Friday, October 14, 2011

Where We Stayed During our European Travels


It's long overdue, but A. has written this round-up of all the places we slept in during our backpacking trip through Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Spain, and Italy. Some were wonderful splurges and others were cheap as hell, but they all gave us some interesting stories to tell. I was just excited to check out different hotels, get over my fear of staying in a stranger's home, and see what it'd be like to sleep during an overnight train ride into Paris. I'll chime in with some thoughts and answer any questions in the comments section.

In order to keep the trip costs down during our 23-day European vacation, we tried a variety of different lodgings. We tested out a couple Airbnb offerings, stayed in some cheap hotels, went totally budget with shared rooms in hostels and treated ourselves to a couple nice stays along the way. Here is a brief rundown of everywhere we stayed:

Hüttenpalast Hotel, Berlin, Germany

I wasn’t sure how to explain what this hotel was. On my Facebook status, I described it as treehouse + trailer park + warehouse + tea party. While this hotel had regular rooms, Dorkys wanted to try their more exotic offerings. The experience was a lot like indoor camping; a very large eccentrically decorated room contained a variety of vintage trailers and wooden cabins. We slept in one of the cabins that was just large enough to fit a double bed. The bathroom was shared.

Pros: Clean, quirky, friendly, the bar a couple doors down was a cool locals joint
Cons: Everyone can hear the noise you make, no airflow, it was slightly removed from the tourist part of town (this would be a pro if I were on this trip by myself)
Cost: $75 per night

Hobrechtstrasse 66; 49-030/3730-5806; huettenpalast.de

Michelberger Hotel, Berlin, Germany

We stayed in a room that wasn’t much larger than the one we had at Hüttenpalast, but at least this one had a shower, toilet, and sink mashed in there. The shower had a window so that anyone chilling on the double bed would have a nice show. Good way to force the issue with an unsuspecting travel partner. The vibe at the hotel was very social, with the charming common areas providing great places to meet other guests. There were several clubs, attractions, and restaurants within walking distance.

Pros: Clean, cool, social, close to the action.
Cons: The pillows felt like they were only filled by three cotton balls.
Cost: $83 per night

Warschauer Strasse 39/40; 49-30/2977-8590; michelbergerhotel.com

Jaeger's Hostel, Munich, Germany

After stepping into this hostel, I immediately felt very old. Music was playing and the bar stools were full. Our room had two bunk beds in it. We took one while a young backpacking couple from South Africa took the other. It wasn’t such a bad stay until our roommates were replaced by two South Korean boys who decided to wash their clothes in the sink, leaving the floor of the bathroom covered in water that smelled like industrial bleach. When we tried to clean our clothes the civilized way, the hostel’s dryer simply refused to do its job and they didn’t offer us a refund. We had to finish the job at a laundromat a few blocks away. Apparently doing laundry in Europe is expensive. One euro for 10 minutes of drying? Yeow!

Pros: Close to the train station, one free shot per person upon check-in.
Cons: It’s a hostel, the wifi didn’t penetrate into the rooms.
Cost: $28 per night per person

Senefelderstrasse 3; 49-089/555-281; jaegershotel.de

Train sleeper car, Munich, Germany to Paris, France

We justified this experience as just that, an experience, but we were actually just forced into sleeping on the train because the route we originally wanted was sold out. We slept in a compartment with six bunks, three on each side, and we took the top two. I was originally looking forward to the rocking motion of the train putting me to sleep, but by about the third hour of tossing, I was over it. It was hot and uncomfortable, and the train had a few stops along the way that interrupted what little sleep was possible. Realizing that you’re inadvertently leaning against a very removable railing that is barely preventing you from falling seven feet to the floor is also poor for sleep.

Pros: It's a story I get to tell in which I came close to death, but survived.
Cons: Did you not read?


Airbnb: Yassir H., Paris, France

Our first Airbnb experience was a good one; we stayed in a lovely one-bedroom apartment in Montmartre owned by a student. He gave us the bedroom and took the couch in the living room for himself. As luck would have it, he had to leave town for a few days while we were there, so we ended up with the whole place to ourselves. This proved to be convenient when I suddenly got sick and had to stay in bed an entire day.

