please please, clean bathrooms!)

The Good (fabulous, fun, ::breathes sigh of relief::)

Prague –  St. Christopher’s at the Mosaic House

Best. Hostel. Ever. Ok, maybe not ever but from what I’ve seen so far. This place was better than some of the hotels I’ve stayed at for sure. There was a bar/restaurant on the first floor and even a cute movie theater area. The rooms each had its own private bath, and even came with rainfall showerheads – nice touch. Each bed has its set of plugpoints and its own large locker below the bed, and the room lights also dimmed to conserve energy. The rooms are also a decent size – I was in a 6 person room and didn’t feel cramped at all. The location was pretty great too – I walked to all of the sights I wanted to see, and at night there were lots of bars closeby, too. Absolutely recommend staying here, and I will definitely return next time I’m in Praha.

Barcelona – Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia

This hostel was big, had a fantastic living room with lots of comfy seats and a big screen to watch movies. The kitchen was large and there was a common area to gather round and meet people, and about 8 computers for guests to use. Security was good with there always being someone at reception, and the rooms and lockers were accessible by a key card. I stayed in a 8 person room with 7 Aussies (all guys) and while it was a small room I never felt that I didn’t have enough of my own space. Oh, also the bathrooms were pretty great: big, clean and separated by gender – big plus! The downside of this place is the location – it’s a bit outside the heart of the city, and there’s not much going on around at night. But if you don’t mind taking cabs or the metro, you’ll be fine. Also, don’t bother with the pub crawl set up by the hostel – I hear it’s no good.

Kraków – Greg & Tom Hostel

So when I first got here and found out that my room was right at the front reception area and across from the common room, I thought my stay was really going to suck. I was also in a 6 person room and it was a little cramped, and the bathrooms were kind of weird with the showers were separated only by curtains. But then during my three nights there, not only did I love my time in Poland I also really enjoyed my stay there. The hostel is like a guesthouse – very comfortable and quaint, and it feels like you’re staying at a friend’s place. There is always someone that works there at all hours of the day, and the staff is so, so friendly. The staff also cooks breakfast and dinner every night, which is delicious and is also a great time to meet other people who are staying there. I was definitely sad to leave because the people that worked there made it so wonderful, and this hostel is a great example of how the quality of the staff can really make or break your stay.

San Sebastian – Pension Amalur

I loved my stay at Pension Amalur, and it might be because I just had an amazing few days in San Sebastian. After coming from a busy city like Barcelona, it was so nice to get off the train and be in a cute, quiet town. My hostel mates from Barcelona were also staying at the same hostel which was a nice coincidence, and I got lucky because I was in a six bed room but I only shared it with one other guy. The hostel is more of a guesthouse – run out of a large apartment by a nice old man, who is a little flirty but harmless nonetheless. There are probably about 4 or 5 rooms, a mix of private ones and dorm, and I think there are 2 bathrooms. It wasn’t at full capacity when we stayed there, so it was spacious enough. The pension is pretty close to the beach, in a quieter part of town but a short walk away from all the bars. The lockers were small so I couldn’t fit my pack in it, but fortunately I trusted my roommate and had no issues. I would totally stay here again.

Amsterdam – Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark

I have to admit, I was a little bummed I didn’t get the chance to try out one of the Flying Pig Hostels in Amsterdam. I heard so much about them and was definitely curious. That being said, the Stayokay in Vondelpark was pretty cool. It’s only a few minutes from the Van Gogh Museum (one of my fav museums ever!) and is very convenient to get to. The room I was in had its own bathroom, and a decent size locker – it wasn’t wide enough to fit my pack but it held all my valuables. The downstairs has a good common area and there were always lots of people hanging out. And the best part – a fantastic free breakfast! Like I’m talking about a pretty good spread.  Would recommend staying here just for that.


The Ehhh (not my favorite, could be cleaner, not raving about it)

Rimini – Sunflower City Backpacker

I feel guilty about putting this hostel on the Ehh list so let me explain. The staff there is great – they include everyone and make sure that you are having a good time. The atmosphere of the place is lively and fun, and I am glad I stayed there. The bad part is that the rooms are old, and the bathrooms are pretty scary. Like shower over the toilet scary. That being said, Rimini doesn’t have that many options for good hostels, so I would assume that this is probably one of the better choices.

