Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tales from a Hostel Bunk: Prague

I walked into the four-bed room and frowned. Nothing had changed since I'd swung back to the hostel to drop a few things off mid-afternoon: there was still only one bed other than mine occupied, and the things on it still didn't look the least bit feminine. Coed dorm rooms, as long as they were small, weren't so bad, but me and just one guy, in a room at the end of the hall? That was a little weird, and potentially creepy.

The Astronomical Clock in Prague's Old Town Square,
a 10-minute walk from my hostel and one of my
favorite parts of the city.
My roommate of the night before, a very sweet British-American woman a few years older than I was who had been teaching English in the Czech countryside for two years, had left to catch a flight before dawn. The pair of American guys, also on spring break, with whom I'd shared a van from the airport to the city center the day before and who had turned up at my hostel after realizing the one they'd booked was a disaster, were apparently already out for the evening. Since breakfast had revealed the other occupants of Apple Hostel to be mostly quiet pairs who didn't make eye contact, I wondered what other solo traveler had shown up. And hoped he was short, with less muscle mass than your average 12-year-old.

Don't get me wrong, meeting other travelers is the best part of staying in a hostel, but the idea of sleeping in a room with an unknown man and no one else had my internal solo female traveler alarm clanging a warning. I try to stay in female-only rooms whenever possible, but Apple Hostel didn't have any rooms designated as such for the time I was there.
My first full day in Prague, during the boat portion
 of a walking/boat tour of the city center, with Karlův Most,
Malá Strana and the Hrad behind me.

A key turned in the lock while I was contemplating putting my shoes back on to head out for an hour at a café before dinner, and I bargained with myself: if he set off any "creepy guy" signals in my head, I'd ask about switching to another room, but it was unfair to judge a fellow traveler without even exchanging a few words of conversation. I took a deep breath and fixed a cautious smile on my face as the door opened.

Rather than short and frail, my new roommate turned out to be a tall German with a proclivity for skiing, mountain climbing and hiking. Oops. But he also seemed to tune in quickly to the fact that I wasn't entirely comfortable and set about making casual conversation. We discovered common interests in our mutual love of the outdoors and languages (although his near-native English was light-years beyond my limited German), and spent a pleasant hour talking about places we'd been and others we hoped to visit. We didn't spend much time together during the few overlapping days of our respective stays, but he was a pleasant roommate and seemed careful to respect my personal space and to avoid doing anything that might make me nervous, which I greatly appreciated.

I loved all the colors used in Prague's architecture, like on
these buildings, seen through an arch of Karlův Most.
I can't say the experience made me any less wary of sharing a room with a solo traveler of the opposite sex, and I still look first for female-only rooms when I'm traveling alone. But sharing a room with a solo male traveler who turned out to be one of the most respectful, polite and easy-going guys I've ever met was a good reminder that, while it pays to be on your guard when traveling - solo or otherwise - you never know who you'll meet or what interesting conversations you might have if you give the people around you a chance.

(For those curious about Apple Hostel itself, it's a decent-enough hostel within walking distance of both Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. The rooms are clean and spacious; the only thing that made me a little nervous was that the top bunks didn't have rails around them or anything to keep people sleeping there from falling out. The breakfasts provided when I was there were fairly stale and I preferred to seek out my own. The communal bathrooms were kept in decent shape, although the showers were slow to drain and the shower setup will give Americans pause: three beach-style shower heads along one wall of the shower room, with no dividers between them or between that section of the room and the sinks. I'd stay there again because of the location, but if I found something in the same price range that seemed nicer or more welcoming, I wouldn't hesitate to try that instead.)


Bob Berwyn said...

Nice post. As a former manager of an HI Hostel in California, where we sometimes had co-ed dorms (depending on the configuration of guests), I can relate to your concerns. The Hilton Creek HI was small, so we only had two dorms and one family room. At times, using co-ed dorms helped maximize the space, and other times, the travelers asked for co-ed dorms. I always tried to be sensitive to the concerns of the guests, but I know a few times there were people who were uncomfortable with the co-ed set-up. I also know that many friendships, and at least a few romances, started in at the hostel.

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

Thanks, Bob. Managing a hostel must have made for some really interesting experiences! So much of a hostel stay depends on the other people who happen to be there at the same time - I imagine it can be a tough job keeping everyone happy, especially with limited space.

zablon said...

as a female traveler you should always be cautious, better safe than sorry. its great your roommate was cool

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

Absolutely - that's my motto when I travel, especially alone. If I'd felt the slightest bit off about him, I'd have been out of there in a heartbeat.