helping keep hungry backpackers fed:

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Places I have stayed in Europe part 2: Prague to Amsterdam PLUS the UK and Ireland

Prague, Czech Republic - HostelOne Prague
Prague looks like every fairytale you ever read as a kid. My recollections are of every building being stunningly beautiful although this surely can't be true...The hostel gave directions which included catching a tram. Maybe we were being stupid or were simply unfortunate but it took us forever to find the tram station and a few further millenia to figure out how to purchase tickets for it. When we finally got on the tram we discovered it was only a 10 minute walk! We made a lot of friends in this hostel and went on one of the most well organised and value for money bar crawls I have ever attended. HostelOne was a on the large side, which normally translates to a lack of that homely feel you get in small backpackers but somehow they had manged to create a friendly close-knit kind of atmosphere. The kitchen was large and well equiped and the communal areas were really nice. Prague is another of my must see spots in Europe, especially if you like a nice cold beer, and you could do a lot worse than stay in this hostel!

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic - Hostel Postel
In the heart of Bohemia, Cesky Krumlov feels a bit like stepping into some kind of themed medieval village, but with cars and pizza restuarants and mobile phones. The cobblestoned streets are charming, and the castle (Cesky's main attraction) would be impressive enough even if it wasn't guarded by bears (I kid you not!) The hostel was made up of a series of cabins with a central kitchen area. It was clean, pretty and well equiped and the staff were really friendly. Be careful if you plan on staying here, reception is not open 24 hours and the entire building is currently closed until at least the end of March. Despite all the positives, Hostel Postel did lack atmosphere somewhat and we found ourselves visiting the bar at the far more lively Hostel 99 and looking on somewhat folornly at the fun everyone seemed to be having. Hostel 99 is also closer to the station, just sayin'!

Munich, Germany - Thalkirchen Camping Site
This campsite was MASSIVE. A good thing too, considering the number of people who seem to stay here when Oktoberfest is on. I can imagine it would normally be pretty spacious and relaxed and in a lovely location in summer. It was situated next to a river and a park making it seem like the countryside, but close enough to the metro station to be in Munich centre within 10 minutes. There was a takeaway food window which served prezels and bratwurst hotdogs and a decent sized shop which, when we were there, was stocked mainly with alcholic drinks. The atmosphere on the campsite reminded me of my time at English rock festivals such as Reading festival, with tents pitched almost on top of each other and merrymakers stumbling around searching fruitlessly for their dwelling looking extremely worse for wear despite it being midday. Oktoberfest is one of those things everyone should experience at least once before they die, and considering the potency and volume of the beer combined with the temperature in a tent in Munich ovenight in the Autumn, it's suprising that it isnt the LAST thing many attendees experience in their lives!

Berlin, Germany - St Christopher's Inns Berlin
The St Christophers chain is generally a pretty safe bet whenever they are available. Commonly situated above Belishi's bars, they're usually clean, secure and easy to find. This was no exception. A free breakfast was offered and we took advantage of a free walking tour as well as extremely reasonably priced food and drinks in the bar. St Christopher's staff always speak fantastic English and have the knowledge and resources to help you find whatever you may be looking for. The only downside of the chain is that, due to their size and almost hotel-like status they rarely have kitchens or washing facilities, this was particularly disadvantagous for us since we arrived late at night, with literally no clean clothes and starving hungry after the bar had finished serving food. We were directed to the nearest laundrette, ran by an extremely eccentric elderly gentleman and were successful in getting our clothes washed and not-quite-dried just before he closed up. There was also a late night noodle shop opposite which was greatly appreciated. Berlin is a fascinating city, especially for history buffs and there's an overwhelming amount of things to see and do there. Give yourself a few days, we felt somewhat rushed.

Bacharach, Germany - Burg Stahleck
When myself and the BF first started planning eurotrip we had decided we wanted to find interesting buildings to stay in. When a friend of mine told me he had heard of a hostel which was built in a 12th Centuary castle we decided we HAD to stay in it. Being an Australian, the BF is particularly fond of castles (which he identifies by the existance of what he refers to as "turrets"- basically anything with a spire including many churches and a handful of pubs!) and he was adamant that we secure a bed in this piece of history. What we didn't know was that the hostel is often frequented by large groups of school children and that when we arrived there our room was the only one not full of pre-pubescents. Despite this I do not regret our stay one bit. Bacharach is stunning and the rhineland in general looks like a real piece of old Germany. There's actually a suprising amount to do as well. Most of the other people in our room were hikers and there were some decent hiking trails around the town. Others were wine lovers, as the reigon is famous for producing top quality Reisling. We found in most countries that we enjoyed visiting these slightly less touristy spots and felt we got a stronger sense of the culture of their people outside of the big cities.