Madrid – Way Hostel

I arrived at this hostel at 7am, and while my room wasn’t until that afternoon I was still able to shower and change, and help myself to some of the breakfast (which was limited, but free!) The rooms were nothing special, the bathrooms weren’t that great, and the lockers were pretty small, but the main perk was that it was at a convenient, rather central location – just around the corner from Puerta Del Sol. I was in a 3 person room which was a decent size, but the 8 or 10 bunk rooms looked very cramped. If I had to do it again, I would probably try to find a nicer hostel, but it was really nothing to complain about (and I was only there for one night.)

Barcelona – Sant Jordi Alberg

So on my last day in Barcelona I decided to move to another hostel in a more central location, but stayed with the same hostel chain since I liked the last one so much. While this place was in a more convenient location, the hostel itself was not as nice. I was put in a 4 person room which was right across from the kitchen and next to the common room so it was pretty loud. The bathrooms weren’t that great either. I didn’t mind it as I was hardly in the hostel anyway, and oh they rented out beach towels and I even got one for free since the guys who worked there were so nice.

Paris – St Christopher’s Paris

St. Christopher’s is a good hostel chain, but I wasn’t impressed with this one. First of all, it was in a rather shady part of town. However, it did have a bar and club in the hostel itself so that did make it easy if you wanted to socialize. The rooms itself were nice – each bed had a curtain for added privacy. There were large lockers under each bed so you could fit everything in there, but it was a metal cage and everytime you opened it (no matter which locker you had) it would make a loud noise. I probably annoyed a few of my early to bed roommates when I came in late and had to get stuff out of there. Also, since there were so many people staying in this hostel the bathrooms weren’t kept cleaned. I eventually switched places after two or three nights here.

 

And The Ugly (run away!)

Brussels – 2GO4 Quality Hostel

Stay away from this hostel! I booked this the night before so I didn’t have many other options in Brussels. The reception closes in the middle of the day, as does the common area – so inconvenient. I was put in a 4 bed room with a private bath, but the bath was out of order the whole time I was there so I had to go use the bathroom in the basement (which was kind of gross to be honest.) I was there two nights, and while I liked Brussels, I definitely did not care for the hostel at all. Note that they don’t accept credit cards!

Florence – New Ostel

So this is a cheap hostel that’s a short walk to the train station. The staff was very nice and they have a good outdoor area to relax and mingle, but I would stay elsewhere if I return. There are no lockers in the rooms, and the rooms are a little outdated. It also took me a while to walk to the main part of the city which was a big inconvenience. I was glad that I was only staying there for one night.

Overall, I should add that none of these hostels were so bad that I couldn’t stay there at least one night. I always had clean sheets (the blankets were questionable at times, but use your own judgement there) and if I had felt unsafe then I would have left. If you are not picky about hostels then I’m sure any of these places will be fine for you – besides, you don’t really spend too much time in the room when you’re traveling anyway! I’d love to hear some of your favorite hostels you’ve stayed at in Europe, too.

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That’s a Wrap

My month in India has come to an end, which also means its time for me to return to the States (for now.) I had such an incredible journey through Europe, Japan and India, and learned so much about people:

– Europe was an amazing experience in independent backpacking, and showed me how amazing and friendly fellow backpackers can be.

– I was blown away by Japan’s customs and how kind and helpful the Japanese people are. On the flight back from India, I had a layover in Tokyo and wanted to just get off the plane and stay for a bit longer.

– India reminded me of the importance of family and I love the respect that Indians show to their elders and family members. It also strengthened my bonds with my cousins, and gave me exposure to starting up an organization.

I went on this trip to see different parts of the world and meet new people, and what I got out of these past few months far exceeded my expectations. The irony is that it was just when I was feeling comfortable in one place, I had to pop over to the next one. All 3 places were entirely different, and yet I still felt the same sadness every time I had to leave. I’m so blessed to have had this experience, and I feel that this is only the jumping off point for more international adventures in the future. I am also strongly drawn to living in Europe at some point — the sooner the better, so lets get that started!

I’m currently in Seattle and will be spending the rest of December all over Cali. More pictures and posts to come, I’m not done just yet!

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Euro Trip Breakdown – A Numbers Lesson

30 days
13 cities
11 trains, 1 plane
10 hostels/2 hotels/2 friends apts
8 countries
8 official languages
3 foreign currencies
3 beaches
2 laundry loads

One hell of a time. Europe, I’ll miss you but see you again in 2012!!

