A recent weekend break in Italy resulted in the most ridiculous, hilarious, surreal night I have ever spent in a youth hostel. Seriously. I would love to blog about exploring Milan and Pisa but this one night in Florence has to come first.
I committed hostel fraud. A friend and I, let’s call her Kay, decided we’d be clever and save money by booking just one bed in a youth hostel, and share it. Do not ask me where this sudden cheapness came from because I never normally do things like this. Well, god clearly wanted to teach me a lesson for it, because the resulting evening was, in a word, absurd. We thought it would be no big deal, right? Youth hostels are always full of people coming and going and no-one checking…
To start with, the hostel’s very location put me in mind of No. 12 Grimmauld Place. It was number 8 on the deserted street; we passed numbers 4, 6…then 10. No sign of 8 anywhere. Was it a scam? Did we need to utter an enchantment for the building to reveal itself? Open Sesame? But no, silly us, we didn’t realise 8 comes AFTER 10 apparently. We got buzzed in, and Kay waited downstairs while I checked in. Youth hostel isn’t quite the word for the place…it was an apartment. There were two bedrooms. Two. That’s not a youth hostel. I had booked one bed in a two-bed room. Apparently wandering in and out unseen was not going to be so easy.
The staff member with whom I had to deal with was…special. He was a young man; very pleasant, but with a drug-addled look about him. He spoke English (just), and wandered around, looking rather lost and confused, clutching a yellow notebook with booking details penciled in it. The boss was away, so he was running the place apparently. He showed me my room, then went off to try to telephone his boss.
How to describe to you the bed? It looked frail, little more than a camp bed. My worst fears were realised when I sat down experimentally on the edge, and was greeted by the terrifying grinding squeal of tenuous springs, with the bed actually bucking a bit at the other end. How were both Kay and I going to sleep on this thing without it completely disintegrating? I glanced hopefully at the room’s other bed – perhaps Kay could just sleep on that…but I noticed to my disappointment a messy pile of possessions in the corner of the room, indicating somebody had already arrived and, judging by the size of the shoes and the copy of A Game of Thrones, was an English-speaking bloke.
The attendant was still on the phone, and I was getting impatient, all the while highly aware of my friend waiting alone in the dinghy hallway downstairs. Finally he reappeared, proffering, for some reason, his mobile phone. I took it confusedly, and was greeted with a loud Italian man’s voice, presumably the owner of the hostel, who proceeded to go through a kind of remote welcome ceremony, completely unnecessarily as I would not be staying long enough the next morning to meet him, let alone allow him to “prepare me a breakfast” and advise me on the hotspots of Florence(!)
Finally, that was over; but fresh ordeals were on their way. Sneaking Kay in should have been simple enough. Except that the lights went out the moment we reached the front door, and I pressed a button on the wall, thinking it was the light switch but which was in fact the door bell, causing the attendant to come and answer the door, meaning Kay had to dash back down the stairs. But we got her in eventually.
I suddenly remembered that I had given the attendant my passport, and he had not given it back. So, closing the bedroom door firmly on Kay, I went to ask after it. Queue one of the most shambolic exchanges I have ever had in my life. His English, as I already mentioned, was somewhat lacking, but my request was simple: I wanted my damned passport. He wasn’t giving it to me. Another girl from the hostel, with whom he had been watching a movie in the lounge, came and tried to translate, but further confused things. Basically, he needed a piece of ID until I paid. I said I’d pay immediately. His solution was to disappear with his phone again. After much more waiting around, he finally acquiesced and said I could pay.
I had the money ready but alas things were not to be so simple. I had to wait further while he filled in, with extreme difficulty, a short form asking for my name, date of birth, and nationality. I think he was slightly illiterate, or, like I said, drug-addled, because it definitely wasn’t a language problem; the form had all the languages on it. We moved from English to French, which improved communication a little, though sadly not his mental speed. I didn’t have change for the €2 key deposit, so I didn’t take it, which worked fine for me. I was (we were) staying only one night, and it meant I had essentially checked out, so Kay and I could make a dash for it first thing the next morning.
Then came the matter of actually going to sleep. In the narrow, ominously creaking “bed”, we had no choice but to spoon. Kay kept a scarf handy to cover her face if need be. We had to suffer a lot of noise seeping in through the paper-thin door, not to mention the constant awareness of its lack of lock, meaning anybody could have come in at any moment (i.e. the risk of instant exposure), and above all of the imminent reentry of our unknown roommate.
This moment came much, much later, when we had both managed to fall asleep. Presumably our roomie had been out partying Italian-stylee, so it was probably around 5am when the door burst open loudly, jolting us both awake. All I could see in the sudden blinding light from the doorway immediately in front of me was the silhouette of a tall, hulking male figure. Thankfully he did not turn on the room light, and went straight to bed. I don’t know how drunk he was, whether he thought I was an extremely fat, oddly-shaped girl under the covers, or noticed that there was the sound of two other people breathing in the room, but judging by his own extremely heavy breathing, he fell asleep pronto.
The next morning, I woke automatically at 7:15, and soon after Kay and I were packed and ready to make a sneaky escape, Nikita-style. If only we were so smooth. We legged it without being caught, but once we were out on the street, and had already burst into relieved laughter at the ludicrousness of the whole situation, Kay dropped a bombshell. She had left her Blackberry behind. Under the pillow. The main door had just swung shut with a resounding bang behind us.
So of course I had to ring the buzzer, and dash back upstairs. I was greeted by the same young attendant, bleary-eyed, it clearly being too early in the morning for him to care why I was ringing the bell. Dash back into the darkened bedroom, grab phone, dash back out. Only then were we finally free, in the crisp, cold morning air of Florence, to reflect and snicker over the utter farce that had been the night before.
There’s a lesson in here somewhere. Don’t be a cheapass, and try to book a hostel two-for-one? Consider the hostel size more carefully if you do decide to try (and make sure you are VERY comfortable with the friend you intend on sharing a bed with)? Let your friend book the hostel next time? Still, we got away with it! Just. But never, ever am I doing that again.