Frankfurt, Germany - Five Elements Hostel Frankfurt
Frankfurt is a weird city. It almost makes a statement about the efficient and straightforward nature of Germans that such an upmarket financial hub would also have one of the most sprawling and astonishing red light districts I've ever seen just a couple of blocks away. As you walk down the street it goes from swanky coffee shops and restaurants with 80 euro salads to flashing neon signs advertising shows, girls, dances and everything inbetween. Its like they decided there was no point trying to hide corporate need for such distractions so it might as well be easily accessable! This red light district is also where the hostels are found. Probably because its the only land they can afford to own. Conveniently its also where the station is. We were a tiny bit disconcerted to see a guy smoking a crack pipe on the street that our hostel was on but the security was incredibly good and the establishment boasts an almost OCDesque level of cleanliness and organisation, almost in deliberate juxtoposition with the chaos of the streets outside. If you do visit, try a Frankfurt specialty- a glass of their delicious Apfelwein (esentially cider but somehow more wine-like)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands - Vita Nova and Youth Hostel Meetingpoint
There's a staggering array of available accomodation options in Amsterdam. We had booked the Vita Nova, a converted houseboat, long in advance as another of those novel hostelling experiences we thought would be cool. The Vita Nova was well organised and the rooms were suprisingly spacious and comfortable for a boat. The free breakfast was good and the staff were helpful. The location wasn't bad and it was nice being a little way away from the craziness of the red light district and the party areas, although the walk was quite long. We decided to stay a couple of extra days, but move to a hostel right in the hub of the action. Unfortunately, the day before we were to move hostels, the BF nearly collapsed on the way to the Anne Frank Museum (I thought it was just an excuse!) After returning to our nautical home, he was violently ill for 24 hours. I wouldn't recommend the Vita Nova as a place to be when you are sick. Rather than moving hostels the next morning, I asked the Vita Nova staff for directions to the nearest hospital where he was immediately admitted with suspected Swine Flu, then Leigonaires Disease, and finally a far more comforting confirmed case of Pneumonia. On a side note if you decide to become ill anywhere in the world, Amsterdam is the place to do it. Their public hospital was nicer than any private hospital I've visited in the UK and they have reciprocal healthcare agreements with a lot of other countries, making the BF's stay in his own private room (he was quarantined primarily due to the Swine Flu prognosis) completely free. Additionally every doctor, the receptionist and the triage nurse spoke perfect English, in fact the BF tells me that the only person who wasn't fluent was the lunch lady. In the meantime I went to stay as planned at Meetingpoint. Ideally located within the red light district, and less than 5 minutes from the train station, this hostel was more than adequate. The staff were sympathetic when only I turned up and although they charged me for two beds on the first night, they allowed me to cancel the second bed for the rest of my stay. The rooms were large and a nice touch was the lockable barrels provided- often lockers simply aren't big enough! There were no laundry or cooking facilities but a cheap breakfast was offered and there was a laundrette 3 doors down the road so that wasn't a problem. Amsterdam itself is always a fun experience and when I finally made it to the Anne Frank museum (alone) I found it extremely interesting. Apart from that i didn't get the chance to be much of a tourist as I was too busy carrying clean and dirty clothes back and forth from the hospital and keeping the BF company. After he was discharged we decided he was too weak to keep backpacking so we flew back to England. We were sad to miss out on visiting Belgium but glad that we had managed to fulfill most of our plans.