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A Backpacker’s List of What to Pack and What to Pass

Oouch Charlie. My feet hurt. And it’s still huuurting!

I’ve wrecked my rainbows. And in return they’ve wrecked my feet. Guess that’s not much of a surprise after exploring 8 different countries. But I’m too stubborn to wear my tennis shoes for any longer than when I’m traveling between cities. Ooh, I am so ready for my next backpacking trip because I’ll know what to pack and what to ditch. Starting with a cute pair of shoes/flats, and depending on location maybe some small boots. What else…

Must-haves (what saved me time and time again):
– Euro flat iron, of course
– X5 mini hair dryer. That thing is amazing, and soo small I often can’t find it in my pack.
– Water bottle, the good kind that keeps your water cold
– iPhone, or any portable device which you can access wifi. Absolutely must have, this thing is my best friend. I never had to pay for wifi or even wait to use the hostel’s computers. And, it makes writing a quick blog at a train station very easy.
– iPad/laptop/netbook: Great for transferring photos if you’re doing a long trip. I think I would prefer a netbook because the iPad requires extra steps for photos, but no big. Also great for movies and books! Halfway through my book now, it’s like 1000 pages!
– Good backpack. I don’t what I was originally thinking when I was planning on bringing a rolly. I see so many people struggle, and have even helped some of then carry their luggage while easily carrying my belongings on my back. My North Face travel backpack, size small, is amazing. Not too big where I’m struggling, but roomy enough where I can fit all my stuff comfortably. It’s water proof (for the most part), super durable, and doubles as a duffel. The backpack straps are super comfortable too! Love my ninja turtle, but next time I’m getting the black one. This ones being passed down to you, Mom!
– Secure daypack, specifically the PacSafe 500. When I’m exploring a city, I feel pretty confident that no ones going to get into my bag because it has these safety clasps on the zipper. I try to stay out of big crowds, so usually no one is right next to me long enough to unhook it and then unzip it. Also it has a great feature where I can unstrap one strap to put around something. For example, right now I’m at the train platform and it’s hooked onto my jeans beltloop, so if someone tries to grab it and run I’ll come with. Oh, it’s also small, cute, and soft. Win! Also great bag is my longchamp bag – perfect for when I don’t feel like looking like a tourist, waterproof and folds up small.
– Towel – I have one of those super thin towels that dry really quick and take up little space. Has been a total life saver because not all places offer towels, and I never have to worry about it being wet when I need to pack up my stuff and go.
– Combo lock! Duh. You knew this. I also have a cable lock which I don’t use often but I still like having. One time I left my daypack locked to my backpack in my hostel when I went to the beach, and I felt much better knowing that someone couldn’t take my daypack.
– My baby, my Canon Rebel! For a split second I considered leaving my Canon at home, but nooo way! I’m so glad I brought it. I’ve gotten amazing pictures, way too many to share all of them. I’ve had a blast and hopefully improved my technique a little… Shrug.

Things I didn’t need:
– My sleepsack. Which is a good thing because it means my hostels were all clean enough where I could use the sheets!
– My heels. Well, ok I do need these because every girl should have at least one pair of heels with her, even if she is a smelly backpacker. I know I’ll wear them in Florence and Milano, but up to now I’ve probably only worn them twice.

For the most part, I felt that I was traveling with just enough necessary stuff to feel comfortable but not overwhelmed. Not bad for my first backpacking experience! So who’s with me to backpack through South America next? Well, my trip isn’t over just yet. Next stop: Firenze!

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Extreme Road Tripping

I had quite an interesting night last night. After arriving in Rimini and having a 4 person room to myself for a few hours, I wasn’t too happy when 3 Brits walked in. They’re in the Air Force and are taking a long weekend off to take part in the Scally Rally. Yeah, I’ve never heard of it before either. But they explained it to me and it sounded pretty cool: a 4-day road trip that takes you from the top of Britain all through Europe and ends up in Rimini. Talk about intense! It gets better – you have to have a banger, a run down car that you can’t spend more than 100£ on. I don’t even think my car now can make that trip! But each team has a name and a theme and you get to paint your car however you want (costumes/props optional), Throughout the road trip you have to stop and do different challenges to win points, and then they announce the winners and give out trophies at the end. So the official Scally Rally 2011 wrap party was last night, and the guys asked me if I wanted to come. I decided to join them, not knowing whether it would be a bust or not. But I ended up having a really fun night! I got to meet some of the other teams, see some pictures of their cars, and of course see many pictures of people planking all over Europe which was the big theme of the event. My roommates even won the Scally trophy which goes out to the team who never gave up and has great spirit — their car broke down halfway through and they had to spend a fortune fixing it but they didn’t let that stop them. Cru, I immediately thought of you guys and how it would be so much fun to do this with you three. They also have a US version I hear, but the Europe one sounds more fun. And you can fundraise for a charity if you want too, sounds good to me! Everyone there was in such good spirits and so fun. I got into a convo with a father/son team, the son is only a few years younger than me and the Dad wanted to do a father/son bonding trip before the son got too old. He said that his son wasn’t too excited about it in the beginning, but ended up really enjoying himself. And it looks like they all did, so maybe the Scally Rally will be in my future one day too!

