In all of my travels, I have been very fortunate in that I have never had a bad hosteling experience, and I’ve stayed in my faire share. Sure, there have been nights where I have thought to myself, “you really should have put out for a hotel.” But those have, fortunately, been few and very far between. Overall, though, I have been blessed with positive experiences and it sometimes baffles me why, after having had the hostelling experience, that anyone would really want to stay in a hotel [travelling with small children and old age not withstanding]
The one experience that I had yet to have, however, was staying in a mixed dorm. I’ve had the option to stay in them before, but I have always made it a point to stay in segregated rooms. I don’t even have a good reason why I chose to do so, I just have. That all came to an end, though, when I got to Barcelona and checked into the place I was staying [Hostal Center Ramblas, love you guys!]. As anyone who has ever stayed in a hostel can tell you, there is a certain unspoken rhythm that exists: you arrive and check in. Depending on what time you arrived, you either stow your luggage in the luggage room or take it up to your room; after that, off you go and explore the city / get food / familiarise yourself with your surroundings etc etc. Depending on the time of day, you either get a room full of people or nobody, generally the latter because they’re all doing exactly what you’re doing. That’s how it went at Center Ramblas. I arrived, put my suitcase in my room, and off I went. The day I arrived was football day [Manchester United FC v Chelsea in the Capital One Cup. The tie went into extra time and Manchester United lost in AET, but that’s neither here nor there], so I didn’t get back to my room until late. With it being after midnight, the one occupied bed was already occupied. It was the next morning that I found out that I was in a mixed room…nothing is more disorienting than waking up to expect one thing and seeing a man in your balcony. Let it be known that the Canadian was delightful and accommodating.
That day, though, was a perfect example of why I love staying in hostels. After a full day of sightseeing, I arrived back in my room to find more people, notably the Canadian and a lovely man from New Zealand. Five minutes later conversation turned to, “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? Shall we go get something to eat?” That would NEVER happen in a hotel. If you approached someone in the hallway and asked them and their travelling party to go to dinner with you and yours, you’d be laughed out of the building. Or they would run away screaming. Either way, the answer would always be no. The beauty of hostels, though, is putting a group of people of similar age in one place and eventually, you’re going to connect with someone. Perhaps it was the company I kept or perhaps it was the fact that I was being swept away in the moment of falling in love with the city, but it’s with a degree of certainty that I can say that that was the best meal that I had all trip. It didn’t cost much, and it wasn’t even that fancy, but if I would have had the same meal in in the same place, sat by myself, I would not have been as thrilled about it, I don’t think. There’s really something to be said about three complete strangers sharing a glass of sangria in the middle of the Ramblas and chatting like we’re all old friends.
That being said, though, there is also one other thing that I love about hostelling, and I suspect that it goes hand in hand with what I’ve just said, and that’s the whole sense of community you get. We’re all travellers, wandering around wherever we may be, who just happen to have crossed paths at this point in our lives. Two incidents from Barcelona spring to mind. The first occurred in the common room late my third evening there. Common rooms are great. People are in and out, eating something or writing postcards or checking email, but it seems to be the hub of activity in the planning of the next day’s activities. It’s amazing how many people from every walk of life you get in that one small room. In my case, I was at a table with my maps and my itinerary deciding what to do on the next day. Twenty or so minutes had passed and I was making little notes and such when the lovely person across the table saw what I was writing and said, “I wouldn’t do that tomorrow. There are too many crowds. I would do X instead.” I would have never have known that if they wouldn’t have said anything and I would have wasted a lot of valuable time in a queue. It’s great, to have that level of communal sharing of ideas. Chances are there is someone in the common room at some point who is going to a place you have been to and someone who has been to where you are going next. They are an amazing resource that, for me, has proven more invaluable than any travel guide ever could. I can’t tell you how many times I over this trip that I have sat at a common table and gone “oh. You’re going to London? I’ve just come from there!” or “you’ve just come from Madrid? I’m going there next. What do you think about this itinerary?” or “you’re going to Paris? I’ve just come from there and I’ve got some metro tickets left over if you want them.” In a way, one would suppose, it becomes like a massive swap meet, both of ideas and of material goods. I’ve traded métro tickets for maps, maps for vouchers, etc. Those kinds of experiences, I would have never have had if I were to stay in a hotel. It’s great, at least in my opinion. You are only as alone as you allow yourself to be.
The second experience, I think, would have to be my most fulfilling. As I mentioned previously, I’m a massive football fan; the BBC has a programme called Match of the Day, which airs every Saturday and every Sunday when there are league matches. I went back to the hostel to catch MOTD. Because I was watching on a community computer, everyone could see what I was watching, and as a consequence, I met a lovely man from Brazil called Rafael. Football brings the world together; UN take note! We were deep in conversation when we heard a “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but…” and a Greek man joined in the discussion. None of this would have been possible in a hotel. There’s a social code that seems to go out the window in hostels; in a hotel or in public in general, one does not normally engage in conversations with strangers, but in a hostel it is perfectly acceptable [and I would argue that this is something that is encouraged.]. Three hours in, our lovely Greek friend, Peter, suggested we all take a walk. Again, if someone would have suggested this at a hotel, there is a good chance that they would get a slap, but in a hostel, this seems perfectly acceptable to split off into smaller groups and go into the city on foot. Because two complete strangers engaged me in conversation, and in that four-hour conversation, we discussed everything from politics to the economy to art to everything. Peter, we found out, loved architecture, and was keen on Gaudí. While we were walking and talking, he would point out things that neither Rafael nor I would have seen otherwise. It was our own private walking tour of the city of Barcelona. With it being a clear, mild night, we walked all the way down to Casa Batilló and to have such a magnificent building all to our own with someone who knew the ins and outs of it is something that I will never ever forget.
The hostel that I mentioned in this ramble is:
Barcelona Centre Rambles YHA
Short notes on the hostel itself: perfectly located on Las Ramblas, very clean, very well organised and informative front desk staff, front desk staff dealt with one incident that I did have quickly and professionally, they were patient with those who did not speak Spanish / Català and were very knowledgeable about the area. Good value for money and a big plus for me was the free wi-fi for the planning of the next leg of my trip. Overall, I would stay there again. NB: I don’t know if it was because I stayed there over Halloween weekend but due to its proximity to Las Ramblas, it tends to get a bit noisy if you’re in an outside facing room. Light sleepers should request an inside facing room if possible or stay at Friends Hostel two blocks up.