Now that I’m back in a non-shared sleeping space and don’t have to rent a towel, I can reflect on the many types of accommodation I’ve used. I’ve been welcomed into homes, which were always my favorite, and stayed in some very cute budget hotels and AirBnB rooms.
But much of my travel and time was spent in hostels. Here are my five favorite hostels I stayed in during my nearly eight-month stint traveling Europe.
Click on the name of the hostel in the header to get to their site, which has all their details and current pricing!
Know when you watch a trailer, and the movie is totally NOT what you were expecting? Well, at Art Hole Hostel I totally got what I wanted–and expected–from their description. On their description for Hostelworld and Hostelbookers, they clearly say they are not a party hostel and are great for solo travellers.
This was absolutely true on both counts. With a great location nearby to bars, guests could go out and dance the night away or party to their heart’s content, but quiet hours started at midnight and were pretty well enforced, meaning those of us who wanted to stay in (read: I am an old grandma and like my beauty sleep) or go to bed before 3 a.m. could do so.
Plus, they don’t book big groups, and it was really easy to chat with other travelers there. AND breakfast is included–WITH protein! Cute little hard boiled eggs in egg cups right in the kitchen, ready for your enjoyment.
I also loved the look of the place; it’s in a big old building with wood floors and high ceilings, and the lockers were big enough for me to fit my entire bag into it.
The cons? The number of bathrooms is a little low compared to the number of folks staying there, and for those of you who are unwieldy packers, you’ll have to lug your stuff up a few flights of stairs, as there is no elevator.
Obviously sometimes this is a bad idea (has anyone else seen The Descent?!), but some of the coolest travel memories I’ve had have been from getting lost down side streets or, like this photo, from a day wandering through the Scottish Highlands.
Have you ever paved a way?
|Sometimes the preview is just as good as the feature film.|
Blue: Ankara, Turkey. We were being guided by our friend’s good-natured brother (in the navy shirt in the back), and he was the perfect embodiment of Turkish hospitality. We became fast friends with him, and he happily did everyday things with us, like taking my boyfriend (in the blue smock) to his first Turkish barber shop for a beard trim.
|First beard trim with our new friend looking on.|
I may not have mentioned that Kat & I were getting around Scotland without a car. Public transport all the way, baby! This wouldn’t have been a problem, if we had known not to trust the very convincing internet.
|Kat while hitchhiking down the road in Glen Brittle|
We had our fancy (and totally worth it) Explorer Passes for CityLink. These passes allowed us to travel on CityLink buses, the main company in Scotland, for 5 out of 8 days. It turned out being a very good investment, because we a) didn’t plan our trip, and the flexibility to hop on to any CityLink bus was comforting and b) almost none of the drivers’ marked the pass, even when presented to them, so we probably got a lot more out of the pass than we were supposed to. Ah, Scotland.
But I digress. We had arrived in Portree with the intention of staying for a few nights and using it as a home base of sorts to visit Old Man of Storr and a few other possible hikes. We really liked Bayfield Backpackers, the hostel where we stayed, and it was there that we ended up meeting some truly wonderful travelers and making friends. Again, though, I digress.
Portree. So, our lovely hostel didn’t have room for us for 3 nights in a row, and we really wanted to stay put. We wandered around town for awhile knocking on doors of B & B’s in the hopes that there’d be a room that wouldn’t charge 30 quid for each of us a night, which would equate to $60. Stupid exchange rate.
Alas, we had no luck. But everything happens for a reason, and so on to the internetz we went. Our next stop that we had wanted to make was Glen Brittle, which was where the Fairy Pools were, and a bunch of other hikes. Was there a way to get there?
Yes! said the Internet. Bus 53 leaves from Portree to Glen Brittle twice a day during the summers! Lovely, we said. Let’s do that!
So we booked the hostel in Glen Brittle, and the receptionist at the hostel said he’d look up the bus times, as we couldn’t seem to find when it actually left.
We returned from watching the Olympic opening ceremonies to find a note to us from the hostel reception. “Couldn’t seem to find the bus schedule. Try Tourist Info tomorrow a.m.”
No problem, we said. We rose early, did some grocery shopping, and ate some yogurt while loitering outside the Info office. At 9:00 sharp they opened the doors and in we marched, determined to make it to Glen Brittle, armed with the knowledge of the Internet. Bus 53. (See!? This looks like a relatively legit source of info, right?!)
Us: We’d like to get to Glen Brittle.
Them: Do you have a car?
Us: Nope. But we have Explorer Passes! (insert expectant and optimistic smiles here)
Them: Well, there is no bus that goes to Glen Brittle.
Us: Oh, really? We read online that Bus 53 goes right there from here…
Them: You must be mistaken. That bus does not exist.
Us: Are you sure? It said it only ran in the summer, perhaps… (insert initial fade of our smiles)
Them: Sorry, there’s no bus to Glen Brittle. You can take a bus to Carbost. That’s about 8 miles from Glen Brittle.
Us: Okay…well, what are the rates for renting a car?
Them: The guy who runs the cheap place is in Glasgow for the weekend, so that’s out.
Them: 60 pounds.
