Speaking of hostels and not staying in them…
Did you know that Sweden is expensive? Like, insanely expensive?
SIDENOTE: It’s not as expensive as Switzerland, which made Sweden seem like a financial fucking walk in the park, but it’s expensive.*
Anyway, Sweden. One of my favourite places in the world. I wish I could go back there like, yesterday. But yes, expensive. So when my BFF Mags and I started planning our post-thesis trip to Sweden, we panicked a bit. Oh shit. Every B&B and guesthouse we looked at seemed unaffordable.
(They seemed that way because they were, just to be clear.)
“We’ll definitely need to stay at hostels.” Margaret said as-a-matter-of-factly. And she was right.
It took us a long time to find hostels that were affordable and acceptable. And by acceptable, here’s what I mean: in our searches, we discovered that the Swedes (in fact, most Scandinavians) are very comfortable with nudity.** So “sports style” showers and communal bathrooms are the norm. So that’s like, a wall of shower heads, with maybe some curtains in between them. Maybe. We saw some photos of these “sports style” showers. They did not look promising.
Throughout our time in Scotland and Europe, Margaret and I jokingly referred to ourselves as the “uptight (North) Americans.” We got stressed, for example, when it took a month to open a bank account instead of the 15-20 minutes we were used to at home. We were also not totally down with showering in front of other people. Or each other.
“If we stay at a place with sports showers, we have to take turns,” Margaret told me, “I don’t think I’m ready to go to that level with you.”
“If we stay at a place with sports showers,” I responded, “I am not showering. Just FYI.”
And I meant it. I meant it so hard.
We found two decent looking hostels, one in each of the cities we were staying in – Gothenburg and Stockholm. Everything was going to be okay.
And when we got to Gothenburg, everything was just fine. Our hostel was perfect. It was immaculately clean (like the rest of Sweden, which made my germaphobic, OCD heart so happy), we had a room with a bunkbed just for the two of us, and the bathrooms were perfect: a wall of communal sinks with mirrors, and then a number of private washrooms, each of which contained a toilet, another sink, and a shower.
(Also, I hate to fuel stereotypes, but it looked like IKEA. And I’m pretty sure most of the furniture was from IKEA. I loved it.)
Then we went to Stockholm. Perhaps we should have taken our eight-hour bus ride, which was less than smooth, as an omen. We got stuck on a sold-out trip behind who I think is the SMELLIEST girl in Sweden, maybe the world. I’m not going to go into detail. Let me just say that any time we went around a bend in the road, a smell so offensive it made me want to retch would waft toward us. For eight hours, folks. EIGHT HOURS.
SIDENOTE: We ended up sitting behind this girl after Margaret suggested we switch seats. Not that I’m holding it against her, but still.***
ALSO: This girl was listening to a discman. In 2010. I can’t get behind that.
When we arrived in Stockholm, we were tired and ready to find our hostel, which proved easier said than done. I think we ended up taking a very expensive taxi because we were so eager to rest.
The check-in process was a bit rocky. The woman at the front desk wanted us to schedule our use of the blow dryer. She was very confused when Margaret asked if she could just keep it for the night and then return it in the morning. I think it was eventually agreed that Margaret would have to go pick it up in the morning in order to use it. But there might not be anyone at the desk until 10am. Or something. They also insisted that we take off our shoes before even entering the hallway, which would have been fine, but the floors in the front entrance were kind of dirty.
Then we had to go find our room. It wasn’t far – just slightly down the narrow hallway – but we didn’t get a very warm welcome. We were already feeling pretty uncomfortable about the whole situation, so when we opened the door and found some random dude lying on a bed fiddling around on his laptop, we kind of froze in our tracks. He put a great deal of effort into looking over his shoulder at us with great disdain. I don’t even think he said hello. He just looked, then went back to his laptop. I remember feeling very scandalized over the fact that his shirt had ridden really far up and I could see a great portion of his lower back, the top of his boxers and jeans, etc.
Mags and I exchanged a look.
It said something like, “Yeah, he’s weird. Let’s not panic yet.”
We locked our bags in the “locker” provided (which was basically a cupboard with a tiny latch on it for a lock – very easy to just yank open and break), and decided to assess the premises.
First we found the kitchen. It was filthy. And it smelled – no, it STANK – of fish. Now, I get that I’m a vegan, so I’m more sensitive to meat smells, but even Margaret was like, “MAYBE LET’S SEE THE REST OF THE PLACE” as soon as we set foot in that kitchen. When we got back into the main hallway, we let out a mutual breath. Ugh.
Then we found the bathrooms. Well, sort of. There were two closets at the end of the hallway with toilets in them. Margaret really had to pee, so she went in to use one. As soon as she did, some guy staying at the hostel decided to also try to use the bathroom, but instead of twisting the doorknob once and realizing someone was in there, he yanked and fiddled with it for a good 30 seconds.
“Uh, there’s someone in there.” I muttered, trying to lessen Mags’ inevitable panic.
He ignored me, jiggled the doorknob again, then walked away, frustrated.
I decided to check out the showers.
Guys, I get that I can be a prude about certain things, but the shower situation really did it for me. The showers were literally in a closet. There was nowhere to really hang your towel without getting it soaked, never mind room to change into dry clothes.
As I was inspecting the showers – and debating how long I could comfortably go without taking one – our lovely roommate came down the hall wearing nothing but a towel and went into the closet next to me. I think this happened right as Margaret exited the toilet closet.
We exchanged another look.
This one was speechless.
I let Margaret take a look at the showers. As we walked back down the hallway, she said, “You know…”
“What?” I replied anxiously.
“Andrea, just so you know…I wouldn’t be totally horrified if…like, I wouldn’t be horrified if you didn’t want to stay here tonight.”
“OH THANK FUCKING GOD.”
“Oh THANK GOD.”
There was a communal computer on a desk randomly planted in the middle of the hallway. We lept toward it and hit up Expedia. Suddenly, we felt we had to be as stealthy about this as secret agents. We were, after all, searching for hotels from the hostel we were supposed to be staying at.
“Is this insane?” We asked one another.
Our roommate came back down the hall in his dripping wet towel and went into our room. He was definitely being naked in there, however briefly.
No words were necessary. We turned back to the computer. We booked a hotel. It was “cheap” (see: Swedish cheap) and it wasn’t even a hotel – it was a suite. We had a kitchen, a living room, a spacious bathroom, and a bedroom.
That was the day I confirmed that hostels aren’t my thing.
P.S. I could tell you about the adventure it was to find our new hotel and then to actually get into our new hotel, but that’s a whole other story.
P.P.S. I still think back and wonder what our hostel roommate must have thought that day. We checked in, showed up, then disappeared. Maybe he thinks that we got drunk and kidnapped and murdered.
P.P.P.S. The image of his bare lower back still haunts me to this day.
*Also, I loved Sweden and my experience in Switzerland was less than awesome, so I still bitch about how expensive it was. I’m fully aware I should give it another chance. But Geneva just didn’t rock my socks like I wanted it to. (I can’t believe I just said, “rock my socks.” I’m sorry.)
**If I looked like Alexander Skarsgård – heck, if I looked like most of the insanely beautiful people I saw and/or met in Sweden – I would also be very comfortable with nudity. I mean, come on.
***I love you, Margaret. You know this. xx