[Disclaimer: This might not be the worst hostel in Europe. I can’t be sure since I haven’t stayed at every hostel in Europe. But it was without question a strong contender when I stayed here in October 2003 and, as with any situation involving unusual discomfort and personal injustice, it resulted in one of my favorite hostel reviews of all time, edited and re-mastered here for your reading pleasure.]
I arrived at the Lyon affiliate of France’s Hosteling International (HI) network looking like I had just escaped a POW camp on foot after four years of captivity. With too much luggage. As is typical with HI properties, the Lyon hostel was located in the most inconvenient part of the city, in this case near the top of the tallest hill for 100 miles in any direction. To get there I had to walk a mile across the city center, then climb the most sadistic set of outdoors stairs that I’d seen anywhere in Europe while awkwardly carrying my coffin-sized, densely-packed wheelie bag, then walk uphill for another four blocks, through a construction zone and then an infuriating walk downhill for two more blocks. I burst in the door, sweating profusely despite the cool October weather, with multiple injuries, limping, filthy, panting and exhausted.
HI hostels are notoriously designed with the bare minimum of amenities, but this particular location was even more uninhabitable than average with its comprehensive and breathtakingly half-assed application of, well, everything.
Where to begin?
For starters, the sinks didn’t have cold water, only hot. Really hot. Hot enough to rinse Teflon off stainless steel. Also, the sinks had those maximum security prison taps that you push in and the water runs for three seconds before petering out, requiring about six pushes to wash your hands or 178 pushes to shave. The situation was made infinitely worse by the water pressure being jacked up with enough thrust to launch a croissant into low orbit. No matter what precautions you took, this pressure made it impossible to use the sinks without water cascading violently over the side, splashing copious water on one’s crotch and even more on the floor. This resulted in each dorm room having a warm puddle in the middle of the room and every resident of the hostel looking as if they’d just seen Richard Nixon’s ghost.
The floor bog situation didn’t end there. The shower stalls, which had no floor barriers and drainage slopes seemingly fitted by vertigo sufferers, sent roughly half the water flowing away from the drain, under the bathroom doors and out into the hall.
The bed sheets were comically too short, so when you torqued on the elastic bottom sheet, it would pull up the thin mattress on both ends into a low U-shape.
The breakfast was barely done to minimum homeless shelter standards. The coffee machine’s preprogrammed dispenser would mete out about three more ounces of liquid than the coffee cups could hold, creating an impressive coffee pond on the dinning room floor and resulting in the entire hostel being ornamented with coffee cup stains. And all they had were the three worst charity giveaway jam flavors in the world: cherry, peach and apricot.
Then there was the staff. The contemptuous, dismissive, asshat staff, who spent far more time attending to the CD player and chatting amongst themselves than helping the anywhere from two to 10 people that always seemed to be standing around the desk waiting for assistance.
To top it all off, in a rather impressive display of HI tag-team suckitude, as I was slowly being checked in, I realized that my HI membership card was still sitting on the reception desk back at the hostel in Bordeaux where, upon my departure, the desk clerk had been too preoccupied with a personal phone conversation to check me out and I ended up just leaving without saying goodbye so as not to miss my train.
Rather than making a quick and simple phone call to verify this, the hateful Lyon hostel staff forced me to buy a new card for 14 euros (US$17.60). As I waited for the disdainful desk girl to find the time to give me my room key in between the more urgent task of rearranging the crap under the desk to make space for her enormous purse, I made a quiet vow that I was done with these wretched Hosteling International hostels for the remainder of my natural life. The afterlife is another story, because if there is a Hell, it is very likely run by French Hosteling International staff.