Justin and I stayed in hostels almost exclusively during the year that we spent in China. When we were living there, hostels just made more sense. They were suited to foreign guests (for example, the desk clerks could usually speak some English, and one hostel we frequented in Shanghai even served a complimentary “western” breakfast–corn flakes and buttered toast!) without breaking the budget. There are a lot of fancy hotels that charge crazy rates in China, and they’re strategically placed in big cities just to lure in foreigners who don’t know any better. In China, it’s easy to book a hostel with a decent room and bathroom (sometimes indistinguishable from an average hotel) for $15-$20 a night.
So when Justin and I embarked on our first “international” trip since returning from China (a.k.a. Canada), we both agreed that booking a hostel was the way to go.
We may have been wrong.
After spending the entire afternoon outside admiring Niagara Falls from the Maid of the Mist and the Cave of the Winds, we were ready to crash. I ended up crashing a little early, during the 35-minute ride across the Rainbow Bridge that was held up by all the traffic at the border inspection. Justin did wake me up when we reached the border patrol officer, as he needed to look at my (awake) face and compare it with the picture on my passport. When we entered Canada, I ended up navigating us to the wrong hostel because I was all sleepy and fuzzy-brained. When we finally found the right hostel that we’d already booked online, we were ready to take our stuff upstairs and just refresh. My brain was still a little foggy, and judging from my forearms, it looked like I was getting a major sunburn from being outside all day. I just wanted to change out of my gross, sweat-soaked clothes into something fresh and get some dinner.
However, when we arrived at our hostel, no one was ready to let us just crash. The friendly desk clerk insisted on coming out from behind the desk and personally giving us a tour of the place, and hearing our entire life story all the while. I’d never met such a friendly desk clerk. And while it sure beats getting a really grumpy, hostile desk clerk (see what I did there? “hostile”/”hostel” :-P), I really just wanted to have the key and go to my room. I kept eyeing the key in her hand, willing her to just hand it over to us…but we were going to have to work for it, apparently. We walked up several flights of stairs, she showed us the bathroom and the breakfast nook, she even introduced us to some of the other guests staying on our floor, and we talked with them for awhile. She insisted on taking us out to the porch and physically pointing out some nice restaurants to eat that were only a five minute walk from the hostel. Finally…..FINALLY….she stopped in front of a door in the hallway and said, “Well, here we are!” and unlocked it to let us inside.
We were greeted with a blast of hot, stuffy air (no A/C in this hostel, apparently), and we looked around our very basic room. I mean, it was BASIC basic…about the same amenities you’d get at prison. Stark white walls, a bed, a little wooden chair….and that’s it. “Oh my! It’s a little warm in here!” our friendly desk clerk said, inviting herself right into our room to open up the window and turn on the fan. “Uh-oh…someone forgot to bring you fresh linens! I’ll just go get those and be right back!” she said. We took her absence as an opportunity to escape back down to the car so we could lug our suitcases upstairs.
We made it down to the first floor landing and we were just within sight of the front door when we heard, “Hey, where’s the fire?” A gray-haired, hippyish man leaned casually up against the wall, blocking our path to the door.
“We’re just going to get our bags and bring them inside,” my husband explained.
“My name’s Patrick; I own this little place,” the man replies, sticking out his hand in hopes of a handshake. Great, now we’re doing introductions.
We introduce ourselves, and he starts asking us how long we’ll be in Niagara and what our travel plans are. We tell him we’re just staying one night and then moving on to Toronto.
“Toronto?” he says, cringing. “Can’t think of why you’d want to go to a place like that!”
“Well, for one, we’ve never been there before…” I start.
“Well, you’ve never been to hell before either, have you?” he says, letting out a long, hearty guffaw at his own joke. Nice. Now he’s insulted our anniversary travel plans. Can I please just go get my bags now and change clothes?
“There’s plenty to do right here in Niagara!” he says. “Can’t think of why you’d want to leave so soon!”
“Yeah, we see there are a lot of shops and tourist attractions right down the street,” Justin says, vaguely pointing in the direction our friendly desk clerk pointed earlier out of the porch.