Rimini roomies with their car Wilma, short for Will-my-car-start.

 

I marveled at how once again I found myself in a unique situation I never expected with a group of people I never would have met otherwise. What I really want to know is how I can live my normal life like this – keep myself open to possibilities and new experiences without the routine of everyday life holding me back. Something to think about, but I wish I could life on “vacation mode” more often.

 

Quote Book
Father (of father/son team: ::points at himself and then his son:: This is what he’s going to look like in 30 years, whatdya think?!

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Alright, I Get the Hype About Paris

So here I am having an afternoon coffee in the Marais District, which is super cute by the way. Paris can be overwhelming, but then I find these great neighborhoods and think, Ok maybe I can see myself living here. Then I realize that I’ll probably never learn French and the idea quickly fades. Still great to visit though! My days in Paris have been oddly busy, even though I don’t think I do much! It’s because I end up walking for hours and hours. A typical day goes like this: wake up, go get a lunch or a pastry, walk around to some must-see neighborhood or tourist spot, then walk more, stop for macarons or a coffee, then see another landmark and take more photos, walk and get lost for an hour (more or less, this definitely is a daily occurrence), feel like my legs are gonna fall off and stop for a glass of wine, eat dinner or baguettes, wander back to my hotel, then if I have energy left maybe hit up a bar for a drink. Phew! But I totally love this type of traveling. It’s great to be able to make all the decisions, like “No, I don’t want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but I do want to sit on the lawn and take pictures for a while and people watch.” Since this isn’t my first time to Paris, its been great to see all the impressive sights… from the outside. I just love looking at the amazing architecture everywhere. Even yesterday, when all the museums were free and all the tourists flocked, I spent the day wandering around the gardens, or strolling through Montparnasse (also super cute!!) The macarons at Pierre Hermé are AMAZING by the way! Big props to Shirin for sending me the foodie cheat sheet on Paris that her brother wrote after studying here. If I could bring some back to all my friends and family I totally would – way better than souvenirs. :)

Louvre

Sacre Couer

Eglise Saint-Sulpice in Paris, church featured in Da Vinci Code

One thing I have noticed though is that this city isn’t as great for solo travelers. It didn’t help that I wasn’t ready to leave the beaches of Spain when I did, and then it was a bit harsh to be greeted to this ultra romantic city by throngs of couples all making out along the river ::shakes fist::. I’ve even noticed that the restaurants aren’t prepared for me to eating solo. When I hit up another Houshangi suggestion today, a classic French restaurant, the waiter sat me at a table with two other people! Not even a separate table close to them, the same table! It was a girl (probably in her 30s) and her mother, and I apologized for crashing the party. However, they were really sweet and we soon started chatting. They are here on vacation from Moscow and we had a nice lunch conversation, and it ended up being better than if I had eaten alone. So sometimes traveling solo can bring about pleasant surprises.

Tomorrow I leave bustling Paris for Belgium! I have two friends that live outside Brussels that I met while vacationing in Punta Cana with Renzo. I’m hoping they will be free to meet up for a bit, but either way I’m looking forward to relaxing in a more low key setting. Oh, and drinking lots of Belgian beer and eating heaps of mussels. Nom nom nom. The international food tour continues!!

Also, I have about a week of unplanned vacation that I still haven’t figured out what to do with after Prague/Budapest. Croatia? Switzerland? North/South Italy? Any thoughts?

 

Quote Book:
Me: Hi, I’d like a table outside for a glass of rosé, please.
Waiter: Alone?? WHY?!

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Hvar, Croatia

Must find a way to get here in September.

 

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August 15, 2011 · 2:03 pm