Europe Journal: The Grossest Hostel in Paris
Updated: Jul 8, 2018
Before I left for Paris, I had booked a stay at a hostel in town that looked relatively pleasant, and when I got there, I was pleased to say that it was. This was my first stay in any hostel, and, at the end of my two long flights, a confusing train ride, when I set my bag down on the tidy floor of the hostel lobby, I was relieved to find a clean, well lit place in the infinite, vague darkness I had experienced trying to find my way around this new and mysterious city. Little did I know this sense of relief was to last less than ten minutes.
I’ve always been hesitant to stay in a hostel for the reason most people would be hesitant to stay in one- I don't much like sharing my personal space with strangers. However, I didn't have much money to travel and I needed to draw out as much adventure as long as I could for as little money as I could. By staying in hostels, I was saving myself a couple hundred Euros a night.
True, I only got a bed to sleep in and a bathroom I had to share with a bunch of people, but I figured, that was all I needed. I didn't come all the way to Paris just to hang out in some hotel!
When I went to check in, the man behind the counter told me that I had been relocated to their sister hostel, and that I’d have to walk another few blocks to that one. At midnight. After not having slept in 36 hours. Through a city I’ve never been in.
I was a little devastated at the prospect of having to hoof it through the city as tired as I was. I was sure that I would lose my way, but the person behind the counter of the hostel gave me directions and assured me that finding the other hostel would be simple and should only take five minutes.
Five minutes after leaving the hostel, I was hopelessly lost in Paris. Shortly, after walking out of the hostel, I realized just how subjective the persons directions were, but by chance, I found my way back to the original hostel and then jumped on their wifi network to locate the new hostel, “Le Regent.”
It didn't have much of an online profile, but looked OK from what I could see. And then I discovered there were multiple “Le Regents” and the one I was looking at was not mine.
When I finally found my, "Le Regents" (having walked past it several times because of how inconspicuous it was), I found that the door to it, if it was in fact the door, was locked. There was no intercom to call inside.
I was alone and sleep deprived on the streets of Paris, so I did what any American would do in such a scenario: I started shaking the shit out of the doors and screaming, “Hello?! Is there anyone there?? I think I have a reservation or something!!!”
Luckily, this prompted someone from inside to open the door for me. Or if not “for me,” to ward away the crazy homeless person they presumed was outside.
I checked in, and then made my way up creaky, dimly lit stairs to find my room. There were large, soft spots under the peeling linoleum on the floor where it felt like the floorboards had rotted away and the only thing supporting my weight was the linoleum underneath my feet and what I assumed was a load of squirming cockroaches and some festering rat carcasses.
When I got to the door of my room, I could detect an odor coming from inside before I even put in my key, much in the same way you don’t need to be inside a porta potty to know how it smells. This, however did not prepare me for the hot, musky wave of balmy nutsack that would assault my whole body when I opened the door.
It wasn’t just a smell. The room was 20 degrees warmer than in the hallway and the air noticeably danker. I could feel it looming at the threshold of the doorway. I hesitated to go in. In the dark, I could make out two sets of bunkbeds, the bottoms of which were noticeably occupied by lean, sweaty European men in their 20’s. “Ferme la porte!” The man in the farthest bunk yelled, though he was partially muffled by his pillow.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“The door- shut it!”
I closed the door behind me as I entered the room. The air wafted over me like a heavy shower fart. It was completely dark and I was afraid of offending anyone by turning on the light. The man in the bunk closest to me reached out his hand, and said his name, though I didn’t catch it. I shook his hand and said, “Drew.”
“I am from Spain,” He said. “What about you?”
“California,” I said. I had decided to tell people I was from California instead of saying, “America,” to help negate any negative feelings from being projected upon me due to the stereotypes associated with people from my country- namely that we’re all overweight, loud, self-centered assholes. Californians, though, in the world’s mind are a different kind of animal from the typical American, much in the same way that a koala is a different kind of bear than a grizzly (in that it’s a marsupial and not a bear at all).
“The bunk above mine is vacant,” said the Spaniard. “We’ll talk more tomorrow.” Then he turned the other way and went back to sleep.
I set my bag down, stripped down to my underwear and shirt in the dark, muggy nutsack-room, and then climbed into the bunk above the Spaniard. The bed was bare, no sheets between me and the orange and red floral print mattress that, even in the dark, couldn’t hide the discolored blots left on it by so many other travelers before me. Soiled growths that I would be feeding with my own sweat as it dripped from my body and merged into the stains on which I slept.
I lay there on that squalid mattress, the springs squeaking loudly with every slight shifting of my weight as I tried to get comfortable, perspiring through my underwear.
And I felt oddly dumb with happiness.
Yes, this bed was a veritable ecosystem of microbes, bacteria, and bedbugs. Yes, the room was filled with the miasma of that ecosystem's diarrhea farts. And yes, the building itself felt about as stable as a wet paper bag full of rotten eggs in a shit storm.
But I was in Paris! PARIS! And somehow, this place seemed like the most authentic, genuinely Parisian place I was ever going to stay in.
Is that odd? That the grimier a place is, the more authentic it feels? Maybe it's because it seemed to lack all pretense, which also feels very Parisian. Or maybe I was just delusional from the lack of food, sleep, and the general exhaustion from the last 36 hours, but god damn I was happy.
I can't say what made this place feel more genuine than a five star hotel or something- I'd only been in Paris for a few hours and who am I to say what the "true" Paris is?
It was just a feeling. But God damn, what a feeling. Vive la France.
(PS- The picture used for this blog was actually my hostel in Edinburgh, and was much, much nicer than the hostel in this story. I didn't think to take a picture of the first hostel I stayed at in France, much in the same way that you never think of taking a picture of a poopy diaper filled with used condoms and Indian food that you've found at the bottom of a dumpster. You just leave that thing where you've found it. Let someone else figure that mess out. So, I used this picture because it was the most relevant picture from my trip to this story. Also, what are you doing diving through dumpsters!? I don't see why you're focusing on my picture choice when you're going around doing things like that. Sort your frickin' life out, man!)