“Oh, that?! The Casino and all that rubbish? You don’t want to waste your time with any of that!” he says, seeming offended. “That’s not the REAL Niagara out there. You have to drive a ways to get to the real thing. There are hiking trails, gorgeous scenery…I can draw you a map later. You know, they only put that Casino up for the Americans, anyways!”
Now somehow I feel like he’s insulting my nationality.
“You’re welcome,” he says in response to the blank stares we’re giving him. “That’s why people come to hostels, isn’t it? You can’t get inside info like that just anyplace. People don’t book hostels just for the cheap rooms.” They don’t? “They come here for the atmosphere and the social scene. If you’re just looking for a cheap room, they have rooms a whole lot cheaper at the motel down the street!” They do? “But that’s not why you chose to stay here, is it?”
Justin and I dutifully shook our heads.
“Anyways, some of us are going down to Shakey’s Pub later, if you two want to join?”
Justin gave a vague, non-committal answer and FINALLY we were out the door to retrieve our bags.
There was just something a little creepy about this place. I felt bad thinking it, because everyone was trying their best to be super friendly. But that’s just it, isn’t it? I can’t trust people who want to immediately be friends, with that crazed look in their eyes…who insist on socializing the second you check in to your hostel, refusing to give you the key until you’ve “had the full experience.” When you stay in a place like this, you can’t just pass people in the hallways anymore. Every person you see wants to chat for ten minutes and make plans to hang out with you later…it’s just all too much!
I swear I heard Patrick humming “Hotel California” as we walked away to go get our bags.
Have you ever seen that episode of Gilmore Girls when they go on a Harvard road trip, and decide last minute to stay in a Bed and Breakfast? They were basically hostages in their own (very floral) bedroom, afraid to go down the stairs in case they might get roped into mindless chatter and compulsory group activities. Just like that episode, Justin and I found ourselves walking through the building like this:
So that we could avoid one of these situations:
Luckily, Patrick was no where to be found when we re-entered with our suitcases. But we didn’t make it all the way to our rooms without being confronted. As I rounded a corner, I heard a voice behind me say, “So, are you wearing that shirt on purpose, or…?”
I turned around, dumbfounded by why someone would have issue with my Florida State Seminoles shirt. Unless…
“I’m a Florida Gator,” he declares proudly.
You’ve got to be kidding me. I come all the way to Canada and I’m still getting trash-talked by a Florida Gator? On my anniversary trip?
We talk for a few minutes about Florida and how ironic it is that we’re both visiting Canada during Independence Day. But he can’t help but slip in a few little wise cracks about how his school is better than mine. In fact, his exact words were, “I won’t say anything about how you went to a second-rate school.” Well, buddy, you just did. You just went there.
And I won’t say anything about how you went to a school whose mascot is an alligator wearing an ugly orange and blue sweater, and whose campus is affectionately known as “the Swamp.” At least I did not attend school at a swamp, thank-you very much. 😛
(FYI, for those of you who aren’t from Florida, Gator fans are the WORST. I’m not even joking. They’re completely obnoxious. If you ever visit Florida, and you have an unpleasant interaction with someone who is condescending and rude, just ask them if they’re from Gainesville. Nine times out of ten, they are.)
If I could have just had the chance to change out of that Seminole shirt when we first arrived at the hostel, all interaction with the Gator could have been avoided. Ugh. Needless to say, we stayed away from our hostel as much as we possibly could. We really just spend the bare minimum amount of time there. And I wasn’t able to check out without Patrick drawing me a confusing (but detailed) map of Niagara.
Although, later on that night, something strange did happen, or at least I think it did. I woke up in the middle of the night and felt thirsty. I thought I’d go get a glass of water, so I turned on the bedside lamp, hoping that I wouldn’t wake Justin. I turned to get out of bed, and Patrick was lying there next to me, covers snuggled up all the way to his chin. He grinned and said, “Hey stranger! Long time no see!”
Ahhhhhhh! Just kidding. But really, I wouldn’t have been surprised.