I apologize. I had this whole thing planned—I was gonna write this upbeat post about how Polish cuisine is bland because communism but really starch, beets, and cucumbers can start to grow on a guy, you know?—but it’s 00:12hrs Central European Time and I’m currently suffering at the hands of my past self whom I now want to strangle. One product of said suffering is an overweight four-toothed Polish senior citizen, dressed only in his undies and pacing across the room from me right now, who keeps trying to strike up a conversation even though I’ve repeatedly told him A) “I don’t speak Polish,” complete with the requisite hand waving and head nodding and B) I’m working on writing this article about Polish dumplings and beets and happy things for once so please stop interrupting me.
But Scantily Clad Polish Companion, the big old SCPC, is determined to cross the cultural Delaware River that divides us and develop a radical new sign language all in the space of right this instant. So please indulge me just one more week of rumination and brooding because SCPC has approximately 96% of my attention and this blog is due tomorrow morning and I feel like this all will come out to be some kind of archetypal story someone may learn from later on. So here goes:
Sometime after March 15 but before May 31; Let’s Go HQ, Cambridge, MA
We are taught, “Don’t book your hostels in advance because plans can change on the road.” Okay. Fair enough. Sounds like solid reasoning to me.
Monday, June 10; Győr, Hungary
Having duteously only booked my first hostel in advance, I furiously spend 5 precious hours of my day on the duel-purpose mission of figuring out how in the hell one gets from Győr to Warsaw without a sci-fi transporter in under 11 hours and, less important, I am working to secure lodgings in Gdańsk, Poland over a week ahead. I thought I was right on top of things—a week ahead? Are you kidding? That’s like a year in backpacker’s time. However, when I finally secured the sci-fi transporter device operating under the nom de guerre “Wizz Airlines” after a prolonged and infuriating debacle, I turned my wholehearted attention to the fact that every major hostel in Gdańsk declined my request to spend a few nights under their collective roof.
The same email, every time: “We are full for the dates you requested.” Well, well, well. Shit. What planets have aligned and decided to royally screw me over this time? I decide to consult Google. Ah, a modern planetary-scale event we call the “music festival” is occuring in Gdańsk during my stay? Double shit. My odds of securing lodgings 8 days out instantly decided to go the way of my odds of successfully communicating with my SCPC buddy, who just determined he should wear a bath towel like a cape and point at it me a few times all the while maintaining an almost romantic gaze into my eyes.
So, arriving at this quantum-physics caliber conundrum, I desperately emailed somewhere around 15 hostels in Gdańsk and conferred with mass booking websites that display any and all availabilities for me at once. OK, OK, here are the options: Hilton for $285/night, Sheraton for $350/night. *LOW AVAILABILITY* flashes before my eyes on every option. Hilton option #2 for $250/night, 3City Hostel for $20/night. Click, reserved, paid, QED.
The glories of modern mass booking technology saved me from an absurdly priced hotel once again, I thought, crossing my arms and proudly leaning back in my chair. Gdańsk doesn’t know what’s coming.
(Just for clarity’s sake, I did do a quick background check on 3City and it has high-ish ratings on most hostel sites—enough to pass an online litmus test. I was by no means expecting something stellar, but neither was I expecting the delivered goods. Also, $20/night for a hostel is not uncommon).
Wenesday, June 19: Gdańsk, Poland
Warsaw felt like a dream. Let me just get that out of the way. I’d live there without a second thought. It may not be the most bopping city in all of Poland, but damn is it homey. I was even going to work in Avengers: Endgame references to my blog post about starch and beets. You guys missed a real winner.
Upon arriving at 3City, nothing was amiss until I walked into my room. The superficial appearance of the hostel isn’t bad, basically your classic linoleum and bleach hospital combo that implies a clean hostel. But upon walking into my room and meeting three very old women who neither knew each other nor spoke English and were all solo traveling, I was, in a word, perplexed. Hostels are, traditionally at least, for students. In my last two hostel experiences no one above 30 stayed in the hostel and probably would have been publicly shamed had they even tried. When you’re sleeping in a room with strangers, there’s a level of trust and comfort that comes with knowing these strangers are your age and probably of a similar economic background, you know, to be backpacking Europe as a student and all.
