When traveling across Europe on a small budget, one often finds it advantageous to make use of low-cost accommodations. That was the case with my father, when he was biking across the Continent in the summer of 1932. He had little money. After all, it was the depths of the Great Depression, he was nineteen and he had only his summer earnings to support him.
In Germany, there were the Beer Halls where he could get a good meal. Across France, fine food was easy to come by. When it came to lodging, he stayed at everything from small inns to just slipping into a barn by the side of the road.
Youth Hostels were quite common throughout much of Europe, a great place to just sort of crash for the night. My dad told me most of hostels offered basic services. Each had large rooms, with many simple beds, separated by gender.
They were also quite cheap. A perfect place to get a night’s sleep that didn’t put a big dent in his wallet. For the most part, he always got a great, uninterrupted six hours of sleep.
Yeah, my dad was never one to sleep late. He used to tell me a saying he’d read, he said Napoleon had said it back during his military campaigns, “Six for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool.” My dad agreed and in general enjoyed his stays in the hostels.
He’d been biking all day and had made quite the journey. He left Switzerland at dawn, seen the sunrise, had lunch in Liechtenstein and then gotten well into Austria by nightfall. He was very tired and overjoyed to come across yet another hostel.
As it happened, this hostel was almost deserted. The night clerk took his money, gave him his bedding and ushered him into the main sleeping hall. About ninety percent of the beds were empty; those that had occupants were asleep.
This meant he could settle down for the night without much bother. Sometimes a place would be crowded or his bedmates were talkers. Not this time and this made him happy. After the day he’d had, sleep was all he wanted. Once his bed was made, he climbed under the covers, laid his head on the pillow and let sleep embrace him.
Quite suddenly, his peaceful slumber was disturbed and disturbed massively. A huge crowd of bikers descended on the building and were they ever loud. It was some sort of youth group doing a cross-country bike trip and they had decided to break their journey at this particular Youth Hostel.
Just getting them all signed in, paying for the night and passing out their bedding took more than an hour. They were quite noisy the whole time, and thus dear old dad was up and alert, as was everyone else. Yet, even when all of them had a bed, the place still didn’t settle down and grow quiet.
Oh no, these kids were all quite wired. They were hungry and curious about, well, everything they found in the building, most especially the people.
It was well over two hours before the place started to quiet down and still more time after that before he was able to actually fall asleep. My dad was also never one to sleep late and thus he was up at dawn again. It made for a tough day, but he got through it.
Although not the best night of his trip, he at least got to hang out with a bunch of very friendly teenagers that shared all their food and wine with him. That made up for disturbing his slumber.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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