The first guest of the Midland Youth Hostel

I spent around two hours getting lost, roaming Bucharest with a 14 kilogram bag strapped to my shoulders. The first hostel I checked was closed for renovations so I walked across town to the Lonely Planet-approved Elvis Villa. There would be an idiosyncratic Aussie Elvis impersonator and free beer supposedly awaiting my arrival.

“Are you Israeli,” the proprietor asked as soon as I got in. He was biting his nails and inspecting me closely which didn’t exactly give me the best feeling. I think he was asking because I was wearing a shirt from Scotland that may bare some resemblance to the Israeli flag, but who knows? It very well might have been my horns.

Regardless I was seemingly the only guest at the hostel which also doubled as the owner’s house. My bunk had that “worn-in” look that inspired me to sleep in my clothes. The bathroom had residue from previous occupants everywhere, including the toilet. There was no toilet paper.

After checking in I took a long walk, found out about a Hosteling International hostel to change to the next day, and drank a tall beer to help me sleep easier. In the morning I heard every intimate detail of my bunkmate’s visit to the bathroom thanks to the fantastic insulation and door that would not close completely. That whole thing about no toilet paper became exponentially more disturbing.

I high-tailed it out of there, stepping over the missing floorboards that gave way to views of the basement, and made my way across town, again, to the Hosteling International hostel. It was completely full. Fuck. I walked downtown, since I believed there were only two hostels, and started checking hotels. They too were all booked on account of some conference. Fuck, fuck.

After a day long bus ride, brief stay o’ horror at the Elvis Villa, and no shower, I was entering freak-out mode. I found an Internet cafe and made pleas to to the In Your Pocket guide people to let me stay on one of their couches and also double check the availability of hotels online. Everything was booked and the guide people didn’t write back. I checked out of desperation. There was a hostel on Rua Elisabeta and they had rooms. I was on Rua Elisabeta. I ran.

I walked in, and for the fourth hostel in a row, they were renovating. Bunkbeds sat in the foyer and no one was at the entrance.

“Hi, mate,” a voice called out from the room to the left.
“Hi, are you…open?”
“Uh, we will be in a couple of hours.”
“Can I stay here?”
“Of course, it’ll just be a few hours.”
“Would it be possible to take a shower?”
“Yeah, yeah!”
“Is there anyone else here?”
“No, you’re our first guest!”

Oh! When he said, “they’ll be open in a couple of hours” he meant for the first time. Sweet. It looked clean and smelled of paint and fresh wood cuts. I was sold.

Over the next four days and nights Colin, Malvina, and even Colin’s uncle (who had been enlisted for carpentry help) welcomed me as if I was family. And I was encourage to use everything available to me while I was there, which was plenty: free Internet, free laundry, available kitchen.

During the nights, my hosts were just as inviting. Colin’s uncle made me a special vegetarian omelette for dinner, then looked carefully at me and told me I was 28.

“Ah, I’m 24.”
“No. You are 28.”

This proclamation does fall in line with my old man maladies and propensity to fall asleep early, but the definitiveness was still a shock.

I couldn’t linger on my true age for too long as Colin had the karaoke system going and we all had to belt out more hits. This was like home.

Other nights we watched movies, drank, and talked more. I was more reserved than the young couple, unaccustomed to such warmth and having thinking that surely I must be intruding. I was wrong: Colin brought food in the next night and encourage me to dig in repeatedly.

Bucharest isn’t necessarily a must-see place for most backpackers, but I have a feeling it might become more so in the next few years due to EU money starting to come in. The Midland Youth Hostel is ready. While I wouldn’t expect Malvina and Colin to be able to replicate my experience–but on account of their warmth and genuiness–I also wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

The Midland Youth Hostel

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