5 Star hostels

A new concept in recent years. HostelGeeks pick the very best hostel in many destinations, awarding it their 5 Star rating.

I tried to book at one — KEX hostel, Iceland — when I was there, but it was full. For weeks in advance.

Later  on the same trip I got to my first – Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof, Interlaken, Switzerland. Fantastic.

My second was Mosaic House in Prague. It feels more a 3 star hotel than hostel. Great food!

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

My third was Maverick City Lodge, Budapest. Very good too.

The dorm beds are curtained pods.

These cost a few dollars more than average, but it’s worth it.

Advertisements

why I can’t live in Europe

This is a repost from 2009. Having travelled Europe extensively in 2018 and 2019, my opinion is unchanged. 

Too much second hand smoke, too few toilets. 

I should live in Europe.

The trains are fantastic. There are dedicated bike trails everywhere. It’s easy to live without a car.

But I can’t live in Europe. 

  • It’s OLD
  • It’s EXPENSIVE
  • Banker’s Hours
  • People aren’t friendly
  • Smokers

=== It’s OLD

No need to visit the potentially gorgeous Sagrada Família in Barcelona. There are no plans to remove the scaffolding until at least 2026.

308565295_452c4ee086_b

I’m not sure how they ever made postcards of the great monuments of Europe. Photoshop?

Most are under construction. Constantly.

=== It’s EXPENSIVE

broke-guyA sample of prices from December 2007:

Gallon of unleaded gas: $8.08
Gallon of bio diesel: $6.06
Wireless Internet: $6 for 30 minutes, $32 for 24 hours
Vienna public transport, 24-hours: $8.40
Berlin public transport, 24-hours: $8.97
Seat reservation, Brussels-Frankfurt train: $4.41
Overnight parking, Hotel Helvetia, Lindau, Germany: $14.40
Leopold Museum, Vienna: $10.30

see more

I recently heard that a basic hotel room in urban Finland costs US$400 / night.

There are very few pressures to bring prices down in Western and Northern European countries. You need a HUGE salary to afford to live there.

=== Banker’s Hours

Recall when the only reason we hated bankers was that they worked only 10:15AM-11:45AM. And 2:15AM- 3:45PM ??

Most businesses in Southern Europe still close in the middle of the day. Many are required to close by government legislation.

Shop keeps sometimes seem disappointed if you find their store open.

sorry-we-are-open

I’m surpised any commerce happens at all.

The tradition of siesta may have worked well in the small village decades past (when wives were stay at home chattel) but it’s bloody inconvenient in 2009. Especially for a tourist.

In the Dolomites of Northern Italy they have incredibly helpful tourist information kiosks. But they close from Noon Saturday until Monday morning. … The majority of tourists arrive by train from big cities further south, about Noon on Saturday.

In Andorra la Vella, the only city in the country of Andorra, none of the internet cafes were open on a Saturday morning. Not even 24 Hour Internet. (I did them the service of removing their “OPEN” sign. But my Swiss Army knife did not have the power tools required to remove the 24 Hour Internet sign.)

=== People aren’t friendly

Picture an arrogant, rude European.

disdainful

That’s my preconception.

But when I finally found, in the summer of 2009, an arrogant French bus driver, I couldn’t stop laughing.

As he chastised me, the ignorant, smelly American tourist, I couldn’t help chuckling at his stereotype manner and accent. He seemed to me a Hollywood comic actor spoofing the role with a phoney accent.

Ever since I saw the wonderful 1967 Sidney Portier film, To Sir, with Love, I’ve had another bias … A disgust with the British class system.

Even today I picture a subculture of profane skin head soccer louts. And uncouth, unwed teen mothers. Spending their meager dole at the pub rather than at the dentist.

I did see them in Scottish pubs. But sucking fags outside the door of the pub. Smoking in restaurants and bars was banned in the United Kingdom July 2007. Thank God.

Infants and children are allowed in pubs, however. Drunks care for them while Mom and/or Dad step out for another smoke.

… To be fair, I was very surprised how friendly the Scots were to me, another dumb tourist. Far more friendly than any of the other 5 Western European countries I visited.

=== Smokers

The single biggest reason I could not live in Europe.

