A Youth Hostel Tale

Just got back from a trip in South America where I had the pleasure of staying in a couple of youth hostels for the first time since last fall’s Dreamforce in San Francisco. Tonight I was looking for my famous packing list, and went to the online trip journal I did in 2002. Came across this funny tale of the youth hostel in Vilnius, Lithuania. Can resist sharing it. Part of why this is funny to me is that I met the same annoying American sleaze guy…okay, not the SAME guy, but his clone, in Buenos Aires three weeks ago.

Vilnius, Lithuania–
This is the quintessential youth hostel, here in Vilnius, with all the advantages and disadvantages thereof. So today’s log is devoted to a description of the scene here.

You walk into a decrepit courtyard through an archway from the main road. Five droopy trees, cobblestones, tufts of pathetic grass. Maybe a kitten romping after leaves. In the corner is the classic International Youth Hostel sign, a hut with a leaning pine tree. Through the door and the first thing you see is a sign that you should take off your shoes. Places to sit. Bricks and stones incorporated into a plaster wall, with a mural of old Vilnius. Down some slick varnished stairs and you’re in the kitchen/commons room. There’s a small table and some chairs, a couch and some padded benches, a space designed for conversation. Several backpacks are leaning against one wall, there’s a shelf of books to exchange (I picked up Tom Jones and left San Francisco, deep trash romance.) And the free internet-ready computer sits on a shelf on the back wall. The walls are blue and yellow, with stones and brick. The air smells right now of the fried potatoes the hotel kids have cooked up. There are plenty of pots, pans, utensils, plates, bowls and cups–in contrast to the hostel in Gdansk, where there were two plates, three forks and two big spoons and two coffee spoons for seven or eight backpackers who wanted to cook.

In the other direction are showers. “Uh, not much privacy,” said one master of understatement.

Our dorm room has nine beds–four sets of bunks and one low bed (mine). Trying to get down from the top bunk for a pee in the middle of the night is off my list of Things I’m Happy To Do. We are paying 34 Lts each, about $10 or so, a night for our beds. The dorm is mixed, boys, girls and drunks.

Vilnius is one of those places that attracts an interesting mix of backpacker travelers. There are a few kids who’ve done a semester abroad somewhere and are now traveling. There are still some Major City tourists, people doing Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Paris, etc. But we left them mostly behind in Berlin. They were all headed to Prague or coming from there.

Here’s a panache of the interesting folks here:

The New Zealanders I wrote about yesterday, old travelers like ourselves, taking on adventure because they have just never stopped.

Italian guy, 43, living in Finland for the past 11 years, working on a PhD in Jewish studies, tracing his father’s roots in synagogue records. “For curiosity, notting more.”

American girl, Peace Corps teaching English in Moscow, on a two-week holiday. She knew Spanish and it was either learn Russian or go to Equador as a bee-keeper.

Irish guy who flew to Singapore and came overland through Vietnam, China and Mongolia and then came across on the TransSiberian.

In fact, this is the place to get all the lowdown on the TransSiberian Railway trip. Two Aussie girls just came in who came from Vladivostok on the train, stopping six times along the way. No reservations. No organization. Just getting off and finding hotels and then getting back on. Four weeks across Russia.

British guy, a database computer guy whose company is transferring him back to the London office from several years in New Zealand. He negotiated a three-month break between jobs and he took the overland route, also on the train,but for him, nonstop since he could get only a transit visa. He spent ten days roughing it in Mongolia–I heard all about it at six this morning, hiring a jeep van with a driver for $40 (split six ways with people he met in the hostel in the major city). Few roads, mostly dirt tracks. Stopping to buy carrots and potatoes and mutton from nomads in yurts. It was terrible food, he said.

Spanish beauty, spent a semester abroad in Sopot, Poland, west of Gdansk, studying economics and Polish. She has dark hair and dark eyes and wears form-fitting spaghetti-strap tops that don’t cover her belly button.

American guy from Nebraska, majored in Norwegian (though he isn’t Norwegian), now in medical school, flew to Slovakia to visit his sister who’s teaching English with the Lutherans.

Assorted others–a Brazilian girl, two Japanese guys, one of them starting dreadlocks, a pair of Finnish girls.

Sleazy American guy who boasted about spending all of his five days in Poland drunk.

South African girl who came up overland and hitched here through Poland. She drank too much vodka too quickly and passed out cold on her way out to go clubbing, about 100 yards from the hostel. The two boys with her hauled her back…and I do mean hauled…under the watchful eye of a local policeman. They woke JF up to help get her into bed. Her room is next to ours, so when she started puking an hour later–and continued for the next two hours, I knew I wasn’t going to get my eight hours of required shuteye. One of the college boys from the states stayed up holding her head and checking regularly to make sure she was still breathing.

I fessed up to the time I pulled a similar stunt in a youth hostel in Florence, Italy. The last thing I remember was the staircase leading upstairs. I woke in a different bed than my own, in different clothes, my glasses nowhere to be seen.

“Uh, did you see me come in last night?” I asked one of the girls in the room.

“No, we didn’t notice you until you fell out of bed, pissed and then rolled in it,” a very kindly British girl informed me. Apparently, they, too, had sat up checking my breathing, worried that I would leave this world that very night. I didn’t throw up, though I’m sure that was small consolation to the girls who washed out my clothes and got me into different ones.

I told that story to the group sitting vigil, and added, “At least now I know when to say, ‘I need to get horizontal.'”

To which the sleazy American replied, “I wish I knew more girls who want to get horizontal.”