Pros: Cheap, toned our calves and asses with the 7-floor walk-up.
Cons: Had to share the place with the owner for a couple nights, brand new towels left red lint all over privates.
Cost: $74 per night

Rue Damrémont; airbnb.com

Silken Diagonal Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

We decided to treat ourselves halfway through the trip, so we splurged on this snazzy hotel. The room was large, with a glass bathroom. As a cool perk, the hotel is situated right next door to one of Barcelona’s modern landmarks, the Torre Agbar, which we quickly took to calling “the dildo.” Though, to be honest, it looks more like a vibrator. Even more useful was the hotel’s proximity to Barcelona’s nude beach, Mar Bella, which in contrast to common nude beach reputation actually has a fair amount of attractive young people.

Pros: Very stylish.
Cons: Have to travel a bit to get to the touristy stuff.
Cost: About $165 per night.

Avenida Diagonal, 205; 34-934/895-300; hoteles-silken.com

Hostal Residencia Australia, Barcelona, Spain

This was a tiny 4-room hotel with a shared bathroom. In my defense, this was a last-minute booking. The proprietor, a native of Australia and Spanish guitar enthusiast, was fucking weird. He referred to the stuffed animal on the front desk as “Mr. Wombat” and, in the span of a few minutes, managed to refer to it several times as if it had its own personality and could actually tell me things if I directed my questions to it. Luckily, we only spent one night there before skipping town.

Pros: Really close to La Rambla and the Gothic quarter.
Cons: Mr. Wombat
Cost: $82 per night

Ronda de la Universitat 11; 34/933-174177; residenciaaustralia.com

Hotel Chanteclair, Cannes, France

The proprietor of this hotel is Danish and he decided to try something new, so he bought a shitty hotel in Cannes. To his credit, it looks like he’s been working at slowly improving it. Situated equidistant between the two notable beaches in this overpriced hive of rich people, it was a decent place to stay when you know that you’re paying a tiny fraction of what everyone else is to “enjoy” this culturally washed-out famous-because-it’s-famous former fishing village. The room was old and basic, with a shower stall and a sink, but a shared bathroom. Unfortunately, we were eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Pros: Steps from an open-air market, the stares from the rich people as they wonder how the hell you got there.
Cons: Mosquitoes! Arrrghhh!
Cost: $80 per night

12 rue Forville; 04-93/39-68-88

Hostel Archi Rossi, Florence, Italy

We expected a slightly better experience than Jaeger’s and we were right. The vibe of this place was much more sedated, despite having every inch of their corridor walls covered in writing from previous guests. If you have a thing for Korean women, stay here. While we shared our room with four others, everyone was quiet and respectful. The single best thing about this hostel was the free breakfast. I can’t tell you how much hassle it circumvents during budget travel to have your breakfast just handed to you. It just starts the day off right.

Pros: Free breakfast!
Cons: It’s still a hostel.
Cost: $35 per night per person

Via Faenza, 94r; 055/290-804; hostelarchirossi.com

Airbnb: Giuseppe A., Rome, Italy

We ran into our first trouble with Airbnb when we tried to check into the apartment and our host was nowhere to be found, nor did he pick up his phone. Standing out in the sweltering heat as we waited for him to show up was unpleasant, but once we got inside, it was a nice experience. My best analysis of the situation was that the host had recently moved to a new apartment and had kept his old one to rent out and make a few extra bucks. We ended up sharing the large apartment with a shy older couple from Norway.

Pros: At least checkout was easy.
Cons: No wifi, Rome sucks.
Cost: $81 per night

Via Giovanni Giolitti; airbnb.com

UPDATE: I've added my thoughts on each lodging in the comments below so be sure to check them out!

8 comments:

  1. *walks in late!* you got a new look! Love it.

    And I've also got a new space where I'm working stuff out but it seems like I got so much catching up to do!
    This is a great round-up, I hope Europe was all you expected it to be and more. This looks like it took a lot of work to put together, thanks for doing all the research for us Europe-hopefuls!
    Gotta go catch up,
    tracita

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  2. Sounds so exciting! I will certainly get with you when we decide to go to Europe. Heck we will just drag you guys along with us since you know the ropes now! Hope all is well!