So, back to my room: why does the hanging laundry setup one of the women owns imply an irregularly long stay? And what’s this ungodly hospital death smell I’m picking up? Why are there no ladders on the bunks? Who’s responsible for the trash on the ground? And why are they all so old? Why do they all speak Polish?
Upon discovering there was no locker in which to put my bags, I went down to the front desk and they kindly gave me a new room. This new room is populated by, again, three older Polish people, but this time around they are somewhat pungent men who actually do know each other and are (traveling, bunking, etc.,) together because, well your guess is as good as mine. However, just knowing that the men knew each other lent me a greater level of comfort, a comfort whose origins I don’t think I can very well articulate.
Complete with locker, bed, and bathroom, I was ready to put my grievances aside about 3City and finish my Warsaw copy—only to discover that there are no electrical outlets in my room. In any of the rooms for that matter. Instead, there are approximately 10 outlets per floor littered throughout the public common rooms and hallways—and there are at least 40 people on any given floor at any given time.
Yes, it’s been a little bit like the Hunger Games up in here. You can imagine the frenetic fit a Candy Crush addict goes into when they can’t charge their phone in-room and play into the wee hours of the morning. And as for me, I need sweet, sweet electrical juice to put the ribbon on my third copy batch.
It’s now 00:50hrs and I’ve been staked out at two outlets finishing this copy for almost two hours now. My stakeout is located at the both fortunate and unfortunate position of being directly across from the main staircase, so I get the pleasure of seeing everyone who enters the hostel and subsequently being greeted by them.
You could say my vantage point has afforded me one central piece of wisdom about good old 3City that no Google review would tell you: For every 18-30 year old who stays here, there are three or four more pungent old Polish people who stumble in drunk off the streets and absolutely get off on trying to make conversation with me and with the front desk as they get a room in 3City. (I won’t be drawing any conclusions as to why 3City seems to be more of a shelter than a hostel, but certainly you can catch my drift here and understand my burgeoning fear that I wouldn’t want to sleep through the night without my eyes open).
Warsaw felt incredibly safe. Like so safe if you didn’t get warm fuzzies walking around at 02:00hrs there was something wrong with you. Hence, this has been quite the stark change.
Suffice to say, tonight I booked my hostels through mid-July just after finishing dinner. Lesson learned. I have four nights in this hostel and will be spending as little time as possible staked out at its power outlets and hallways.
I hope my complaining didn’t bore you too much, and if this blog has served any purpose it has calmed me down enough to approach going to bed without the anger, fear, and general frustration that was haunting me an hour ago.
Note: SCPC has returned. He is now trying to convince me to go talk to the “dames”—which I think is his translation of “women”—in the common room, which, unsurprisingly, are also upwards of 50. On a lighter note, SCPC’s plumber’s crack is pretty hilarious because it doesn’t exist. His ass is actually flat as a wall. No body shaming intended. It’s just that perfect little absurd moment that occurs in a Camus novel like when your mom dies and the very next thing you have to do is haggle over the price of her premium embalming fluids—SCPC’s conspicuous lack of ass and conspicuous abundance in other places feels like some brilliant little detail that just puts the icing on this whole visual cake. In any case, let this be a prolonged and inefficient tale whose moral is precisely this: Book your hostels at least two weeks in advance or face the wrath of scantily clad senile Polish men. QED.
Any reasonable person would say bringing six books on a seven week backpacking trip through Hungary, Poland, and Czechia is just asking for a heavier backpack. Fortunately, Luke is a not-very-reasonable person. *clears throat pretentiously* He’d like you to know that six books on hand are the minimum necessary for literary inspiration — He plans on starting the Next Great American novel during his time overseas. (Send apologies to his lower back around week four). When not actively being overambitious about his future career as a *mumbles incoherently*, Luke overcommitts himself to theater, journalism, and debate. Readers should expect Luke’s journey to feature constant references to Shakespeare and David Foster Wallace, an obsession with the cardinal directions, existential angst due to the lack of Thai food in central Europe, and a perfectly European (non)-platonic love for biking. Luke will return to Harvard in the fall as a much more tan (read: sunburnt) sophomore concentrating in Social Studies and Philosophy.