They are shameless. Unrepentant. Totally oblivious to others.

The phrase “second hand smoke” has never yet been translated into Italian.

They smoke indoors and out. I could not enter any cafe or restaurant. In fact, a guy lit up in the airport restaurant in Bilbao, Spain. There were no signs saying he couldn’t.

Worst of all, it was clear to me that smoking is still cool, in Europe.

smoker-cafe

I can’t live in Europe.

It’s uncivilized.

Budapest at Night

Walking ancient European cities at night is more evocative than when dodging huge tour groups daytime.

Especially with a flask of wine.

Budapest is famed for spas. Of many options I decided on the Rudas Baths.

Aside from a swimming pool it has a variety of steam rooms, each with different temperature, smell and ambient music.

Also hot plunges of different temperatures. And cold baths.

One thing I don’t like about Budapest is the riverside. Unlike Prague, it’s not pleasant to be there. Both sides are built up with roads and rail.

visiting Budapest

Prague is better than Budapest. For the tourist. For me.

That said, it’s a somewhat similar experience. LOTS of walking. And I was happy to finally visit Buda and Pest.

I stayed near the Great Synagogue, largest outside NY City, on the floodplain Pest side. And not far from the NEW Budapest Eye.

Most of my photos are architecture and statuary. Much of this is more modern than Prague as Budapest has been destroyed in so many wars over the centuries.

The highlights are mostly over the Danube river on the hilly Buda side.

Autumn is a good time to visit. SLIGHTLY fewer tourists.

Buda Castle is no more. It’s a palace complex today, most built between 1749 and 1769.

This Archive building was one of my favourites.

Like Prague, Budapest is plagued with tourists, all Instagram influencers. 😀

Parliament in the background

Prague Castle

Every tourist visits Prague Castle.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the largest ancient castle in the world, sprawling across the hill above Charles Bridge.

Built and expanded over hundreds of years, it’s an architectural Frankenstein.

At the start was a memorial to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Very interesting.

It takes a few hours to tour walking top to bottom. For a quick first look. The highlight is the Cathedral of St Vitus.

The main nave is massive.

Our very enthusiastic guide insisted that the BEST museum in Prague was here in the castle – the Lobkowicz Palace.

Original manuscripts from Mozart and Beethoven as well as the oldest and largest privately owned art collection in the Czech Republic.

As we stood outside the front door a distinguished gentleman entered. And returned. It was Prince William Lobkowicz himself, who grew up in Boston. He gave some gifts to our guide saying he had never overheard any other more accurately description of the collection. Our guide had tears in his eyes. It was an emotional moment for him.

The tour finishes with a walk downhill to the Charles Bridge.

An excellent half day.

Klementinum library, Prague

The Klementinum is included in every list of beautiful libraries of the world. It was one my must see things in Prague.

I love their collection of historic globes, some from the late 1600s. This gallery itself dates back to 1772 and the books are still shelved as they were then.

Here is kept the most valuable book in Bohemia – an ancient illustrated Codex from about 1085. When I asked the guide conceded that the one we could see was a copy. The original is there in an environmentally controlled vault.

Ticket price is about $13. It includes the Baroque library hall, Meridian hall and city views from the Astronomical tower.

Every tourist visits the Prague astronomical clock, first installed 1410. This facility was one of the important research centres of astronomy.

First surprise, climbing rickety old stairs 68 meters.

Next — you only get a sneak peak at the library gallery. Those are all rare and original books from Jesuit history. No can touch.

The highlight was getting up for town vistas in clear weather.

More photos.

walking Prague

I hadn’t realized how tourist-swarmed Prague has become. I visited in October, low season, yet everything was packed.

My hostel — Mosaic — was superb. Best breakfast I can recall.

To get oriented I took one of many available free walking tours: Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, Astronomical Clock, …

Guides on free tours are paid by tip. They only survive if they are very good at the job.

My group had one awkward moment at the Jewish District when a tourist brought up the Palestinian cause … An important issue, but standing on ground where Nazis had murdered 90% of the Jews was wrong time, wrong place. We shut him down.

There are quirky, unusual attractions at every turn.

Wandering Prague at night with a flask of red wine was even better than daytime.

Yep. I hung out around the Charles Bridge every evening.