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  3. You really "enjoyed" a wide spectrum of sleeping places. I like B and B's but would rather someone else made the arrangements for them! The ones in Ireland were fantastic (all of them - the only con is the 2 minutes of hot water in the morning shower!)

    Bunk beds... meeting Korean women... oh gosh... LOL!

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  4. Those sound like some interesting lodgings. My European adventure was much less...adventurous. Not a hostel to be found!

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  5. Thanks, all! Hope this served as entertainment and you found some little bits of usefulness in A.'s snark. Now here are some of my thoughts about our lodgings:

    Hüttenpalast: When I first read about this hotel on Anthology Magazine's blog, I just had to visit it for myself. It was quirky and whimsical and I just figured it'd be like living in an adult-sized playhouse. The garden area was pleasant, but we didn't spend much time in there because we just wanted to get to the center of town where everything else was. Luckily, getting around Berlin via public transportation was incredibly easy and was one of the reasons why I enjoyed the city so much. Super accessible and German was not as intimidating as I thought it'd be.

    Back to Hüttenpalast, super clean shared bathrooms and showers; free croissant, water, fruits, and coffee for breakfast; delightful staff that sat down and marked down where to go eat on a map for us; the rooms were a bit cramped and we had to whisper because we didn't want to disturb anyone, but for some reason that made everything even funnier to me. You should've seen us peeking out our tiny curtained windows to see if anyone was out there as if we were some kind of runaway criminals.

    Michelberger: Michelberger was a bit more enjoyable and hipper than Hüttenpalast because a) it was so much closer to the city's action, b) rooms were more accommodating and equipped with bathrooms, TVs, and a small bookshelf, and c) there were more people around and they were roughly our age. The courtyard was so nice to lounge around in and do some people watching while an evening BBQ provided some good food one night. Interior lounge areas included a couched space surrounded by wire bookshelves and the bar area. Free WiFi all around!

    At night, you could walk around the neighborhood and find a great variety of restaurants and shops to explore. I never felt uneasy about walking around at night as it was always lively and a long chunk of the Berlin Wall is just a couple blocks away.

    Jaeger's Hostel: My first hostel experience. In restrospect it was okay, I guess. The first night was fine because we had a considerate couple from South Africa staying with us. A. really want to be social and push us to interact with other travelers, but I just wanted to get out and explore rather than chit chat with strangers. Plus, the place seemed to be filled with young college students who were backpacking through Europe and drinking their way through Munich.

    After we woke up on the second morning with two completely different people waking up next to us, I felt bad we never got to really know our previous roommates. If anything, I missed their consideration because holy Jesus were these two fools loud as hell. It was like Godzilla himself was ravaging our room. I mean hello! Does it not look like I'm pretending to be sleeping so that I don't have to talk to you? Let me pretend in peace please!

    I had about enough when we realized it was their fault we returned to our room to find Lake Erie flowing out from our bathroom.

    Anyway, turned out they were kind of nice when I chatted with them a bit. Still, too loud dudes.

    Beds were actually quite comfy and even though sharing a room killed any opportunities for intimacy with the boyfriend, it was cute to sneak around the hallway corners and stealing kisses on the staircase.

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  6. Sleeper car: Okay, I knew sleeping in the top bunk with a rickety ladder that actually detached during one of my descents was going to suck for me. See, I have the habit of needing to pee in the middle of the night and having to make my way down and to the bathroom was going to be hella annoying. Sure enough, the time came and I laid there for about an hour wishing it away and trying to go back to sleep. Of course that never works and eventually I gave in.

    I also kept waking up every time the train made a stop, but it was because I was so worried that we'd somehow miss our stop and end up God knows were. I should add that Paris was the last stop for the train and pretty much everyone would be getting up and out at that point.

    For some reason, I had the toughest time getting my bed ready. No one else seemed to have any issues, but I just couldn't get the sheets on while I was crouching around in a corner of the bed. This to me was beyond hilarious to the point of tears, which didn't help the situation. A. clearly doesn't understand my funny and just sat there confused and slightly embarrassed for me.