On seperate occasions we have also stayed at:

Dublin, Ireland - Brown's Hostel (now Myplace Dublin)
Our trip to Ireland was right at the start of our backpacking career when myself and the BF were just a couple of crazy kids looking to save some cash and excited about seeing the world. Our selection method for this Hostel was to sort all the Dublin hostels on by price, and then book the cheapest (ignoring the extremely low satisfaction score..) Despite this, we were pleasantly suprised with what we got. The location was excellent, only 10 minutes walk from Temple Bar, and close to supermarkets. There was also a well equipped kitchen making budget eating a possibility. Trust me, if you need to save some money anywhere, Dublin is the place to do it! I've lived in one of the most famous and highly regarded North American ski resorts and on a luxury island on the great barrier reef and have never come across anywhere with as high a price of living as Dublin. Anyway, of course you get what you pay for and this hostel had quite a few cons as well as the pros. They didn't provide any bedding, and i recall a group of Japaneese travellers all fast asleep in our 20 person dorm one night with towels and jumpers covering them. The showers were also particularly disgusting; most were missing curtains and those which were still intact were covered in thick black mould. Finally, the staff on reception were surly and unhelpful. Despite this we were pleasently suprised with what we got for our money and felt this experience was a necessary rite of passage which gave us the right to call ourselves backpackers.

Edinburgh, Scotland - High Street Hostel
We visited Edinburgh on a whim whislt on a family holiday in rural Scotland. It was the final weekend of the famous Edinburgh festival and we didn't book long in advance giving us a somewhat limited amount of accomodation options. Despite this we found a hostel in a prime location, right off of the royal mile and just a 5 minute walk from Edinburgh castle (the BF wanted to stay there instead, and I had to point out that in most cities he couldnt stay in the castles, just visit them.) The staff here were friendly and the facilities good, although wi fi only worked in the reception area, making it constantly packed. The worst thing about High Street Hostel was its long term guests, of which there seemed to be a few. These residents were aloof and self-important and seemed to look down on any tourists. The staff on the other hand were exceptionally friendly and helpful. I would reccomend taking the free walking tour whilst in Edinburgh, there's a LOT of history and plenty to see. We also greatly enjoyed a fantastic pub crawl in this city (there's also a LOT of pubs).

London, England - St Christopher's London Bridge- The Inn
I grew up less than 2 hours from London, so seeeing somewhere so familiar to me through tourist's eyes is an interesting and novel experience. This hostel is in the Southwalk area, which is one of my favourite parts of London and in walking distance of most places you would want to visit. My top tip for London is not to just rely on the tube. Get a map and walk. You'll see a lot more and learn the geography of the city plus save a LOT of money. This hostel is ideally located, close to South Bank where you will find the Tate modern (I've never really visited this iconic art gallery, but have used its bathrooms to be ill when very hungover once) and the London eye. Yet also a reasonably easy walk to Oxford Street (busy but a shopping heaven), Covent Garden (lovely market area, kooky shops and street performers)  and the West End (even if you don't see a show there's lots of good restaurants and its fun just walking around). There are 3 different St Christopher's Hostels in the London bridge area, which use the same reception and have shared facilities. I had one of the most fun nights of my life in the Belishi's Bar underneath the Village hostel. Myself, the BF and some friends had a bargain dinner, discovered all drinks were two pound and therefore later participated in kareoke night, swapped hats with strangers and made best friends with all of the staff. The only negative point about the Inn hostel is the lack of bathrooms. I've heard dreadful stories of some budget hostels in London, pay a little more and you will have an amazing time.

Porthleven (Cornwall), England - Penrose Campsite
If you visit the UK try to get away from the big cities and see a little of the heritage. Cornwall and Devon on the south west coast are almost like a seperate country. We visited the beautiful town of Porthleven just after purchasing Roarie, wanting to give him a test before embarking on eurotrip. I actually prefer simple campsites like this one to ones bursting with facilities. there was a toilet and a shower and aside from that you were on your own. Cornwall is like a flashback to times more simple and we made our payment for the campsite in an honesty box on the side of the shower cubicle and chose wherever we wanted in a large field to set up. The campsite was a short walk over a field full of cows from the beach, and a further 10 minutes from the town centre. There you will find an ice cream shop, a couple of pubs and a fish and chip shop. Plus 2 cornish pasty shops. There is no bank however. a Porthlevel local told me that there was one there once but the first pasty shop couldnt keep up with demand so they had to scrap the bank and change it into the second one. That just about sums up cornwall for me!

I hope this has been helpful to everyone, plese feel free to post any of your own tips, comments, reviews, suggestions and criticisms!

1 comment:

  1. Great and insightful..if i ever travel o/s i am sure it will be usefull....what now...