The Return of the Hostel

I have jumped to some mighty negative conclusions on my earlier hostel entry. In the ones I had stayed in up until now they did not have the special quality of a place where people can connect and instead everybody had resorted to plugging into the virtual world.

I always remembered them as confluences of many people from all over the world with stories and experiences so different to my own. Places where everybody is interested and approaches each other inquisitively without prejudice or negativity. In previous travels I always held these meetings as one of the greatest values of travel and even now I have contacts all over the world from people I have met.

Having spent lots of solitary time cycling, on arriving  in Vienna I found a hostel called Ruthensteiner. It reinvigorated all the values that I think these meeting places should embody and my experiences here were better than the city or its any of its local inhabitants.

The place is not much different to any other hostel, however, there are some details that help like a bar, musical instruments, book sharing, open seating arrangements and very friendly and encouraging owners. I am not sure if it’s the place that brings out the characters of the people and encourages connection or if it was just a fortunate coincidence that so many characters happened to be in the same place at the same time.

It was not the G20 but to paint a picture of the diversity and differences here are some of the great characters who in a moment sat and passionately discussed the internationally taboo subjects of politics, religion and football without starting world war 3.

There is’ MacGyver’ the immaculately dressed Billy rocker tattoo artist from Germany. My favourite story being when playing Nalgem (a drinking game played in a bar with a Hammer and nails – Unbelievable) when the bar staff switched out the lights he pulled a Maglight from his utility belt to light up the game allowing the participants to finish.

There is the ‘Mighty Denny’. A man with intelligence as big as his personality. He is a larger than life salsa dancing writer from the US who has spent time in Afghanistan and is now writing a book on some of his experiences in this part of the world. His stories and delivery being some of the most entertaining I have ever had the joy of listening to.

There is ‘ Jordan’ the Israeli Tank driver who when fighting on the front lines in a recent Lebanon / Israel conflict took a hit meaning that the shrapnel in his liver means he is unable to drink alcohol again.

‘Cougar John’ the young man from the Canadian Wilderness with a deep understanding and passion of the great outdoors. Quiet in many respects but his passion shines through when listening to him talk of how cougars and mountain lions hunt people for hours on end and stories of the great Canadian bears and the mysterious Sasquatch.

Nacho is the flamboyant good-looking Argentine alpha male with one sole purpose in life and seemingly everything he does is to achieve that goal. All his songs on the guitar and piano are the girl wooers, he preys even in the places where men already prey. He looks for every opportunity and uses every tactic to womanise. Brilliant entertainment.

There is ‘Jen and Alex’ the Australian Scrapbook girls on their right of passage Australian voyage. We talk at length about the intricacies of the Bogen – the Australian equivalent of the English Chav. Defining these stereotypes in a society is surprisingly difficult. In their free time they busily sit at the table with a huge pile of tickets brochure and scraps of paper tentatively documenting every aspect of their travels.

Steve, also known as ‘Whizzkid’ by some. He is a Philosophy student from USA with an intenseness and deep intelligence. I enjoyed our long bar conversation in the abstract world fuelled with pints of larger. Unfortunately I had cycled 99 miles to get to that bar so completely lost the plot after the second one.

I am glad I have had the opportunity to meet these people and more in this hostel. The 3 days I spent here put a completely different chapter into my cycle and emphasised that often it is not the place that hold the memories but the people you meet.

Of course it will always be difficult to get away from the orchestra of snores in a 10 man dormitory but it is worth putting up with for a couple of days.

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