How to hostel when you are the wrong side of 25…
OK so I’m rapidly approaching the big three-ohhh, but I splash the cash wisely based on being able to do, see and experience more when I travel. Hotels aren’t expensive in Central and Eastern Europe, but I didn’t want a sanitised experience in a newly built chain hotel on the outskirts, or a poky little room in a design hotel overlooking the bins. So hosteling seemed like a good option when it came to planning our trip to Budapest and Vienna as hostels tend to occupy great old buildings and are usually centrally located.
Now, its been a good few years since I mooched along with the bunk bed brigade, staying in some really strange hostels and boarding houses. In one place in Sydney we were rooming with a girl who appeared to be a lady of the night and promptly disappeared once we discovered our mobile phone was missing. There were the quirky beach huts in Thailand that were dirt cheap, and the dorms in New Zealand, and we will always remember the ambitiously named Backpackers Paradise in LA, with the flimsy shower curtain in the mixed-sex dorm, empty pool, disinterested staff, and the enticing ‘free continental breakfast with muffin’. This turned out to be a cup of coffee… and a muffin.
So, when I had the opportunity to stay at some of Famous Hostels’ establishments, courtesy of Brandon from Eye and Pen, I chose the Maverick Hostel in Budapest and the Ruthensteiner in Vienna. And travelling these days as a married couple we decided to upgrade to private ensuite rooms, availability of which is much more common than you would think. Now this is a moderately long post, but stay with me as there is a real gem to discover in Vienna!
Our arrival at Maverick was greeted with much confusion – dates had been muddled and the hostel was full. Every bed was taken. This is not much fun to deal with at midnight in a city we had never been to before, however the receptionist was fantastic and called a friend who lets tourist apartments just up the road. He had a room and we followed him, somewhat dazed and confused, listening to his tales of ping pong champions in Austria, to doss down for the night in a boiling hot apartment with little idea of what was going on.
Fortunately everything always seems better in the morning. So after a quick shower, we repacked the bags and headed back up the road to the Maverick, thanking our host profusely for helping us out so late at night.
The Maverick is housed in a huge old mansion building on Fereniek Square; you will find the entrance gate in the middle of the building behind the bus stop. You enter through the green iron gate and have to buzz up to the hostel to get through the inner door. You find yourself in a big hall and take the steps on your right to enter into the bright and friendly hostel reception area.
Some rooms are via this reception, along with the guest lounge, computers and loads of information points and a blackboard of recommendations. We made some tea in the well-equipped kitchen, and were soon handed the keys to our room.
Now we could eventually get into a our room, upstairs on the top floor, we were pleasantly surprised at the quirky mix of antiques and Ikea. Low beds, old cabinet, modern TV, new bathroom suite, antique chair, hand printed wallpaper, creaky parquet floor – it was all rather charming.
Maverick also offers free tea and coffee in the guest kitchens – and not simply instant and English Breakfast. There is fresh ground coffee for the filter machine and a wide selection of flavoured teas including my favourite, Earl Grey. The hostel can also arrange your transfers, hire you a bike, or book you onto the Hostel Culture pub crawl, and there’s free wifi.
We loved Budapest and this hostel is in a fantastic location near to Vaci Street, Elizabeth Bridge, Rudas Baths, Central Cafe, and Szimpla ruin bar. Overall it was fairly clean and a perfect base for travellers of all ages. The only downsides were that it didn’t feel the most sociable of hostels, as there was no bar, and the rooms were spread out around the building, which was also occupied with other businesses and private apartments, so you could feel cut off from the activity around the reception and guest lounge. This is good if you’re looking for somewhere less rowdy than your average happy-hour-hostel scene.
How much will it cost me?
Prices start from €9 for a dorm room (no bunk beds here) to €38 for a double with ensuite, and towels and linen are included. We did find the mattress very thin, and as seems to be the norm in Budapest, there were no curtains on the window, but the room was decent and the location can’t be knocked.
On to Vienna, arriving by train at Westbahnhof station, the Ruthensteiner is only a five minute walk in the direction of Schonbrunn Palace, but away from the centre of town.
The Ruthensteiner, established in 1968 as Vienna’s first independent hostel, is more of a traditional backpackers hostel, with a big open reception, bar, lounge and breakfast area, huge modern guest kitchen, laundry, lockers, and patio courtyards. The staff were brilliant throughout our entire stay, from the guys and girls on reception, the chatty Kiwi barman, to the smiling cleaning lady.
There was a friendly mix of independent travellers, groups of friends, a family with young children and couples. All together it made for a brilliant relaxed and homely atmosphere. There is of course, free wifi, free use of PCs and iPads for hire
We were amazed at the standard of our room – it felt like the penthouse of hostel rooms! It was a huge three bed studio with kitchenette, dining table, small ensuite, wood floor, beamed ceiling and a large private balcony. The towels and bed linen were excellent quality, plenty of hot water in the shower, and the whole place was exceptionally clean and comfortable.
You can purchase a cup of coffee for €1 downstairs, enjoy a jug of beer for a couple of Euros during happy hour, and there are also a few breakfast options for a very reasonable price. I particularly liked the granola and fruit, and fresh bread roll.
Location wise, it is a good half hour to forty-five minute walk into the centre of the city, which is a bit of hard slog when you have been walking around all day, but the Metro is easy to use and single journey tickets are €2.20 (take the orange U3 metro via Westbahnhof). The hostel is around a twenty to thirty minute walk to Schonbrunn Palace, and you can head into the city centre from here by taking the green U4 metro line. There are a few great places to eat near to the hostel however, the best was Mariahilferbrau serving huge plates of great quality food at a very reasonable price.
So what’s the overall verdict?
The Ruthensteiner is a shining example of how a hostel should be run. It’s not flashy, but a warm and friendly place with good facilities and happy staff, and I cannot recommend it enough. You can pitch up from €10 a night in a dorm room, to €25 per person for a double/triple with ensuite, with towels and linen included.
Where do I book!?
Famous Hostels offer a collection of fantastic European hostels, including Maverick and Ruthensteiner via their website www.famoushostels.com. If you book through them there are no bookings fees and they guarantee you the best hostel a city has to offer!
Please also check out the Eye and Pen site www.eyeandpen.com for amazing travel photography and travel writing.
Where’s you’re favourite hostel? Or are you anti-hostel? Tell me about your weird and wonderful hostel experiences by commenting below!