    Paris Airbnb: I think by now you know how much I loved our time in Paris and staying in this apartment was a big part of it. It was so clean and lovely and there was just so much sunshine coming into our room. We had the place to ourselves so I was in heaven when we'd go to the corner supermarket to buy items for breakfast and then would bring our purchases "home" each evening. Those days made me see myself living there someday.

    Before booking this, I was really concerned about the safety of staying in a complete stranger's home. Then I figured that the apartment owner has more to worry about than we do. We could totally come in and trash the place. Anyway, it was such a pleasant experience and I'm glad that if A. had to get sick anywhere along the trip, at least it was in a city where we had a place to come home to and be comfortable and alone.

    Silken Diagonal Barcelona: This was by far the nicest place we stayed in and shoot, I needed a special hotel experience at some point during this trip. I wanted some sweet, relaxing moments with A. and take a break from all the traveling. The peek-a-boo glass shower situation was incredibly sexy and we even scored a free bottle of wine during our stay. The beds were really comfy, which is probably why A. easily slept in every morning, and we were just a 10-15 minute walk from the beach.

    Across the street was a mall that had plenty of cheap/ fast food eateries and shops to peruse.

    Residencia Australia: Oh boy. This was a semi-last minute booking made a couple days before we left on our trip. In order to slow down our hectic pace, A. and I decided to cut out Venice to give ourselves more time in some cities. So we extended Barcelona after we'd already booked our nights at Diagonal. After we were checked into our modest room at Residencia Australia I remember jokingly yelling at A. saying, "Really!? Are we sooo poor that we have to check into a place with a stuffed mascot we have to refer to as Mr. Wombat?! Where'd you bring me??!"

    In all honesty, it wasn't so bad and we were barely even in the room as we checked in, spent the entire day out, slept, and then checked out early the next morning. The shared bathroom was fine, nothing spectacular, but at least they were clean.

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  7. Chanteclair: Another modest hotel that definitely did not reflect the vibe of Cannes. But I thought the owner, Pascal, was incredibly sweet and accommodating. Breakfast cost a few extra euros, but he was happy to serve us more bread and juice if we wanted. The shower stall was just a tiny contained space/box in the room and the water closet in the hall was really cramped. It was curious (but lucky) that although the hotel claimed to be full, we never once had to wait to use the bathroom.

    The truly annoying part came on our second day there when we were eaten alive by mosquitoes (A. much more than I was) and spent the rest of our time in Cannes paranoid about exposed skin and rubbing on hydrocortisone like our sanity depended on it.

    Archi Rossi: Even though we shared this hostel room with four other people, it was a much better experience than the last hostel. Everyone was courteous and friendlier (but no we didn't chill with them like that either). Breakfast was simple, but good and already included in the room rate and unlike Jaeger's Hostel, the washers and dryers actually worked. Florence is so easy to explore on foot, that I think any lodging in the area could be labeled as convenient.

    It should be noted that neither of these hostels provided towels, which we already knew. A. brought along a towel to use for showering and beach time, but I decided to leave mine behind because it made my bag too bulky. So what did I use to "towel" off after showers? A sweater. Really, sometimes I just want to praise Jesus for being so tiny.

    Rome Airbnb: Having to wait an hour to be let into the building after an early train ride with little food in your tummy on a hot Roman morning was not fun. The host deeply apologized and then nearly melted my heart with his baby son so initial thoughts of giving him a piece of my mind gave way to forgiveness.

    Although the apartment was spacious, the beds comfortable, and we could raid the fridge to make breakfast, I wish the man had some Internet or that there was free WiFi available in the area somewhere. A. and I didn't know this would be the situation and so we had to rely on memory and a sightseeing map to determine where to go. We'd marked points of interest, restaurants, shops, and things to do in Google maps for each city, but weren't able to access our Rome one while we were there. Luckily, we didn't really miss anything.

    Leaving Rome, and Europe, was really convenient as our last stay was located just blocks away from the train station. We were able to use our last travel day in our Eurail Pass to head to the airport and fly back home without a hitch or delays.

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  8. It looks like you guys experienced it all. What a great post. Oh, and I remember that round structure in Barcelona!

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