Us: (insert furrowed brows) Hmmm…that’s a bit pricey for us. Do you think we can call the hostel? We already have reservations to stay there, perhaps they can pick us up or something.
Them: Probably not, but we can call.
Louise, Glen Brittle Hostel Co-Manager: Hello! I hear you’re having some trouble getting to us.
Us: Yes! What’s your advice?
Louise: Are you experienced walkers? Do you have packs?
Us: Sort of…
Louise: You can walk from Sligahan, but it’s quite a trek and I don’t recommend it. Take a bus to Sligahan Hotel and hitchhike from there. Many travelers get here that way.
And so my first hitchhiking experience began. We took the bus to Sligahan Hotel. The weather was overcast, as Scotland weather is wont to be, and after situating our bags, we started walking. I converted my pack into a backpack rather than rolling it, and as the rain started to fall, we pulled on our ponchos and trudged along the road.
Maybe 10 cars passed us, some of them looking more remorseful than others. A handful of cars were full up, but some just kept going. I can’t really blame them, although we were definitely not very threatening-looking, with our wet hair. I wished so much that I had Hermione Granger there with me to apply that water repelling spell on my glasses.
The eleventh car drove by and passed us, too, and I wondered, as it disappeared around the curve, whether we’d end up walking the many miles to Glen Brittle after all. We had heard hitchhiking in Scotland, and particularly in the islands, was easy and very safe. Lo and behold, the bright red tail lights of the car illuminated and it maneuvered slowly backwards towards us. We had a winner!
Of course, we got picked up by a Russian. Maybe I smell like borscht or something, because man, after I started dating a Russian they seemed to come out of all sorts of woodwork in my life. Yet again, I digress.
Sergei was a PhD neuroscience student studying in Cambridge, on the Isle of Skye to camp and kayak. He was on his way to the Talisker Distillery in Carbost, and the turn-off for Glen Brittle was on the way. We assured him that it was fine if he dropped us there. The backseat of his car was down and replaced with camping gear. A kayak graced the roof rack. We made small talk until the turn off, and he even got out of the car to help us with our bags, apologizing that he wouldn’t take us to Glen Brittle proper.
We parted ways and again started walking, still with a number of miles left, but at least much closer than we were.
Only about 10 minutes or so passed when another car pulled over; a Czech couple on vacation were on their way to a trail that happened to be across from the hostel, so we got a ride all the way to our final destination.
Total travel time: approximately 1.75 hours, maybe 2.
We arrived at the hostel just before Louise was finished cleaning; the kitchen and rooms close from 10:30ish to 5, and so we left our gear in the common area and waited for some of the weather to improve.
We managed to squeeze in 2 hikes that day, including one with another Russian who was staying at our hostel. My sweat must smell like borscht or something…
First video, taken across the street from our hostel in Glen Brittle, which we loved so dearly. You can hear Kat mention a rainbow, which will become a theme of the trip: spotting rainbows, photographing rainbows, wouldntitbecooliftherewerearainbowhere, etc. We heart rainbows.
Stay tuned for more cinematic majesty, courtesy of Button Studios!
When I agreed to go a bit out of my way to hike in the Scottish Highlands, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. Scotland was on my list of travel destinations, to be sure, and hiking in the Cuillins with a photojournalist sounded pretty good, despite the fact that we had never met in person before. Turns out, Scotland is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve been privileged to visit, in every sense of the word.
Here are my favorite 5 things we did in Scotland:
|View in Oban|
Isle of Skye (#1-3): Kat, my travel companion, really wanted to head for the hills on this trip. She’s an avid hiker and has summited a jillion things. I was game to try to keep up as well as I could, and so we took an early morning bus to the Isle of Skye.
|How the heck can anything be so beautiful!?|
|Clouds drifting in above the Fairy Pools waterfalls|
|After our swim in the Fairy Pools. It was COLD.|
1. Glen Brittle: Not even a true village or town, Glen Brittle is where you want to position yourself if you ever go to the Isle of Skye. It’s along only one road, at the end of which is a campground and lake reaching into the sea. We stayed at the Glen Brittle Scottish Youth Hostel, which was located minutes away from trailheads leading to some of the coolest hikes I’ve ever been on. We swam in the Fairy Pools and made our way up a mountain to find a stunning lake. I think specific posts deserve dedication to what we did and saw there, so stay tuned for more on the jaw-dropping beauty of Glen Brittle. (And also, a post on how we got there…)
|Me at the Storr|
4. Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Every August for most of the month, artists from all over the world descend on Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is clobbered by tourists, performers and locals just trying to get to their bus, and acts ranging from general street performers (you know, fire eaters, magic, balancing acts, guitar) to music to mime to dance to experimental theatre to whatever the heck one can qualify as “art.” Hundreds—yes, hundreds—of shows take place, many of which are free or very cheap. If you hate crowds and the risk of hit-or-miss performances, avoid Edinburgh at this time, as accommodation prices skyrocket, but if you’re interested in the quirky, thought-provoking or plain old funny, definitely check out the Fringe. (FYI: We stayed at a great hostel, Castle Rock. Highly recommend!)
|Team USA during the Opening Ceremonies! We watched from a pub in Portree.|